What Do Canadian Kids Have Over American Kids?

Funny? Or not funny? You decide. I’m going with mostly funny with a possibly sinister undercurrent …

From Future of Capitalism:

Seen on a playground in Washington, D.C. was the following warning: “Designed for Children Ages 2 to 5 Years (18 months – 5 years for Canada).” Are the Canadian children really six months ahead of American ones in terms of physical playground skills? Or are American tort lawyers or consumer product regulators that much more ferocious than Canadian ones?

Playground equipment warning label, Washington, D.C. FutureOfCapitalism.com photo.

Rural Economics, Rising Divorce Rate Connected

This report from the New York Times hits upon something I believe underpins a lot of ills in the United States: economic inequality. More equality for women has certainly contributed because they now have choices and opportunities they did not have in the past. But I think of greater importance is that more and more wealth has been allocated to the individuals at the top of the economic ladder, while the vast majority have fallen further and further behind. It is literally tearing our society apart. This is just one aspect of the resulting fall out:
March 23, 2011

By SABRINA TAVERNISE and ROBERT GEBELOFF

SIOUX COUNTY, Iowa — In the 1970s, the divorce rate was so low in this rural northwest Iowa County that it resembled the rest of America in the 1910s. Most of its 28,000 residents were churchgoers, few of its women were in the work force, and divorce was simply not done.

So it is a bitter mark of modernity that even here, divorce has swept in, up nearly sevenfold since 1970, giving the county the unwelcome distinction of being a standout in this category of census data.

Divorce is still less common here than the national average, but its sharp jump illustrates a fundamental change in the patterns of family life.

Forty years ago, divorced people were more concentrated in cities and suburbs. But geographic distinctions have all but vanished, and now, for the first time, rural Americans are just as likely to be divorced as city dwellers, according to an analysis of census data by The New York Times.

“Rural families are going through this incredible transformation,” said Daniel T. Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell University.

The shifts that started in cities have spread to less populated regions — women going to work, gaining autonomy, and re-arranging the order of traditional families. Values have changed, too, easing the stigma of divorce.

“In the bottom ranks, men have lost ground and women have gained,” said June Carbone, a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and co-author of “Red Families v. Blue Families.”

“A blue-collar guy has less to offer today than he did in 1979,” Professor Carbone added. Those shifting forces, she said, “create a mismatch between expectation and reality” that can result in women becoming frustrated and leaving, because now they can.

Since 1990, class has become an increasingly reliable predictor of family patterns, Professor Carbone said. College-educated Americans are now more likely to get married and stay married than those with only a high school diploma, a change from 20 years ago, she said, when differences were much smaller.

That trend has been particularly important for rural areas, which have fallen further behind urban ones in education, according to census data. Just one in six rural residents have college degrees, far fewer than in cities, where one in three do. Nationally, there were about 121 million married adults and 26 million divorced people in 2009, compared with about 100 million married and 11 million divorced people in 1980.

Education drew a dividing line for Nancy Vermeer, a 52-year-old resident of Sioux County. She had married her high school sweetheart, a young man from a farming family. He never went further than high school, but she went on to college, and later earned a master’s degree. He worked in a window factory. She became a music teacher. He gambled. They grew apart. Eventually, he asked for a divorce.

“I grew more confident,” Ms. Vermeer said. “We were totally different people.”

When Ms. Vermeer divorced in 2002, she became the first teacher in her Christian school to do so. Divorce was more common than it had been in past decades, but she still felt judged, so she developed habits to keep a low profile, like going to the grocery when no one she knew would be there.

“There’s a perception here that you need to be perfect,” said the Rev. John Lee, a young pastor who has tried to encourage change in Sioux County by taking on taboo topics like divorce and mental illness in his sermons.

“Cars are washed, lawns are mowed in patterns and children are smiling,” Mr. Lee added. “When you admit weakness, you invite shame.”

The reason can be traced to Sioux County’s roots. About 80 percent of residents, most of whom are descendants of Dutch immigrants, belong to a major denomination church, compared with 36 percent of all Americans.

Its main city, Sioux Center, issued its first liquor license in the late 1970s. Stores were closed on Sundays for decades, and women’s participation in the work force was far below the national average.

Very few people divorced. In 1980, there were more than 52 married people for every divorced person, according to census data, a rate not seen on a national level since the 1930s.

Craig Lane, a divorce lawyer from the area, described the county’s conservative nature like this: “If steam is coming from your dryer vent on Sunday, you’ll hear about it from your neighbor.”

Time has worn away some of its old values. These days, Sioux Center looks more like a suburb than a village. There is a McDonald’s and a mall, where residents shop to the sound of Christian music. Women’s lives have changed too. More women than men have college degrees, and there are now just 14 married people to every divorced person.

“As we get more education we get more confidence and more income,” Ms. Vermeer said, “women are saying, ‘Look, she finally had the guts to stand up and walk out.’ ”

Sioux Center might be rural, but it is relatively affluent, buoyed by a biotech industry and a stable manufacturing base. Its Christian college, Dordt, is a major presence.

But for less fortunate places, social change is laced with a bitter new economic reality. Brian Janssen, the pastor at the church in Hospers, east of Sioux Center, speaks wistfully about an earlier time, when families were closer and more tied to the land. Now, he can count on one hand the number of young people from his church who have stayed in town.

“The community begins to become like senior housing,” Mr. Janssen said. “Dialysis center, old person living.”

Less educated Americans are far more likely to have babies while unmarried — and to divorce — than those with college degrees, Professor Carbone said.

That trend, once seen as a symptom of urban poverty, has now caught on in rural areas like this one. Leesa McNeil, a court administrator for a district that covers a wide area of northwest Iowa, said that custody cases involving unmarried people used to be so rare that the court did not even have a category for them.

“That was a phenomenon that smacked us 10 years ago,” Ms. McNeil said.

Maria Kefalas, a sociology professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and co-author of “Hollowing Out the Middle,” a 2009 book about the migration of the educated class from rural Iowa, said that changes in families have been profound. She noted that the alarm sounded by Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1965 about the rise of out-of-wedlock births among African-Americans applies to the country as a whole today: One in three babies is born to unmarried parents.

“It has hit the whitest, most married, most idyllic heart of America — Iowa,” Professor Kefalas said. “The cultural narrative about marriage — you get a job, you marry your sweetheart, you buy a house, you educate your kids — has been torn to shreds. Without that economic foundation, the story cannot support itself.”

In Sioux County, Ms. Vermeer has remarried. She is happy, she said, and her life makes sense.

“I think women were very miserable for very many years, and that’s changing,” she said. “Things are not so black and white. There are so many gray areas.”

Sabrina Tavernise reported from Sioux Center, and Robert Gebeloff from New York.

Yankton Author Writes Book About First Paid Female Umpire

The Argus Leader published a story today about Yankton author Marilyn Kratz’s new book, “Umpire in a Skirt: The Amanda Clement Story.” Clement was a Hudson native. The story begins:

When Major League Baseball’s season starts Thursday, it’s not only players who will step onto the field but four umpires, one for each base.

So this is a good time to remember Hudson native Amanda “Mandy” Clement, the first woman to be a paid baseball umpire.

Clement’s accomplishments are detailed in a book, “Umpire in a Skirt: The Amanda Clement Story,” written by Marilyn Kratz of Yankton and illustrated by Hector Curriel of Sioux Falls.

The book has just been released by the South Dakota Historical Society Press.

Read the rest here.

Bronx Zoo’s Missing Cobra A Twitter Fan

I wish I could say that I was the one behind the Twitter account for the missing cobra from the Bronx Zoo. It’s hilarious. Unfortunately, I am not. “Ssssuffering Ssssuccotash!”

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By CRISTIAN SALAZAR
Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — The Bronx Zoo may still be looking for its missing cobra, but a tongue-in-cheek Twitter user is charting its supposed progress.
Someone using the handle BronxZoosCobra has been tweeting to a quickly growing number of followers — more than 85,000 by early Tuesday evening. In contrast with the user posing as the 20-inch, highly venomous snake, the Bronx Zoo had about 6,000 followers.
“On top of the Empire State Building!” BronxZoosCobra posted. “All the people look like little mice down there. Delicious little mice.”
Tweets included one about “Sex and the City”: “I’m totally a SSSamantha.”
Another entry riffed on the weather and New Yorkers’ fears of the slithering escapee: “It’s getting pretty cold out. I think it’s probably time to crash. Oh look, an apartment window someone left open just a crack. Perfect!”
The Reptile House at the Bronx Zoo, run by the nonprofit Wildlife Conservation Society, closed Friday after zoo workers searched but did not find the Egyptian cobra. Zoo officials said Monday they were confident the snake was hiding in the Reptile House but conceded that finding it would be difficult.
“The difficulty is that the 20-inch, pencil-thin snake, which is months old and weighs less than 3 ounces, has sought out a secure hiding spot within the Reptile House,” the zoo said, describing it as a “complex environment with pumps, motors and other mechanical systems.”
The user behind BronxZoosCobra refused to identify himself or herself or say who was typing the tweets.
“The iPhone touch screen works just as well with a tail,” the person said in an email to The Associated Press signed, “Thankssss.”
Asked about the Twitter feed’s popularity, BronxZoosCobra “knew it would be popular with reptilian twitterers and a mild appeal to amphibians. Surprised the mammal response has been so huge.”
Kris Stoever, a writer and editor from Denver, said she found the cobra tweeting very witty.
“It’s a missing snake on the lam. It’s the stuff of comedy legend,” Stoever said in a telephone interview.
The only twitter account the snake was following was the one belonging to the Bronx Zoo, (at)TheBronxZoo. The zoo’s account tweeted one message on Monday saying it understands the interest in the story.
“Right now,“ the zoo said, ”it’s the snake’s game.“
It could take weeks before the cobra feels secure enough to come out of hiding, the zoo said.
Though the cobra Twitter feed is clearly meant to be humorous, a real-life encounter with the snake would be no laughing matter.
Jeff Corwin, a wildlife expert for the Animal Planet cable network, said the snake may be small but “has very toxic venom” and “should be respected.”
It’s unlikely that the cobra, accustomed to a subtropical climate, would survive very long in the Northeast cold if it leaves the Reptile House, Corwin said.
Asked how the snake was faring in the cold, the user behind the Twitter account said: “Hiding in passerbys’ scarves has been working for me so far, but I’m thinking about heading to a sauna to warm up for a bit.”
New Yorkers, accustomed to urban legends about alligators thriving in the sewers, shouldn’t be too worried, Corwin said.
“The truth is, you can sit on your toilet with comfort and relaxation,” he said. “There will be no baby cobras coming up for a nibble.”
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Associated Press writer Ula Ilnytzky and AP news researcher Monika Mathur contributed to this report.

U.S. Catholic Bishops To LBGT Community: Housing Discrimination OK

I don’t feel too bold in stating that the morally correct course of action would be to provide equal access to all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation. If “forcing” some religious groups to provide equal access to HUD housing programs if those organizations choose to participate in them is discrimination, I’m willing to live with that.

There is no “good” reason for not providing housing to someone because they are gay, lesbian or transgender.

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WASHINGTON (RNS) U.S. Catholic bishops are urging federal housing officials not to adopt proposed rules that would bar groups that receive federal funds from discriminating against gays, lesbians or transgender persons in housing programs.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development said the new rules, proposed on Jan. 24, would “ensure equal access” to programs that help the elderly, sick, and impoverished find stable housing.

Citing recent studies, HUD said gays and lesbians face discrimination in the private housing market, and one in five transgender persons reports homelessness due to bias.

“In considering the mounting evidence of violence and discrimination against LGBT persons, the department is concerned that its own programs may not be fully open to LGBT individuals and families,” HUD said in January.

Lawyers for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops say the new rules would force some religious groups to compromise their beliefs or quit HUD housing programs.

“Faith-based and other organizations should retain the freedom they have always had to make housing placements in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs, including when it concerns a cohabiting couple, be it an unmarried heterosexual couple or a homosexual couple,” said Anthony Picarello and Michael Moses, lawyers for the bishops conference.

The lawyers’ remarks came in a letter to HUD as part of a public comment period that ended Friday (March 25). A spokeswoman for HUD could not be reached immediately for comment about when the new policy would take effect.

– DANIEL BURKE, Religion News Service

GameStop Coming To Yankton

After some job postings were found online for a GameStop location in Yankton, I decided to check with its public relations department to see when we could expect the store. Here is what I found out:

Video game and entertainment software company GameStop is planning to open a retail branch in Yankton.
A spokesperson for the company told the Press & Dakotan Monday that a summer opening is being targeted. However, that date could change.
She added that other details, such as where the store would be located, have not yet been finalized.
GameStop is ranked 255 on the Fortune 500 and has more than 6,500 retail stores worldwide.
It already has seven locations in the region, including Mitchell; Norfolk, Neb.; South Sioux City, Neb.; Sioux City, Iowa; and Sioux Falls.

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More on GameStop here.

This is exciting news for local gamers. I know, because I happen to be an X-Box 360 man, myself.