Saturday, February 11, 2023

How rural is your state, according to the last census?

Friday, February 10, 2023

News-media roundup: Chart gauges outlets' bias, reliability; a fake paper in minutes; Paxton Media buys Camden Media

Screenshot of AdFontes news-media bias graph; to enlarge, click on it; for the interactive version, click here.

The Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations) and Ad Fontes Media, which calls itself "a leader in media-bias intelligence," have created an interactive graph with political-bias and reliability ratings for newspapers and magazines audited by AAM. "Ad Fontes selects a sample of a news source’s content over various news cycles," it says. "Each piece is rated individually by a panel of analysts representing right, left and center political viewpoints. The ratings are discussed by the panel and averaged to generate scores for both reliability and political bias. Learn more about the chart’s methodology here.

Trusting News offers six ways to answer anticipated questions about your journalism in order to make it more transparent. 

The artifical-intelligence program ChatGPT can create a fake newspaper in minutes, The Poynter Institute's Alex Mahadevam reports.

How to help your newspaper grow: Give readers what they want, and to attract younger yeaders, have a younger staff, consultant Kevin Slimp writes in his latest column after meeting with a focus group for the Standard Banner in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Paxton Media Group is acquiring the Chronicle-Independent, the Lee County Observer, the Blythewood Country Chronicle, the Winnsboro/Fairfield County Country Chronicle, the Fort Jackson Leader, The Shaw News and "assorted glossy magazines and websites" from Camden Media Co., a long-time partnership of Mike Mischner of Camden, S.C., and Charles H. Morris of Savannah, reports Cribb, Cope & Potts, which brokered the sale. Terms were undisclosed. 

El Rito Media, a startup that raised eyebrows when it bought the Rio Grande Sun in northern New Mexico last year, buys a second paper: bought the Artesia Daily Press in southeast New Mexico from the Green family, which founded it in 1954 and had sold its other newspapers, reports newspaper broker Dirks, Van Essen and April, which handled the sale. Terms were undisclosed.

Bird flu impact may go beyond eggs; shows signs of spreading among mammals; vaccine for poultry to be tested

The U.S. is experiencing a record outbreak of bird flu, a virus that is currently deemed a low risk to humans, but has hiked prices of eggs and poultry. The Biden administration is weighing whether to vaccinate poultry against the disease and it appears that the virus can spread among mammals. 

Bird flu spread among minks at a farm in Spain. (Nature photo) 
"The virus is primarily a threat to birds," Emily Anthes reports for The New York Times, "but infections in mammals increase the odds that the virus could mutate in ways that make it more of a risk to humans, experts say," 

Anthes reports that a new variant of the H5N1 virus has "taken an unusually heavy toll on wild birds and repeatedly spilled over into mammals, such as foxes, raccoons and bears, that might feed on infected birds." 

More recently, it has infected farmed minks, which scientists describe as a "new and troubling development," pointing to an outbreak in Spain where the virus appeared to spread from mink to mink and had an unusual mutation that might be a sign of adaptation to mammals, Anthes reports, adding that experts say the mink outbreak is no cause for panic, but highlights the need for more proactive surveillance.  

Your Local Epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina reports that the risk of bird flu in humans is "currently very low," citing research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tracked the health of more than 5,190 people who have been exposed to infected birds in 2022 and only one human case was reported. The Times reports "fewer than 10 known cases in people since December 2021, and there have been no documented instances of human-to-human transmission, according to the CDC."

Federal scientists are gearing up to test the first vaccines in poultry against the bird flu as a way to counter the growing oubreak, Alexander Tin reports for CBS News. The Biden administration has not yet greenlighted the use of these vaccines. Officials told Tin that one of the concerns about issuing these vaccines is that it could make it harder to export American poultry products.

The virus is spread from an infected bird's nasal secretions, saliva and fecal droppings. 

USDA says properly prepared and cooked poultry and eggs should pose no risk to consumers. 

"Right now you don’t need to do anything, unless you’re in close contact with birds. A person’s level of risk is dependent on duration and intensity of exposure. In other words, a person with one chicken in their backyard is at much lower risk than someone at a poultry farm," Jetelina writes. "Those around wild birds, such as at parks, lakes, rivers, or other waterways, need to exercise caution, including wearing PPE, washing hands, and changing clothes. If you have backyard poultry, wear a mask and wash your hands. Also, monitor the health of your flock, especially if they come in contact with other wild birds."

In 2006, Congress ordered HHS to integrate health-data systems; it still hasn't been done, and that causes problems

Photo by Irwan, Unsplash
America's got some sharp tech teeth: Apple, Microsoft, Google, and so on, which makes the nation's seemingly clumsy foray into sharing medical data so puzzling. "The pandemic highlighted ineffective data infrastructure across the U.S. health system," reports Sam Whitehead of Kaiser Health News. "Coronavirus case reports sent by fax machine. Clunky tech for monitoring vaccine distribution. . . . Supply chain breakdowns that left health-care providers without needed protective equipment. . . . And Congress knew about the potential for these problems long before Covid. Lawmakers mandated the Department of Health and Human Services to better integrate U.S. data management systems to allow stakeholders to better share information years ago, in 2006."

Whitehead starts with a real-life example: "In early 2020, as they tried to fight covid-19 across two rural counties in North Carolina, the staff of Granville Vance Public Health was stymied, relying on outdated technology to track a fast-moving pandemic." They had to use "five data systems. One was decades old and complicated. Another was made of Excel spreadsheets. None worked well together or with systems at other levels of government."

Whitehead gives several reasons the data system wasn't improved: the complexity of the task and inadequate funding; a federal-first approach to health that deprives state and local agencies of resources; unclear ownership of the project in HHS; insufficient enforcement mechanisms to hold federal officials accountable; and little agreement on what data is even needed in an emergency."

Soumi Saha, senior vice president of government affairs at Premier, a health-technology company, told Whitehead, “What keeps me up at night is that we forget about the past two and a half years, and we just move on — that we don’t take the opportunity and time to truly reflect and make needed changes.”

Whitehead reports: "Different hospitals often use different electronic health-record systems, so are frequently unable to share patient data with one another, much less with the federal government. . . . Much of the 2019 bill mandating the data-sharing network’s creation is set to expire in September, and reauthorizing the law could be a challenge in a split Congress where House Republicans have announced their intention to examine the U.S. response to the pandemic."

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told Whitehead, “Congress has an opportunity now to build the public health system. What are they doing? Undermining public health legal authorities, demonizing public health officials. It’s almost like we didn’t learn anything.”

National Farm Medicine Center seeks farmers, ranchers for study about how they balance child-raising and work

U.S. Department of Agriculture photo
National Farm Medicine Center 

Farm and ranch parents know how challenging it can be to balance children and work, especially when child care options (paid or unpaid) are limited. These challenges can have consequences for the farm business, the safety of children, and the well-being of the family as a whole. To better understand farm and ranch families’ realities balancing children and work, researchers at the National Farm Medicine Center and The Ohio State University are asking farmers to share their experiences through a new national survey.

“We recognize that farmers often feel over-surveyed and have limited time and energy this time of year,” said Florence Becot, an associate research scientist at the center and an affiliate of its National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. “However, we also know that decisions are being made by local, state and national policymakers without a good grounding in the realities faced by actual farm families.”

The survey is especially timely, Becot said, because this is a Farm Bill year, and some farm organizations and policy makers are debating if affordable child care in rural areas should become a priority. “This is the first nationwide comprehensive survey focused on the realities of farmers and ranchers raising children,” said Shoshanah Inwood, an associate professor at Ohio State. The survey asks farmers not only about their child care and schooling arrangements but also about how their decisions are connected to farm safety, the economic viability of their farm business, and their household finances.

“Over the years the U.S. Department of Agriculture has invested significant resources to recruit and retain the next generation of farmers,” Inwood said. “Yet these programs and resources rarely consider or take into account the child-care needs of farm and ranch families, despite evidence of child-care challenges dating back to the 1980s.” As one Ohio farm parent told Becot and Inwood during a focus group last year: “If America wants farmers, we need help with child care.”

The results of the survey will be available later in the year and will be shared with farmers, farm organizations, state agencies, and policy makers. Families can respond to the survey online through this link: They can also request a paper survey by contacting Becot (; 715-389-9379). For more information contact Dr. Florence Becot at or 715-389-9379.

Hi, there! Without phone books, getting to know your rural neighbors can take planning; maybe even a yard sale

Yonder image by Xandr Brown (Photos by Unsplash and Canva)
Yesterday the Rural Blog endorsed calling people up on the phone as a refreshing way to build rural connections. But to call someone, you at least need to know their phone number. "How do we get to be good neighbors to those whose paths never cross our own?" asks Donna Kallner of The Daily Yonder, "Once upon a time, if you knew someone’s last name, you could look them up in the phone book to call when their dog was in your yard or a package was delivered to your porch by mistake. . . . But now, how do you even know when is a good time to introduce yourself?"

Perhaps starting with the basics is best, and note that it's the effort that counts. Kallner has these suggestions:

Smile and wave. Whether you’re in your yard, on your deck, walking to the mailbox, shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, in your vehicle, or on your bicycle – smile and wave at everyone. A cheerful greeting is never wasted, even on people just passing through. . . . Once you can recognize each other, it’s easier for one of you to pull up and introduce yourself. Keep it brief and casual: I’m so-and-so and I live at the place with the ______. I can see you’re busy but I wanted to say hello and introduce myself.

Offer your number. Anyone used to living where people draw curtains for privacy might need a little space to acclimate to a rural neighborhood. So unless you want them to start running background checks on you, don’t lead off with offers to watch their kids or pick up their mail. However, you can offer your cell phone number and a “feel free to call or text if you have any questions." They may not seem ready to be all-in as neighbors – yet – and let them set the pace for building this new relationship.

Need to know. There’s a fine line, sometimes, between helpful information and thinly veiled criticism or the kind of gossip that makes a neighbor wonder what you’re telling others about them. . . . But if you’re planning a big party, stop by to invite the neighbors to join you and to assure them the music will end at 10 p.m. . . . And if you’ve given someone permission to hunt on your land, let the neighbors know there may be a strange vehicle parked at a strange place at odd hours.

Join a neighborhood group. Whether you have questions to ask or advice to offer, meetings in real life and online groups or message boards are surprisingly good ways to connect with your community. Review and adhere to the rules of engagement for online groups, and the Golden Rule in all situations.

When neighbors aren’t people. Non-resident owners aren’t all cottage people. Farmland changes hands. Tracking down a phone number for forest cropland, family trusts, limited liability corporations, and other ownership entities isn’t easy. One way to do that is by using an app that integrates public records and maps. For example, OnX Hunt is a GPS mapping app that shows property boundaries. Snail mail isn’t the fastest way for a neighbor to report a concern to a non-resident owner, but at least it’s something.

If all else fails, hold a yard sale. Nothing draws curious neighbors like putting artifacts from your life up for sale. . . . what better way could there be to get to know folks than to hold up a find and say, “There must be a story that goes with this”?

Some final thoughts: "In some rural neighborhoods, showing up with baked goods to introduce yourself is still exactly the right thing. . . . Watching out for others is in the DNA of rural people. If it takes a little more effort to get acquainted with your neighbors, it’s worth it."

Quick hits: Health benefits of outdoors; dealing with yard pests and winter blahs; can a state have an official aroma?

   "Yellowstone" cast (Paramount Network photo via IMDb)
Get rural-centric with "Yellowstone." Part Western, part soap opera, it's one of the most-watched shows on TV. It’s also the centerpiece of the growing rural entertainment empire.

The smell of roasting chile peppers is what draws people to parking lots across New Mexico. That sweet, spicy aroma that brings watering mouths and nostalgia for home; so it makes sense that lawmakers are weighing whether to make green chile the state’s official aroma. . . . It all began with a classroom of fifth graders. 

Speaking of veggies, the Rural Mom has some tips for supporting your local farmers' markets. They will be coming soon.

Spending time in nature can be relaxing and rejuvenating. It might even lower a person's rate of hospitalization for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and related dementias, a large study showed.

Rendering from Encyclopedia Britannica
The University of Texas hosts an immersive summer Shakespeare program for rural Fayette County, Texas students to experience the Bard's work first hand. Professor Emeritus “Doc” Ayres at UT and his students are the subject of documentary called “Take Pains, Be Perfect,” which celebrates the half-century of performance and connection fostered in this theater barn in the country.

Fie, fie! Unknit those rows of mounded dirt that once were manicured lawn,
And dart not away from my hose and trap, oh, stealthy moles and voles,
To wound my yard so keenly, untamed shrews!

(Our adaptation of lines from Katherina in Act 5, Scene 1 of The Taming of the Shrew; for actual shrews and other yardly pests, read here on how to deal with them)

Head to the conjunction of folk-and-jazz-for-rock-but-pop that meets up at Western Animation Junction. And there you go. Schoolhouse Rock is 50 years old.

Snort. Whinny. Nicker. Neigh. Bray. Squeal. A visit to a horse barn, usually includes some comments from the four-legged creatures who are known to be curious and opinionated. These native and visiting horses weigh in on Lexington, Kentucky, which calls itself "Horse Capital of the World."

Salt. Sand. Pebbles. Cat litter. Yes, it's still snowing in some regions. "In these parts, driveways can break you or make you into a minor god worshiped by UPS and FedEx drivers, beloved of propane delivery personnel, and heavily recruited by rural volunteer fire departments. Here's how to keep on, keeping on as winter continues.

Science explains seasonal affective disorder, which can occur in both winter and summer. Here's why it happens, and how you might treat it.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Newspaper publisher 'knew it was wrong,' used the law to be her own attorney and won her case

Darla Downs of the Northern Plains Independent in Wolf
Point, Montana. (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick, Daily Montanan)
Follow the law. Seems pretty straightforward, but in many cases, systems need astute citizens to get that job done. Darla Downs, owner and publisher of Montana's Northern Plains Independent, is a determined journalist who "took on the election of now-former Roosevelt County Attorney Frank Piocos. She couldn’t afford an attorney, so she filed a lawsuit pro se," reports Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan. "After both parties presented their cases, Judge Katherine Bidegaray ruled that Piocos was not a resident of the county when he ran for election in 2022, and therefore, he was ineligible for the office. She also ordered a new special election."

“This was outside my normal wheelhouse," Downs told Ehrlick. "I knew the law was on my side, and I had the help of plenty of county residents who were on my side. I believe in watchdog journalism, and people knew it was wrong and wanted me to do something.”

Ehrlick explains the conflict: "Piocos had previously been an assistant county attorney, which is not elected. Bidegaray’s decision said under the law, a qualified elector meant a person who has residence in a particular county. Residency is determined largely by where the person lives. . . . . Piocos had even rented office space in the county, but the judge said renting space is not the same as establishing residency, and therefore Piocos was not qualified to run for office in 2022. . . . . Piocos defended his win by claiming that Downs had not challenged his election properly. . . . the judge did not find that point persuasive."

Roosevelt County will now plan its special election, but meanwhile, "Roosevelt County Commission Chairman Gordon Oelkers said he’s been surprised at the number of people coming forward to either help in the interim, or consider running." Oelkers told Ehrlick, "There are not a lot of lawyers up here in this corner of the state. But I’m pleasantly surprised by the number who are willing to help provide guidance and move us in a positive direction."

Ehrlick noted that Downs presented and won her case as her own attorney. Downs told Ehrlick, "I wasn’t not surprised. I was relieved."

The Northern Plains Independent's main office is in Wolf Point, Montana, pop., 2,500. The paper reaches Roosevelt, Daniels, Mc-Cone, Valley, Sheridan or Richland counties.

A photographer searches for democracy in rural America and tries to tell us 'what's lost when newspapers close'

Former home of the newspaper in Dodge City, Kansas (Photos by Jonathan Ariaz,, Fourth Estate project)
Ink knives at the Russell County News, Russell, Kan.
In the United States, credible news sources, such as newspapers, function to safeguard democracy by: promoting inclusion and participation, informing the electorate, supporting basic rights and helping citizens manage the agenda. Within that framework, it makes sense that "Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, photographer Jeremiah Ariaz, who wanted to make images that showed what democracy looked like in rural America traveled across the country . . . . visiting campaign offices, main streets, protest sites and sometimes, newspapers," reports Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit that supports media literacy and journalism ethics.

Ariaz's first stop was "Main Street in Sublette, Kansas. He was standing with his camera and tripod when a man approached him, asked what he was doing, and invited the photographer to stop by his office," Hare writes. "The man thought he had something Ariaz might be interested in." Ariaz told Hare, “It ended up being the local newspaper office.”

Hare writes: "Kenneth Bell showed Ariaz the newspaper’s archives and the newsroom’s abandoned darkroom. Immediately, Ariaz realized how what he was seeing in the Haskell County Monitor-Chief tied in with the bigger questions he had about democracy and rural America. . . . In 2022, Ariaz took a sabbatical from his full-time job as a professor of art and headed back to his native Kansas. He visited 115 newspapers – closed, moved and still publishing."

Paper rolls at The Morning Sun, Pittsburg, Kansas
Ariaz's tour helped him track and illustrate the history of local newspapers. Noting that the U.S. is losing about two newspapers a week, Hare writes, "While we’ve seen growth in some of the local for-and nonprofit online newsrooms working to fill the gaps left when newspapers close, Ariaz’s project, titled Fourth Estate, offers a different frame for what’s lost when newspapers close."

“I have to feel that something is missing when that ability for a citizen to engage is lost,” Ariaz told Hare. Newspapers that were still alive "were very much a part of the community in both the physical way in their presence but also their ability to engage with the public."

Ariaz's traveled to "publications that were still open and explained what he was trying to capture. Most invited him in. Many worried about what would happen to their archives and the community’s history if they closed," Hare writes. "Ariaz tried to visit bigger newspapers in bigger Kansas towns, but he couldn’t get ahold of anyone inside the newsrooms or inside the buildings themselves. Ariaz said that it felt like the people who own and run them were far away and unconcerned with the communities they were supposed to be serving." In many cases his photos reflect the fact that the newspapers no longer have pressrooms but hang on to their relics.

Loss of 411 kills another way to connect, but emphasizes the need for it; maybe we should start calling up people

(Photo by Rebecca Nelson, Getty Images)
Don't recall someone's phone number? Call 411, and get it. Not anymore. "AT&T announced late last year that 411, the operator and directory assistance service, would end around January 1, 2023," reports Keith Roysdone of The Daily Yonder. "It would no longer be possible to call an operator to place a call and no longer possible to reach directory assistance for information about names and numbers. . . . CNN reported that in 2019, about 71 million calls to 411 were placed each year."

That's 71 million phone numbers people couldn't remember, and possibly 71 connections people didn't make. But as Roysdone points out, "The need to know is timeless; within a single lifetime, some rural communities have gone from switchboards to fiber-optic internet." Roysdone notes that rural Americans needs to "keep up" because now, more than ever rural communities need to strive for the connections that were once made through party lines.

Dennis Hall, a telephone switchboard operator in California wine country in the 1970s, told Roysdone, "Being a rural area, we had a lot of farmers.” Hall added that a single line might connect three farms. “That was called a 'farmer’s line.' Someone would dial the operator and tell them they wanted Farmer Jones. All three lines could ring, but the operator would make the (ring) different. Farmer Jones would be two shorts and a long, but inevitably all three would pick it up."

Roysdone asked Hall, "How has the telephone experience changed for rural customers?" Hall responded, "The sense of community is severely diminished. There’s not really any sense of community.”
The lack of community can be hard to replace. "In the past year, I’ve been on a mission to pester as many people in my life as possible. The first victim was my editor, whom I abruptly asked one morning to stop messaging me about story ideas. Instead, I said, let’s talk the ideas out over the phone," reports Amanda Mull of The Atlantic. "I soon did the same thing to a friend who’d texted to discuss a job offer he’d just received. A few weeks later, when another friend texted me for New York City apartment-hunting tips, I asked her my new favorite question in return: Do you want to give me a call?"

Ah-ha. Now, here we go. "The phone call has lost its primacy in American communication. By 2014, texting had become more common for Americans under 50," Mull explains. "People currently in their 20s and 30s, in particular, have developed a reputation for being allergic to phone calls. . . . True to this generational stereotype, I sent my own mother to voicemail and texted her to ask what she wanted. . . . I ask forgiveness from all those whose voicemails I have not listened to. To fully repent, I must make clear what I now know to be the truth: Phone calls are good, actually."

Whatever would make you think that? "I wanted to hear my editor’s reactions to my story ideas and work them out in real time, not watch a 'Paul is typing …' graphic linger ominously for 30 seconds before I knew the verdict," Mull writes. "With friends, too, I wanted to rekindle the energy of live conversation. I wanted to crack a joke and hear someone laugh."

Mull points out: "Chatting on the phone provides the bliss of unreviewable, unforwardable, unsearchable speech. If you misunderstand something, there’s no day-long email chain correcting your error. . . Snapchat sent photos between users that disappeared 10 seconds after being viewed; talking to someone on the phone has provided the same freedom in verbal form since the days of Alexander Graham Bell." 

Roysdone writes: "Telephone users are happy to not share 'farmer lines' or 'party lines,' Hall agreed. And he noted that it’s possible to mourn the loss of the one-time telephone community and appreciate the improvements." 

Maybe it's possible to have the best of both worlds. Pick up the phone and see.

Everyone is invited to the bird-counting party! The annual Great Backyard Bird Count is coming up Feb. 17-20

A Steller's sea eagle was spotted in Maine
during the 2022 Great Backyard Bird Count.

The 26th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held Friday, Feb. 17, through Monday, Feb. 20.

How? For as little as 15 minutes, perch yourself and participate in this free, fun and easy event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations.

Participants are asked to count birds on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at Anyone can take part in the count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world. Count birds for 15 minutes or as long as you want.

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the  National Audubon SocietyCornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment we share. Recently, more than 300,000 participants submitted their bird observations online, creating the largest instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations ever recorded.

Visit the official website at for more information and be sure to check out the latest educational and promotional resources. On the program website participants can explore real-time maps that show what others are reporting during and after the count.

Birds can surprise us! During the 2022 GBBC more than 300,000 snow geese turned up in Missouri. A surprise sighting of a Steller’s sea eagle was a rare treat in 2022 for Maine residents. This large, distinctly marked raptor is a regular resident of coastal regions in Japan, North and South Korea, Mongolia and parts of Russia during breeding season. For more on the results of the latest GBBC, take a look at the GBBC results.

"This count is so fun because anyone can take part — whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher. I enjoy discovering the birds that occur in my own back yard and on my block and then comparing with others. Get involved and see how your favorite spot stacks up."  Chad Wilsey, vice president and chief scientist of Audubon

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Opinion: Legislators in Iowa [and other states] deny human nature with bills aimed at children who aren't like others

By Art Cullen
Storm Lake (Iowa) Times Pilot

If there were one thing Iowa could agree on, you would hope it would be compassion for everyone. This life is complicated and confusing. Some boys like to play with GI Joe. Some like to play with Barbie. The discerning parent or teacher leaves them be and makes certain they do their arithmetic homework. They advise the boys with the GI Joes to be nice to the boys playing with the Barbies. Don’t bully them. People are different.

Art Cullen
Iowa Republicans controlling the legislature are in a mood to hassle people who may be different from them. All sorts of bills float around. This week, a legislator had to tell parents of transgender children that he doesn’t agree that this is right. Queer has no place in the classroom, the committee voted.

Under this law, a teacher would not be able to tell the boys that the boy in the corner is different, it is not his choice or the choice of his parents, and that people have been different from each other for time immemorial. The art teacher might remind the legislature to look up those Italian sculptors and their heroic nude males — hello in there! Or, the art teacher might remind us that the greatest artist in Iowa history, Grant Wood, hung out with other great artists and writers whose sexuality would draw rebuke from the morality police then and now. That’s why they hung out in Stone City. The bankers in Cedar Rapids looked the other way, thank goodness.

The reality is, and always has been, that human beings are not strictly heterosexual. Some people view reality through a moral prism predicated on the shame of St. Augustine or some other tortured soul. Recall that Augustine lived a playboy’s life of debauchery, saw the shallowness of it, and went on to saddle Catholic moral theology with an obsessive sexual predilection. Unfortunately, it finds its way into the legislature, where people forget the New Commandment: to love your neighbor as yourself.

If you loathe yourself, in a Calvinist sort of way, you are compelled to heap it on your neighbor. A little bit of that is going on in Des Moines. Iowa should be a place where we can approach each other with an attempt at understanding — especially in the classroom, where children need every bit of support as they sort out a confusing and mean world. Don’t lock Grant Wood in the closet. Don’t rebuke the goodwill that writer Tennessee Williams brought to the University of Iowa. Don’t shun that boy to the corner and deny his reality. It is possible to take a different point of view without being a heretic against God.

Too bad that this is how we have to learn. A lot of innocent children take the lumps. A lot of lives get traumatized. Eventually, we will appreciate the reality of a reckoning for cruelty. That’s a sin in anybody’s book.

States try to fill EMT and paramedic shortages; filling rural crews, which are often volunteer, is a bigger challenge

A Teton County EMS volunteer heads into a hospital in Choteau,
 Montana, pop. 1,700. (Photo by Aaron Bolton for Kaiser Health News)
A tractor accident, an arm broken in a grocery slip-and-fall, an unfortunate meeting with a hornet's nest -- or a heart attack. Call 911! What if there isn't anyone to respond?

As the nationwide EMT and paramedic shortage deepens, states are taking a combined approach to meet current staffing gaps and train new employees, reports Marsha Mercer of Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.  Dia Gainor, executive director of the National Association of State EMS Officials, told Mercer, “The public doesn’t see where there’s no one in the station, and volunteer services are trying to muster a crew."

Mercer reports, "Workforce challenges are particularly acute in rural areas that rely on volunteers to respond to 911 ambulance calls. . . . States also are studying how to maintain EMS systems. A commission in Maine, the country's second most rural state, recommended the state spend $70 million annually for five years to avert an emergency medical crisis that stems in part from a lack of volunteers. . . . A federal study projected a need for 40,000 more full-time emergency medical personnel from 2016 to 2030."

In response to growing personnel shortages, some states are expanding their eligible workforces. "At least six states have lowered the minimum age for EMT training to 16 or 17, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures," Mercer reports. "In rural Louisiana, many EMS agencies and fire departments will hire people over the age of 18, according to the state EMS report. New Jersey, for example, allows 16-year-olds to enroll in training with parental consent."

Kelly Grayson, a critical care paramedic and owner of the consulting business MEDIC Training Solutions, told Stateline, “Getting high school kids into the training program hasn’t alleviated the shortage, but it’s a start. The idea is to start them young and keep them in EMS for a longer period of time.”  Stateline notes: "Last year, the turnover rate for full-time emergency medical technicians, was 36% and for full-time paramedics, it was 27%, according to an American Ambulance Association survey. More than one-third of new hires don’t last through their first year, the survey found."

Biden's rural points were on broadband, other infrastructure; on some other topics he exaggerated or lacked context

President Biden spoke in front of Vice President Kamala Harris and
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. (Pool photo by Jacquelyn Martin)
Did President Biden have anything for rural America in his State of the Union speech? And how closely did he stick to the facts?

He used the word "rural" once, in saying the bipartisan infrastructure law is funding projects in all kinds of places: “Urban. Suburban. Rural. Tribal.” Just before that, he mentioned “high-speed internet across America,” and later he said “We're making sure every community in America has access to high-speed internet.” He also announced that all materials in federal construction projects will have to be made in America, including fiber-optic cable that is the standard for high-speed internet.

Another line could be taken as a rural reference: “My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten. Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible.”

Rural America is the home of extractive industries, and Biden slammed oil companies, noting their record profits and saying “They invested too little of that profit to increase domestic production and keep gas prices down. Instead, they used those record profits to buy back their own stock, rewarding their CEOs and shareholders.” An ad-lib about oil brought derisive laughter from Republicans: “We’re gonna need oil for at least another decade.” Longer than that.

"Some of Biden's claims in the speech were false, misleading or lacking critical context," CNN's Daniel Dale writes. Biden claimed the infrastructre law "funded 700,000 major construction projects," but the actual number is 7,000. The New York Times' analysis repeatedly cited lack of context.

In his Fact Checker column for The Washington Post, Glenn Kessler writes that Biden exaggerated several points, including deficit reduction, U.S. exports, the nation's infrastructure ranking. the effect of recent tax legislation and the number of jobs being created.

Kessler also looks at Biden's claim that "some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset," explaining that word is "inside-the-Beltway lingo for programs terminating automatically on a periodic basis unless explicitly renewed by law. Last year, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, released a 60-page “11-point plan to rescue America” that offered 128 proposals. Buried on Page 39, in a section on government restructuring, was one sentence: 'All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.' Scott’s write-up — which offered few details and had no proposed legislative language — was almost immediately rejected by most Senate Republicans. Scott also said he was being misinterpreted. 'No one that I know of wants to sunset Medicare or Social Security, but what we’re doing is we don’t even talk about it. Medicare goes bankrupt in four years. Social Security goes bankrupt in 12 years,” Scott said on Fox News last March. 'I think we ought to figure out how we preserve those programs. Every program that we care about, we ought to stop and take the time to preserve those programs.'"

Veterans turned farmers and ranchers find 'another mission'

Garrett Dwyer learned modern farm management and
business skills from the Farmer Veteran Coalition.
The metamorphosis of a soldier to civilian can be a stressful shift. "The Farmer Veteran Coalition, a national nonprofit initiative, is attempting to bend that trend line while helping service members transition to a post-military career," reports Adam Biga of the Nebraska-based Flatwater Free Press.

Garrett Dwyer is a veteran who "runs about 500 head of Hereford and Angus cattle on his Bartlett ranch on the east edge of the Sandhills in Texas. The land he’s on today has been in his family since 1894," Biga writes. "But Dwyer didn’t take over this ranch until he served in the U.S. Marine Corps, including two combat tours in Iraq. Now, he’s taking advantage of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, which aims to re-energize small agriculture by supporting military veterans who want to work the land."

Wikipedia map

Each veteran has their own special background. "Some veterans, like Dwyer, 36, grew up on a farm and left to enlist, always intending to come back. Other farm-kids-turned-veterans have been lured back by the opportunity to carry on a legacy or to start one of their own," Biga explains. "And still others with no farm or ranch background are grabbing the chance to get trained to farm for the first time." Dwyer told Biga, “It’s pretty special to have something like this that enables me to continue to work and ranch the same land as my early grandparents."

A side benefit for some veterans is that working the land can be therapy. Biga writes, "Dwyer found that the lifestyle helps ward off the demons that can come with PTSD, which he was diagnosed with upon his return stateside. His own PTSD has eased in severity, he said, in part because he feels fortunate to have 'another mission' to give him purpose. Others haven’t been as fortunate – Dwyer has lost friends to suicide."

With several years under his belt, "Dwyer has become his own rancher, and more support for veterans in agriculture has emerged. One, the AgVets program, is a three-year training program for veterans interested in, or already involved with, agriculture," Biga reports. "The federal program includes workshops, field demonstrations, business planning and mentoring – much of it led by military veterans who now farm. . . . Dwyer is glad to see new resources for veterans re-entering agriculture or entering it for the first time."

In a surprising shift, younger people are moving to Maine, but many of them struggle to find affordable housing

Maine's long winters could reverse population
gains.(Photo by Tristan Spinski, The New York Times)

In 2019, no one could have predicted a population swing into Maine, a state where deaths had long outnumbered births, reports Jenna Russell of The New York Times. "Population shifts — even small ones — carry high stakes in this rural, sparsely populated state. . . . . Maine had the oldest population in the nation in 2020. . . . But the latest census numbers suggest Maine has been thrown an unexpected lifeline. In a milestone few would have imagined, it was the only state in the country where the median age declined from 2020 to 2021, the state economist said, largely the result of younger people moving in."

That's good news for Maine, but here's the snag: "In every Maine county except one, 'the average house price is unaffordable to the average income household,' according to a report last fall by the state housing authority," Russell reports. "In Searsport, Maine, pop. 2,700, the effects of the influx have been far-reaching. Housing prices were already on the rise, but the sudden surge in interest from outsiders cranked up new pressure on the market. . . . The squeeze affects a wide spectrum of workers."

Russell writes: "The latest state budget proposed by Gov. Janet Mills includes $30 million for new affordable housing, targeting rural areas, on top of $70 million in new investments last year. . . . Experts say it is too soon to know if pandemic-driven population gains will continue, hold steady or dwindle . . . . Andrew Crawley, an economist at the University of Maine said school enrollment may be ticking up, but so far, the results are inconclusive." Crawley told Russell, "For now, it’s a blip, not a trend — but even as a blip, it’s incredible, and if it holds steady, then it’s huge. For those arguing we need more people, more nurses, more teachers, more plumbers, this is good news; the question is if it will continue."

New York Times map
Chris Gardner, a county commissioner who hopes the state will seize the moment and send recruiters nationwide to tout Maine’s charms, told Russell, “Rural America has been found again, and it’s an opportunity for us.” Russell opines, "New businesses bring new jobs, but the lack of housing can make workers hard to keep. Frustrated by job vacancies, one restaurant owner in Lincolnville, 20 miles south of Searsport, bought an inn last year to house employees — a solution few here can afford."

Fauna and flora quick clicks: Meet the 'inflation chicken' and the fast-spreading nine-banded armadillo

A chicken breeding farm in Missouri.
(Photo by Neeta Satam, The New York Times)
Exhausted by the search for affordable eggs, some Americans have decided raising their own chickens is a more productive pursuit. Dubbed the 'inflation chicken,' we can learn how much it costs to raise an egg-laying chicken and what egg prices say about our economy.

This is chicken that isn't exactly chicken. It's lab-grown from cultured chicken cells. The Food and Drug Administration gave its first approval to a slaughter-free company, Upside Foods. The product is known as "cultivated meat," or by other names, as it evolves.

Pigs, swine, hogs, boars. Wild, feral, invasive, non-native. Whatever words you use, these tusked omnivores are destroying crops and preying on endangered species. But the most serious threat they pose is to humans.

The nine-banded armadillo is expanding northward.
(Photo by Jay Butifiloski)

Attracted by the promise of a temperate and warming climate, vast tracts of diggable land, room to expand, and a nearly endless supply of fire ants − armadillos are moving into states like North Carolina.

Slated to be completed in 2025, some might enjoy viewing progress at the US 101 freeway wildlife crossing near Agoura Hill, Calif.  The overpass will connect the Santa Monica Mountains to the Simi Hills over 10 lanes of highway and will allow the animals to mix with other, unrelated mountain lions. When completed, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing will be the largest in the world.

More ways to make way for wildlife: As spring migration begins it bears repeating that more than 600,000 miles of fences criss-cross the American West, blocking animal migration. Outside Yellowstone National Park, volunteers dismantled a few. 

Are you kidding? What the best cheese from 2022? Goat's cheese from Port Washington, Wisconsin, pop. 13,000. Founded in 2020, Blakesville Creamery makes all its cheeses from its herd of 900 goats, comprised largely of Saanens.

It's not too late for a Zoom training on winter blooms. Feb. 14: A Valentine's Day webinar will covers all aspects of cut-flower production.

Tuesday, February 07, 2023

U.S. count of rural homeless is 'a seemingly simple task that isn't that simple,' but it determines local aid allotments

The rural homeless live in autos, abandoned buildings and friends'
couches. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson, The Washington Post)
Rural America has homelss people, but they are further apart and harder to find, reports Justin Wm. Moyer of The Washinton Post. Moyer points to Beth Kempf, executive director of the homeless services nonprofit Community Cares, in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania: "Kemp was among about two dozen advocates and volunteers seeking out the unhoused in a recent 'point-in-time' count — a nationwide census of homeless people conducted each January that helps advocates track demographic data, which the federal government can use to decide where funds meant to combat homelessness should be spent."

The sheer area that rural advocates had to cover compared to urban counters made the task daunting. "In Washington, D.C., for example, advocates must search a jurisdiction of about 68 square miles to find thousands of homeless people. Homelessness is visible," Moyer writes. "Cumberland County is a 555-square-mile region about 120 miles west of Philadelphia. Here, a much smaller number of homeless people — fewer than 100 in 2022 — are dotted across a great swath of land in locations unlike urban underpasses and encampments. Small towns. Woodlands. State parks. Farms. Truck stops. Abandoned motels. . . . If unhoused people aren’t counted, they won’t count."

The rural homeless have often been ignored. "Biden’s December plan said homeless people living outside cities are 'historically undercounted," Moyer reports. "On Thursday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced $315 million in grants to address homelessness among people in unsheltered and rural settings in 46 communities." HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said in a statement, "For the first time the federal government is deploying targeted resources to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness in unsheltered settings or in rural areas."

For advocates like Kempf that meant "Counting people — a seemingly simple task that wasn’t that simple," Moyer reports. Regional homeless-systems manager Chris Kapp explained that the point-in-time count was not just a census, but also a search: “You’re not going to see people with a neon light that says, ‘I’m homeless.’”

Point-in-time counters had to identify possible homeless individuals and approach them. "Some people didn’t want to be found. Those who refused to talk or wouldn’t acknowledge that they were homeless became 'observational' counts — counters would record why they suspected a person was unhoused along with the person’s location and estimated age, then move on," Moyer reports. "Those who did consent to an interview would be peppered with, depending on their patience, dozens of questions," and and the counters faced risks: "They were reaching out to those who had been exiled or exiled themselves to society’s fringes. The vast majority were harmless. Some weren’t."

Moyer writes, "Advocates counted about 80 homeless people, including about 10 children, in Cumberland County that night — about 10 percent higher than the number last year — and everyone in the tally had the same problem:" poverty. Kempf said, “Poverty is poverty.”

Farming is latest flashpoint between U.S. and China; Grand Forks drops support of Chinese mill after Air Force objects

Grand Forks, N.D., officials had previously backed plans for a
Chinese-owned corn mill. (WSJ photo by Lewis Ableidinger)

Adding new jobs, increasing tax revenue and providing a possible "perch for spying;" that last one is not something Grand Forks, North Dakota, will be offering: "The mayor of this city near the Minnesota border backed a Chinese company’s plans to build a $700 million corn mill on the outskirts of town," reports Kristina Peterson and Anthony DeBarros of The Wall Street Journal. "Then last week Brandon Bochenski reversed course, hours after the release of a letter from an Air Force official declaring the corn-mill project a security risk because of its proximity to the Grand Forks Air Force Base 12 miles away."

Bochenski, a former professional hockey player who previously played in Russia and was elected mayor in 2020, told Peterson and DeBarros, “When it comes to national security, I don’t think the economics matter. You’ve got to draw a hard line there.”

They write: "Bochenski said he and other officials who had supported the project would now block the development by the U.S. branch of Fufeng Group Ltd., which still owns the 370 acres of land . . . . The episode reflects intensifying concerns over whether the U.S. should be restricting the ability of foreigners, particularly from China, to buy American farmland. Lawmakers and others say they want to make sure the U.S. food-supply chain is protected. . . . Worries about China’s espionage deepened after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was identified in U.S. airspace and later shot down over the Atlantic on Saturday."

“Grand Forks and Fufeng became a flashpoint for a much broader discussion. The country collectively realized we had not been keeping our eye on the ball,” North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer told the Journal. In response, a Chinese Embassy spokesperson, said, "We oppose the malicious generalization of the concept of national security and the obstruction and sabotage of normal exchanges and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries."

The Journal adds: "China remains the biggest market for U.S. agricultural exports, buying almost $36 billion worth of agricultural goods in 2021, according to the Department of Agriculture. . . . In Congress, lawmakers have introduced bipartisan bills to tighten federal oversight of foreigners’ proposed purchases or outright block the ability of buyers from China, Russia, North Korea and Iran to buy U.S. farmland or agricultural businesses."

Rural Montanans were the first civilians to report the Chinese spy balloon; why are such balloons still used?

One of Larry Mayer's photos for the Gazette
Rural Americans were the first civilians to spy China's "weather balloon" escapade. "The president of the United States knew about the presence of the Chinese spy balloon for several days before it was spotted drifting over Montana. But the White House wanted to keep it secret fearing news of the surveillance balloon would sabotage Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned diplomatic trip to China, Bloomberg News reported. . .That changed when on Feb. 1 when Billings Gazette photographer Larry Mayer, responding to vague reports that the airspace around Billings had been closed, photographed an odd glowing orb high in the sky," the Gazette reports.

"Using a large telephoto lens, Mayer discovered it was a high-altitude balloon powered by a large solar array. ... The Gazette’s publication of those photos, connecting them to the closed airspace and the fighter jets being scrambled to track the balloon, was quickly picked up by other media around the world — and the White House," the Gazette notes. "The White House was especially alarmed the balloon was hovering over a part of Montana that houses intercontinental nuclear missile silos."

Thank you, curious Montanans. So, what is a spy balloon? "A spy balloon is literally a gas-filled balloon that is flying quite high in the sky . . . It has some sophisticated cameras and imaging technology on it, and it’s pointing all of those instruments down at the ground. It’s collecting information through photography and other imaging of whatever is going on down on the ground below it," reports Iain Boyd of The Conversation, an independent source of news and views from the academic and research community.

How and why do spy balloons work? Spying satellites give us clues, but have built-in disadvantages. In low Earth orbit, Boyd writes, "It takes them about 90 minutes to do one orbit around the Earth. That's pretty fast to take clear photographs." In geosynchronous orbit, satellites stay in one place above the ground to capture images continuously but are much farther away. "A balloon in some ways gets the best of those. These balloons are much, much closer to the ground than satellites, so they can see even more clearly. The balloons are moving, but they’re moving relatively slowly, so they also have a degree of persistence."

What was it doing up there? "It’s likely to be different kinds of cameras collecting different types of information," Boyd writes. "The broad interest in this incident illustrates its unusual nature. Few people would expect any country to be actively using spy balloons these days." UPDATE: The Washington Post reports that the balloon is part of "a vast aerial surveilance program" that "has for years collected information on military assets in several countries, U.S. officials said."


Think tank sends 8,000 middle and high-school teachers books that it says shows we are not in a 'climate crisis'

Photo by RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post
It's taken decades of public debate, scientific research and misinformation discussions, but "Nearly three-quarters of Americans now accept that climate change is happening; not only that, more than half understand it is caused by human activity," reports Blanca Begert of Grist, a nonprofit that covers climate issues. "This shift has forced fossil-fuel companies — and the organizations they fund — to alter their tactics to avoid regulation. Where they once denied climate science outright, companies now engage in 'discourses of delay,' publicly accepting the science but working to stall climate policy."

The latest on that front: The Heartland Institute, a free-market think tank that has long debated climate science, says it sent its new book, Climate at a Glance, to 8,000 middle- and high-school teachers across the country, and that the book "provides the data to show the earth is not experiencing a climate crisis."

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the non-profit National Center for Science Education, told Begert that the book uses a good-cop, bad-cop style by admitting some scientific facts and "adding some commentary that’s wildly exaggerated or a completely false interpretation." For example, "A page on sea-level rise says 'levels have been rising at a fairly steady pace since at least the mid-1800s,' but the rate has actually more than doubled in the 2000s when compared to most of the 20th century."

About the institute: "Founded in Chicago in 1984, the Heartland Institute received hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel companies and industrial billionaires," Begert writes. "Climate misinformation has historically been funded and spread through a network of front groups, and Heartland no longer discloses its major supporters." Branch said, “What Heartland is hoping for is to catch those who haven’t been equipped to understand climate science well enough to realize the highly misleading nature of the materials."