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Entries from blogs tagged with “Citizen Journalism Academy”

The Faith of a Child

Took my almost-five-year-old to his first Advent service last night. Actually, it was Simon's first church service, period. I wanted him to understand at least a little of what he heard, so on the way, I told him the basics of the Christmas story. I started with the parts I thought would be most interesting to a child: How Jesus was born in a stable to parents Mary and Joseph, and how shepherds got a message from an angel that something special had happened, followed a bright star, and found the baby Jesus.My husband and I are not religious, at least not as the term is usually used, but I've given a little thought to how and when to explain mainstream religious beliefs and stories to our two young sons. A child who isn't familiar with, say, the Christmas story or the notion of heaven will be at a loss at times, to say the least. (Last night, it struck me how big this cultural disadvantage might be when Simon asked "Is Jesus a boy or a girl?")After the service, we talked more about the Christmas story--including the belief that Jesus is the son of God--and I found myself fielding questions like "How can Jesus be the son of God if his parents are Mary and Joseph?" and "How can God still be alive if Jesus was born such a long time ago?" and "Is God a man or a woman?" Now I was the one at a loss! More than once I answered, "That's a great question" and "Well, the story goes like this:" and "Many people believe that:." I've talked to Simon about God before, usually referring to the "Animal Maker" or the "Great Spirit." I want him to have some notion of a powerful, good, divine spirit who takes an interest in our universe. I also want him to understand that there are different and beautiful faith traditions around the world. I'm not comfortable presenting typical Sunday School stories as if they're facts. And I sensed last night that Simon would take what I said as fact. That means I have a lot of power, at this point in Simon's life, to shape his beliefs about religion and the divine. I want to use this power wisely, so I've got a lot more thinking to do.I'd like to hear from others who've struggled with this. If your family doesn't have obvious faith traditions and beliefs to pass down, what role do religion and spirituality play in your family life? How and when have you presented religion and spirituality to your children? Are there any faith groups in town you recommend?

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Walking Petri Dishes?

Biology is messy. We can't put organisms into neat little boxes and as it turns out, while we think of ourselves as being individual organisms, the truth is a bit more complex. According to an online article from Scientific American, "Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones" , we are probably best thought of as walking petri dishes because of the number and diversity of bacteria that live inside of us. According to the article, scientists used to think that these bacteria were commensals, that is organisms living in or on a member of a different species with out harming or providing much benefit to the "host". But new research reveals that these bacteria interact with us in complex ways and and often significantly benefit us. For instance many of these bacteria appear to help us process our food and help regulate certain aspects of our immune system. So there is a real sense that you and I are really communities of organisms. Now I wonder if the dreaded toe fungus some of us have also benefits us in some way.

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Privacy Becoming a Four Letter Word (PAIN)

Why is it that when we Americans try to 'fix' things, we insist on going to extremes? We're never satisfied with a Bandaid or surgery and stitches. Oh no, not us radical reformers. We won't be satisfied until we've performed a complete lobotomy, leaving common sense in the litter to be swept off the operating room floor.My son was recently prescribed an outrageously expensive medication. The doctor suggested I contact the insurance company to obtain pre-approval of coverage before filling the prescription. After maneuvering through the customary and annoying robotic 'prompts' I finally was connected to a human (I use the term loosely here). This 'person'proceeded to tell me that not only could he not give me (the child's mother) pre approval, he could not discuss any matter regarding my son with me (the child's mother) because it would be a violation of HIPA privacy policies (the kids are listed under their father's coverage and my coverage is separate but with the same company). Their father was out of town and not available, but hey, with his written approval, I, my son's mother, could become an 'authorized representative,' in a mere 7-10 business days. Three business days if we have a fax machine! No worries that my son was due to take the medication in 4 hours. Could I provide a blood sample? Maybe contribute some DNA? A copy of his birth certificate? Anything at all to prove he was flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood? What exactly would it take to prove my legitimacy as his mother, legal guardian, primary caregiver in my fight against shirts with all the power over his medical well-being?! Surely if they only checked their records they would find me listed as such. And no worries that I was simply trying to confirm if I would be charged $2,000 for the medication or simply the $100 deductible:just a minor question concerning a little chump change, right? The irony in all of this is they would ask no questions at all when I'm purchasing the medication, no identification necessary to hand over drugs for me to give him. But ask a question? How dare I! Hooooooooooray for HIPA.Now, no one questioned privacy rights when I followed the ambulance or slept in his hospital room. No one cared that our names were on two different insurance cards when I authorized his surgery. No one even asked for ID when nurses explained follow up medical procedures when he was discharged to my care. And it's only a wild hunch on my part, but I bet no one will care whether or not I'm an 'authorized representative' when they send me the bill.I know I'll sleep better knowing prying eyes can't peep into my medical files, but is there a limit to the lunacy?Anyone out there ever try to get your college student's grades? That's the equivalent of privacy treason! Attempting offenders are scolded before being sent to remain-in-the-dark purgatory. No matter that parents are the ones paying the tuition, purchasing the books and putting out the cash for room, board and expenses. Who do we possibly think we are to want to know if our kids are earning the grades to keep them in school? We should be ashamed of ourselves. Right.Swing pendulum, swing.Efforts to right wrongs are commendable. But a heavily-weighted, tethered ball careening from one extreme to the other can be a dangerous thing. Balance and common sense can be the casualties leveled in the process.Am I the only one scratching my head?

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Governor’s Child Abuse Task Force-Pt. 2

Governor's Child Abuse Task Force-Pt. 2I will briefly comment on each of the recommendations of the Task Force. This can become very long and technical. I will try to avoid that. This is why I will only undertake one recommendation at a time. This is not an easy task and I welcome comments that help clarify the issues or question my observations. See the first post for background. Recommendation 1. An ombudsman position and an independent board, separate from SRS, should be created. Observations:1). Policy formation by committee. This recommendation is a good example. Beware of sentences that contain 'and'. They frequently contain too much. In this case it is my opinion that both an ombudsman and a board are too much. 2.) An ombudsman is not a good idea. On the surface it sounds good to have an independent person who can investigate complaints. In reality this person or office would be overwhelmed by the number of complaints and the complexity of most situations. In the 2007 state fiscal year SRS received 53,048 reports of concern regarding children. Nearly every one of these is contested by someone. One full-time person (the recommendation) could not possibly respond to the demand. In the Wichita case, Governor Sebelius had her chief legal counsel investigate. I don't know how much time it took him but I bet he wasn't finished in an hour or two. If only 10% of the 53,000 cases requested an investigation, the ombudsman would have no more than 4 hours available per case (2,000 hours divided by 5,000.). If you question the 10%, just read the comments about SRS that accompany any published child abuse case. Child welfare is contentious. That is one of the reasons that we have judges involved in making child abuse and neglect decisions. 3.) An independent review board could be a good idea but not necessarily. The Task Force report includes several tasks for which this review board would be responsible. The task list is a good one. These tasks also require considerable child welfare expertise. One way to implement this recommendation would be to create an independent research center to do the work. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy is an excellent example. It was created in 1982 by the state legislature and is governed by a board that represents the legislature, governor and public universities. It does practical, non-partisan research at legislative direction. As a consumer of some of its research, I can say that they do excellent work. Check them out at http://www.wsipp.wa.gov. Will the Kansas legislature be willing to fund such a center? I doubt it. It is expensive. So a political compromise would likely be a review board without the expertise or funding to do the work. Not a pretty picture.4.) My recommendation. I recommended to the board that the state legislature require SRS to report annually on the effectiveness of its CPS operations. I think that this squarely places the responsibility for oversight where it belongs in the legislature and places the work where it should be - SRS. SRS can do the job and currently collects much of the data. CPS can be thought of as a series of decisions. For example, the decision to accept a phone call as a report; the decision to have a report investigated; the decision that a report really is child abuse or neglect; etc. It is now widely accepted that you can judge the effectiveness of a CPS system through data on each decision point. While this recommendation is not as strong as the creation of a Washington Institute for Public Policy capability in Kansas, it is better than an understaffed independent review board. Disclaimer: I do not make these critical comments because I am disappointed that the Task Force did not take my recommendations verbatim. I have been involved in public policy efforts too long for that type of attitude. I am quite pleased that they took my input seriously and included many of my ideas.

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Say what?

The name "Dangerous Ideas" comes from a book titled "Darwin's Dangerous Idea" by the philosopher Daniel Dennett. Dennett's thesis is that the concept of natural selection is a sort of universal acid eating away at our traditional intellectual disciplines well beyond its traditional application as an evolutionary mechanism.Science in general is dangerous to traditional ways of viewing the universe. It transforms us. It breaks down boundaries between traditional areas of thought. It challenges our comfortable preconceptions about reality. And it forces us to think in rational and empirical ways that are foreign to emotional and often irrational way that we process information about the world.I use dangerous here in a positive sense. For me science is a liberating force. It doesn't do away with a sense of wonder, a sense of poetry or wonder. But science does not worship mystery but replaces it with a sense of awe at the quirky creativeness of the universe. This blog will focus on science. I will try to stay away from politics and religion...there are plenty of other blogs that do that including my companion blog at The Force that ThroughSometimes I will cross post entries with "The Force" But that blog tends to be much more explicitly poetic, political and philosophical than what I am planning for this space. Also since biology is my thing, expect a bias toward biology and related areas.

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Governor’s Child Abuse Task Force Report

Governor's Child Abuse Task ForceThe report is in. I will get to that later. Governor Sebelius created the Child Protective Services Task Force in July in response to a tragic case in Wichita. Two young girls were reported as suspected victims of abuse and the response was botched by Child Protective Services (CPS) of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. The Task Force report includes 5 recommendations. I will comment on each of the recommendations but first a disclaimer and some observations. I am a tried and true citizen participant. That means I get involved by attending meetings and talking to those who represent us at the city, county, state and national level. I had a particular interest in the Child Protective Services Task Force because I have devoted over 30 years to research and writing about public child welfare that includes CPS in Kansas and Illinois. Observations1) I really wanted to be a member of the Task Force. I lobbied hard to be a member and failed. When the membership of the Task Force was announced, and I was not included, I called Chairman Tim Emert and asked to be included in notifications of meetings. He was gracious and I attend all of the meetings. I was allowed to ask questions and make comments and at one point was asked for my recommendations. I presented my observations and recommendations and I thought that they were well received. 2) The tyranny of the anecdote. Joe Loftus, an Illinois colleague, suggests that child welfare is too frequently the victim of bad policy that follows a news report of a bad outcome (the anecdote). The challenge presented by the Wichita case is determining if the situation involving the two young girls was common or unusual. The next task is examining policy and procedures to see what can be done to improve practice. This is an extremely difficult task given one case.3) Policy formation by committee. The Task Force members included a range of child welfare expertise from those who knew very little to those with years of experience. Judge Jean Shepherd, for example, has many years hearing Child In Need of Care cases (those involving, among other things, abuse and neglect) and is widely recognized as being an excellent child welfare judge. But how do you educate 14 diverse people on the complex issues involved in CPS and create a consensus on recommendations in six meetings that not all members can regularly attend? With great difficulty.4) The Task Force worked hard. Given the constraints it is my observation that the Task Force did a good job. They listened, asked good questions, they thoughtfully deliberated.So what about the recommendations? That's next.Can't wait? Read the report at http://www.governor.ks.gov/documents/071129-FinalCPSreport.pdf

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Porn star?

We've all heard or read about the sad story of El Dorado teen Emily Sander, who was found dead east of that town, after a series of bizarre circumstances.The Deciders have decided, and the narrative of her life has been written.This is AP copy which ran in the J-World:> Her fans knew her only as an Internet porn star named Zoey Zane.> But in this hamlet, Emily Sander's friends saw her as a vivacious teenager who worked hard days as a secretary at an electric company and went to night school to study business management. She dreamed one day of opening a piercing studio and becoming a movie director.This AP copy "More AP copy"), by the same reporter, appeared in the Chicago Tribune, among other places (complete with "pornstar" in the URL). The opening line:> The search for a missing college student who led a secret life as an Internet porn performer turned into a homicide case after her body was apparently found.Same reporter, different AP copy, first line:> A missing Kansas college student believed to be the victim of foul play apparently led a double life as an Internet porn star by the name of Zoey Zane.> Nude photos of 18-year-old Emily Sander appeared on a Zoey Zane Web site before she vanished, and investigators are looking into whether her modeling had anything to do with her disappearance last Friday.Each of these stories also appeared on the Topeka Capital-Journal's Web site.AP copy, Wichita Eagle:> The mother of a pregnant teenager on the run with the suspect in the death of an El Dorado college student is pleading for her daughter to call home and let her know she is OK.> In a statement e-mailed today to the Associated Press, Sandy Martens wrote that she would like to tell her daughter: "i miss you with all my heart... many people are praying for your return because they miss you... including your friends in others towns that you know... i love you and i miss that budha belly... and i want to feel my grandchild kick again... i love you victoria.. unconditional."> Authorities are looking for her daughter, Victoria, and believe she is still with suspect Israel Mireles, 24. He was seen on Nov. 23 leaving a bar with Emily Sander, the Butler Community College student who led a secret life as an Internet porn model. Her body was found Thursday.This story by the Eagle's own staff does not use the phrase. But every single AP story (most if not all by the same writer, Roxana Hegeman) uses some variant of the phrase "porn star". So does this story posted on the KMBC-TV Web site.Porn star? Really? Is that a fair characterization?I've been sitting on these thoughts for a post on my home blog for several days, which left me time to seek out -- with a considerable amount of trepidation and handwringing on my part -- the material in question. I'd have to say that, if what I've seen is an accurate characterization of the complete oeuvre, what she did does not rise to the level of "porn star". It says to me "naive girl who posed for nude photos, made bad decisions, and got mixed up in something not in her best interest who later was victimized by what appears to be a serial predator", but I guess that doesn't fit as well in a lede.The distinction between some naked pictures and "porn" may be a distinction without a difference to most people, but not to many -- especially not to those who knew her best.If nothing else, it illustrates the power of the media, concentrated in a single journalist, to sum up a human life and create history -- not to mention "moving product". I thought it was a grossly unfair characterization, but what do I know?I just hope the extra "product" moved as a result of working the word "porn" in was worth it.UPDATE: I read this again, and I realized that it could be reasonably inferred from what I've written here that I'm against the very mention of Emily Sander's "other job". I'm not. It's part of the story, and at the time it wasn't known whether the crime wasn't related to her Internet activities. Perhaps that information might have helped solve her murder. There's no way to know in advance whether it would have helped or not. The way it was characterized was not for any of those reasons, however.

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Ghost Light

Theatre folk are notoriously superstitious. Never say "good luck" -- say "break a leg." No whistling backstage, no practicing curtain call until opening night. And, under no circumstances whatsoever, never ever ever mention the name of 'that Scottish play' in the theater -- just ask one of my former students who scoffed at our superstitions. He learned.

One of my favorite superstitions is that of the ghost light. One light left burning on stage so that the theater is never completely dark -- supposedly so no ghosts come to haunt the stage. I love the image of that one light on a bare stage. A bare stage is nothing but pine boards and brick walls to some, but to me it holds a universe of possibilities, a place where dreams come to light.

I love the theater, the space itself. I joke with my students that a person who is afraid of heights and afraid of the dark should never work in a theater, so I'm not quite sure what I'm doing there!

But I love the theatre. And when it came time to decide what my teaching certification should be, I thought about how much I love theatre despite the fact that I never had a dedicated or qualified theatre teacher all throughout my junior high and high school years. And so, it became my professional goal to provide my students with the kind of theatre education and opportunities I wish I had been granted.

I spend a lot of time in the dark -- as a director watching a rehearsal, as an audience member watching a performance, as a performer waiting in the wings. But I also think that in some ways our community is also 'in the dark' -- unless you have a child or friend in the public schools, I don't think you are really aware of the outstanding talent and programs our students participate in.

So my goal with this blog is to shed some light -- "a little...illumination" to quote The Phantom of the Opera -- on what we do in arts education in our community. To keep that ghost light burning so that our theaters are never completely dark.

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Into the sunset?

Women can retire at 60 in Europe and receive an "old age pension" as well as a free bus pass, free spectacles in addition to other special deals. A man has to wait until he is 65 for such perks. In America the AARP marked me as a Senior as soon as I hit my fifties and some stores give me a senior discount (wihtout checking ID I might add) but I have to wait until 62 to get a Marriot Senior discount and Social Security.Some people have cynically said that it's hard to tell when Europeans are retired because they take so much vaction anyway. The minimum vacation is 21 working days (which translates into four weeks including the week-ends) and then one has to add the Bank Holidays, which, if strategically placed with vacation can amount to six weeks. Of course, in many jobs, the amount of vacation can be anything from the minimum four weeks to a sensible fourteen weeks a year.Just as I was preparing to take advantage of the "old age pension" from UK and Social Security from the US, I met an 81 year old woman who moved to Lawrence when she was 64 to get a new job. She "retired" at 70, didn't like it, and worked in a Bank until she finally decided enough was enough at 80. She still does volunteer work and looks better than I do even on a good day. She's one of a growing number of seniors in the US who continue working simply because they love their jobs.Is there a way we can strike the balance between these two cultures? I know people who take only a week vacation and spend it cleaning out the garage, or "doing odd jobs around the house." This seems like a recipe for stress-related illness somewhere down the road. However, when I look at those octogenarians who have worked well past retirement age, they seem pretty healthy to me.I would love to hear from those of you who retired in your early sixties or before, and those of you who have worked, or continute to work into your eighties or even nineties.

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The Milky Way Woman

I heard about the Milky Way Woman while attending Douglas County's first healing retreat for those people who had lost someone due to suicide.

I have been trying to put a spiritual perspective on my mother's suicide, when I was three, for most of my life. See my article: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/20/nov/loved_ones_gather_healing_retreat_wake_suicide

While at the retreat, I met a native American Indian woman who had recently lost her sister to suicide. She told me about the belief that the Lakota Indians have. They believe that the Milky Way is the crossroads between heaven and earth and that an old woman, the Milky Way Woman, stands guard at this crossroads. The Milky Way Woman decides when someone dies whether they go to heaven or are sent back to earth depending on how well they lived their life.

After some research, I discovered that several other Indian tribes have a similar belief, and some tribes believe that the light coming from the Milky Way is the campfires of souls as they make their journey to heaven.

The Lakota Indians have an extremely high rate of suicide among their young people.

I dedicate the following poem to the Lakota people, all of those who have lost someone to suicide, and to my mother, Peggy Miller Wiggins.

The Milky Way Woman 11-14-07

When I was three

And you sent me

Out to play in the

Snow while you

Put a bullet through

Your heart

I did not cry

I curled into a ball

And sucked my thumb

When Daddy came

That night and said

Look up into the

Sky and see your

Mommy's face In the stars

I did not look

I did not want

To see your face

So far away

And so small

But now I'm

Grown and have

Children of my own

I want to stand

On the edge

Of the Milky Way

With you, hand in hand

And when the

Milky Way Woman

Gives the command

You and I

Will take that

Leap together

Wait for me

Where do you believe souls go after they leave the physical body?

How is the soul separate from the spirit?

How is the mind separate from the soul?

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