French farmers using the Web for a lot more than crop prices


Patrick Maignan found his love on a dating site for farmers

Patrick Maignan, a robust gray-haired farmer, lives alone on his farm, surrounded only by the freshly plowed wheat fields of this lonely corner of northern France.

Far from tourist routes and cellphone coverage, he works seven days a week, milking his 40 cows twice a day, sometimes breaking with routine by taking classes in traditional Breton dances or chatting with women on the Internet.

Divorced in 1996, Mr. Maignan, 51, had given up hopes of finding another mate. “When women knew I was a farmer,” he said, “they fled.” The loneliness of the farming life is a major issue for France, whose inhabitants worship the land but prefer to live in the city.

But then Mr. Maignan found Claire Chollet, a 49-year-old director of human resources, on atraverschamps.com, or “acrossthefields.com,” an online dating site reserved for farmers like himself.

Mr. Maignan said he now plans to marry Ms. Chollet, a divorced Parisian mother of two, and buy a house together in the village nearby.

Atraverschamps.com is one of a handful of online dating sites devoted to “rural people,” farmers and others who live in the countryside or wish to find their soulmates there. Luc Gagnon, who founded atraverschamps.com in 2001, said that it nearly doubled its number of subscribers in the past year to 17,287, while other sites like vachement.fr, have had an average of 1,200 hits a day in the past year…

The lack of love in the countryside is a serious topic for a country that sees its bedrock in small farmers and their produce, which is supposed to be uniquely of the place where it is grown. According to the Agriculture Ministry, about 30 percent of male French farmers did not have a partner in 2009.

Loneliness is particularly acute among male farmers between 18 and 35, especially cattle farmers, who generally spend more time working than other farmers. About 36 percent of cattle farmers were single in 2009, according to the ministry.

RTFA. A delight. The urban ethos in Europe is stronger than in the United States. For many, living in the countryside is a sentence designed for political prisoners.

Ireland calls for the arrest of priests who hide crimes disclosed in the confession box

Ireland stepped up its battle with the Roman Catholic Church over child abuse Sunday, with Justice Minister Alan Shatter vowing to pass a law requiring priests to report suspicions of child abuse, even if they learn about them in confession.

The Catholic Church regards information learned in confession as completely confidential. But under the law proposed by Shatter, priests could be prosecuted for failing to tell the police about crimes disclosed in the confession box.

Shatter said in a statement through a spokesman last week that priests’ failure to report what they learn in confession “has led sexual predators into believing that they have impunity and facilitated pedophiles preying on children and destroying their lives.”

The minister’s comment to a local radio station Sunday comes after the Vatican rejected Irish accusations that church leaders sought to cover up extensive abuse of young people by priests in Ireland…

“In a spirit of humility, the Holy See, while rejecting unfounded accusations, welcomes all objective and helpful observations and suggestions to combat with determination the appalling crime of sexual abuse of minors,” the statement says…

Released July 13, the 421-page report into the handling of abuses in the diocese of Cloyne demolished claims by the Catholic Church in Ireland that policies it put in place in 1996 had enabled it to get a handle on the problem.

It also accused Bishop John Magee, who was responsible for policing abuse in his diocese, of not backing the policies himself and failing to take action against abusers.

Time is long past for churches to be removed as a law unto themselves, superseding the law of sovereign nations. And, yes, that includes the question of paying taxes like any other corporate body.

Brits to reintroduce “dangerous” playgrounds to illustrate reality

Traditional playgrounds which teach children about risk and danger are being reintroduced after research found that they aid development.

Climbing frames, monkey bars, sand and water features have been replaced with sterile play areas in recent years amid overzealous health and safety fears.

Councils removed features such as paddling pools sand pits and fitted rubber mats in a bid to avoid costly litigation. But experts believe that the opportunity to assess potential danger and react to risk in the playground helps children make decisions in later life.

South Somerset district council has revised its play strategy and has granted approval for more traditional playgrounds which including stepping logs and wooden forts.

Adrian Moore, the council’s play and youth facilities officer, told the Sunday Times: “Playgrounds are the nursery slopes for real life. If we don’t help children differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable risk, we are failing them.

“Instead of eliminating it, let’s embrace it. In a playground, learning to judge speed, movement and distance stands you in good stead when you master other vital but dangerous skills, such as riding a bike or crossing the road.”

Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway, wrote in the journal Evolutionary Psychology: “Children must encounter risks and overcome playground fears, monkey bars and tall slides are great.

“They approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner. Let them encounter these challenges from an early age and they will master them through play over the years.”

Good grief. I don’t think the kids ever worry about danger.

Mommies and daddies are always ready to rush out in overprotective mode. The best thing they can do is ban parents from anywhere they can watch their children playing.

Unemployment numbers are a symptom of deeper social questions


Same as it ever was…

This weekend’s Labor Day celebrations in America mark a difficult time for workers. Having experienced a multi-year decline in their share of national income, they are now suffering the brunt of the current economic malaise; and there is little to suggest that the situation will improve any time soon. As a result, the country’s economic hardships risk morphing from pressuring specific segments of the population to undermining more general aspects of social justice.

The numbers are striking — and worrisome. Over the last 30 years, labor’s share of the national pie has declined to 44 percent from 52 percent, with profits growing at twice the annual rate for average wages.

This…monthly employment report adds to the concerns. Unemployment remains very high, whether measured by the most-quoted unemployment rate (9.1 percent), the less partial under- and un-employment rate, (16.2 percent) or, most comprehensively, the proportion of total adults who are not working (42 percent compared to 35 percent 10 years ago).

The duration and composition of joblessness is very troubling. The average unemployed American has been without a job for 40 weeks, a record level, and 44 percent of the unemployed have been out of a job for more than 26 weeks. The incidence of joblessness is severe among those lacking a college degree (11 percent compared to 4 percent for college graduates). For 16-19 year olds the unemployment rate is a horrible 25 percent.

Whichever number you look at, America’s labor market problems constitute a full-blown crisis with far reaching economic, social and political consequences. If current trends continue, joblessness will become stubbornly embedded in the system and, distressingly, some of the unemployed will become unemployable…

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Supercommittee focuses lobbyists’ clients against one another


It will be a profitable Xmas season

The bipartisan congressional supercommittee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in budget savings is leaving Washington lobbying firms in a quandary, seeing their clients pitted against one another in a competition for government cash.

Major defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin have a dozen or more lobbying firms working for them, many of whom also represent the health-care industry, another likely target of budget cuts. While firms often deal with conflicts of interest, the supercommittee represents an unusual challenge, said Clyde Wilcox, a government professor at Georgetown University in Washington.

“This actually is going to be much more like a zero sum game,” Wilcox said. “If someone wins, someone loses…”

If all else fails, “I suspect that they’ll be rational businesspersons and make a decision based on their long-term financial interest,” Jeffrey Berry said. “They have a bottom line, just like their clients.”

You do recall, I hope, that principles, ethics, the needs of the people are irrelevant?

The 12-member panel, whose work has taken on greater urgency since Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating in August, will be the central focus of political and lobbying activity for the next few months…

It’s akin to working with congressional leadership, which we — as most firms — do all the time,” Stewart Verdery [whose clients include clients Boeing, General Dynamics, Eli Lilly & Co. and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America] said…

The politicians will have their hands out – and will find them filled.

Natural cycles driving cold winter extremes – not warm extremes

During the last two winters, some regions of the northern hemisphere experienced extreme cold not seen in recent decades. But at the same time, the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11 were also marked by more prominent, although less newsworthy, extreme warm spells.

New research examines daily wintertime temperature extremes since 1948 The study finds that the warm extremes were much more severe and widespread than the cold extremes during the northern hemisphere winters of 2009-10 (which featured an extreme snowfall episode on the East Coast dubbed “snowmaggedon”) and 2010-11. Moreover, while the extreme cold was mostly attributable to a natural climate cycle, the extreme warmth was not, the study concludes.

“We investigated the relationships between prominent natural climate modes and extreme temperatures, both warm and cold. Natural climate variability explained the cold extremes; the observed warmth was consistent with a long-term warming trend,” says Kristen Guirguis…lead author of the study, which is set to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union…

Guirguis’ team concludes that the extreme cold events by and large fell into norms that would be expected during the negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a prominent regional climate mode known to bring cold weather to northern Eurasia and Eastern North America…

“Over the last couple of years, natural variability seemed to produce the cold extremes, while the warm extremes kept trending just as one would expect in a period of accelerating global warming,” says Scripps climate researcher Alexander Gershunov, a report co-author.

Not that this will dissuade copout climate change deniers from leaping aboard any opportunity they perceive as momentary relief for their fossil fuel addiction. Junkies are still junkies.