Archive for June, 2014

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. June 28th.  A prominent date in the history of the world. To be more precise, June 28th, 1914.  100 years ago almost to the day. If you don’t recognize this date, and if it doesn’t ring bells like December 7th, July 4th, or September 11th, let me explain. On June 28th, 1914, a young Serbian terrorist by the name of Gavrilo Princip shot and killed the

Artist's drawing of the assassination.

Artist’s drawing of the assassination.

Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  This assassination set into motion the foreign policy decisions of Austria-Hungary, Russia, Germany, France and England that led to the outbreak of the Great War during the summer of 1914. The Great War was in no way a ‘good war’.  Greatness signified scale, not quality.  The horror of the war made people hope that it would be the ‘war to end all war.’  In fact, the opposite was the case. The Great War would in actuality be overshadowed 20 years later by an even more extreme conflict in the Second World War.   But to understand the Second, we must investigate the First, because without it, the Second would not have taken place. With the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the The First World War approaching, I think it only right to put together a series of blogs devoted to this catastrophe of  human folly.


There are only handful of people living today who were alive during the First World War, and most were tiny children at the time. All those who fought in the war, and lived to tell the tale, have long since passed on.  For the vast majority of us today, the war lives on only in written memory and cultural imagination.  Ironically though, the war can seem completely unimaginable.   The sheer scale of the war for anyone under 80 years old (who can remember the even more massive Second World War) is beyond  reckoning.  Since 1960, the Western way of war has become localized and specialized; like much else, war has become professionalized, mechanized, and corporatized. For my generation of Americans who have not been a part of the military (the vast majority of us), war can seem remotely distant; both geographically, and emotionally. Statistics can paint the picture. Numbers will provide us perspective.

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American soldiers fighting in Fallujah

In the Second Iraq War, the ‘Second Battle of Fallujah” was the largest battle fought.  In this battle American, British and Iraqi forces attacked insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallajuh. The coalition forces fought with 13,000 men. They outnumbered the 5,000 insurgents within the city.  The battle lasted a little over a month. It was deadlier than most engagements.  Coalition forces lost over a hundred killed in action, and 600 wounded, and the insurgents lost about 1500 dead. These numbers should not be belittled. But, when put into relation to the First World War, Fallujah illustrates the extreme horror of 1914-1918. Let’s compare Fallujah to the worst of The First World War; The Battle of Verdun.  The Battle of Verdun took place from February 1916, until December 1916.  The

French soldiers at Verdun

French soldiers at Verdun

battle began when German forces attacked French positions east of the ancient fortress city of Verdun.  On the morning of February 21st, the Germans inundated the French lines with over 150,000 men.  In the lead up to the attack, the Germans rained down 2.5 million shells on the French forces.  For 10 months, the two armies slugged it out over terrain that slowly became more and more nightmarishly pock-mocked.  With the dead everywhere, constantly being violently disinterred by artillery, Verdun was often described as a giant charnel house. Being sent into the battle’s front line was understood to be close to a death sentence.  Here is how two different French soldiers described the experience:

You eat beside the dead; you drink beside the dead, you relieve yourself beside the dead and you sleep beside the dead. People will read that the front line was Hell. How can people begin to know what that one word – Hell – means.

After almost a year of incessant fighting, both the French and Germans lost roughly 350,000 men each.  In this one battle alone, 700,000 men died.  To put that into perspective,

Aerial photo of Verdun fort before and after battle.

Aerial photo of Verdun fort before and after battle.

that is about the number of Americans killed in The American Revolution, The War of 1812, The Mexican-American War, The First World War, The Second World War, The Korean War, The Vietnam War and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan….COMBINED. One battle, Ten months, 700,000 dead.  The First World War would have a thousand more battles, and would rage for over 40 months more.  Those men who died at Verdun would be joined by 9 MILLION others. It is difficult to wrap your mind around such suffering. This war’s blood-letting would form our world. In the coming weeks, we will see how.

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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

The greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time. ~Bill Bryson

Very soon, I will be enjoying the one preposterously pleasant perk I receive for my pains as a teacher: two months off. I’m anxiously awaiting my travels this year, which include a trip back home to Ohio and my first trip to the Pacific Northwest with stays in Portland and Seattle.

Travel brings out the best in me, which is true of everyone else, too.

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Traveling renews our sense of our selves. The essential core of people—their inclinations, habits, and predilections—will emerge in full force once entirely engaged in vacation mode. Travel results in self-augmentation in every possible way. A “putzer” will be content to laze around a hotel room until 2:00pm. A shopper will battle the crowds and bazaars with zealous abandon. A night owl will be escorted from bars at 4:00am.

Many people erroneously suppose that they will encounter a life-altering experience whileHawaiitravel on vacation, but this is seldom true. While being on holiday may encourage each of us to let go of our daily routine, expecting a dramatic transformation will only result in disappointment. On your flight to Hawaii, you will not meet a handsome stranger.

I think too often vacations are sold (and bought) as “getaways” and “escapes” from everyday life. No matter how surroundings change, the traveler remains the center of the experience. Although people may leave some reservations behind when they go on a journey, the activities pursued arise from interest and desire, not a lapse of reason. Despite the brilliant marketing campaign, whatever happened in Vegas was intentional. I do not like Vegas (and will never go back) primarily because it is the antithesis of my life, to which I say, “No, thank you.” I do not understand the appeal of Las Vegas since in addition to being completely artificial it is also fundamentally depressing: the luxurious hotels and opulent casinos built on the foundation of lost money. Moreover, gambling with a group is unwise; a lesson learned when sitting at a roulette wheel with my oldest friend’s husband. Every time I won, he lost, and vice versa, which does not make for a pleasant evening among friends.

Holidays are trancroissant-d-or-seatingsformative when we allow ourselves to do and be what we want, thereby illuminating ourselves from within. I’m an early riser. After fifteen years of impatiently waiting in hotel lobbies for friends and fellow travelers, I recently started going to breakfast on my own and returning to collect my group. I fulfill my wish to explore the city and my friends get to take their time. In this way I have discovered remarkable spots, including the terrifically charming Le Croissant D’Or in the French Quarter, to which I will return if I pass that way again.

Ultimately, the genuine, open, engaged selves we display on vacation while exploring happily, accepting heartily, and indulging eagerly simply reveals the phenomenal people we already are.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Any job very well done that has been carried out by a person who is fully dedicated is always a source of inspiration. ~Carlos Ghosn

Tis the season for job hunting for graduating seniors looking to find a position in their field of study and while hopes are high, opportunities are rare and salaries low.

Recently, one of my students said she was desperate for a job. I recommended that she apply at Target, a good company with regular vacancies and the potential for advancement. I won’t detail her response, but she was not pleased with my suggestion.

One of the many difficulties encountered after graduation is the harsh terrain of the employment landscape. There is an enormous gap between student expectations and job opportunities. I have had, over the years, many interactions with students who are frustrated because they cannot find a good, high-paying job. To which I reply, who can?

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A former student contacted me to ask for encouragement as he’d been out of college for over a year, with still no hope of landing his “dream job”. My advice: wake up. Among the things that I don’t believe in are the Tooth Fairy, soul mates, and a dream job.

I do believe in good, meaningful work, and that is something that can (and should) be done at every level. I’ve had difficult jobs that involved unpleasant tasks, but they were still good jobs.

Here are the jobs I found in the months after graduating from college in four efficient years:

  • Cashier at a grocery store
  • Hostess at a restaurant

I hurried back to graduate school.

Here are the jobs I found after graduating with my first Master’s degree:

  • Adjunct English instructor—hooray! This job does not pay the bills.
  • Waitress at a restaurant

Graduate school, one more time!

Here are the jobs I worked after graduating with my second Master’s degree:

  • Adjunct English instructor—hooray! Still did not pay all my bills.
  • Academic Librarian—hooray! Alas, it was only part-time
  • Bartender, which with the other two part-time jobs added up to enough.

The list did not end there. With a college degree (or three) in hand, I worked as a temporary office assistant. When I first moved to Chicago, I served for a caterer, worked beer tents at festivals, and even did “coat check” a time or two. I’ve also provided ACT tutoring for high school students. Quite often, we all must take what is available until a better opportunity arises. After all, student loans don’t pay themselves; yes, like so many Americans, I am still in the process of paying off my student loan debt.

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What makes a job good arises primarily from attitude and intention. I distinctly remember a young man grabbing a broom at a small mom-and-pop convenient store, owned and operated at the time by practicing Buddhists. He turned to the owner and said, “I will now go outside and practice the Zen art of sweeping the parking lot.” His boss nodded in approval. How invaluable to learn early on that sweeping the parking lot is a necessary task and can be done beautifully.

I’m certainly not the first person to promote hard work. Oftentimes, students allow themselves to be misled. Too often students believe that completing college signals the end of the struggle; ultimately, we all come to know that the struggle is never-ending. They dream of illustrious careers, only to discover the reality: a life filled with work, work that we are all incredibly fortunate to have.

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Doing a job well will result in a good job, all that remains is to get to work.

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

FYI: This is a SPOILER-FREE Turtle post. I won’t ruin Game of Thrones for those who haven’t seen recent episodes yet. Also, you don’t need to watch GoT or The Walking Dead to understand this post – so read on! 

Wow. The most recent episode of Game of Thrones (Episode 4.08: The Mountain & The Viper) was intense, to say the least. In a TV series that is marked by regular twists and surprises, no twist has shocked me the way this one did. Even after letting the episode sink in, I’m still thinking about it.

My reaction to the episode has shifted the more I think about. At first I was pleased: I love when a story – Game of Thrones or otherwise – surprises me. After all, great storytelling should surprise us.

Then, I gradually started to turn on the episode. The more I consider the conclusion, the more I’m displeased with it, because I believe the surprise ending sacrificed some deeply interesting long-term plot threads in favor of a short-term shock. Having not read the books, I’m hopeful that I’m wrong and that new, interesting plot threads develop from this conclusion.

Games of Thrones and The Walking Dead – two of the most popular shows on TV – both work well in part because each show is willing to do what most TV shows and Hollywood movies will not: kill of characters – or more specifically, kill off protagonists.

Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin loves to kill off characters!

Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin loves to kill off characters!

I love superhero movies. Just this year alone, I loved Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men: Days of Future Past. Typically, one of the flaws of superhero movies is that our main protagonists aren’t in any real danger. Secondary characters or villains may die, but when we go to see a Captain America movie, we are pretty damn sure that Captain American is going to survive. (Yes, yes, comic nerds, I know Cap gets assassinated in the Civil War story line in the comics, but that hasn’t happened in the movies – yet.) And even when a main protagonist dies, somehow they always come back – that was half of the point of X-Men: DoFP, to resurrect characters.

Thus, superhero movies have to find other ways of being satisfying without the real sense of danger for our main characters. In the Spider-Man movies (and comics) we know Spider-Man will survive, but his loved ones are in constant danger. Also, like in the first Spider-Man movie (2002), we see him lose out on love despite beating the bad guy. In The Dark Knight, Batman survives and beats the Joker, but at the cost of becoming a vigilante and more.

However, in every episode of GoT and TWD, we fear for our characters. Each show has proven, time and time again, that nearly any character can be gone in an instant. When Captain America is surrounded by bad guys, we know he’ll survive; when a character is surrounded by zombies in TWD, we have no guarantees. This is part of the appeal and power of GoT and TWD. We are invested in the characters and we’re scared for them.

In an appearance on Conan, GoT’s creator George R.R. Martin says all of this directly: “We’ve all seen the movies where the hero is in trouble, he’s surrounded by 20 people, but you know he’s going to get away, because he’s the hero. You don’t really feel any fear for him. I want my viewers and my readers to be afraid when my characters are in danger.”

The killing of characters is, typically, warranted in these shows. Both shows are set in worlds filled with chaos, destruction, and death. The core ethos of each show requires that characters not emerge unscathed from all of the horror surrounding them.

Yet, for as much as I applaud both shows for being willing to kill off characters, there are times when I wonder if the shows/stories aren’t just kill-happy, and end up killing off better story arcs for the sake of shocking us with character deaths.

From a writer’s perspective, the usual stance on killing characters is that a death has to be “earned,” meaning that a character is not just killed for the sake of killing a character; rather, a character has met his/her demise for sound, logical reasons that can be pieced together through the story. Even if we are initially shocked that the character is gone, we should be able – in hindsight – to understand why it happened and how it adds to the story moving forward. If it ever seems like a character was killed simply because his/her name was pulled out of a hat, that isn’t an “earned” death. And if a more interesting story is sacrificed with the death of the character, it isn’t an “earned” death.

So, back to my mixed emotions on “The Mountain & The Viper.” I wonder if the episode’s conclusion was “earned” for that second reason – were interesting story arcs sacrificed? Again, without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen the episode, I will provide a hint for those who have:

When a certain character points a finger and yells, “Who gave you the orders?” toward the end of the episode, I immediately foresaw a WORLD of ridiculously interesting story possibilities in terms of character conflicts that could be played out over many episodes. Then, a few minutes later, that was all undercut. The short-term shock replaced the long-term story.

Again, I still loved the episode, but I will have to wait to find out of the conclusion was truly “earned.”

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

“Learned we may be with another man’s learning: we can only be wise with wisdom of our own.”
― Michel de Montaigne

I’m using a new book Alain De Botton’s quirky, exploratory text The Consolations of Philosophy to teach my summer course, the rather ambitiously titled Creative Reasoning and Investigative Learning: Critically Engaging Self & Society. Reading along with my students is a rare treat since I can be surprised by the assigned reading as my students are. This week’s chapter addresses the theme of inadequacy through a discussion of portions of the Essays of Michel de Montaigne.Essays

Every teacher of writing knows Michel de Montaigne as the “father” of the “modern” discursive essay, primarily because he was among the first to call what he was writing “essays” or “Essais” in French, meaning attempts, which casts a redemptively pleasant light on the endeavor to create meaning through reflective writing. Another important distinction of Montaigne’s work is that he wrote about anything and everything that interested him, sometimes including classical references and scholarly ideas, but most often not, thereby freeing prose writing from centuries of strict formality. Thus, the essays that my students consider excessively formal are actually a relaxed form encompassing a leisurely discussion of essentially anything.

A lover of words, I am a fan of eloquent statements, a trait I share with Montaigne (one of several similarities I can draw between my life and that of a man who lived and died more than 400 years before me). Montaigne collected and considered quotes from thinkers he revered, decorating the ceiling of his library with his favorites. I’ve posted favorite quotations to my walls since college, more evidence of the deeply personal relationship we seek to build with authors and texts we admire, seeing in them what we want to see in ourselves.A-Readers-Lens-and-Baggage-Framed-copy

One of my favorite books utilizes Montaigne’s essays as a means of understanding life. I may have already mentioned or recommended it here: Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. Bakewell’s writing style is equal parts fluid and fascinating.

After finishing the Bakewell, I read Montaigne’s original essays because her explication makes them seem so fabulous, which they are to a large degree, the historical distance causing few difficulties. A brilliant scholar, Bakewell elevates her source material, identifying the most enthralling aspects and glossing over the rest. In fact, Montaigne’s essays were a tiny bit disappointing after Bakewell’s glittering overview, because they contain dull bits she chose to exclude.

Alain de Botton’s exploration of Montaigne is decidedly different. He offers less in the way of interpretation; instead, he uses Montaigne to discuss the selected theme of inadequacy. Honestly, I would never have connected Montaigne’s work with the theme of “inadequacy” as De Botton has done, but the results remain intriguing.

One of the central discussions De Botton supports with excerpts from Montaigne involves sexual inadequacy. When I think of inadequacy, my mind does not immediately jump to that of a sexual nature. I almost never contemplate sexual inadequacy. Indeed, I was surprised to see the subtopic as much as the connection to Montaigne.

This, coupled with a different reading of a crucial part of Montaigne’s life reveals a wonderful attribute of interpretation—a great many are possible, and a large number can be valid, as long as ample textual evidence and sound logic make the argument reasonable.

Another key difference between Bakewell and De Botton’s discussion of Montaigne pertains to his most intimate friend, Etienne de la Boetie. The friendship was exceptionally close, and while Bakewell considers yet ultimately dismisses a potential sexual aspect to the relationship, De Botton doesn’t address this possibility at all.  The differentiation is analogous to two portrayals of Hamlet, an apt correlation because source material must be richly complex in order to support a range of responses. With the same source material, these two capable authors produce insights that are only potentially true, and certainly not all encompassing.multiple-paths

Thus, all readers can and should add their voices to the conversation. I tell my students that if there were only one way to think about something, there would be only one book on each topic in the library.

This is part of what drives my devotion to books, and reading, and ideas: all open endless avenues to explore, allowing each reader to forge ahead to create his or her own unique path.