Friday, December 19, 2014

12/11/2014 at 7:10am

Source: Country Health Rankings and Roadmaps, 2014 edition The map charts the number of mentally unhealthy days per capita per month in most U.S. counties (some are excluded because of lack of data). Greener counties have better overall mental health, while red ones have worse mental health. Yellow counties are in the middle of the pack in the number of days per capita that residents report being mentally unhealthy each month. Click the map to make it interactive and explore county-level data.

Are people who live in the countryside happier than their city counterparts?

In some cases, yes, according to a new study about the impact of geography and other environmental factors on mental health.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University looked at the reported mental health of people living across the spectrum of U.S. counties – from city centers of major urban areas to sparsely populated areas located far from the city lights.

What they found is a “sweet spot” for happiness – as measured by self-reported mental health assessments. Those locations – where folks are, all things considered, more likely to be happier than other Americans – are rural counties that are located next to metropolitan counties.

The research stopped short of explaining the finding, but reasoned that such places might offer residents access to helpful city amenities without subjecting residents to the stresses sometimes associated with living in a big urban area.

“The general conclusion about county-population and location is that living in a non-metro county of medium to large population size, and adjacent to a metro core, is associated with greater happiness,” wrote Stephan J. Goetz, Meri Davlasheridze and Yicheol Han in a paper published online in Social Indicators Research.

12/10/2014 at 6:23am

Photo by Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times Dr. Earl Ferguson works on his laptop at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, a 25-bed clinic where patients' medical records are electronic and can be accessed via tablet. Ridgecrest, California, is a city of 28,000 residents about 100 miles east of Bakersfiled.

After years of lagging metropolitan areas in adopting electronic medical records, rural practitioners have jumped ahead in the use of the computer-based record-keeping system.

A newly published study shows that 56% of rural medical practices have adopted electronic records, while only 49% of metropolitan practices have done so.

The findings counter broadly held assumptions that rural areas always lag urban ones in the adoption of new technology.

The reasons for rural practitioners’ quicker acceptance of computer-based medical record keeping could be the unique characteristics of rural practices (such as more Medicare and Medicaid patients) or changes in the data products available to rural practices. Or it might be the result of an innovative government program that helps practices learn to use electronic records.

What are EMRs?

Electronic medical records (or EMRs, for short) are computer-based patient records that allow the sharing of information between medical sites (such as a doctor’s office and a hospital, or a pharmacist and a specialist).  EMRs became a hot topic in the healthcare industry in the 1990s, with the idea that they could help reduce medical costs (due to a reduction in unnecessary tests) and improve health outcomes  (due to better coordination of care and fewer medical errors).

Initially, however, EMRs were slow to catch on in many practices because of high start-up costs, technology requirements, and reluctance from many physicians.  As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the HITECH Act specifically focused on increasing the adoption of EMRs by offering Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments to physicians who “meaningfully used” EMRs. 

12/09/2014 at 7:26am

Photo by Phil Strahl Will there come a time when we look at today's consumer broadband the way we look at other technologies that have seen their day? By the way, that's a 5 1/4 floppy drive.

In the early part of the 20th century when the United States started to get serious about electrification, some folks dismissed municipal power by saying, “Why do I need electricity when candles work just fine?”

They didn’t realize the new technology was about a lot more than just illumination.

We’re at a similar point in the deployment of ultra-high capacity broadband networks. We may be able to do simple things efficiently with our current broadband connection speeds – things like downloading email or even streaming a video.

But digital communications is going to do more than change how we send letters and watch TV.

As we step into the digital age, is your community thinking and acting digitally? Or are you stuck with old ideas about digital communication, the equivalent of thinking candles are just fine and electricity is not needed.

After losing some momentum, the connection between broadband and community economic development is back, due in part to the explosion of social media platforms in the mid-to-late-2000s.

Nowadays the connection between broadband and economic development is a bit clearer. In addition, access to information about broadband infrastructure – or lack thereof – exists. Though it’s not perfect, it’s nonetheless available.

But thinking and acting digitally go beyond using social media. They require adopting a digital mindset. This is especially true for small cities and rural areas, which face special challenges in building and using broadband infrastructure.

The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) has been studying places around the world for the past 15 years to better grasp how communities plan for, transition to, and prosper in the digital age. Six consistent themes emerged, they say: Get connected, innovate, create a knowledgeable workforce, include diverse populations, market smartly and make the work sustainable.

There’s nothing new with these themes. But what matters in the digital age is how they are packaged.

12/08/2014 at 3:02pm

"The consumer is being hoodwinked; the farmer is being jerked around," says North Carolina poultry farmer Craig Watts in this video produced by animal welfare organization CompassionUSA. Watts also spoke out in 2010 as part of the DOJ and Ag investigation of the meat-packing industry.  

The Perdue contract chicken farmer who allowed an animal welfare organization to videotape bad conditions on his farm was also part of a hearing in 2010 when poultry farmers complained to the Departments of Justice and Agriculture about the lack of enforcement of antitrust regulation of the meat industry.

Carig Watts, an eastern North Carolina poultry farmer, says he testified in the 2010 hearing in Alabama that involved Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. The hearing and others like it, which examined whether giant meat-packing corporations were engaging in anti-competitive behavior, have not resulted in action from the federal government.

Last week, Watts was part of a video (see above) produced by CompassionUSA that showed conditions on Watts’ poultry farm. Watts allowed the organization to shoot footage on his farm to expose inhumane conditions, he said. The footage shows dead chickens and birds with sores and broken limbs. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof also wrote a piece about Watts’ farm and the video.

Watts said the bad conditions were caused by the contract requirements of Perdue, which markets chicken as humanely raised.  A Perdue spokeswoman said the poor conditions were Watts’ fault.

After the video was released, Perdue ordered an audit of Watts’ farm. Watts said that move was retaliatory. Perdue said it was part of ensuring that the chickens were being raised properly.

Watts said in a tweet that back in 2010, when the Obama administration was investigating the meat-packing industry, he testified at a hearing in Huntsville, Alabama. That hearing included testimony from farmers who said poultry corporations engaged in anti-competitive behavior. At that hearing, Vilsack said, “The public needs to know what you know,” according to the Huntsville Times.

12/07/2014 at 8:17pm

All photos by Ryann Ford White Sands National Monument, New Mexico - This is by far my most favorite location. The picnic tables there are iconic, straight out of the '60s, and the landscape is like no place else on earth. It was a hot summer day at sunset when we were shooting, and a thunderstorm had just rolled through, so hardly anyone was around. You couldn’t take a bad picture at this place.


Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background. 

Ryann Ford: I grew up in the mountains of Southern California, a very small town of about 6,000 people named Running Springs, near Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear.  I always enjoyed photography growing up and finally took my first class in high school.  Even then I loved exploring and shooting forgotten and lonely places.  After graduation I attended Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, and decided to specialize in architecture. 


Near Abiquiu, New Mexico - U.S. 84 - This was a memorable shoot. I was driving back to Texas after being in Colorado for Christmas when I passed this stop. We were the first ones to stop since the snow overnight. I had shot this one before in the summer, but the snow gave it a whole new look.


DY: Where do you live now? 

RF: Austin, Texas.


DY: Tell us about the Last Stop project. What drew you to photographing rest stops? What’s compelling about them to you? 

RF: The Last Stop is a photography project documenting the vanishing roadside rest areas of America’s highways.  Shortly after moving to Austin from California, I would get sent out on assignment by Texas Monthly magazine, and often had to drive all over Texas.  I started noticing these cute little roadside tables along the different highways. We had the giant interstate rest areas in California, but it wasn’t until living here that I really started to notice rest areas. I noticed that a lot of them looked really old, some had cool mid-century architecture, some were really quirky, like they were shaped like a teepee or an oil derrick, or had a theme to them depending on the region we were in. 

One night I decided to Google “rest areas” to see what they looked like in other areas of the country. I came across a news article detailing the closure of many of them due to budget cuts, and they weren’t just being closed, but demolished. I had considered doing a photo project on them before, but this was the deciding factor.


Anthony, New Mexico - I-10 - New Mexico/Texas Border - This is a great little stop on the border of New Mexico and Texas. It has these cool southwestern-style structures that are nestled back in the sand dunes. There were "Beware of Rattlesnakes" signs everywhere!


12/04/2014 at 1:54pm

Photo by Julie Makinen/Los Angeles Times A diorama of people performing "revolutionary songs" during the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 at the Jianchuan Museum Cluster in Anren, China.

Chinese authorities will require media producers to spend time in rural areas as part of an effort to improve media content, reports the Los Angele Times.

The nation’s powerful media regulatory agency will send production staff from 10 films and TV shows to experience local life in mining towns, villages and other rural locales. Another initiative will send media producers to live for a month “in border and ethnic minority regions, as well as areas ‘important in China’s revolutionary background.’”

The move comes as China continues a rapid pace of urbanization.

The story doesn’t say exactly how more exposure to rural areas will improve the nation’s TV and films. But the agency’s announcement includes the ominous declaration that spending time in rural areas will help media makers “form a correct view on art.”

The decree is reminiscent of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, when urban intellectuals were sent to work in the countryside. Rural areas were thought to hold purer values.


Government agencies measure a lot about rural America. But they don’t quantify how philanthropy flows into (or more appropriately, doesn’t flow into) rural areas.

Rick Cohen summarizes his research on rural philanthropy over the past decade in a Nonprofit Quarterly article.

His conclusions:  

… [P]hilanthropic resources devoted to rural America have not kept up with the moneys flowing to metropolitan and suburban locales. No one should think that philanthropy is doing a bang-up job in urban areas either when it comes to issues of community development, poverty, and affordable housing, but the data, even if limited, make it clear that, just like in job creation, rural is falling behind in its access to philanthropic grants.

… Ultimately, the need is for philanthropic advocacy, but nonprofits tend to be next to petrified about the notion of organizing about philanthropy and about linking that organization with public policy. Even the nation’s strongest philanthropic advocates have receded in their willingness to pursue advocacy in the public arena concerning philanthropy. Somehow, for every aspect of society, nonprofits are willing to challenge, organize, and advocate, but when it comes to foundations, the presumption of foundations’ being on the side of the angels gives them a shield no other sector gets. Unless and until rural communities are going to be satisfied with demonstration grants, foundation conferences, and glossy books, rural philanthropy doesn’t have good prospects of increasing in the future.


The founding editor of Modern Farmer magazine, Ann Marie Gardner, has stepped down after disagreements with the magazine’s investor, Canadian mining magnate Frank Giustra, reports Capital.  The hip publication is decidedly glossy, even online, and has covered the convergence of interests in foodie culture and alternative agriculture .


A new coalition has formed to oppose the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. “The group, called StopMegaComcast, includes 15 public interest groups, competing pay-TV operators and other organizations that have previously come out against the deal,” reports Recode. “If regulators approve the merger, Comcast, already the country’s largest cable and Internet provider, will have a total of about 30 million subscribers.”

Rural areas generally have fewer choices in cable and Internet providers. Opponents of the merger of the cable giants say it will decrease competition. Proponents say the merger will be good for investors and consumers.

12/04/2014 at 6:51am

Photo by Harry Lynch/Charlotte News & Observer Why does this alway happen to me (and probably you, too)?

With nearly 3 million miles of rural roads in the United States, why does it seem like all the slow-moving vehicles are in front of you?

It's hard to be creeping along behind farm equipment and not feel like that tractor should have taken some other route and stayed out of your way. And it's so tempting to try to pass before you get stuck back there for a few miles.

People in a hurry, distracted drivers, greenhorns and drunks do stupid things on rural roads -- if not by intent then by reflex. They pass on the double yellow without wondering why it's a no-passing zone, or fail to register the blinker on farm equipment that's about to make a wide-right turn off a two-lane road. Or they completely space that a vehicle is slowing down to make a turn. The repeat-offense drunk driver who hit me on a rural road in Iowa in 1998 didn't see a grain truck stopping to make a turn until he was too close to brake. To avoid plowing into a truck that was bigger than his, he pulled into my lane, hitting me nearly head-on.

Soon after, I was hit by the realization that all the times my parents had said "Be careful" they didn't mean "We don't trust you." They meant, "We don't trust anyone else out there." They knew that anything can happen on a rural road.

Here are a few things you may not have learned in driver's ed. about driving in the country. You might want to share them with your city cousins before their next visit.

Don't trust GPS. In rural northern Wisconsin, for example, selecting "shortest route" is liable to lead you down what locals would call a logging road or snowmobile trail. You might get a ways before realizing you can't go forward and can't turn around. Before you start backing out, pray for guidance around all the rocks and other hazards that could render your vehicle inoperable. It's not easy to get a tow out there.

Learn the etiquette of dust. More than a third of all road miles in the U.S. are unpaved gravel or dirt. Urban refugees who buy homes on gravel roads often fail to see the charm of all the dust and start lobbying to have the road paved. Actually, there's very little charm in all that dust. But there are ways to live with it. For example, it's considered neighborly to slow down in the vicinity of people walking or working near gravel roads, and where you can see laundry pegged out on a clothesline. It's also considered neighborly to take your dust-caked vehicle to the self-service car wash (considered a dependable small-town business opportunity) before funerals, weddings and other events where people stand around visiting in parking lots while dressed in their good clothes.

Photo by Claire L. Evans You can approximate the speed of the car in front of you by the amount of dust they throw, like here on Hawaii's Hana Highway.