Thursday, May 29, 2008
I don’t recall ever seeing the word “rurality” used in the U.S. scholarly literature (but await readers to correct me), be it in rural sociology or rural economics – let alone legal ruralism, of which I am pretty much the only exponent. I do occasionally see the word used in the British and other literature about, well, the concept of rurality. It really is the best word. In a way, Barbara Ching and Gerald Creed at least refer to it in the introduction to their edited volume, Knowing Your Place, where they discuss the literal and metaphorical aspects of rural places.
In the U.S., we seem to use “the rural,” or refer to rural dwellers or rural residents. But the latter terms have different connotations. For one thing, just because you dwell or reside in a rural place does not make you “rural” – at least not in my humble opinion. Those terms don’t evoke the same idea or concept as “rurality.” Neither does “rural places.” “The rural” works, but it seems unduly cumbersome, and the article “the” seems a bit high-falutin’ to be associated with places otherwise thought of as, well, “base” and grounded in the land.
Being in that museum in Québec today, I felt affirmed in my confident (and repeated) use of “rurality” in my most recent publication, which theorizes the intersection of gender and rurality. Nevertheless, as I write this, the spell check in Word is grumping at me, telling me “rurality” isn’t a word at all, or I'm spelling it wrong. But what would Microsoft know about rurality?
There are people with us still who remember the Great Plains in its birthday suit, grass as far as the eye could see, what Walt Whitman called, “that delicate miracle, the ever-recurring grass.”
That land is gone to us, now. Once, the grassland in our midsection spanned at least 14 states, from Minnesota to Texas, the second biggest ecosystem in North America. It’s gone because the grass was overturned and the bison were chased off the land and the riot of biodiversity that evolved over 10,000 years was replaced by a few commodity crops to feed us.
* * *
[H]ere, just north of this little town in Osage Indian country, I saw some evidence that the land can be healed.
Read his further description of what that healing looks like here.
Monday, May 26, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
The vote came after a bitter $5 million campaign in which a small-town trialLiptak reports that 87 % of state court judges are elected and that at least some judges are elected in 39 states.
judge with thin credentials ran a television advertisement falsely suggesting that the only black justice on the state Supreme Court had helped free a black rapist. The challenger unseated the justice with 51 percent of the vote, and will join the court in August.
The story reminded me of the particular problem presented by judicial elections in rural places. While the state-wide election that Liptak describes drew big money, including that from independent groups who jumped into the advertising fray, some additional problems may arise in rural areas. Judges there may be influenced by not only by the need to be seen as "tough on crime" for purposes of getting re-elected, their decisions in individual cases may also be influenced by personal relationships with litigants.
My recent research and writing about domestic violence in rural contexts indicates that various scholars have noted the challenges associated with small-town judges in the context of these and other gender-sensitive contexts. Some of the problems arise from lack of judicial education about psycho-social phenomena such as the cycle of violence that leads women to return to abusive partners. Other problems arise from judges being part of the "good ol' boy" networks that include perpetrators. Appointing judges would not necessarily solve this problem. That is, those appointed, if local, are still going to know folks in the community. However, an appointments process might diminish the pressure these judges feel to favor their cronies. Better judicial education for all judges, including those serving rural communities, about all forms of violence against women (e.g., rape, domestic abuse) presumably also helps. Indeed, this is one use that has been made of funding under the rural category of Violence Against Women Grants from the DOJ Office of Violence Against Women for the past decade, and there is some evidence it is improving outcomes, such as the granting of more protective orders.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
In fact, the story implies that most of the offenders are not from Dickinson. Perhaps they move there seeking a fresh start, and/or perhaps because so-called Megan's laws prevent them from living in cities, where it's hard to avoid settling too close to a school or other forbidden location. This makes me wonder about the impact of this lack of information privacy on their rehabilitation prospects, especially in the context of communities so short on social services.
Of course, Maureen Dowd suggested last week after the W. Virginia primary was that the problem is Appalachia's, and it is race. She's not the only one. But an eloquent college student from Whitesburg, Kentucky responded in an NPR audio essay this afternoon, rejecting the idea that Appalachia is rejecting Obama on the basis of his race . . . Stay tuned.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Here' s my theory: Hillary appeals to what I call traditional rural communities, those populated with long-time rural residents. The multi-generational rural residents are the ones who appreciate her -- the type of folks you find in eastern Kentucky. But the demographic in rural Oregon is different. Many of the rural residents there haven't lived in Oregon -- let alone rural Oregon, for generations. They are more the newcomers, the "back to nature" or "escape from it all" type of transplant somewhat associated with what I have called rural gentrification. (The same may be true of Idaho, for example, which Obama carried. But unlike in Oregon, perhaps there aren't that many Democrats anywhere in Idaho, and the ones there are definitely the Obama types, be they rural or urban). So, does Obama attract "rural hippies" and Hillary long-time, intergenerational rural residents? Maybe, although Hillary's showing in Oregon's more rural counties was certainly respectable. As in many other states with significant rural populations, urban voters may still easily outnumber their rural counterparts.
In any event, if my idea about their two being two broad classes of rural voters is accurate, it still leaves for me the question of why Hillary attracts the traditional, intergenerational type of rural voters. Don't get me wrong. I'm a a big fan of Hillary. (I grew up in Arkansas, and she was a significant role model for me, albeit a distant one. I, after all, was the daughter of a truck driver and a teacher's aide in a v. small town; she was a big city lawyer, the wife of the governor who undertook to reform the state's education system. By the time I was in college, too late to benefit from it, my rural school was finally required to offer a foreign language, and it got ag/vo-tech classes, too. But I digress . . . ) Why do traditional, long-time rural voters, often described as working-class and poorly educated by the political pundits, support Hillary? When I was growing up in Arkansas, the rural folk I lived amongst generally loved Bill, even though they often reviled Hillary. What has changed? Are these rural voters now gender-progressive and gender-enlightened? Is their loyalty to Hillary a knock-on consequence of their affection for Bill Clinton? Or are they simply racists reacting against Obama? Recent media accounts suggest the latter.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
What demographers call a natural decrease has been occurring for years in tiny rural towns and in some retirement meccas in the South. But the phenomenon is relatively new in metropolitan areas in the Northeast, the Rust Belt of the Middle West and
Another interesting thing about the map that accompanies the story is that the natural increase/decrease it depicts is nevertheless greatly impacted by immigration. I've recently written about the influx of Latina/os into the non-metropolitan South, where their presence is not only bolstering sheer numbers, it is also associated with a boom in births that is countering the graying of the rural areas where they are concentrated.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
The three candidates now on the November ballot for state Supreme Court Justice include two women: Democrat Margaret Workman and Republican Beth Walker. The third candidate is Menis Kethcum, another Democrat. With the three vying for two seats, that means that at least one of the women will be elected. (Workman was previously elected to the court, in 1998).
Indeed, while I have written about the entrenched nature of patriarchy in rural places, Appalachia (well, West Virginia in any event) might be starting to see real movement on that front. I was pleased to see earlier this spring that Joyce McConnell, a long-time faculty member at the University of West Virginia law school, will be its next dean. Having women in such highly visible, state-wide leadership roles is ultimately beneficial to all women in the region, if for no other reason than as role models.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
The caption for the photo, left (Peter Parks, Agence France-Presse Getty Images): "A rescuer carried an elderly woman from Beichuan, one of many towns that had been inaccessible after the quake." Top right is a photo of Yingxiu, in Wenchuan County (the quake's epicenter). (Photo Chen Kai/Xinhua, via AP). With some high rise apartments buildings visible, it might not look very "rural" by U.S. standards, but that is what a caption in the print edition of the NYT today labeled it. The same NYT caption put the "city's" population at about 10,000 (among whom an estimated 2,300 survived). That would make it "micropolitan" (a form of "non-metropolitan") under the OMB definition. Certainly, this aerial photo suggests that it is remote.
I have often thought that, even though the rural-urban divide in the developed world is relevant to so many issues, the divide between the urban "haves" and the rural "have nots" is much greater in the developing world. (These issues include, for purposes of natural disasters, delivery of services, although the handling of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, respectively, may defy my general rule.) Yes, I realize that a characterization as "developing" is not really accurate as applied to China, but perhaps it helps make my point that in countries like China (South Africa and India are other examples), the urban part of the country is highly developed -- as developed as Europe or the United States. That part of the county we think of as the "first world." The rural parts, on the other hand, are "developing." You may be thinking, but isn't that so by definition? Doesn't "rural" connote "undeveloped"? Yes and no.
What I am talking about is a matter of degree. Sure, a lifestyle and services gap exists between rural and urban residents in highly and more uniformly developed countries. That's what I've been writing about for a few years now. It isn't nearly as vast, however, as in countries like China and South Africa, where great numbers of rural residents don't have access, for example, to basic sanitation. (I realize that the same is also true for some urban residents in these countries, as in the townships in South Africa and the hutongs in Beijing). In these countries, the divide between their world-class cities and extremely deprived rural areas is much sharper than in the U.S. The gap seems largely unbridged socially and economically, except as rural residents migrate to cities for work, and the hope of a better life.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
The early news analysis I heard last evening focused on her now well-documented and often-commented upon attraction to lesser-educated, working class and -- yes, rural-- voters. In other words, no wonder she won West Virginia and is likely to win Kentucky. Obama's alleged elitism may hurt him with some voters -- such as these still flocking to Hillary. I wonder, however, if her association with this less savory stratum of society has in fact helped him a great deal because most Americans are, in fact, also elitist in one way or another. Perhaps they don't want to be aligned with a candidate to whom these common folk are attracted?
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
This comes on the heels of other raids in rural and micropolitan locales this year, including the April ones on Pilgrim's Pride locations in Moorefield, West Virginia (population 2,375), Batesville, Arkansas (population 9,556), Live Oak, Florida (population 6.480), and Mount Pleasant, Texas (population 13,935). Many raids last year were also on meat and poultry processing plants in rural places.
I'm not suggesting that the ICE folks are picking on rural people or places. They are presumably just going where they believe the unauthorized migrants to be concentrated. As I have recently written, those concentrations are now increasingly in rural America.
Apparently, Erik Eckholm, who wrote this story and who often covers rural issues for the Times, learned about happenings in Ewing after its mayor, Wally Thomas, wrote a post for the Daily Yonder. I like Eckholm's closing quote from Thomas, who apparently frequently drives out of town for work: "There's no better feeling than coming back to a small town like this to lay your head down at night." And that, in he end, is what saves many rural communities from total extinction -- the fact that even though they cannot support people economically (as with jobs) people (often including exurban/rural wannabe types) are willing to commute to live there.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Many of these programs have been implemented to respond to two phenomena: (1) the consequences of welfare reform, which was initiated in 1996, and (2) more recently, the economic downturn. Jack Tweedie of the National Conference of State Legislatures counsels states, including Arkansas, on poverty issues. He says that while the prior goal was getting parents off welfare, “the emphasis now is much more on work and helping parents stay in work.” As Swarns is quick to note, these programs are not entirely altruistic. To the extent that the programs keep people working and off welfare, they protect states' funding from the federal government. She writes:
Some of the state programs offer a mere pittance to recipients. Massachusetts, for example, pays just $7/month to food stamp recipients, and Michigan provides just $10/month for 6 months. As Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Priorities expresses it, one issue is "how rich is the benefit? Is it nominal, or is it an amount that will really help?”
Advocates for low-income families point out, however, that benefits are so low in some states that officials seem to be more focused on meeting federal work requirements than on helping the working poor. Federal officials say the programs may siphon money from the welfare recipients they were intended to serve.
While the anecdotes offered by Swarns are all urban (Little Rock area, in particular), I note that most of the states that have implemented such "safety nets" or which are considering them are states popularly thought of as rural and/or with significant rural populations. Swarns focuses on the Arkansas program, which is one of the more generous. It pays $204/month for up to 24 months. Among the other generous programs are those in Utah, Oregon, North Dakota, and New Mexico -- also states with very large rural populations. I wonder if this is a coincidence or reflects state lawmakers' understanding of the added burden that welfare reform placed on the rural poor.
Friday, May 9, 2008
But El Dorado County is not small in land area or population. It covers 1,788 square miles from the Sacramento County line to South Lake Tahoe and the Nevada border; its population is 156,299. A great deal of it is National Forest, and it includes two highly populated areas: El Dorado Hills, an upscale exurb of Sacramento with a population of 18,000, and historic Placerville (aka Old Hangtown), the county seat, population 9,610. Here's a county map, which also shows the five districts. Teresi is running for county supervisor for District 2, that wide east-west swath that is essentially the southern half of the county.
Based on my description, you can imagine that El Dorado County politics, to a great extent, might boil down to a battle among the "cities" on one hand, the Lake Tahoe region on another, and the rest -- the rural remainder. Maybe that tension is what Teresi is playing on. If elected, he would represent a big chunk of what might be fairly classified as rural by several measures (note the home-made sign next to his is for a 4-H event), but which also borders on exurban, or rural gentrification. Let's just say that, particularly with the burgeoning wine region, a second-home aesthetic is evident in parts of that district. (You probably cannot see Teresi's photo well enough to tell that grapevines appear to be the background).
So, this sent me to Teresi's website to look at what it might say about rural matters. Turns out, it doesn't say that much about rurality. He does use the phrase "rural quality of life," but in a separate paragraph from the mention of traffic congestion. And he notes the threat to the "rural lifestyle" from the expansion of an airfield in neighboring Sacramento County.
In any event, I can see why Teresi chose the slogan. Like the use of "rural" in many contexts, it evokes nostalgia -- in both oldtimers and newcomers. Indeed, that may be the greatest benefit of the slogan: it plays to each group's notion of what makes rurality worthy of preservation.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Today's New York Times features a photo of a member of the previously better-known F.L.D.S. branch on the Utah-Arizona border. Again, remote. This most recent story is about concern among church members in that locale that they, too, may soon be raided. According to a 2004 story in the Times, other F.L.D.S. outposts are in Mancos, Colorado; Bountiful, British Columbia; and Galeana in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico.
So why does the F.L.D.S. church locate in remote, rural places like Colorado City, Arizona (population 3,334), Mancos, Colorado (population 1,119) and Eldorado, Texas (population 1,951)? There are surely many reasons, cheap land no doubt among them. But the extreme remoteness from metropolitan centers, and removal even from micropolitan areas, also surely plays a role. (Eldorado is 45 miles from the regional center of San Angelo and 160 miles from San Antonio; Colorado City 45 miles from St. George, Utah and 161 miles from Las Vegas). I assume that the leaders who purchased the land that is now the YFZ compound in Eldorado must have been looking to get off (or stay off) the radar screens of law enforcement, and out of the influence of mainstream culture, too. They were presumably hoping to achieve the enhanced privacy associated with rural locales, to stay out of the way of others and to have others stay out of their business, too. Indeed, such considerations are probably quite similar to those that took the mainstream L.D.S. church to Utah in the late 1800s, when it, too, practiced polygamy.
It's a strategy long-employed by many fringe groups (and individuals, for that matter), but in this case, it didn't work. Indeed, a story from the New York Times in 2004, about a year after F.L.D.S. purchased the 1,700-acre ranch and when the temple there was barely under construction, indicates that, even then, Eldoradans were keeping a close watch on their new neighbors.
And that's the paradox of rural privacy. Spatial isolation provides something of a buffer for those seeking privacy. At the same time, however, rural communities tend to know their neighbors' "business." They also tend to have low thresholds for difference, for the "other." Unlike at the Arizona-Utah border, where the sect has had its base for decades, they were relative newcomers to Eldorado, and the object of much suspicion. They have been outsiders with practices the locals found repugnant.
In contrast, today's story quotes authorities in Utah and Arizona as indicating that are planning no raids; rather, they will pursue any allegations of abuse on a case-by-case basis -- as they did against leader Warren Jeffs, convicted last year of being an accomplice to the rape of a 14-year-old. Maybe Utah and Arizona are taking a different approach because the Texas raid has proved to be a PR debacle -- albeit not to the extent one might expect. Maybe it's because the F.L.D.S. don't really constitute the "other" in Utah. Again, they have been in that locale for decades, and they stem, however long ago, from the same root as the mainstream Mormon church (much to the dismay of the latter), which has a huge presence in that region.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Monday, May 5, 2008
One explanation is rooted in where Mr. Clinton is spending his time: 21 small communities in North Carolina and Indiana between Saturday morning and Monday night. Mr. Clinton spoke wryly about the “big East Coast writer” who had suggested that Mr. Clinton had been relegated by his wife’s campaign to the boonies.
“I love it here,” he said.
The truth is that some of Mr. Clinton’s best moments in 1992 were on bus tours that brought him to small towns and villages where people lined the street to see a potential future president, much the way they were lined outside the high school waiting to see him here.
Seems plausible. The man from Hope and all that. I wonder if his Arkansas accent has made a come back, too.
Journalist Shaila Dawan describes the place, which has been "discovered by speculators and wealthy weekenders."
Unlike many rural communities under similar threat, Hog Hammock's residents are not ambivalent about development and what it brings. They adamantly oppose it, and say they need help holding on to their land. The story's closing quote is from an island resident.
Reachable only by boat or ferry, Hog Hammock is one of the last settlements of the Geechee people, also called the Gullah, who in the days before air-conditioning and bug repellent had the Sea Islands virtually to themselves and whose speech and ways, as a result, retained a distinctly African flavor.
“On the verge of sounding racist — which I have been accused of, which I don’t give a hoot — I would rather my community be all black,” said Cornelia Bailey, an island historian, writer and proprietor of a bed and breakfast called the Wallow. “I would rather have my community what it was in the ’50s. . . .My land is for my children, my grandchildren and even for the unborn. ”
Saturday, May 3, 2008
The feminist in me is rendered (almost) speechless by what I read of Parton's monologue between songs. "Complex interior life" and "power of independent thought," indeed.
Friday, May 2, 2008
Thursday, May 1, 2008
I agree that it's insulting of small-town folks, especially in a place like California where very, very few places are that rural in terms of remoteness from an urban/metropolitan center, and therefore from urban influence. I also note the irony of Schwarzenegger touting 10-lane highways on the day we learned that Sacramento remains one of the most polluted cities in America, largely due to to automobile exhaust. Many other California cities are on the list of worst offenders, according to the American Lung Association.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Wednesday it's good for state legislators from "little towns" to globe-trot and see worldly things like "an airport," "a highway that maybe has 10 lanes" or even "a highway on top of a highway."
The Republican governor, at an infrastructure conference hosted by billionaire Michael Milken, said he has benefited by riding high-speed trains in France and China, which gave him more inspiration to support similar projects in California.
"And that's why I always encourage the legislators in Sacramento, because some of them come from those little towns," Schwarzenegger said. "You know what I'm saying? They come from those little towns, and they don't have that vision yet of an airport or of a highway that maybe has 10 lanes. Or of putting a highway on top of a highway. They look at you and say, 'Well, we don't have that in my town, what are you talking about?' So they are kind of shocked when you say certain things."
His comments on small-town legislators drew laughs and applause from the big-city audience at the Beverly Hilton.
State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, said he's actually seen an airport or two in his day. He's also been on freeways on top of other freeways, even though his Central Valley hometown has only about 14,000 residents.
"Does the governor think that I just normally fly up on 'crop dusters' to Sacramento field by field?" Florez said. "The governor doesn't live like most people and points to rural legislators as down on the rung of trying to understand what modern society is.
"It's just insulting."
Yep, just what we need, Arnie: more 10-lane highways, more congestion, more and bigger metropolises. Isn't it clear by now that such a future is not sustainable? (OK, to give him credit, he did mention high speed trains in France and China -- now there's a good idea!).