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Our Mountains

Early European explorers, passers-through and pioneers had no great love for the young & tall mountains in the West. Mountains, sandstone canyons and mesas were barriers and impediments through unfamiliar landscape. A hard and sometimes cruel land that looked grey and barren to their eyes. The names they gave on maps reflect this, bearing innumerable hellish descriptors or names like “starvation.”

Little Cottonwood Canyon Wall from the Road

Mountains in their old homelands carried strange stories or were home to vengeful gods and spirits. Even some of those who recognized the great beauty of these vistas emphasized their danger and separation from people.

Rushing water up Little Cottonwood Canyon

For us, our mountains are incredibly important. My great aunt once told us that the end of a flight home when the well-known peaks came into view, it felt like being wrapped up in a warm blanket. These mountains are home itself in a very powerful way.

Lower flow in record heat of 2012 summer

And it isn’t that they’re loved because the ranges are beautiful and majestic. It’s not their draw for skiing tourism or an easy connection to nature & recreation. It’s not because it makes navigation easier because you never lose your sense of direction. All this is true, but there is a more powerful force at work.

What it's really all about: WATER

Without these mountains, we could not live. This place would be more open space, sparsely populated by unfortunate tribes confined to too little land on reservations while the rest would most likely be more land on which the military drops weapons. Our Western sagebrush ocean has always been seen as useless but for its financial utility by the federal government that owns the majority of our state.

Thistles: pokey and pretty

It is our mountains that let people thrive in this wild and arid place; we rely on mountains for water. Every drop of rain and (especially) flake of snow that falls in our mountains near reservoirs becomes part of the next year’s water supply. Because we need them, mountains become precious not just for beauty and wilderness. They mean home.

Giant Fallen Granite Boulder & Trees

Family outings and picnics up the many canyons are a childhood staple.  When I’m tired or stressed, a short trip up the canyons provides incredible refreshment and joy.  The landscape with rushing water and the reminder of life with greenery and the animal sounds all around me are euphoric and transcendental.

 Brave Midna @ Little Cottonwood Canyon  Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 2
 Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 3  Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 4
Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 5 Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 6

The dogs seem to have a good time too.  Although I think in the future, I’ll avoid trying to shoot video while tethered to exploring, happy canines.

Dogs at the stream edge

Downstream view

Atrus finds this rock fascinating

More Canyon Walls

Water flowing through Little Cottonwood Canyon

Midna also finds the rock fascinating, but from underneath

The other bank

Branches washed down during spring

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Gubernatorial Appointment Cloaked in Elections

I’ve always known the system was rigged against Utah public school students receiving a thorough and evidence based education, but I had no idea just how broken the structure truly is.  In Utah, while individual school districts have local controls, statewide direction is ultimately up to an elected Board of Education.

The trouble is, while the board members are technically elected, the process by which individuals end up on the ballot is anything but a fair democratic representation of the will of the people.  The first step is a committee, whose members are appointed by the governor.  Their job is to nominate and review individuals to produce three recommendations out of a pool of candidates.  The committee passes on those recommendations to the governor who selects which two will appear on the ballot for Utah voters.  Anyone else see the problem here?

Last year there was a bill passed by the Utah Senate to make school board elections partisan and eliminate the recruitment and nomination committee.  It (as well as a number of other proposed changes to board election law) failed.

The commitee has on multiple occasions removed an incumbent board member from the list submitted to the governor based on their opposition to the governor’s public policies.  From the Salt Lake Tribune, we learn that two incumbent board members have filed suit alleging that the nomination process is violates the United States Constitution.

Utah’s controversial way of picking candidates for the state school board has landed the state and its attorney general in court — again.

And yes, this is not the first lawsuit, more on that in a minute.

Incumbent Carol Murphy was elected by Park City area voters four years ago, but rejected in her re-election bid by the Committee for the Recruitment and Nomination of Members of the Utah State Board of Education last April. She is joined by plaintiffs Carmen Snow, who was rejected as a candidate for the seat representing Washington County, and Stacey McGinnis, who wanted to vote for Snow.

The suit alleges the women were rejected, in violation of their First Amendment rights, because they are advocates of public education rather than what it calls “privatization” of schools via school vouchers and other mechanisms.

According to Utah law, the committee, appointed every two years by the governor, scrutinizes those who want to run for the board and submits to the governor the names of three final candidates for every open seat. The governor then picks the two candidates whose names will appear on the November ballot in state school board districts statewide.

The suit contends the system politicizes the school board. It alleges that the committee is heavily weighted with business interests and lobbyists who favor privatizing education and rejects candidates who don’t pass a conservative litmus test.

“For example, the questionnaire required candidates to state their support or opposition to Utah Core Curriculum Standards and the teaching of sex education in public schools, two highly contentious issues, both of which have been driven by ultra-conservative factions of Utah’s Republican Party,” it said. [Emphasis added]

The Utah Education Association opposes the current near-appointment system, saying that because the decision is “contingent upon the approval of the Governor [it] takes away the voice of the people in the electoral process.”  Moreover, they support keeping the races non-partisan, but making reforms.  The UEA states that removing the governor’s conflict riddled control over the process would “increase accountability to voters and better involve the community in the electoral process” and “allow for implementation of good policy, free from party platforms.”

Some, including Third District Court Judge Anthony Quinn have argued that since the eventual nominees are elected, that there is no issue to be concerned with.  When ruling against ousted member Denis Morill two years ago, Quinn wrote the process is legitimate because the recommendations “are neither binding nor unilateral, since the ultimate decision as to who is elected … is determined by the outcome of a general election by the public.”  Nevermind that the system is gamed from the outset to give voters only the choice the governor’s appointed committee and governor himself choose to give us.

Others will say that because the races are all non-partisan, and we all support our children’s education, we needn’t be bothered too much about a conflict of interest or lack of democratic process in representing the wishes of Utah citizens.  On the contrary, while education policy has always had elements of partisan politics, it is especially politicized in an era of a Republican party that increasingly supports libertarian ideas that government should be out of education, that voucher systems should be allowed to drain public schools of resources, and that hostility to science should be fostered so as not to threaten the religious indoctrination of children.

This shouldn’t be difficult.  It’s obvious that deciding education policy is already a politicized issue; all you have to do is look at how vigorously people dissent about substantive issues for public schooling.  What we have to do now is make sure that the party in control (and in Utah, that party will be the Republican party for a very, very long time) can’t keep a stranglehold on the process without any input from the people they were elected to serve.

Bittersweet Association, Farewell Maurice Sendak

This morning I found out that Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, has died.  And I am surprised by how upsetting I find this news.

So many others love the book, and Sendak by extension, because of what is in the book itself mixed in with positive memories of reading it, perhaps with parents or other loved ones.  But the fact of the matter is my attachment to the book is all jumbled up with my attempt (as well as that of my extended family) to say goodbye to my grandfather.

There are so many good and wonderful things to know, remember and love about Where the Wild Things Are, as Stephanie Zvan put it earlier this morning,

Max was everything that is least likable about young children–but he was loved. That was important.

Yet despite the very powerful stuff inherent to the book, it would never have become any more important to me than say, What a Mess The Good, had my great aunt never given me a copy as my grandfather (a de-facto third parent) lay in a hospital bed, recovering from surgery that had no chance of helping him survive terminal cancer.  Inside the book cover she wrote me a message, where she tried to convey to a half grown child her admiration and gratitude for the deadly serious and earnest way I had tried to keep my grandfather’s spirits up, with artwork, crafts, audio recordings, whatever I could.

I don’t doubt I was also in a way trying to comfort myself.  That was a common story that people in my sprawling extended family told: that they came to try to comfort my grandfather and found themselves comforted instead.  I don’t know whether his general serenity was heartfelt or artifice (or some combination of both), but he was such a joyous person in life, it would not have surprised me if he truly was able to find some peace as he was dying.  I am certain he believed he was rejoining his late wife; he held on far longer than even the most positive prognosis, and finally stopped fighting on the anniversary of my grandmother’s death.  I do not doubt that he chose to die on that day.

Whatever is the case, that book became a treasured relic of the shittiest time in my young life.  No matter how angry or fucked up I was, it was a symbol that I had family still that loved and admired me, and that the hurt I felt from being emotionally tied to others was worth it.

The news that Sendak has died has left me unexpectedly distraught.  Because for all that the book was a positive symbol, it’s still inextricably tied up with an old grief.  Today I learn that not only was Sendak a man who was unafraid of telling children the truth, but he was in fact, gay.  He came out three years ago to a New York Times reporter.  It’s sad to think that we have lost not only a beloved children’s author, but a more rare creature, a beloved gay children’s author.

Farewell, Maurice Sendak.  You will be missed.

Public Lands Access and Ableism

I like wilderness.  I like camping and hiking and fishing and transcending myself through nature.  I like preservation through creation of parklands, monuments, national forests and support regulation of activities that are permissible on public lands.

I’m generally in favor of preserving these beautiful natural spaces so they may be enjoyed by future generations.  That is, unless you think preservation means that we have to remove historic and existing access in service of achieving pre-settlement “wilderness.”  I will fight tooth and nail against that.

Because every time you do that, you cut off many elderly, those with physical disabilities and anyone else who can’t pack in camping gear over miles of trail from large sections of lands that are being preserved in their name.  I don’t understand how there have not yet been lawsuits and legal precedents that establish protection of existing access to outdoor areas held in public trust.

When I was a child, we camped and hiked and fished in Utah’s wild areas for what seemed like the whole summer.  There are countless little lakes in the Uinta Mountains (glaciation does cool stuff with drainage patterns) that make for wonderful isolated retreats.  While some areas are accessible by regularly maintained paved and gravel/dirt roads, there is a much greater wilderness that you can reach using much older roads made by loggers before these areas were protected.  When I was a kid, you could meander your way right up to a myriad of tiny hollows and camp rough, far away from the noise and aggravation of the trailer/camper set at established campgrounds.  What’s more, we were able to go there with my grandfather, who was definitely not able to hike several miles toting gear.

Mountain Lake

Now when you try to visit these same places, the roads are blocked miles away with boulders and marked as trail-heads, ostensibly to keep motorists of all types from using existing pathways and “preserve” wilderness areas.  What that means in practice is that trucks, jeeps and SUVs are blocked from access, while anyone who can afford an ATV just swerves around the barrier, trampling down the areas outside the historic road.  I see it all over the place; it doesn’t stop all motorists and especially doesn’t stop the inconsiderate assholes that I see driving their ATVs wherever they want, usually too fast on roads (kicking up mountains of dust and exacerbating washboarding).

Basically the conservation strategy of closing off wilderness by destroying historical access reeks of privilege.  It doesn’t affect those that can afford recreational vehicles or horses or those who are physically able to pack in.  It does, however, effectively cut my mother off from beautiful solitude because her multiple knee surgeries render her unable to get there anymore.  This is wrong.  It’s wrong legally (since these are public property) and it’s wrong ethically because what is the purpose of preserving spaces for us if only the very privileged can get there any more?

I’m not asking for these roads to be maintained nor am I asking for their expansion.  I would however, like to think that any family with a beat up old pickup truck can enjoy the same joy at being on top of the world as the family that can afford means of transportation that can bypass barriers.  These places belong to all of us.  I want to see a handicapped person sue for equal access, because I fear without it, we will never get back what we are losing.

Lenore Skenazy Could Be A Skeptic, But She’s Not

Free Range Parenting, It’s almost skeptical.

For a long time now, I’ve really wanted to like Lenore Skenazy.  She dares to speak up against the ridiculous and crippling bubble wrap we put around kids growing up and point out that we should be basing our decisions about risk/benefit to kids based on the actual evidence.  Skenazy pointed out that crime rates are at historic lows nationally and in individual states, and yet the policies that govern parenting, play and schooling have gotten ever more restrictive.  There are social norms at work, although they vary by region, that ostracize parents who allow their children opportunities to learn and grow independently while building confidence and useful skills.

She calls it “Free-Range Parenting.”  Sounds like a good start toward a skeptical worldview, right?  Turns out, not so much.

Then the problems start to show up.

Along with the evidence based ideas of letting kids play outside without adults hovering a foot away and allowing mature kids to ride on public transportation to see friends or hit the library and not immediately characterizing men near children as probable pedophiles, she also comes off as a denialist about things we do have evidence of risk and harm.  I would not have known the extend to which she endorses some of these things had I not followed her on Twitter for a while.

I had a bit of a ragegasm in January when she seemed to side with a systemic anti-medication approach to ADHD that made my life misery as a kid.  She linked to a poorly done bit of research on exercise for kids with ADHD credulously agreeing with the overstated conclusions, saying it was “unsurprising but significant.”  I feared for all the parents who followed her seeing this and deciding that their kids don’t need medical treatment or coping strategies after all, they just need to run around a bit more during the day.  I feared they could face non-treatment (which is fucking hell) because of the I-heard-about-this-alternative-treatment-on-Oprah effect.

Since then, it appears that she has made her healthy and positive stance toward medicating those with ADHD more clear, which I appreciate.  However, she seems to think that since the rash of known bullying related suicides doesn’t match an overall decrease among most students (meaning it doesn’t affect lots of straight and cis kids, in my opinion), there is no epidemic of systemic abuses.  She seems to say that bullying is sad but normal and decreasing, so we shouldn’t look to see if there are greater influences of bullying, even anti-gay bullying, as the nation becomes more conservative and polarized about LGBT equality.

She claims that “No one is shrugging off the real crime of bullying. But to pretend there’s an epidemic when in fact things are getting better is to both over-react AND sell our kids short.”  Has she even looked at what places like Tennessee legislature or the Anoka-Hennepin school district have said and done on the matter?  If Skenazy had been paying attention at all, she should know that religious conservatives are lobbying for the right to verbally crush LGBT youth all in the name of religious freedom.  Some conservatives have even argued that bullying kids abusing LGBT students are displaying natural revulsion, rather than ingrained prejudice.  Is this really the argument she believes is supported by evidence?

But for a while, I continued following her because she generally has sane things to say about kids being allowed to be kids and parents not being perfect.  Then she did something that I think is unforgivable.  She claimed the recent CDC rape and sexual violence survey was an example of “overdefining” crime while linking to some of the most hateful straw analysis of the survey I have seen.

Lenore Skenazy Tweet Endorsing Rape Apologist Article

I think I understand why she did it.  Skenazy has long argued that our sex-offender laws are screwed up, and punish teenagers and adolescents for bad judgement.  And that much is true; it is one thing for someone to be convicted of statutory rape when xe is old enough that the power differential is inherently harmful.  It is another when a couple of years separate boyfriend/girlfriend and the elder spends the rest of xir days labeled on a registry, having future life options eliminated without good cause.

Why I No Longer Trust Lenore Skenazy.

But what Skenazy has done is conflate these Romeo & Juliet scenarios with the real and statistically huge risk of rape and sexual assault that women face and spit on victims.  By endorsing the views of someone actively trying to undermine more comprehensive study of sexual violence, she has become a rape apologist.  It was at this point I could no longer follow her or endorse her advocacy because it’s tainted by someone who interprets facts to suit her hypotheses.  Consent is really not that hard (no matter how “where is the line/I’m just asking questions” assholes try to muddle the issue).  Skenazy is talking about instances of free and enthusiastic consent without inherently broken power dynamics, and then endorses the most vile denial and rape apologism without even thinking.  That she could not see the difference means that I can no longer trust anything she says to be objectively measured.

So you can understand why I am so angry, I’ll talk about both the article she endorsed How to fake sexual violence rates and produce scary numbers and the CDC survey it references.  I’ll start by talking a little bit about the CDC violence study, but honestly, it has been parsed and discussed in so much depth that it’s mostly just so I can explain just how wrong the opinion piece is.

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Photographic Vignettes # 15

One of my favorite roads as a kid was the old road between Boulder and Escalante, whose narrow bridge on the top of the world is called “Hell’s Backbone.”  The twisted firs here have extra spiky cones that look purple when closed.  It’s perched on the edge of a plateau so high it can get bitterly cold and freeze overnight, even in summer.  The snow flurries when Thrack and I drove the road in the fall made my hands numb in minutes while trying to snap a few photographs.

Snow misted vista

It amazes me that this was once the only option to travel into Boulder.  It’s a beautiful but largely impassable region; one marked by notable lasts, rather than firsts.  The nearby Escalante River was the last major river discovered (by white dudes, obviously) in the lower 48, and the town of Boulder was the last place to receive its mail by mule train.

The Bridge

Maps here are littered with evil or inhospitable names, because early explorers or settlers died.  To us now the wildness is something to regard with wonder, rather than fear.  I have always loved the hellishly named places.

A Long Way Down

Gnarled, Twisted Tree

Stubborn Bushes Grasping Stone

Windy Ridge

Fall Colors 1

Fall Colors 2

Utah Education Proving People Opposed to Government Shouldn’t Run Government

I love many things about my home.  Deep rooted phobias about government do not fall on that list.  Our politicians, local, state and federal seemingly can’t help but illustrate how stupid it is when people vote for government representatives that want to undermine the government.  It has serious consequences that should be indefensible.

In Saturday’s Salt Lake Tribune, Lindsay Whitehurst and Lisa Schencker reveal just what the reality of these policies is in practice: ignorance, poverty and failure.

“I wasn’t done with school, I didn’t feel like I was finished. I wanted to keep going,” said Barlow, a voracious reader who as a child devoured biographies of famous Americans. “I didn’t want to be in construction when I was as old as my father.”

His father put him to work anyway. Had he been in public school, a sudden absence might have been noticed. But Barlow, now 23, grew up in a Utah-Arizona border town as a member of the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs.

Like all young members of the sect, he was pulled out of public school in 2000 at Jeffs’ order. Children in the sect are educated at home.

And in both states, the government stays out of home-schools. Utah school districts are forbidden from making parents keep records of instruction or attendance, requiring them to have any teaching qualifications or testing home-school students.

I actually attended a few college classes with young men from polygynous students and like Barlow here, and found in discussions that they were so sheltered from basic knowledge I’d been taught in school that our small group conversations wasted time covering background information.  This is anecdotal on my part, but still makes me very sad and frustrated that politicians can be elected and reelected on a foundation of hamstringing schools.

“The idea that government should be the ultimate authority over educating children is bogus,” said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, sponsor of a 2005 bill to keep government out of home-schools. “If we’re going to use government resources and focus government attention on solving problems, let’s go where the problems really exist.”

I wish I could tell you that Madsen was not representative of the kind of language that dominates discussions about public education, but you couldn’t find a more mainstream position here.  What I want to know is what problems someone like Madsen perceives and how he proposes we stop them; if he doesn’t see undereducated and ignorant children as a problem, what exactly does he think government is fucking for?

Joseph Broadbent, now 23, said his father ended his education at age 13 or 14.

“I begged him and begged him to [let me] finish the 10th grade,” Broadbent said. Instead, he learned the welding business.

Broadbent said he also suffered physical abuse at home and left the sect about six years ago. When the construction work dried up, he made plans to get his GED.

But the years out of school took their toll. He has taken the test four times and failed. For now, he is back to welding.

That home schooled children are lacking basic skills and the ability to even obtain a GED should alarm anyone.  Being unable to get a high school diploma not only consigns these young people to poverty, but ignorance is harmful in and of itself.  Why is this acceptable.  Why do we let this happen?

Some 400 young people who have left or been forced out of the FLDS sect over eight years have come to the nonprofit Diversity Foundation for help, according to director Shannon Price.

How many are behind on their education?

“One hundred percent,” Price said.