COWBOYS and CANNABIS, RELIGION AND REFUGEES

October 12, 2016 Colorado pot isn’t affecting Kansas like you think

(This story won third place from the Kansas Press Association for stories inspired by a public notice)

When Oklahoma and Nebraska filed a lawsuit in 2015 against Colorado for legalizing marijuana, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt wanted to see whether it was a problem before signing on.

He would need to prove that Kansas had suffered harm from Colorado marijuana to have a case.

But law enforcement was reporting fewer – not more – marijuana-related offenses. This was confusing to Schmidt, who said he’d heard from law enforcement that Colorado marijuana was king.

So he invoked a 19th-century law to survey law enforcement agencies. And he received a huge response: 390 law enforcement agencies and district attorneys painted the first large-scale picture of the impact of Colorado’s legalization on Kansas.

The early results suggest it is having a big impact, but it may not all be negative.

The amount of marijuana being confiscated appears to be dropping quickly. But the potency of the marijuana is increasing.

And for the first time, edible marijuana is being confiscated, which Schmidt worries could pose a greater public health concern for young users.

The 390 responses from across the state show that the legal system has been swept up by changing attitudes about marijuana. In some jurisdictions, law enforcement are no longer enforcing marijuana laws much, and even when they do, it has become difficult to win convictions. Users may receive a fine in one county, probation or jail in another and told to move along in others.

“The criminal justice system is moving in the direction of what appears to be changes in public attitude,” Schmidt said. “Obviously not moving as far as some people would like, but there is obviously an evolution or a change, and this showed that it has reached the enforcement level as well.”

Four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – have legalized marijuana, and five states will vote on marijuana legalization this fall: California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.

This study shows legalization can have a large impact on neighboring states. In March, the Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma and Nebraska didn’t have legal standing to sue Colorado, so Kansas joining the lawsuit is off the table.

But Schmidt thinks there is harm being done. So although he’s still studying the new information, he hopes to decrease some of the health risks of more potent and easily digestible marijuana.
So he invoked a 19th-century law to survey law enforcement agencies. And he received a huge response: 390 law enforcement agencies and district attorneys painted the first large-scale picture of the impact of Colorado’s legalization on Kansas.

The early results suggest it is having a big impact, but it may not all be negative.

The amount of marijuana being confiscated appears to be dropping quickly. But the potency of the marijuana is increasing.

And for the first time, edible marijuana is being confiscated, which Schmidt worries could pose a greater public health concern for young users.

The 390 responses from across the state show that the legal system has been swept up by changing attitudes about marijuana. In some jurisdictions, law enforcement are no longer enforcing marijuana laws much, and even when they do, it has become difficult to win convictions. Users may receive a fine in one county, probation or jail in another and told to move along in others.

“The criminal justice system is moving in the direction of what appears to be changes in public attitude,” Schmidt said. “Obviously not moving as far as some people would like, but there is obviously an evolution or a change, and this showed that it has reached the enforcement level as well.”

Four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – have legalized marijuana, and five states will vote on marijuana legalization this fall: California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.

This study shows legalization can have a large impact on neighboring states. In March, the Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma and Nebraska didn’t have legal standing to sue Colorado, so Kansas joining the lawsuit is off the table.

But Schmidt thinks there is harm being done. So although he’s still studying the new information, he hopes to decrease some of the health risks of more potent and easily digestible marijuana…..Continue reading

July 24, 2015

BY OLIVER MORRISON
The Wichita Eagle

Saturday is “National Day of the Cowboy,” but there isn’t just one type of cowboy to celebrate anymore.

There are rodeo cowboys who know as much about athletics as animal husbandry. There are factory cowboys who put on the boots to pack cows into the pens of mass slaughtering plants. And, yes, there are cowboys who ride horses on wide swaths of land, moving cattle from point A to B before the sun sets.

Now there’s a new kind of cowboy: the business cowboy. The business cowboy is driven more by the bottom line than by his pride. He’s as good with a calculator or chatting up a customer as he is at changing horseshoes. And he’s quicker to draw a cellphone than a lasso.

But the business cowboy still believes in old-fashioned cowboy values and skills that come from spending hundreds of hours with his herd.

John Irvine, 43, one of the new cowboys, was checking up on a group of about 50 cows on his family’s ranch and pastureland on the outskirts of Manhattan on Tuesday morning.

As he walked among his cows, scattering feed, one of them became skittish and hid behind the others. That cow will not carry its own calf this year, Irvine said, but instead will be injected with the fertilized embryo of one of the ranch’s best cattle. That’s how he eliminates undesirable traits such as skittishness.

Irvine has a big smile on his face as he walks among his cows these days. This year’s huge rain crop has meant the ranch can save money on irrigation. It also means that the pasture land is so lush his cows won’t even be able to eat it all. The past few years were unusually dry, and many ranches had to sell off as much as half their herds, he said. So now there are fewer cows on the market and the price of beef is soaring.

“The cattle market is the best it’s ever been in my lifetime,” Irvine said.

Irvine’s ranch has been ranked in the top five in the country for the monetary value of the Simmental breed of cattle it sells, according to the American Simmental Association. Although sometimes Irvine says he’s not in the cow business at all — sometimes he calls it the genetics business with a slogan of “profit through science.”

“Hey girls, hey girls, hey girls,” Irvine calls out as he scatters feed in the grass. His cows hurry over to eat as much “cow candy,” as they can. The feed is less about nutrition than it is about conditioning them to come on command, much like a puppy trainer with a biscuit….Continue Reading (including a photo slideshow)

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June 14, 2015

“Churches try to keep drifting millennials close”

BY OLIVER MORRISON
The Wichita Eagle

On a recent Tuesday night, a man with a microphone stood in front of a group of 20-somethings at River City Brewery in Old Town.

He joked about how, if he had had kids, his “would’ve been the first ones to smoke dope” and that his golf game “sucks” so bad a priest he was playing with told him to quit.

The man speaking was not a comedian, but the Rev. Patrick York of the Church of Magdalen, who was delivering a talk about the importance of being obedient at the monthly “Theology on Tap” lecture series put on by young Catholics in Wichita.

“The vast majority of you I hope get married,” York said. “And have a bunch of little freaky mini-mes that look just like you and have lots of babies for Jesus.” But, he said, they had to be obedient to their church leaders first and make sure the person they wanted to marry was the same person God wanted them to marry.

This is a far cry from a church still frequently known for its imposing architecture, masses spoken in Latin and the ornate clothing of its clergy. But for many local leaders, attracting youth to the church has taken on a new level of importance. A new Pew study found that more than one out of every three millennials – defined by the study as between 18 and 34 years old – no longer identifies with a religion. The younger they are, the less likely they are to believe.

While the trend was most pronounced among the young, it held true for all ages and demographics. In 2007, about 8 in 10 Americans believed in a religion, most of them Christianity; in 2014, only seven in 10 did. If the trend continues at its current pace, religious adherents could in a single generation find themselves in the minority.

The results of the study held true for every demographic: whites, blacks and Latinos; men and women; residents of the East Coast, Midwest and South; Catholics, Protestants and, to a lesser extent, even evangelical Christians. In Kansas, 17 out of 20 adults identified with a religion eight years ago but that dropped to 16 of 20 in 2014.

From the Bible Belt to the Beltway, in the past seven years millions of Americans stopped identifying with a religion.

“In the past it was easy to be Lutheran and assume your kids would be that way or similar,” said Scott Goltl the director of outreach at Ascension Lutheran Church. “You can’t assume that anymore and probably shouldn’t have beforehand.”

So some local religious leaders are trying to find new ways to attract the next generation of believers….Continue reading

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June 14, 2014
“Wichita atheists part of a growing religious trend”

BY OLIVER MORRISON
The Wichita Eagle

David Pena, 38, arrived late to dinner, so he and his wife Marta, 32, had to squeeze in at the end of the table.

“This is a big turnout,” Marta said to her husband, an active member of the Air Force.

“We rarely talk religion at these meetings,” said Doug Kulp, at the Hill Bar and Grill that evening in May.

“Church groups don’t necessarily talk about God at a meal,” explained James Classen, 33, one of about 20 attendees. “It’s mostly just going to be talking about life.”

But the reservation sign on the table made clear that this was no ordinary church meeting: “Wichita Atheists.”

Although the Wichita Atheists have been meeting for a little over a decade, this was its first meeting since a new Pew study on American religion was released, which put it at the vanguard of America’s current religious trend: no religious affiliation at all, especially among millennials….Continue Reading

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June 19, 2015
“Congolese refugees settle into life in Wichita”

BY OLIVER MORRISON
The Wichita Eagle

Musa Rashidi doesn’t like to think about the past, but sometimes he has to.

“When I left (Congo) it was horrible,” Rashidi said about the civil war that overtook his country and decimated his town. “There were no birds flying.”

For three months after the 14-year-old fled Congo to Malawi, he said, the smell of burned flesh was so bad, he could not eat meat.

“You have no time to look around for mommy and daddy,” Rashidi said, as he rolled up his pant leg to reveal ankle scars from the day his village was attacked. “They are dead.”

Rashidi has lived in Wichita for over three years now and has taken on the role of case worker for EWARM, the Episcopal Wichita Area Refugee Ministry.

In its first three years in Wichita, EWARM focused on resettling political refugees from Myanmar, but in the past year the focus has shifted to Africa and, so far, mostly the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the last year EWARM has increased the number of refugees it helps settle in Wichita from an average of 60 in its first three years to now 71 just since October. On Saturday, EWARM will celebrate World Refugee Day at its offices at 401 N. Emporia with snacks, lemonade and, for the first time, a traditional Congolese dance.

Helping families who arrive with little more than a couple of bags is a huge job. It would be almost impossible for EWARM without someone like Rashidi, who was hired in January in part because he can speak 10 languages to various extents, he says, including Kyswahili and Knyrwanda, the most common languages spoken in Congo.

Some of the refugees speak English or have lived in a modern city. But many start with no English language skills and, when they first arrive at Wichita’s airport, Rashidi has to show even the adults how to buckle their seat belts….Continue reading

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August 24, 2015
“Teachers take on challenge of teaching refugee children”

BY OLIVER MORRISON
The Wichita Eagle

Marcela Richardson underlined the suffix “teen” on her smartboard at Washington Elementary School. She was trying to show her class how to make the numbers 14 through 19 out of the numbers 4 through 9 on Monday morning.

She teaches a “newcomers” class, meaning that the students are new to the district, with most of them new to the country. In a class of 20, students come from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Turkey, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Uganda, ranging in age from 6 to 10.

That means Richardson’s students need to learn both how to say the numbers and how to add them.

The Wichita school district is asking the state for more money to teach one group of these students who need extra attention: refugee children. The district wants around a million dollars to help teach the more than 200 refugee children they expect to serve this year.

Moses Kamanzi, 9, one of those refugee children from Uganda, looks around the room as Richardson speaks and rubs his lips on the edge of his desk. He can barely pronounce the numbers 1 to 9.

He is supposed to be in third grade. But he has a hard time waiting in line. He hasn’t practiced sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the carpet. And neither he nor his parents speak English, so he didn’t complete a single night’s homework last week, the first week of school….Continue Reading

FEBRUARY 3, 2016: “Study: In 50 years Kansas population will be much older, more urban”

BY OLIVER MORRISON
[email protected]

Kansas’ population will increase in the next 50 years, but the growth will mostly come from older people who live in cities, according to projections released Wednesday by Wichita State University.

If the projections hold true – a big if, given the 50-year-horizon – policymakers and local leaders will have to figure out how to pay for a retirement-age population that will double in size. There will be almost no increase in the working age population. And local and state politicians will be forced to make tough choices about what rural infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals, to continue funding.

The projections, released by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research, are largely based on just a couple of variables: how many people are moving in and out of each county right now, and how many babies are born compared with how many people pass away.

Kansas’ population is projected to increase by more than 600,000 people, to 3.5 million. This is slower growth than the country as a whole, according to Jeremy Hill, the director of the center that released the report. This isn’t because tons of people are fleeing Kansas or most counties, he said, but just that, over time, a small number of young people leaving every year means fewer young people who are having kids and building families here. And over 50 years those small migration numbers really add up.

“Wichitans go for it with Pokemon real-world game”
July 11, 2016

BY OLIVER MORRISON
[email protected]

On Sunday night, small groups wandered along Douglas with their cellphones held out in front of them, pulling them forward.

At Emerson Biggins, customers randomly stood up and walked to the patio because, they said, they had left some coins at the gym out back. But there is no gym on the Biggins patio, the manager said, and there were no coins to collect.

Hundreds more wandered along the river near the “Keeper of the Plains,” the white lights of their phones gently illuminating their faces. They hardly noticed the giant flames that had been lit under Wichita’s iconic statue, they said, because they were engaged in secret battles.

“Everybody on this bridge is pretty much playing Pokemon,” explained Taylor Belden, who was out with three friends. “Everybody who has their phone out is playing Pokemon.”

Belden was referring to PokemonGo, which was released Wednesday. The game has added a radical new spin to the way people play video games. Instead of sitting by themselves, confined to a room, imagining themselves in the pretend world of a video game, PokemonGo has turned the whole world into a giant video game. It forces them to walk around and explore the real world in order to collect coins, capture creatures and fight other players….Continue reading

October 8, 2016First annual wiener dog races at Bloktoberfest

April 26, 2017 “Newman starts group to support LGBTQ students after years of effort

Ruben Lerma had a 4.0 grade point average and scored more than a 30 on his ACT, he said, but, because he wasn’t a citizen, he didn’t qualify for all of the financial aid available at public universities.

Newman University didn’t care that he was an immigrant, he said, and offered him nearly a full tuition scholarship every semester; he would have to pay only $2,000 of his $23,000 bill.

So he decided to go to Newman even though he was a little worried about attending a Catholic University and being “that gay student.” Lerma had struggled with depression as a gay student at North High School but learned to overcome his depression, in part with the support of a Gay/Straight Alliance.

But Newman didn’t have a similar support group and wasn’t always a safe space for Lerma, he said. He overheard other students on campus talk about how gay people should go to hell, he said, and how the legalization of gay marriage would lead gays to want to get married to animals. Some of his friends would point out other students on campus who, he was told, hated gay people.

At a public forum his junior year, he finally spoke up.

“I’m not the only gay person here, I’m not going to be the only gay person here, there will be more,” Lerma remembers saying. “If for their sake, if not mine, you should make it more amiable, make the environment better.”…Continue reading

Read the whole article about modern Kansas cowboys

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