Monday, August 31, 2009

An incidental discussion of rural health care, along with self-reliance and other traits associated with rural folk

I've been writing about the Montana Constitution's right to dignity (see here), the only such right included in any of the fifty state constitutions. So this story by Kirk Johnson in the New York Times caught my eye. The headline is "Montana Court to Rule on Assisted Suicide Case," and it's about just what it suggests. But there are a couple of references to the rural character of Montana and its residents that I wanted to highlight here. Some relevant excerpts follow:
The legal foundation for both sides is a free-spirited, libertarian-tinctured State Constitution written in 1972 at the height of a privacy-rights movement that swept through this part of the West in the aftermath of the 1960s. Echoes of a righteous era are reflected in language about keeping government at bay and maintaining individual autonomy and dignity.
* * *
[A] list of unusual Montana factors have elevated and complicated the debate.Montana already has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, for example. As a huge state with a small population — about one million people in an area more than half the size of Texas — there are pockets of deep rural life where access to health care, in living or dying, is severely limited.
Julie French, a Democratic state legislator from Scobey, population 1,082, in far northeast Montana where the population density is about 1.4 persons per square mile, opposes any "expansion of death rights." French's quote in the NYT story implicitly references the lack of choices for many rural folk, including choices regarding health care:

Before we deal with assisted suicide, we should make sure first and foremost that everybody has equal access. . . . It is not simply whether everyone has a right to choose; it’s whether they are given all the choices.

Indeed. For many of French's constituents, even rudimentary health care is hours away. Scobey is in Daniels County, on Montana's High Line (border with Canada). It's current population is estimated at 1,650, and it has lost almost 20% of its population just since the 2000 Census.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Impoverished Alabama county caught between a rock and a hard place

A story in today's New York Times tells of warring factions in rural Perry County, Alabama--those who support a coal ash dump and those who don't.

Perry County, in the central part of the state, showed a population of 11,861 in the 2000 Census, but 2008 estimates indicate that it has since fallen more than 10%, to 10,643. That decline may be due in part to an unemployment rate of 17% and a poverty rate more than twice that. About two thirds of the county's residents are African American, and according to Shaila Dewan's NYT story, so are most of the county's leaders.

Here's an excerpt from the story:
To county leaders, the train’s loads, which will total three million cubic yards of coal ash from a massive spill at a power plant in east Tennessee last December, are a tremendous financial windfall. A per-ton “host fee” that the landfill operators pay the county will add more than $3 million to the county’s budget of about $4.5 million.
So far, the ash dump at the Arrowhead landfill has created 30 jobs, helping ameliorate the county's high rate of unemployment. But claims of environmental injustice are being thrown about by opponents, while both scientists and residents disagree about the degree of risk presented by the landfill.

Here are some colorful quotes from opponents.

“I won’t feel comfortable,” wrote W. Compson Sartain, a columnist for The Perry County Herald, “until I see a delegation from E.P.A. and T.V.A. standing on the courthouse square, each member stirring a heaping spoonful of this coal ash into a glass of Tennessee river water this stuff has already fallen into, and gargling with it.”

Robert Bamberg, a white catfish farmer and the organizer of Concerned Citizens of Perry County, a biracial group of landfill opponents, said the group had identified 212 residences within 1.5 miles of the site. “We’re being taken advantage of by several groups of powers that be,” Mr. Bamburg said. “There’s a sense among the population that we’ve been thrown under the bus.”

A related video on the NYT website asks provocatively: "Development or Economic Discrimination?"

For another story about local government in Perry County, read this post from December, 2008. Here is an earlier story about the coal ash spill in neighboring Tennessee.

Hanging on to roots in the rural South . . . years after the "Great Migration"

This little feature in the New York section of today's New York Times is well worth a read. Robbie Brown of the Times writes of Amya CaJoie Stewart, a 10-year-old New Yorker who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, but who each summer visits her relatives in Silver Creek, Mississippi, population 209. Silver Creek is in Lawrence County, in the south central part of the state, with a population of 13,258.

But Amya isn't alone. According to Brown, she represents a trend:

Every year, thousands of African-American children like Amya, from New York, Chicago and other urban outposts, spend a week, a month, even a full season below the Mason-Dixon Line, where so many families trace their roots.

* * *
These journeys — part vacation, part coming-of-age rite, part sociological experiment — connect the descendants of the Great Migration with relatives who are familiar, even if their lifestyles are foreign.
* * *
Recreation usually means a water fight, a picnic by the Pearl River or a 30-mile drive to a movie in the nearest city, Brookhaven.
Brown's aim appears to be presenting a sharp and interesting contrast between rural and urban, and if that's her goal, she achieves it in spades. Read the rest of the story, "A World Away, Close to Family" here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Multiple killings in micropolitan, coastal Georgia

The Associated Press is reporting the deaths of seven persons today in a mobile home near Brunswick, Georgia, population 15,600. Two others were injured and are being treated in nearby Savannah. Police believe the deaths are homicides.

Here's a quote from a resident of the mobile home park, who did not know the victims:

Lisa Vizcaino, who has lived at New Hope for three years, said that the management worked hard to keep troublemakers out of the mobile home park and that it tended to be quiet, according to The A.P.

* * *

“New Hope isn’t run down or trashy at all,” Ms. Vizcaino said.

“It’s the kind of place,” she said, “where you can actually leave your keys in the car and not worry about anything.”

The mobile home park is on the site of the former New Hope Plantation. Brunswick is the county seat of Glynn County, with an estimated 2007 population of 73,276.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXXVI): County Fair Time

A few issues of the Newton County Times have piled up while I've been busy getting underway with the fall semester. There's not a lot of law-and-order-type news, but there is a lot of news of the Newton County Fair, including photos of all the beauty queens associated with it. As I've noted before regarding other local beauty pageants, I find this aspect of Southern rural culture rather off-putting, but it is clearly thriving. Not only is there the Miss Newton County pageant, which was around when I was a teen, there are now many other divisions, including Baby Miss, Wee Miss, Toddler Miss and even Baby Mr.

Some of the other headlines are a bit more substantive and interesting. These include stories of the county seat's annexation of seven residences on a road called Cardinal Lane; an announcement of a honk-and-wave event on the courthouse square to "call attention to and support the national health care reform proposals"; and news of Arkansas and Missouri officials meeting to discuss water issues.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More eco/agritourism

Read Kim Severson's feature in the Dining and Wine section of the New York Times, under the headline, "$300 a night? Yes, but Haying's Free." The dateline is Walton, New York, which the Census Bureau calls "Walton Village," with a population of 3,070. Here's the lede:

LET me start by saying that if you want to throw bales of hay into the back of a truck, Vans are not the best choice in footwear.

That’s the sort of thing one learns when the family vacation is on a farm.

Of course, there are those who might say throwing bales of hay is a stupid way to spend a vacation — especially a vacation where the accommodations cost $332 a night, tax and fresh eggs included.

Read other posts on agritourism here and here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Life and death, in rural Rabun County, Georgia

Don't miss Drew Jubera's story in the NYT this week, "Tiger Journal: A Georgia County Shares A Tale of One Man's Life and Death." The dateline is Tiger, Georgia, population 316. An excerpt follows:
For years, the story of Mr. Green, a never-married 76-year-old itinerant millworker who could not read or write, and his impending burial had spread through the mountains of Rabun County [population 15,050] and beyond, becoming the kind of tale these people have long been famous for telling.
Sammy Green died last week, and when he did, he was buried in a pine coffin made by high school students who had met him when students from Foxfire magazine, a student-run publication devoted to Appalachian culture, had interviewed him. Green was suffering from a lung disease, and he told the students of his concern that he did not have enough money to be buried when he died. The students then got busy with what they called a "Bury Sammy" campaign. Some built the coffin, and they also held fundraisers to defray other expenses. One company donated the tombstone, another discounted funeral home services, and a county cemetery offered a burial plot. In all, the students raised $3,100.

Delbert McCall, the pastor of a church that Mr. Green often attended, played and sang at Green's funeral. McCall is quoted in the story with this comment on his rural community, “That’s what it’s all about ... That’s Bible. That’s community. That’s love. That’s what I grew up with.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

A proposal that might finally make rural places completely obsolete

Dickson D. Despommier's op-ed in today's New York Times is titled "A Farm on Every Floor." Here's the first paragraph, which introduces "vertical farming" and explains why the author, a professor of Public Health at Columbia University, thinks we're going to need it:
IF climate change and population growth progress at their current pace, in roughly 50 years farming as we know it will no longer exist. This means that the majority of people could soon be without enough food or water. But there is a solution that is surprisingly within reach: Move most farming into cities, and grow crops in tall, specially constructed buildings.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tourism industry turns upmarket in Indian Country

Read Bonnie Tsui's story in today's New York Times travel section. Here's an excerpt:

The stereotypes of glitzy casinos and a kitschy cowboys-and-Indians past have long dominated popular notions about visiting Native American lands. Even where the more genuine attractions are obvious, as at the majestic Monument Valley straddling Arizona and Utah, it has often been difficult for outsiders to find an accessible and comfortable way into the nuanced realities of Indian country: its venerable history and distinct cultures; its remote, rugged natural beauty.

* * *
A new generation of Indian entrepreneurs and leaders is making its influence felt in tourism, bringing a sensitive, updated sensibility to hospitality, along with a renewed emphasis on authenticity. In some of the most gorgeous, intriguing and remote places of Native American territory, the focus is shifting toward a more modern and higher-end travel experience.
I passed through Monument Valley last fall but didn't spend the night there. I did, however, write this post from nearby Bluff, Utah. I can attest that one thing not being upgraded on the Monument Valley site is the roads, which have potholes big enough to swallow small cars.

Kristof is back "home" in Yamhill, Oregon--and talking about soul

Read Kristof's recent column here. An excerpt follows:

On a summer visit back to the farm here where I grew up, I think I figured out the central problem with modern industrial agriculture. It’s not just that it produces unhealthy food, mishandles waste and overuses antibiotics in ways that harm us all.

More fundamentally, it has no soul.
Read the rest, but be warned: it's sentimental stuff.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Boomers go home--to the country, that is

"Baby Boom Migration Tilts Toward Rural America" is the title of a new report by USDA demographer John Cromartie and Peter Nelson of Middlebury University. Read it here.

This part about why many in the baby boom generation are moving to rural places is of particular interest to me because it suggests that many have never strayed that far--at least not culturally--from their rural roots:
Their early childhoods coincided with a massive wave of rural outmigration and suburbanization. Many of their parents had come of age in the countryside during the Depression and maintained rural connections while raising urban and suburban families. These hometown ties have had an enormous influence on the baby boomers’ subsequent migration decisions.

Rural reminiscing, thanks to music

Listen here to Summer Song Favorites from yesterday's NPR program. The featured songs: Hank Williams' "Jambalaya" (On the Bayou) from 1952 and "Summer Breeze" by Seals and Croft from 1972. Both picks--and their reminiscences--are by former rural dwellers, one in Louisiana and one in Iowa. The part that follows, by a woman who grew up in rural central Louisiana, reminds me of my mother's own stories of her upbringing in rural Arkansas, and isn't so far from my own upbringing, too.
"This song takes me back to a night on a screen porch, probably around 1953," she says. "I would've been about 5.

"We lived on a little gravel road way out in the middle of nowhere, and the only light you could see for miles around was the single light bulb that was hanging over the ironing board where my mom was ironing. It was very late at night and very hot, which is probably why she was ironing on the porch.

"There really wasn't much room for anything except the ironing board, so that's probably why I was sitting under it, pretending to play piano on this heavy wire that ran from one wooden leg of the ironing board to the other."

* * *

The song "Jambalaya," [she] says, "brings back a sense of peace, the security of being in that circle of light with a caring parent."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A powerful illustration of rural community

John Branch writes in today's New York Times of the aftermath of the shooting of a beloved football coach in Parkersburg, Iowa, population 1,889. The beloved, long-time coach, Ed Thomas, was shot by a former student, 24-year-old Mark Becker, in late June. But the Becker and Thomas families have been, as Branch puts it, "bonded by school, church and the communal raising of boys in this small town" for more than thirty years. The shooting hasn't changed that. On the evening of Mr. Thomas's death, his widow called Mark Becker's parents.

And a small-town murder, as unexpected and unexplained as any other, had its most important answer. A violent death cannot shatter a town if it does not divide friends.

Unlike the aftermath of so many other killings, where the focus shifts quickly to a cry for justice, the Thomas family has made empathy the overriding emotion in Parkersburg.
If Branch's story didn't use so many illustrations of just how the Thomas's have done that, I have to admit, I'd be skeptical myself.

Discord under the Big Sky

A letter from an NPR listener responding to public radio's coverage of President Obama's visit to Belgrade, Montana, caught my ear this week. It is sure proof of tension between the state's old-timers (who are often gun toting and who apparently also may use poor grammar) and more upscale (perhaps newcomer) residents of a part of the state that has undergone rural gentrification.

Here's the link, and here's a quote:

BLOCK: Last week, President Obama traveled to western states to explain his health-care overhaul plan. One of his stops was a town hall meeting in Belgrade, Montana, where he answered questions from a crowd of about 1,300 people.

NPR's Don Gonyea was there and in our interview with him, we aired this clip from the town hall meeting.

Mr. RANDY RAPIDAN(ph): My name is Randy Rapidan. I'm from Ekalaka, Montana. And as you can see, I'm a proud NRA member.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. RAPIDAN: I believe in our Constitution, and it's a very important thing. I also get my news from the cable networks because I don't like the spin that comes from them other places.

SIEGEL: Well, Jenny Trinell(ph) of Bozeman, Montana, was not pleased when she heard that. She writes this: Of all the people who attended the town meeting, did you really have to quote the NRA zealot with poor grammar? We Montanans aren't all gun-toting hicks, but your coverage succeeded in perpetuating that stereotype. Thanks a lot. Now I might just have to start watching them cable networks myself.

Dairy co-ops and anti-trust laws

Listen to NPR's "All Things Considered" report from this evening's edition. The headline is "Independent Farmers Feel Squeeze by Milk Cartel." Here's the link.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Biofuels innovation in Indian country

Read Kirk Johnson's story in the New York Times, "A New Test for Business and Biofuel." The dateline is Ignacio, Colorado, population 669, and the Southern Utes are the Indian tribe involved in this cutting edge endeavor.
With the twin goals of making fuel from algae and reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases, a start-up company co-founded by a Colorado State University professor recently introduced a strain of algae that loves carbon dioxide into a water tank next to a natural gas processing plant.

* * *

The Southern Utes, one of the nation’s wealthiest American Indian communities thanks to its energy and real-estate investments, is a major investor in the professor’s company. It hopes to gain a toehold in what tribal leaders believe could be the next billion-dollar energy boom.

* * *
“It’s a marriage of an older way of thinking into a modern time,” said the tribe’s chairman, Matthew J. Box, referring to the interplay of environmental consciousness and investment opportunity around algae.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXXV): Vandalism at the fairgrounds

The August 6, 2009 issue of the Newton County Times features a big law and order story on the front page: "Vandalism strikes fair." The item reports that vandals caused about $2,000 worth of damage to the fair grounds, just a few weeks before the opening of the 92nd annual Newton County Fair. Very sadly, the cost of repairing the damage will consume about all of the "profit" the fair is expected to make each year. The Sheriff Department's report about the incident indicates that two concession stands were forced open, and that some candy was taken. In addition, air conditioning units were turned on and left running in both concession stands. The fair runs this year from August 22-30, and the article describes it as "a weeklong celebration of community endeavors."

In other news, the Quorum Court (elected Justices of the Peace) has decided not to build a community fishing pond, although money had earlier been earmarked for the project. The sticking point was inability to find a suitable site.

The Quorum Court is also facing one neighborhood's demands for a vicious animal ordinance because several dogs in the area have been mauled by another dog who is permitted to run loose by its owner. The dog apparently also threatens people. The Quorum Court appears reluctant to act, though a resident of the affected area brought to the meeting a neighboring county's vicious animal ordinance as a model for Newton County to consider.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Go West, Young Man ... er, I mean, Mr. President

We're getting news these past few days about President Obama's trip to the inter-mountain West, which mixes business with pleasure. His first stop for a town-hall-style meeting about health care reform was in Belgrade, Montana. Belgrade, just down the road from Bozeman and Montana State University, had a 2000 population of 5,728, which is probably quite a bit larger now since its micropolitan Gallatin County home is the fastest growing county in the state (32% between 2000 and 2008). Obama did another such meeting yesterday in Grand Junction, Colorado, another fast growing city, this one a regional center in western Colorado.

Just as interesting to me is the Obamas' decision to make surgical strike visits to two National Parks, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the the New York Times reports that the Obama Family spent Friday night "at a wooded lodge here in the mountains of Montana, then slipped off Saturday morning for a helicopter ride into Yellowstone National Park, where they landed in a clearing not far from the famous geyser, Old Faithful." The story continues:
The White House had billed the trip as a private family visit, but a small pool of reporters and photographers was allowed to accompany the Obama party — including aides, park rangers, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Mr. Obama’s sister and brother-in-law, Maya Soetoro-Ng and Konrad Ng — to watch the geyser erupt.
Stolberg reports that Obama tried fly fishing and Michelle and the girls took a white water rafting excursion while in Montana. The family visited the Grand Canyon today, where they apparently spent just over four hours, less than the seven previously planned. I guess if you're not going to do some hiking, there's not all that much to do. I think I read somewhere that the average visit to the Grand Canyon is just a couple of hours. Could the Obamas be average in any way? Bite my tongue. Here's the link to the AP story, and here's the NYT report.

Having spent several days in and around both of these national parks, I can only feel sorry for the Obamas that they are seeing these natural wonders in such tiny tidbits. It's no doubt glamorous to be the first family and to have the option to travel this way--to zip in and out of various wonders of the natural world--but it strikes me as very unsatisfying to helicopter into Yellowstone only to see Old Faithful and then rush off to a town-hall meeting on health care reform. Like our other great national parks, these places are meant to savored.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wal-Mart's rural roots

That's one of the themes of a new book by Nelson Lichtenstein, The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business. The Macmillan Press promo site for the book features these comments: "Wal-Mart, the world’s largest company, roared out of the rural South to change the way business is done. "

What caused me to go to seek more info. about the book was a "Fresh Air" interview with Prof. Lichtenstein, of UC Santa Barbara, in which he repeatedly used the word "rural" to refer to Wal-Mart's founding and culture, as well as to the home of its, well, "home office" (that is Wal-Mart speak for corporate headquarters) in Bentonville, Arkansas. In fact, partly thanks to the growth of Wal-Mart (but also due to the growth of corporations like Tyson Foods and JB Hunt Trucking), Bentonville can no longer fairly be characterized as rural by any measure . . . it's now part of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metropolitan area. Benton County's population has grown more than 35% just since the 2000 Census. See other U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts here.

For more on Lichtenstein's book, read this New York Times review.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rural rescues urban?

In this day and age, that headline has the ring of "man bites dog." Nevertheless, it is arguably one takeaway of Jennifer Steinhauer's New York Times story, "Thousands Line Up for Promise of Free Health Care." To be more precise, the take away would be that a rural-oriented non-profit comes to the rescue of urban residents. Here's an excerpt:

For the second day in a row, thousands of people lined up on Wednesday — starting after midnight and snaking into the early hours — for free dental, medical and vision services, courtesy of a nonprofit group that more typically provides mobile health care for the rural poor.

* * *

When Remote Area Medical, the Tennessee-based organization running the event, decided to try its hand at large urban medical services, its principals thought Los Angeles would be a good place to start. But they were far from prepared for the outpouring of need. Set up for eight days of care, the group was already overwhelmed on the first day after allowing 1,500 people through the door, nearly 500 of whom had still not been served by day’s end and had to return in the wee hours Wednesday morning.
Set up in the Los Angeles Forum, Steinhauer likened the clinic to a giant M*A*S*H unit.

A very remote--but busy--federal court

See yesterday's story in the New York Times about the federal magistracy in Yosemite National Park. The headline for Jesse McKinley's report is "Spectacular Distractions are Perks of Judgeship," and here's the lede and another excerpt:
The search is on for a candidate for one of the most scenic jobs in American law: magistrate judge for the United States District Court in Yosemite National Park, home not only to towering sequoias but also to a tiny federal courthouse where park justice is doled out 52 weeks a year.
* * *

Felony cases that originate in the park are sent to federal court in Fresno, about 70 miles away, but Yosemite’s magistrate judge handles misdemeanors from throughout the 750,000-acre park, including petty offenses one might not expect to see at the federal bench.

“We get a lot of biking while intoxicated,” said Laurie Yu, the courtroom deputy and its de facto den mother. “And biking without headlamps.”

The setting is dramatic, the docket monotonous, and the courthouse tiny, but a magistrate judge from Idaho who filled in at the park for two weeks this summer picked up on a similarity between this and other federal courts: “the law is the same as in San Francisco or Boise or Manhattan.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rural disadvantage in the context of juvenile justice

Solomon Moore reports in today's New York Times on the trend to incarcerate or otherwise institutionalize youthful offenders--including those who are mentally ill--because of the lack of community resources to support diversion programs and other alternatives. The story begins and ends with the example of Donald, who has been in the Ohio River Juvenile Correctional Facility for two years. Moore does not tell the reader Donald's home county, but my hunch based on these passages is that it is rural. Why? Because of the reported lack of infrastructure and resources to help a young man like Donald. Two excerpts follow:
Although he had received diagnoses for psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder, a judge decided that Donald would get better care in the state correctional system than he could get anywhere in his county.
This quote is from the director of the Ohio Department of Youth Services, and he's describing Donald.

“He’s been in 130 fights since he’s been with us, and there were no resources in the small county he’s from to deal with him,” Mr. Stickrath said. “Our staff worked to get him in a sophisticated psychiatric residential program, but they said he had to leave because he was attacking staff.”

Mr. Stickrath shook his head. “He just wears you out.”

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A subtle(r) slam on undue rural influence on health care reform

Gail Collins writes in her column yesterday of a special subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee:

Baucus has set up a special bipartisan negotiating committee on health care with his pal Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican.

* * *

The senators on this special committee hail from Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Iowa, Maine and Wyoming. This was quite a coup on Baucus’s part, since you have to work really hard to put together six states that represent only 2.77 percent of the population.
Since Collins does not use the word rural to describe these six sparse or low population states, I suppose her point is a lot subtler than this rural-bashing rant from a few weeks ago, which was not at all limited to healthcare reform (or for that matter, even politics).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXXIV): Couple sentenced for looting artifacts

There are no crime-related reports in the July 30, 2009 issue of the Newton County Times, but a look back to the July 23, 2009 issue reveals an interesting crime item on the back page of the paper. The headline is as above, and the report is of a January, 2008, arrest of a man and woman who were caught looting an archeological site, the Parker-Hickman homestead, in the upper park district of the Buffalo National River. The two were discovered by rangers who were on site to install surveillance equipment in response to recent looting. The man was with a juvenile, and the two had in their possession digging tools and boots matching the impressions left in recently excavated holes. The man's wife was later found at the trailhead, in possession of a pick and some artifacts.

Following a six-month investigation, assisted by agents of the National Park Services Investigative Services, a grand jury indicted the couple. They subsequently relinquished 71 stone tools, projectile points, and other artifacts that originated in the park. The man subsequently pleaded guilty in federal court to one felony count of violating the Archeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. He was sentenced to six months in federal prison and a year of supervised probation. His wife was sentenced to a misdemeanor count and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. The two have been ordered to pay more than $4,600 in restitution to the park. No mention is made of charges against the juvenile.

The report notes that looting and vandalism of sites in the Buffalo National River are major concerns, just as such activities are problems in national parks in the western U.S. The report does not discuss, however, the market for the looted artifacts.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rural, "conservative" Japan shifts political loyalties

Read Martin Fackler's story here, under the headline "Eroding Rural Base Threatens to Topple Japanese Party's Long Rule." The story reports that the Liberal Democrats are likely to suffer a "humiliating loss" in the August 30 national elections, only the second since the party was founded in 1955. These excerpts reflecting on a rural-urban divide in Japanese politics are of particular interest, in part because they hint at the diminution of that divide:

“The countryside is angry,” said Takayuki Miyauchi, a retired postmaster [who used to organize voters for the Liberal Democratic Party, but who now campaigns against it]. “We want anyone but the Liberal Democratic Party.”

For years, the dogged loyalty of Japan’s conservative heartland kept the Liberal Democrats in power despite urban unhappiness with its chronic corruption scandals and policy bungling. Now, the party seems paralyzed by Japan’s mounting problems, including the expense of supporting a rapidly aging population even as its economy continues to falter.
* * *
Even the construction industry, the major recipient of government largess and the most important cog in the rural patronage machine, has turned against the party as 40 percent of its companies have fallen into bankruptcy over the last decade.
The story's dateline is Matsuyama, a city in "rural Western Japan" that has been a party stronghold. Matsuyama is a city of 500,000 in Ehime prefecture on "the rural island of Shikoku."

A little cowboy culture in rural southwest France

Read Maia De la Baume's story in today's New York Times about the festival de country music in Mirande, France, population about 4,000. Here's an excerpt, including a quote from Alan Ribaut, organizer of the event, and the mayor's brother-in-law.

“People here are cut off from the outside world ... . So for six days, I wanted to give them the impression that they were in America,” or at least a strange version of Nashville, which bears, he insists, a great similarity to the landscape of this region, Gers.

For six days every July, Mirande, about 60 miles from Toulouse, plays host to a bizarre but happy parade of cowboys, bikers and an impressive number of French fans of John Wayne.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A rural-urban comparison of the chickens-in-the-backyard boomlet

See William Neuman's story in today's New York Times, "Keeping Their Eggs in Their Backyard Nests." It's about the chicken-keeping trend, as manifest in both urban and rural places, and at some points Neuman (or those he interviews for the story) stumbles onto an implicit rural-urban comparison.

One man interviewed is Lloyd Romriell, of Annis, Idaho. Annis, not even a census designated place, is near Rigby, population 2,998, so Romriell represents the rural end of the spectrum. Romriell, who owns a feed store, explains his recent decision to start keeping chickens:
It’s because times are tough. You never know what’s going to happen. ... If you lose your job tomorrow, you’ve still got food. ... I’m not into that organic stuff ... I think people in bigger cities want to see where their food comes from, whereas us out here in the West and in small towns, we know the concept of losing jobs and want to be able to be self-sustained. That’s why I do it.
Another Westerner, Jasmin Middlebos of Spokane, expresses similar motivations for her chicken keeping: desire for self-reliance and an unsettling economic picture.

In Brooklyn, on the other hand, Declan Walsh, 41, has been raising laying hens for several years and he has just invested several hundred dollars to begin raising 49 broilers. As Neuman observes, "[f]or some, especially in cities, where raising chickens has become an emblem of extreme foodie street cred, the interest is spurred by a preference for organic and locally grown foods." Walsh says the broiler hens will cost about $8 each to raise--about four times what a fully prepared chicken costs at some restaurants. Walsh nevertheless defends his decision, noting that while costly, his chickens are sure to taste better.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Souter quits his farmhouse, and perhaps the rural lifestyle

The New York Times reports today that Justice David Souter, who recently retired from the U.S. Supreme Court, has purchased a large, single-story home in a salubrious neighborhood of Hopkinton, New Hampshire, population 5,399. Hopkinton is contiguous to New Hampshire's capital city, Concord. Souter's new home is only 8-miles from his former home in Weare. While Weare has a larger population (7,776) than Hopkinton, Souter's long-time home there has been of a much more rural character: a two-story family farmhouse that journalist Katie Zezima characterizes as "a rustic abode with peeling brown paint, rotting beams and plenty of the solitude he desired." The old house does not even have a phone line.

Why the move? Zezima explains:
Justice Souter told a Weare neighbor, Jimmy Gilman, that the two-story farmhouse was not structurally sound enough to support the thousands of books he owns, according to The Concord Monitor, and that he wished to live on one level.
Read Zezima's full story here.

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XXXII): Another meth lab seized

The July 23, 2009, issue of the Newton County Times arrived while I was away this week, so I am catching up. The only front page story about crime is headlined, "Four arrested after raid of meth lab." The "working meth lab" was in near Mt. Judea, which is not even a census designated places, but is the location of one of four county schools. Four men, three of whom were aged 19 to 21 (the age of the fourth was not given) were arrested and charged with manufacturing methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia and simultaneous posession of firearms and drugs.

Other headlines in this week's paper include:
  • VISTA workers committeed to helping the community. This reports on three AmeriCorp VISTA team members who are based in neighboring Boone County but who have been assigned to Newton County projects. One is a retiree who has worked with the sheriff's office in dispatch and emergency clean up. One is a native of a neighboring county, and she has been a VISTA workers for two years, working on education issues. The third is working onthe "successful Prescription Drug Assistance Program" of the Community Health Resource Center. Currently, 18-month openings with Americorp VISTA are funded through the federal stimulus bill. While those in the positions do not receive a salary, they do receive a stipend and benefits. They also benefit from preferential hiring for future federal government jobs.
  • Errors made in school board election filings. This story reports that two who filed to vie for the same seat on the Jasper School board have been disqualified. One was disqualified because he lives in a different zone than the one from which he seeks to run. The other filed a petition with too few signatures.
  • Names being taken for school supplies. This brief story reports how residents can make donations to benefit students whose families are unable to afford school supplies for the impending school year.