Commentary #91: “Appalachia has a new story to tell, and it’s not an elegy” (Editorial)

Ridgeview High School Robotics Team

This is the championship Ridgeview High School robotics team from Southwest Virginia. Way to go! Image Credit: Dickenson County Public Schools

This was a fascinating editorial that one of my good friends, Mr. Lin, shared on Facebook a while ago. Mr. Lin used to be a teacher at my local elementary school, but has since created an impressive career in school administration. He has been an assistant principal and a principal in the Roanoke County Schools, Floyd County Schools, and now in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the link to the original post:


On The Roanoke Times’ website, the caption with the photo I used states: “The first team from Ridgeview High School in Dickenson County to win a state championship was its robotic team in 2018. That team went on to the world championship in Detroit, where it placed 9th out of 64 teams. Our editorial at left looks at how J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ perpetuates negative stereotypes of Appalachia. There’s a different story the region ought to tell, and the engineering skills of students in one of the state’s most rural localities ought to be part of that new narrative.”

Every time I read something new about Appalachia, whether it’s an editorial or not, I always learn new things or discover something different. This editorial was no exception.


When I first heard about Hillbilly Elegy on NPR’s Fresh Air, I was immediately intrigued. I kept telling myself I was going to read it, but here we are, in July 2019, and I haven’t read it yet. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I didn’t realize Ron Howard is planning to make a movie about the memoir, either. I admire Howard immensely. However, I’m hesitant to see it, whenever it is released. I don’t appreciate negative stereotypes, whether they’re implied or not.


Maybe my feathers are ruffled because of my own Appalachian “history.” Much of my mom’s extended family hails from West Virginia. I have fond memories of many family reunions in Ripley and Beckley. I loved visiting my great-grandmother, Laura Bethany Powers, whom I am named after. She lived to be 102!

In addition, I started researching Appalachia on my own in high school and throughout college.

This editorial opened my eyes to the progress that has been made and seen in Southwest Virginia. Since it is the Roanoke newspaper, I understand why they focused on their own region. Still, seeing the positive statistics made me happy, and hopeful.


I still plan to read Hillbilly Elegy, eventually. I have another 15 or so books I want to read first.

But, after I read Hillbilly Elegy, I’ll likely look up the other two books that were mentioned in the editorial:

  1. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, by Elizabeth Catte
  2. Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, a collection of essays by scholars and community activists in the region, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

I found one other part of the editorial to be striking:

“Given all this talent, technology companies ought to be competing to locate in Appalachia, not acting as if it didn’t even exist. These are the stories we need to be telling the world — that we are a topographically-challenged and economically-challenged part of the country that is populated by smart, hard-working people.”

An interesting thought, and that needs to be explored much further.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #90: “9-year-old boy raises nearly $80K to give bulletproof vests to police K-9s”

I stumbled upon this story on Facebook recently. Way to go, Brady!

Here’s the link to the post from my local news station:


In Ohio, the local news has been following Brady Snakovsky for nearly a year now. At that point, in November 2018, Brady had raised enough money to donate more than 50 vests to K-9s in nine states. That’s incredible!

Picture

Image Credit: Brady’s K-9 Fund

Bulletproof vests for police K-9s can cost more than $1,000. Brady got the idea when he and his mom were watching an episode of “Live PD,” where a K-9 did not have a bulletproof vest. With his mom’s help, Brady started a GoFundMe.

As of June 2, 2019, Brady has raised enough money to donate 85 vests. Currently, there’s a waiting list of 57 officers whose K-9s need the vests.

Now, Brady’s K-9 Fund is officially a non-profit organization.


The most recent dogs to be vested are K9 Mike, K9 Lemm, and K9 Hoss. They all serve with the MTA Police in New York City.

Other dogs have been vested in Ohio, Connecticut, California, and South Carolina.

I think Brady is an awesome kid! I’m so happy he was inspired to help these amazing dogs, his mom was willing to help him get started, and how his message has spread. Way to go, Brady!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #72: “Columbine” *Re-Read*

I try my hardest to post Book Reviews within 24-48 hours after finishing the book. However, life has been pretty hectic recently. I finished Columbine in mid-April, just after the acknowledgment of it being 20 years since the tragedy. I’m just now posting my review.

I have a special connection with this book. The author, Dave Cullen, came to Longwood in the spring of 2010 as a guest lecturer. I was able to interview him for an article I wrote for the student newspaper, The Rotunda. He graciously signed my copy when I bought it at his lecture. It was strange, reading his message from March 17, 2010. That feels like a lifetime ago!

I’m glad I re-read this book. I remember how I felt after I read it the first time. Part of me wishes I’d re-read it before now, before nine years had passed. However, I still felt similar emotions as I did the first time.

I have to give major props to Cullen on his research and dedication to this book. This is one of the best accounts I’ve read of the events that occurred on April 20, 1999. And Cullen goes deeper than that. He covers the massacre, but also delves into the lives of the shooters, their families, and survivors.

It’s not perfect, but as someone who originally read memoir-style books such as The Journals of Rachel Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High and She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall years ago, when the tragedy was still relatively fresh (I was almost 10 when it occurred), I appreciate the time and effort Cullen devoted to this book.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Cullen makes it clear that he is a journalist first, and it’s evident throughout. His amount of sources is simply incredible. It’s very dense, and tough to read, but it’s an important work. I’m glad Cullen devoted many years to writing this book.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #89: “He’s a disabled Gulf War veteran with a new purpose: Save birds nearly wiped out by pesticides”

Injured veteran finds purpose

Vallieres shows an owl to a veteran during a demonstration at the New Hampshire Veterans Home. Found on CNN.

Around the middle of April, I stumbled upon a fascinating headline whilst browsing CNN.com, as I do nearly every day:


Robert Vallieres served our country. He came home from the Gulf War broken, and nearly died. He’s battled a traumatic brain injury (TBI), chemical exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other things.

However, he’s channeled his recovery into volunteering with the New Hampshire Audubon Society.

He’s helping to track and rehabilitate peregrine falcons and bald eagles.


What started it all? His son, who was three at the time. He asked his dad what type of bird he saw. Vallieres bought a bird identification book, binoculars, and they started learning together near their home in Concord, New Hampshire.

In the newspaper, he saw an ad for a birding trip in the state’s White Mountains. He signed up. What stunned him was when a falcon grabbed a bird in mid-air. And it helped him appreciate and enjoy the outdoors – Using all your senses.

Unable to work, the New Hampshire Audubon Society was looking for volunteers to count and track peregrine falcons and bald eagles. Both were nearly wiped off the map due to the pesticide DDT, now banned, which killed unhatched chicks in the 1960s.

The New Hampshire Audubon Society was thrilled to have Robert come on boarding. With his military training, a lot of the same skills applied to counting and tracking these birds.

“Finding rhythm or purpose in life besides myself,” says Vallieres, “Not to get stuck on myself, to have an outlet and be semi-physically fit.”


In addition to volunteering, Robert built a nesting box for kestrel falcons in his yard. It worked. He now has breeding pairs.

He also works to rehabilitate birds for Wings of Dawn, a local wildlife hospital.

He also takes birds to the New Hampshire Veterans Home monthly. The home was so impressed with Robert that they applied for and received a grant to get dozens of binoculars for residents to observe the birds on the property. They also purchased more bird feeders so the less-mobile residents can experience the visitors.

He still struggles with migraines and painful scar tissue. Seeing birds take flight, however, helps him lift his own wings.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth

Book Review #71: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” *Re-Read*

Nickel and Dimed

Image Credit: Goodreads

When I initially read this book, it was assigned reading for one of my very first college classes. I can’t remember which one, but this book left a profound impact on me. Slowly, I started reading more from Barbara Ehrenreich. However, this is the book that started it all.

I started college in the fall of 2007, about a year before the financial crisis that began in 2008. I believe I was assigned to read this book at a poignant time. I also believe I’m re-reading this book at another poignant time, at the beginning of 2019.

Going into re-reading this, I realized my copy of the book was updated with a new afterword, published in 2008. However, the overall concept – Studying low-wage jobs and attempting to understand their socioeconomic impacts – is nothing new. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Ehrenreich embarked on an experiment in 1998 – Trying to see if she, as a single, middle-aged woman, could survive as a waitress, a cleaner (hotel maid and house cleaner), a nursing home aide, and a seller / retail associate for a month, in three different cities. Each chapter explores a different type of job and a different city. She quickly realized the challenges with each one, and each city presented its own obstacles with housing, food, and assistance. Along the way, she met a variety of people working these jobs. A few were fortunate, but many were barely making ends meet. Several were working 2-3 jobs full-time, and still struggling with their incomes and their partner’s / spouse’s income(s) as well.

I won’t spoil anything, but she learns many lessons along the way. She discovers multiple issues with affordable housing, child care costs, fast food, health care, education, and the way these companies treat their employees.

I got a bit lost with the footnotes, statistics, and percentages, and glossed over a few of them toward the end. However, reading the updated afterword was important, and appreciated. This country has a lot to learn, still, in 2019. We need to treat employees, especially those earning the absolute minimum, better.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to re-read this book. It’s a bit “dated” now, since Ehrenreich’s experiment started and concluded 21 years ago. However, it’s still relevant in many aspects today. And, like her, I’m grateful for everything I’ve had and worked for. This is a valuable book that will stay on my bookshelf forever.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #86: “Reforestation Drones Drop Seeds Instead of Bombs, Planting 100,000 Trees Per Day Each”

Reforestation Drones

Image found on Return to Now.

This is a really intriguing idea. I first saw this story on Facebook, through Return to Now.

The U.K.-based BioCarbon Engineering (BCE) has developed a relatively simple, two-step process for accomplishing this:

  1. Send the drones into the target area to create a detailed, 3-D map.
  2. Send the planting drones back to the mapped site to fire “agri-bullets” into the ground.

In addition, the engineering firm has committed to biodegradable seed pods, and planting multiple species simultaneously. That is awesome!

In June 2017, BCE planted 5,000 trees in one day in coal mine-ravaged Dungog, Australia. The company has also worked in South Africa and New Zealand. They also started working in cyclone-ravaged Myanmar, working to replace destroyed mangroves.


Other websites have published similar accounts within the last year:


For more information, check out the links below:


What do you think about using drones to help fight deforestation and climate change? Let me know in the comments!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #84: “As GM’s Lordstown plant idles, an iconic American job nears extinction”

Lordstown GM Plant

Image Credit: CNN

I saw this fascinating CNN article on Wednesday, March 6th:


The Lordstown, Ohio plant has been closed for nearly a week now. It made its last Chevy Cruze sedan on March 6th. Another sign of the times. General Motors (GM) has shrunk from more than 618,000 workers to just north of 100,000 people.

Auto manufacturing in the U.S. has been declining for a while now. The closure of Lordstown is part of GM’s shift in strategy – Away from sedans, more focus on higher-margin trucks and light SUVs, as well as researching and developing electric and autonomous vehicles. GM has also invested in a ridesharing platform called Maven.

In addition to a declining workforce, U.S. auto workers have experienced a drop in wages (Roughly 18 percent since 1990, adjusted for inflation), and less retirement benefits. Just two years ago, only eight percent of factories offered pensions.


Lordstown sits in the Youngstown, Ohio region, halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh. The average worker in Youngstown made $38,000 per year in 2017. Compare that to $61,000 to $88,000 per year for full-time GM production workers, according to their United Auto Workers union contract. And that doesn’t include overtime pay and bonuses.

The Lordstown plant started to see changes about two years ago. As the demand for the Cruze sedan declined, the second and third shifts were cut, and 3,000 people were laid off. Of the remaining 1,400 people, about 400 accepted transfers to other plants, and they are able to hold on to their healthcare and pensions. There were 350 workers eligible for retirement. Those transferred workers will receive $30,000 in relocation assistance.

One of the workers interviewed for the article, at GM since 1995, thought she had enough seniority to transfer to another facility, such as the metal fabrication plant in Cleveland or the transmission factory in Toledo. However, relocating is not ideal, either. She’s stuck, quoted as saying GM has her in a “chokehold.”

“I make $32 an hour. I’m not going to go get a $12-an-hour job. I couldn’t survive on that at all. I’m going to get up and go, ride it out, try to get the best gig I can get, and be done with them.” She’s hoping to net her 30 years at GM – which won’t happen until 2025.


The Youngstown region has watched manufacturing slide downhill since the 1970s. The auto industry started to crack less than a decade later, with stiffer competition from Japanese automakers. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) dealt another blow, as work was outsourced to lower-paying suppliers. In 2007, as the automakers were having systemic issues related to the financial crisis and impending Great Recession, a lower-wage tier was created for entry-level workers, where they made 45 percent less per hour and got a 401(k) rather than a guaranteed pension. GM’s bankruptcy two years later tightened things even further.

For Lordstown, the community has thrived on GM. At one point, GM helped bring more than $2 million in tax revenue, among other benefits to schools and community ventures. Twenty years ago, Lordstown was competing with other cities to win another car model to replace the Chevy Cavalier. The community banded together, and along with plant officials, were successful in winning that car model. The community tried it again in 2018 – Posting signs, writing letters, and working with politicians. Unfortunately, one of the big factors was plant management wasn’t interested in participating this time.

Many are uncertain and fearful. They’ve watched GM shutter, and then re-open, their plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. What if that happens in Lordstown?

Another problem is many GM workers were hired without secondary education. Nearly two-thirds of the 13,000 purported job openings in Youngstown, including information technology and healthcare, will require a post-secondary credential by 2021.

One bright spot is trade adjustment assistance, available to GM workers through the state and U.S. Department of Commerce. Truck driving certificates have been popular recently, due to the quick turnaround to earning them, and relatively good pay.


As Lordstown begins to adjust to life without GM, the local high school has started a training program for the logistics industry, helping prepare students for jobs in the various distribution centers in the area. Roughly 15 percent of students have parents worked in the plant. And they’ve already begun to experience losses, as families leave to accept those transfers at other GM plants.

TJ Maxx is building a facility that will employ 1,000 people locally. However, the wage difference is drastic. Where many at GM made $30 per hour or more, entry-level listings for other TJ Maxx facilities sit between $10 and $13.50 per hour.

However, Lordstown doesn’t want the shuttered plant to be turned over to Amazon, Tesla, or any other company. Not yet, anyway.


This story isn’t just about one GM plant in one Ohio town. It’s about history, the manufacturing industry, the changes in the American workforce, and what can be done for those who need jobs now.


Resources


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂