Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I wonder how the American counterpart will go over here. Looking at the promo on the CW website, I see that it, too, is buying into some unflattering rural stereotypes. Of course, lots of popular U.S. television programs have done that over the years. Recall "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Green Acres." A few years ago, an ad appeared in my hometown paper (Newton County (AR) Times) seeking people interested in participating in a new reality program that would have country bumpkins changing places/interacting with LA types. Don't know if it ever got off the ground, but I was offended by the concept.
Back to "Farmer . . . Wife," the photo is from the CW website. Most of the photos there showed the women looking ridiculous, doing things like chasing and feeding chickens in their $100 sunglasses and skimpy shorts. I opted for this one, which would indicate that Matt the Farmer doesn't even drive his own tractor. (He's in the trailer with the women). How disappointing.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Liked or not, Mr. Chambers, a black, divorced, agnostic former barber from Omaha with posters of Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass decorating his office, managed to rise to an ultimate level of power in a mostly rural, white conservative state on little more than sheer determination to do so.Here's my question: Of what relevance to the story is the information about Nebraska being a largely rural state? What "work" is this information doing for Saulny? I ask this especially in light of the fact that Chambers has represented an urban area (Omaha); he is not from small-town Nebraska. We (readers, that is) already know that Lincoln and Omaha are not New York or Chicago, and Nebraska is not the South.
Is that point that blacks don't ascend to power in rural places? that rural people are racist? that rural places tend to be racially homogeneous -- white, that is? If so, isn't that information conveyed by the word "white"? Does "white" make "rural" redundant? Does "conservative" make "rural" redundant? I recall other stories from other parts of the country that have suggested a link between rurality and racism. I've suggested it myself in earlier posts. This link -- or the specter of it -- seems to me to invite attention and analysis.
For the ruralists among us, this passage from Michiko Kakutani's review is also particularly enticing:
Pluto, like the town of Argus depicted in many earlier Erdrich novels, is one of those little towns where everyone knows everyone else and knows virtually everything about everyone else’s family history. It’s a place where intimacy breeds feuds and gossip and long-simmering resentments, but also understanding and maybe even forgiveness, a place where the roots of neighbors’ family trees are often mysteriously twisted together, and where the younger generations find themselves reprising — or expiating — the actions of their elders.I've enjoyed a number of Erdrich novels over the years and will certainly put this on my summer reading list. To read Kakutani's review is to be convinced that it must be Erdrich's best yet.
Monday, April 28, 2008
In the midst of untangling this problem and the practice that created it, the reporter tells us that the informal practice of transferring land is a rural one, whereby a farmer might just say, for example, which son got what part of his farm upon his death. This practice was also sometimes followed in cities, especially among low-income families, as in the case of the Cousins family. One reason for the informal practice: title transfer can be expensive, as much as $5000 for even a modest home.
The legal expert interviewed, Malcolm Meyer, noted that the practice often deprived rural folks (as well as other folks, like Ms. Cousins) an important benefit of land ownership: the opportunity to use the property as collateral. Meyer is now working with Louisiana Appleseed, a legal aid non-profit, to get the legislature to consider simplifying and reducing the cost of title transfer. Such a change would benefit not only those like Ms. Cousins, but presumably also lots of rural Louisianans.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Further thinking about the differences among rural places – as well as why we desire them – has been fueled by time my family has spent lately in
I’ve been intrigued to learn, anecdotally from our realtors in each county, who lives in these places. We’ve been looking, for example, around Fiddletown, near the Amador wine region. Fiddletown itself is just a wide spot in the road (but on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to a fight a few decades ago to prevent a quarry hauling rock through there). It looks pretty local, with no amenities to speak of (but does have a nifty museum of items dating to Chinese immigration and work in the Gold Rush), even though we’re aware that the nearby wine region isn’t populated so much by locals these days. But our realtor tells us that many of the folks living in the Fiddletown area are exurbanites of a sort, driving to the Bay Area for a coupla’ days economic activity each week. It’s not just older folks, either, but also many families. Children attend school 10-15 miles away in
One Amador realtor must have used the phrase “end of the road” privacy half a dozen times in our first 3 hours with her. It resonates, which makes us re-examine exactly what we’re looking for and exactly what we would get out of owning such a “private” place, “in the country.” She suggested several times that this part of
Again, all of this has us thinking hard about exactly what it is that we want from this property --besides maybe a cool-sounding address in a place like Fiddletown (superficial, I know). Do we want, ultimately, to be exurbanites? how much privacy is ideal? how much could we stand if we retired there? Why is it so important to have a property where the road ends? that no road crosses? I am not trying to get back to Newton County (AR), my very rural home county -- at least I don't think I am? So, what exactly is the attraction of a "place in the country"?
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Nether the Bee nor the Chronicle actually uses the word "rural" to characterize the affected regions, but many of these counties are rural. Here's an excerpt from the Washington Post story, which explicitly observes the rural angle:
The downward trend is evident in places in the Deep South, Appalachia, the lower Midwest and in one county inThe Chronicle story says:
. It is not limited to one race or ethnicity but it is more common in rural and low-income areas. The most dramatic change occurred in two areas in southwestern Maine Virginia( Radford Cityand Pulaski County), where women's life expectancy has decreased by more than five years since 1983.
In counties where declines occurred, they affected whites as well as blacks, which makes income seem a greater determinant than class. As for the gender divide reflected in the study, it is not immediately obvious to me why smoking-related diseases and hypertension should impact women more than men. Perhaps the impact of such diseases in these counties was already reflected in pre-1980 life expectancies for the male populace. Perhaps as the Washington Post reporter observed, this reflects the beginning of the consequences of the obesity epidemic, and the fact that women took up smoking in large numbers decades after men did so.
During the two decades prior to 1980, according to the study, not one of the 3,100 counties in the United States reported a decline in life expectancy of men or women; in the final two decades, the researchers found declines among women in 963 counties and among men in 59 counties.
Using stricter statistical standards that rule out the possibility that the declines were the results of random chance, the researchers still spotted outright declines in female life expectancy in 180 American counties, and for men in 11 counties.
Ezzati and his team linked the reversals to several diseases. Among women, declines were caused by increased rates of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - two smoking-related killers. Obesity-related illnesses such as adult-onset diabetes and hypertension also contributed to the declines in life expectancy found in men and women, while HIV and homicide caused significant declines in life expectancy for men.
These negative trends ran counter to the increasing life expectancy - seven years among men and six years among women - recorded for the nation as a whole. That underscores that there is a widening gap between the health haves and have-nots in the United States, and the study shows that whether the life expectancy news is good or bad has a lot to do with where a person resides.
Oh, and the photo above, by Shelby Lee Adams, ran in the New York Times, where this study was analyzed on the front page of the Week in Review section. When I first glanced at it, I assumed it was from the Dorothea Lange era of images of rural poverty. In fact, the caption reads: "Vanessa, with a portrait of her great-grandmother last fall in Lost Creek, Kentucky. Life spans aren't keeping up in Appalachia."
Monday, April 21, 2008
This is good news for families, the environment, and the preservation of rural places, though experts caution that it may prove temporary.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
So what do the rural Chinese think about the influx of urbanites, seeking inns and tranquil getaways, but also altering the landscape? According to the reporter, they say "bring it on." They see the urbanites' presence as an opportunity to sell their produce and crafts and to improve their own lot.
It's a good thing I was jotting down notes as I listened to the story because I couldn't find it on the NPR website when I wanted to add the link to this post. What I did find when I searched for "rural" and "China," however, was a long list of recent stories using both of those words -- which is interesting in and of itself.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
The program featured in this story is Appalachian Service Project (ASP), which is now being endorsed by Bryan and Renee Cloyd, parents of slain Virginia Tech student Austin Cloyd. Cloyd had participated in four, week-long work projects with the program, which repairs dilapidated houses in Appalachia. Upon her death, Austin Cloyd's parents asked that donations be made in her honor to the program, and some $70K came in almost immediately. They realized they were on to something, and they have since escorted 150 Virginia Tech students and faculty on week-end house repair trips.
Austin's father said his daughter's experiences with ASP shaped her goals and that he is now honoring her passion for social justice. A Virginia Tech accounting professor, he comments about those who died there a year ago: "They should be known for how they lived rather than how they died." Thanks to the Cloyds' efforts, many residents of Appalachia will reap the rewards of that legacy.
Monday, April 14, 2008
But is the elitism Kristol asserts about the urban/rural (a/k/a small town) divide? Or it more of a class thing? On this issue, I found interesting the comments of Sherry Linkon, co-director of the Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University, and other guests on today's Talk of the Nation.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
This piece on the rural/urban political divide was published a week before Obama's "small town ... bitter" gaffe
It was an interesting fore-runner -- albeit in an admittedly obscure outlet -- to the comments about small-town voters that have Obama in hot water. What he said (bitterness of small town voters who've suffered economically for a quarter century explains why they cling to their guns and religion) and the audience to which he said it (San Franciscans) further illustrates the rural-urban political divide. It also illustrates the perils of trying to explain that divide in a way that seems to pit the interests -- and indeed character -- of one group against the other. Just as the high density of acquaintanceship associated with rurality means that rural residents know their neighbors are likely to hear gossip about themselves, in this age of media saturation about every word uttered by the candidates, Obama should have known that what he said about those small town voters would get back to them . . .
How interesting that in a country associated with such a single massive city, Seoul, that a number of presidents have hailed from rural places. Indeed, in a country so densely populated, I find it amazing that "rural" places still exist. When I visited South Korea about a year ago, I was driven through the area where the former President now lives. I recall our guide talking about these "rural" parts of Korea, although the Koreans I met tended to refer to their entire county outside Seoul and the country's second city, Busan (less than an hour from the former President's home in Bongha), as "rural." Indeed, some areas through which I passed did look "rural." Some small-scale farms still exist, and in many ways, "country life" looks quite different to that in the city. Plus, at least in the Southeast where I visited, vast areas are essentially unpopulated and apparently unusable for agriculture because of the country's mountainous terrain.
Here's a passage from the story that reflects various rural themes or stereotypes:
Other visitors included a kindergarten teacher and her 67 students. The teacher said she brought the children so that they could be inspired by Roh's "rags-to-fame" story. The former president's family was too poor to send him to college so he was self-educated, even passing the bar exam without attending a law school.
“I didn’t particularly like him when he was president,” said Lee Soo-in, 22, a college student. “But it really feels good to be able to see a former president up close and see where he lives. He feels like an uncle next door. We don’t have such intimacy with other former presidents. They all maintain an authoritative, boring persona.”
These comments raise a few questions and observations related to the rural:
- While the former president's presence has improved the economic lot of some locals, I wonder how they feel about the crowds who come day in, day out, apparently all day. It must be disrupting their routines in ways that are not altogether pleasing.
- Would the former president seem "like an uncle next door" if he were living in Seoul? To what extent does his decision to return to his obscure, rural home cloak him in this persona?
- In what ways does Mr. Roh's rural origin enhance his "rags-to-fame" persona? Perhaps his return to his home town gives Koreans a reason to wax sentimental about their own rural past, something I observed many doing when I visited last year. Indeed, from the generation who came of age after the Korean war, an era of rapid industrialization for the nation, I heard nostalgia for their rural past, even as they also acknowledge the wealth associated with their urbanized and high-tech present and future.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Here's a nice quote about what the program represents culturally, and in the context of 21st century journalism.
“For many of us who grew up here, Bob tells us about the Texas we remember and that is probably vanishing,” said Tony Pederson, professor and Belo Distinguished Chair in Journalism at Southern Methodist University, Mr. Phillips’s alma mater. “His is a stop-and-smell-the-roses style of reporting that is so deceptively simple and yet so effective in terms of the quality of storytelling he produces. There’s a pretty good journalism lesson in that.”Ah, there's that rural nostalgia thing again . . . I was also interested to learn that, in addition to being broadcast weekly on 25 Texas stations, the program is beamed eight times a week on the "rural satellite and cable network RFD-TV," which reaches 30 million households nationally. I'd never heard of this network, but then I don' t have cable. It's a clever name, though. For those of you who don't know, RFD stands for "rural free delivery," an initiative of the U.S. postal service early in the 20th century to deliver mail to rural residents, rather than require them to pick it up at a post office.
In light of all this, I assume the word "country" in the program's name is meant to connote "rural" (as in city mouse and the country mouse), rather than Texas's sense that it is a country (nation-state) unto itself.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
The link to a story about an initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center is here. (Photo by Dave Bunder, Montgomery Advertiser).
Friday, April 4, 2008
The tale is one of small-scale farmers who have not adapted-- and in many cases have no plans to adapt -- to EU agricultural regulations. The story is chock full of information about the delights -- and sustainability-- of Poland's agricultural tradition. Did you know, for example, that Poland boasts a tradition of what we now tout as organic farming? Journalist Elisabeth Rosenthal reports that Poland is "a rare bastion of biological diversity, with 40,000 pairs of nesting storks and thousands of seed varieties that exist nowhere else in the world." It's therefore not surprising that long-time Polish farmers eschew genetically modified varieties. Indeed, contrary to EU and WTO mandates, all 16 Polish states have banned genetically modified organisms.
One reason that this story resonated so greatly with me is that it reminded me of how my maternal grandparents farmed in rural northwest Arkansas: a dirt-floor barn, hand milking, slaughtering on the property, not at a slaughterhouse; plowing with a horse or mule. Like the Polish farmers, they would have pleased Wendell Berry in their sustainable practices.
In Poland now, however, these practices fail to meet EU sanitation standards, which prohibit hand milking and require certain equipment for slaughtering. A consequence of the Polish tradition, a trend to which the small farms cling, is a failure to meet EU regulations, which leads in turn to a reversion to subsistence. Why not enjoy designation as organic farms? The answer, apparently, is too much EU paper work.
Rosenthal queries: Are farmers like these visionaries or Luddites? Are they behind the times -- or ahead of them? Are they a "nostalgic throwback" or the future, assuming they survive? Advocates of these farmers find broader importance in their practices, such as not contributing to climate change and not polluting the environment.
I wonder what this trend portends for the Polish countryside? Without farm income, the reversion to subsistence will surely hurt rural economies, which must already be endangered in an over-crowded Europe.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Wallace, dateline for the story, sounds delightful. Yardley describes it as a "tiny triangle of 890 people and dozens of historic red brick buildings, all wedged between steep evergreen slopes and Interstate 90." Ok, the part about the interstate doesn't sound so delightful. In any event, the story continues:
Local officials say the revival of mining, however counterintuitive the idea may seem to the second-home aesthetic, is critical if the area is to remain affordable to a population whose families have lived her for generations.Yardley reports that, for now, the increase in mining isn't creating conflict "with those nutruing a new Silver Valley." Well, maybe not, but then there's this quote from miner Greg Riley, "This is the Silver Valley, not the Tourism Valley. "
* * *
The average pay for mining jobs in Shoshone County in 2006 was about $57,000, more than double the average of all other jobs ... And while the current total of 700 mining jobs is a small fraction of the 4,000 that the county had in the early 1980s, still it is 200 more than at this time last year.
And you have to love this closing quote from the very cosmopolitan sounding Jacques Lemieux, a real estate agent in nearby Kellogg, where condo prices have fallen from $585K to $395K. Acknowledging that the developers got a bit ahead of themselves there, he nodded toward Wallace and said: "Wallace is the damnedest town . . . Wallace never gave up the mining dream."
Now those are the rural Americans I know and love -- tenacious and hard working.
Be sure to check out all the wonderful photos that accompany this story at the link above.
Journalist Eric Eckholm describes the county as "pastoral," a word often associated with rural places -- which most of the county is. And my impression when I passed through there five years ago was that it is, in fact, pastoral -- at least in parts. (One town there, Chimayo, is known for its Catholic shrine, where pilgrims flock for healing.) But the area also bears the scars of lack of opportunity and intergenerational poverty. Like many rural areas in New Mexico and elsewhere, it is economically depressed -- this in spite of its close proximity to popular tourist destinations like Santa Fe (to the South) and Taos (to the West), and to the relatively affluent Los Alamos National Laboratory area.
I applaud New Mexico's effort at "harm reduction," especially when intensified law enforcement and a flurry of new treatment programs have failed. But I remain deeply troubled at the shocking incidence of drug abuse in rural America -- including the abuse of prescription drugs, which is also mentioned in this story. I wonder when wide-scale federal efforts and resources will be brought to bear on this scourge, which -- like other rural problems -- remains largely out of sight, out of mind, for most Americans.