Saturday, September 28, 2013

Federal judge in Idaho sides with Nez Perce to stop transport of tar sands equipment

The New York Times reported yesterday on the decision by federal district judge B. Lynn Winmill to prohibit the transport of "megaloads" of extraction industry equipment through the tribal lands of the Nez Perce Indians in north central Idaho.  The equipment would pass through the area en route to tar sands extraction and processing sites in Canada.  The tribe's argument, with support from Idaho Rivers United, is that the Clearwater River there is protected by federal law and by old, essentially untested treaty rights of the Nez Perce, even though much of the river corridor is outside the reservation.  Judge Winmill's ruling "halted further transports until the tribe, working in consultation with the United States Forest Service, could study their potential effect on the environment and the tribe’s culture."

Kirk Johnson's report on these events for the NYT appeared under the headline, "Fight Over Energy Finds a New Front in a Corner of Idaho."  The dateline is Lapwai, Idaho, population 1,137, and the seat of Nez Perce governance.  Here's an excerpt:
The Nez Perce Indians, who have called these empty spaces and rushing rivers home for thousands of years, were drawn into the national brawl over the future of energy last month when they tried to stop a giant load of oil-processing equipment from coming through their lands.  
* * * 
When the hauler’s giant load arrived one night in early August, more than 200 feet long and escorted by the police under glaring lights, the tribe tried to halt the vehicle, with leaders and tribe members barricading the road, willingly facing arrest. 
In fact, 28 members of the tribe were arrested.  In defending their actions, the chairman of the tribal executive committee, Silas Whitman, explained:
The development of American corporate society has always been — and it’s true throughout the world — on the backs of those who are oppressed, repressed or depressed.  We couldn’t turn the cheek anymore.  
Meanwhile, Johnson reports, the tribe is galvanized by their solidarity, even as they have taken some legal risks. 
Staking a legal case on treaty rights, though victorious so far in Judge Winmill’s court, means taking the chance, tribal leaders said, that a higher court, perhaps in appeal of the judge’s decision, will find those rights even more limited than before.
Johnson's story makes the point that the impacts of extractive industries are no longer seen as purely local.  It is no longer the case, he writes, that "what happens in oil country, stays in oil country."  

Don't miss the very striking photos/slide show accompanying this story. Here's a Sept. 13 story about the judge's ruling.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

2012 Nonmetro poverty 2.7% higher than national average

Read full coverage in the Daily Yonder here.  The nonmetropolitan poverty rate in the United States rose to 17.7% between the 2011 and 2012 estimates, up 0.7%.  The national poverty rate remained unchanged between 2010 and 2012, at 15%.  The Daily Yonder's coverage is based on the U.S. Census Bureau's Annual Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage Report: 2012.

The Yonder also reports that more Americans had health insurance in 2012 than in 2011.
[T]he Census report estimates that 15.4 percent, or 48 million Americans, were without health insurance in 2012 – a statistically significant decrease from 15.7 percent in 2011. The 2012 uninsured rate for those living outside of metropolitan areas was 15.2 percent. The Census Bureau estimates that 7.3 million persons outside of metropolitan areas were without health insurance in 2012 – a decrease of 58,000 persons from the number of rural uninsured in 2011.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Modoc County, California votes to join its neighbor, Siskiyou, in exploring secession from California

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday on the 4-0 vote of the Modoc County Board of Supervisors to secede from the State of California.  One supervisor was absent.  In so voting, Modoc joins its neighbor to the west, Siskiyou County, both on the Oregon state line.  Lee Romney reports, dateline San Francisco, but referencing the Redding Record-Searchlight.  That story quotes Geri Byrne, chair of the Modoc Board, saying she placed the item on the agenda “because I heard from a number of people in my district that wanted to do such.… We’re not saying we’re seceding today, we’re saying let’s look into it.”  She continued:
This is going to have to be something the people bring forward. It’s going to have to be from the bottom up, not from the top down.
Seceding counties would form a new state called Jefferson, though doing so would require approval of the California legislature and the U.S. Congress.  A spokesperson for the Jefferson Declaration Committee, Mark Baird, said his group hopes to secure commitments from about a dozen counties, including some in southern Oregon, before asking the California General Assembly to consider the formation of Jefferson.  The Record-Searchlight quotes Baird:   
California is essentially ungovernable in its present size.  We lack the representation to address the problems that affect the North State. 
We’re looking for 12 counties, though we can certainly do it with less.  
Depending on how  many counties secede and form Jefferson, the new state’s economy could be 15 percent larger than that of New Mexico, according to Baird.

Modoc County's population is just under 10,000, and its poverty rate is 19.8%.  Until the 2010 Census, Modoc was one of just three high-poverty counties in California, the others being Del Norte (far northwest corner) and Imperial (far southeast corner.)

Butte County, population 229,431,will consider the movement to secede at its Oct. 22 meeting.  Redding's vice mayor is pushing to have the issue put on the agenda there, too.  Redding, with a population of 90,755, is the largest California city north of Sacramento.

An earlier post about Siskiyou County's vote to secede is here.  That post includes links and information about the movement to form Jefferson, which has been around for more than 70 years.  That early movement was driven by a desire for better roads so that residents could access natural resources.  

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Literary Ruralism (Part V): Place as main character

Dwight Garner reviews Local Souls, Alan Garganus's latest book in today's New York Times.  Local Souls is actually a collection of three novellas.  All three stories are set in fictional Falls, North Carolina, in the eastern part of the state. ("Falls" was also the setting for Garganus's earlier book, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1989)). I appreciated how seriously Garner took the role of "place" in his review.  
In some respects, Falls is the main character in these novellas, a collective narrator tucked behind the actual narrator, the way the Grand Ole Opry band used to settle in behind Patsy Cline or the Heartbreakers do behind Tom Petty. “We still tend to worship our doctors and diagnose our preachers,” we read.  
* * *  
This buried collective narrator functions as theater critic as much as Greek chorus. Neighbors wait for the next small-town star to be born. “Eyes everywhere, ears pressed to phones, mouths describing your simple walk to school. Every time you stepped aside to comb your hair back nice? that’d been your Broadway audition!”
Another recently published book in which place looms large is Daniel Woodrell's The Maid's Version, discussed here.

But the only one of the novellas that finds favor with reviewer Wright is "Decoy," about a "venerated local doctor" who no longer practices, but is nationally known for his meticulously carved duck decoys.   Though the town feels abandoned by the doctor, they are nevertheless proud of him.  Wright calls the story "dignified and searching," and revealing regarding class and how "communities expand and contract."  I love this line from the novella's narrator, who reveals that his family has “barely made the broad-jump from clay tobacco fields to red clay courts.”  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kudos to the NYT for seeing both rural gentrification and rural poverty in Colorado floods

The New York Times followed up yesterday on the massive floods in northern Colorado under the headline "Roaring Waters, Deep Scars:  "It Chewed Us Up." The accompanying multimedia show is here.  What struck me first about the feature by Jack Healy and Dan Frosch is that it not only attends to rural gentrification, which I expected, it also attends to rural poverty (or--more precisely--suburban or exurban poverty in an area associated with agriculture).  Here's a paragraph from the story that sums up the two communities, Jamestown, population 274, in Boulder County, and Evans, population 18,842, just outside Greeley, in Weld County.
Jamestown and Evans. One, a 280-person town of picturesque homes, string musicians and organic gardeners. The other, a 20,000-person city on the plains, where families have journeyed from Mexico to work at the meatpacking plant and in the oil fields. Now they are bound together by Colorado’s worst flood in a generation, two communities among dozens confronting urgent questions about how long it will take to recover.
The entire piece is quote atmospheric, evoking the beauty, exclusivity, and quirkiness of the front-range, alongside the poverty in which immigrants live not so far away.

P.S. Another piece about the impact of the floods on rural Colorado hospital is this from NPR, on Sept. 24, 2013.  It touches not only on post-flood transportation challenges, but also on cuts in federal payments to critical access hospitals like the one in Estes Park.  Here's another story, this one from the NYTimes, regarding concerns over environmental damage from extraction industries in the wake of the floods.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

More (bad) news out of Leith, North Dakota

I wrote last month about the efforts of white supremacist Craig Cobb to take over tiny Leith, North Dakota to make it a whites-only town.  Now,  Meg Lindholm reports for NPR that members of a large neo-Nazi organization will visit Leith this week-end.  Lindholm quotes Cobb's creepy vision for the week-end--and for the town's future, which would include an installation of the flags of the "formerly white nations of Europe."
It would be extraordinarily beautiful when people enter the town, particularly at night.  We will probably have the National Socialist hunting flag with stag horns and a very small swastika in the center — very discreet.  
In an effort to stop Cobb, residents have urged the county health department to condemn several of the town's old structures.  They hope that this will discourage him and like-minded white supremacists from moving in to take over the town and its local government.  Cobb already owns about a dozen structures in Leith.  

But Cobb's plans extend beyond Leith.  He has designs on other towns near the region's oil fields, including Alkabo, a town on the Canadian border.

Leith, in southwestern North Dakota, sits three miles from the nearest paved road.  It's population is 24.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Regulating raccoons in Alabama

Kim Severson reports in today's New York Times on a new edict by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources telling 72 groups and individuals not to rehabilitate certain animals.  Already on that list were feral pigs, coyotes, bats and foxes, but now raccoons have been added to the list, with the agency citing rabies prevention and food chain balance as reasons for its decision.

Those who rehabilitate 'coons and other wild animals--they call themselves rehabbers--have in the past had permits from the Dept. of Conservation to do so.  They are up in arms over the new edict, which presumably puts their permits in jeopardy.  The rehabbers are quite committed to their 'coons, which are apparently cuddly and easy to love and train when they are very young.  John Russ, a Marine veteran who has a 144-acre animal sanctuary in Woodville, Alabama, alleges what Severson characterizes as "an inherent anti-raccoon bias" by state and local wildlife officials.  Severson quotes Russ:
These guys, they have some issue with raccoons.  They always have.
Rehabbers also blame hunters and a "hunters-first mentality," and they have vowed to fight the ban, even if it brings trouble given that Alabama has a law against keeping a wild animal without a permit.  

Severson explains that the rehabbers are a remarkably "tight-knit group that has worked for decades to develop national guidelines. They share best practices, like what to feed a baby squirrel, how large a raccoon nesting box should be or how to make sure animals do not get too accustomed to humans while they are nursed back to health.

As for the state of Alabama, it insists "there is nothing nefarious in the new policy," which "was developed not out of a dislike for rehabbers or raccoons, but after a year of study and consultation with federal wildlife and rabies experts."  Ray Metzler, assistant chief with the Alabama agency, explained that it is part of an effort to standardize policies and also regulate those who remove nuisance wildlife, e.g., a snake in a garage.
We are not trying to put them out of business by any means.  The point is we would like for people to leave wildlife alone.  That raccoon that’s accustomed to eating out of the dog bowl — it’s not going to survive in the wild.
Metzler noted that the rehabbers are still permitted to help rabbits, deer and squirrels.

Speaking (a few sentences back) abut the need to remove animals, see this NPR story from a few weeks ago about a man hired to free Dallas, Texas of feral pigs.  Nearly half of the three million feral pigs in the United States live in Texas, it reports.  In Dallas, the pigs are "bathing in rivers, spreading diseases, ruining the parks — basically, turning the city into a pig sty."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Neglecting (or cheating?) poor rural schools, even when the law is on their side

This post on the Education Law Blog yesterday mentions school finance litigation in over funding of rural schools.  Derek Black of the University of South Carolina writes:
Several states like Nebraska, Wyoming, Tennessee and Wyoming, to name just a few, have seen school finance litigation on behalf of rural districts. Other states like North Carolina have included rural districts as a distinct class of disadvantaged districts within broader litigation. Notwithstanding these examples, it is sometimes easy to miss the plight of rural districts, particularly in states that are not rural. In states like New York and New Jersey, the neediest districts and students find their homes in the same places as school finance litigators: large urban centers. Advocates and reasearchers do not have to look far to find obvious and gross inequity.
Black goes on to note this article published last year, Kyle E. Gruber, Bringing Home the Bacon: A Case for Applying the New Jersey Urban School Funding Remedy from Abbott v. Burke to Poor Rural School Districts, 2 Colum. J. Race & L. Rev. 167 (2012).  Here's the abstract:
In 1997, seventeen poor rural school districts in New Jersey filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration that their districts were in violation of its students’ state constitutional right to a “thorough and efficient” education, and a financial remedy akin to the one granted to poor urban districts in Abbott v. Burke. Fifteen years and four decisions later, these districts are still inadequately funded and providing a constitutionally inadequate education to the students therein. This Article analyzes the state of education funding law in New Jersey, under the governing Abbott v. Burke decisions, and argues that there is no significant legal distinction barring the poor rural districts from access to the same, or similar, remedial measures.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXI): Lawmakers celebrate rural water system to serve 20K residents, debate federal stimulus that funded it

A $ 72 million infrastructure project to supply water to some 20,000 homes in rural Northwest Arkansas became operational earlier this month.  The system, with a intake plant and treatment structure at Bull Shoals Lake, 120 miles of pipeline and six storage tanks, will serve Boone, Newton and Searcy counties.  The plant can treat 4.5 million gallons of water/day, using 1- 1.5 million gallons/day.  The system will provide water to 18 small, rural water associations, which have not had a reliable supply of water over the years.  A party celebrating the plant's opening was held Sept. 3, with many dignitaries in attendance, including Governor Mike Beebe, U.S. Senator Mark Pryor, and U.S. Congressman for Arkansas's third district, Steve Womack.  Womack praised his predecessor, Marion Berry, Democrat, who was serving on the House Appropriations Committee when the project was funded.  Womack also spoke of the "smart, visionary leaders" who navigated the bureaucracy to fund and build the system.
You may have had a shortage of safe drinking water over the last several years, but you've had a very abundant supply of leadership that has made this day possible.
Womack, a second-term Republican who was previously the mayor of booming Rogers, Arkansas, (population 55,964) admitted that he has tended to take the availability of clean water for granted.  He also observed that the new water system is likely to "improve property values, enhance economic development, provide for job creation, but most of all improve the life of so many people."

The water system is touted in a separate front-page headline of the Sept. 4, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times as the 500th stimulus project completed.  This is especially ironic since the area's voters are quite conservative and generally opposed to federal government spending--or any government spending--for that matter.  Indeed, in yet another headline, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, says he is "tired of hypocrites complaining about federal programs"--that being the stimulus.  The Newton County Times, in a story written by Dwain Lair, quotes Beebe at length:
A lot of things we disagree with on both the state and federal levels.  There is a lot of griping and complaining about policies of this government.  A lot of people are disappointed, and I join them to gripe and complain about things I think are stupid. One of the things I think all of us abhor is hypocrisy. I can't stand hypocrisy.  If you're against something, stand up there and say it.  Don't talk out of one side of of your mouth, and don't take credit for something you've been publicly talking against.  I'm not talking about any people here specifically.  
Yeah, I'd have done things differently with the stimulus.  I would have spent more on roads ... a greater portion on capital projects that put people to work, like this project, and that actually benefit people.  I'm going to tell you something, we were in a mess.  This country was in the worst recession of my lifetime.  I didn't vote for or against any of that stuff.  I wasn't up there.  But I would be the biggest hypocrite in the world if I blasted everything they did about the stimulus and congratulate one of the stimulus projects to help 20,000 Arkansans and put all those people to work.   
And the folks who gripe and complain and bellyache about stimulus aren't turning the tap to drink any of this water.  Because if it wasn't for the stimulus, you wouldn't be getting any of this water.  
Let's call it like it is.  Argue about what we need to argue about, but let's don't be hypocrites.  Congratulations...
Now that sounds like calling a spade a spade ...

The new water system will be managed by the Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority Board. Its funding came from myriad sources, which I list here in the order in which the Newton County Times listed them, with the smaller pool of state funds listed before the federal amount, which was about 6.5 times as great:
  • Arkansas Natural Resources Commission:  $9.2 million
  • USDA Rural Development Grant:  $62.7 million
  • EPA Grant:  $572,000
  • Arvest Bank Grant:  $5000
  • Southshore Foundation:  $8000
  • Progressive Solutions:  $2,500
Association members are

Buffalo National River Water
Deer Community Water
Diamond City Water
East Newton County Water
Lake Bull Shoals Estates
Lead Hill
Mockingbird Hill Water
Morning Star Water
Mt. Sherman Water
Nail-Swain Water

An editorial in the September 4 issue of the paper provides a bit of background on the Ozark Mountain Regional Water Authority.  Under the headline, "A case where stimulus worked," editor Jeff Dezort notes the "short time it took from start to finish" to supply the districts, who first began meeting about their common problems in 2004.
Radon, radium, excessive amounts of flouride and other harsh chemicals found in well water had become too costly for water associations to remove, and they were facing steep penalties for not providing healthy water to their customers. 
The water table that fed the associations' wells was also dropping and during dry spells water storage tanks could not be filled fast enough to meet the demand for water.  Boil water orders and conservation protocols were often and long. 
Water operators felt that instead of fining the water associations, the state should help them find new ample sources of quality water and help build a reliable delivery system. 
Though the system was expected to take 20 years to build, it was accomplished in less than a decade thanks to funding from the American Recovery Act.

Over the six years I have been blogging here, I have written on various occasions about the travails, e.g., boil orders, shortages, of many of these water associations.  Read posts here and here.  Indeed, last spring the Mockingbird Hill Water Association was experiencing such dire water problems that a local attraction, The Cliff House Restaurant, overlooking "Arkansas's Grand Canyon" (and the valley where my mother grew up), didn't have any water to serve its customers.  Talk about putting a damper on business.  Last year, water had to be trucked in to supply the county fair. Happily, those days, it seems, are over.

Meanwhile, the August 21, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times reports that the East Newton County Water Authority raised its rates in a vote on August 12, just two months after it started receiving water from the Regional Authority.  A member of the East Newton County Board is quoted:
It was impossible to make the total payments to Ozark Mountain Regional for the water supply plus loan payments to USDA-Rural Development and expenses of operating and maintenance under the present rate system.  
Oddly, the Board elected not to announce the new rate structure to the public.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Parsing the Colorado recall election

The results of the Colorado recall election are in, and two Democratic lawmakers have been ousted.  Now the analysis begins. The New York Times published this yesterday.  The headline is "Recall Vote on Guns Exposes Rift in Colorado's Blue Veneer," and its analysis makes scant reference to the rural-urban divide.  Jack Healy and Dan Frosch write:
While some voters in the two districts groused about the flood of donations Mr. Bloomberg and outside groups made in the recall campaigns, analysts in Colorado said the election results were shaped by an eruption of local discontent from voters who say their leaders are ignoring the concerns of gun owners and abandoning Colorado’s rural, libertarian roots. 
After years of gains propelled by shifting demographics and voter attitudes, Democrats now control the state legislature and the governor’s mansion, and make up most of Colorado’s Congressional delegation. But state officials said that the recalls showed how Colorado’s political pendulum could still swing in surprising directions, and that deep rifts still lay beneath its increasingly blue veneer.
They quote former Democratic governor Bill Ritter:
This is a state with a wide variety of interests at stake.  The Democratic Party cannot be the party of metro Denver and Boulder. It has to be the party who understands the values, views and aspirations of people who live outside of those areas.
"Hard Lessons of the Colorado Recall" is the headline for a Times editorial also yesterday.  It seeks to diminish the significance of the recall vote by referring to "two small districts in Colorado."  It closes with these lines:  
In truth, the recall fight showed that something sensible and stirring could emerge among politicians, at least in Colorado, even if two worthy incumbents were sacrificed. The state’s new laws survive, and Colorado residents are safer for them.
NPR's coverage, 6 Lessons from the Colorado Gun Wars, doesn't reference rurality at all, and it focuses more on voters' upset over outside efforts--namely of those NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg--to influence the election's outcome with his $350K donation.  The heading for this lesson was "Grass Roots vs Greenbacks":  
The election was widely seen as a proxy battle between the National Rifle Association and the new group created by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. In fact, Bloomberg contributed $350,000 to try to defeat the recalls. There was plenty of outside money spent in the fight: Denver political analyst and pollster Floyd Ciruli said the airwaves were so saturated with ads it felt like the frenzied height of a presidential election in parts of this battleground state. Gun rights groups were significantly outspent, explains Ciruli, but carried the day mostly through a very effective grass-roots campaign.
I am reminded of this post, which illustrates on a smaller scale how rural folks can bet their backs up when urban folks--or any outsiders--assert themselves.

While the NPR story didn't use the word "rural," it uses some proxies for rurality in writing of a "Western state with a strong gun culture" and libertarian rejection of the "nanny state" associated with Bloomberg's efforts to stop the sale of huge sugary drinks in NYC.    

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Colorado senators who supported back-ground checks for gun ownership recalled

The New York Times coverage is here.  It focuses on John Morse, whose Colorado Springs constituency was much more closely divided between Republicans and Democrats than that of Angie Giron, also recalled.  Giron represented an area around Pueblo, which the Times described as "a heavily Democratic, working-class slice of southern Colorado." The rural-urban divide has loomed large in the rhetoric of the recall, as reflected in coverage of the recall effort and yesterday's vote.  Read more here.

Here's an excerpt from Jack Healy's NYT story on yesterday's vote:
The passions ignited by the vote were on full display on Tuesday, as opposing sides lined up side by side outside polling places here in Colorado’s second-largest city. They spoke of knowing survivors of the mass shooting inside the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colo. 
* * * 
A few feet away stood Steven Martin, 53, a recall supporter with a Beretta handgun holstered on his hip. 
“It’s a deterrent,” he said. “I love my country.”
Denver Post coverage of the recall election is here. It shows that the level of support for Morse, at 49%, was higher than the level of support for Giron, at 43.9%.  This suggests that, even though Giron's district is more heavily Democratic, it swung farther from supporting her.  Because it is a more rural district, I guess this suggests that rural folks (or working class folks), even when they are Democrats, are more likely to be pro gun. Here's a quote from the Post's coverage that supports that idea:
Party insiders always said Giron's race was the harder one. Although her district is heavily Democratic, Pueblo is a blue-collar union town. Morse's district included Manitou Springs and a portion of Colorado Springs — and more liberals.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Literary Ruralism (Part IV): Daniel Woodrell on small-town crime, and how it plays out in his new novel

Ellah Allfrey offered a rhapsodic review of Daniel Woodrell's new book, The Maid's Version yesterday on NPR.  Allfrey writes:
Woodrell sets the story in his beloved Missouri Ozarks, and he writes with clear-eyed observation, introducing the reader to characters whose lives are shaped as much by their rural landscape as by the moral ambiguities — the collective lies, constraints and collusions — that form the necessary glue holding their community together.
If Woodrell's name sounds familiar, it's probably because you saw or heard a lot about the 2010 film Winter's Bone, which was based on Woodrell's 2006 novel by the same name.

A few days before NPR aired the review of the new book, Lynn Neary of NPR interviewed Woodrell.  It notes that Woodrell and his wife moved to West Plains, Missouri, where both sides of his family were from, about 20 years ago. Woodrell's father had moved away, but as a boy, Woodrell had often visited his grandparents in West Plains.  Neary reports that this book moves Woodrell
into more personal territory with the fictional retelling of a tragedy that hit the town hard back in 1928. An explosion and fire at a dance hall left a good portion of the town's young people dead or injured. There was an official investigation, but authorities never pinned down a cause. Rumors were rampant and echoed down the decades.
This excerpt from the Woodrell interview highlights, among other things, the lack of anonymity that marks rural communities and how that feature relates to the nature of crime in those places.  Woodrell explains:
One of the interesting things about the Ozarks is you just about don't have street crime.  It's strictly between people who know each other. It really isn't indiscriminate; it's kind of between themselves. 
Of the historical event that inspired the new book, Woodrell says:   
There were several gossipy possibilities of some kind of romance involved and a couple of things about people who were having business failures and these kinds of things.  There were rumors of seeing people running away. All these stories reached me.
Back to Neary:
Woodrell's grandmother and mother had their own firm ideas of what really happened the night of the fire, and some of those opinions made their way into the book. And because the disaster involved almost everyone in town, it gave Woodrell a way to write about the class boundaries that defined life in West Plains.
Of finding his voice in West Plains, Woodrell says:
I just thought, no, I don't see how this is going to work being a writer in the Ozarks, but once I got over that, I realized I felt more kind of confidence to the stories I would tell about this region — as well as interest in the stories than I really did anywhere else.
 Reviews of The Maid's Version are available in USA Today here and in the Chicago Tribune here.

A review of Woodrell's 2011 short story collection, The Outlaw Album, is here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Saving AM radio, because rural folks matter?

At least that seems to be a critical reason according to this NYT story today focusing on the efforts of Ajit Pai to save AM radio.  Edward Wyatt reports that Pai, the sole Republican on the FCC, is "on a personal and quixotic quest to save AM" which is "largely the realm of local news, sports, conservative talk and religious broadcasters." Pai proposes "overhauling" AM, which is increasingly static-y due to interference from smartphones and other consumer electronics.  Pai's arguments for why AM is worth saving are both practical and nostalgic:  it's "vital in emergencies and in rural areas"and "the audible core of our national culture."  On the practical side, Wyatt writes:
AM’s longer wavelength means it can be heard at far greater distances and so in crises, he said, “AM radio is always going to be there.” As an example, he cited Fort Yukon, Alaska, where the AM station KZPA broadcasts inquiries about missing hunters and transmits flood alerts during the annual spring ice breakup. 
“When the power goes out, when you can’t get a good cell signal, when the Internet goes down, people turn to battery-powered AM radios to get the information they need,” Mr. Pai said.
As for the nostalgia, Pai recalls growing up in Parsons, Kansas, the son of Indian immigrants.  There he listened to his high school basketball team win the 1987 state championship on KLKC 1540.  Pai also talked about the role of radio as a "constant companion" on family road trips across the plains.  Wyatt quotes Pai:
AM radio is localism, it is community.

Chinese farmers resist urbanization with protest, including suicide

The latest installment in the NYT series on China's push to accelerate urbanization appears today.  The headline is "Picking Death Over Eviction."   Ian Johnson reports:
Over the past five years, at least 39 farmers have resorted to this drastic form of protest. The figures, pieced together from Chinese news reports and human rights organizations, are a stark reminder of how China’s new wave of urbanization is at times a violent struggle between a powerful state and stubborn farmers — a top-down project that is different from the largely voluntary migration of farmers to cities during the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.
Johnson reports that farmers have means other than self-immolation to kill themselves.  As for numbers, one Chinese NGO, the Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch, reported 21 farmer suicides last year.  Others have been killed when they refuse to leave their property, taking literal stands against demolition equipment.  

Johnson also situates these suicides in the wider Chinese context, in which suicide has long been a form of protest.  But he contrasts the Chinese government's response to these rural self-immolations with its response to those by Tibetans protesting Chinese rule.  Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China specialist with Amnesty International highlights the difference:  
It is striking how differently the two are treated.  They are trying to cover up the issue in the countryside.
Meanwhile, Johnson reports, the Chinese government may be altering its development path in response to the suicides.
A plan to speed up urbanization was supposed to have been unveiled earlier this year, but it has been delayed over concerns that the move to cities is already stoking social tensions. New measures are also being contemplated to increase rural residents’ property rights.
Don't miss the embedded videos in this story, one of which highlights the sense of displacement--and economic distress--experienced by farmers forced to re-locate to cities.  

I wrote about earlier installments in Johnson's series here and here.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

LGBT folks get comfortable in rural Missouri

John Eligon reports today for the New York Times in a story under the heading "Ozarks Journal" and the headline, "A Hideaway Where 'Out in the Ozarks' Has Multiple Meanings."  Eligon writes of a clothing-optional campground, Cactus Canyon, that caters to gay men.  In its 15th season, the place is so popular that the owners are currently expanding its capacity for both RVs and tents, and adding a second pool.
These rolling woods of the Ozarks — where a billboard along a major highway proclaims that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, where a “Jesus Saves” sign and other Christian symbols decorate front lawns — seem an unlikely place for gay people to feel comfortable being out and open. 
But tucked in the backcountry here is a place where gay men are unabashedly celebratory and self-deprecating about their lives: Cactus Canyon Campground, a 700-acre, clothing optional, all-male hideaway. 
* * * 
Most surprising, perhaps, is the way local residents generally react to the camp nowadays: with a shrug, or maybe an awkward grin. Once the target of notable harassment — gunshots, vandalism and runoff from a strategically placed hog farm — Cactus Canyon now enjoys a much more peaceful existence.
For details on the legal wrangling over the hog farm, read the story in its entirety.  I note that the campground owners were the ones who initiated litigation--and won.  They suggest that standing up for themselves in that way has led to greater acceptance in the community because "opponents finally got the message that they would stand up for themselves."

Eligon quotes one the campground's owners, Chaz Franzke, regarding the current state of affairs:  
For a place that, before, people used to hide and and not be out, it’s now a community.  The gays and lesbians are out in the community and proud of it.  We've come a long ways. 
The caption for one of the photos in the multi-media show accompanying the story mentions the Hawk Hill Community Land Trust, a women's only retreat, though the story about Cactus Canyon doesn't mention Hawk Hill.  I like this quote from Denslow Brown, a resident of Hawk Hill:
One of the things about rural life that is true beyond our circumstance is that you aren’t as anonymous as you are in more populated areas. 
Cactus Canyon Campground and Hawk Hill Land Trust are both near Ava, Missouri, population 2,993, and the county seat of nonmetropolitan Douglas County, population 13,684, in south central Missouri.  The poverty rate in Douglas County is 21.1%

Friday, September 6, 2013

Back to school in rural Arkansas

Late August and early September issues of the Newton County Times include several stories about things going on at the four county schools, which are spread among three districts.

At Jasper school, a new school-based community health clinic held an open house in late August, though it will not be operational until sometime in mid-to-late September.  A dentist and physician's assistant (PA) will work at the clinic, which is situated in what was previously the school's auditorium lobby.  That area has been converted into examination rooms, a laboratory, and a 3-chair dental suite.  That probably doubles or even triples the number of dental chairs currently in the county.  The PA is associated with the North Arkansas Regional Medical Center in Harrison, and he will work under supervision of Harrison physician, John Leslie, MD.  The dentist, Robert Hubbard, DDS, said he had been looking to establish a satellite clinic from his Harrison clinic.  Eventually, he expects to have dental hygienists working in Jasper, too.

The clinic was financed with a $500,000 state grant.  Those funds were set aside by Act 180 of 2009, and awarded by the Arkansas Dept. of Education's Office of Coordinated School Health, in collaboration with the Arkansas Dept. of Health and Arkansas Medicaid in the Schools.  The Act features three primary goals:

  • Provide clinical services through a qualified health provider such as a hospital, community health center, or medical practice.
  • Establish a mental health program based on the Arkansas Dept of Education School Based Mental Health Best Practices Manual.
  • Provide students, families, and community with education outreach based on needs through implementation of the eight-component model of Coordinated School Health to improve academic achievement, school health programs, and community support. 
Nothing in the Newton County Times story indicates anything about the provision of mental health services at the Jasper clinic. 

Another story reports on back-to-school events at Jasper School.  Here's the lede:  
The superintendent, a sheriff's deputy reviewing active shooter training and a keynote address by the Dept of Education Assistant Commissioner Karen Walters on the topic of teacher evaluations welcomed Jasper School District teachers to their in-service day prior to the start of school.  
Among other things, the superintendent announced that he had convinced two teachers, previously retired, to come back to teaching.  Each of the teaches has about 40 years of teaching experience, and Superintendent Kerry Saylors admitted he "begged them" to return. 

He announced that last year's budget was $22.67 million, with $7.3 million of that in salaries.  Last year the district gave a $200 bonus to each employee, which cost $40,631.  Saylors said he hoped to give bonuses again this year, but that the priority would be for teachers to get any bonuses awarded.  

Saylors boasted that the Jasper district enjoys some of the lowest teacher-to-student ratios in the state, ranging from one teacher for each 7.76 students at Kingston Elementary to 1 teacher per 15.14 students at Jasper High School.  

Saylors thanked the lunchroom workers for implementing programs providing "convenient and appealing meals and snacks to students" so that "our children are getting to eat when they are hungry."  Two years ago, the district served 67,177 breakfasts.  Since implementing the Grab & Go and Breakfast-in-the-Classroom programs, 101,199 breakfasts, "all reimbursable," were served.  The story does not indicate who is doing the reimbursing, but it is almost certainly the USDA.  Ditto for the 10,303 morning and noontime meals served to students on all three of the district's campuses over the summer.  Saylors did note, regarding the food served, that "[t]he Feds noticed the difference" and are helping Jasper get new kitchen equipment with a grant that will pay half the cost.  

The Kingston Elementary and High School buildings got new roofs last year.  This year, Kingston will get a new cafeteria and fine arts building, which will feature a safe room.  A new high school building, featuring covered walkways, is under construction at Oark. The Jasper campus has a new electrical distribution system.  

The superintendent congratulated Oark on improvements in its test scores.  The school must improve its scores for an additional year before it is "off the naughty list."  He commended Kingston for its traditionally good scores and "marveled" that Jasper High School posted some of the highest scores in its history.

Superintendent Saylors also updated teachers and staff about legislative efforts to retain isolated funding.  I wrote about that issue here (last paragraph of post).  

In other school news from around the county:
  • Deer-Mt. Judea School Board Member Joe Ricketts resigned. 
  • The Oark School got a $7K "Stream Team" grant to improve a portion of a steam that runs through campus.  The grant, from the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission, acknowledges the work the 
  • At a Western Grove School opening assembly, students mourned a high school teacher who died suddenly in July, aged 45.  
  • The women of the Jasper United Methodist Church welcomed Jasper School teachers back to school with a luncheon and an assortment of classroom supplies. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hunger in (rural) America: Both black and white, young and old

Thank you Sheryl Gay Stolberg for your story about food insecurity in today's New York Times, dateline Dyersburg, Tennessee, population 17,145.  With "As Debate Reopens, Food Stamp Recipients Continue to Squeeze," Stolberg does what we see too infrequently in the media: illustration(s) of a social problem--food insecurity--by reference to both black and white populations, both young families and the elderly, both men and women.   Here's an excerpt:
As a self-described “true Southern man” — and reluctant recipient of food stamps — Dustin Rigsby, a struggling mechanic, hunts deer, doves and squirrels to help feed his family. He shops for grocery bargains, cooks budget-stretching stews and limits himself to one meal a day. 
Tarnisha Adams, who left her job skinning hogs at a slaughterhouse when she became ill with cancer, gets $352 a month in food stamps for herself and three college-age sons. She buys discount meat and canned vegetables, cheaper than fresh. Like Mr. Rigsby, she eats once a day — “if I eat,” she said.  
Elsewhere, Stolberg quotes Rigsby, age 20 with a wife and one-year-old son, as saying we “'look like we are fine,' but live on the edge of poverty, skipping meals and rationing food." The Rigsbys say they prioritize meals for their child, but that they often run out of milk by the end of the month.  Rigsby is out of work because of a knee injury, but he recently sold his truck.  His wife works part time at J.C. Penney.  Their SNAP benefit is $350 a month, but will fall by $29 in November, when cuts go into effect.

Mr. Rigsby, "who dreams of becoming a game warden," supports drug-testing for food stamp recipients.  He says he is "irritated" by people "who mooch off the system."  It's a stance that reminds me of Jennifer Sherman's Those Who Work, Those Who Don't:  Poverty, Morality and Family in Rural America (2009).

Another woman featured is 61-year-old, Kathy Baucom, a former welder now disabled with lupus.  She relies in large part on the deer she hunts to feed herself--as well as on the local food bank.  Her SNAP benefit is just $117/month.

Dyersburg is the county seat of nonmetropolitan Dyer County, population 38,335, with a poverty rate of 19.2%.  It is in the Mississippi Delta region, associated with high, intergenerational poverty.  Stolberg apparently selected Dyersburg because of the area's U.S. Congressman.  Stephen Fincher, elected in a Tea Party wave in 2010, is also a soybean and corn farmer who received some $3.5 million in subsidies between 1999 and 2012.  He recently voted for a farm bill that did not include food stamps, now officially known as SNAP:  Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program.

Stolburg highlights not only Fincher's hypocrisy, but also his Biblical justifications for his lack of charity toward the poor.  After his vote on the farm bill in May, Fincher said,
The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country. 
At another point he quoted the verse, "The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat."  I guess he hasn't noticed the extent of the problem among the disabled and working poor. (That phrase always reminds me of Joe Bageant's quip:  "poor is poor whether you have to work for it or not.")  

Kudos to Stolberg for seeing rural folks in this story, where she writes:  
Experts say the problem is particularly acute in rural regions like Dyersburg, a city of 17,000 on the banks of the Forked Deer River in West Tennessee. More than half the counties with the highest concentration of food insecurity are rural, according to an analysis by Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks. In Dyer County, it found, 19.4 percent of residents were “food insecure” in 2011, compared with 16.4 percent nationwide.
Elsewhere Stolberg specifically acknowledges the invisibility of hunger--especially in rural areas.   

As I pick labels for this post, "children," "teens," "elderly," "family," "race/ethnicity," I am reminded that all of these groups are struggling with hunger--and poverty.

This story's incidental discussion of hunting as a way to provide for one's family--and oneself--reminds me of this earlier post.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An extreme statement of frustration, lack of voice in rural California

The Siskiyou County (California) Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 yesterday afternoon to support the county's secession from the State of California.  The Times-Standard (of neighboring Mendocino County) reports:
More than 100 people packed the supervisors' chambers late this morning for a discussion on whether the county should issue a declaration that it wants to secede from the state. Nearly all those in attendance appeared to be for the move. 
Among those in attendance was Erin Ryan, field representative for Rep. Doug LaMalfa. She said that she and other LaMalfa staff members supported the effort to secede, but she did not know LaMalfa's thoughts on it. 
Board Chair Ed Valenzuela was the sole vote against the declaration today. He said he was elected to solve problems within the system. 
In August, county residents lobbied the board to consider separating from the state over a laundry list of complaints including a lack of representation in Sacramento for the Republican-majority county, issues pertaining to water rights and the rural fire prevention fee.
The fire prevention fee is $150 annual assessment to "offset the costs of providing fire service to people who live far from services." Needless to say, that means folks in rural California.  The California Legislature approved it in 2011, and it affects more than 825,000 homeowners.
The story is reported by Sean Longoria of the Redding Record Searchlight.  Longoria notes that the vote is the first step "in a long process that would require approval" from both state and federal legislative bodies.

Some rich quotes in favor of the vote can be found online, including this one from Gabe Garrison, a resident of Happy Camp in the northwest part of the county:
Many proposed laws are unconstitutional and deny us our God-given rights.  We need our own state so we can make laws that fit our way of life.
Supervisor Michael Kobseff said not a single person had contacted him to oppose the declaration supporting secession.

Read more here (from Shasta and Mendocino counties), here (from the AP), here (San Francisco) and here (Humboldt County). Siskiyou County's population is 44,154, and its poverty rate is 18.4%.  

Siskiyou County would like other rural counties in northern California and southern Oregon to join it in forming the 51st state, Jefferson, a proposal that has been around for many decades. A book about the proposed State of Jefferson was published in 2007. Read more about the Jefferson statehood project here. The wikipedia entry is here. I note the slogan for that project:
Free people - Free Markets - Limited Government
Representation for people of rural California
This story notes that several counties in northern Colorado will vote this fall on seceding from that state, a fact also mentioned in several stories covering the Siskiyou County vote.

A 2011 post about a secession movement in southern California, in the so-called Inland Empire, is here.

Deportees killed in fiery '48 crash finally named, remembered

Maria Wollan reports today for the New York Times of the latest chapter in a tragic plane crash memorialized in Woody Guthrie's song, "Deportee" (also known as "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos").  In January, 1948, an airplane chartered by U.S. immigration authorities and carrying two pilots, a flight attendant, an immigration guard and 28 Mexican farmworkers crashed near Coalinga, California.  All on board were killed, but while the bodies of the four crew were sent to their families, the remains of the deportees were buried in a mass grave in Fresno, at the edge of a cemetery.  Those Mexicans were not identified, but a small stone placed there read: 
28 Mexican Citizens Who Died In An Airplane Accident Near Coalinga California On Jan. 28, 1948 R.I.P.
Wollan reports the story of the crash:
Eighty miles southwest of Fresno, road workers reported hearing what sounded like an explosion, only to look up and see the left wing shear off the Douglas DC-3 passing high above them. Nearly a dozen bodies were seen falling from a hole in the fuselage before the plane burst into flames and plummeted into a wooded canyon.
This week, however, the Mexican victims of that crash were named and honored as some 600 people gathered at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno to unveil a large memorial stone listing each victim.  A mariachi band and Aztec dancers performed.    

Tim Z. Hernandez, the 39-year-old son and grandson of Mexican farmworkers, undertook the task of identifying the farm workers.  A writer, Hernandez came across newspaper stories about the crash while doing research for a novel at a library in Fresno.  He worked with the cemeteries director for Fresno's Roman Catholic Diocese, Carlos Rascon, to identify the Mexicans killed in the crash, even talking to family members when possible to verify the spelling of names.

Like Hernandez, Berenice Guzman only recently learned of the plane crash.  A history teacher at Dinuba High School, she organized her students to raise $14,000 to pay for the memorial service and the headstone.  Guzman states:  
They connected right away because many of their parents are farm workers from Mexico.  This is an agricultural community. For many of us here, the people in that crash could have been family.
Interspersed with Wollan's description the '48 crash and this week's memorial service are lyrics from Guthrie's song.  They include:  
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees”

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Describing Colorado's rural-urban divide in the context of a recall over gun legislation

Here's how Jack Healy does it in today's NYT story regarding next Tuesday's election, in which pro-gun forces are seeking to recall two Colorado state senators who supported the gun control law passed earlier this year:
Colorado’s vote is being watched closely around the nation as a litmus test of how voters respond to new gun measures in a swing state with an ingrained culture of hunting, sport shooting and gun ownership.
* * * 
The passions on display in the recall effort also represent a widening rift in the state’s identity, some analysts say, between the Colorado of F-150s, hunting trips and rural towns, and the Colorado of Subarus, ski passes and downtown lofts.
The law that prompted the recall is one that most Democrats see as moderate.  It requires background checks on private gun sales and limits ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. 

Healy quotes Eric Sondermann, a political analyst in Denver:  
There’s symbolic importance to both sides.  If they’re recalled, it would be interpreted as a rejection of the gun control agenda, a rejection of what Colorado passed. If these two prevail, then maybe that’s one more nick in the armor of the N.R.A. and the gun advocates.
The more colorful quote, however, is from Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners:
The peasants have grabbed ahold of their pitchforks and torches.
Healy also quotes Jon Caldera, president of the Independence Institute, a Colorado libertarian research group:  
A decision needs to be made in this state.  Are we going to be an urban-centric state where urbanites choose what happens, or will this be a state like Colorado has traditionally been, where we have the liberty and freedom for different communities to do different things?
An earlier post about the recall election is here, and this one is about the proposed law before its passage.

NPR also reported on the recall election on Sept. 3.  Listen to that report here.  That story doesn't touch on the rural-urban divide in Colorado, but it does note that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's contributions in support of the gun control measure and of lawmakers Morse and Giron (the objects of the recall efforts) has made for another controversy across the rural-urban (and east coast/mountain west) axis.  Kurtis Lee, a political reporter for the Denver Post had this to say about pro-recall ads that say Bloomberg is pulling John Morse's strings:
to be called an East Coast liberal here in Colorado, that's nothing that a Democrat in Colorado wants to hear. It's almost a scarlet letter on your chest if you're labeled that in Colorado.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Getting lost in rural ______, in spite of (I mean, thanks to) the GPS

A double-wide deer trail called a "road" in the Ozark National Forest, Arkansas 
This story on NPR this morning, "In Maine, Even with a GPS, You Can't Get There From Here," could have been about any state with rural reaches.  Jennifer Mitchell reports on how GPS technology is not always a reliable way to get or know where you're going--especially in rural and remote areas--and she uses Maine to illustrate:
Maine has actually had several incidents in recent years of motorists driving into remote bodies of water, most recently in the small coastal village of Roque Bluffs, where two women on a foggy evening accidentally drove their car right into the ocean and drowned. It's not known if the women were using a GPS device, but driving along that same road, here's what happened when a GPS was set for Roque Bluffs: "Your destination is straight ahead." 
But, "straight ahead" at that point is actually the ocean.
Mitchell closes with this:
In time, as more remote areas are digitally mapped, GPS services WILL be improved for remote parts of the United States, but for now, when taking the road less traveled, you might also want to take along an old fashioned map — even if you can't fold one.
Newton County is the last county in Arkansas to number
and signpost its roads.  
On that mapping point, I note that GPS also has limited utility where places have not been mapped at all--as where roads have not been named and signposted.  My home county (Newton County, AR) has only recently undertaken to name and signpost roads in the county (see photo left; the signs are minimalist with "NC" standing for Newton County), and it is the last in Arkansas to do so.  As a related matter, I once followed my GPS onto what proved to be a double-wide deer trail in the southern part of the county.  My GPS gave no indication that what it labeled Forest Service Road No. ??? (in the Ozark National Forest) was not quite a road at all. By the time the road petered into a deer trail (see photo above), it wasn't really possible to turn around or to back up to "civilization." Thankfully, it was deer season and some deer hunters on a quads found us and helped escort us out of the wilderness, but only after we'd forded a couple of small streams.  Whew!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Frugal Traveler reflects on "The Center Cut"

The Sunday New York Times travel section featured Frugal Traveler Seth Kugel's final reflections on his six-week trip from Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Fargo, North Dakota.  As Kugel said, he turned the more typical coast-to-coast journey 90 degrees, which took him through "a large swath of the nation that we coast dwellers often dismiss as flyover country."

I earlier wrote this blog post on Agricultural Law, focusing on Kugel's ruminations regarding all he learned about farming.  In this post, I want to focus more specifically on the Frugal Traveler's reflections on rurality.  Here are some quotes, some that use the word "rural," others that do not.
I suspected that spending most of my adult days in New York City ... had left significant gaps in my knowledge of America, not to mention unfair biases about the 10 heartland states I would be visiting ...  
My suspicion turned out to be true. Vague notions of the region were replaced by what I gleaned from museums and historical markers as well as from residents’ stories of their great-grandparents’ struggles as settlers.
I appreciate his expression of appreciation for the hard work the settlers did--hard work that contributes considerably to how we feed ourselves and, indeed, how we have done so for hundreds of years now.  If you need a reminder of that regarding the country's mid-section in particular, go read some Willa Cather.  (Take your cue from this, perhaps).

Speaking of Cather--and of immigration--Kugel is in touch with the role of immigrants then and now.  He writes: 
Of course, like New York City, the rural Midwest was the place many Europeans migrated when they came to the New World. There’s just been much less turnover, so more cultural relics have endured. My first clue came in the form of “Dutch letters,” S-shaped pastries for sale at the Downtown Farmers Market in Des Moines.
Later, Kugel writes of a detour to a new immigrant destination in Iowa--my term, not his.  Not far from the "New Holland" of Iowa, Pella, Kugel sought out an ethnic restaurant (again, my term, not his), which brought him to the 
unsigned La Frontera grocery store and into the back-room restaurant, which was crammed with Mexican concrete workers on their day off. As had become routine on this trip, I was leaving a state sure I had only just scratched the surface. 
Kugel also writes:    
Rural architecture also intrigued me. I stopped more than once to shoot picturesque barns and the grain elevators that tower with alarming incongruity over otherwise flat landscapes. And I couldn’t get over the old cars and rusty machinery that dotted many people’s lawns. “People are very junky in the Ozarks,” said Fred Pfister, a Missourian who had helped me find a real-deal fiddle jam. “They save everything because they think they might be able to cannibalize it someday.”
Those are Kugel's only uses of the word "rural," but he hits on lots of other rural themes/associations (e.g., religion and conservative politics, the latter illustrated by shocking anecdotes)--and a few legal issues, too--like here, where he writes of the huge annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, in the shadow of Mount Rushmore :
I didn’t expect to learn all about motorcycle lawyers, a specialty I did not know existed (they are needed because after accidents, the justice system tilts against two-wheelers, I was told).
Don't miss readers' comments.  It seems Kugel's journey and his musings on it really got under the skin of some folks--both rural and urban.