Monday, January 30, 2012

The all-white neighborhood is extinct! Tell that to the guy on 155th Street stuck between all-blonde SUVs...Oh, and KC ranks high in desegregation?

Good news? Well, my guess is some members of the local media will doubtless see it that way.

Segregation, as a disease of the last century, is in remission, according to a study released today by researchers at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. And, according to the work of Edward Glaeser and Jacob Vigdor, Kansas City shows one of the biggest declines in segregation among the nation’s most segregated cities.

Now, if you’ve driven down 155th Street recently from State Line west into the sunset, you might think, ‘Ah, what magic you can do with numbers.” Stopped at the light at Metcalf Ave., for example, you find yourself boxed in by giant SUVs piloted by blonde drivers with blonde children in soccer uniforms staring blankly out the back windows… or – just as likely – sticking their pink tongues out at you for whatever indignity you apparently suffer.

Lexus in front, Mercedes behind, Tahoe to the left, BMW to the right. You’ve no doubt wondered as you waited where all this money comes from. What do these people do?

So, these statistics deserve a closer look than I’m offering here. Much closer.

Start with this: Kansas City ranked ninth among the 10 most segregated American cities in 1970. That’s no surprise in a city once ranked first for the most highway miles between population centers. Wichita ranked seventh on the most segregated list and Chicago, of course, ranked first.

In 1970, 91.1 percent of all Chicago metropolitan census tracts were segregated. The researchers utilize a statistical tool called a dissimilarity index – a tool I will not pretend to understand. The index number for Kansas City was 87.5 percent in 1970.

What I think this means is that in 87.5 percent of the city's census tracts, at least half the African American faces with have to be replaced with white faces to achieve perfect integration.

By 2010, Kansas City had fallen to 57.7 percent on the index, a decline of 29.8 percent. This was the fourth largest decline among the top 10 most segregated cities. Oklahoma City, Wichita, and Dayton, Ohio, experienced larger declines in the index.

And in the first decade of this century, Kansas City ranked ninth overall in the decline of segregation. Between 2000 and 2010, census information shows a decline in segregation – measured by the dissimilarity index -- in Kansas City from 68.6 percent to 57.7 percent, a 10.9 percent decline. In the same decade, Detroit went from 84.2 percent to 68.6 percent. But Detroit was also essentially depopulated.

Of course, Kansas City was still the fourth most segregated city on the list of biggest losers.

I’m not sure how hard we should pat ourselves on the back about this. It will be interesting to see what the local media does with this story in the coming days. The researchers, however, were sufficiently impressed with the results they culled from the census numbers to declare the all-white neighborhood is "extinct" in modern America. Extinct.

Well, they do hedge a bit when they explain what they mean by extinct.

“All-white neighborhoods are effectively extinct. A half-century ago, one-fifth of America’s urban neighborhoods had exactly zero black residents. Today, African-American residents can be found in 199 out of every 200 neighborhoods nationwide. The remaining neighborhoods are mostly in remote rural areas or in cities with very little black population.”

Allow a statistical idiot to rephrase. What the latest census data found is 199 of every 200 neighborhoods has at least one African American resident. That feels a bit closer to reality.

By this definition America is completely integrated, thanks in particular to those Latin immigrants the great grandsons of Polish and German immigrants love to hate. The researchers point out 99.8 percent of all census tracts in America contain at least one person who claims Hispanic heritage.

All these numbers remind me of a time I was interviewing a demographer at Johnson County Community College. I was curious about whether the constant booster boast that the golden goose sported the second highest income per resident in the nation was actually true. This demographer showed me something else, something that had been at first a statistical puzzle for her staff. They had compiled a scattergram of residents of color in the county. And right there square in the middle of Mission Hills was the highest concentration of black dots in the entire scattergram. How could this be?

They did a little checking. No, they found no hitherto hidden ghetto of color just west of State Line. The census had simply picked up a large concentration of live-in help. Gardeners, chauffers, maids.

Perhaps the most telling results of today’s study come from the researchers’ own cautions. I’ll quote them at length because they are worth pondering:

“The 1960s were the heyday of racial segregation. During those years, segregation seemed a likely cause of many of the troubles afflicting African-Americans. Segregation was so enormous, and so unfair, that it seemed to create a separate and unequal experience for African-Americans everywhere. During those years, the fight against housing segregation seemed to offer the possibility that once the races mixed more readily, all would be well.

“Forty years later, we know that this dream was a myth. There is every reason to relish the fact that there is more freedom in housing today than 50 years ago and to applaud those who fought to create that change. Yet we now know that eliminating segregation was not a magic bullet. Residential segregation has declined pervasively, as ghettos depopulate and the nation’s population center shifts toward the less segregated Sun Belt. At the same time, there has been only limited progress in closing achievement and employment gaps between blacks and whites.

“The difficult lesson of these decades is that society is complicated and single solutions rarely solve everything. While the decline in segregation remains good news, far too many Americans still lack the opportunity to achieve meaningful success.”

--Lofflin… more on this later…

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Star columnists: Helling on truth, truthiness and truthfulness... why not just say no? and why waste space on fried macaroni?

Just say no.

For a journalist, saying no is difficult to impossible. But, in my opinion it's the real answer to the question Dave Helling raised in his Kansas City Star column today.

First, let me say I liked the column. The question of holding journalism's feet to the fire of truth is always a good one. And Helling makes a good case for the difficulty of establishing THE truth of a statement or a situation. His trick question about gas prices is compelling and not foreign to most reporters.

Of course, as Sissela Bok carefully pointed out in "Lying, Moral Choice in Public and Private Life," (must reading for every reporter) truth and truthfulness are different things. If a reporter held himself to only presenting THE truth, she'd only write once in a great while. But, her intention to be truthful, is a noble way of life.

But what does "intention to be truthful" mean?

I'd like make a small case for a different vision of it from the one often practiced by reporters in the field.

It means thinking hard about what truth means in the context of actually working for a news organization. Here's a centering question: Does getting the most truth out of the situation mean more than being first with the story?

It means rethinking what a story is, what news is. It may sometimes mean saying, "Whoa, this isn't a story. Yes, this here quote is sure newsworthy, but it isn't true, so it isn't a story."

What that suggests is reporters, who are, after all, in the truth business, ought to intend to discover the truth in every statement they report. "Every statement?" I'm writing this and cringing at the thought. But I'll stand by it. So, if they're reporting on the price of gasoline during Barack Obama's administration of the White House, it is incumbent on them to report all three of the "truths" Helling offers in his piece.

Because three competing truths exist doesn't mean the reporter should be paralyzed. It means the reporter should provide all three to the reader and let the reader decide.

But I'm wondering if sometimes the reporter should just say no. Of course that may mean Tony Botello will have the story first on his blog. Or somebody on television will mention it first at 6 p.m. Or, heaven forbid, CNN will get it first.

Competition is not a persuasive argument for anyone BUT reporters. The people whose lives are affected by news stories are certainly not persuaded by the argument. Nor are the readers who go to the newspaper or the blog for information. The only people persuaded by the necessity of beating the competition, are reporters. And, of course, the people who sign their paychecks.

Senator Jones calls Senator Smith a racist. Once Helling decides to write this story the cows are out of the barn. Let's say he calls Smith and asks him if he's a racist and Smith says, "Hell, no!" and Helling puts that in the second graph, or even in the lede. Nothing changes. A large percentage of readers will at least wonder if there is some truth in the charge and many will be sure it is true.

So, here's a novel idea. What if Helling decides not to write the story until his own highly developed sense of truth is satisfied? What if he demands evidence? What if he checks every angle as thoroughly as the responsibility of his profession demands? And what if he decides, then, not to write?

Would not writing be more truthful than writing in the traditional manner -- charge, denial, counter charge, denial?

Wouldn't providing all three truths about gas prices serve the reader better, especially if he also held the source's feet to the fire of all three truths?

I respect Helling's position here, don't get me wrong. I just want to push the argument a little farther.

When you think about the import of what Helling tackles in his column today and consider two other Star columnists chose to waste their space on Paula Deen, you can't help but be grateful. Now, really, Mary Sanchez and Jenee Osterheldt would have served us all well if they'd just said no to the temptation to write yet more vacuous words about Paula Deen. There is only so much of value you can say about fried macaroni.

They may have written the truth. But, then, who cares?


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Mark Wahberg, Mike O'Neal-- Don't apologize. Say it loud, say it proud, 'This is who I am, this is what I really think; I'm a jerk, okay...'


This is getting old. Another person in the spotlight apologizes for something stupid he or she said. It was Mark Wahlberg, this time, for saying he would have done what he does in movies if he had been on one of the planes that were steered into the World Trade Center.

I don’t want him to apologize. I want him to stand up and say, “Well… really, that’s what I would have done. Call me stupid, that’s what I said and I meant it.”

But, no.

I don’t want the speaker of the Kansas House to apologize as he did for a really stupid e-mail message he sent about Michelle Obama. I want him to stand up and be proud.

You read that right. I’m sick of apologies. I’m especially sick of forced apologies.

Here’s how it goes.

  1. Folks in public life do, say, and write stupid things.
  2. The Word Police -- or TMZ -- comes down on them, and
  3. … after a few days while they wait to see if the storm blows over, they issue a statement saying they are sorry for the offense.

It reminds me of a person I know who always prefaced her statements with, “I don’t want to be rude…” but was, then, invariably, rude.

So, Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal published a cartoon which shows him to be a jerk. It shows him to be insensitive. It shows his subscription to the politics of disdain which run so strongly through the Republican Party (and the Democrat Party when a Republican is president…). It shows some degree of racism. Political wives and husbands have generally been off limits unless something in their activities was newsworthy and certainly Michelle Obama’s hair is not newsworthy.

So, be a big boy, O’Neal. Stand up to the nanny state you hate and say it straight. Yes, I published that cartoon. What of it? It was just a joke. Guys like me have been making jokes like this about people we don’t like forever. I don’t like Obama and I don’t like his wife. I don’t think they deserve respect just because they are in the White House.

Just once I’d like to see one of these guys with enough guts to stand up and say “I did it and I’m proud of it.” Then, of course, it would be clear what they stand for, how they feel, and exactly who they are.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Terrorist or freedom fighter? Let's take this peace journalism idea up a level; a world of death and destruction is just plain stupid


One man’s terrorist is, I’m afraid, always going to be another man’s guerilla fighter. The river between is unbridgeable.

This is a gloomy start for the first entry of the new year, but if we’re going to search for real answers to the war and strife that engulfs us humans, we have to start by being honest. Make no mistake, the peace and joy of our Christmas is an illusion we can afford to create for ourselves. Much of our world cannot.

My colleague, Steven Youngblood, returned home from Uganda just before Christmas having brought together natural enemies one more time in hopes of fostering a thing he calls “peace journalism.” Steve and I have talked about this movement many times, all the way back to the days when we were trying to name what he was advocating in Moldova, I think. Here’s what he wrote on his blog about his pre-Christmas foray in Uganda.

Specifically, government spokespeople from the army, police, and local government and journalists sparred over whether the Ugandan government was justified in banning live coverage of protests earlier this year, and restricting official updates of the investigation of the July, 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala. Each side played its part, with the journalists crying foul at the heavy hand of the government while the security officials maintained that the moves were designed only to protect people and property. Predictably, no consensus was reached. I did express my opinion that the ban on live coverage represented a journalistic decision, and thus should not have been made by the government.

I told Steve that looked to me like an exhausting list of tangles to work through. In fact, he had written once when his transport was stuck in the mud that he hoped the conference went more smoothly than the trip to it and from his conclusions I would guess the mud he encountered wasn’t just under his wheels.

Every single question in his post -- those raised in this paragraph and those raised in the rest of the piece -- could occupy a semester's study in a journalism ethics class. They are not new and they are not unique to Uganda. They were debated right here in the land of the First Amendment during the race riots of the 1960s. Should journalists cover events that will inflame the passions of others? Should they quote language that will further divide communities and may lead to bloodshed. Should they practice self-censorship and if they don’t, should government step in?

To be honest, I think most, if not all of the questions he enumerated from the conference, are unsolvable. That doesn't mean we shouldn't work on them because every increment toward agreement is good. But the fact that one man's terrorist is another man's guerrilla fighter, a question I've been troubling students with since I started teaching in 1980, is just almost impossible to resolve. And, in many ways, it is the heart of the disagreement. A society with only one word for murder would be in a big philosophical pickle.

Orwell saw this. War is peace. Repression is protection.

You can usually get somewhere in ethics by bringing down the scalpel on a problem, by trying to divide it into its parts and solve each one individually. But the problem with this one is that once you divide it, it gets tougher. If the difference between freedom fighter and terrorist is in eye of the perceiver – in other words, it boils down to the perceptions of the aggrieved vs the perceptions of the privileged -- then both will always see it differently. So you try to define the difference in terms both can agree on. And that is really thorny, as well. Were not Americans involved in terrorist acts against the British? Don't all revolutions begin with terror? Were Americans not ruthless terrorists against the Indians? Was Sherman not a terrorist? And what about the American president who unleashed the mighty power of the atom bomb on the people of Japan? Was that not an act designed specifically to create terror?

Suddenly defining terrorism gets uncomfortably sticky. How is terrorism different from war? Is it not an act of terror (taking the phrase literally) to bomb a village from an airborne drone in an effort to kill several terrorist leaders hiding in the village? What sort of terror does that unleash on the innocent?

I detest the notion of civilized war. ‘Just war’ theories just confound me. War is the breakdown of civilization. War is the breakdown of justice. War is the absence of humanity. To attempt to bring humanity to it is like trying to hold water in your fist.

I know writers and photographers, journalists and movie directors have created a huge body of work finding all those virtues in the throes of war. To be honest, I don’t buy it anymore. I'm just too old to see anything but destruction and waste. I’m not saying good people don’t fight and die and provide examples of loyalty and bravery in war. They do. But the war itself, well, as Edwin Starr once said, “What is it good for?”

I'm afraid the only just position I can find on terrorism is the pacifist position. If you rule all violence out of bounds, then these differences don't matter.

OK, so what then is pacifist journalism? Might as well take the idea of peace journalism to its logical conclusion. Would that simply mean condemning all violence, from capital punishment to war and everything -- terrorism and guerrilla fighting -- in between? A tougher pill to swallow, eh? Martin Luther King, Jr. vs. Malcolm X. Gandhi vs. Che.

You might rightly say that's an easy position for a person who lives in comfort in Missouri in the US of A to take. If you were on the butt end of a repressive and brutal government, maybe you’d sing a different tune. Perhaps. But, maybe it is the only real position on this issue. The only way around the horns of this ancient bull.

I'm thinking Youngblood’s 'security' officials would never buy into such a notion. And, no aggrieved journalist would either. Their jobs sort of depend on violence, or, more precisely, the threat of violence. Terror, in short.

I keep coming back to that Who song, "Won't get fooled again." Check out the lyric somewhere on the Net if you haven't heard it in a while. Would these two sides see the wisdom in it? Because the song takes the long view that most people in strife can't afford to take. If you make a violent revolution, you always wind up in the same place. "Meet the new boss; same as the old boss..." Brilliant lyric. I'm thinking the only real revolution is a non-violent one. The only real change is possible through non-violent strategies. Change from within.

Mankind's record of change through violence doesn't seem to me -- not a world historian but a casual observer -- to be very good. Violence is like lead poisoning -- the more of it you engage in, the more of it remains in the bodies of your people forever. Slavery, for instance, the ultimate violence, can never be cleansed from a country's soul. Not even when a member of the former slave class becomes president. You can run from these things in your history but you can't hide. They aren't just pages in your history book; they are poisons in your system.


And, unfortunately, the beards have all grown longer overnight...