Tagged: rural

Ground broken for California’s 130-miles high-speed rail project

Gov. Jerry Brown and state political leaders on Tuesday celebrated their perseverance over lawsuits and skeptical lawmakers and voters as they ceremonially started work in the Central Valley on the initial 29 miles of the nation’s first high-speed rail system.

Speaking to about 700 supporters of high-speed rail in a vacant lot in Fresno, the governor was cheered when he called critics — about 30 of whom protested outside the fenced-off festivities — “pusillanimous … that means weak of spirit,” and said the state owed it to the future to think big and invest in projects like high-speed rail.

Brown noted that the State Water Project, BART and the Golden Gate Bridge all faced opposition in their time. “We need to be critiqued,” he said, “but we still need to build…”

While high-speed rail backers made speeches and signed a symbolic section of rail in lieu of cutting a ribbon or wielding golden shovels, a new Congress whose Republican majority has vowed not to contribute more federal funding to California’s high-speed rail project took office in Washington. They include House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, whose district would be bisected by the fast rail line…

Surely no one expects a 21st Century Republican to favor transportation, logistics and commerce considered modern in most nations.

Along with the financial challenge comes the need to complete the project without significant delays or massive cost overruns, and the question of whether state legislators have the political will to keep the project going when it runs into trouble.

The current construction is expected to be completed by 2018…The authority expects to award a contract this month for the next phase, which would take the tracks south to Bakersfield. Once that stretch is completed, with work overlapping the initial leg, the plan is to work on a connection to Palmdale, not from Bakersfield but from Burbank. Not only is that a critical stretch in connecting high-speed rail into the Los Angeles area, but officials believe it could operate as a profitable line even before the connection to the valley is completed.

By 2017 or 2018, the agency expects to have a 130-mile stretch through the valley that can be used as a test track for high-speed trains. And by 2022, it expects to be able to run trains from Merced to the Burbank Airport. Connections to San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center and Los Angeles’ Union Station would be finished by 2029.

Critics…waved signs with such messages as blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

In the same time period China is scheduled to build several hundred miles of standard rail – only travel at 110mph – for Thailand connecting Bangkok and major cities to Laos and southern China. Myanmar’s main industrial areas will be linked to the deep-sea port of Dawei. 2000 miles of rail will be built in a trilateral project for India, Myanmar and Thailand – linking those nations to Laos, Cambodia and VietNam. The ASEAN north-south corridor will be extended down to Malaysia and Singapore.

Besides ASEAN nations, there are six more partner countries – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, combining half of the world’s population.

Good thing ain’t many of them as backwards as American conservatives.

Sometimes, you’re in real trouble if you take advice on sex from your mom!

Shocked medical staff in a clinic in central Colombia discovered a potato growing inside a patient’s vagina. The bizarre phenomenon was discovered when doctors attended a 22-year-old woman complaining of abdominal pains this week.

The embarrassed young woman explained that she had been advised by her mother to insert a potato into her vagina as a means of avoiding unwanted pregnancy. “My mom told me that if I didn’t want to get pregnant, I should put a potato up there, and I believed her…”

After leaving the tuber in place for around two weeks the good news is that the young woman was not pregnant. The bad news was that she began to experience intense pain in her lower abdomen. The potato had germinated, and grown roots inside the lady’s most private parts.

When the nurse went to examine the patient, she originally thought she had been the target of a practical joke, as she found roots emerging from the young woman´s vagina.

The offending root vegetable was removed without need for surgery, and there should be no lasting physical effects on the young woman…

Sex education is often incomplete in rural Colombia.


Thanks [I think] Ursarodinia

Amish sect in court — smoke alarms “violate their religious liberty”

In June 2007, St Lawrence County’s assistant public defender, Steve Ballan, got a call from his boss. A bunch of Amish men are in trouble, he was told. They need a lawyer…and when he met with Andy Miller and the five other Amish men charged with contravening state building codes, he was certain that the town’s building inspectors had violated America’s first and greatest constitutional amendment – the right to worship freely.

What had provoked the inspectors to issue Stop Work Orders was the Amish men’s refusal to install smoke alarms in their newly built houses.

Continue reading

India marks one year anniversary since last polio case

Health officials are hailing a polio breakthrough in India, once recognised as the global epicentre of the crippling disease, as the country marked one year since the last recorded case.

India, once home to half of all global cases of polio, on Friday completed one year since an 18-month-old girl in West Bengal was diagnosed with the disease.

AP Photo/Biswaranjan Rout

The breakthrough could see India removed from a list of nations where polio is still endemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the next month.

With Niger and Egypt taken off that list in recent years, India’s removal would see the list of nations with indigenous polio reduced to just three: Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan…

In a statement, Ghulam Nabi Azad, India’s health minister, said: “We are excited and hopeful, at the same time, vigilant and alert”…

Part of…new tactics and innovations was an effort to reach poor children in railways and on the streets. “Remotes areas were huge havens of disease, but we persisted,” Sona Bari, a spokesperson for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, told Al Jazeera. “Wherever there were no facilities, we just had people camping on the floor.”

According to WHO estimates, the Indian government dedicated two billion dollars to polio eradication over the last decade and a half. “It was almost completely self-funded,” Bari said. “India has shown that it can be done, despite extremely difficult circumstances…”

The advance in a nation where polio had been thought endemic, has raised hopes that polio will join smallpox as the second disease to have been successfully eradicated globally.

RTFA. India will be deemed to have eradicated the disease if it stays polio-free for another two years.

I grew up in the era of diseases afflicting children especially – which have since been stopped by vaccination programs. Back in the day, the religious among us hailed the advances of science as a gift from their God. Nowadays, for whatever reason, it seems the spookiest individuals are the ones blathering about vaccination being a conspiracy of science.

I wish they had my life’s experience, greeting each New Year with questions to my classmates about “who died in your neighborhood, this year” – from polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, measles, scarlet fever. Every neighborhood had one or two “survivors” of polio who made do with crutches to get to school.

Now – religion is an acceptable excuse to keep from having your kids vaccinated. What fools these parents be.

Portable technology takes banking agents to rural India

State Bank correspondents Rashan and Nashir Penkar and their daughter, Icra

Time was, banks employed armies of human tellers. Later, they replaced many of them with automated teller machines. Now, India is using a hybrid of the two — the human A.T.M. — to expand banking to its vast rural population.

Swati Yashwant, a 29-year-old mother of one, is part of a growing legion of roving tellers intent on providing bank accounts to the nearly 50 percent of India’s 300 million households that do not have them. Using a laptop computer, wireless modem and fingerprint scanner, Ms. Yashwant opens accounts, takes deposits and processes money transfers for farmers and migrant workers in this small town 70 miles south of Mumbai, India’s financial capital.

To reduce the risk of robbery or theft, no transaction by law may exceed 10,000 rupees (about $212). And in practice, many amount to no more than a dollar or two. But with the bulk of India’s population living in villages that have never had a bank branch, Ms. Yashwant, with her electronic devices, is a missionary of financial modernity.

Many Indians “don’t know anything about banking,” she said in her small office here, which is decorated with a garlanded picture of Ganesh, the Hindu god believed to remove obstacles. “I want to open their accounts and help them understand banking.”

Economists and policy makers say mobile agents like Ms. Yashwant — who also are employed in countries like Brazil, Mexico and Kenya — represent one of the most promising ways to help the rural poor save and protect their money. Many people in India who do not have bank accounts, for instance, buy gold necklaces or simply keep cash in their unlocked homes…

The banking agents enable the poor to easily save money they otherwise might be tempted to spend, Mr. Banerjee said. And when times are lean, people could withdraw money they had saved, instead of borrowing cash at high rates of interest…

Ms. Yashwant is one of an estimated 60,000 of what Indian bankers call “business correspondents,” who are not bank employees but earn commissions that the banks pay them for each transaction…

For India’s banks, it is a relatively inexpensive way to recruit customers. While about 70 percent of India’s population is dispersed among more than 600,000 villages, the entire country has only 33,500 bank branches. Correspondents like Ms. Yashwant have set up 74 million bank accounts in India.

“Frugal innovation” — magic words from the Indian subcontinent across Southeast Asia to China for decades. From home-made irrigation systems powered by people – to freight companies that start with bicycles and scooters – technology that is cheap and “good enough” has been a success at modernizing economies.

Later on, when folks are making the money required for tech and infrastructure advancements, no doubt they will be incorporated within and on top of this generation of minimalist technology.

RTFA for individual tales. Follow Ms. Yashwant as she establishes her personal banking network, village-by-village.

Seven members of Bolivian Mennonite colony jailed for serial rape

A court in Bolivia has sentenced seven members of a reclusive conservative Christian group to 25 years in prison for raping more than 100 women. The men, members of a Mennonite group, secretly sedated their victims before the sex attacks.

The victims’ lawyer said the 2000-strong Mennonite community where the rapes happened welcomed the sentence.

The group follows a strict moral code and rejects modern inventions such as cars and electricity.

An eighth man was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years for supplying the sedative used to drug the women.

The rapes happened in the Mennonite community of Manitoba, 150km north-east of the city of Santa Cruz.

The court heard that the men sprayed a substance derived from the belladonna plant normally used to anaesthetise cows through bedroom windows at night, sedating entire families.

They then raped the women and girls. The youngest victim was nine years old…

Prosecutor Freddy Perez said colony elders suspected something was wrong when they wondered why one man was getting up so late in the mornings, and they decided to shadow him.

He was then spotted jumping through a window into one of the victim’s houses.

Tough enough being part of a non-Catholic religion in most of Latin America. An often-reclusive group like these Mennonites will now have to deal with years of innuendo and rumor – even though they caught these thugs and turned them over for prosecution.

Doesn’t have to be that way. There are some really successful Mennonite communities in northern Mexico. They coexist peacefully with local Catholic families and provide full employment at many of their organic farms.

Thai election a toss-up favoring Thaksin Shinawatra’s sister

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

A general election that was designed to put Thailand political divisions in the past has been upended by the emergence of Yingluck Shinawatra, the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, the exiled former prime minister, as front runner.

To her supporters 44-year-old Miss Shinawatra, is “pretty, rich, clever, international”.

The businesswoman mother of one has energized the opposition Pheu Thai party ahead of next Sunday’s crucial election and left the ruling Democrats – led by Old Etonian prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva – in the doldrums…

A raft of opinion polls show Pheu Thai (For Thais) opening up a gap that will give them a lead in the 500 seat parliament and maybe even scrape over the magic 251 to allow them to form the government without recruiting smaller coalition allies.

The fresh-faced woman vying to become Thailand’s first female prime minister was a virtual unknown barely a month ago…

Mr Thaksin, 61, who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai avoiding a two-year jail term for corruption and abuse of power, is widely seen as the power behind his sister. Yesterday he made a barely veiled plea for his return after next weekend’s election. He said. “If we cannot forget the past, we are still talking about the past and there is no way we can move ahead.”

Pheu Thai’s policy pledges are an echo of Mr Thaksin’s tax give-aways during his years in power between 2001 and 2006, before he was ejected in a military coup.

Cheap health-care, a bump in minimum wages and guaranteed prices for rice farmers top the pledges…

Gen Prayuth – a staunch loyalist of ailing 83-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej – has repeatedly said he would keep out of politics and refuted constant speculation of a coup if the election’s outcome is not to the Thai elite’s liking. But Thailand has endured 18 coups or coup attempts since 1932…

Voters are not surprisingly fearful of post-election divisions.

The fact remains that the monarchy – via the military – has pretty much intervened whenever it felt the Thai people didn’t make a democratic decision the King didn’t agree with.

Reforesting rural lands in China provides payback

An innovative program to encourage sustainable farming in rural China has helped restore eroded forestland while producing economic gains for many farmers, according to a new study by Stanford University researchers.

“The Sloping Land Conversion Program, which began in 2000 after massive flooding caused in part by land clearing, focuses on China’s largest source of soil erosion and flood risk — farms on steep slopes,” said study co-author Gretchen Daily, a professor of biology at Stanford.

The program aims to return more than 37 million acres of cropland on steep slopes back to forest or grassland. The government pays villagers in varying amounts of cash and rice to give up farming and find new sources of employment.

“It’s a tremendously innovative program designed to address two critical problems — securing the environment and providing economic opportunities for people in rural, desperately poor areas,” said Daily…

China’s land conversion program has its roots in the late 1960s, when farmers in the mountainous western provinces began clearing vast stretches of land to make way for more crops. The increased agricultural production helped feed a growing nation but also set the scene for disaster. When record monsoon rains pelted the region in 1998, soil from the agricultural fields washed down the mountain slopes, killing thousands of people in the villages below.

The unprecedented damage caused by the floods prompted China to reconsider the wisdom of replacing forests with farms — especially in steeply sloping terrain. In 2000, the government launched a campaign to reforest the countryside and established several large-scale programs to help farmers in the western provinces find new work in surrounding cities…

Ecologically speaking, China’s Sloping Land Conversion Program has been a clear win since it was implemented a decade ago, said Daily, noting that the program has helped to decrease soil erosion by as much as 68 percent in some areas…

On average, families that participated in the program reported doing better financially than those who did not, but some farm workers had trouble finding new work, according to the study. Households that profited most did so by sending a husband-and-wife team into the city to earn money as unskilled laborers. The wages they earned in the city combined with the government subsidy easily topped what they had earned as farmers…

Finding your way politically and socially through qualitative social and economic changes is difficult enough under the best of circumstances. Fortunately, the world at the beginning of the 21st Century seems to be a bit more willing to lend a hand than that era defined by Cold War polemics.

RTFA for lots of details.

Firetrucks collide on the way to a fire in rural Missouri

Two of the five firefighters who suffered serious injuries this morning when two fire trucks crashed head-on in rural Platte County have been released from a hospital…

Two trucks from the Central Platte Fire Protection District, which is staffed by volunteers, were responding from Platte City about 4:10 a.m. to an electrical fire on the deck of a house.

In the darkness, the first truck missed the house’s driveway. The truck turned around and was headed back toward the house when it collided with the other truck in the 15000 block of Missouri HH, about two miles east of Platte City, Holland said.

Both trucks were severely damaged. The accident remains under investigation by the sheriff department.

Camden Point Fire Protection District responded on a mutual aid call and extinguished the fire.

That’s a serious “oops!” I would say. Bad enough the volunteer firefighters are injured; but, how do you NOT notice another firetruck responding to a fire?

Why do Kool Aid Party Republicans hate trains?

Michelle Bachman’s last train ride from Duluth

“Stop the Train” was, literally, a rallying cry for post-Tea Party Republicans this past November.

Newly elected GOP governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida have canceled already-funded high speed rail projects.

Much of the opposition to rail projects appears to stem not from economic arguments, but from fundamental cultural values on what “American” transportation should be. A perusal of online commentaries about passenger rail stories reveals a curious linkage by writers between passenger rail and “European socialism.”

Never mind that the majority of European passenger rail operates on a commercial basis. Many critics of passenger rail emotionally identify it as an enabler of cultural values they fear.

For example, passenger rail inherently requires central administration. After all, trains cannot depart from a station without authority from a central dispatcher. This very need for central authority is unique to rail and frightening to those who yearn for an individual freedom from authority…

Second, a passenger rail project labels a route as an “urban” corridor, and provides the infrastructure and incentive for even more urban development. This contradicts a vision of America, held by many, as a small town society centered on the automobile. In reality, rural towns continue to decline. The 2000 U.S. census classifies 79% of the U.S. population as “urban…”

It is difficult for many to accept the impact of these population trends. Many legislators who are otherwise hostile to passenger rail accept that Amtrak’s operations in Boston-New York-Washington are “profitable,” or commercially viable, but characterize the East Coast as a region not representative of the United States. It’s full of Yankees…

Third, most opponents to high speed rail simply have no experience on which to base their opposition. Those wishing to “Take America back” frequently glorify America between the Eisenhower and Reagan administrations, the peak of automobile enthusiasm in the United States…

Take a look at China. China was still operating steam locomotives 10 years ago. China has invested $292 billion in its railways in the last five years. By 2014, China will have twice as many miles of high speed railway as all the rest of the world combined.

For some, the Chinese investment in passenger rail signifies a forward-thinking investment in the future, and something to be envied. For others, it is further evidence that passenger rail is only appropriate for a planned economy, and incompatible with the American way.

But, then, what would you expect from dimwits who would rather drive a new version of their father’s Buick instead of something that reflects real family size, how and where you travel – and costs less to run?