Archive for October, 2013

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I love candy, because I’m a fat kid at heart; Literally – I may actually have Sour Patch Kids lodged in my arteries. Since no holiday celebrates candy to orgiastic proportions like Halloween, let’s clarify some points about the season’s sugary delights:

  • Candy is the only time when the “Fun Size” is the smaller size.
    • Why do we accept companies dictating a “Fun Size” to us? How’d those “Fun Size” sodas work out in New York?

snickers-300x224

  • There are “King Size” candy bars, just like with beds. But there are no “Queen Size” bars. At worst, that seems sexiest. At minimum, that seems like a lonely life for the King.
    • Twix and Kit Kat already handled the “Twin Size.”
These are Twix...I hope.

These are Twix…I hope.

  • Candy corn is associated with Halloween, but I associate real corn with summer more than fall. We need candy versions of true fall staples:
    • candy hay fever
    • candy influenza
    • candy forgot-to-change-my-clocks
    • candy “why-is-it-so-cold-in-this-house”
    • candy “sure-is-gettin’-dark-early-these-days”
  • Taffy Apples count as a serving of fruit. Just because an apple rolled around in some caramel and nuts doesn’t mean it’s no longer an apple.
    • If a person rolled around in caramel and nuts, they’d still be a person – a person you’d totally want to hangout with.
      • Non-Halloween Point of Clarification: a banana split is also a serving of fruit.
  • Taffy Apples with sprinkles are apples with an identity crisis. They’re half-Halloween, half-Ice Cream Shop, and All-Carnivale.
  • Pumpkin is getting imperialistic. Pie was fine, but it has pushed its way into candies, cookies, donuts, spiced lattes. If you find a pumpkin outside your home that you didn’t put there, it’s there to take your stuff.
    • Our ancestors saw this coming, hence why they started carving pumpkins.
"Gimme the deed to your property...and maybe a latte. NOW!"

“Gimme the deed to your property…and maybe a latte. NOW!”

  • Smarties are Tums that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.
  • Snickers are my favorite chocolate candy, but what the hell is nougat?
    • Don’t Google “nougat” right now and then claim you knew all along.
  • Dum Dums should not be allowed at Halloween. I don’t want to be gifted a candy that people regularly get at the bank and the doctor’s office.
  • Spooky gummy candies like eyeballs, fingers, and spiders are disturbing and unacceptable.
    • If I wanted to eat something posing as meat, I’d have seitan.
  • Whatever happened to Bazooka Joe?
    • Maybe if he hadn’t been toying around with the bazooka, he’d still have both his eyes.
    • It’s odd that a dude named “Bazooka” Joe has such small arms.
Bazooka Joe

Bazooka Joe

  • Why do “Fun Size” Starbursts always have either red or orange in them? Gimme yellow! Gimme pink!
  • Dots were clearly invented by the dental community.
    • Dots, or D.O.T.S., is actually an acronym: Dentist-Orchestrated-Tactical-Sweets.

dots

  • Tootsie Pops are Tootsie Rolls in body armour.
    • That owl in the glasses is a bully.
"I count the licks, but it doesn't matter, 'cause I'm just gonna bite this s*** anyway."

“I count the licks, but it doesn’t matter, ’cause I’m just gonna bite this s*** anyway.”

  • I feel bad for the candies that are always the last ones picked, like the nerd in gym class. Everyone burns through the Snickers, Butterfingers, Reese’s…and then at the bottom of the bowl, there is a sad and lonely “Fun Size” Whoopers looking like a discarded, seasonal pearl tampon.
    • Ironically, candy Nerds get picked quickly.

nerds

  • Junior Mints are the only candy you can purposefully eat before or during a date.
    • “They’re very refreshing!”
  • One final note as you prepare to pass out candy today: inedible items are unacceptable Halloween treats, such as pennies, wax vampire fangs, McDonald’s gift certificates, and Almond Joys.

Happy Halloween, y’all!

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The other day I was having a conversation with the inimitable Dr. Peter Stern.  I don’t really remember what we were talking about, but I made a claim that, the more I thought about it, seemed more and more true.   Simply as an aside, I said that from the years 1890-1945 Europe produced an inordinate amount of human brilliance.  As Peter and I pondered, we both felt that this statement was undeniable. Just take a look at the vast array of influential figures who were living, working and thinking during that first half century of the twentieth century.

Novelists/Writers: Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Musil, Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, Knut Hamsun, D.H. Lawrence, Andre Gide, James Joyce, Hermann Hesse, Italo Svevo, Vladimir Nabakov, Samuel Beckett, Joseph Roth, George Orwell, Arthur Koestler, Bertolt Brecht, etc, etc.

Philosophers: Hannah Arendt, A.J. Ayer, Isaiah Berlin, Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Simone Weil, Walter Benjamin, Henri Bergson, Benedetto Croce, Martin Heidegger, etc, etc.

Niels_Bohr_Albert_Einstein_by_Ehrenfest

Bohr and Einstein

Social Scientists/Psychologists/Economists: Freud, Jung, Adler, John Maynerd Keynes, Freidrich Hayek, Joseph Schumpeter, William James, Peter Kropotkin, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, etc, etc.

Physical Scientists: Albert Einstein, Neil Bohrs, Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, Nikola Tesla, Max Planck, Ivan Pavlov. Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schroedinger, etc, etc.

Musicians/Dancers: Nijinsky, Diaghilev, Mahler, Shostakovitch, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, etc, etc.

Painters/Artists: Picasso, Braque, Modigliani, Matisse, Cezanne, Munch, Kandinsky, Klimt, Marc, Paul Klee, Egon Schiele, Beckmann, Dix, Kathe Kollewitz, etc, etc.

This is a small list that I came up with on the quick, and it is by no means complete.  The point is, for the population of Europe at this time (about 300-400 million), the number of brilliantly influential figures is inordinate; perhaps even incredible.

Perhaps ironically, perhaps not, this era also gave birth to the modern world’s most horrifically violent ruptures: The World Wars.  And so, this list has an air of tragedy about it as well.  How much brilliance was annihilated in the years 1914-1918, and 1939-1945?

salinger-docu

Salinger in the military

During the First World War, roughly ten million young people lost their lives, almost all of them men. Many were already promising cultural figures; the vast majority, however, never had the opportunity to effect the world. A generation later, this ‘War to end all Wars’ would be overshadowed, and dwarfed by the Second World War.  In Europe, roughly 40 million people were killed from 1939-1945.  Unlike the First World War, the majority of the dead were civilians.  Males and females, both old and children,  were killed in the Nazi Holocaust, 300px-matisse-open-windowSoviet reprisals and repression, American and British bombings of Axis cities, and old ethnic conflicts rekindled by the war.

These wars annihilated millions of unheard voices that may have been the next Picasso, or Wittgenstein, the next Proust or Einstein.  I recently learned that the famously private American author, J.D. Salinger landed in France on D-Day carrying numerous chapters of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ in his rucksack. How many soldiers lost their future cultural glory to an anonymous shell fragment?  How many children died in the gas chambers of Birkenau with color schemes in their mind’s eyes that would have put Matisse to shame?

It was truly an era of brilliance. It was truly an era of tragedy.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

We humble men and women of the good ship RMU Eagle are justly noted for our very admirable commitment to teaching students in a wide range of subject areas and for our miraculous ability to successfully steer students through immense oceans of ignorance until they acquire the skills they need to master the area they’ve chosen to specialize in; however, I must report that I now find trying to understand current developments in my area of expertise an increasingly difficult challenge.

Let me attempt to explain what I mean. For some unknown reason, I’ve always been interested in politics. I can remember reading newspapers and magazines at a reasonably early age looking for info on politics be it about issues or individuals–presidents in particular. The names of every member of Congress were known to me as were all the Supreme Court Justices. Usually, I also knew the names of all the individuals who served as members of the President’s cabinet. In high school, I wrote articles about politics in the school newspaper and participated a bit in student government. I continued following politics in college, and majored in political science. When I went on to graduate school, my goal was again to get a degree in political science, though I varied my concentration a bit by specializing in political philosophy.

Now as I leap forward an immense amount of years and enter the sunset of my career, I believe I have a fairly solid grasp of my field, even as my interests broadened after leaving graduate school, but increasingly I realize that developing a firm grasp on current political developments seems more difficult than it was in the past. I’m not sure if this is because my brain is slowly and sometimes, to my immense dismay, quickly unraveling, or because, instead, political developments today have become more complicated than they were a few decades ago. Of course a third possibility is that both factors are at work.

Let me give you, you heavenly Turtle gourmets, a relatively simple example of the frustrations I run into analyzing the current political landscape. Let’s say my goal is to determine how our famous city of broad shouldered hog butchers is fairing at present. Well, candor compels me to confess that I’m having an absurdly difficult time answering this question. On the surface, things seem fine. The lakefront looks great; in fact it’s never looked better. North Michigan Avenue appears to be thriving, buses around town seem full, more people are going to movies; they’re also starting to buy more cars, and reports indicate that the housing market is finally opening up.

On the other hand, the city’s budget gives some cause for concern. Once again on the surface, our mayor, Rahmbo, the Extraordinarily Magnificent, submitted a budget for next year that didn’t cause budget experts to sound anxious alarms. Yet whether the alarms should have gone off is a question which lingers, given the enormity of the pension problems the city faces, and the public school system’s very substantial debt–by substantial I’m talking about a billion dollar debt with rating agencies recently downgrading Chicago issued bonds.

Rahm-Emanuel-007

These issues sound relatively objective and adult, but I’ve not yet mentioned another factor, one quite bizarre and surely not brand new, which plays a mighty role in the governance of our so called toddling town. I’m referring to the disturbing fact that Chicago’s been governed (run) for over a 100 years by a one party machine organization making our city one of the most corrupt in the country. The machine knows no real outside control which helps explain why the city’s finances seem so shaky for the machine cuts deals which often benefit itself at the city’s expense.

A wacko example of such dealings hit the front page of the Sun-Times last weekend, though it had been already been in the papers several times over the past two years. The story involved a major league law suit that our mayor initiated against owners of the Park Grill Restaurant located on the edge of Millenium Park. Why did Rahmbo the Extraordinarily Magnificent sue the Park Grill owners two years ago in a case that’s already run up over 2 million dollars in legal fees, and has seen part of the suit go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court where a majority of the justices ruled against the city?

Park Grill at Millennium Park in Chicago.

Park Grill at Millennium Park in Chicago.

The altruistic reason the mayor gives for the suit is that the restaurant’s owners won a sweetheart deal from the city because they’re clout engorged cronies of Chicago’s ex steward–yes, I mean they’re close pals of our beloved, revered, and respected ex mayor, originally of Bridgeport, who now resides somewhere along the corridors of the trendy well healed precincts of North Michigan Avenue. Yes, he said Yes, and again yes, yes! Yes, the Right Honorable Richard M. Daley approved an absurdly favorable deal for the Grill Restaurant owners which included The Grill getting free utilities for between 20 and 30 years, and paying peanuts in taxes on the revenues the restaurant earned over this extended period of time. But why the over qualified, immensely talented, and hugely public spirited current Chicago mayor is going for blood here is a question I can’t answer since deals like the one given to the Park Grill owners represent a 100 year Chicago tradition. All anyone can say for sure is that Rahmbo, the Extraordinarily Magnificent, has made this suit a priority item.

These old fashioned realities combined with new political developments is what makes analyzing current politics increasingly difficult. I believe that most of the difficulty is rooted in the introduction of new strategies for dealing with government budgets which make it easier for politicians to evade or ignore budgetary constraints, at least in the short run. The odd thing is that a phenomenon which in the past seemed very objective and real–namely individuals and organizations knew whether or not they were solvent– no longer appear so clear cut.

Moreover, the higher the level of government, the less budget numbers assume an objective status. To me, this change goes a long way towards explaining why Congress had so much difficulty negotiating a reasonable budget agreement which would have avoided shutting down the federal government, even though the shut down lasted for a very short period of time. As far as our legislators are concerned, when push comes to shove, the government–especially the federal government– can always take on more debt particularly when the government can borrow at rates it keeps artificially low.

And this is also why relatively intelligent folks like myself now find keeping up with political developments much harder than they were in the past.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I was sabotaged yesterday.

This week, I have been visiting the Introduction to Communications courses at Robert Morris University to sell freshmen on taking my News Writing course next term. My colleagues have been generous in allowing me to steal some of their class time so I can make my pitch like an old-timey Miracle Tonic grifter.

Tonic

And then there was Mr. David Pyle, the wiley saboteur.

Mr. Pyle is a comedy ninja. He waits silently in the shadows during office hours and meetings until the opportunity presents itself, then he leaps into the light, dropkicks you in the face with a brilliant joke, throws down a smoke bomb, and vanishes. He is effective and efficient. This may be because he trained with the League of Shadows’ little-known, yet highly successful Stand-up Comedy program.

Pyle Ninja

I am fortunate to work with lots of funny people, and Mr. Pyle may be the funniest of them all, in part because he isn’t one of those obnoxious people who spends all day trying to be funny. Like me.

Which brings us to yesterday when I visited his class during my promotional tour. He stepped in front of class and introduced me by stating that, in the past couple years, he has been forced to relinquish his title as funniest person at RMU to me.

You may think he offered me a great compliment.

NAY!

Sabotage!

Pyle returned to the lectern, leaving me adrift in a sea of silence on stage. When I glanced over at him, his expression said, “Try and make ‘em giggle now, you fat-headed jokester!”

In that moment, given the hype, I had to immediately say something hilarious to retain this title that was thrust upon me. It couldn’t be “lol” funny, or “LOL” or even “LMAO.” It had to be full-on ROTFLMAO.

So, I looked at the class and fired my best material:

Which of course means I had nothing. Absolutely nothing. I think I may have hiccuped, or sniffled, but that’s about it.

Pyle was victorious. He drank my milkshake. He sank my battleship. He shake and baked my title as comedy king, and I helped.

And that means that, once again, the Crowned King of Comedy at RMU is one Mr. David Pyle.

It is hard for anyone, in any field, to live up to lofty expectations. Pyle pushed me up onto the pedestal and I tumbled. I believe this was premeditated, that crafty saboteur. Now he can rest easy after knocking down his competition. Before, I may have been considered mildly funny, but now my comedic worth has fallen so far that I am going to start a support group with Andrew Dice Clay and Dane Cook.

dane-clay

Though I failed, I believe Mr. Pyle is funny enough to live up to the lofty comedy expectations, or even surpass them. He’s just that funny.

For example, he would still be funny if someone wrote a post on the internet about how funny he is.

Or if a colleague started a Facebook fan page that asks people to “LIKE” if Pyle is funny.

Or if that same colleague bought the domain name “PylesOFsmiles.com” for a comedy tribute website. Or to sell to him if he becomes a dentist or the CEO of Orbit gum.

Yes, expectations can be rough. But Mr. Pyle’s got this! Just you wait and see. He will respond to this post with the funniest thing you’ve read this week, or maybe this month, or maybe EVER!

(This post was not endorsed by Mr. David Pyle or his representatives. Portions of this post may be exaggerated, or outright false. But it’s mostly true. Maybe. God Bless America.)

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty.

For the past ten years or so, I have been working on creating the perfect guest list for a dinner party in the afterlife.

I’ve decided to limit it to a party of six, mostly because my friend and restaurant manager extraordinaire Leah has informed me that is the best number of guests.

Once I settle in to the afterlife and establish a routine, my first obstacle will be determining the finest restaurants, and whether or not food is consumed. I’m hopeful that the film Defending Your Life

Epictetusis correct in the expectation that dead people can eat all they like and never gain weight. Once I’m sure I can get a good table, I plan to send elegant invitations to my carefully selected guests:

Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus

English satirist Jonathan Swift 250px-Jonathan_Swift_by_Charles_Jervas_detail

English novelist Jane Austen

American Humorist Mark Twain

And American social activist Martin Luther King, Jr.

These five illustrious guests, plus myself, will certainly create sparkling conversation, an idyllic party of six to liven up the tedium of death.

Like any good host, I was careful when selecting my guests. Although I wanted to include some favorite visual artists, they can be prickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to meet Picasso for drinks, but something tells me he’d get too drunk at dinner and offend Jane Austen, either physically, verbally, or both. Most of the other artists whose work I admire tend to be reclusive, difficult, or downright weird. Another guest I initially considered including was Oscar Wilde, but I suspect he’d want to dominate the conversation all night. After he’d interrupted Epictetus for the third time, laughing eagerly at his own wit, we’d all end up rolling our eyes in Wilde’s direction. And, while I love music, my knowledge in this area is limited, and I’m afraid any notable musician might want to talk about music at great depth all the while subtly insulting everyone else’s musical taste. I mean, I know it’s not technically good, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Schubert tell me ABBA’s oeuvre is worthless.

Jane-Austen-9192819-1-402This dinner party offers so much potential enjoyment. Like so many of her devoted readers, I am truly interested in Jane Austen the woman. She is reported to have been funny and friendly, and while not 1289926514-Mark Twainbeautiful, attractive and charming enough to be excellent company. I don’t know if she and Twain will have already settled their differences related to his rather stinging remarks, but I imagine the two of them could get along quite well in the right circumstances, and I am fairly certain she could match him in conversation. As the daughter of a preacher, Austen will have no trouble talking doctrine with the Reverends Swift and King. I suspect that the inclusion of so many religious thinkers would amuse my mother, who thinks I’m past help afterlife-speaking, but once dead, all speculation will be revealed as either truth or fiction, so I expect to have a good laugh one way or the other. Epictetus might seem like the odd man at the table, but his pragmatic approach to philosophy will be just what we need if Twain gets spiteful, Swift gets preachy, or Austen flirts too disgracefully with Martin Luther King, Jr.

mlk

My guest list thus perfected, I am now content to spend the rest of my terrestrial life contemplating the details. Naturally, I’d want to sit and talk to any one of these remarkably complex, deeply fascinating, and meaningfully productive individuals one-on-one, but the fun of the dinner would offer the added pleasure of watching them interact with one another. Here’s hoping the afterlife is BYOB.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Teaching a course on the Holocaust is challenging.  What should be the goal of the course: To explain why the event occurred, or how it transpired?  What should the course focus upon most: The perpetrators of the crime, or the auschwitz-birkenauvictims of the massacres?  How should we remember the legacy of the nightmare: As a unique moment in history, or simply another horrendous chapter in the unending book of human cruelty?

As an instructor, I have other, more personal hurdles as well.  I naturally attempt to use humor, and irony to make points in my courses.  This is not possible when analyzing Auschwitz-Birkenau.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I attempt to use images and video as learning tools.  There is no shortage of documented images from the Shoah, but where do you draw the line between necessary illumination of horror, and macabre voyeurism?

These are difficult questions I face every Tuesday and Thursday at 10AM.

But, this quarter I am finding that I have a new, more disturbing challenge.    During the last couple weeks, I have come to realize that  I was using the language of Nazism to explain the historical context of the genocide. I know this sounds….not good, so let me explain.

When investigating the Nuremberg Laws, Kristallnacht, and Nazi propaganda, I must analyze Nazi ideology with my students.  They must understand that the Nazi weltschauung was Manichean in nature.  Good vs. Evil, right vs. wrong, light vs. dark.  Hitler and the Nazis understood humanity and individual identities utilizing such antithetical notions.  Supposed racial essence, most obviously the difference between Jews and Aryans, was all important. During 1933-1939, the period that Saul Friedländer has termed the ‘Years of Persecution’, Hitler and his Nazi movement regularized such ideas throughout German society.  The Nazi’s initial end during these early years was not to annihilate the Jewish people, but to destroy the Jewish community within the German homeland.  German Jews were to subjugated and relegated to secondary status, with the hope that the community would disintegrate through emigration. Thus, the Nazi state constantly and ubiquitously portrayed an ineffable and unbridgeable gap between the true German, the ‘Aryan’, and the parasitic outsider, ‘the Jew’. This portrayal of complete difference allowed the ‘German Aryan’ to feel superior to his German Jewish neighbor, and have no problem with any legal discrimination against the latter that was passed.  This was incredibly, and horrendously effective.

Victor Klemperer

Victor Klemperer

The success of Hitler and the Nazis in this realm can be seen in the fact that my students are surprised that many German Jews felt they were Germans first, and Jews second.  In 1933, there were only about 500,000 German Jews living within the Reich, and a great number of these men, women and children constructed their personal identity upon national, not religious or racial, terms.  German Jews were proud of German influence in world affairs, in German technology, German education, and, most particularly, in German high culture. Just like non-Jewish Germans, they lionized Beethoven, Kant, Goethe.  In fact, a good number of German Jews were disgusted by what they understood as Hitler’s theft of the German cultural heritage, since they believed Hitler was wholly antithetical to this legacy.  For instance, Victor Klemperer, a German First World War veteran, diarist, and German Jew, viewed the Nazi movement, and Hitler in particular, as a horrendous befouling of the German Kultur and Bildung that he loved so much Hitler and his Nazi thugs smeared the true Germany that so many German Jews adored.

This brings me back to my newest challenge.  I understand the complexity of German Jewish identity, the stealing of Germanness from the nation’s Jews, and yet, I find myself linguistically differentiating Jews and Germans in my lectures.   As I explain Nazi methods and ideas, I inadvertently, yet unthinkingly, fall into the Nazi usage of antithetical identity language.  Looking at German history during the Hitler years causes me to separate ‘Jews’ from ‘Germans’, in an absolute, essentialist manner.  I inform my students that ‘Jews’ and not ‘Germans’ were most effected by the Nuremberg laws.  I explain to them that the ‘Jews’ and not ‘Germans’  faced persecution on Kristallnacht.  I illustrate that it was the Jews and not ‘Germans’ who were transported to Auschwitz-Birkanau, Treblinka, and Belzec.  In this, I teach the fallacy that Jews were not Germans, and Germans were not Jews.

I nauseously realized that I may be providing Hitler with a posthumous victory.

I can’t let that happen.

By Peter Stern, Philosophy Faculty

As I find myself getting older with ever increasing grace, realizing more and more how selflessly I’ve dedicated myself to helping others in myriad ways small and large, and yet still feeling like I should work more to further improve myself, I can end my day on a happy note and look forward to waking up the next day on an upbeat note as well.

I say these things not out of conceit or to blow my own horn–not as something personal, but as business, meaning it’s impersonal and objective, no different from saying that two plus two is four. I’m simply giving an honest appraisal of myself, taking note not only of my successes but also my shortcomings. For like arms and legs, fingers and toes, we humans wherever we happen to live and work and however young or old we may be we all unfortunately have some shortcomings.

This doesn’t mean we’re bad people who are out to harm others and need to be carefully watched and monitored. Nor does it mean we’re bereft of virtues and our lives must, of necessity, turn out badly. Oh contraire. Despite our shortcomings, we’re perfectly capable to doing good things and being regarded, rightly, as good people. So when I describe my virtues and the way grace follows me about, I’m being perfectly objective without ignoring I also suffer some shortcomings, though, since I wish to highlight my honesty, I should mention that these shortcomings seem to be decreasing both in number and severity as I continue working on them.

Of course by publicly making these claims of virtue, I expose myself to the possibility some may dissent from what they believe is my far too rosy account of my person. So be it. For I’m sufficiently convinced my virtues speak for themselves and that enough of you very dear turtles reading this post will find no difficulty agreeing with me and hence rise to my defense should some misguided personage wish unfairly criticize me, for their own purposes, whatever those purposes may be.

I wish to emphasize my virtues here in the Turtle because I believe one of my best traits is the graciousness and good cheer with which I take criticism. I don’t get angry or resentful, nor do I mindlessly lash out at my critic or critics. My response is the precise opposite. I welcome criticism since I view it as an opportunity to grow and mature. Here’s the kind of person I am: If I’m doing something wrong, I want to correct the situation as fast as possible. Criticism isn’t about hurt feelings and defensiveness; it’s about correcting mistakes, growing in depth and breadth, and becoming more accomplished in whatever one’s doing.

Now that you, you ever patient, understanding, and insightful Flaneurite, fully realize where I’m coming from you can better appreciate my immense disappointment in reading the post of a Flaneur reader furiously attacking my previous post about the hopelessly hackneyed phrase “thinking out the box.” This ruthless effort to undermine my integrity and philosophical commitment to clear expression and deep thinking jarred my hard won equanimity. As far as I was concerned the reader willfully chose to misunderstood the point my post was making.

Peter Stern's reaction to Blake Whitmore's critical post.

Peter Stern’s reaction to Blake Whitmore’s critical post.

The critic implied I wanted folks to remain victims of our pedestrian, shallow, mindless , and power crazed country. In fact, my point was precisely the reverse. I wanted to encourage people to think and create for themselves unfettered by mindless cliches about creativity and liberation.

I believe it’s no longer possible to pick up a freshman textbook on writing, or thinking, or communicating, or interpreting without running across the term “thinking out of the box,” so ingrained in the brains of our generation has this unwonderful phrase become. In fact my point was that its cliched status renders it incapable of inspiring genuine creativity and the kind of liberation which encourages becoming a free spirit.

One of the ironies of that phrase is that it conjures up one of the key issues inherent in wanting to go outside today’s system, whatever term we happen to use to describe it. The problem is this: if everyone’s doing it, is what they’re doing really liberation? For instance, if 2/3 of Wall Street traders sport tattoos, are tattoos still tattoos? Or if Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales sell record numbers of grunge jeans, are grunge jeans still grungy? Or if you prefer let’s ask if almost all poets are writing in free verse is that verse any longer really free?

This is one way to characterize the problem of telling people to think outside the box. Exhorting them to think outside the box places them firmly inside it, with the additional drawback that they mistakenly think they’re really outside it and liberated. In many ways, after discussing Plato’s Cave Parable this week with RMU Humanities Professor Mr. Gerry Dedera,  I thought I could see parallels between the box cliche and the illusions the cave prisoners regarded as real.

Plato's Parable of the Cave illustrated.

Plato’s Parable of the Cave illustrated.

In conclusion, let me say that my critical reader helped me see that I should have stated more explicitly that I thought the box metaphor was the kiss of death, yet that for some people it could indeed inspire them to live a liberated life. On the other hand, implying that most people will be transformed by the notion of going outside a box leaves me cold and worried it’s the box, like Plato’s cave, that they’ll never leave.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

I agree with my colleagues when they contend that we learn just as much at school each day as the students. The only difference is that my colleagues say this because they are keen, open-minded, lifelong learners. I say it because I’m not very smart and don’t know much.

Therefore, I expect – nay – demand that I learn wonderful and amazing things every day that I come to work. As we approach midterm, here is some of what I’ve learned so far this term:

  • After midnight, Twitter becomes “Twitter After Dark.” According to one student, “That’s when Twitter gets ‘nasty.’” At first, I thought this meant they were tweeting late night delivery orders to Papa John’s. Then I realized what it actually meant. I immediately informed class that, “One: I’m learning way too much about y’all. And two: I need a Twitter account.”
  • Yelling “Hey Girl!” is an ineffective pickup line in an academic setting.
    • And everywhere else in society.
      • Note to self: when I open my Twitter account, don’t use #HeyGirl.
  • Teachers are smartphone hypocrites. We discourage students from playing on their phones during class. But, if faculty get bored during meetings, we text each other pictures of the Samuel L. Jackson dog. And then revise famous Sam Jackson quotes as if they were said by a dog.
"That's it! I'm tired of these motherf--- squirrels in my motherf--- yard!"

“That’s it! I’m tired of these motherf— squirrels in my motherf— yard!”

  • Folding a piece of paper horizontally is called “hamburger” and vertically is called “hot dog.” Students were shocked I didn’t know this, prompting one to tell me, “You’re old as hell!” I knew time would eventually transition me from “young” teacher to “old” teacher. I never thought it would be triggered by cute, food-related paper folding names.
    • I have decided that folding together opposite edges of paper is called “taco.”
      • I haven’t informed my students of this yet.
  • Offering an exemption from the final exam for perfect attendance throughout the term promotes attendance and punctuality to extremes. “I am not missing for any reason,” one student insisted. “If I get sick and I’m throwing up, I’m still coming. I will throw up in your class. On the floor.”
    • Note: This student has already missed a class.
  • Discussions about religion and politics are sure to lead to contentious debates and heated arguments. This I already knew. There are so many opposing beliefs that run deep to our cores. I did not know the same happens to people when talking about the merits of box wine. In a single day, a firestorm of box wine bickering broke out among both faculty and students, and weeks later, the fire still burns. Friendships deteriorated, punches were thrown, and blood spilled like a punctured box of Franzia.

franzia

  • The words “Poetry” and “Group Work” produce similarly loud groans of exasperation and hatred.
    • I can’t wait to assign poetry group work.
  • Several students asked me if I workout. I wasn’t sure if that was an observation, a compliment, or a suggestion. Most recently, one student informed me I’m “Swoll.” Thus, I learned that people are finally noticing how much I look like LL Cool J.
I'm on the right. I know - it's like we were separated at birth. And no, I don't mind if you call me LL Cool P.

I’m on the right. I know – it’s like we were separated at birth. And no, I don’t mind if you call me LL Cool P.

  • It is acceptable to take phone calls during class so long as you turn your back to the lecture, whisper, and occasionally glance back at the teacher. Should the teacher call you out, the proper response is to turn to your classmates and ask why they gave you away.
  • Men ages 18-22 will wear sports apparel for teams they do not support simply because they like the colors and design of the jersey or hat. Following their lead, I am going to start hanging various national flags around my desk – not because I support that country, but because I like its look.
Where can I buy a Norfolk Island jersey?

Where can I buy a Norfolk Island jersey?

  • The surest way to get a class to lose its collective mind in cheers, applause, and laughter is to have an short, adorable man named Benito twerk during a presentation. In fact, it was so effective, that I plan to hire Benito to follow me around. Whenever I have a lecture or presentation that isn’t going well, I’ll just hit play on some music and step out of the way.
  • If you yell “FIRE” in a crowded movie theater, those people will not move nearly as fast as an office full of teachers at the sound of “Free cookies!”
    • Or “Free drinks!”
  • Put a bowl of strange candy near teachers and they will approach it cautiously, eat a single piece, declare it tastes strange and awful, and then proceed to eat the rest of the bowl.
"It's just so...strange," says one professor, as he makes a face like he smells a soiled diaper, and plants his feet firmly next to the bowl.

“It’s just so…strange,” says one professor, as he makes a face like he smells a soiled diaper, and plants his feet firmly next to the bowl.

  • The only thing people have energy for at 8:00am is to tell everyone around them how much they hate being up at 8:00am.
  • Finally, as I put another post on the Flaneur’s Turtle, I have discovered that the best way to get people to read my posts is to assign my students to read them. And when that stops working, I already have an in-class activity planned:

cwo

By Blake Whitmore, RMU Student

As much as I enjoyed reading Dr. Stern’s post last Friday, “Where to Think,” I have to disagree with it. “Think outside the box” simply means don’t let ordinary rules, societal standards, and normal everyday constraints restrict your thinking. Although the saying has been around for a while, it isn’t one I hear annoyingly too often. If I didn’t think “outside the box” I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

When I was in kindergarten, my teacher gave us this worksheet that asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. I left that question blank, because I was 6 for crying out loud. I think 18 is still too young to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life, but nonetheless my teacher insisted I answer it. Even when I was 6 I was a rebellious, outspoken little child. I refused to answer, so my teacher pulled me aside and started rattling off suggestions. I remember the list well, because it was my first experience in memory of gender profiling.

thinkoutsidetheboxMy teacher asked me if I wanted to be a nurse, teacher, stay at home mom, secretary, librarian, or the First Lady. I asked what “the First Lady” was and she told me it was the President’s wife. I was excited and told her that was it. When I brought home my worksheet to my mom, she asked why I would aspire to be the first lady and not the President. I told her because only men have been President. My mom said, “Don’t be afraid to think out of the box. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it never will.” At that moment my mom began raising a little feminist who always thought out of the box and for the next two years I wanted to become the President.

My dreams of becoming the President faded to the background of my personality after learning what the job actually entails, but that never took away from the importance of that moment in my childhood. Seven years later I was attending Catholic school in one of the strictest dioceses in the country, Lincoln, NE. I was an ambitious 7th grader who always asked questions, especially during religion class and science class.

I started to notice that after a while my questions weren’t getting answered and the teachers began to be annoyed by my questions. Some teachers and administrators also showed signs of distrusting me. One instance was when I needed a permission slip signed. The school accused me of forgery and asked my mother, who confirmed it was her signature. Discouraged by my teachers, I felt like I had done something wrong. After weeks of frustration I was reassured of my actions through yet again the phrase, “Think outside the box.” A teacher said the phrase in an English class, not directly too me, but it left an impact because at that point I needed to remember that thinking differently is good.

Those moments lead to my realization and coming out as an atheist, a self-identity I consider very important to who I am today. My strong opinions and will power come from the very phrase Dr. Stern hates, claiming is due for retirement. NEVER! If people quit thinking outside the box then nothing will change, rules will be blindly followed, and humanity will be boring. “Carpe diem” has been around for centuries and it’s not going anywhere, so why should “think outside the box”? These words of wisdom should never die.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

The other evening, I drove past our local movie theater and noticed an intriguing movie poster under the ‘coming soon’ sign.  With just a glance as I passed by, I saw “Monument’s Men”, and the names George Clooney, Matt Damon and Bill Murray.  I did a quick double take, and made a mental note to look up the movie when I got home, hoping to find a preview.

I was afraid ‘Monument’s Men” might be a second-rate superhero flick, instead of a reference to a little known story of WWII.  In 1944-46, a small group of American soldiers traveled the liberated areas of Hitler’s Europe looking for the great works of art that Hitler, Goering, and their underlings had looted from both the museums of Europe, and the personal holdings of ‘racial and political undesirables.’  These soldiers nee art historians, archeologists, historians, and artists were known as the Monument’s Men. Their stories have been told in several books, including Lynn Nicholas’ The Rape of Europa, and more recently, Robert Edsal’s Monument’s Men.   I was relieved that the preview of the upcoming movie dealt not with space aliens wearing capes, but with real heroes, in real life situations.  Have a look:

I must say, I am bit conflicted by this preview.   This movie has some promise, with good actors in Clooney, Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman.  Also, Clooney is a highly praised director.  But, I am always a bit concerned when a serious subject gets the silly humor treatment from Hollywood.  This preview makes it seem that this movie may be littered with such moments.  Also, when Clooney and Damon are sitting in the bar, having their o so charming conversation, it seems like a scene from Ocean’s Eleven.  Regardless, I am sure I will see the film both for entertainment, and possible educational purposes.

The story this film will tell is incredibly important, and yet, largely forgotten.  Most educated Americans realize Hitler had dreams of being an artist, but few appreciate the centrality art always had for Hitler’s worldview, and how he and his Nazi pals both wanted to ‘cleanse’ the ‘degenerate modernist art’ of the day, and loot all great works of Western Civilization for the people of Germany.  Hopefully this film deals with that aspect of the story in a serious, entertaining fashion. What surprised me most as I watched the preview is how long Hollywood ignored this story.  It is really a romantic adventure tale that is made for celluloid.  The Monuments Men were solving mysteries that would make Indiana Jones jealous.

This makes me frustrated.  I want to call the movie studios and yell, ‘darn it Hollywood, stop neglecting history! You are ignoring obviously incredible tales in order to produce Star Trek 50, Iron Man 24 and the Hangover 4.”

bill-and-teds-excellent-adventure-napoleon

How Hollywood has depicted Napoleon

To help alleviate this issue, I shall present for the imaginary film producers reading this post a short list of ideas for future projects:

  • Napoleon – There has been a strange paucity of films dealing with the life, accomplishments and crimes of General/Emperor Bonaparte. Now, I do realize there was an influential 1927 silent film done by Abel Gance dealing the life of Napoleon, but not much has come afterwards.  For a guy who so central to the shape of our modern history, Napoleon has been a neglected figure in Hollywood….Bill and Ted not withstanding.
  • The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand – Some historians have argued that the killing of Franz Ferdinand by Serbian terrorists in July of 1914 is the most important event of the 20th century.  The murder of Franz was the spark that ignited the First World War. The First World War was central to the rise of Fascism, Nazism and Bolshevism. And, WWII.  Then the Atomic bomb. Cold War. And on and on. Make a movie about this day.  The story of how it happened could make for an incredible thriller.

    princip460x276

    Artist’s rendition of the assassination

  • Female soldiers in the Civil War – Many women slipped into the ranks, and fought side by side with men during the American Civil War.  Many lived to tell the tale, and others died on the battlefield, giving their comrades an shock.  Such stories would be made for our age, as women become more common on American battlefields.

Just a couple of ideas. If any big time movers and shakers read this, then let’s do lunch.