Monday, February 23, 2009

More on reverse migration in China

Today's New York Times reports again today on the migration reversal in China, as the economic slump forces so-called floating populations back to rural areas. The headline for Andrew Jacobs' story is "China Fears Rural Tremors as Migrants Flock from Coast," and the dateline is Tanjia, in Hunan Province. Jacobs reports that the government is taking steps to ameliorate rural hardship as many migrants flow back to their home villages. These steps include vocational training, crop subsidies, and an expansion of rural health care. He notes that the history of rural unrest in China is part of the reason for the government' s concern, citing peasants' roles in Mao's revolution.

Of particular interest to me was this statement reflecting urban attitudes toward rural Chinese. Thie statement is from the director of Zhuzhou’s employment center, who says he is much more concerned about his city's residents (suggesting the more permanent ones) than the migrants from rural China:
“The migrants don’t have a lot of expectations and they can always fall back on the land and their family savings.”
Jacobs goes on to observe that "[s]uch sentiments are common in China, where rural laborers are often viewed as dime-a-dozen workhorses capable of enduring enormous hardship."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XVII): No crime in an ice storm

The past two issues of the Newton County Times have been focused on the ice storm that hit Arkansas and other parts of the mid-South in late January. Stories about the storm and its aftermath feature in both the Jan. 29, 2009 and Feb. 5, 2009 issues. In the former, which went to press on the second day of storm, there is a photo of ice-laden tree branches and the headline, "Winter storm makes travel treacherous." The story reports that the Sheriff's office set up an emergency command center at the jail. The county judge said that while no roads were closed, several roads were blocked by downed power lines and tree limbs. He reported that emergency vehicles were making rounds with the assistance of tire chains. A second front-page article reports a burn ban in effect until further notice and links the ban to the onset of the spring fire season. The fact that several homes in the county have recently burned is not mentioned.

The Feb. 5 paper features the headline, "County recovering from ice storm; fire ban still in effect." It also has front-page photos of the ice storm and a Jasper residence that burned the night the storm began. The story reports that some parts of the county were still without power a week after the storm. Somewhat ironically, the county's command center for responding to the storm had been moved from the jail to the Newton County Nursing Home after a back-up generator failed. To respond to the needs of the many county residents without power, volunteer fire departments that had back-up power were opened to serve as "warming centers." An emergency shelter was also established at the county's Senior Center, though only woman took advantage of it. She was reportedly given a bed at the nursing home.

For more on the storm's consequences in places that reflect various degrees of rurality, read stories here (also about Northwest Arkansas, with a focus on rural power) and here (about Kentucky).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Rural Americans most satisfied with where they live

Here's an excerpt from David Brooks' column today, which reports on a recent Pew Research Center study of where Americans would like to live and the sort of lifestyle they seek.
City dwellers are least happy with where they live, and cities are one of the least popular places to live. Only 52 percent of urbanites rate their communities “excellent” or “very good,” compared with 68 percent of suburbanites and 71 percent of the people who live in rural America.
I wonder whether this greater level of satisfaction says tells us more about rural places or more about the outlook of the people who (choose/happen to) live there?

Brooks offers this reflection on the Pew study findings:
They offer the dream, so characteristic on this continent, of having it all: the machine and the garden . . . wide-open space and the casual wardrobes.
Are we (excluding Michael Katz, of course--see this post) just having trouble letting go of Jefferson's agrarian vision? Or does something else draw us to rural life?

Working from bottom-up in Afghanistan's rural areas

Here's the lede from a story on NPR's All Things Considered today:
The U.S. Institute of Peace released Tuesday a new report outlining policy recommendations for Afghanistan. The RAND Corp.'s Seth Jones, a co-author of the report, says success in Afghanistan has historically been a combination of top-down efforts in urban areas and bottom-up efforts in rural areas.
The story goes on to discuss the need for coordination and links between rural and urban places if Afghanistan is to be stabilized. This is necessitated, in part, by the persistence of tribes and clans wielding a great deal of power in rural places. Jones, a Middle East expert, even refers to Tip O'Neill's famous line, "All politics is local," in explaining the need to engage local powers.

This recognition of the greater power of custom and local (if sometimes illegitimate) sources of authority in rural places is interesting, and I suspect it explains difference and conflict between rural and urban authorities in various contexts--particularly in the developing world.

Certainly, this rural-urban duality is reflected in one of my current projects, in which I am assessing how various countries have responded to their obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to guarantee certain rights to rural women. It appears that in rural areas, the power of custom and local authorities is greater, which becomes an impediment to top-down imposition of international legal norms. It does not, however, preclude work from the "bottom up" to empower women.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Harsh words for rural Americans

A story on NPR's Morning Edition today featured these quotes and statements from former FCC economist Michael Katz about the part of the Obama stimulus package that would expand broadband Internet access to rural areas:

"Other people don't like to say bad things about rural areas," Katz began. "So I will."

The stimulus package includes $7.2 billion to expand broadband Internet access into "underserved" and rural areas. Katz listed ways that the $7.2 billion could be put to better use, including an effort to combat infant deaths. But he also spoke of rural places as environmentally hostile, energy inefficient and even weak in innovation, simply because rural people are spread out across the landscape.

"The notion that we should be helping people who live in rural areas avoid the costs that they impose on society … is misguided," Katz went on, "from an efficiency point of view and an equity one."

Katz made these statements last week as part of a panel at the American Enterprise Institute.

I had missed it, but today's Morning Edition story by Howard Berkes reports that a New York Times story on 2 February 2009 suggested that expansion of broadband to rural places could be "a cyberbridge to nowhere."

Is that tantamount, I wonder, to saying rural people are "nobodies"? Does the blog need a new label for "urban arrogance"?

Read more from the Daily Yonder on rurality and broadband, most recently here and here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More on law permitting concealed weapons in Arkansas churches

I wrote about this earlier in the week after the Arkansas House passed a bill that would permit concealed weapons in places of worship. Here is the latest on the bill from the Associated Press, as picked up in the NYT. This report now frames the issue as a matter of religious freedom as much as one of gun rights. Here's an interesting excerpt:

Grant Exton, the executive director of the Arkansas Concealed Carry Association, said that allowing concealed weapons would not make churches more likely to have volatile situations, but that that was not the point.

It is a problem of the government “telling churches what to do in an area of moral issue, where that should be none of their business,” Mr. Exton said.

Of 48 states that allow concealed carry, 42 let churches make the decision, he said.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The latest on judicial conflict of interest in West Virginia

Adam Liptak speculates in today's New York Times that recent events in West Virginia may lead to widespread re-thinking of the election of judges. Read his report here.

This month's ABA Journal also had a story about the matter.

Read my earlier posts on the West Virginia conflict-of-interest case here, here and here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Concealed handguns OK'd, but only in churches

. . . which leaves me wanting to say, "only in Arkansas," but that might be a bit unfair.

Read the NYT blurb about the bill here. It was passed in the Arkansas House (57-42) and will now be considered by the state Senate.

Well, I have commented in the past few days here and here that guns do tend to be an aspect of rural culture, so perhaps I should not be surprised.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Gillibrand and that rural-urban thing again

Ok, I'm not from New York, and I have never lived in the state for longer than a summer (in NYC, of course, in 1990), so I'm not likely to have a very clear understanding of how the state's politics fracture along rural-urban lines. In fact, because I am skeptical that it does to the degree the New York Times has suggested in the wake of the Gillibrand appointment, I suggested here that the newspaper has over-played rural-urban differences in the state.

Enter today's story by David Halbfinger: "To Some in Gillibrand's Old District, Her Evolution is a Betrayal." This is the first time I've seen the NYT coverage make clear that the city of Albany is not in the 20th Congressional District, which Gillibrand previously represented. This exclusion of Albany does make the district seem more "rural," as the paper has repeated characterized it. It is ironic, then, that this is the also the first story in which I have seen the New York Times describe the district without using the modifier "rural." In this case, Halbfinger describes it as a"conservative swath outside Albany." Most recently and more typically, the NYT has described the district as a "largely rural and politically conservative swath of Eastern New York."

What this story does in relation to the rural, however, is highlight the sentiments of voters in her former Congressional district on at least one issue closely associated with rurality: guns. Nevertheless, this may be progress in terms of the newspaper's representations of rural populations. As for the other issues on which voters comment in Halbfinger's story--immigration and gay marriage, for example--these are as well seen as conservative-liberal debates as they are urban-rural ones.

The culture wars need not be aligned with the rural-urban axis. Really.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

More on rural Arkansans and Obama

I just came across this on From Start to Finish. The brief item is based on a Washington Post article by Anne Hull, which ran on January 16, 2009. Her article's headline is "Disconnected from Obama's America: Arkansans Wary of President Elect's Urban Perspective," and the dateline is Brinkley, Arkansas, population 3,940.

One person Hull interviewed for her story is Wayne Loewer, a 52-year-old who farms 2,900 acres in this town in east central Arkansas. Here is an excerpt quoting Loewer and some others, speaking about Obama:

"I'm worried that he's not gonna understand the rural way of life," he says.

On this cold January day, Loewer makes his morning rounds -- the irrigation company, the seed distributor, a well supplier -- and everywhere he goes, the same anxieties are expressed.

"That comment he made about guns and religion, it's frightening, you have to admit," says the secretary at his accountant's office.

Loewer agrees. "I don't believe in going around with a gun strapped to your hip, Wild West-style," he says. "But you ought to be able to protect yourself."

He understands the cultural chasm between him and Obama's Ivy League, biracial, global polish.
The story goes on to discuss further the importance of guns to Southern rural residents like Loewer. This part expresses well the folks I know well in a different part of the state:
Guns define Loewer's life. He grew up walking the woods with a rifle. . . . There are few better feelings than the one he gets taking his 14-year-old son hunting and teaching him about white-tailed deer.
In addition to its focus on the rural-urban culture divide, the story also presents Brinkley, as well as Monroe County in its entirety, as a place with a sharp black-white divide that also influenced the election here. This racial divide is also evident in this provocative slide show that accompanies the story.

My earlier thoughts on the role of rurality in Arkansas's 2008 vote are here. Read an earlier post about Brinkley and its economy here.

Further reflections on Gillibrand and portrayals of the new U.S. Senator

I was catching up on some newspaper reading this week-end and found myself ruminating again on this description of Kirsten Gillibrand by Michael Powell in the New York Times:
Eyes red-rimmed from lack of sleep, careening from the Port of Buffalo to Downtown Brooklyn to Manhattan fund-raisers for a Senate primary election that is still 20 months away (she attended 19 events in three days in three cities), Ms. Gillibrand has an occasional stranger-in-a-strange-land quality on her maiden voyage as New York’s junior senator. Ten days ago, Gov. David A. Paterson tapped this 42-year-old Democratic congresswoman from a largely rural and politically conservative swath of eastern New York to fill the seat of Hillary Rodham Clinton, who stepped down to become secretary of state.
Note that the journalist once again works in the reference to her "largely rural" Congressional district. The NYT has to date portrayed Gillibrand in ways that evince both sexism and "ruralism," so I hardly know what to make of the "maiden voyage" and "stranger-in-a-strange land" metaphors. Are these sexist? ruralist? both? neither?

The story also includes this quote from Gillibrand:
I didn’t know about milking cows but I quickly informed myself and asked to be on the Agriculture Committee . . . . The same thing will happen on immigration issues and gun issues. Now that I am a senator for the whole state I will immerse myself in these issues.
So, Gillibrand herself still invokes her ag credentials, more associated with her former Congressional district upstate than with the overwelming urban populace she now represents. Is she playing the rural card? If so, how could doing so possibly be to her benefit?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Appreciating its past, town slips into exurbia

Shaila Dewan's story in yesterday's NYT features the dateline Hernando, Mississippi, population 6,812. She tells of how Hernando residents are trying to get the town's water tower placed on the list of Mississippi landmarks. Dewan describes the tower as a plain one, which looks a bit like the head of the Wizard of Oz's tin man, with only the word "Hernando" painted on it, in plain black letters.

Never mind that it's plain, though. James Gabbert, a historian for the National Register of Historic Places observes that nothing keeps "a workaday water tower from winning historic recognition." He notes “the growing awareness of the importance of what we call the vernacular, the ordinary, things that represent ordinary people and workers.”

Later in the story, Dewan describes a recent period of transition for Hernando:
In recent years, Hernando, once a Southern classic with a courthouse square, stately white houses, spinster shut-ins and a pair of aging sisters who ran the well-known Shadow Hill Tea Room on their porch, has undergone significant development pressure. The housing boom, and the town’s proximity to Memphis, pumped the population from fewer than 3,000 in 1990 to about 15,000 today.
This transition may shed light on why Hernando's residents are now looking to hang on to, and preserve, this symbol of their past, which might also be seen as "workaday" and "ordinary."

Friday, February 6, 2009

Chinese attempt to accommodate reverse migration

A story in today's NYT follows up on other recent reports about the faltering economy's consequences for China's significant migrant population. Other media reports (like those discussed in posts here and here) have suggested that the Chinese government is worried about the resulitng unrest, which is likely to continue in the wake of massive job losses. Such losses are driving many workers back to their rural places of origin where there is typically inadequate work to support them.

Today's story by Keith Bradsher notes that regional officials are now encouraging migrants to go to rural areas by offering incentives that might facilitate rural development. Here's an excerpt, referring to the Guangdong Provincial Labor and Social Security Bureau:
But the bureau also said it would offer numerous subsidies for workers willing to leave the cities and go to rural areas — including free vocational classes, subsidized school fees for children and a waiver of government fees for the registration of new small businesses.

Rural-urban differences in health and physical activity

Read Susan Schneider's post on the Ag Law blog about a new study that shows rural residents more likely to be physically inactive and obese than their urban counterparts. This represents a shift in the past three decades because pre-1980 studies indicate that rural folks tended to be healthier.

Read an earlier post on rural-urban health differences among women here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

New study documents meth's societal costs

Read a report by Erik Eckholm in the New York Times here. Meth has, of course, been associated with "rural areas of the West and South since the 1990s," but as this story notes, its production and use have spread to the East and Midwest, too.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Rural migrants in China caught in economic downturn

The headline for Sharon LaFraniere's story in today's New York Times is "Joblessness Jumps Sharply Among China's Migrants," and the lede mentions rural migrants in particular:
China’s government offered a telling indicator Monday of the slowdown in its once-galloping economy, announcing that more than one in seven rural migrant workers had been laid off or are unable to find work, twice as many as estimated just five weeks ago.
* * *
About 20 million out of China’s total estimated 130 million migrant workers — whose cheap labor underpins China’s manufacturing sector — have been forced to return to rural areas because of lack of work, according to a survey conducted by the Agriculture Ministry that was cited at a briefing.
The government is expecting increased social unrest as a consequence of the jobs losses and attendant population shift back to countryside. Apparently in anticipation of consequences for rural areas, the Chinese government yesterday issued a report that indicates an increase in government assistance to rural locales, "including expanded subsidies to farmers, greater access to loans and more financing from Beijing for rural development projects."

Read other recent reports on China's rural migrants here and here.

The impact of broadband in rural places--African ones, no less

U.S. rural watchers and advocates have been paying close attention to what the Obama administration will do to advance the availability of broadband in the rural U.S. Read posts here and here, among others. Now, today's NYT, reports on the prospect of satellite internet connections in remote parts of Africa.

The dateline is Entasopia, Kenya, which journalist Chris Nicholson describes this way:
The outpost, with about 4,000 inhabitants, is at the end of that road and beyond the reach of power lines. It has no bank, no post office, few cars and little infrastructure. Newspapers arrive in a bundle every three or four weeks.
As part of a limited initiative funded in part by Google, three University of Michigan engineers recently installed a satellite dish there, powered by solar panels. It is connected to several computers in the community center.

Nicholson's story details some of the ways in which residents of Entasopia are using the internet, from filing government reports regarding agricultural development to educating the community about disabilities. He also notes that one major obstacle is illiteracy, which is a particular problem among women.