Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Digression: Report from Yellowstone

Digression: Report from Yellowstone

(I departed Illinois last month for a few weeks to travel with a very good friend and former colleague Dennis in search of sites in Western lore that had fascinated us, but for which we had never had or made the time to explore.  I reported back to my close friends and family what we learned each day.  This is just one day.) 

Bear Spray: On Sale at $49.99
The rage in Montana and Wyoming this summer is a new product called Bear Spray.  Frightening commercials jump out at you on the radio, the television, or billboards as you drive along the wilderness.  Bear Spray is supposed to stop a Grizzly when it attacks you while you are on the trail, strolling along the edge of a forest or shopping in a local convenience store.  

The ads come on in fifteen-minute intervals, and even the Park Rangers have taken up the cause by providing warning tips in their handouts before you enter the park.

From their brochure: “If you encounter a bear (common) stand your ground.  If the bear charges at you (rare) stand your ground and use bear spray.  If a bear charges and makes contact with you (very rare) fall onto your stomach and ‘play dead.’”

In the store, Bear Spray costs $50 a canister.  And the packaging clearly boasts that a man who survived a bear attack made it.  There is a ferocious image of a bear on the package, but no images of the survivor/creator.  Cosmetically, probably not a good idea.

The Park Service further suggests: “If a bear charges at you, (1) remove the safety clip, (2) aim slightly downward and adjust for wind, (3) begin spraying when the bear is 30 - 60 feet away, (4) spray at the bear so the bear must pass through the mist.”  Later on in the same information, the article describes a Grizzly Bear’s ability to burst up to speeds of forty miles per hour.  

That’s a lot to do in the three seconds you might have before something like a furry and toothy Honda Civic hits you.  Act fast!

View of Yellowstone R.
The Absaroka Inn where we are staying is named after the Crow Indians in their language and the host behind the office counter is very knowledgeable about the Grizzlies in the area.  We asked him this morning before we left if we should do something special, like buy some Bear Spray.  His name is Donald.

Donald:  There’s no point in buying that.  Bears will attack when surprised.  You just need to let them know you are coming and they will leave you alone.  In fact they will usually leave the area.

Dennis:  How can we do that?

Donald:  I sell these smaller sleigh bells.  You clip them to your belt or pants trousers and the noise will make the bear aware that you are coming.  They’ll leave.  This is very important to do if you are in bear territory. 

John:  How will we know if we are in bear territory?

Donald: You’ll see their scat.

Dennis: Scat?

Donald:  Bear poop.

Dennis:  How will we be able to tell if it’s bear poop, and not some other animals’?

Donald:  You’ll see the all the bells in it.

Seriously, we saw no bears today, but we spied just about everything else, including a 35 minute wait on the road while Rangers tried gently to coerce a herd of Buffalo bulls to move their girlfriends off the asphalt.  

We took pictures from the car.  A few people got out with tripods and photographic equipment even National Geographic would covet. to get closer.  

Like most places, people are crazy here.

Buffalo do not see very well (we learned that when we went to the Buffalo talk in Custer State Park), but they can hear and smell very well.  When you get within 70 feet of them, they will extend their long blue tongue, wag it back and forth, and grunt aggressively.  This is native Buffalo for “Back off, my friend, whatever you are.”  Dennis and I listened carefully, as bulls are over 2000 pounds and up to 10 feet at the shoulder. We stay in the car and play mute.  

Evidently an Australian visitor last week did not learn this, or he didn’t comprehend the body language, so he tip-toed up to 3 feet away to snap a big bull's picture. He’s recovering, as is the young girl prodded by her parents last week to stand next to a Buffalo lying on the ground.  Brave girl.  When Mom and Dad asked her to turn around so they could take a picture of her and the Buffalo next to her she was gored badly.  You can’t fix stupid - probably the words on the poster on the wall of the Park Rangers’ changing area.

Today, Dennis and I watched elk in herds lying on the grass. coyotes crossing in front of us, young ospreys in a nest over a canyon gorge, a white-tailed deer walking through the middle of town.  But we also saw much more.

I imagine it must have been the same for those first explorers like John Colter and David Thompson who came through the surface of a seething caldera and witnessed a geological demonstration unlike most anything else on earth.  Nearly 3500 square miles of protected land sitting atop gurgling, steaming geothermic activity.

Native American points washed up on the Yellowstone River, date back to nearly 11,000 years where we sleep tonight.  The Yellowstone River, from which the park got its name.  

There’s a scene that old Ridley Scott film “Bladerunner” (which Dennis and I both love) when the dying Replicant exclaims his parallel mortality to a persistent and ignorant mortal: “I’ve seen things you people would never believe.” 

One day, while an ambulance and several Ranger vehicles speed by us in the opposite direction to search for the remains of a 28-year-old park visitor who decided to leave the carefully constructed, protective path around the hot geysers and slip into the bubbling turbulence, we went to visit the Grand Prismatic Spring.  The spring is a bubbling geothermic kaleidoscope that produces various minerals, bacteria, and super heated water, which in turn engenders a combination of color and radiance that “you people would never believe.”  Heck, we were there and we didn’t believe it.

We arrived at Old Faithful about one half hour before it erupted.  Four tres jolie jeune filles sat down in front so we could snap pictures.  Over 4 million people visit Yellowstone National Park each year, so it should come as no surprise that many, very many are international.  Nevertheless, I was often surprised at the myriad numbers of languages encountered on even a single small path leading to something naturally beautiful. Wherever we went, languages fell about our ears from distant countries.  I greeted a woman with “bienvenu” at the artist paint pots today.  She said, “Enchante.”  I felt like a smitten diplomat.  

Finally, we wandered along the edge of the Yellowstone Canyon before coming home, standing as far as we dared along the earthquake shattered cliff face that asked us not to step any further.  We didn’t.

Going to bed tonight.  Hiking with all these bells on is exhausting.  Hoping Dennis will come back soon.  Have not heard from him or even his bells lately.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Rauner: Child Abuse & Neglect in Illinois

Child Abuse & Neglect in Illinois

The latest International Monetary Fund report issued today urges policy-makers in the United States to do something now to correct the increasing levels of poverty as our middle class shrinks.

“The nation's economic well-being, it (the report) said, is threatened by factors including the shrinking middle class—now at ‘its smallest size in the last 30 years’—as well as ‘income and wealth distribution [that] are increasingly polarized’ and rising poverty. ‘One in seven Americans is living in poverty,’ including 40 percent of whom are working, the body added.” (

In an interview with PBS news reporter Judy Woodruff,  IMF Managing Director Christine LaGarde warns that future trends in America may assure the likelihood of increases in this dangerous trend.  The numbers of active workers in the US economy is declining; the needs for workers’ child care and the elderly care will continue to squeeze those families currently working, especially in low-wage, service sector areas. 

Without any concerted and bi-partisan effort to address these building needs now (child care assistance, increasing the earned income tax credit, assistance with elder care), we can expect only anemic growth in economic recovery and the continued withering of the middle class.    

Meanwhile in Illinois, the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices For Illinois Children cautions that another year without a budget will prove even more disastrous for Illinois families, communities and their/our children. 

Who is threatened, specifically? 

Children.  Poor children. 

If you’re a child about to emerge into this world of Illinois, current statistics indicate you’ll have a bit better than 20% chance of being born into poverty.  Not that you’ll have any choice in the matter.

But you won’t be alone. 

If you live in Cook County, you’ll be just one of nearly 311,000 kids with too little and a significantly lesser chance of a meaningful life (up from 264,000 in 1999).  The numbers in Springfield, Illinois, where the Governor warned us there may be some pain as he turns Illinois around, have nearly doubled in that same time frame; from 6,103 to 11,457. 

Ten percent of those children will dwell in the lowest shelf of “deep poverty.”  That is, those poor souls living at 50% or more of poverty.  A single mother and child with an income of less than $8000 per year.  A family of three, at less than $10,000. 

According to the Fiscal Policy Center’s latest brief:  “The harm is widespread – ranging from afterschool programs and autism services to lifesaving cancer and HIV screening and support services for seniors.  While many providers of these critical services have been given contracts to continue to provide services at the level of the last fiscal year (which ended June 30), others have been issued new contracts with lower service levels.  In either case, outside of consent decrees and federal pass-through funds, many critical state priorities still lack state funding.  As a result, even providers that are pillars of the public service delivery system such as Lutheran Social Services have been forced to lay off staff, turn away those in need, and shut program doors “ 

This is just some of last year’s (2015) damage.

Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services suffered NO state funding (over $16 million in FY15), and the federal pass-through dollars make up less than 17% of annual program budget.  CCBYS programs and staff provide emergency services for roughly 7000 youth in crises or runaways (ages 10-17).

Early Intervention Services: NO state funding (over $85 million in FY15; FY16 contracts issued but no payments without budget enacted.  As a result, hundreds of new children needing services were shut off in September as well as the suspension of assistance and transportation to over 4000 families.    

Home Visiting (Child Development and Coaching for at-risk new parents): NO state funding in FY15 $16.5 million); new contracts issued FY16 but no payments without enacted budget FY16.  Some federal matching from last year helped modestly (900 families), but there remain nearly 6000 at-risk families in need of services.

Intensive Pre-Natal and Family Case Management: NO state funding of $36 million FY15; FY16 contracts issued with severe cuts to federally non-funded Qualified Health Centers, but no payments without enacted budget FY16.  Services were severely impacted last year, especially in downstate regions to the point that rebuilding will require long-term efforts even if FY16 budget were enacted.

Redeploy Illinois: NO state funding FY15 ($4.8 million); programs serving hundreds of youth through cost-effective programs steering young people away from incarceration.  As a result, twenty-three counties no longer serve to assist youngsters in finding alternatives to behaviors that will lead to jail.

I could go on…

Reminder: Over 600,000 children in Illinois are qualified as impoverished. 

Imagine a city over four times the size of Naperville populated by starving or needy children.  You’ll get the idea.

Bruce Rauner confided to the Editorial Board of the Chicago Tribune that he’d be running again in 2018.  The Tribune brandishes him as "the Governor Who Won't Back Down." There's a laurel that bears cautious consideration.  

For, Rauner also “asserted” that his administration has been “heroic” in keeping state government afloat as he presides over the budget impasse(s).  “‘I have to say, I give our team and our administration tremendous credit for being able to run the government for 18 months with massive deficits and no budget,’ Rauner said.  ‘It’s an extraordinary performance by the leaders in our team.  We’re doing heroic things.’”

Just a few of the other youth and elderly service programs that will feel the “pain” of these “heroic” actions?

Safe from the Start (violence protection for kids), Teen Pregnancy Prevention Grants, Teen REACH After School Programs, Autism Program of Illinois, Centers for Independent Living, Community Care Program, Domestic Violence Shelters and Services, Epilepsy Grants, Family Planning Programs, Funeral & Burial Assistance Programs, HIV/AIDS Prevention Programs and Treatments, Sexual Assault & Services Programs, Home Delivered Meals for Seniors, Substance Use and Prevention Programs, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Program, Home and Adult Day Care Services, U of I Sickle Cell Clinics, Aid to Public Colleges and Universities, Child Care Assistance Program, Civil Legal Aid, Emergency and Transitional Housing, Employment & Training Programs, Affordable Housing Programs, Homeless Prevention Services and Supportive Housing, Homeless Youth Services, Reentry and Rehabilitation Services, Immigrant Services, and MAP Tuition Assistance Programs.

Heroic, indeed.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

An Au Naturel Learning Experience: Or Where Have You Gone, Dr. Skinner?

An Au Naturel Learning Experience:  or Where Have You Gone, Dr. Skinner?

A post today on Peter Greene’s Curmudgucation reminded me of the compelling appeal of simplicity wedded to technology when even I was a child many decades ago.  My mother, a personal secretary to Dr. B.F. Skinner at Indiana University, was convinced by the good doctor that her newborn’s participation in his groundbreaking research on “Baby Boxes” and the positive effects of a continuous optimum climate on a child’s rearing would be beneficial – to her, to me, and probably to her regular and assured appearance at work.   

Nearly 300 infants were placed in these temperature and climate controlled enclosures, but early new media releases of the invention did more, understandably, to dissuade the public from accepting the concept rather than flock to this “brave new” science.  In fact, the early accounts of his own daughter Deborah’s happiness in “his box” accompanied pictures of the infant with her nose and hands pressed against the glass.  It was no great stretch after that for critics to connect her condition to any other rat looking for levers or reward pellets for good behavior. 

By the way, I find myself partial to artisanal cheeses.

When I read the following blog-post by Mr. Greene, who remains an articulate and ever-present warrior against the danger of these “new sciences” of educational testing and accountability gone terribly awry, I am reminded of the darker sides of B.F Skinner’s conceptualizations in the hands of companies like Pearson.

His entire blog is attached and available at

Posted: 18 Jun 2016 08:08 AM PDT
So I stumbled across the Connections Academy blog Virtual Learning Connections (a friendly resource supporting K-12 school from home). In particular, I stumbled across this post-- "5 Reasons Why Parents Choose Virtual School Kindergarten." The piece is written by Carrie Zopf, a teacher at one of the Conections Academies. Connection Academy is the virtual charter chain purchased by Pearson in 2011, and they would love to just hook your five year old up to a screen. And it is from way back in 2014, but it still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

 It's a great little listicle, combining the sales pitch with the "everybody's doing it and here's why" peer reinforcement. So what are these five great reasons to put your child in virtual kindergarten?

It's easy!! You can have breakfast and then walk into the next room and plunk your child down in front of the computer! Or go to the store and then plunk. More family time, more adaptability to your schedule. More like not actually sending your child to school at all.

Frequent parent-teacher communication. Though Zopf says this is "much like in a traditional school," talking to your child's teachers is super-easy! And since all the learning is online, you can see everything right there. In fact, you can see everything the teacher can see. Plus you actually have the live child there with you. Actually, why would you even need to talk to the teacher. What is the teacher even doing?

Active participation. You can get right in there and help, because you can see every lesson, see every assignment. When your child is trying to work through worksheets assignments, you'll be right there. Right there. Boy, I hope you have some educational training. I also hope that you have the self-control and toughness not to just feed your child the answer when she gets frustrated. Zopf notes that being involved in the child's education is the primary reason that parents go this route.

Real world learning opportunities. Cyber-k still has field trips and stuff, so your child will still get out in the world and occasionally interact with her "classmates." Also, your five year old can sign up for a foreign language.

A safe learning environment. Your child doesn't have to go out into the big scary world. According to Conection's own parent survey, keeping their child safe and in the home was a major motivator for parents. So if you are the biggest helicopter parent ever, cyber school is a good choice for you.

Zopf also cites a study that suggests that small children are great at figuring out "unusual machines," though she completely skips the issue of screen time for children and the controversies around reading comprehension and computers. There's also an app to help you obsess over academic skills while your toddler is still toddling.