2013 Great Conversations

A Night at the Round Table

1.      Tribalism and Democracy: Are They at Odds? Can modern democratic institutions accommodate the claims of actual tribes and meet the challenges presented by tribalism both here in the U.S. and globally? Tribal governments and cultures of Indian nations predate the modern democratic institutions that have grown up around them. Andrew Huff is the Governor’s chief legal counsel and an enrolled member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe. His experience in Indian law gives thisgc3 conversation a multilayered perspective. Is tribalism destructive to democracy or essential to it?


2.      Traitors or Heroes? When is civil disobedience a duty of citizenship? Nonviolent activists such as Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning are today risking fines and imprisonment to challenge what they consider unjust government practices. Some long oppressed people reach a point at which they decide to nonviolently put their lives at stake in the face of repression and injustice. Howard Zinn wrote, “Civil Disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience.” Explore this notion with Frank Kromkowski, a longtime advocate for economic and social justice.

3.      Mind Control Through advances in neuroscience we can now create false memories, modify decision-making, observe dreams, communicate with comatose patients, and apply stem cells to neurological disease. We can, but should we? Join Dr. Nathan A. Munn, M.D., Instructor of Psychology and Consciousness Studies at Helena College of the University of Montana, for a mind blowing exploration of these and other topics concerning the ethical and philosophical implications of neuroscience advancements.

4.      Health? or Health Care? Richard Opper, director of the state’s largest government agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, is looking forward to a discussion with you on what Montanans want from our health care system and how we can work together to achieve it. Other points for conversation include why we focus on disease management instead of health management. Can that focus be changed?

Arts, Popular Culture & Cutting Edge

5.      Do You See What I See? This conversation offers a scientist’s take on historically significant UFO events that have occurred in Montana. Joan Bird, who holds a Ph.D. in Zoology, believes there is enough evidence to take the subject seriously and will discuss some of the events in our own backyard, inviting you to share your own stories of sightings or encounters. With recent revelations from government officials and Freedom of Information Act documents, Joan has found that an increasing number of people want to increase their “literacy” on the subject.

6.      Beer: Old World Meets New World The many delicious aspects of beer include its history—from creation to consumption. Along with social influences, let’s also talk about the economic and agricultural impacts of beer and the trends that have elevated the status of malt beverages, as well as the many different approaches and styles within this dynamic trade. Kevin Hamlin has been in the beer and wine business for over 14 years and has gained a great appreciation, enthusiasm and knowledge of the beer industry.  . This is sure to be a flavorful and lively conversation!

7.      Is Harry a Heretic? Harry Potter and Christian Theology Is the wizarding world of Harry Potter incompatible with Christianity? Why do some Christians object to the Harry Potter phenomenon? How do the Harry Potter novels relate to Christian themes like love, sacrifice, power, evil, sin, community justice and faith? Dr. Christopher Fuller has taught courses about the Gospel according to Harry Potter among others. Get ready for a magical conversation with Dr. Fuller as he shares his thoughts about how a fictional boy wizard astonished the Christian world.gc2

8.      Photographing the People, Places and Spirit of Montana The work of Helena  photographer Kurt Keller has been featured in numerous exhibits and international shows. Kurt’s art takes you on a visual journey, from the intimacy of Montana’s rich history and people to his imaginative and whimsical idea tree. His captivating altered reality images reveal more than a subject or observation in surprising ways. Discuss with Kurt the ease of manipulating images and the ethical issues that arise, as well as visual history issues and the creation and survival of photographs.

9.      Bad Guys We Love to Hate—Anti-heroes in the Golden Age of Television Do you root for mobsters, drug dealers, womanizing business men, or corrupt politicians? Starting with James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, protagonists in the new Golden Age of Television have become anti-heroes. Why do we do root for amoral characters? What does that say about us? Don Pogreba, Helena High School AP Language, Literature, and Speech  teacher, will lead a discussion about our guilty pleasures: The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Wire, and more.

10.     Unmasking the Undead: Are Vampires and Zombies Invading our Lives? The undead are coming alive in our culture, and not just in movies and TV. What fuels our fascination with vampires and zombies, and is this undercurrent indicative of things to come? Gayle Shirley’s perspective on the undead doesn’t just come from her professional interest in disease pandemics with the County Health Department. She is a diehard fan of The Walking Dead TV series and the author of The Fang Gang, about vampires right here in the Queen City. Enter this grave conversation, if you dare.

Economics & Political Science

11.     Something New, or More of the Same in Korea? Kim Jong Un is two years into his reign as Supreme Leader of North Korea. He was introduced on Korean television as representing his father’s “ideology, leadership, character, virtues, grit and courage.” Is that a reasonable conclusion or an unfounded extrapolation? Dr. Robert Swartout’s slant is based on his experience in Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer, a two time senior Fulbright Scholar, and 10 years as honorary consul for the Republic of Korea in the state of Montana. Join him to explore what lies behind the stories we hear on the news.

12.     The Next Civil War? Nullification Laws and Secessionists Carol and Pat Williams have broad experience in government at both the state and national levels. As two public officials who elected to serve and elected to retire from office, they bring a wise perspective to our current political climate. One topic for which they may offer a clarifying lens is the current tension between national legislative responsibilities and state prerogatives.

13.     Sequester Fester The word “sequester” can mean “take legal possession of (assets) until a debt has been paid or other claims have been met” which seems the most likely reason the term was tied to the  automatic spending cuts to the federal government budget that took effect this year. A subject of tremendous controversy, the sequester has had far reaching consequences in Montana. Bruce Nelson is the administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency in Montana. He can discuss realities of the budget cuts in Montana and speculate with you on what the future may bring.

14.     Synchronicity: Coincidence? Random Chance? Fate? Carl Jung famously described an occurrence with a patient who had a dream involving a scarab; at which point a scarab, rare in Switzerland, began scratching against the office window. Was this a meaningful coincidence? Both contemporary psychologists and spiritual practitioners understand synchronicities as illuminating psycho-spiritual awakening. Share your stories or curiosity about meaningful coincidences with Jay Dufrechou, a Helena attorney currently working toward a doctorate in Transpersonal Psychology. Treat yourself to a discussion about whether our synchronicities are random events in a meaningless universe, or intimations of fate!

15.     The New Genetics Delve into the topic of consumer genetic testing, where potential life partners can find out if their genes are compatible and whether their children should be endurance athletes or sprinters. Dr. James Reynolds, Medical Director of the Department of Medical Genetics at Shodair Hospital, is board certified in pediatrics and medical genetics.


Imagine with him a society like the 1997 sci-fi film Gattaca, about a future civilization driven by liberal eugenics.

16.     Marcia… The Jan Brady Effect: What does birth order say about you? First borns tend to be competitive, attention-seeking and responsible. At an early age middle children learn  the art of compromise, negotiation, and flexibility. Youngest children are non-conformists, creative and daring. How does your birth placement in your family shape your ideas, behavior, and your placement in the world? Find your answers with Kathy Kinsella Shea, LCSW, a Child and Family Therapist who has observed sibling dynamics for the past twenty years and revels in her first born status.

History, World Cultures & Travel

17.     The Civil War? In Montana? The bloodiest war ever fought on American soil shaped the history of Montana and of the West. Montana wasn’t even a state in the 1860’s, but the Civil War left its mark on our landscape and was the impetus for events as disparate as the naming of Virginia City and the creation of a land grant college at Bozeman. Did you know a fountain in Helena is the northernmost monument to the Confederacy? To learn even more, join Richard Aarstad, Senior Archivist at the Montana Historical Society, for this dip into Montana’s past.

18.     Feeling Groovy For those of you who were there, how do you feel about the decade of the 70’s and for those of you who weren’t, what are your perceptions? Were they really the good old days or is that misplaced nostalgia? Explore the past with professional historian, teacher and writer, John Axline, as you reflect on the most important events of the decade, and evaluate how those events continue to affect us today.

19.     A Pilgrim at Walden Walks through the Wilds of Tinker Creek Writers like Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson and Annie Dillard have profoundly affected the ways we engage with and think about the natural world; Cheryl Strayed’s recent best-seller Wild, will soon be made into a movie. Literary interpretations of the world continue to captivate us. Heather Dickerson, Teen Services Librarian at the Lewis & Clark Library, will lead a discussion on our favorite writers, books and articles posing the questions of how our own personal outdoor experiences influence us.

20.     Children Were Butte’s Reason to be— Copper, Merely the Means to Support Them Growing up is hard, but growing up in Butte, Montana between 1900-1960 was serious business. Whether you grew up in Butte, or not, that period in its history has had a profound impact on all of us who call Montana home. Butte native Dr. Janet Finn, Professor of Social Work at The University of Montana, has published her second book about life and times of mining towns. Mining Childhood—Stories of Growing Up in Butte 1900-1960, offers a child’s eye-view of Butte in its industrial heyday. Childhood accounts yield fresh perspectives on Butte; while children’s reminiscences reveal lessons in determination and optimism. Join this historical look at growing up Butte and perhaps share some memories of your own.

21.     More to Food than Meets the Palate Everything about eating—including what we consume, how we acquire it, who prepares it and who’s at the table—is a form of communication rich with meaning. Our attitudes, practices and rituals around food are a window to our most basic beliefs about the world and ourselves. The term “foodways” describes the study of why we eat the foods we eat and what that means. Join Lillie Greiman,  cooking instructor, geographer, and Fulbright Scholar, for an intriguing discussion about the food and culture of North Africa, the relationships between gender dynamics and foodways, and the role of globalization in transforming social relations across North Africa and the Middle East.

22.     Hot Dogs, Haircuts, Bunads, and Barn: A Year of Learning to Live in Norway As a Fulbright Roving Scholar, Dr. Colin Irvine traveled 60,000 miles to teach in 45 schools in 35 cities in Norway, a country he describes as unique and surprising. From Stavanger to Hammerfest and everywhere in between, Colin traveled by plane, train, and automobile to experience the culture, education, geography, and economy of Norway with his wife and “barn.” You could look up the translation of the Norwegian, “barn,” or you could join Colin for an unforgettable, witty and entertaining discussion of his journey through Norway.

23.     Trekking with Tech: World Travel with Technology Being travel-savvy now means more than showing up with a dog-eared guidebook; we travel with our cell phones, iPads, digital cameras and even Siri. Alison James and Jason Neiffer have explored the world together since first backpacking around Europe in 2000. They have gone from getting very lost on the streets of Rome to recent trips to Iceland and Italy where their successful travel was enhanced by technology. Learn how they will plan for their next journeys to Thailand, Australia, Eastern Europe and South America as you imagine experiencing a trip of your own.

24.     From Central Europe to Central Montana If you’ve considered traveling to the Adriatic Coast of Croatia/Montenegro, this former free-lance correspondent has some tips for you. Beth Kampschror can cover a range of topics, from travel tips to how the former Yugoslavia has changed after war. If your wanderlust leads you closer to home, Beth’s new career as the Executive Director of the Friends of the Missouri River Breaks Foundation suits her ideally to share adventures on the Montana prairie as well.

Science & Technology

25.     Technology & Christmas: Bringing Smiles to the Season It is both entertaining and overwhelming to think about what is possible in the age of information and what to watch for in the future. Dan Case does this on a daily basis in Instructional Technology at Carroll College and is going to bring a stocking full of cool tech toys for you to experiment with for some hands on fun. Ponder the pros and cons of purchasing decisions about everything from new tablet offerings to the latest in smart phones.

26.     There’s a Hole in my Soap! Sustaining the world’s first national park has been a 141 year journey. A leader in forging collaboration among government, business, nonprofits, and academia, Jim Evanoff, Environmental Protection Specialist for Yellowstone National Park, spent three decades developing sustainable measures to protect it.  From punching holes in soap, to refilling propane canisters, Jim created sustainable models that are now used in Glacier, other national and state parks, and around the world.  Join Jim, a lively and entertaining conversationalist, for stories of his journey to create and promote sound environmental stewardship. Discuss how his “green” initiatives are applicable anywhere.

27.     It’s Booming in the Bakken According to Wikipedia, The Bakken Formation has become one of the most important sources of oil in the United States. Most new Bakken drilling has been in North Dakota, but extends into Montana, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. We are regularly exposed to news stories about the dramatic changes the Bakken Boom has brought to Eastern Montana and North Dakota. David Ottolino, professor at Montana Tech, teaches a course in Petroleum Project Evaluation. Join him for a thorough discussion of drilling in the Bakken—its environmental and economic impacts.

28.     The Last Frontier Antarctica is the canary in the mine as a barometer of global climate change, the consequences of melting polar ice sheets, and the effects of industrialization in Europe and Asia. The discovery of life beneath the Antarctic ice sheet has transformed the way we view the continent and has paved the way for future national and international subglacial research efforts. Your guide is Dr. John Priscu, who worked as an oceanographer in New Zealand before joining the faculty at MSU and has spent 30 seasons working in Antarctica. His descriptions will deepen your understanding of Antarctica and may even inspire you to visit this last frontier.

29.     How 3D Printing Will Change the World Steffen Rasile is a local web developer who loves to stay on the cutting edge of technology and gadgets. His latest fascination with 3D printers has grown from printing at home to an exploration of the future of this amazing technology.Steffen’s in-depth knowledge of the digital world and his ability to explain it so masterfully will absorb you as much as watching a 3D printer as it creates objects right before your eyes.

30.     The Facts of Life? Carroll College professor Dr. Gerald Shields has 46 years of biological research and teaching to his credit. Join him to chew over current controversies in the biological sciences. These hot topics in science range from the beginning of life to its end and are sure to foster a lively dialogue. Not quite a discourse on the birds and the bees, but we got your attention!

31.     Talking to the Animals Explore the unique relationships between humans and animals with Dr. Marie Suthers, Professor of Anthrozoology at Carroll College, where this baccalaureate degree is the first of its kind in the nation. By increasing our knowledge about the human-animal bond and assessing how animals enrich our lives, we can improve the quality of life for both humans and animals. Dr. Suthers teaches students to apply the principles of learning and cognition while working directly with animals and will discuss with you the partnerships between animals and humans that provide essential support for people with special needs.

The World Today

32.     Nothing to Hide? Government surveillance, online information and campaign finance disclosure raise important questions about our rights to privacy in relation to the government, business and our fellow citizens. These questions begin with changing social values and the legalities that shape our expectations of privacy through constitutional and related processes. The answers begin to clarify the lines we draw between private and public spheres and our evolving principles. Join Anthony Johnstone, Assistant Professor and Associate Dean of the University of Montana School of Law, for this timely and studied examination of the topic of privacy.

33.     Justifiable Force or Vigilantism? Are there limits when defending yourself and your home? After the protracted news coverage of the Zimmerman trial, we may be better versed in Florida’s self defense laws than Montana’s. How do our self defense laws compare with other states? When is the use of force justifiable? How does one protect the “castle?” Mike Mehanan, former prosecuting attorney for Lewis and Clark County and judge in Montana’s First Judicial District Court, explores these questions and more.

34.     Citizens United or Divided? Montana’s struggles with the inappropriate influence of money in politics reach back more than 100 years, from William Clark’s bid for the United States Senate in the late 1800’s, to the ongoing legal contortions surrounding American Traditions Partnership. Senator Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, carried an attempt at a major campaign finance reform called the TRACE Act, which would have increased disclosure and the fines for violating Montana’s election laws. The bill passed the Senate after a heated debate, but never made it to the House floor. Join Jim to discuss what the campaign finance changes portend for the next 100 years in Montana politics.

35.     We Have the Same Dream Most of us landed in America because our ancestors had a dream—a better life, enough to eat, escape from oppressive government, reunion with loved ones, or simply new adventure.  It’s not easy to pull up roots in one’s native land and move to a strange country. But, each year over a million people immigrate to the United States propelled by their dreams.  How do U.S. immigration laws affect them? Do these laws pull families apart or bring them together?  Are o’ur immigration laws broken beyond repair?  Join Helena web and graphics designer Jesus Salazar for a discussion about why people come to the U.S. and how our immigration laws may be failing us all, citizens and immigrants alike.

36.     Egypt and Syria—The Next Democracies or the Next Al-Qa’ida? Owen Sirrs is the Arab Culture instructor at the Defense Critical Language and Culture Program at the University of Montana and was previously senior intelligence analyst for Iran with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Join him for a multilayered discussion of the situation in Egypt since the military coup and the response of Muslim Brotherhood. Examine the question of whether the Syrian rebels can by rescued from Al-Qa’ida. Can Egypt be saved from Syria’s fate?­­