By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The announcement first came in German, then English: Next stop Dachau.

It was a beautiful sunny day in September. It was unseasonably warm; 80 degrees or so.

I stepped off the train and looked for the bus to take me to the KZ Dachau. I was in a hurry. I had to catch a night train to Rome that evening, and I wanted to get back to Munich to ‘flaneur’ around.  Luckily, there was a bus waiting. It was slowly filling with tourists. I was one of them. We had come to see the first Nazi Concentration Camp.  I hopped on the bus, and sat down.  As the bus pulled out, I  was struck with a sense of discordance. Dachua is not just a camp. It is a surburban enclave. It is….quaint. It is beautiful.

My imagination had not prepared me for what lay outside the bus window. Here was a supermarket, there was a small restaurant. People were walking dogs, enjoying the sun on 14330127_10207732700498004_3000411190714615599_npatios and drinking coffee at the local Starbucks.  The sun and blue sky made the suburb feel alive.  The colorful houses and buildings of green, red, blue seemed incongruous with the black and white photos of the camp stuck indelibly in my mind from countless history books.

As the bus made turn after turn, I wondered how far outside this little German suburb filled with gemütlichkeit we would travel.  Surely, the camp must be far removed in distance from the pleasant scenes I just passed.  There must be woods to cross through; perhaps some empty fields?  But no.  Here a park, there an electronics’ store, and the next stop was the ‘KZ’ (Konzentrationslager).

14322704_10207732700778011_9022260041487163341_nI stepped off the bus, back into the sunny warmth.  There are tourists everywhere, slowly walking through a twisting wooded pass. Before entering there was a sign of notices=.  No dogs, no Neo-Nazi clothing….be serious. This is hallowed ground.  Respect the over 30,000 dead of Dachau. Remember that they faced murder, torture, malnutrition, illness.  Forget about all that world you passed through to get here.  Throw your Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte away.

The camp is large.  People walk around in a daze. Student groups mill around teachers.  Religious pilgrims go to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish memorial chapels. I really don’t 14344681_10207732703258073_5736731126016002469_nwant to take pictures, but I can’t not.  ‘Click’…the barbwire fence.  ‘Click’…. the crematorium.  Glance at the ovens. Walk inside the gas chamber. Don’t worry though, it was never used.  Look, over there!  ‘Click’….a meandering path into the shady woods. Escape 14332926_10207732704018092_5335833254930929323_nthe sun. But  there is no escape from this place. The woods hold a plaque informing the visitor that the dilapidated wall to the left was the pistol execution range. The human nightmare scars nature.  The remnants of a ‘blood-ditch’ used to easily clean up the aftermath of the executions makes that clear.  14292522_10207732704658108_8986492502300581023_n

Need to get out of these woods. Back into that sun.  It is beating down. The sky is perfect. I am sure a couple hundred yards away, some teenagers are sitting in that park enjoying the last chance for a summer tan.

As I walk out, I get a distasteful moment of shock.  A young woman wearing heels and sunglasses asks her father or older boyfriend to take a photo of her leaning against the front gate that says ‘Arbeit Macht Frei‘.  She poses.  It looks as though she is concerned about her best side. All I can do is raise an eyebrow. 14358707_10207732701458028_4311876331519568457_n

I walk back to the bus stop.  I need to get to Munich.  The bus is crowded for the ride back to the bahnhof.  I look out the window again, and life is going on as if all is normal.  I wonder how these people out for walks to enjoy the sun can live in a place like this?  How do you say you live in Dachau? ‘I grew up in Dachau’, ‘I go to school in Dachau’, ‘I work in Dachau’.  The identity of these people is connected to a name that means cruelty and death.  The KZ is central to their town.  When it was built in 1933 it was an economic opportunity.  Hundreds of jobs for the local populace; you need KZ guards after-all.  And who is going to feed all those prisoners and guards?  Bakeries, restaurants, markets saw the opportunity.

No longer do prisoners and guards need nourishment. Now it is I and my fellow tourists. Stop for a bite at a local cafe after seeing the barracks. Grab a coffee, and try to erase your memories.  If you need to, reserve a room at a local inn and find some local Bavarian fare.  A little beer never hurts.

The people of Dachau must just get acclimatized.  They are desensitized to the horror that is right next door. Or, maybe they just turn away and ignore it.  If the Nazi period taught us anything, it is that people are really good at doing that.

 

Playful

Posted: November 23, 2016 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

playful

 

My fun-o-meter needs frequent re-calibration.   I love to laugh, but I’m not naturally playful.  I go through life as if there might be a pop quiz any moment. I need to be encouraged out of my daily rigidity and regimentation, invited to participate in the gleefully goofy. Luckily, loved ones in my life bring me these indispensable opportunities in abundance.

About a decade ago, I began a holiday family tradition of Christmas games with my entire family: my mom, six brothers and sisters, their six spouses, and their fifteen offspring.  It’s a full room. My intention was to encourage my family to enjoy the time we spent together, not just get in each other’s way in the buffet line. Nevertheless, my inner educator tended toward handouts and formal games, amusing, but still somewhat restrained. Game playing has been expanded and enriched by my more mischievous relatives.  Last year, my sister Barbara lead a ridiculous game that involved lying on the ground and manipulating candy canes without using your hands for no apparent purpose. The image of my family members wriggling around on the floor is, in a word, unforgettable.

Spending time with my favorite seven-year-old in the world is all fun and games. He has limitless energy. We play every minute: Boggle and Scrabble and hangman, indoor basketball, and anything outside when the weather is warm, and made-up games aplenty. At Cubs games, we climb up to the top of the stadium to enjoy the view. In order to get back to our seats, we spread our arms like airplane wings and soar down the ramps at Wrigley Field; I can’t imagine a better afternoon.  After a few hours in his adorable company, I am energized and exhausted, younger and happier somehow, too.

airplanes

One of the most lovable attributes my friends share is silliness. I’m not sure how these bizarre people found their way into my life, but I remain forever grateful. This past Sunday, I enjoyed a living room filled with laughter as I hosted some members of my Urban Family for Friendsgiving.

When I invite my friends into my home, they invariably find the opportunity to tease me (which I long ago mistook for affection). Their antics are nothing if not inventive, tormenting me via remarkable means.  For instance, when my friends Jenny & Jen visited the spring after college graduation, they waited until I fell asleep to hide the elaborately decorated Easter eggs I specifically asked them not to touch (foolish mistake). They sought out places that no sane egg hunter would ever consider; thus, I was forced to locate the eggs and then re-hide them, much to their fiendish delight.

My Urban Family in Chicago has taken a cue from this strategy, and in my absence or distraction, they have collectively re-arranged the artwork on my walls, stashed candy canes all over my apartment, replaced knick-knacks on different shelves, and even re-positioned large furniture. The fact that I find these stunts hilarious is hardly a deterrent, but I confess their absurdity makes every event more enjoyable.

silliness

To encourage conversation in my classrooms, I bring a ball of yarn or a set of light-up balls (spheres, if you prefer to avoid the giggling the word “balls” can produce, even among adults). Throwing spheres around class may seem childish, but I don’t consider that an insult. Letting silliness enter into our work and learning and relationships provides a tremendous way to simply enjoy being alive.

In dark days, laughter becomes even more crucial. When the world becomes too heavy, remember to add a little levity.

 

Liberal Tears

Posted: November 10, 2016 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

November 10, 2016

Dear sister,

Yesterday morning, you sent a text asking how I was feeling. This graciousness in you compels me to explain my sorrow.

Because I love you, I want to more fully describe why fifty percent of the voting population was and is disheartened by the 2016 election results.

Yes, I cried many tears.

These were derisively described as “liberal tears” by a colleague (one I respect and like) whose support for Trump shocked me.

Yesterday was filled with many such unpleasant surprises.

Knowing the power of re-appropriating language, I welcome the label “liberal tears” for the ones I have shed over the past two days. I have always been proudly liberal.

I cried at 3:00am when I discovered the outcome and was unable to sleep, fearing the uncertain future for so many Americans: POC, LGBTQ, immigrants, Muslims, and countless others who feel at risk.

I cried walking in the door of my college, where I teach a wonderfully diverse population of students, many who now feel undervalued and unwelcome.

I cried when I left work at 8:00pm, tired from a disappointing and demanding day, proud to pass protesters on the streets of Chicago.

I cry as I write this now.

Like yours, my vote was cast not only for a candidate, but for a value system. What I value above all is equality and social justice. I fear that these values will be undermined by the impending administration.

My fears have already been sadly justified as Vice President-elect Pence has stated his intention to work to eradicate hard-won rights for the LGBTQ community.

I fear for our environment, too, as cuts in funding and worse, for the EPA are planned.

“And, so it goes,” as Vonnegut said.

I tell my students who are looking for a second chance that I do not have a time machine.

We cannot go back. We must move forward.

In order to do that with integrity, I must reaffirm that when a person expresses racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic sentiments, and others listen, but do not reject these words, or pretend not to hear, they are in complicit agreement. This type of silence erodes humanity.

If you do not voice your opposition to the evils of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia, you are tacitly supporting these ideologies.

The words of Martin Luther King ‘s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” are sadly still apt, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” The frustrations and sadness being expressed stem from a place of true concern for the safety of others.

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Thus, I must be more forceful in my rejection of prejudices, whenever and wherever they occur. I will continue to support and educate. I will speak out against hatred in every possible venue. I will donate more money to organizations that protect rights, especially the ACLU, Teach Tolerance, and Planned Parenthood. I will listen to those who need to speak.

Two weeks ago, our brother asked what I wanted for our country; this was my reply, “logical and reasonable leadership, inclusion of people from all cultures, religions, and sexual orientations. I care about social issues, always have, that is my voice and my vote.”

That will always be my reply.

I am glad I saved those words to share with you (I am rather sentimental, as you know).

I hope that clarifies why I could never vote for Trump. How any woman could bring herself to vote to Trump, I cannot possibly fathom. The reasons for my choices are something I wanted to convey.

Whatever changes republicans attempt to make to this country—which is already great, thanks to incredible work of a host of immigrants from all over the globe—I will work to ensure that none come at the cost of undermining basic human rights for all.

I simply cannot and will not sit by and let a person, group, or party espouse and insight hatred. I love and respect all people, even those with whom I bitterly disagree.

This country is divided, of that there is no doubt. This country is changing, which is in large part responsible for the divide.

It is also true that we are all in this together; I cannot hope for four years of colossal failures because that wouldn’t serve the common good. What I do hope is that messages of love, tolerance, and acceptance will break through the walls erected against acceptance.

I continue to hope for a better future (and leave the praying to you).

More importantly, I will work for a better future by raising my voice in protest and in support for those whose rights or basic humanity would be denied.

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With love, always,

Tricia

Just Google It

Posted: October 26, 2016 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I were delighted to see a “Q & A: Student Discussion Panel” listed on our meeting agenda. Little known secret about teachers: we adore students. Students are the reason we do everything; we long to hear candid feedback from our target audience. just-google-1-516x300

At one point in the Q & A, a wonderful and ambitious student said, “We don’t even need to text books. Anything we need to know, we can just Google it.”

There was some laughter in the crowd, some incredulity, too.

I’m no fan of over-priced textbooks. In fact, members of my Liberal Arts department and I work to eliminate textbooks whenever possible, instructing students to use the University’s copious (and costly) library resources instead.  Nonetheless, the idea that Google could replace all book learning naturally upset my inner librarian and bibliophile.

A week later, I was in my HUM 310, a truly tremendous course in Contemporary Comparative World Literature, teaching “The Guest,” a short story by the brilliant Albert Camus.  After we discussed the story, I introduced my students to existentialism, often associated with Camus’ work, and a significant post-WW II philosophy that still resonates over 75 years later.

lux-ferre-philosophy-existentialism-jpgc200

If you also think this is hilarious, you might be a professor.

My students gamely struggled to even pronounce existentialism as I covered the basic precepts. Suddenly I was able to identify why I don’t think students can “Just Google” what they want or need to know. The truth is, many times we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t even know where to begin. They had never heard of existentialism; why would they ever ask Google about something of which they are completely ignorant?

In the same class, I shared an incredible project completed by an astounding woman, Ann Morgan, who decided to address the gaps in her knowledge base in an extraordinary way: by reading a book from every country in the world. In her talk, she explains difficulties she encountered as she sought to find books from each country to read in translation, and her complete unfamiliarity with leading authors in countries she’d never visited. Naturally, the Internet (and Google) helped make her amazing project possible, now allowing her to share her remarkable experience.  However, it also proves we need more, deeper knowledge than mere “fun facts” can provide.

While I’m glad my students believe that every seed of human knowledge is within reach, I’m certain that book-length texts (whether read in print or online) more fully enrich the foundation of our understanding, enabling natural curiosity to bloom and grow and thrive.

bookslearn

It’s always a good time to hit the books!

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

It’s back to school time here at RMU, the halls once again crowded with eager seekers of knowledge. I’m back at work with my beloved colleagues.

On the first day, we all imagine perfectly inspiring scenes from countless feel-good films suffused with persistent students, inspiring teachers, and life-changing intellectual achievement.

The reality is not quite so glossy.

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Nonetheless, there’s a lot to look forward to as we begin a new academic year.

Curiosity

dead-poets-society1

This is the dream of teachers everywhere, not the reality.

We wonder; we seek to know. We ask; we learn. The rest is homework.

Discovery

Marvelous insights patiently wait to be

discovered, a mine of jewels inside each mind.

Ambiguity

Ah, the persistent and wonderful tension at the heart of the grand and great complexities.

aristotle

Discord

Just for grown-ups. Disagree, with logic and clarity as your side. It’s healthy and beneficial, and the reason why there is more than one book on every subject in the library.

Harmony

Sometimes, classrooms can fill up with positive and productive energy. It is as rare as any other tremendously beautiful thing, and just as special.

 

Thus, hoping for the best, we start fresh, and hold our breath for a moment while the possibilities are still endless.

In Praise of Women

Posted: September 8, 2016 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I know amazing ladies, four fabulous sisters and one remarkable mother introduced me to the world of women.

My mother stressed the importance of female friendships, and I have had the unbelievable good fortune to have met terrific girls and women throughout my life. I have giggled along with their silliness, learned from their example, been astounded by their artistry, and marveled at their strength.

Sisterhood and friendship with remarkable women are the source of these essential life lessons:

Laughter each day

My female friends make anything fun. Go to the grocery store with Jenny Couch or (and!) Leah Allen someday and you’ll discover how hilarious a supermarket can be.

Generosity of Self

Women share what they have and what they know. The first and best example of generosity I can remember is my own mother, single-handedly raising seven kids, yet still selfless enough to donate blood to the American Red Cross at every opportunity, having given three gallons thus far. She explained that although she had no free time or available money, she still had something other people needed and it was her responsibility to help others any way she could.

The members of my book club—ten tremendous ladies—have another thing in common: volunteer service at 826 Chicago. Women historically volunteered more often because they had more free time if they didn’t work outside the home, but all the women I know through volunteer experiences work full time, at least.

One of my frequent complaints in book club is that most of the literature we read doesn’t fully represent the complex awesomeness of women, only rarely coming close to the depth of person-hood I know to be present in all women, and magnificently visible in those allowed to flourish.

Creative Energy

My favorite kind of historical woman is fierce, fearless, and uncompromising, wielding an unwavering belief in her own voice, talent, power, and path to prominence.

womenunite

Women in history amaze their admirers. The amount effort and tenacity they possess simply to fulfill their inherent talents and realize their full potential is astounding. Extraordinary women who transcend repression, a few of my chosen female trailblazers include:

Artemesia Gentileshci (1593-1656)

Jane Austen (1775-1817)

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

auguste-reading-to-her-daughter-1910

“Auguste Reading to Her Daughter,” Mary Cassatt

Jane Addams (1860-1935)

Maria Montessori (1870-1952)

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960)

Amelia Earhart (1897-1937)

Dolores Huerta (1930- )

Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1933- )

Sally Ride (1951-2012)

Dr. E. Sara Huh (1980?- ) [Seymour sends his best]

Malala Yousafzai (1997- )

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Persistence when faced with Problems

Every woman. Everywhere.

Leadership

Female heads of state are commonplace in every other industrialized nation, and they perform precisely as any other leader does, imperfectly but with conviction. I eagerly await the election of our first female president.

Just this summer we enjoyed the amazing accomplishments of the Women’s Olympic gymnastics team—young, strong, diverse, determined women, succeeding on their own and together, an ideal model for  the future of feminism.

Much is said of the capabilities women possess, or lack.

Capable of every worthy thing is what I know women to be.

good-women-quotes

The Chicago Experience

Posted: August 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

For undergrad, I went to a smaller, Christian-affiliated university in the Chicago suburbs, and all students had to take a handful of religion courses as part of our general education requirement. My senior year, I took a course in religious artwork to fulfill my final religion course. I was an art minor, so the topic sounded interesting, and I knew and liked the professor from a previous course. It was a good fit.

Mostly, we read our textbook, had discussions, and viewed examples of art that were projected onto a screen. The class was informative and enjoyable, and the professor was still very nice and knowledgeable. However, twelve years later, I have retained very little of the information. The fifteen weeks of classes seem to blur together as one, with no particular lesson or detail sticking out.

Contrarily, at the end of the semester, my professor asked us to meet him on Saturday in Chicago so we could visit various churches and cathedrals to examine them from an architectural and artistic perspective.

Twelve years later, I remember everything about that day.

For suburban kids, which is an appropriate description for all of us in that class, visiting the city was a rare event. Growing up, the city was only 35-40 minutes from home, and yet I would only be downtown once or twice per year, and always for some big event like the circus as a kid, or Bulls games when I got older. Even then, we’d drive in to our specific destination, attend the event, and then flee back to the suburbs as soon as it was over. Never was there any attempt to wander and experience the city. Everyone else I knew who grew up in the suburbs had, generally, the same experience. The city and suburbs, though separated by only a few miles, are two different worlds.

So, having the class meet at the Fourth Presbyterian Church, directly across the street from the John Hancock Center on Michigan Ave., was a different experience for all of us in class, and it took us outside of our comfort zones in a good way.

4th Pres

Fourth Presbyterian Church

I still remember specific details about all of the locations. Our first stop was Fourth Presbyterian, with the wooden angels flanking the nave. At St. James, we took in the rose window. At Holy Name, we got a “behind the scenes tour” to see papal garments. I reference that day whenever I am near any of those spots, much to the delight (or annoyance) of anyone with me at the moment.

Being able to go out into the world and experience the subject matter, rather than just talk about it inside a classroom, made all the difference. I interacted with the material, I retained the information, and I had an experience I will always remember. The stuff inside the classroom: a forgettable blur.

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The inside of Holy Name Cathedral.

After the class tour ended, I did something that seemed so wild to me at the time: I found my way to Wrigleyville, got a cheap ticket from a scalper, and went to a Cubs game. It was so much fun, and it just added to the day of memorable experiences in Chicago.

At Robert Morris University, all of the professors – myself included – try to get our classes out into the city as much as possible, as it is part of “The Chicago Experience” that we want to promote at RMU, but also because it’s just good teaching. We are so lucky to have our main campus right downtown. That trip I took in undergrad required all kinds of planning and coordination, and we had to do it on a weekend. Now, I could take my classes at RMU on the same trip with a quick walk or by hopping on the El, all during our regular class period.

Having such easy access to the city is not only a great academic experience, but it’s great life experience as well. When our classes head into the city, hopefully students learn the day’s academic lesson, but perhaps more importantly, they will be exposed to people, culture, and ideas they would have otherwise missed were they stuck in a classroom looking at PowerPoint slides or listening to a lecture.

For students who are from the suburbs and beyond, it’s exciting to welcome them to the buffet of awesome opportunities in Chicago. For students who are from Chicago, I never doubt that there is plenty more for them to explore and learn about in their hometown.

Since that undergrad course, I’ve spent so much time in the city, even aside from all the hours working at RMU’s downtown campus. I feel like I know the city fairly well, and yet I know I have experienced only a tiny fraction of what it has to offer. I want to keep exploring, and I like trying to pass that desire to explore on to my classes. I only have them in class for ten weeks, but they can venture out and learn from the world around them for the rest of their lives.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

I recently returned from a truly terrific trip to Spain.

As is sometimes the case, I hadn’t really expected to go on a trip to Spain. Travel opportunities present themselves in rather interesting ways. Margo and I went on one other somewhat spontaneous trip to Prague, Vienna, and Budapest eleven years ago, so we knew each other to be compatible travel partners. She wanted to go to Europe to celebrate a big birthday, and generously brought me along, in no small way helping heal my recently disappointed heart.

There is nothing quite like getting away to find your way back to who you truly are.

My older sister Margo and I spent twelve days exploring a spectacular slice of Spain, from Madrid northeast to Barcelona and southeast along the Mediterranean coast to Valencia.

The highlights of our trip were as eclectic as the country. We enjoyed art and architecture, culture and community, food and drink.

Here, in no particular order, is my “Top Ten” Spain List

Cable Car to Montserrat

Riding in a cable car was a new experience, which is enough to make it special, but the views of the surrounding mountains were also memorable.

Flamenco Dance Performance in Madrid

flamenco

The most apt response to seeing the phenomenal flamenco performance at Café de Chinitas is that it is worth crossing an ocean to see the artists perform: simply breathtaking!

Paseo in Madrid

The tradition of evening strolls is pleasing as both spectator and participant. On the second night in Madrid, I followed the crowd across a street and stumbled upon the park at Plaza De Espana, complete with sparkling fountains, kissing couples, happy families, and enthusiastic street artists. Oftentimes during my travels, I find myself feeling completely at home in some far-flung part of the world, imagining another life I might have led, if only. .

Mercat de San Miguel in Madridcava

Here, my sister fell in with the Saturday night rituals of Madrilenos, inspecting the delicious foods on display, and finding our way to the bar for a fantastic glass of cava.

Tapas, cervezas, and sangria: oh, my!

Much of our travel itinerary included sampling as much local fare as possible via tapas crawls, really just day-long bar crawls, of which I was happily aware. My favorite discoveries included boquerones, fresh anchovies pickled in vinegar and served with olive oil, bread, and garlic. I shall attempt to make them at home and see how well I can recreate the delicious taste of salt and sea in this delightful dish. Tapas are just an excuse to sit and have a drink, so we concocted as many excuses as possible and had a great time!

While I’ll never be able to remember all of the bars where we stopped for a quick rest, a cold drink, and a salty snack, El Rincon, connected to the train station in Montserrat, appeared like a mirage in the afternoon heat, offering glasses of iced sangria while we waited 30 minutes for the next train back to Madrid.

A great view and a friendly waiter at a bar in Segovia

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Our day trip to Segovia ended with a steady walk downhill, with a perfectly-timed stop at an inviting sidewalk café and bar. The view of the surrounding countryside, the cozy tables, the shady umbrella—it was all delightful.

Our bartender immediately noticed our family resemblance and asked me while pointing to Margo, “Tu Hermana?”

“Si,” I replied, and our conversation rolled well from there.

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Swimming in the Mediterranean off the coast of Valencia

I mean, c’mon. The sea is a lovely place to be.

Paella in Valencia

We tried the seafood paella at La Pepica, one of Hemingway’s old haunts. He was so effusive of his praise of restaurants that some clearly survive off just the rumor of his passing through. The next night I got the paella Valenciana at El Coso, prepared with rabbit and chicken, and, honestly, it was even better than the seafood version. I shall endeavor to make a decent paella sometime soon for my Urban Family.

Barri Gotic in Barcelona

For goodness sake, when you go to Barcelona, go here immediately and wander into the charming squares and have a drink under the archways and listen to local gypsy musicians sing and play.

The Magic Fountains on Montjuic

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Selected to cap off our trip and happily scheduled for our last night in Spain, the Magic Fountains are an incredible show, with music and colored lights and seemingly at least 20,000 spectators. My sister and I grabbed a table and ordered beer after beer until the show began at 9:00pm. We stayed long enough to see the colors and hear the songs, until we were both happy, and tired, and drunk.

The world is home to all of us, with all its natural and man-made wonders. We must enjoy them, and each other, while we can.

One of the truly humbling—and crucially important—aspects of international travel is the necessity of communicating in a language other than our own. I stumbled through my weak Spanglish, occasionally slipped into terrible French, and often resorted to reusing important two-word refrains, “muchas gracias” and “lo siento” being the most suitable.

Traveling allows us to see the world differently, and understand how unique and wonderful every individual is. We all have our own histories and neighborhoods and experiences that shape who we are and what we become. As we venture far from home, we come to know ourselves better, recognize in fresh faces new friends.

***

On a more somber note, the tragedy in Nice, France, occurred while I was abroad. My first awareness of the event happened via Facebook. My friend, Vicky “checked in as safe” as she and her husband and young son live in Nice. I met Vicky in Nice in 1999, on my first international trip to stay with our mutual friend, Leah, who was in France teaching English at the time. I’m glad I could learn that Vicky was safe without having to wait and worry, but how dreadful that such technology is necessary. The tragic loss is just one of countless losses, the result of ideology that seeks to see only irresolvable differences between people, rather than shared humanity. Travel does the opposite.

Across the world, I have encountered countless friendly strangers, willing to help me find me way when I was lost. We can and must continue to celebrate ourselves and invite others to join our celebrations. The only way forward, onward, will always be together.

The world is vast, but travel can help develop an open mind and a loving heart. No matter how different we may seem, we are all one human family.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Political humor is a wonderful and necessary rhetorical tool in shaping our perceptions about politics and politicians.

Growing up in the 80s/90s, I was shaped in part by the many hilarious impersonations of politicians by one of America’s most notable comedic institutions: Saturday Night Live. A number of SNL’s most famous impersonations have become more ingrained in our culture than the actual politicians.

Still today, when I hear George H.W. Bush I first think of SNL’s Dana Carvey:

And Carvey again for Ross Perot:

Ross Perot

“Can. I. Finish?”

And Jon Lovitz as Michael Dukakis:

 

These days, it seems nearly impossible to separate Sarah Palin from Tina Fey’s brilliant impersonation of her:

Sarah Palin

When done well, political humor reveals critical truths about politicians, policies, laws, and societal injustices, all in a way that makes us laugh and makes topics a bit more palatable and approachable. Even scorching criticism can be made to seem charming in the right hands; Fey’s Palin is a good example. In some ways, so is Jimmy Fallon’s Trump impersonations, like when he played Trump with the cast of Full House.

 

Or back in the 90s when Phil Hartman’s Bill Clinton stopped in McDonald’s to sneak food off of customers’ plates:

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In this way, humor invites a larger audience into important discussions. Upon taking over The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon was advised by his predecessor Jay Leno to lengthen his monologue because it isn’t just a source of laughter, but also as a way to inform people about the news of the day. And the same can be said for other famous sources of political humor like The Daily Show and The Onion.

However, I wonder if our round-the-clock access to social media, communication, and information has created a detrimental excess of political humor.

This week provided one possible example.

On Monday night, Donald Trump’s wife Melania spoke at the Republican National Convention. By the time I woke up early Tuesday morning, reports were posted everywhere that she had plagiarized a portion of her speech from a Michelle Obama speech. By the time I arrived at work, I had already seen countless posts across social media making fun of Melania and the situation. When I checked social media at lunch, the flood of jokes had not even slowed, nor had they when I checked social media again in the early evening. The jokes were coming from all levels: from regular folks to major publications and shows.

Not even 24 hours removed from Melania’s speech, I already thought, “Okay, the jokes have been absolutely beaten to death.”

Just to be clear, I have no allegiance or affiliation to either political party or candidate, and my example is not a veiled defense of Melania or the situation. I am all for anyone and everyone calling out any politician or any of their associates who do or say anything wrong, and I want people to be able to have productive dialogue about important issues. And that’s really a major part of my concern with the excess of humor.

Political humor, when done well and delivered in the right doses, inspires productive dialogue. But the well done doses are now surrounded by floods of other material, much of which is unfunny, and some of which can even be insulting and inflammatory, which just serves to shut down dialogue, not inspire it.

Partly, the poor material is a product of the “writers”; there is obviously a world of difference between John Q. Facebook trying to be witty and the professional writers developing material on shows like SNL, The Tonight Show, and The Daily Show.

Plus, on social media, many of the posts are just playing to the lowest common denominator to get attention and more ‘Likes’ while having zero concern for promoting thoughtfulness and dialogue.

Ultimately, the comedic congestion can turn important issues into white noise, meaning the inspired political humor that is aiming to be informative and transformative is getting partially (or completely) lost in the buzz. And if the flood of voices “kill the joke” so quickly, are people burning out on subjects before ever taking time to give the subject some proper thought and conversation?

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

As a student of history, I am usually pretty dubious about claims to novelty.  When someone says ‘There has never been a time/event/thought/argument like this before!!’, my first thought is usually ‘You sure about that?’ But, there are times when professions of originality are justified. No matter what the cliches claim, history doesn’t simply repeat itself ad infinitum.

This political season has had a number of ‘never-befores’.  Just because it is a ‘never before’ though, doesn’t mean that it will be a ‘never again’. The most revolutionary aspect of this election cycle, and the one that will be with us for the foreseeable future is the role social media is playing in our political culture.  This blog post will be the first in a number that will explore the sometimes exciting, sometimes troubling innovations in the quickly developing realm of social media politics.


To label social media politics as revolutionary is not hyperbole, nor is it surprising. Social media has revolutionized so many parts of our lives, why not mainstream electoral politics?  However, what is shocking is the transformative figure at the forefront twitter-social-network-icon-vector_652139of this revolution. It is not some youthful radical Congressional candidate from Berkeley or Brooklyn. No, this revolutionary figure is a 70 year-old angry dude who, prior to last year was best known for a reality television series and a combover.  Of course, I refer to Donald Trump.

Since he entered the race for the Republican nomination last June, Trump has continually been underestimated.  Over and over, political prognosticators have made two incorrect, though related projections.  One group of media fortune-tellers simply believed Trump would inevitably lose because of his ‘lack dailynewstrumpof a filter’.  According to this mainstream assumption, Trump would say too many offensive and/or ridiculous things, and the inherently moderate American voter would surely turn away in disgust.  That did not happen in the Republican primary, and these prognosticators were forced to reassess their beliefs….but only slightly. The Nostradamus crowd predicted that once Trump had to deal with the larger American general electorate, he would either veer to the center. The assumption was that Trump would batten down the hatches, go middle of the road, or inevitably face defeat. If the latest polls are any indication, these ‘expert’ opinions may be proven wrong as well.  What the nation’s political commentators never grasped was one of the  reasons Trumpists love Trump: The man never does what most rational observers would expect.

Nothing has displayed Trumpian ‘irrationality’ more than the candidate’s Twitter account. Like all social media, Twitter allows the user to instantaneously respond to external events, or share individual thoughts and personal desires. Trump tweets have allowed America to see the ‘realDonaldTrump’.  But Trump’s Twitter has become much more than simply a tool for his personal attacks, or a display of his psyche. Trump has  transformed the social media tool into a personal permanent propaganda platform. In this, he seems to eerily understand our media saturated environment better than any major political figure in recent memory. Here is how it all works:

  1. In 140 characters, Trump shoots off 3 or 4 controversial messages a week, knowing full well the media echo-chamber will spread his message to the masses.
  2. His twitter followers see his tweet, and adopt his political lexicon.
  3. However, many of these ‘followers’ are not Trumpians. Some are social media watchdogs who wait for the candidate to write something outrage.
  4. These people then retweet the original tweet with criticism attached, sending it to a whole new audience.
  5. Eventually, social media news platforms of both political stripes pick up the tweet, share it, and pass it on to an even more diverse audience.
  6. Lastly, once these platforms are all writing similar articles, the largest outlets get involved.  When Trump’s tweets get enough traction, it gets splayed in the MSM (Main Stream Media) of major Newspapers, TV and radio. And just like that….billions upon billions of humans can’t stop analyzing Trump’s latest statement.

This methodology of political propaganda is obviously cunning.  But, there is a very strange paradox wrapped into this method as well. Trump’s social media campaign speaks to his voters and, perhaps even more importantly, he speaks in the voice of his voters. Trump provides quick-hitters in black trump-twitterand white absolutes. After all, there can truly only be absolutes in the Twitter-verse; in 140 characters nuance is all but impossible. For a very large portion of humanity living in a confusing time of change, this absolutism is obviously reassuring. However, for many of the people Trump is speaking to and for, the original medium he is using for his message is one of the most troubling symbols of our rapidly changing world. For a great number of Americans who wish to ‘make America Great Again,’ social media is an enemy. It is understood by wide swathes of Americans as THE vehicle feeding our nation’s already intense narcissistic tendencies. Even more mysterious is that one of Trump’s most important demographics has no experience with using social media at all. Last year, when Trump was still fighting for the Republican nomination, almost 40% of his supporters were over 65 years old.  These same 65 year-olds are generally the ones who, at the very least, don’t have a strong connection to social media.  According to Pew Research, only 9% of Twitter users are over 60 years old. 91% of Twitter users are ‘kids these days.’

So, what is happening?  That is a much more difficult question to answer.

I think part of the answer can be found in the duel nature of social media in our political culture. It is both a source of enlightenment, and also a source of paranoia.  Perhaps investigating this duality in my next blog will shed light on this paradox.