Posted by David A. Lehrer
Yesterday I learned that a group of members of the IKAR congregation and of LA Voice authored a blog in the Jewish Journal taking issue with my blog of February 10, Their blog, entitled Good Blog, Bad Analysis—-Misrepresenting Reality, vigorously argues that there is food inequality in Los Angeles and that some folks here have a harder time gaining access to healthy, decent food.
It was hardly a point that I was contesting or that needed support. The distribution of food markets, or of decent fresh fruits and vegetables isn’t uniform or necessarily fair—-that’s a given. That’s one of the reasons that the farmers’ market organizations encourage, if not demand, that vendors who want a place at the heavily trafficked markets in Santa Monica and Hollywood offer their food first in the more disadvantaged, less served areas of LA. It’s also an issue that occupies the time of many civic leaders who are aware of the inequities and are working on creative ways to offer fresh food in under-served areas.
Having said that, my blog was directed predominantly at a nationally broadcast piece on NPR that sought to dramatize the problem of food inequity with an inaccurate description of the “plight” of a woman living in East LA. A piece that was tinged with a hint of class warfare to boot. I took exception to Mandalit del Barco playing fast and loose with the facts in order to make points about “food isolation” that could have been delivered honestly in a dozen other ways.
My thrust about the NPR piece applies as well to the IKAR blog, there are enough facts to support concern about food equity—hyperbole and elitist myopia isn’t necessary.
Just for fun, let’s look at some of IKAR’s assertions. Smart & Final Extra (with fresh vegetables, fruits, and more meats than most supermarkets) the store I discovered was 2.6 miles from Mrs. Perez’s (the NPR protagonist) home, doesn’t qualify as a “full service supermarket” they tell us because ithas no “butcher, fish counter or deli
Even if one believes in food isolation, are those really the benchmarks of a decent supermarket? Do they seriously argue that those who frequent markets without those amenities are deprived and deserving of our concern? If that’s the case, there are millions upon millions of Americans who are suffering. I must be “isolated” too; my local Trader Joe’s has neither a butcher, nor a deli nor a fish counter.
The other major point the bloggers make is that I apparently exhibited insensitivity in pointing out that Mrs. Perez was a mere 15 minute bus ride from the Smart & Final Extra that I held up as an oasis in the “food desert.” After all, they inform us, buses aren’t “waiting whenever someone is ready to make her trip.” True enough, rapid transit is not a taxi service, it comes when it’s scheduled to come, or later, and passengers may have to wait. If owning a car is the key to food fairness, then millions of folks in New York, Chicago and other urban centers across the country need our compassion as does every rapid-transit dependent Angeleno.
The IKAR piece betrays an elitist sensibility cloaked in the garb of concern and “uber” sensitivity. They really care about the disadvantaged who shouldn’t have to wait for buses or go to a store without a deli and those of us who don’t share that assessment have neither “vision nor compassion.”
Spare us the pious concern.
There are real problems around food isolation and inaccessibility to fresh produce, but there are concomitant issues about educating people in what to buy that is healthy, food choices that people are socialized to, cultural preferences for less healthy products and even (as the NPR piece suggested) the “presence of gang violence” in certain neighborhoods.
RAND recently concluded that government leaders who are truly concerned about obesity and the health problems associated with it in isolated neighborhoods should encourage more healthful food consumption, improve nutrition and nutrition education in schools as well as encourage farmers’ markets, fruit and vegetable carts and community gardens—-a multi-faceted approach to a multi-faceted problem.
The absence of deli and fish counters and butchers aren’t the missing ingredients. Reducing a terribly complex phenomenon to the failure “to put ourselves in other people’s shoes” is far too facile as well.
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February 18, 2011 | 2:17 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Lots of folks in the public arena must assume that we have no memories and that we are incapable of a simple search for reporters’ and politicians’ prior speeches, press releases, and comments—-that, despite the omni-presence of Google and other powerful search engines.
How else to explain that the past few weeks of news don’t evidence a slew of apologies from media types, elected officials and assorted other mavens who were convinced, and sought to convince the American public, that Toyota was all but intentionally killing Americans by putting unsafe cars on our roads?
Even though the Tunisia/Egypt/Bahrain crises have sucked up much of the media oxygen for the past few weeks, the wires are empty.
Recall that one year ago we were inundated with news stories that breathlessly described Priuses, Camrys and even Lexuses that were “unintentionally accelerating” (Google reports 1.49 million cites). Story after story recounted the tales of folks who swore that their cars were hitting 90 miles an hour while they “weren’t doing a thing.”
The apotheosis of creativity was the story of Rhonda and Eddie Smith who talked about their “runaway Lexus.” Rhonda described a car that accelerated to over 100 miles per hour as she stood on the brake, shifted into neutral, and shifted into reverse. Miraculously, she said, “God intervened…the car came very slowly to a stop; I pulled over to the left median.”
The Smith’s bizarre story not only was a television news bonanza but they were featured performers before a Congressional committee that swallowed their seemingly indigestible story. House committee members described the Smith’s tale as part of compelling evidence that “Toyota vehicles have a serious flaw in their electronic control systems that leaves them vulnerable to sudden unintended acceleration.” One committee member warned against forgiving these companies because it would “let them kill our people.”
The just released 10 month NASA study of the problems revealed that the series of crashes involving Toyota cars and “unintended acceleration” had nothing to do with the cars’ electronics. In fact, the study found that the only Toyota-caused malfunction was the result of defective gas pedals and interfering floor mats (which Toyota remedied promptly last year) AND that most of the incidents reported to the investigators were caused by driver error.
Although, the corrective story has already receded from the front page with a fraction of the half-life of the tall tales of wildly accelerating cars, some questions need answering. How is it that a narrative that seemed bizarre and that lacked any research data was elevated to conventional wisdom in a matter of days? The line was bought by reporters, pundits and elected officials, virtually without question.
The media reported nearly every alleged case of sudden acceleration, accepting unusual (to be charitable) allegations at face value. Who can forget the fellow who asserted that he couldn’t prevent his Prius from hitting 90 miles an hour while he communicated with a Highway Patrol officer driving next to him? The storyline was that only after the Highway Patrol officer told him to firmly apply the brakes and switch to neutral did the car slow down. A few days later the facts came out that the Prius’ brakes did not show “wear consistent with having been applied at full force at high speeds for a long period.” That glimmer of reason and light was ephemeral—the stories continued of countless other cases that strained credulity, but they all followed the same narrative and ended up leading the evening news.
Senators and congressmen (of both parties) shamelessly exploited the early news reports of accelerating cars for their own self-serving purposes. Committees couldn’t wait to batter Toyota like a piñata. The hearings had no “investigative” purpose, the politicians’ minds were made up; the cameras were rolling and the target couldn’t have been more tempting. [One senator urged a total ban on the importation of Japanese cars until their government couldguarantee that their vehicles had no defects
And what a target it was, a foreign corporation—competing with our down-and-out domestic car makers—which seemingly preferred profit over our safety. Virtually the only skeptics were the elected officials who had Toyota plants in their districts.
The “accelerating” Toyota story was the perfect storm of an issue that in its substance and timing served multiple intersecting agendas while revealing a nastier side of our society.
Politicians who could preen and posture and appear to be protecting Americans’ safety and best interests; TV “journalists” who lusted for a juicy story of a bad guy and buffeted innocents that could play out night after night and lead the eleven o’clock news (on occasion with lurid visuals); and media mavens who rarely ask tough questions or inject reasoned skepticism into their reportage when there is an appealing populist template at play.
It was a shameful incident in which Toyota and its representatives were pilloried and attacked by people who had no expertise or information on which to base their assault—just isolated stories that sounded like they might evidence a problem. Congressional hearings used to be for gathering evidence that could lead to legislation, not publicizing baseless conclusions for vanity’s sake.
Well, a year has passed and it has been conclusively determined that there is NO evidence, zero. It was all an embarrassing show that doesn’t speak well of our legislators or the Fourth Estate.
They owe Toyota and us an apology.
Mercifully, Toyota can take the abuse—with our without the apology—-we aren’t sure how many such manifestly wrong, vacuous side-shows our electeds’ reputations can endure.
February 15, 2011 | 4:42 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Last Sunday Community Advocates had an op/ed in the Daily News entitled “Some Kvetchers Can’t Bring Themselves to See Good News.” The article argues that too many, especially in the civil rights realm; prefer to ignore positive societal trends for a variety of reasons.
Civil rights advocates” seem compelled to convince us that nothing has changed in America since the ‘60s. They want to be sure to protect us from any possible lethargy about the need for social justice - fear and the potential resurgence of hate and bigotry seem to be the antidote; that, despite the plethora of evidence that much has changed and, usually, for the better.
It is always challenging to counter the pessimists with polling metrics that offer irrefutable evidence of the transformation of American attitudes on race, ethnicity and religion (most dramatically among the millennial generation, but evident in nearly every category polled). We and other like-minded folks are often portrayed as Pollyannas who wish things were better but ignore data that suggest that America has essentially been treading water and that trouble lies ahead.
It is rare that a pillar of the naysayers’ arsenal is contradicted by data that proves their assertions wrong.
Our article proceeded to debunk one of the pillars of conventional wisdom in the civil rights world (most vigorously propounded by Prof. Gary Orfield of UCLA’s Civil Rights Project)—-that America’s schools are more segregated today than they were when Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. It turns out that that “fact” isn’t true.
Furthermore, it’s also become clear that Orfield’s claims are based on a deeply flawed statistical analysis. The main problem is that, in “majority minority” states, such as Texas and California, Orfield’s statistic is measuring the opposite of integration. After all, if there are no majority white schools, then it’s impossible for black students to be in them.
A far more sensible conclusion, then, is that the appearance of “re-segregation” is being driven by the increase in Hispanics in the public school system, which has dramatically reduced the number of white majority schools.
“If all schools in California had exactly the same ethnic make-up, there would be no majority white schools, so 0% of black students would be in them! .... Most of the changes…. are probably caused by the increase in the percent of Hispanics and the decrease in the percent of non-Hispanic whites, not by segregation….. By most mathematically sensible measures, segregation has decreased and integration has increased over the last 20 years.”
The Orfield claims portray the image of a static, or even a declining America in the realm of race. It must be animated by a concern (not unlike many policy kvetchers) that unless we believe that progress on issues of race and diversity have been microscopically incremental or moving in the wrong direction, we will ignore matters important to minorities and to their organizations.
Similarly in the realm of the Middle East and support for the State of Israel; many are the pro-Israel organizations that warn of the imminent decline of support for Israel in the American public and the spillover effect of the frequently noted turmoil on American campuses over Israel and the Palestinians.
Well, today there are two studies that reconfirm the American public’s continuing and overwhelming support for our fellow democracy in the Middle East.
A Gallup Poll found that sixty-eight percent of Americans rated Israel favorably in the poll conducted Feb 2-5, statistically the same as the 67 percent Israel scored in 2010. Israel ranked seventh among 21 countries in this year’s poll behind, in order, Canada, Britain, Germany, Japan, India and France (allies with far less controversial baggage attached).
Not surprisingly, but reassuringly, Iran scored last, with 11 percent approval, and the Palestinian Authority scored fifth from last, with 19 percent approval.
Just to be clear that the Gallup findings are not an anomaly, The Israel Project came out with a poll yesterday which found that a majority of Americans believed that the United States should support Israel in “the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Middle East.”
Support for Israel was 55 percent compared to 6 percent for the Palestinians. Sixteen percent responded “neither.”
While the polls offer different numbers, they are both trending in the direction of greater support for Israel despite the nightmare-inducing headlines that emanate from the region. In fact the Gallup Poll findings that 63% of Americans say their sympathies lie more with Israel than with the Palestinians is
the highest evidence of support since 1991
Positive news that will be hard to kvetch about, or ignore.
February 10, 2011 | 1:58 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
I was driving home Tuesday night on my regular route (Downtown LA to Lincoln Heights—to pick up my wife—to home) when I heard an interesting piece on NPR’s All Things Considered entitled “LA Community Starved for Healthful Food Options.”
It started out innocently enough, another story about Los Angeles being “a food lover’s paradise—unless you happen to live in (you name the neighborhood)”. Over the past several years there have been innumerable stories about the lack of fresh food and vegetable stores in South LA while there is a raft of fast food and convenience stores (see our blog about this) that offer unhealthy choices. The stories ended up generating ordinances from the City Council regulating new fast food outlets.
What piqued my interest in this particular piece was that it dealt with a neighborhood I know something about and the description was troublingly off the mark. It was clear that there was an agenda that the reporter, Mandalit del Barco, had and she was “adjusting” the facts to further that agenda.
The narrative was essentially that Olga Perez, a single mother resident of the Ramona Gardens low income housing project in East LA, was a victim of “fresh food isolation.” There were no markets in the neighborhood and, even worse than South LA with its fast food joints, “there’s no glut of burger joints or taco trucks; there aren’t even any liquor stores selling milk and bread.”
Having set the stage for the desolation of the neighborhood, del Barco proceeded to throw in a fillip of populism,
“Perez found out how the other half lived during a trip across town to upscale Santa Monica, where she visited a local supermarket. There she was amazed by the “apples, the strawberries, the vegetables, the squash, everything….’I didn’t even know (said Perez) that there were markets out there like that.’”
Knowing Lincoln Heights, which is a couple of miles from Ramona Gardens, I was taken aback by the assertion that Ms. Perez had to cross the entire city (nearly 20 miles) to see fresh food; where strawberries and squash were a revelation.
In fact, in my daily commute I pass by a
Smart and Final Extra
in Lincoln Heights that is as nice a super market as one can frequent. It has over-flowing displays of fresh fruits and vegetables, to say nothing of the thousands of items that could meet any need of virtually any customer.The Smart and Final Extra store is 2.6 miles from Ms. Perez’s apartment; she didn’t have to travel to Santa Monica for her epiphany.
Del Barco proceeds to compound Perez’s plight, for even when she does reach a market (apparently pegged at 3 miles from her home) she can only buy what she can carry back in her arms, “that’s what kills me, when there’s a special and I can’t get it.” Another whammy, no car.
To folks who don’t live in LA, or other car-centric cultures, that’s hardly a problem without a remedy (she could purchase grocery basket on wheels which could transport all her purchases at a one-time cost of $30.00—-I checked it out).
The solution, she could take a bus to the
Smart and Final Extra
in 15 minutes, it would cost $1.50 and would require only a one third of a mile walk. Not unlike the walk that residents of numerous urban centers endure. Her purchases, specials and all, could be taken on the bus and wheeled the few blocks from the bus to her home in the basket.
del Barco’s piece is inaccurate and hyperbolic, it is, quite simply, a thinly masked polemic.
Listeners across the country heard a lengthy portrayal of a single mother seemingly denied access to fresh fruit and vegetables because of her residential isolation. An isolation that, the piece vaguely suggests, could lead to her death, like her mother’s (which still “haunts” her), from diabetes. After all, Perez only wants the “fresh, organic foods,
like the rest of LA
Perez’s voice closes the broadcast with a quote that adds an exclamation point to del Barco’s now betrayed motive, “it doesn’t matter if we live in a low-income area…we all deserve to eat the fresh fruits that nature provided for us. We shouldn’t be divided.”
Dishonest pieces, like del Barco’s, only further unwarranted divisions. A simple bus ride and wheeled market basket would offer Perez, and others near her, all the fruits, vegetables and other marketing items that anyone could ever want—-no one is denying it to her.