Friday, August 25, 2023

Rural commentators on PBS, from right and left, agree Haley had strongest peformance in Republican debate

Gary Abernathy and Sarah Smarsh (PBS image)
The commentary section of "PBS NewsHour" Friday night was all rural, as former southern Ohio editor Gary Abernathy and Kansas author and freelance journalist Sarah Smarsh filled in for their conservative and liberal counterparts, respectively. They agreed on most things, including a belief that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley did best in the first presidential debate, among eight Republicans,

After a clip of Haley telling Mike Pence that a federal abortion ban won't fly because of the Senate, Abernathy said, "Republicans have overstepped on abortion. I think the Supreme Court was right to send it bach to the states. Nikki Haley was right . . . I felt she was the strongest in that debate."

Smarsh agreed. Noting last year's Kansas referendum in favor of abortion rights, she said Democrats are "reclaiming the notion of freedom or liberty and applying that to bodily automony. . . . The post-Roe landscape seems to have affected voter behavior in ways pre-Roe models can't necessarily predict."

Butg that hasn't changed how GOP candidates approach the issue in their race, Abernathy said: "You can't be too pro-life for the Republican electorate."

When host Geoff Bennett played Ohio biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy's declaration that "The climate-change agenda is a hoax" and said "Climate change is settled science," Abernathy said, "It's not settled among Republicans, Geoff. . . . Ramaswamy was playing right to that base."

Asked about the Atlanta booking of former president Donald Trump. Smarsh said, "Millions of Americans are aghast that this person facing all these indictments and criminal charges is still the eminent front-runner." Abernathy, describing the widely circulated mug shot, said "That's a portrait Trump may have commissioned and sat for himself, the way it turned out."

Talk with Report for America in a webinar Thursday about getting a reporter next year; application deadline Sept. 18

Report for America is making a special effort to place more of its reporting corps members in rural newsrooms for up to three years, and will hold a one-hour webinar for rural news media at 4:15 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 31.

The webinar will be hosted by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. To gain access, send an email to Institute Director Emeritus Al Cross at

"Report for America's efforts to place talented journalists in rural newsrooms have been limited partly by a shortage of applications from those newsrooms," Cross said. "This is a chance for rural editors and publishers to talk directly with Earl Johnson, RFA's vice president for recruitment, about the program." The deadline to apply for a reporter who would start next July is Sept. 18.

RFA said in a recent announcement, "While all local news organizations are eligible to apply, Report for America looks to expand its reach into rural areas. On the application, prospective newsrooms should identify specific gaps in coverage in the community, drawing attention to under-covered communities or issues."

In April, RFA announced the pairing of 60 journalists and newsrooms, 16 of them with rural employers or beats. A story on that is here. RFA says successful newsroom applicants get:
● Service-minded reporters, photographers and videographers
● Diverse, hand-picked candidates from a pool of emerging and experienced journalists
● Salary subsidies: 50% the first year, 33% the second year
● Local fundraising coaching and resources, including the opportunity for fiscal sponsorship to accept donations
● Extra training and mentoring for journalists

RFA says it understands the challenges today’s newsrooms face, not only finding talented journalists but also providing the mentorship and support they might seek. It says, "By partnering with Report for America, local newsrooms are better positioned to cover important issues, diversify their newsrooms, and grow sustainable, local support within their communities." More information about how the program works can be found here.

Drought-stricken Colorado gets record-breaking rainfall; video captures water history and planning

The Colorado River is not as thirsty after record rainfalls.
(Jared Ewy video snapshot, The Daily Yonder)
After years of drought and water conservation efforts, Coloradans are finally “singing in the rain.” Mother Nature was generous. “For many counties around the Centennial State, June 2023 is now the wettest month on record. The National Weather Service has Denver beating the previous high mark by over an inch,” reports Jared Ewy of The Daily Yonder. Denver’s previous record of 4.96 inches in June 1882 was “washed away” by this June’s walloping 6.1 inches.

And with all the rain, another challenge arises. Where does the water go? Ewy found some answers at Northern Water, a government agency "that’s been tracking and wrangling water for nearly a century." Ewy writes, "Locally, they may be best known as the facilitator of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. It’s a water-diverting behemoth that pumps water from the Colorado River basin on the western side of the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River basin on the eastern side."

Ewy's light-hearted and informative video features a brief history of the Big Thompson water project paired with some shocking numbers on the massive water capacity of Chimney Hollow Reservoir. Ewy writes, "Water is spilling out of reservoirs like Granby Lake and continuing its journey down the Colorado River and to Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Southwestern Colorado."

You're going to want to watch this:

Extreme heat in Louisiana prisons spikes suicide watch needs by about 30%, new study finds

Being in prison during a hot Louisiana summer is so miserable that prisoner suicide watch incidents increased significantly on extreme heat days, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Researchers from Emory University analyzed data from 2015 to 2017 to examine how the heat index related to suicide watch incidents in six prisons. At the time, only one had air conditioning," reports Gina Jiménez for Inside Climate News. "The study adds to the body of research that has found a link between suicide and hot weather, but also to new research on prison mortality and climate."

Studies on prison population health are rare. "The walls and restrictions that keep these individuals out of public life also keep them out of the public eye: most of what we know about people in prison comes from the prison system itself," reports the Prison Policy Initiative, which is why this new study is important. Grady Dixon, a climatologist from Fort Hays University, told Jiménez: "It’s so novel, and I am very excited that it is being published in a medical journal. Any shortcomings the study can have are just minor compared to the widespread impact this paper can have just by publicizing this issue."

The study defined extreme heat using categories and the heat index. Jiménez explains, "The number of people put under suicide watch increased 36 percent when the heat index was above 90 degrees. . . . Scientists have consistently found that unusually hot weather is often associated with suicides and other adverse mental health outcomes."

"Although not every person put on suicide watch commits suicide, it’s a measure of the distress that happens during heat," said David Cloud, the study’s lead author. Cloud told Jiménez, “Prison is stressful enough, and then you add this layer of heat that people are powerless to escape."

‘Conservation grazing’ uses cattle to protect prairies and reestablish native ecosystems

Cattle graze during a fresh pasture rotation, part of conservation
grazing. (Photo by Erika Schultz, The Seattle Times)
A small group of ranchers in northwestern Washington state are successfully using carefully planned cattle grazing as land conservation. “The idea of cattle trampling some of Western Washington’s most vulnerable landscapes is ordinarily enough to make environmentalists shudder,” reports Sandi Doughton of Pacific NW magazine. But these cattlemen are “practicing a more ecologically sensitive type of grazing that minimizes damage and actually can improve habitat and biodiversity in some situations. . . . You might call it cows for conservation.”

Rancher Jake Yancey is Doughton’s object example: “Working with landowners, agencies and conservation groups, the Olympia-area cattleman deploys his animals with multiple goals in mind. One is to produce grass-fed beef as sustainably as possible. Others include protecting prairies, expanding the range of rare species, and keeping agricultural lands from being turned into condos and strip malls. . . . Yancey laughingly calls his cows "workers," here to do a job. As they fatten up on the lush grass, the cows are helping control rattail fescue, an invasive species that chokes out native prairie plants.”

“Cows for conservation” is formally called “conservation grazing,” and its success is all about the right timing. “When and how long cattle are on specific pastures — to ensure the animals do more good than harm. Rattail fescue is an early-season grass, so Yancey’s cows are here in May to knock it back before it goes to seed,” Doughton explains. “Native perennials bounce back quickly from light grazing, and by the time the desirable species flower and reseed, the cows will be gone."
Taylor's checkspot butterfly
(Wash. Fish & Wildlife photo)

Doughton reports, "Sarah Hamman, science director for the nonprofit EcoStudies Institute, says only about three percent of the Pacific Northwest’s historic westside prairie remains. . . .Several species native to the ecosystem, like Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and the streaked horned lark, are threatened with extinction. Prairie preserves serve as refuges but are mostly small and widely scattered." Hamman told Doughton, “We’ve recognized that if we want to protect and recover these ecosystems, we need to look beyond protected preserves to private lands — farming and grazing lands."

The Pledge of Allegiance: Where did it come from, and why do Americans say it?

Photo by Cristina Glebova, Unsplash
If you attended an American public school, you probably learned to recite the Pledge of Allegiance maybe as well as the alphabet. "But while it feels like an elemental part of the American educational system, the Pledge is not only unique in a democratic nation that prides itself on liberty and free will," reports Sarah Kuta of National Geographic. "But it's also evolved through history to reflect the country's of-the-moment political and cultural anxieties."

The pledge's initial lines were written by a young Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy, who penned, "'I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' At the time, Bellamy was working in the marketing department of a popular family magazine called Youth’s Companion," Kuta explains. "The magazine published his verse and, on October 21, 1892—the nation’s first official Columbus Day—school children across the country recited it for the first time."

"Under other circumstances, that likely would’ve been the end of the pledge. But a few factors gave it staying power. Thanks to an earlier initiative spearheaded by the Grand Army of the Republic, a group of Union veterans of the Civil War, nearly every public school classroom had an American flag," Kuta reports. "In addition, the lead-up to the Spanish-American war led to a surge of nationalism." Charles Dorn, a professor of education at Bowdoin College, told Kuta: “The flags were already there; there was already this desire to do something to make immigrant kids more American, so lots of communities wind up holding onto this ritual."

The wording of the pledge and its acceptance by Americans has evolved. For instance, "pledging allegiance to a flag specifically 'of the United States of America' was added in the early 1920s. Tackling the perceived post-war threat of communism, President Dwight Eisenhower ensured Americans made that pledge 'under God' in June 1954," Kuta writes. Students and teachers being made to say the pledge in school has been debated and litigated. "In 2021, Montana updated its law to say that the school district shall inform students and teachers of their right not to participate and that anyone who objects to the pledge 'must be excused. In Texas, students must present a written request from a parent or guardian in order to be excused."

While other countries have pledges and mantras, "The pledge is unique, says Dorn. For one, it’s primarily something that kids say—though adults also sometimes recite it, such as at city council meetings." Dorn told her, "[It's] literally burned into our brains. People know it in a way that they really don’t know other things.”

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Congressional budget negotiators wrangle over water spending

Budget negotiators are working on a congressional spending bill compromise to avoid an Oct. 1 government shutdown; however, the dollars aimed at clean drinking water and water pollution mitigation remain a sticky wicket for both parties, reports Kery Murakami of Route Fifty. "Even under the best-case scenario, Senate Democrats are only pushing to keep funding for two key water programs the same as this year, after President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agreed to keep spending flat as part of their deal to avoid a default on the nation’s debt in June."

House Republicans seek "to drastically cut the two programs, according to analyses by two separate associations representing state and local water agencies," Murakami reports. "Though the funding would come on top of the separate nearly $4.8 billion for the water programs in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, associations representing water agencies say even the Senate’s proposal isn’t nearly enough."

The Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition said, "When cities are living with unsafe drinking water, the federal government needs to be doing more—not less—to ensure access to clean drinking water," reports Lester Graham of Michigan Radio. "The organization criticized a House budget proposal that makes cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget, cuts to funds for water infrastructure and eliminates programs to help communities dealing with pollution threatening water sources."

The U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations' plan "would keep spending at $1.2 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-interest loans to local water districts to fund clean water projects," Murakami writes. "But the House GOP proposal would send states only a tiny fraction of that, about $62 million, according to the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities, an association representing state water agencies. . . . A separate analysis by the American Business Water Coalition of several local water districts puts the figure at roughly the same amount—$61 million, or 5% of the Senate’s proposal."

Wesley Sydnor, chief of government and public affairs for the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District, "said cutting the funding would impact ratepayers. . . . [The district] has a $1 billion capital plan over the next five years to replace pumps on the Ohio River that were built in the 1950s and upgrade the district’s largest water treatment plant," Murakami reports. "Should funding for low-interest loans through the programs be cut," Sydnor said, the district have to issue bonds with higher interest rates. 

Deadline is Sept. 18 for newsrooms to apply for reporter co-funded by Report for America, which wants rural applicants

Local newsrooms that would like to host a Report for America reporting corps member starting next summer have until Sept. 18 to apply, and the national service program is making a special effort to get more rural newsrooms involved.

RFA places talented journalists in local newsrooms for up to three years to report on under-covered issues and communities, including rural areas. It says the successful newsrooms get:

● Service-minded reporters, photographers and videographers
● Diverse, hand-picked candidates from a pool of emerging and experienced journalists
● Salary subsidies: 50% the first year, 33% the second year
● Local fundraising coaching and resources, including the opportunity for fiscal sponsorship to accept donations
● Extra training and mentoring for journalists

More information about how the program works can be found here. News organizations can also learn more by attending one of RFA's scheduled information sessions. One specially designed for rural newsrooms will be announced soon. The current list of sessions is here.

RFA says it understands the challenges today’s newsrooms face, not only finding talented journalists but also providing the mentorship and support they might seek. It says, "By partnering with Report for America, local newsrooms are better positioned to cover important issues, diversify their newsrooms, and grow sustainable, local support within their communities."

RFA adds, "While all local news organizations are eligible to apply, Report for America looks to expand its reach into rural areas. On the application, prospective newsrooms should identify specific gaps in coverage in the community, drawing attention to under-covered communities or issues."

In April, RFA announced the pairing of 60 journalists and newsrooms, 16 of them with rural employers or beats. A story on that is here.

'Natural beekeepers' have changed their practices with less intervention and more bee-friendly conditions

The Western honey bee, Apis mellifera, is millions of years old.
(Shutterstock photo)
There’s more than one way to keep bees, including one that focuses more on leaving the bees alone. Common apiary practice includes human intervention focused on honey production, but another way exists called “natural beekeeping,” writes Sam Knight of The New Yorker in an article titled "Is Beekeeping Wrong?" “Natural beekeepers leave their bees alone. They seldom treat for disease—allowing the weaker colonies to fail—and they raise the survivors in conditions that are as close as possible to tree cavities.”

Mananged bees are kept in boxes, “as opposed to a snug nest high in a hollow tree. Most beekeepers’ colonies are much larger than those which occur in the wild, and rival colonies might be separated by only a few yards, rather than by half a mile,” Knight explains. “Much of the bees’ honey, which is supposed to get them through the winter, is taken before they have a chance to eat it.”

On balance, natural beekeeping’s foundation reflects deep respect for the Western honey bee, “which, as a species, Apis mellifera, is millions of years old. (It was introduced to North America by European settlers in the 1620s.) Although people have harvested its honey and wax—sweetness and light—for thousands of years, the honeybee has not been tamed," Knight writes. Gareth John, a natural beekeeper, told Knight: "Domestication is a mutual process. You could never domesticate a robin. Bees are the same as robins. They will quite happily live in a nest box that you give them. But they’re not dependent on you. They don’t need you.”

Natural beekeepers find joy in the mystery of bees. "They treasure the bees for their own sake—like a goldfinch that nests in the yard—and have an evangelical spirit, as if they have stumbled on a great secret. They are disdainful of conventional beekeepers," Knight recounts. Some natural keepers don't sell or even take bee honey. John told Knight, “It’s not my honey to sell." Knight adds, “Another natural beekeeper, who abstains from taking honey altogether, referenced ‘When Harry Met Sally’ to explain his position: ‘There was this line, Sex always gets in the way of friendship. I think honey always gets in the way of us appreciating bees.”

Fact-checking the first presidential debate of the 2024 race

The first debate of the 2024 presidential race, among eight Republicans, featured some claims that were false or "misleading at best," CNN reports.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the federal government locked down the economy during the pandemic while Florida "kept our state free and open," when in fact he "imposed significant restrictions" at the start of the pandemic, CNN's Daniel Dale said on the cable channel's post-debate report. The restrictions were imposed by states, not by the then-President Trump.

Former Vice President Mike Pence said the Trump-Pence administration spent money "to backfill on the military cuts of the Obama administration," but that's misleading, CNN’s Haley Britzky writes: "While military spending decreased under the Obama administration, it was largely due to the 2011 Budget Control Act, which received Republican support and resulted in automatic spending cuts to the defense budget." Pence, an Indiana congressman at the time, voted for the law.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Trump, who did not participate in the debate, added $8 trillion to the national debt. The figure is accurate, but "The increase in the debt during any president’s tenure is not the fault of that president alone," CNN notes. "A significant amount of spending under any president is the result of decisions made by their predecessors – such as the creation of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid decades ago – and by circumstances out of a president’s control, notably including the global Covid-19 pandemic under Trump."

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said the Biden administration is calling “parents that show up at school board meetings . . .  domestic terrorists.” That is false, CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz writes: "The claim stems from a 2021 letter from the National School Boards Association asking the Justice Department to 'deal with' the uptick in threats against education officials and saying that 'acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials' could be classified as 'the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes'." Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo encouraging federal and local authorities to work together against such harassment campaigns "but never endorsed the 'domestic terrorism' notion," Rabinowitz writes.

Trump, who counter-programmed the debate with an online interview, "did not receive any pushback from pundit Tucker Carlson after promoting false statements about the 2020 election," reports Dominic Mastrangelo of The Hill.

Registration is open for free, Farm Foundation one-day virtual conference on Sept. 13

(Photo by Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash)
The Farm Foundation's one-day virtual conference on Wednesday, Sept. 13, aims to teach farming households how to maintain and grow profitability while gaining a knowledge base that creates resilience and creativity in an inherently unpredictable sector. Register here.

The program seeks to add a new network of farm scholars who can help identify households' special social and economic needs and initiate further debate and solutions for farming families.

Anyone is welcome to participate in the virtual conference and there is no cost to register. Conference contributors will also have the opportunity to submit a paper for inclusion in a special issue of the journal Agriculture and Human Values.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Some states pass on federal money aimed to help find and replace water-contaminating lead pipes

Lead pipes have to be found and replaced.
(Photo by Luis Tosta, Unsplash)
The Biden Administration is offering states funding to address “millions of dangerous lead pipes that can contaminate drinking water and damage brain development in children,” reports Michael Phillis of The Associated Press. But some states are rejecting the assistance, “Washington, Oregon, Maine and Alaska declined all or most of their federal funds in the first of five years that the mix of grants and loans is available.”

States may have rejected the money because it requires local spending, and some areas “are less prepared to pay for lead removal projects because, in many cases, the lead must first be found, experts said. . . . Communities are hesitant to take out loans to search for their lead pipes,” Phillis writes. Erik Olson, a health and food expert at the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, told Phillis, “It’s troubling that a state would decide to take a complete pass on the funding because part of the reason for the funding is to figure out whether you even have lead.”

The U.S. has 9.2 million lead pipes providing water to homes. "The 2021 infrastructure law provides $15 billion to find and replace them. That money will help a lot, but it isn’t enough to get all the toxic pipes out of the ground. State programs distribute the federal funds to utilities," Phillis explains. "The states that declined funds have fewer problematic pipes, but that doesn’t mean lead isn’t an issue."

Finding lead pipes is a mysterious grind, and in some cases, once lead plumbing is located, the ownership and expense of replacing it are tied between a public utility and a homeowner. Deirdre Finn, executive director of the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities, a group that represents the federally funded state programs that distribute infrastructure funds, told Phillis, "This is a great opportunity. But it would be helpful if states and utilities had access to 100% grant funding to move these projects along." Phillis reports, "Grants can help utilities pay to replace the homeowner’s side, Finn said."

Leaving the United Methodist Church can be more harmful for churches in rural communities

Thousands of United Methodist Churches have disaffiliated.
(Photo by Sarah Melotte, The Daily Yonder)
Amid ongoing debate over sexuality and Christian teaching, the United Methodist Church (UMC) faces more member tensions and congregations seeking to disaffiliate from the organization. The effects could be harder on rural communities," reports Sarah Melotte of The Daily Yonder. “Disaffiliation, the complex process a congregation may use to leave the United Methodist denomination, is a sore topic. Most churches that recently split from the UMC did so over concerns that the denomination may adopt a more affirming position on homosexuality."

The Rev. Katie Black had been serving her congregation “for less than a year when a member knocked on her office door and told her the congregation had been praying about withdrawing from the denomination,” Melotte writes. Black told her, “I had heard a lot of stories about churches [disaffiliating] in bigger cities and it becoming a very contentious and ugly fight. But this is a small town. There is no room for us to be breaking up friendships and families.”

Disagreements over whether to allow or not allow gay ordination, gay marriage and LGBTQ+ inclusion have tested the denomination. "Since 2019, thousands of congregations have disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church. . . but many rural churches found hope by offering refuge and reconciliation," Melotte explains. "When a church splits in a tight-knit rural community, the pain can ripple throughout the entire town."

Ken Carter, bishop of the Western North Carolina Conference, told Melotte, "More of the churches that are disaffiliating tend to be rural." Melotte reports, "Bishop Carter said that disaffiliation skews rural because of the cumulative effects of the pandemic and political polarization. Polarization worsened, for example, when debates flared about whether masks should be worn in church and how the church should respond to racism, if it should respond at all."

The Rev. Truman Stagg, a UMC minister in Louisiana, commenting on the division, told Melotte, "We should just stop it and just realize that it’s all about loving people. Whoever you are, your sin might be the same as mine, or your sin might be different from mine or what I call a sin. You might not. But that’s for God to straighten out.”

Surveys show conservative voters in rural areas oppose more military aid to Ukraine

The support for military aid to Ukraine has dropped dramatically among conservative Americans in rural areas, reports Brian Mann of NPR.

The lack of support, including from top candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, could jeopardize continued funding from the United States.

“U.S. support for the country totals more than $100 billion so far and is a lifeline for the embattled country after Russia's brutal invasion last year,” Mann writes.

But many conservatives think the funding should be cut significantly or stopped.

According to Mann, “Overall, polls show American support for financial aid and weapons for Ukraine remains strong. But surveys conducted over the past year show a major shift among Republicans.

A Pew survey in May 2022 found only 17% of GOP voters thought the Biden administration was doing too much to help Ukraine. But a CNN poll released this month found 76% of self-described conservatives now oppose further aid.”

According to Mann’s report, “Military and foreign policy experts say halting U.S. aid would make it nearly impossible for Ukrainians to defend themselves and also would signal a lack of American resolve in defending a key ally.

“But many small town voters interviewed by NPR said those aren't their top concerns. They want politicians to focus money and energy on problems closer to home.”

Quick hits: Family pickle canning; rural trilogy-inspired songs; pandemic gun buyers; hearing aids; Dutch farming

Hannah Klitz visits her herd. (Photo by Chris Simpson, Successful Farming)
Where's the beef? Some of it's with Hannah Klitz. "She started her direct-to-consumer beef business as a college sophomore. Now, she sells premium products across the United States," reports Courtney Leeper-Girgis for Successful Farming. "Klitz started Oak Barn Beef, offering Nebraska-raised, dry-aged beef from cattle DNA-tested for premium carcass traits, such as marbling, tenderness, and ribeye size."

August is a month for canning, catching up with and enjoying family, writes Lovina Eicher for AgWeek. "Yesterday, I helped sister Verena (and daughter) with the pickles. We canned 40 quarts of sweet dills and made 20 quarts into freezer pickles. They are still in the refrigerator, and then tomorrow, they will be ready to pack into containers for the freezer. A very easy way to put up pickles if you have freezer space. They taste very crisp."

The "power of the ring" has captured many a musician.
(Photo by Davidsonluna, Unsplash)
Celebrating J.R.R. Tolkien's very rural trilogy, The Lord of the Rings can bring many precious things to bear, including a litany of musical delights that only magical travels through wide open spaces can create. Ellen Gutoskey of Mental Floss gives us clippings of these adventurous tunes.

The pandemic was full of "firsts" for remote work, touchless delivery and for some people, gun ownership. In 2020, "Some 22 million guns were sold that year, 64 percent more than in 2019. More than eight million of them went to novices who had never owned a firearm, according to the firearm industry's trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation," reports Roni Caryn Rabin of The New York Times. "Self-defense is the top reason Americans purchase handguns." Rabin reviews studies with more definition on who bought firearms and why.

Would you like a four-day workweek? If you said "yes," you're not alone. "More than half of American employers offer a four-day workweek, or plan to, according to a survey released Tuesday," reports Daniel de Visé of The Hill. "A poll of 976 business leaders by, the job-seekers website, found that 20 percent of employers already have a four-day workweek. Another 41 percent said they plan to implement a four-day week, at least on a trial basis."

Hearing aids help people listen to nature's sounds again--
like barking tree frogs. (Photo by Gary Tresize, Unsplash)
Being able to hear the world around you is a gift. "Birdsongs. Chorus frogs. Children's voices. . . . . Sheets flapping on the clothesline. . . .The rustle of corn stalks. The low rumble of thunder in the distance," writes Donna Kallner of The Daily Yonder. But as we age, hearing becomes more challenging. "I chose a Medicare Advantage plan that includes hearing aid coverage. We're hoping for a bulk discount since my husband's hearing is also now more impaired than selective."

Checking out what's going on "across the pond" isn't limited to getting British insights; it's good to see what other European countries are up to, such as the Netherlands' commitment to sustainable farming. "Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry 'Twice as much food using half as many resources," reports Frank Viviano of National Geographic. "Since 2000, farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. They’ve almost completely eliminated the use of chemical pesticides on plants in greenhouses."

Farm auctions affect a whole community, not just individual landowners

Photo by Robert Bye, Unsplash
Journalist, maple tapper and former New Hampshire agriculture commissioner Steve Taylor, tells the story of how the hill country of the upper Connecticut River valley was transformed over more than a quarter of a century by farm auctions. 

Writing for Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H., and White River Junction, Vt., Taylor describes how each auction affects the larger community, not just individual owners. "Chances are it is bringing down the curtain on a life’s work, an ending compelled by bodies aging out, debts that can’t be covered by cash flow or plain old bad luck. The effects will spread beyond the farm being dismantled and into the neighborhood, the town and the whole region."

He writes that the peak period for farm auctions occurred from 1950 to 1975 when hundreds of farms were sold. But the auctions still take place regularly, and often the farms are bought by people who are more interested in development than farming. 

"There may be fewer farm auctions, but the ones that happen today are, like their forebears, always social occasions," he writes. "Relatively few bidders actually buy anything—they’re there to watch the action, take note of selling prices and, above all, chew the fat with fellow farmers in the crowd. 

"Interestingly, farm auctions have had an impact on pressing public issues. An example is the adoption in Vermont of Act 250, the landmark legislation aimed at slowing down the pace and side effects of what was considered rampant, uncontrolled real estate development."

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Fresh water will be in short supply; the time to avert shortages is now, one expert says

OpenStreet map by The Washington Post, adapted by The Rural Blog
Water, water, no longer everywhere, and every drop a drink.” Present-day rephrasing from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

Over the next 30 years, global freshwater supplies will face a crisis, the degree of that crisis depends on current water planning. “A growing population and rising temperatures will jeopardize available water for drinking, bathing and growing food, according to new research,” report Veronica Penney and John Muyskens of The Washington Post. "An analysis of newly released data from the World Resources Institute shows that by 2050 an additional billion people will be living in arid areas and regions with high water stress, where at least 40 percent of the renewable water supply is consumed each year. Two-fifths of the world’s population — 3.3 billion people in total — currently live in such areas."

The U.S. will likely feel the water crunch in regions that already have stressed water systems. For instance, "Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, California and Idaho are using more water than they receive each year, depleting groundwater reserves to support farming and industrial use," the Post reports. "Many rural areas use groundwater for drinking water, and farmers worldwide rely on it for irrigation. But groundwater often replenishes much more slowly than surface water. . . . Only half of 1 percent of the world’s water supply is fresh water in liquid form. The rest is saltwater or frozen into glaciers."

Globally, "agriculture accounts for 70 percent of water use each year and is deeply affected by changes in precipitation. Even if a region is getting the same average amount of rain and snow, droughts and floods have become more common," Penney and Muyskens write. Matthew Rodell, the deputy director of Earth Sciences at NASA, told the Post, "Just looking at the averages doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s much more useful and easier to live with if the water all comes regularly and without these extremes. But more and more, that’s not the case.”

Beyond weather extremes, the location of some industrial farming operations has lacked logical water consideration. "One Saudi company is growing alfalfa in the Arizona desert, pulling from the area’s groundwater supplies," the Post reports. "That alfalfa is then shipped overseas to feed cattle in Saudi Arabia, where industrial-scale farming of forage crops has been banned to conserve the nation’s water."

Water planning, saving and industrial restructuring are happening in cities such as Las Vegas and worldwide; there's a lot that can be done to prevent the intensity of freshwater shortages. Heather Cooley, director of research for the Pacific Institute, told the Post: “Water challenges are only going to become more frequent and more intense. That needs to motivate us to begin preparing and implementing projects. . . . We’ve taken water for granted. We’ve undervalued it. And that has to change.”

Facing the complex problem of too many wild horses

In Nevada, there are more wild horses than all game animals combined. (Photo by Melissa Farlow, Sierra Club)

"Wild horses couldn't keep me away" is a saying, but in real life, plenty of people would like to keep wild horses--otherwise known as mustangs--further away. "The number of horses—along with all the cattle grazing on public lands—has led to a calamity on the rangeland. Wild horses are reproducing at unsustainable rates; between 2007 and 2021, their numbers more than tripled," reports Heather Hansman of Sierra magazine. "In their search for forage, wild horses are tearing up high-desert vegetation, degrading riparian areas, and trampling fragile native plants. . . . As climate change makes the West hotter and drier, the animals are struggling to find water too. In some places, horses have been known to die of starvation and dehydration."

Solutions have proved difficult to find between land stakeholders and horse advocates. Hansman explains, "Roundups for slaughter are off the table—as a matter of humane treatment and U.S. law. Birth-control programs have shown promise, but they are difficult to carry out and are opposed by some horse advocates who express worries about horse health, genetic diversity, and unintentional sterilization. Some horse advocates complain that the Bureau of Land Management's annual roundups can be inhumane."

"One thing that horse people and ecologists agree on is that this situation is a mess. The system is so broken that Congress has called it a 'national crisis,'" Hansman writes. "... the magic and myth of the mustangs seem to collide with the realities of landscape management, policy tussles, and laws that haven't been meaningfully updated since the 1970s."

What does everyone want? "Healthy horses on healthy landscapes is what they say," Hansman reports. "But how can we reach that goal? Especially in the era of climate chaos, especially with an animal that sparks such intense emotions. . . .The story of wild horses is also the story of water and space and the ideal of wildness—the hope that the American West is still big enough for everyone who wants a slice and that last century's laws are adequate for 21st-century complexities. But on the range today, there is not enough to go around, and our ideas about wildness must be constrained by reality. How can we know what the reality is when we've been operating on stories for so long?"

Wisdom from the world's best homemaking hackers

Amanda Ahlenius, left, with her wise-tipster Grandma,
Marcia Clupper. (Amanda Ahlenius photo via WaPo)
Scratchy towels, stubborn stains, and tomato paste dilemmas all have handy hacks. But who are the best homemaking hackers? Grandmas! And other wise women who have been sharing their ingenious solutions long before hacking was a thing, writes Cathy Free of The Washington Post.

Mother and professional dietitian Amanda Ahlenius, "was feeling overwhelmed with her responsibilities when she began thinking about her grandmother, and how easily and seamlessly she seemed to tackle household chores. . . . Ahlenius has gotten dozens of life tips from her grandmother to make household tasks easier."

“I remember watching her do these things as a little girl, and she’s still doing them now," Ahlenius told Free. "I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could all start sharing the advice we’d learned from the older women in our lives, like our moms, grandmas and aunts?’” Free reports,"In February, Ahlenius decided to post a quick video on TikTok, asking, 'How much could we learn from each other if we all shared the random things that the women in our lives have taught us?'"

Her video's theme had broad resonance. "That first video has been viewed more than 865,000 times, and another video with a tip about how to scrape tomato paste from a can has more than 9.3 million views. In another video, she said her grandmother has a solid set of tools and expertly knows how to use them all," Free adds. "She now regularly posts life hacks contributed by her 330,000 followers from their own grandmas."

"She said that as a child she would sit at her grandmother Marcia Clupper’s kitchen table in the farm town of South Whitley, Ind., population 1,800, and watch her flawlessly move from one household task to another," Free writes. Ahlenius told her: “She was born in the 1930s, so she knows how to save money. One thing she taught me is that when the price of milk is high, you can buy a gallon of milk, mix it half and half with powdered milk, and it will be cheaper and taste the same. . . What I’m really hoping for now is a solid tip on how to fold a fitted sheet. I’ve watched all the videos, and I still can’t do it.”

Do you have to leave Appalachia to find opportunity? One woman did and wants the region to receive more attention

Melissa Smith, center, left her Appalachian home behind
in search of a better life. (Melissa Smith photo via Fox News)
An upbringing surrounded by drug use, crime and poverty made one woman leave her Appalachian home in search of opportunity. She compares the region's problems to intercity issues, reports Teny Sahakian of Fox News. "Melissa Smith, 26, managed to leave her family and her hometown behind four years ago to build a better life, but she fears communities like hers will continue to rot without more attention. National media outlets report daily about the rampant crime and drug use afflicting major cities across the country. But Smith feels the Appalachia region as a whole doesn't get the same level of consideration, causing them to suffer in silence as they face similar issues."

Smith told Sahakian, "I just pray that something could be done, some opportunities could be created, rehabs could be made more readily available, and these people can get help and realize that there is a better life. But at the moment, it's just not talked about. Nobody talks about it." Sahakian reports, "Smith's grandmother raised her and her siblings in a trailer park in Corbin, Kentucky. Her mother, who struggled with drug addiction, was in and out of jail for most of her childhood. . . . Most of the kids she grew up with had at least one parent addicted to drugs. . . . Smith said she recently watched a YouTube video that featured interviews with Black Americans living in a poor area of California. She was shocked to hear how similar their stories were to her own."

The first wave of the opioid epidemic hit Appalachia during the 1990s and continued to gain steam through the 2000s when coal mine closures happened in quick succession. Smith said the pairing "ignited a cultural and economic downward spiral in rural areas across Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and other states in the region," Sahakian writes. "Although the entire nation is facing a drug crisis, Appalachia is disproportionately impacted, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission. In 2020, overdose deaths of people ages 25 to 54 were 61% higher in the region compared to the rest of the country."

"Smith said many kids she grew up with are now either on drugs, in jail or dead from an overdose and that methamphetamines, rather than opioids, have become the drug of choice ravaging her community," Sahakian reports. "Most families rely on welfare checks or selling drugs to get by, she said, and with only one factory remaining in her town, the ability to work hard and improve one’s life seems impossible. . . Between 2001 and 2021, employment in Appalachia only grew 1.5% compared to 12% for the rest of the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics." Smith told Sahakian: "They really don't have the opportunity to kind of improve or pull themselves up by their bootstraps."

Opinion: When we listen carefully, the divisions of rural and urban fall away and a different picture emerges

The Daily Yonder graphic
by Nora R. Moosnick
The Daily Yonder

America is again segregated. Spaces where opponents divided by supposed geographic and political differences interact are increasingly rare. Since the 2016 election, the media’s infatuation with rifts between rural and urban voters has been ensconced into our cultural design. These developments overlook the promise of places such as university campuses to blur and overcome fissures. 

I have long been consumed with political and social divisions, but since 2016 my focus has centered on the rural/urban alignment in particular. From 2015-18 I was the faculty director of a University of Kentucky social justice living and learning community, in which students interested in social-justice issues voluntarily live together and explore topics as a group.  After the presidential election of 2016, racial hate speech occurred on our dorm floor. African American students accused White, rural Kentucky students, also in the learning community, of being responsible. 

Immediately afterwards, the residence life department of the university organized a session to address the situation, which quickly turned tense. Black students sat on one side of the room, and White rural kids sat on the floor. Students said things normally unspoken. A student from Chicago talked about family members who advised her against attending Kentucky, fearing for her safety, and women recalled being barred from white fraternity parties. The White rural students looked shell-shocked and unfamiliar with what they were hearing, because they came from communities with few minorities. 

In the years that followed, I committed to overcoming the rural/urban divide through oral histories. That goal eventually led me and 12 student interns to chronicle the lives of undergraduate students at the University of Kentucky, West Virginia University, University of Florida, and University of Mississippi. The themes of the work mirrored the lives of the student interns, who were Black, Brown, White and from rural, urban, and suburban communities.

Not until delving into the students’ stories did I realize that the rural/urban divide is too simplistic to apply to real lives. The students’ stories exposed complicated geographic identities, undermining myths that rural spaces are white, and revealing unexpected class similarities.

I had organized the oral history work around the rural/urban divide, but it became apparent that this was a flawed structure. Students’ geographic identities were not easily pigeonholed. “Can I interview them, they’re from Chicago but moved to small town Kentucky?” Student interviewers’ endless questions about whether an interviewee qualified as rural or urban revealed that the dichotomy was fraught. Students occupied multi-sided identities. Students also came from communities with garbled geographic delineations. It was clear, for instance, that the idea that urban spaces are Black ones ignores geographic realities.

Examples from the work include University of Florida student, “Alex,” who in the space of his interview addressed the complicated racial/geographic dynamics in his northern Florida community. Rural whites live in the city, while minorities are relegated to rural parts. 

… a lot of white rural people living in the city limits but when you go outside the city limits, that’s where the minorities live where we’re barred from voting for the mayor and we’re kind of considered this rural area outside the city limits… It’s kind of a way to keep us from voting.

His identity was rural/urban.

I consider myself rural/urban type because my city is different. If you stay close to the city, you’re still kind of in the urban area, go north and it’s actually one of the most racist cities in the state of Florida, a lot of KKK members. Black folks, we know not to go up to that area because it’s dangerous...

Geographic trickiness overlaid with racism informed his identity. 

Associating white students with rural parts and Black students with urban locations is inaccurate, especially in Mississippi. Rural students from the Delta mentioned never having been around Whites until they attended the University of Mississippi.  Meanwhile, some Black and Brown students from rural and urban communities showed no hint of geographic discord between them.

The interviews also exposed the significance of class in the face of geographic and even racial and cultural differences. When a student comes from a community defined by poverty, whether in Appalachia or Chicago, they encounter a campus that historically has not been oriented toward them. Flagships campuses, in particular, are status rich landscapes exuding wealth, accomplishment, and prominent sports teams, more familiar and comfortable to students who occupy middle class or better status. Multiple times we heard students say something like, “You have to have money to go here.” Students from struggling communities question whether they belong and may hide their class-based struggles, including food insecurity. There is shame in not being able to do things that other students take for granted like affording a meal out. That is despite the fact that these students, rural or urban, may come from communities where they represent the few who make it to the flagship campus.

Campus culture is not theirs also because they often come from communities familiar with trauma. Traumatic stories infused the interviews. A student from the Delta regularly ran home to speak at the funerals of her high school classmates, and an Eastern Kentucky student raced home for a multi-person funeral. These students, urban or rural, conceal their trauma on flagship campuses: Coming from trauma is not considered the lifeworld of a “normal” college student. 

College campuses offer possibilities. Living close to each other, opportunities exist for students to have honest conversations and to see likenesses hidden in complicated identities and class realities. What we learned is that geographic spaces are not easily delineated, that suburbia slides into both rural and urban locations, and that poverty exists in suburbia as it does in dense cities and remote counties. Poor students face parallel struggles with campus culture regardless of their backgrounds and crave spaces to unmask themselves. 

But the possibility of students seeing their likenesses usually goes unrealized. Nonetheless, flagships campuses, where students from a wide range of backgrounds meet, are unique settings to counter the segregation that is crippling America. Revealing students’ stories is a starting point for spurring empathy among students who may never imagined their resemblances.

Nora (Rosie) Moosnick is a native Kentuckian, sociologist, and author of Campus Candor:  Students’ Stories Unmasked (Cognella 2023)—written in collaboration with three former students, Tori Cruz-Falk, Emily Keaton, and Saturn Star-Shooter. She is also the author of Arab and Jewish Women in Kentucky:  Stories of Accommodation and Audacity, (University Press of Kentucky 2012, 2021), and Adopting Maternity:  White Women Who Adopt Transracially and/or Transnationally (Praeger 2004).

This article first appeared on The Daily Yonder and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Kansas newspaper and police chief disagree over how a journalist obtained documents that led to raid

Wikipedia map, adapted
“The police chief who led the raid of a Kansas newspaper alleged in previously unreleased court documents a reporter either impersonated someone else or lied about her intentions when she obtained the driving records of a local business owner,” according to an Associated Press report.

The records were obtained through a state website. Bernie Rhodes, an attorney representing the Marion County Record, and newspaper reporter Phyllis Zorn deny doing anything illegal.

The AP reported that Marion Police Chief Gideon Cody wrote in an affidavit that “downloading the document involved either impersonating the victim or lying about the reasons the record was being sought.” Zorn said she obtained the information from the website. “Not to my knowledge was anything illegal or wrong,” she said, according to the AP.

Cody led an Aug. 11 raid on the newspaper that seized computers, personal cellphones and a router, according to the AP. The items were released last Wednesday after a prosecutor determined there wasn’t sufficient evidence to justify the seizure.

The raid led to widespread criticism from journalists and news organizations.

According to the AP report, “Some legal experts believe the Aug. 11 raid violates a federal privacy law that protects journalists from having their newsrooms searched.”

UPDATE: The state Revenue Department said Zorn's search was legal, the Kansas City Star reports, quoting spokesman Zach Denney: “As long as the requestor has the required information, this information is public record and available online.” Zorn said her tipster provided that information.

Child-care cost increases more than overall inflation, and some families struggle to 'take the hit'

Wall Street Journal graph, from Bureau of Labor data
Besides the stubbornly high food prices, an even greater financial stress looms over some families--child care expenses. "The national average price of daycare and preschool services rose 6% in July from a year before, the Labor Department reported recently. That was nearly double the overall inflation rate of 3.2%, which was down from its recent peak of 9.1% in June last year," reports Christian Robles of The Wall Street Journal. "Parents could see their child-care bills climb higher this fall as providers boost tuition to cover rising costs and federal pandemic aid ceases."

Parents or caregivers have few options for child care in the first place. Danielle Ganje, a communications director and mother of three, "said she is paying about $2,500 a month for child care this summer. That is at least 10% more than last summer and more than her monthly mortgage payment." She told Robles, "We don't have many other options, so we just have to take the hit."

Much of the increase is attributed to labor, food and utility costs. Robles reports, "Child-care workers earned an average of $19.95 an hour in June, up 4.6% from a year earlier, according to the Labor Department. Providers are also facing the end of child care stabilization grants, which began in 2021 and helped providers stay open during the pandemic. "By the end of last year, more than 220,000 child-care providers serving as many as 9.6 million children had received such funding, according to the Department of Health and Human Services."

"Nationwide, a lack of affordable child care has pushed many Americans, particularly women, out of the workforce, economists say. Providers can pass on only so much of their rising costs to parents before some cannot afford their services, Robles reports. Jeannie Farewell, owner of Tiny Tot Daycare, in rural Chambers, Neb, population 288, "said federal assistance totaling at least $7,200 covered some of her increased costs including for propane and bags of potatoes. She works 60 hours a week for about $10.50 an hour, Nebraska’s minimum wage. She has raised pr.ices to $3.50 from $3.00 an hour per child since May 2022, to cover rising costs."

Flora and fauna: Why dogs tilt their heads; women lobster boat leaders; cacti losing their arms; what do moths do?

Photo by Lourdes Balduque, Getty Images via Scientific American
One of the cutest things a dog can do is the signature "doggy head tilt." You know the one--you ask your pup a question and bloop--head tilts, ears perk and eyes lock in a curious stare. Scientists who wondered what this endearing move means "have published just one study focusing on possible reasons for head tilting in dogs," reports Stephanie Pappas of Scientific American. "That research suggests the animals might cock their furry noggins when processing familiar words."

Who's super strong, tough and deals with clawed crustaceans? Women lobster boat captains. "On the boat, you must always have one eye on the trap lines that threaten to entangle you and pull you overboard. There is paperwork, too: You must complete an apprenticeship, and you will have to pass the U.S. Coast Guard's captain's test," reports Kirsten Lie-Nielsen of Modern Farmer. "If you are a woman, the challenges don't stop there. You may be the only woman fishing out of your harbor, vying for respect in an industry that, throughout its long history, has welcomed only men onboard. Every day, you'll be working to prove you belong on the boat and not keeping the books back at the wharf."

View of a Saguaro affected by Arizona's extreme heat.
(Photo by Liliana Salgado, Reuters)

This summer's extreme heat has done more than exhaust people. It has parched plant life--even to the point these cacti's arms have fallen off. "Arizona's saguaro cacti, a symbol of the U.S. West, are leaning, losing arms and in some cases falling over during the state's record streak of extreme heat, a scientist said," reports Liliana Salgado of Reuters. "Plant physiologists at the Phoenix garden are studying how much heat cacti can take. Until recently, many thought the plants were perfectly adapted to high temperatures and drought. Arizona's heat wave is testing those assumptions."

Sometimes it feels as if nothing is safe anymore--not even mowing the lawn. "Peggy Jones was mowing her lawn when a snake fell from the sky. It quickly wrapped itself around her right forearm, striking at her face. The snake spewed venom on her glasses lenses," reports Allie Kelly of The Dallas Morning News. "Seconds later, a hawk swooped down to collect its prey. The bird began clawing at Jones' forearm and cut her as it tried to grab the snake."

The painted lichen moth has technicolor wings.
(Photo by Carla Rhodes, The Washington Post)
Moths are underappreciated, beautiful and essential ecosystem insects. "Their sheer numbers only begin to speak to their relevance: One in 10 described species of organisms on Earth is a moth, and a recent study from the University of Sussex in Britain showed that moths are more efficient pollinators than bees," reports Akito Kawahara of The Washington Post. "Moths also contribute directly to our lives; they produce silk we use for our clothing, for example. Did you know that the worm in a bottle of tequila is also a moth caterpillar?"

A little used method to protect livestock from the heat is "silvopasture'. . . the method involves intentionally incorporating trees on the same land used by grazing livestock, in a way that benefits both," reports John McCracken of Grist. "Researchers and farmers say silvopastures help improve the health of the soil by protecting it from wind and water while encouraging an increase of nutrient-rich organic matter, like cow manure, onto the land."