Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Purposeful

Posted: June 14, 2017 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so

William Shakespeare 

New ways to discuss the uncertainties of life and mysteries of self are irresistibly intriguing.

Often described as “old wine in new bottles,” trends in theoretical frameworks and jargon can be tiresome, but some offer a chance to see things differently.

I have been (and continue to be) a fan of Happiness theory, but have also had wonderful encounters with critics who argue that the pressure to be happy, whether from an internal or external source, can be deeply problematic, even damaging. My friend Matt Schlagbaum’s work Smiling through Gritted Teeth explores the stress and strain of pretending to maintain a cheery demeanor. The brilliant Barbara Ehrenreich’s work Bright-sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America considers the many ways behavior does not align with the ideals purported by happiness experts. I teach an excerpt from Ehrenreich to my unsuspecting students who gamely struggle with the troubling ambiguity. If happiness isn’t the answer, what is?

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That feeling of feeling, by Matthew Schlagbaum

Apparently, meaning and purpose have come to transcend happiness, becoming the buzzwords du jour, a trend I suspect will last. In fact, a promotion for the book The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters reads, “In a culture obsessed with happiness, this wise, stirring book points the way toward a richer, more satisfying life.” Thus, we are asked to change course, and set sail to pursue meaning and purpose.

Meaning

The mutability of meaning seems certain. I am rather fond of the slipperiness. In my teaching, I encourage students to shift their thinking back and forth, from concrete to abstract, underscoring the struggle of knowing anything at all. Can we be satisfied only with the thing as it is? The bird, the book, the bay. Or do we take into account the feelings and associations tied to each word, each concrete thing infused with seemingly infinite possibilities for abstraction and interpretation.

Mazes of meaning ensnare. Semiotics, semantics, and linguistics: oh, my!

Purpose

Purpose possesses incredible potency. The necessities of utility. The search for meaning is inevitably tied to a perception of our roles or duties. Why are we here? To what end? Why do one thing and not the other? Why do anything at all?

Contemplating the underlying purpose of a thing can create a core understanding, a renewed sense of things.

Lately, I have been lamenting my arm fat, apparently an unpleasant symptom of age. No matter how or what I try, my arms stay flabby. Arm fat is deeply vexing.

However, even if I cannot change my arms, I can change how I think about them.

Inspired to employ a different approach, I determined to consider attributes to love about my arms, rather than focusing on what I hate.

Employing purpose, I paused to consider what my arms do.

I realized, of course, how often my arms help me experience and express love: my arms form warm hugs for greeting family and friends, my arms wrap tightly around the man I love, my arms lift my favorite children high into the air, my arms hold babies in all their soft perfection: my arms create an unending circle of embraces. Suddenly, my arms become infused with an emotional power that decimates any anxiety. My arms are treasures, the source of remarkable strength and limitless joy.

Thus edified, I shall reconsider Monday mornings, daily challenges, demanding relationships.

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When things seem hopelessly imperfect, imagine an alternate perfection, accessed through meaning and purpose.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Many people undoubtedly have found it strange how much history has been in the news lately. Whether it is the Confederate monuments being taken down in New Orleans or the fact that Frederick Douglass and Andrew Jackson were trending on Twitter recently, historical topics are hot right now. But truthfully, Americans have always been contentious about our history, since our history is…well…contentious. Topics like the Civil War or Jackson’s role in ‘The Trail of Tears’ will spark lively, sometimes angry, disagreement.

However, there are certain historical events that mainstream Americans generally agree upon. One such non-contentious event is the Holocaust. The American public, pop-culture and politicians for the last 40 years have universally depicted the Holocaust as THE horrific event of modern times. Case closed.  No discussion needed.  For 20th century Americans, Nazi Germany has been the quintessential ‘bad guy’ of  history. We have taken this so far that the era of the Holocaust and the event itself is in danger of being portrayed in simplistic political bromides. It is easy, if no less true and unthinking, to state that Nazi Germany and Hitler were irredeemably evil. The murder of Europe’s Jews was Nazi Germany’s most horrendous crime. Who would argue with that?

This is why the last four months have been so disturbing.  Since taking power in January, the Trump Administration has had not one…but TWO ‘Holocaust’ controversies.  First, there was the strange, and evidently intentional, Holocaust Remembrance Day statement issued by President Trump which did not specify Nazi Germany’s specific war on European Jewry. Then, in April, Press Secretary Sean Spicer stuck his foot in his mouth by claiming that Hitler ‘didn’t even gas his own people’, unlike Syrian President al-Assad. After immediately being called on this outrageously false statement, Spicer sounded even more like an idiot when he referred (I assume) to extermination camps as ‘Holocaust centers’.

What is going on?  Some, like Holocaust historian and famous scholar of Holocaust denial Debra Lipstadt felt that the Trump White House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement was a classic case of ‘soft denialism’.  On the other hand, most commentators believed that Spicer’s slip-ups simply pointed to incredible historical ignorance. However, such ignorance and ‘soft denialism’ are not mutually exclusive.  Whether or not Lipstadt is correct in her assessment of Trump’s statement, such ‘denialism’ does exist in certain corners, and it will become easier to peddle to the general public as their inevitable ignorance of the past created by passing time increases.

‘Never forget’ can easily become an unthinking slogan, but that makes it no less true. So, with these notions in mind, I feel it is important to provide a quick reading list of books all Americans should read about the Holocaust. These are 15 works that any one with a passing interest in the topic can pick and read today.

  1. Saul Friedländer, Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1 and The Years of Persecution and Volume 2, The Years of Extermination. Friedländer’s highly readable classic account. A great place to start for a thorough overview.515XRWk2Q6L._AC_UL320_SR214,320_
  2. Peter Hayes, Why: Explaining the Holocaust. A book that was just published a couple months ago. Deals with the big ‘why’ questions people always ask regarding the Holocaust. Does so with clear, jargon-free language. Read this after Friedländer’s workhayes
  3. Ian Kershaw, Hitler: 1889-1936, Hubris and Hitler: 1936-1945, Nemesis. Kershaw’s massive two part biography is still generally considered to be the definitive explanation of Hitler’s life and worldview.kershaw
  4. Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland.  Though 30 years old at this point, still a groundbreaking take on why people commit ‘evil’ acts.browning
  5. Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness: An Examination of Conscience.  Sereny was a journalist who had the opportunity to interview Franz Stangl, the Commandant of Treblinka.  Her book investigating the man is fascinatingly horrible.sereny
  6. Wendy Lower, Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. A recent book that sheds light on a topic ignored by many previous historians: Women’s role in genocide.lower
  7. Primo Levi, Survival at Auschwitz and The Drowned and the Saved.  An Italian Jew, Levi survived the war and produced some of the most important writings of the 20th century.the-complete-works-of-primo-levi-book-cover
  8. Viktor Klemperer, I Will Bear Witness, 2 Volumes.  Klemperer was a German Jew who chronicled life in Nazi Germany from the beginning of 1933 until the end of the war.  The amazing story of his survival will make you forget the 1000 pages.klemperer
  9. Art Spiegelman, The Complete Maus. I wrote a blog about this work a couple years ago. It is a graphic novel, and though that may seem like a strange genre for a Holocaust memoir, I believe it is required reading.maus
  10. Nikolaus Wachsmann, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps.  If you are looking to find out about the horror, structure and ubiquity of the Nazi camps, this is the new definitive text.images
  11. Deborah Lipstadt, The Eichmann Trial. Though Hannah Arendt’s classic Eichmann in Jerusalem is still important on a philosophical level, Lipstadt deals with the true history of the trial. She also illustrates a historically accepted truth that Arendt missed. Eichmann was not really banal, but he was evil.lipstadt
  12. Daniel Mendolsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. Mendolsohn is a famous literary critic. In The Lost, he provides a touching, beautiful memoir of discovering his family’s Holocaust past.TheLost_4.30
  13. Rich Cohen, The Avengers: A Jewish War Story. The story of Jewish resistance to Nazi crimes is still one not often told.  Cohen’s narrative tells the story of his grandmother who fought alongside Abba Kovner, the most famous Jewish partisan during the war.cohen
  14. Claude Lanzmann, Shoah. Technically, this is not a book. But, it is a text. Shoah is Lanzmann’s 8 hour film masterpiece.  Filmed in the early 1980s, Lanzmann interviewed victims, perpetrators and collaborators.  Most of the interviews are emotionally wrenching. It may take you a couple days to get through.Editors-Pick-Shoah
  15. Thomas Kühne, Genocide and Belonging: Hitler’s Community, 1918-1945. This is the one specifically scholarly monograph I am adding to this list.  After reading and watching all of the above, tackle this one.kuhne

 

These books are accessible. They are readable. But they are not going to be ‘fun’. They can hit you in the gut, and leave you staggered.  That is what makes them all the more necessary.

Inspiration Point

Posted: May 25, 2017 in Uncategorized
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By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club”

Jack London

I appreciate all the verbs associated with inspiration: get inspired, be inspired, stay inspired, to inspire.

As an educator, I require a steady supply of inspiration, for my students and myself. Like the heliotrope sunflower, I bend toward inspiration, eager to get closer.

Naturally, reading offers endless marvels. I just started a fascinating book, one that came my way via a recommendation from another artist constantly seeking inspiration, Austin Kleon.

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“Black Out Poem,” by Austin Kleon (with reflection of Samantha)

I follow Kleon’s blog and have read and admired his books, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. Quite happily, I also own a piece of his original art work, a prized possession bought for a song. One of his “Blackout Poems” hangs in my living room, perpetually intriguing. Most of my guests admire it, though a police officer—called to respond to a break in—did not seem to care for it. My niece Samantha, who recently visited, apparently saw something of herself in its expression of the desire for impetuous recklessness.

The book is called Daily Rituals, an expansion of a blog by Mason Currey (a blog becoming a book: intriguing). In it, Currey outlines the day-to-day schedules of some of the most revered artists and thinkers.

I am an inveterate scheduler myself, keeping no fewer than four calendars. A friend once confessed he had three. I said, “Sounds like you forgot to count the one in the kitchen!”

How reassuring to be reminded all people who accomplished great things were still, fundamentally, people, meaning they ate breakfast and had to bathe and dress and visit their mom. The quotidian increases unity; we all must live day to day.

Daily Rituals underscores the importance of reserving space on the calendar for artistic endeavors, whether writing or any other form of self-expression. The book also reveals the crucial importance of consistency for all who succeed in creating meaningful work (artistic or otherwise). The need for a productive routine ought to be reinforced.

Artists want to work; they want to devote time to their craft, often to the detriment of everything else. A musician friend of mine pointed out that I’d never play guitar really well because I have too far many friends and social obligations. When it comes to music, I really am best left as an enthusiast.

We can all act as conduits for inspiration, perpetually sharing new discoveries. I marvel at people’s abilities, particularly the stamina and determination of innovators who worked in and through difficult circumstances.

I contemplate the city of Chicago, my home, overflowing with imagination. When I take a moment to admire my city, from out on the lake especially, looking back at the spectacular skyline filled with skyscrapers of every silhouette, I reflect upon its hidden beauty: all of it was made by people: architects, engineers, designers, craftsmen, artists and laborers constantly creating for the past two hundred years.

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Given the time and skills and resources and determination, people can build remarkable, stunning, incredible things. The shared human experience that infuses life and art ought to amazes us all.

Look closely, and creativity reveals itself to be a fundamental part of everyday life; admire the perfectly set table and consider who laid your place with such care, perhaps it was even you.

Take the time each day to be inspired, and inspire.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The Spring of 1998.  Good times.  I was a fourth year college student at Michigan State. I was 21 years old. I was dating my future wife. My biggest concern was where I should go to graduate school.  Oh, and I had a cushy job in what was known as the MSU Microbiology Store.  For about 9 bucks an hour, I and a couple co-workers made sure

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Giltner Hall – Where the Microbiology Store was located

the Microbiology labs had enough supplies for…well, whatever Microbiology labs did.  It was quite easy, and I had a great deal of free time to study and keep up a nice solid GPA.

One day in late April, I came into the ‘office’ as my two coworkers were looking at The State News.  The student newspaper had a small story buried deep inside that had some bad news for a great number of students and alums.  The Board and President of the University had decided to disallow alcohol consumption on Munn Field, specifically during football tailgating.  I just shrugged off this story.  But, for my co-worker Adam this news was troubling.  You see, Adam (I can’t even remember his last name) wanted to be a politician. He was soon to graduate and was headed to DC to start graduate studies in Political Science.  Adam read this news as a 22 year old defender of democracy. He felt that the powers that be had passed this measure at the end of the school year specifically to avoid student input regarding the decision.  Adam believed this was unjust, and authoritarian.  He felt something needed to be done.

He decided to call for a protest rally.

Let me just stop for an aside. This was 1998. How do you get the word out about a SNlogoprotest to the community? There was only one week before finals started.  You couldn’t get that story to the student paper in time. The 50,000 students attending MSU would be home for the summer by the time The State News picked it up. Picket lines?  Flyers on campus?  None of these methods were going to have much effect.

Adam decided he was going to spread the word to a small group of students via email.  At that time, MSU had it’s own closed email server only for the campus population.  Adam, and my other co-worker Deborah, sent out their carefully crafted message ringing the tocsin. The initial message went out from two student email accounts to twenty friends in total.  One week from that day (a Friday) there would be a small protest on Munn Field.

The following Tuesday I headed to my political philosophy course. The course had roughly 90-100 students. As with most classes at MSU, I did not know a single person in the class.  As I sat down about 10 minutes before the class started, I heard a couple sorority girls next to me having a heated discussion. These girls said, ‘So, are you going to the protest at Munn Field Friday? My whole house (sorority) is going’!

Oh…my…God! Strangers were discussing the protest. How did they find out? That day, I went into work after class and told Adam. He had heard other people discussing it al well. The word was getting around, and Adam had lost control of the information. Friday’s planned protest  went from being a small hand-chosen meeting to being….well, we didn’t know what.

drinkingguidejpg-5fcad23e6601a3abThe Friday of the protest was cold and rainy.  As 7pm grew nearer, I was getting more and more nervous.  A couple friends and I decided we needed to trek over to Munn Field to see what was going to happen.  A couple days earlier, the Administration learned of the protest. The University wanted to put a stop to it.  The campus police took out an ad in The State News that warned about consequences for students ‘trespassing’ on Munn Field. Things were getting serious.  Walking over that Friday, I quickly realized thousands of others were heading out to do the same thing as me and my friends. The protest was no more. Now, it was just a gathering.

When I got to the field, a large crowd of students had already formed.  The police had fenced off the field with ‘No Trepassing’ signs. On the other side of the field, local police were lined up in their cars.  It wasn’t just a couple cops; police were out in force.  Of course, many students had already been drinking and it only took one student to climb the fence. A shirtless guy made the leap, ran out onto Munn Field and started to dive in the mud. Others followed. A couple guys started to throw a football around.  The police weren’t sure what to do.  As they started to move on the field, the students who had ‘trespassed’ jumped back into the big crowd of students outside the fence and disappeared.  It seemed the crowd might disperse.  Then, someone yelled that the crowd should march on the President’s house.  Sure, why not? Hundreds of students started to march.

At this point, I was done.  This was going nowhere. It was quickly turning into a waste of time. It was more of a roving party than a protest. I went back to my dorm room to get ready for finals on Monday. But, as I sat in my room, I could see police lights outside. Students were running down the halls of my dorm shouting.  Something big was happening out in the streets. Friends started to call me to give me updates. I heard the words ‘fires in the street’, ‘riot gear’ and ‘tear gas’.  No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening.  Finally, at midnight, I had to go outside and see for myself.  It was madness. A major bonfire had been lit in the middle of Grand River Avenue.   Police were in riot gear. Tear gas was in the air. My eyes starting watering and my throat was closing up.  There was nothing I could do, and I wasn’t going to get involved. I marched back inside my dorm and went to bed.

The events of the previous evening filled the newspapers the next day.  Amazingly, it wasn’t just the local media.  National organizations started to pick up the story. MSU students had ‘rioted’ for the freedom to drink beer!  A bunch of drunk idiots were shown burning couches and breaking windows. It was an embarrassment.

Adam hoped to change the University’s political methods. He wanted to give students a stronger voice. He hoped for a powerful display of direct democracy. Unfortunately, his protest turned into a farce.


This story flooded back to me recently for an interesting reason. I have been reading a good deal about social media lately as I begin preparations for a new ‘History of Social Media’ course at RMU.  The other day, I was speaking to a colleague at RMU who has a couple kids in college. We were discussing drinking and the college life, when I began to retell the above story.  But, as I told it I had a revelation.  Those of us who lived through that night at MSU, and the news media that covered the story,  missed the most revolutionary angle of the event. Nineteen years removed, this story is not about drinking, beer or riots; this story is about the viral nature of social media!

When Adam and Deborah wrote to their 20 friends on email, they had no idea what they were doing.  They believed they were inviting a handful of well versed, intelligent and serious students to make a show of structured resistance. In fact, they provided the university with a first taste of the Internet’s power.  Within a week, that email message did what viral information does; it spread exponentially.  It was a glimpse of our future. Twenty years on, and I realize that Adam’s protest did change the world.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

This past weekend, I had an extraordinary encounter with “The Human Library.”

An art experience and an exercise in communality, The Human Library originated in Denmark, “developed in Copenhagen in the spring of 2000 as a project for Roskilde Festival by Ronni Abergel and his brother Dany and colleagues Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsenas” and has since grown into a “Worldwide movement for social change,” offering the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with someone who has a unique story to tell, an exercise in listening and togetherness that has become too infrequent.

A “Human Library” is staffed by volunteers who play the roles of “Librarians” and “Books.” The “Librarians” acclimate the visiting “readers” to the process, establishing parameters and ground rules, which are set forth in a comforting statement.

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Human Libraries allow external participants (readers) to choose from a selection of individuals (books) with unique histories or attributes about which they are willing to talk. Readers are permitted to ask the human books questions during a fifteen-minute conversation.

I encountered the Human Library Chicago, at The National Veteran’s Art Museum and become a “reader” of a human book. At the event, there were approximately ten books on offer, and most of them were busy being “read” when I arrived. I looked at the available titles and selected a “book” who was a Vietnam Veteran.

The opportunity to speak to a veteran—specifically about his wartime experience—seemed particularly fascinating, and the conversation that I had with Ned was even more remarkable than I had anticipated.

Ned was tremendously forthcoming. He explained his service. He was an officer who, at 23 years old, took command of 197 men for one year-long tour in Vietnam from 1970-1971.

I asked him what it was like, what he remembered.

His responses overflowed with honest, vivid imagery. He talked about the smells: rot and fire and shit; the sounds; the singular noise made by bullets whizzing through the leafy jungle; the terrain: earthy, mud in the wet season, grit in the dry.

I asked him what he missed. He recalled food cravings in vibrant detail. He longed for chilled orange juice, cereal with icy milk, and cold Coca-Cola.

I asked him if he was able to befriend any of his men, but he explained how any personal relationships would have made his command more difficult. I realized, then, how profoundly lonely he must have been.

“Yes,” he agreed, “lonely.”

Lonely and tired and scared and far from home.

I’ve always been interested in the events and history surrounding the war, and cognizant of the intensely painful complexities that make Vietnam a fraught topic.

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I was overcome with emotion at The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, as countless others have been, and are, and will be. Aware of the depth of the loss present in the names etched in dark stone, Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision is a superb documentary about the selection of Maya Lin’s work for that important tribute which underscores the complexity of the lasting impact of Vietnam. The new documentary from PBS, The Vietnam War, by Ken Burns, will offer amazing insights as well.

Naturally, I am eager to take part in future “Human Library” experiences, as a reader, book, or librarian. I am hopeful that this new means of practicing empathy and fostering conversation will continue to grow understanding.

My conversation with Ned deepened my appreciation for the men and women in the US military. Ned’s willingness to share his story with strangers is an act of phenomenal generosity.

Talking to Ned, looking into his eyes, connecting with him, laughing with him, and learning from him was an unforgettable experience. I am grateful to him for his service, and for permitting me to read his story.

anks to t

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

Ode to the West Wind, by Percy Shelley

Glorious spring weather has descended upon Chicago, and we all welcome the days when it is incomparably lovely to live here.

I’m happy to report that I have already spent a Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field—a little slice of heaven on earth by many Chicagoans’ estimations. Rizzo and Bryant continue to be in top form, though the ivy has yet to turn green.

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Get a combo!

Thanks to the warmth and sun, Miko’s Italian Ice opened early this year. My first order of the season, based on the recommendation from the friendly staff, was a raspberry mango combo. Quite simply, Miko’s makes a pleasant afternoon more delicious.

The early spring also brought with it my first house guests. Living in Chicago guarantees that people will want to visit; My sister Margo and two of her daughters came for a mini-spring break getaway, complete with a matinee performance of Hamilton (while I was at work). Their stay was reminiscent of so many slumber parties, complete with utter exhaustion after their departure!

My friends and I are picnic champs. Fruits, cheeses, hummus, salads, cookies, contraband wine—we’ve got it. Kris and I have already savored two picnics at the Logan Square monument. Alas, both excursions resulted in a patchy sunburn, which is a great reminder not to just apply sunscreen, but to bring it along, too!

I’m enjoying this year’s addition of a Divvy membership, recommended to me by friend Bill. I use it primarily for one-way or longer journeys when I would prefer to leave my own bike (Urbano) safely at home. I’ve used Divvy to bike to a brunch in Lincoln Park, divvywhereupon I rewarded myself with a mojito. Divvy bikes have also enabled me to explore the entirety of the Lakefront path, riding south to Jackson Park to visit the Osaka Garden, and my first bicycle commute to work.

Amazing how trying one new thing results in so many new adventures!  Paired with my own bike for neighborhood riding, the Divvy system has broadened my biking horizons, and I always wear a helmet.

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Chicago’s Lakefront Path

Ushered in by the early spring blossoms—snowdrops and crocuses and forsythia—for a few days, everything blooms: daffodils, tulips, cheery trees, magnolias, so I am spending as much time out of doors as possible soaking in the flowering before the new leaves fill in. Having four seasons offers the opportunity to appreciate them all; in the springtime, I get to stop and smell the lilacs.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Maybe I should have seen it coming. Every now and again I would have a student mention the Illuminati.  Once in awhile, a young man might argue that ‘9-11 was an inside job.’  Heck, one time a student even whispered to me in confidence that the Ebola virus was a creation of the American government.  When I asked that student what the purpose of such an invention would be, he told me very calmly that the government was trying to wipe out half of humanity.

How could I not scoff at such irrationality? Most people didn’t believe this stuff….right?  RIGHT? Such ideas would always be the territory of a small minority of Americans….right? RIGHT?

Well, maybe not.  Conspiracy theorists are boldly emerging out of their dark caverns. No longer found just on obscure chat-rooms, they now get the seat marked ‘expert’ on cable news’ shows. During the last decade or so, conspiracies have become disturbingly mainstream.

How did this happen?  Why did it happen now?  These are difficult questions to answer, and I will get to them eventually.  But first, I think some differences need to be identified. We need to categorize the types of theories sweeping our culture today.

Arguably, there are three main conspiracy theory categories.  Each share certain characteristics. None are to be encouraged, but only one has proven to be historically dangerous.  Unfortunately, the dangerous type has gained the most influence in recent years.  Here is a quick description, from most innocent, to most troubling:

  1. ‘Top Secrets’ Theories: These are the most commonly held conspiracy theories.  They center upon the notion that governments have secret, revolutionary information that they will not share with average citizens.  Of course, this is based upon a larger truth. ac992ee4bf0b19154f9c30554512c9adAll modern nation-states have ‘top secrets’ for acceptable eyes only. But, the ‘Top Secret’ conspiracy theorist takes this truth to unlikely, or fantastic proportions. Hence, to him/her, the US government is not just hiding a new military aircraft at the local Air Force base; they are also hiding alien life-forms and/or space ships!   Or, the government weather satellites don’t truly STUDY the weather; instead, the satellites CONTROL the weather! It’s is okay to laugh. The conspiracy theorist might laugh with you.
  2. ‘Secret Power’ Theories: These conspiracy theories are not as common, but they are gaining a larger and larger foothold amongst American citizens. These theories are usually based upon arcane notions of power and influence. Conspiracy theorists who hold these beliefs will argue that there is a secret group within a national eye_reasonably_small_400x400government (or multi-national organizations) that has undue, authoritarian power. This conspiracy may be connected to notions that there are world-wide government entities that control policy and have nefarious plans for either a utopian, or a dystopian future. The two most common groups associated with such conspiracy theories are the illuminati and/or freemasons. Both of these secret organizations have been connected to conspiracies for centuries.  For the conspiracy theorist, this historical tradition further proves the supposed conspiracy.  Though darker than the ‘Top Secret’ conspiracy, there is still a heavy element of absurdity in the ‘Secret Power’ conspiracy.  Beyonce, the CIA and the Pope inexplicably work together to rule the world. Hmmm.
  3. ‘Apocalyptic Power’ Theories: These are the most dangerous conspiracy theories.  The conspiracy theorists who hold these beliefs argue that a group of people, either large or small, is attempting to destroy the cultural, social and/or political world of the conspiracy theorist. The conspiracy theorist argues that he/she is not only ignorant of secrets, or out of the loop of secret power, he/she is actually a threatened victim of the conspirators. Usually, these conspiracies focus upon governments, but they also can tie into the ‘Secret Power’ conspiracies in the belief of a small cadre having control over levers of power. These conspiracies are the most dangerous because of their absolutist, zero-sum focus.  For the believers in these conspiracies, there is no middle ground. You either fight, or you die.  You gain your freedom, or become a slave. Every event that is read into the conspiracy is another sign of the endgame; the theorist’s world is believed to be crumbling down, and hence, it is only natural that violence may be necessary. Those who do not hold to these conspiracies then are more than ignorant sheep to be looked down upon. The person not accepting the conspiracy becomes part of the conspiracy.  This type of conspiracy theory promotes a Manichean notion of reality. The conspiracy theorist is not laughing. It is deadly serious to him/her.

In the next blog post, I will illustrate how some of these Apocalyptic conspiracies have caused historical tragedies, large and small. Then, I will investigate how and why these types of conspiracies are gaining such a foothold in our modern culture. To those who don’t believe, conspiracies can be funny, absurd or deluded. However, we should not underestimate the power of true believers.  History proves as much.

To be continued…..

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

 

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

 

In my literature classes, I use the preceding passage as a favorite example of situational irony, given that dying of thirst surrounded by water is truly a nightmarishly fraught end, one more probable than many might care to imagine.

Among the many things worthy of protection, I can think of few as elemental as water. Certainly no one can debate the necessity of protecting the water supply, primarily because water is quite literally essential to life.

watery

I said “no one,” yet the Trump administration plans to roll back government protection of waterways, The Water of the United States, or WOTUS.

Protection of the environment ought not be a partisan issue.

The water supply has been monitored by the EPA since its creation by President Nixon in 1970. Alas, the EPA will be ironically lead for the next (interminable) 202 weeks by an industry-friendly billionaire. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer my EPA directors to be environmentally friendly.

I am, as ever, reminded of a brilliant work of satire, yet another example of the clairvoyance of artists. The sarcastic fun in the musical Urinetown I cheerfully endorse, but do not wish to endure.

Another powerful statement was made by the protestors who attempted to block the Dakota Access pipeline; I marveled at their strength, determination, and courage.

I suggest that those who would choose to endanger the water supply in order to profit from a supply of oil be required to drink the petroleum they so richly prize.

The water supply is tied to the health of the entire ecology. Tainted water equals contaminated soil and products from that soil. I’m fairly certain I learned that lesson in 5th grade biology, thanks Mr. Chapman!

watersupply

Happily, I am not alone in my adherence to science and fundamental facts.

Facts:

According to The U. S. Geological Survey, the surface of the globe is 71%water. Of the available water on earth, 96% is saline, leaving only 4% of fresh water on earth.

A human being cannot live without water. In fact, According to Randall K. Packer, a professor of biology at George Washington University, depending on the circumstances, death could come within hours, three days is often considered the frequent finding, and seven days remains the utmost limit a human can manage to survive without water.

In an era unhappily rife with anti-intellectualism, there appears to be a correlative scarcity of common sense.

By Justine Stamper, RMU Student.

Do you know how songs, paintings, or poems can take you back to a place in time or make stevieyou think of a special person? The song “Dreams” by Stevie Nicks, Monet’s “Water Lilies”, and the poem“Comes the Dawn” by Veronica Shoffstall evoke monetfond memories of my friend Fawn. I’ll never forget her impact on my wonder years. I carry it with me to this day; Fawn showed me my dawn.

Growing up, my best friend Chrissy and I had a babysitter, Fawn. She was a senior in high school while we were barely in the sixth grade. Her long blonde hair, minimal makeup, sweet disposition, and laid back approach to life signified her hippie chick lifestyle. Her looks and persona were reminiscent of Stevie Nicks. As a bonus she had a good looking boyfriend who sang in a band, and they would take us anywhere we wanted to go. They were the epitome of cool.

Those summers were spent driving around in a station wagon singing along to the radio blaring, playing miniature golf, or tooling around the Brickyard Mall. Dinner was usually fawn-seth-amandaTaco Bell, where we’d always order Burrito Supremes with extra sour cream. Or Gene and Jude’s for rubber dogs (yes, that’s what they call their hot dogs!)

As I became a teenager, Fawn became less of a babysitter and more of an older sister. As I was growing up, so was Fawn. She became a mother and had gone through losing the love of her life. These losses and challenges made her even more of an old soul.

I would stay with her and her children in her small bohemian apartment, adorned with beaded entryways, dream-catchers, Monet paintings and the smell of incense mixed withfawn cannabis. She gave me solid advice during breakups with my first boyfriend. While we mulled over the dirty details of the breakup, she played Bob Dylan’s, Positively 4th Street.

To further solidify her place as my mentor, she gave me a poem with a heart, cross and an infinity symbol drawn on it. The poem was “Comes the Dawn” by Veronica Shoffstall; it read… “After a while you learn the subtle difference between holding a hand and chaining a soul and you learn that love doesn’t mean possession and company doesn’t mean security. And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts and presents aren’t promises
. And you begin to accept your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead
. With chrissy-ithe grace of an adult not the grief of a child. 
And you learn to build your roads on today
. Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans and futures have ways of falling down in mid­flight.
 After awhile you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much. 
So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers. And you learn that you really can endure that you really are strong. 
And you really do have worth. 
And you learn and you learn… with every goodbye you learn.”

As the years went by, I remained in touch with Fawn through occasional visits, and now through Facebook. I want to take my daughter to meet her; I’m sure Fawn will get a glimpse of our younger days when she sees my “mini-­me.” I appreciate the advice and support Fawn gave to me. I would love for her to share her life lessons with my daughter; after all it’s my daughter’s dawn now.

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

My love for parks and gardens is long-standing, and steadily growing (horticultural puns intended.) My volunteer time spent at The Lincoln Park Conservatory reinvigorates my commitment to understanding and preserving our shared home, the earth.

In my ENG 325, “Writing for the Community” class, I include a “Parks and Gardens” week, which involves reading, researching, and reflecting on the roles that these special places play in our individual and civic lives. Through investigation, we discover new types of parks and gardens, including memory gardens for Alzheimer’s patients and parks designed to be enjoyed by people of differing physical abilities. Additionally, students consider their own relationship with parks: the fun, the play, the joy.

We encounter environmental pioneer John Muir whose writings, particularly My First Summer in the Sierra, so beautifully describe the minute and magnificent glories of the natural world. Thankfully, Muir was able to convince “Conservation President” Theodore Roosevelt to expand initiatives to preserve and protect public lands. Woodrow Wilson established the National Park System in 1916, described as “America’s Best Idea,” in the Ken Burns documentary.

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Lurie Garden graces downtown Chicago

Here in Chicago, parks and gardens are enthusiastically supported by endless expansion projects, largely thanks to an 1830’s designation of the city’s motto, Urbs in Horto, “City in a Garden.” How fortunate for Chicagoans that nearly a hundred years ago, city planners recognized and respected the surrounding landscape, and sought to integrate development with stewardship.

The world is our shared home, so no one is as removed from nature as immediate surroundings might suggest. An excellent exploration of our necessary daily relationship with natural spaces comes courtesy of a TED talk, “Nature is Everywhere—We Just Need to Learn to See It” by Emma Marris, who like so many scholars and activists asks her audience to think like a child [and here are her notes—quite excited to discover that TED has a notes page!]. A child in nature wants to touch and explore. Ms. Marris’ statement, “we cannot love what we cannot touch” is particularly apt. When people learn to love and nurture and value the natural world, it can have a lasting impact.

2000px-us-nationalparkservice-shadedlogo-svg_Studying the impact parks and gardens has on civic life was recently imbued with larger significance. My admiration for and belief in parks and gardens has been further edified in recent days, with the brave stance expressed by park rangers across the country, particularly an inspiring statement from the former director of the National Park Service, Jonathan B. Jarvis. How unexpected and spectacular to encounter heroism in a small, yet crucial act of resistance: a refusal to remain silent on issues of scientific fact and historical import.

Now more than ever, we have an obligation to cherish the uniquely democratic ideal of protecting natural resources and inviting all people to share in American the beautiful, not through careless exploitation, but thoughtful preservation.

america-the-beautiful