2012 Great Conversations

Who We Are: Round Table Discussions

1. Giving up Grudges…Renouncing Resentment: Is forgiveness a process or a decision? A topic for cultures, nations, groups and individuals—forgiveness is a key element in our ability to function in our world. Gary Hawk has taught “Forgiveness and Reconciliation” at UM’s Davidson Honors College for 14 years and finds questions about forgiveness and its possible outcome in reconciliation swirl through our lives like pigeons around the Wilma Theatre. Join him, not to find definitive answers, but to explore stories that bear on our choices and decisions.

2. Who Owns Human Life? Who owns a donated organ or an organ excised for medical reasons? Can the “owner” sell or market the organ? Who owns a frozen embryo? What about a stem cell line or DNA sequence and are the sequences “discovered” or “invented” for patent purposes? Discuss these and other related medical, legal and ethical conundrums with Dr. Robert Shepard, retired physician and Bill Leaphart, retired Supreme Court Justice.

3. Heroes with Clay Feet:?Mistakes or moral corruption? Before allegations of cheating, Lance Armstrong overcame cancer to win the Tour de France and aided millions with his charity work. After winning Olympic gold, Marion Jones spent 6 months in jail for doping and lying. Despite his success on the gridiron, Joe Paterno died amidst a sex scandal. Does positive achievement outweigh cheating? Learn what Aristotle and other philosophers might say about ­fallen sports heroes with Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Jason Megill who teaches Logic and Ethics at Carroll College.

4. Capital Issues: What gives the State the right to take a life and must it exercise that right? What does the death penalty hope to achieve and is it successful? What factors might mitigate the use of the death penalty? Dr. John Runda brings his previous experience as Chairman of the Kentucky Parole Board and principal author of The Practice of Parole Boards, as well as his perspective as a visiting professor of sociology at Carroll College, for this compelling discussion.

5. Adam and Eve: Rising Apes or Fallen Angels? Dr. John Hart, professor of Christian Ethics at Boston University School of Theology, founded its doctoral program in ecological ethics and has authored seven books. Helenans might also remember Dr. Hart from the Theology department at Carroll College. He will explore with you the conflict between creationist fundamentalists and scientific fundamentalists. How do we consider both scientific data showing the universe is 13.7 billion years old, Earth, 4.5 billion years old and the Book of Genesis? What can we learn from St. Augustine about such conflicts?

6. Little Pink Houses and White Picket Fences: According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly six in ten Americans are currently dissatisfied with the opportunity for the next generation of Americans to live better than their parents. Dennis Taylor, former Helena City Manager and retired state administrator, will lead this timely discussion. Is America still the land of opportunity?

How We Live: Current Culture and Adventures

7. Like…Why We Say “Like” and Stuff: Why do Australians talk funny? What are you eating when you eat “Licorice” or “Chiffon?” Where do the names of our 50 states come from? Frank Crowley, attorney and student of words, will share his own version of “linguistic anthropology” in this fascinating conversation about languages, accents, and word origins. Pssst: You won’t believe the origins of the words “Carnival” and “Picnic.”

8. Carnival Dancing and Flamingos in South America:?Take a trip south to explore Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru with middle school geography teacher, Kelly Elder, who spent February through May traveling through South America for his sabbatical experience. This tour will take you to the people, cultures and landscapes he witnessed during the journey, including the wine country of Mendoza and a mugging in Valparaiso! When he left, Mr. Elder only knew where he would be staying the first two nights of his trip; find out how he involved his students to determine the rest of his adventure.

9. Documenting Her Life and Yours: Join Helena native, award-winning (and Oprah talk show guest) filmmaker Kimberly Reed, for a discussion about her documentaries Prodigal Sons, about her return to Helena, Paul Goodman Changed My Life, 1960s inspirational author of Growing Up Absurd, along with Nuremberg, Its Lesson For Today, and her current project Citizen’s United and SuperPACs about Montana’s grassroots efforts to change the way campaign finance works. Kimberly was named one of “25 New Faces of Independent Film” in Filmmaker magazine and her films have been viewed around the world.

10. Forget What You Forgot: The Civilized Side of Tequila: There is more to tequila than what you may (or may not) remember from Spring Break at Daytona Beach. Is tequila the most misunderstood libation, or is its production steeped in as much tradition as bourbon or Scotch whiskey? Join Ben Horan, a hobbyist and passionate drinker,  to discuss how tequila is made, what makes it special, and discover the differences among Silver, Resposado, and Anejo tequilas.

11. A 60’s Nun’s Story, A 2012 Nun’s Dilemma: Patricia O’Donnell Gibson, author of The Red Skirt, a memoir of her experiences as a Catholic nun, looks not only at her past, but at the present of other sisters with whom she shared her life in the convent.  Your table will experience with her the walk through the big, intimidating doors of the convent, feel the loneliness of slowly giving up all that is familiar and then walk back out into the world with the courage to say yes and the courage to say no. Learn as well how the sisters who shared her life in the convent have adapted their own lives to today’s realities.

12. From Survivor to Honey Boo Boo: The Business of Reality TV:?While working at Mark Burnett Productions, Matt Shanfield helped produce projects such as Shark Tank and The Apprentice and is ready to take on the questions of reality TV and why it continues to be the most popular form of entertainment. The controversy about exploitation versus entertainment is sure to arise, and you really can ask him who makes this stuff up and how you might pitch your own TV idea. Stay tuned.

13. What Is on Your Best Books of 2012 List? Dianne Kuehn is one of those people who can launch a conversation time and again with “I just read…” or “Have you seen the book…” Dianne’s education includes a degree in English Literature and one in law, but the “best job she ever had” was as a reference librarian. Her own list of favorite reads for the year ranges from Swerve! to The Great Leader to Lolita. Surely there will be something here for any bibliophile to enjoy!

14 Ahoy😕Rob Thomas and Anneliese Ripley of UM Western, along with their two daughters, spent 3 1/2 months circumnavigating the globe aboard a floating university. The opportunity to visit 13 countries changed their family’s view of the world and their relationship with it. Set sail with them over dinner and discover some of what they learned on this global adventure.

Where We’ve Been: History and Philosophy

15. What Would Jesus Do? From Puritan punishments in the town square to protests over the location of an Islamic center near Ground Zero, America’s history of religious tolerance is long and convoluted. We find ourselves in the 21st century still trying to work out exactly where we do draw the line or lines. Bill Kronholm has more than 30 years with the Associated Press and an interest in religious tolerance stemming from his current role as social justice chair of the Big Sky Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. His goal is not to decide right or wrong, but to look at factors that influence our contemporary responses to age-old differences of religious opinion.

16. Read All About It: The Great War Turns 100! With its anniversary coming in September, 2014, WWI is generating renewed interest. From the television mini-series Downton Abbey to recent films like War Horse, average Americans are revisiting the life and times of the people who lived though the war to end all wars. Join Bradley Naranch, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Montana, for a look back at one of our most significant historical events and examine the on-going efforts to put the European history of the war in a global perspective.

17. Big Talk about the Big Top: Paul Ringling and his son Rock Ringling will delve into their family history with you. Of course, this family really does have a 3-Ring element. Paul is the grandson of Alfred Ringling, one of the founding Ringling Brothers, and started “trouping” with the circus himself at the age of 17. Stories of the circus and the family’s history in Montana (Paul’s father helped develop the town of White Sulphur Springs) are interwoven. This is a rare opportunity to step back in time.

18. True Love:?Abelard and Heloise, Sartre and Simone deBeauvoir exemplify real life love affairs that still inspire us. If we consider philosophers from the perspective of significant relationships in their lives, it becomes apparent that many found themselves involved in passionate relationships that had an indelible impact on their work and their ideas. Dr. Elvira Rancalli, who holds degrees from the Université Catholique de Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium and the Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy, will examine love as a passion and the impact it has on one’s life and work.

19. Lofty Dialogues from the Ground Level:?“Philosophers write about what other men think about.” (George Berkeley) Greek and Latin classicist, moral philosopher, and historian of ideas, Dr. Walter M. Roberts III invites you to a feast of deepest held convictions: signposts that have guided mankind’s quests for meaning. Bouncing among the famous thinkers and poets of the West, conjure some insight and WONDER as you contemplate the idea of God, the nature of the soul, and the challenge of being fully human.

Where We Are Now: The World Today

20. Evidence of Democracy: Following the Money:?Should we care about campaign finances and what to do about the system of financing elections if it is in fact broken? Explore how state-level campaign finances differ from those at the federal level and whether Citizens United changed campaign finances in the states. Leading this timely discussion is Edwin Bender, the executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics (followthemoney.org). Edwin has been compiling state-level political donor information for over 20 years.

21. Have We “Come a Long Way, Baby?” We have come a long way, but has the success of feminism created more problems? Just what are the goals of feminism—equality in society, changing our paradigms or something altogether different? What divides women and how do women’s views on feminism vary by life stage or age? Explore the different stages of feminism with two women who came of age in different decades and at distinctively different points in the feminist movement. Kay Satre teaches literature at Carroll College and Nisan Burbridge works with Carroll students on connecting with the workplace as they move toward their next stage in life.

22. Current Affairs at Carroll:?This might be your best opportunity to get to meet Dr. Tom Evans, the president of Carroll College. Among other things, you will learn Dr. Evans holds a Bachelor of Science with a major in Japanese and a minor in theology from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. While we assume the conversation about what looms in the future for higher education in general, and Carroll College in particular, will be held in English, French is also a possibility. Dr. Evans has a global vision for higher education; what might that mean for the future of Carroll College?

23. When Democracy Fails: Competitive elections have not necessarily yielded better policy outcomes or politicians more attentive to public concerns. Discuss why with Dr. Jeremy Johnson, Carroll College political science professor, and compare the similarities and differences in previous episodes of American democracy when there has been public contempt for institutions of government. Do we remain polarized or can we channel positive developments to overcome problems with the power of ideas?

24. Security in the New Millennium: Retired Marine Scott Kinner has spent his adult life witnessing conflict. His current work as a military theorist and doctrine developer for the Marine Corps focuses on how the nation’s crisis response force must operate in the new security environment. The worldwide proliferation of handheld media devices has changed both the content and speed of information passed and altered the relationship between private and public, citizen and authority. Information that can both build or destroy is now available to almost anyone. What must we learn about the present relationships between people and information to help shape the future?

25. One Minute You’re Minding your Own Business and the Next… Syria, Libya, Egypt, and the Arab Spring. Should the U.S. be involved in world conflicts? How should we deal with Iran’s nuclear program, U.S.-Russian relations, Afghanistan, terrorism and other key issues? Randall LeCocq’s diplomatic career included tours of Israel, Russia, and Africa as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State. Hear his stories, discuss how the Obama Administration is addressing conflict around the world, and learn how our involvement in global disputes is changing policy.

26. Strife in Syria😕Serdar Poyraz, Visiting Assistant Professor at UM, has a Ph.D in The History of the Modern Middle East. Join him for an exploration of unrest in Syria. How did the Asad family come to power? Is this primarily a political or religious conflict? Perhaps the two are not so simply separated. Dr. Poyraz will deftly lead his companions through the nuanced historical considerations that will illuminate the present conflicts and may indicate likely scenarios for the future.

27. Growth and the “Grid” Power outages on the east coast, collapsing bridges in the Midwest, internet shortages worldwide. Is the world’s aging infrastructure keeping pace with growth? How will failures in critical utilities affect our economy and the health of our communities? Bob Rowe, President and CEO of NorthWestern Corporation and former Chair of the Montana Public Service Commission, will lead a discussion about the challenges of building and maintaining infrastructure and the changing needs and expectations of Montanans.

28. What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You  In Helena our homes and office buildings are expected to withstand seismic activity, explosions (okay, just that 1 in 1989) and extreme temperatures. Kent Jones, forensic engineer, specializes in crawling through collapsed buildings, filthy crawl spaces, and dusty attics looking for problems. He has encountered, and investigated, a wide range of failures—in burned out churches and collapsed structures. He’ll discuss why buildings fail and share some unusual stories from his adventures in and under the buildings he has explored.

Where We’re Going: Science and Technology

29. Kingfishers, Blue Mussels and Ferns: Smarter than the Average Human? Explore how 3.8 billion years of research and development by the critters that surround us is inspiring new materials, products, buildings and cities. Ask deeper questions about our roles as just one species on a planet with over 30 million species. Delve into what it means to be well-adapted and discover what secret strategies are lurking in your own backyard with Dayna Baumeister, who is recognized as one of the world’s experts in the field of Biomimicry.

30. CleverBots—Will Computers Be as Smart as We Are? Computers double in power every two years. Will computers ever achieve a human level of intelligence? Today, most experts in artificial intelligence expect computers to equal the complexity of the human brain sometime within the next century. If computers achieve a human level of intelligence, how will this change our society, our laws, and our system of ethics? Join Carroll College professor, Dr. Kelly Cline to explore these questions and consider others: Will this be dangerous? Will this benefit the human race?…Will we become obsolete?

31. Where Are my Keys? Sound familiar? Dr. Jonathan Griffin of St. Peter’s Medical Group will guide a discussion on how memory works. If you have not only wondered if you remembered to close the garage door or turn off the iron, explore with your tablemates the difference between forgetting and more serious issues. Most importantly, what can we do to preserve memory?

32. Mad Men vs. Mad Scientists:?Commercials, advertisements, and so-called infomercials in virtually every media type have presented us with a vast array of products or services that are “scientifically proven” or “contain no chemicals.”   What are “trans-fats”—really? How can we separate the fact from the fiction, and stay ahead of the media spin doctors?  John W. Hartman, chemistry instructor at Helena College, has been actively involved in chemical education and science literacy outreach for over 12 years and will lead this table’s exciting discussion covering a variety of science literacy issues.

33. Peeking Tom-Toms, “Like” Buttons, and That Mobile Tracker in your Pocket:?There were 1.3 million requests for private phone records by law enforcement agencies last year and data about all of us are bought and sold without our consent or knowledge. However, most major legislation about the internet and electronic data was passed when Mark Zuckerberg was still in elementary school! Jim Heckel, the retired director of the Great Falls Public Library, has given numerous talks on privacy and First and Fourth Amendment issues; he is the perfect guide as you consider together what exactly privacy means in the digital age.

34. Going Extinct: A Dinosaur’s Perspective on Climate Change: Dinosaurs lived long enough to see the separation of continents and the rise and fall of mountain ranges and to acquire a “deep time” outlook on global change. Christopher Matson will guide this exploration of paleontological and geological research as though you are taking his class, looking at what the earth’s fossil and rock records tell us about climate and discussing humankind’s potential to positively affect warming trends and what that might mean for us and for Earth.

35.(Un)Informed Consent:?The popularity of the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has given rise to countless discussions about the HeLa cell story. Do you know if you have been a research subject? Dr. Ron Millard, a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, is an expert on bio-medical research ethics using non-human and human subjects and on the development of drugs for human use. Dr. Millard is eager to lead your conversation on what guides the advancement of medical knowledge. Is informed consent always necessary?

36. Look on the Bright Side: Dr. Andrea Mow has recently returned to Helena as the Medical Director of St. Peter’s Behavioral Health Unit. Spend your evening, glasses half-full, discussing the biological basis of hope and the role of emotions on both recollection and outlook. Can an optimistic bias change our reality?

37. Cloudy About Cloud Computing? The rise in cell phones, tablets, and cheap-and-easy  Internet has brought the age of cloud computing. Sounds like science fiction, but life in the cloud impacts our work, our entertainment, and how we communicate. Jason Neiffer, Curriculum Director of Montana’s “virtual school,” Montana Digital Academy, and social media instructor will discuss the function of cloud computing in our world,  from our big screen TVs, to our microwaves and SUVs.