Ten minutes on Yellowstone NP in winter, with outdoor writer Tim Cahill

November 4, 2007

Yellowstone National Park is just a cool place. If you’re not using it for anything in your geography and U.S. history courses, you’re missing out.

Here’s a ten-minute video that the producers hope you’ll show far and wide to encourage television stations to pick up the series. It’s a ten-minute pilot for “Travelers’ Tales,” featuring outdoor writer Tim Cahill, a founder of Outside magazine, and photographer Tom Murphy.

Here are some of the points you might use in class:

  • Yellowstone in winter, especially the wildlife, like bison, elk and coyotes (all shown), and wolves (not shown)
  • Volcanic geology — Yellowstone is the world’s largest caldera, after all
  • Diversity of landforms in the U.S., or in the world. More than half the hot water features on the planet are in Yellowstone
  • Travel and adventure
  • What makes good writing (travel writing in this case)
  • Western geography
  • Development of the west, especially after the Lewis and Clark Expedition

The video features a lot of snow, elk, bison and coyotes, hot springs flowing into a river making swimming in January feasible, Mammoth Hot Springs and the travertine pools, and the cold northern desert of sagebrush and juniper.

Questions you might consider to turn this into a warm-up exercise (bell ringer):

Geography, not answered in the video (map or internet exercise):

  1. Yellowstone National Park covers parts of which three states?
  2. Yellowstone National Park is mostly located in which state?
  3. What is the most famous feature of Yellowstone National Park?
  4. Ashfall Beds State Park features ancient mammals killed by an eruption in the Yellowstone Caldera. Where is Ashfall Beds State Park?
  5. Thomas Moran played a key role in getting Congress to designate Yellowstone as a park. What did he do to help convince Congress to act?

Geography, answered in the video:

  1. What year was Yellowstone designated a National Park by Congress?
  2. What sort of volcanic feature is the entire Yellowstone area?
  3. The Yellowstone Caldera explodes catastrophically about every 600,000 years, according to some geologists. How long has it been since the last such catastrophic explosion?
  4. The wags say there are two seasons in Yellowstone, ______ and winter.
  5. What is a “hot pot?”

When do we reach the “never” in “Never again?”

November 4, 2007

You won’t find this in your world history text.

Events in Congo trouble at so many levels. Reports in The New York Times and other places document unspeakable violence: 27,000 sexual assaults in South Kivu Province in 2006, just a fraction of the total number across the nation of 66 million people. The assaults are brutal. Women assaulted are often left so badly injured internally, they may never heal.

  • Map of Congo, showing area of high violence in east, from New York Times Map of Congo, highlighting province of Bukavu where violence against women is epidemic, from New York Times

Genocide you say? Many assaults appear to be spillover from the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in next-door Rwanda. But assaults by husbands on wives also are epidemic. Result of civil war? Then how to explain the “Rasta” gang, dreadlocked fugitives who live in the forest, wear tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys, and who commit unspeakable crimes against women and children? What nation are they from, and against whom do they fight, if anyone — and for what?

The facts cry out for action:

  • Nightly rapes of women and girls. The violence appears to be a problem across the nation.
  • Huge chunks of Congo have no effective government to even contend against the violence.
  • Killers with experience in genocide in their native Rwanda moved into Congo; they live by kidnapping women for ransom. The women are assaulted while held captive. Sometimes husbands do not take back their wives.
  • The oldest rape victim recorded by one Congo physician is 75; the youngest, 3.

Surely intervention by an international group would help, no? However

  • Congo hosts the largest single peacekeeping mission of the United Nations right now, with 17,000 troops. Congo is a big nation, bordered by nine other nations. How many troops would it take to secure the entire nation, or the entire border? No one knows.
  • 2006 saw an election that was supposed to remake history, end the violence and start Congo on the road to recovery; but was the $500 million it cost enough to change Congo’s history of a string of bad governments?
  • International attention focuses on other crises: Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and Darfur, Iran, Korea, Chechnya, Turkey and the Kurds, Palestine and Israel. Congo, constantly roiling since the 1960s, is way down the list of world concerns, no matter how bad the violence.

Americans looking for a quick resolution to the situation in Iraq might do well to study Congo. At Congo’s independence in the 1960s, there was hope of prosperity and greater peace. Foreign intervention, including meddling from the U.S., regional civil wars, bad government and long international neglect, ate up the hope. Achieving what a nation could be is difficult, when so many forces align to prevent it from being anything other than a violent backwater. Pandora’s box resists attempts to shut it. Quick resolution is unlikely.

So the violence in Congo continues. In this world, when is the “never” in “never again?”

How many other such cases fall outside our textbooks, and off the state tests?


Quote of the moment: How to succeed in business

November 4, 2007

Several years ago I found a quote attributed to business consulting guru Tom Peters, that ascribed success to hard work — if a lot of other things didn’t get in the way. I lost the quote, and the citation, and have sorely wanted to have it a hundred times since then when I found executives and administrators admonishing people for their failure to soar when the bosses themselves had anchored their employees to the ground.

Ah, the Glories of Google! I have found it again. Turns out it’s not Tom Peters after all; he quotes a passage from novelist Ann Beattie’s novel, Picturing Will.

It’s still worthy of noting; here is an excerpt from a Tom Peters column in 1990 featuring the passage:

Do everything right, all the time, and the child will prosper. It’s as simple as that, except for fate, luck, heredity, chance, the astrological sign under which the child was born, his order of birth, his first encounter with evil, the girl who jilts him in spite of his excellent qualities, the war that is being fought when he is a young man, the drugs he may try once or too many times, the friends he makes, how he scores on tests, how well he endures kidding about his shortcomings, how ambitious he becomes, how far he falls behind, circumstantial evidence, ironic perspective, danger when it is least expected, difficulty in triumphing over circumstance, people with hidden agendas, and animals with rabies.”

The quote is from Ann Beattie’s latest novel, Picturing Will. It speaks directly to an increasingly important corporate issue — the peril of overestimating our ability to influence outcomes. In short, the way we recruit, organize, plan and act very much depends on how much we feel that we are in control. The problem is ageless, though as the world becomes less predictable the consequences of personal or corporate hubris are increasingly severe.

Systematically review a stack of annual reports. Without fail, a good year is explained as “the fruits of the strategic planning process your management put in place five (three, seven) years ago.” A bad year, however, is invariably the result of “the unanticipated rise in interest rates (unexpected foreign competition, etc.) which upset our planning assumptions.” But our corporate chiefs are hardly alone. A sizable branch of psychology, called attribution theory, examines the way human beings explain events to themselves. In short, we attribute good outcomes to skill and hard work; bad ones to bad luck.

For centuries, Cartesian cause and effect thinking has dominated our science — and management — paradigms. The causeless, effectless, probabilistic world of quantum mechanics that informs today’s scientific thought has still not permeated our psyches — or our approach to making corporate strategy.

Beattie’s novel is listed as an academic selection now, by Random House.  Do you, or does anyone at your school, use this book?

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