Friday, February 28, 2014

Another story of regulatory failure in rural America

Trip Gabriel reported for the New York Times today from Raleigh North Carolina about the Dan River coal ash spill that occurred earlier this month near Eden, North Carolina, population 15,908.  The spill of 39K tons of coal ash by Duke Energy, the nation's largest utility, coated the river bottom 70 miles away.  The event is shedding a harsh new light o the de-regulation of the industry by North Carolina's Republican Governor, Pat McCrory, a 28-year employee of Duke.  Federal prosecutors are now investigating the relationship between North Carolina's environmental regulators and Duke Energy.  Here's an excerpt:
Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers. 
“The General Assembly doesn’t like you,” an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors, who had been called from across the state to a drab meeting room here. “They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.” 
From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. “If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.”
I am reminded of the many stories out of Charleston, West Virginia last month, where lax regulation appeared to be to blame for the chemical spill into the Kanawha River, a spill that left hundreds of thousands without safe drinking water.  Read more herehere and here.  As in North Carolina, the failure of --or resistance to--regulators seemed to be a significant factor.  

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Suicide rate rises among small farmers in Andra Pradesh

Ellen Barry reports from Bollikunta, India, in today's New York Times.  The headline is "After Farmers Commit Suicide, Debts Fall on Families in India."  The story speaks volumes about the urbanization of India--as well as about farm consolidation there.
India’s small farmers, once the country’s economic backbone and most reliable vote bank, are increasingly being left behind. With global competition and rising costs cutting into their lean profits, their ranks are dwindling, as is their contribution to the gross domestic product. If rural voters once made their plight into front-page news around election time, this year the large parties are jockeying for the votes of the urban middle class, and the farmers’ voices are all but silent. 
Even death is a stopgap solution, when farmers like Mr. Reddy take their own lives, their debts pass from husband to widow, from father to children. Ms. Musukula is now trying to scrape a living from the four acres that defeated her husband. Around her she sees a country transformed by economic growth, full of opportunities to break out of poverty, if only her son or daughter could grasp one.
Earlier posts on this topic of the rural-urban divide are here and here.  I saw a recent law review article
on this topic, too: Gowri Janakiramanan, Protecting the Living Victims:  Evaluating the Impact of India's Farmer Suicide Crisis on Its Rural Woman, 20 William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law 491 (2014).

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Literary Ruralism (Part VIII): NYT Sunday Book Review "Rural Life"

Under the headline "Rural Life" in the Sunday Book Review is Leigh Newman's review of four books:

A Memoir of Wayfinding
By Lynn Darling

This is the story of a woman who 
moves to off-the-main-road Vermont. There begins her fascinating inquiry into how human beings navigate, complete with tales of Inuits who found their way home by listening to bird songs and crash courses in map-reading with a wilderness guide. Despite her studies, each time she marches into the woods, she ends up bewildered, often on her own property. Various townsfolk call her brave. She wonders why. “You’re a woman living alone in the middle of nowhere,” a neighbor replies. “Brave is polite for crazy.”

An Adventure in Ordinary Splendor
By Suzanne McMinn
Life in the holler isn’t easy. Bewitched by her father’s family stories and her dreams of living where she “can have chickens in the road,” McMinn moves to rustic West Virginia. Soon after, she buys a farm with her new beau, known only by his numerical nickname, 52. Along come the goats, cows, pigs, donkeys, ducks and hens, which must be fed, bred, milked and occasionally bribed with molasses cookies (“Believe it or not, a goat hobbled on three legs can still kick”).
A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West
By Bryce Andrews

This memoir is set on a ranch (owned by a tech millionaire) in southwestern Montana.  
Andrews describes well the oddball challenges of rural living (the chinks in his cabin wall, for instance, “gobbled incandescent light”). But the beauty of this book is how such a personal story reflects larger issues about the American West — not just the politics of wildlife and real estate, but the strange, conflicting impulses engendered by such landscapes. 

A Farm Daughter’s Lament
By Evelyn I. Funda

Funda is an academic who looks back on her parents' sale of their Idaho ranch in 2001, a ranch they had worked since 1957.  Both died shortly after the sale, which was forced after they accumulated just $1500 in debt to a neighbor.
This book is part eulogy, part memoir and part investigation, as Funda unpacks her family’s relationship to their land and, in the process, examines the myth and reality of the American farmer. Its chapters are organized around different weeds symbolizing threats, past or present, to the farm. Wild, stubborn sagebrush, for example, was what her paternal grandparents discovered after arriving from Bohemia, when they’d expected to find rich, ready-to-work land.
Newman is the author of Still Points North.   

Friday, February 21, 2014

Some tribes get jurisdiction over non-Indian defendants under VAWA

NPR's Codeswitch features this story today by Hansi Lo Wang about three tribes who will soon get jurisdiction to prosecute those who commit certain crimes against American Indian women.

Under the 1978 Supreme Court decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, tribal governments do to have jurisdiction over crimes that non-American Indians commit on tribal lands.  Federal prosecutors have jurisdiction over these cases, but U.S. Attorneys have been lax about pursuing many such cases.  Read more here and here.  The federal government has been particularly lax about prosecuting domestic violence.

That is where the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) comes in.  A provision of the reauthorized law permits tribes "to try some non-Indian defendants in domestic abuse cases."  Initially, only three tribes will exercise this authority, but in March 2015, the program will expand to other eligible federally-recognized tribes around the country.

The story features Deborah Parker, vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes north of Seattle, who advocated for this opportunity for tribes.
For three years, she flew back and forth between Washington state and Washington, D.C., giving speeches and knocking on doors — an experience that she says felt like "going to war." 
"You got to go to battle," Parker says, "and you have to convince a lot of people that native women are worth protecting."
Now, the Tulalip will be one of the first three tribes to exercise this authority.  The others are the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Another story of toxic waste on Navajo lands

Dan Frosch reports from Church Rock, New Mexico, population 1,077, under the headline "Amid Toxic Waste, A Navajo Village Could Lose Its Land."  Here's the lede:
In this dusty corner of the Navajo reservation, where seven generations of families have been raised among the arroyos and mesas, Bertha Nez is facing the prospect of having to leave her land forever. 
The uranium pollution is so bad that it is unsafe for people to live here long term, environmental officials say. Although the uranium mines that once pocked the hillsides were shut down decades ago, mounds of toxic waste are still piled atop the dirt, raising concerns about radioactive dust and runoff. 
And as cleanup efforts continue, Ms. Nez and dozens of other residents of the Red Water Pond Road community, who have already had to leave their homes at least twice since 2007 because of the contamination, are now facing a more permanent relocation.
Another post about environmental contamination on the Navajo reservation is here.  

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Small towns in New Mexico will dry up if Amtrak goes ...

Dan Frocsh reports today for the New York Times from Lamy, New Mexico, population 218, on the proposed closure of the stretch of Amtrak that serves this community and several others in Arizona, New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado on the Southwest Chief route between Los Angeles and Chicago.  Frosch explains that Amtrak, which has operated the route since 1971, is asking the states of Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico to contribute $40 million over two decades to cover the cost of track upgrades and maintenance.  Amtrak says the contributions are necessary to keep the route viable.  Many state officials, however, are balking.  The picture Frosch paints is one that suggests Lamy is nearly dead already.  Frosch writes:
Gone are the days when well-dressed families en route to Los Angeles or Chicago would peer out at Lamy from their seats in dome cars. 
The town’s lone restaurant and saloon has been transformed into a railroad museum. A small plaque marks where El Ortiz Hotel once stood. And cartoonish signboards of Native Americans still stare out from the front of an out-of-service dining car — stage props of sorts, from a time long past. But the tableaus of badlands and desert, the lonesome stretches of railroad, are still there.
Local officials are putting pressure on state lawmakers to intervene.  Frosh quotes Jim Maldonado, chair of the Colfax County Board of Commissioners:
We need this train here.  … Losing it would be devastating for our county.  Things have just been dying out here for years.
The train stops in the City of Raton, population 6,685, in Colfax County where it transports thousands of Boy Scouts coming and going for retreats. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A nod to rural students in efforts to achieve socioeconomic diversity in higher education

Peg Tyre wrote last week in the New York Times Opinionator series of the efforts some "better colleges" are making to "improv[e] economic diversity."  The backdrop is this:
With some notable exceptions, the nation’s most selective private college and universities — institutions that tend to produce the majority of the nation’s leaders — haven’t historically worked too hard to attract and retain low-income students.
She focuses on Franklin & Marshall College in "rural Lancaster, Pennsylvania," which has an enrollment of about 2,400.  Until recently, the college wasn't very economically diverse, but that is changing.  Here are some details: 
[F]or the last three years, 17 percent of the incoming freshman class has consisted of low-income students, more than some of the most highly competitive colleges with endowments three or four times the size of Franklin & Marshall’s. The low-income students at Franklin & Marshall are doing well, too. They have roughly the same G.P.A. and retention rate as their more affluent peers. 
Franklin & Marshall’s president, Daniel Porterfield, says that rather than proving to be a risk, increasing the number of low-income students “has actually improved the long-term health of the college. We have enhanced our reputation as a national institution. We have deepened the bench of academically strong students and at the same time, we are more diverse than ever before.”
I have written in prior posts (here and here) of how low-income students are often overlooked in elite college recruitment and admissions--especially rural students, whose credentials (e.g., involvement in FFA, 4-H and ROTC) are hardly cognizable to--let alone valued by--admissions personnel in elite colleges.  So, it was interesting to see this part of Tyre's piece:
To capture poor kids from the often overlooked rural high schools, the college began placing four F & M alumni a year in the College Advising Corp, which deploys recent college graduates into high schools to help with college advising. 
The college introduced a free three-week summer program for rising high school seniors from low-income families. Coleman Kline, an F & M freshman whose father delivers pretzels and whose mother is a teacher’s aide, figured he’d attend a local college near his rural Pennsylvania home until he attended the program two summers ago. “I never considered Franklin & Marshall. But after spending some time on campus, I began to think that this school might really be an option,” he says.
Hope for rural strivers after all?  Oh that other colleges might follow Franklin & Marshall's lead.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Save the Date: Class Crits VII November 14-15, 2014

The University of California Davis School of Law will host the ClassCrits VII Workshop on November 14-15, 2014. A Call for Papers & Participation will be circulated in early March. As in past years, the Workshop will also extend a special invitation to junior scholars (graduate students and non-tenured faculty members) to submit proposals for works in progress. For more information about ClassCrits and past ClassCrits Workshops, go to classcrits.wordpress.com.

Please note that the ClassCrits workshop will be held in tandem with a UC Davis Center for Poverty Research Conference on Poverty and Place, which will take place Nov. 13-14, 2014, also at UC Davis.  

Monday, February 10, 2014

Literary Ruralism (Part VII): Rural education in Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior

I loved Kingsolver's 2012 novel Flight Behavior for its compassionate and nuanced depiction of rural and working class white folks in Tennessee.  Having grown up in rural Arkansas, parts of the book really resonated with me as authentic, including Kingsolver's depiction of the rural education system.  In this scene, Ovid Byron, an entomologist studying the sudden appearance of millions of monarch butterflies in Appalachian Tennessee is interviewing Dellarobia Turnbow, a local housewife, for a position in his lab: 

“Tell me, Dellarobia. What did you do in science class?” 
“In high school? Our science teacher was the basketball coach, if you want to know. Coach Bishop. He hated biology about twenty percent more than the kids did. He’d leave the girls doing study sheets while he took the boys to the gym to shoot hoops.” 
“How is that possible?” 
“How? He’d take a vote, usually. ‘Who says we shoot hoops today?’ Obviously no girl would vote against it. You’d never get another date in your life.”He seemed doubtful of her story. But it was true, and in Dellarobia’s opinion no more far-fetched than the tales he’d told her. Of newborn butterflies, for instance, somehow flying thousands of miles to a place they’d never seen, the land where their forefathers died. Life was just one big fat swarm of kids left to fend for themselves. 
Dr. Byron uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, pressing his hands together between his knees and looking at her. For the first time in this interview he seemed totally present. “Is this typical of high schools in this area, what you are describing?” 
“Well, I only went to the one.” She hesitated, reconsidering how much she ought to disclose. … “I had some good teachers,” she began again, unconvincingly. “Well, ok, I had one, Mrs. Lake for English. She was about a hundred years old. It’s weird, it was like she came from some earlier time when people actually cared. I heard she had a stroke, though. Bless her heart. Probably one too many times hearing some kid conjugate “bring, brang, brung.” 
Ovid seemed unamused. “What about math?” 
“Our high school had Math One and Math Two,” she said. “Coach Otis, baseball. Math Two was for the kids who were already solid with multiplication. 
His brow wrinkled formidably. “Is this true?” 
“Is that, like, massively insufficient?” 
“Two years of algebra, geometry, trigonometry, precalculus, calculus, and stats.” He rattled this off like a ritual prayer in an alien religion. “Nothing there sounds familiar?” 
“You ought to try that out on Coach Otis. If you want to see a grown man cry.” 
Dr. Byron actually seemed agitated. “What are these administrators thinking?” he asked.
As if he had a dog in this race, Dellarobia thought. His children, if any, would get started on higher math in some upmarket kindergarten. 
“They’re not thinking anything much,” she told him. “Sports. That’s huge, a kid can shine if he’s good at football or baseball. Probably get a job later on in the bank or something like that.” 
“Well, but it’s criminal negligence, really. These kids have to grow up and run things. Larger things than a ball field, I mean. What kind of world will they really be able to make?” 
“I’d say you’re looking at it.” She crossed her arms, awaiting Dr. Byron’s verdict. Former Feathertown athletes had this college in their hands: the mayor, Jack Stell; Bobby Ogle [a local pastor]; Ed Cameron at the bank, with any whom she’d pleaded grace on her house loan. In his office that day they’d joked about their semester together in Mrs. Lake’s class, which Ed barely passed, and the football squad he led to state semifinals. People liked and trusted such men. 
“Look, Dellarobia, I don’t want you to take this personally. But I’ve been wondering about this. I went to that school. Things were not what I expected.”  
“Feathertown High?” She was obviously startled, unable to picture any intersection between Dr. Ovid Byron and local culture.  
“When?”  
“In December. I wanted to speak with the faculty about getting volunteers in the new semester. It’s a great chance for these kids. Exposure to field biology, data analysis, scientific method. If for no other reason, the college resume. But I got nothing. The counselor asked if we were paying minimum wage.” 
“Oh, kids in Feathertown wouldn’t know college-bound from a hole in the ground. They don’t need it for life around here. College is kind of irrelevant.” 
His eyes went wide, as if she’d mentioned they boiled local children alive. His shock gave her a strange satisfaction she could not have explained. Insider status, maybe.

* * *
“Footballers teaching sports in place of science class,” Dr. Byron declared. “should not be legal. Are there no standards or testing?” 
“Oh, yes. We flunk those. We are dependable in that regard.” 
“How can that persist?” He was studying her carefully, for irony she supposed, or some kind of storybook scrappiness. She’d already taken this interview to be a lost cause, but now she registered.  … 
“I’ll tell you how,” she said. “This state has cities on one end of it, and farms on the other. If they ever decided to send somebody out from the money end of things to check on us, they might slap down a fine or something.” 
“And why do you suppose they don’t?”She laughed. “They’re scared they’ll get kidnapped by the hillbillies like in that Deliverance movie.”
This is frighteningly similar to the rural school I attended in northwest Arkansas, with about 400 students  total K-12.  Sports ruled.  Chemistry and physics were offered on alternate years.  Math beyond Algebra II was offered occasionally, when a critical mass of students wanted it. Way too many important classes taught by coaches.  Of course, that was all before the educational reforms that Hillary Rodham Clinton championed as first lady (of Arkansas, that is).  I know the course offerings are more varied now, including a foreign language and music.  Oh, and the school now has a counselor.  But I fear there are still too many students there who don't know "college-bound from a hole in the ground."

Read the New York Times review of Flight Behavior here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Crystal Bridges Museum on quest to find undiscovered American artists

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, April 2013
Randy Kennedy reports in the New York Times today under the headline, "Seeking U.S. Art All Over the Map.  Just Check GPS."  Kennedy reports that the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, established through an endowment from Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, is planning a show for the fall of 2014 that "will inevitably be seen as a kind of heartland response to the Whitney Biennial."  To that end, Don Bacigalupi, the museum’s president, and Chad Alligood, a curator, have already "logged 50,000 miles visiting 500 artists in 30 states, and they ha[ve] almost 500 more artists to go."

 Kennedy provides this further context:  
The Whitney Biennial, the much-argued-about barometer of the country’s art, helped bring artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Jackson Pollock and Jeff Koons to prominence. Hoping to make their own discoveries of that caliber, Ms. Walton’s emissaries have looked high and low, sometimes literally. 
Possum Trot, Arkansas, a few miles from Ponca and
perhaps not labeled on most GPS software/units. 
During a trip to Portland, Ore., Mr. Bacigalupi was invited to an artist’s dark basement where she showed him a sculpture resembling a coffin and he momentarily feared for his safety. He and Mr. Alligood, a Harvard-trained curator who grew up in rural Georgia, have ventured to places so small the GPS has given up (a farm near the unincorporated town of Ponca, Ark.). They have seen art on a goat farm, in a soap factory, in a defunct pie factory. 
Read other posts about Crystal Bridges here and here.  Read other posts about Ponca, Arkansas, here, and environs here and here.  The photo left is of Possum Trot, just a few miles from Ponca.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tennessee governor proposes community college for all; Maine gov goes after drug peddlers in different tack than Vermont

Here is the story about Tennessee, by NYT education reporter Richard Perez-Pena.  A quote from it follows:
Tennessee would be the only state in the country to charge no tuition or fees to incoming students under the proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, which policy analysts called a big step toward a better-educated work force. 
“This is the best idea to boost participation in higher education in a generation,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, a major association of public and private colleges. 
Mr. Haslam made it the centerpiece of hisState of the State address on Monday, calling for two years of free schooling for state residents with high school diplomas or equivalency degrees, without regard to academic credentials or financial need. The change requires approval by the state legislature, whose leaders reacted favorably to the idea.
Later, the governor said in a telephone interview:  
We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state. College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force.
And here is the story about Tea Party-backed Maine Governor Paul LePage's State of the State address yesterday, in which he lamented the 7 % of Maine babies born addicted to drugs in 2013, but failed to mention treatment options.  Katharine Q. Seelye, reporting for the times, contrasted LePage's remarks with those of Peter Shumlin, Vermont's Democratic Governor who last month highlighted his state's challenge to confront heroin addiction, but with a much more sympathetic view.  
Mr. LePage, a Republican with Tea Party backing, devoted most of his speech to what he described as the scourge of welfare, but he allotted several minutes at the end to drug addiction. Mr. LePage cast the drug problem in terms of law enforcement and economics. 
“While some are spending all their time trying to expand welfare, we are losing the war on drugs,” Mr. LePage told the State Legislature, putting his emphasis on expanding the law enforcement and judicial response, without mentioning a role for treatment. 
He called on lawmakers to expand Maine’s judicial branch by adding four special drug prosecutors and four judges to sit in enhanced courts in Bangor, Lewiston, Portland and Presque Isle. He also called for adding 14 agents to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Speaking of a more sympathetic approach, here is a recent NPR story about Vermont's effort to establish a one-stop shop to help addicted pregnant women.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Arkansas re-thinks Medicaid expansion

See details in this from today's Huffington Post.  The headline is "Republicans Working to Strip Health Coverage from 85,000 people in Arkansas."  Here's an excerpt that explains what is afoot and the interesting political coalitions for and against:
The “private option” expansion plan, which squeezed through the Arkansas Senate last April with one spare vote, requires another 75-percent vote from both houses of the legislature to renew benefits past the end of the fiscal year. However, after Democratic state Senator Paul Bookout, who voted in favor of expansion, resignedlast August over an ethics violation and state Sen. Missy Irvin's (R) last-minute switch to oppose the expansion, the state Senate stands short of the votes it needs to renew the expansion. Now, a group of conservative Republicans, including state senator John Cooper (R), who replaced Bookout in a special election, are fighting to block the program’s funding during next week's legislative session. 
*** 
Prior to the conservative schism over the program's renewal, Arkansas' milestone implementation of the Medicaid expansion sparked national attention as it spearheaded the effort to combine broadening Medicaid with privatizing it, allowing for thousands of poor Arkansans to access health benefits. Arkansas' middle-ground expansion strategy paved the way for other GOP-dominated states, like Ohio and Florida, to eye similar proposals after opposing a straight Medicaid expansion through the federal government.
The Associated Press quoted Davy Carter, a Republican who is Speaker of the Arkansas House.  According to HuffPo, Carter is confident that Arkansas will re-authorize the Medicaid expansion.   Here's the AP quote:

Do we need to tweak some things here and there? Maybe… I think we'll talk about areas in which we can do better and I'm certainly open to that, but backing up at this point and pulling up on the state, I'm not interested in that. I don't think the General Assembly is interested in that. I still think we're going to pass it.  
HuffPo says that Arkansas officials say 100,000 residents of the state will have signed up for the program by the time the Arkansas legislature re-convenes February 10.

Maybe the Arkansas legislators need to read this post about this story on the fiscal traumas of rural hospitals where Medicaid has not been expanded.

As many indoor skating rinks as stop lights: two each

That is one of the fun factoids about Warroad, Minnesota, home of two athletes who will compete on the U.S. women's and men's hockey teams in Sochi.  Those athletes, Gigi Marvin and T.J. Oshie, are featured in Jere Longman's story in today's New York Times about the Olympic hopes of this town, the cradle of a number of other hockey Olympians.  Longman includes another fun factoid:  The two were Queen and King of the Frosty Festival as high school classmates nearly a decade ago, in 2005.

Longman describes Warroad, population 1,781, in idyllic terms, "a civic snow globe six miles from the Canadian border."  The town, Longman notes, "has sent seven hockey players to the Olympics since 1956 — four of them from the same family, the Christians — and each one has returned with a medal."   The hope for Sochi:  a pair of golds with the help of Marvin and Oshie.

Warroad is in nonmetropolitan Roseau County, population 15,476.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Wolf v. man

Don't miss NPR's feature, Wolves at the Door:  Can Two Top Predators Co-Exist in the American West?  It raises plenty of legal issues.  Reporter Nathan Rott, who grew up in Montana, notes that wolf watching in Yellowstone National Park, which straddles Wyoming and Montana, "pumps about $35 million into the economies of communities around the park."  Yet 95% of gray wolves live outside the park.  In Montana, the gray wolf has already been removed from the endangered species list.  There, many support wolf hunting because wolves kill cattle, sheep and elk.  Rott reports:
To bring wolf numbers down, hunting quotas have been raised, and the cost of hunting licenses has dropped: Montana residents can kill up to five wolves every season, and the licenses are only $19 a piece. 
But there’s a reason it’s called hunting and not killing: Only about 1 percent of wolf hunters actually succeed.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Once the Villages are Gone, the Culture is Gone"

That is a quote from the latest of Ian Johnson's stories for the New York Times on the urbanization of China, a process which a major government push has recently accelerated.  The quote is from Feng Jicai, a well-known author and scholar who adds, “Chinese culture has traditionally been rural-based.”  As Johnson notes, urbanization is occurring "at a stunning rate."  China had 3.7 million villages in 2000, but that number dropped to 2.6 million a decade later according to research by Tianjin University. That is a loss of some 300 villages a day. Johnson elaborates:
China’s top leadership has equated urbanization with modernization and economic growth. Local governments are also promoting it, seeing the sale of rural land rights as a way to compensate for a weak tax base. Evicting residents and selling long-term leases to developers has become a favored method for local governments to balance budgets and local officials to line their pockets. Numerous local officials are under investigation for corruption linked to rural land sales. 
Destroying villages and their culture also reveals deeper biases. A common insult in China is to call someone a farmer, a word equated with backwardness and ignorance, while the most valued cultural traditions are elite practices like landscape painting, calligraphy and court music. 
But in recent years, Chinese scholars have begun to recognize the countryside’s vast cultural heritage. A mammoth government project has cataloged roughly 9,700 examples nationwide of “intangible cultural heritage,” fragile traditions like songs, dances, rituals, martial arts, cuisines and theater. About 80 percent of them are rural.

Rural insularity in Canada

Ian Austen reports today from L'Isle Verte, Quebec, where 32 elderly residents died in a retirement home fire a few weeks ago.  He focuses on the community's response to the disaster, as reflected in the headline, "Stunned by a Tragedy, a Village in Rural Quebec Turns Inward." Austen writes:
Nearly everyone in this town of 1,425 people has been affected in some way: the families of those who died; the police officers who arrived in the early morning hours and crawled down hallways to avoid smoke, dragging elderly residents out on their backs; the firefighters who doused the blaze with water, the spray instantly freezing in the minus-8-degree cold, entombing the bodies in more than two feet of ice. 
For the province of Quebec, the tragedy evoked a particularly horrible sense of déjà vu. It came nearly seven months after a runaway oil train exploded into a fireball in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people in a town of 6,000 some 245 miles away. 
Indeed, Austen considers briefly the similarities and differences between the L'Isle Verte and Lac-Megantic disasters.  Among the differences, Austen notes:
The stunned reticence [in L'Isle Verte] contrasted sharply with angry volubility in Lac-Mégantic. There the cause was clear: a speeding train on a rundown railway, whose unrepentant owner provided a target for blame that residents were eager to share with the world.
Austen explains that the cause of the L'Isle Verte fire is still unknown, and residents of the town, "richer in history and natural beauty than economic opportunity," are shunning the media intrusion.
At a news conference for local reporters in the back of a motel banquet room on Monday, Mayor Ursule Thériault was blunt. “L’Isle-Verte would be better without journalists,” she said. Another municipal official urged residents not to answer their doors for journalists or, better still, to leave town until the last of the television network satellite trucks have driven away.
Austen quotes police Lieutenant Michel Brunet who was stationed in Bas St. Laurent, the region that includes L'Isle Verte, early in his career as saying "the locals had always kept to themselves, reluctant even to speak with police officers looking into crimes where they were victims.  The villagers’ recovery from this disaster, he said, will come from within themselves."
They’re very close to each other.  They have real solidarity.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

(Former) Scout leaders charged with criminal mischief over Utah incident

Read the transcript of Scott Neuman's story for NPR here.  It quotes an Associated Press story about the charges brought against Glenn Taylor for toppling a "hoodoo," a mushroom shaped pillar dated to the Jurassic Period (145-170 million years ago) in Utah's Goblin Valley State Park.  David Hall is charged, too, for his role in filming the incident, which occurred when the men were leading a Boy Scout Troop outing to the Park.
"Emery County Attorney David Blackwell said he filed the charges Friday but is trying to negotiate a plea deal." 
"Both men, of Highland, Utah, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, were ordered to appear in state court March 18 ..." 
"'We are taking it seriously,' Blackwell said. 'It's been an interesting case, mostly because of the attention it's garnered.'" 
"Blackwell said any defense asserting the goblin-shaped rock was ready to tip over 'would need to have a lot of expert testimony, and it would probably go both ways.'"