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Sunday, February 29, 2004

A FEW NOTES ABOUT THE PASSION

By now, a lot of people have been to the theater to see The Passion of the Christ, but there are at least a few I know that are refusing to watch it for what I think are some pretty outrageous reasons. Anti-Semitism is only one of the charges being leveled against this movie - many more are floating around out there.

Friday night I was at a university event and I found my former boss, the assistant coordinator of Moore Hall. I talked with her for a while, and the subject of The Passion came up. Now first, a note about this woman - she's in her mid-20's, working on a graduate degree here at KSU, and an undoubtedly racist black woman. It's kind of sad - for someone working in a professional position, she really drags herself down by overplaying the "typical black woman" role. She speaks in nothing but ebonics, is incredibly rude to us "non-colored" folks, and always makes a point that she's underrepresented and oppressed. (I get along with her fine, because right off the bat several months ago, I conveyed the attitude that I wasn't intimidated by someone that I'm supposed to feel bad for - when she was rude, I was equally rude right back, and when she spouted off in street talk, I answered back in Spanish. We've been friendly with each other ever since. Too many of her employees are still afraid of stepping on her toes - I'm bruising them up.)

I also know that she's a pretty religious person, so I was a little surprised when she said that she refused to see The Passion. The violence was the first thing that came to my mind - although it's portrayed accurately, it can still be so unsettling for some that they won't even see the movie. But that wasn't it at all. Her complaint was this: "Someone told me that there were no people of color in that movie!" ........ Give me a break. OK, first up (and she heard this whole speech, too), you CANNOT apply today's political correctness, today's emphasis on diversity to historical events, especially one that took place nearly 2000 years ago. If she was wanting to see 12% black people, 13% Hispanics, and 2% Asians (like US demographics), she's not only looking to the wrong time period, she's also just being an idiot.

Furthermore, you're not going to see real dark skin at that time in Judea. That's what she was wanting - Arabs to be playing the roles of all of these people. But back then, the darkest people that would have been around would have been Phoenicians or Numidians, who are comparable to today's North Africans. Here - take a look at a picture of Muammar Gaddafi...does he look black to you? He's clearly an African, but he ain't black. He's not a dark Arab either. Not until the Islamic invasions of the 7th and 8th centuries do you have real dark skinned people moving into the Judean region. I'll agree, Jesus and his followers weren't the blond haired, blue eyed, and frail figures that are typically depicted in Western art, but they weren't what she was thinking of either - "people of color". Once again, there's no excuse for revisionist history just to make a small group happy.

I've noted this before, and it really applies in this situation. She's someone who really wants to take the emphasis off of skin color, yet she really makes a big deal out of skin color. How ironic is that?

Friday, February 27, 2004

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

I would have written my thoughts about Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ earlier today, but it's taken until now to formulate all of my thoughts about it in a way that will be easily comprehensible. The Passion was everything that I expected, and it was actually much more. It produced an inexplicably wild range of emotions that no other film has before, at least any movie that I've seen. It was accurate, brutal, terrifying, and uplifting all at the same time.

The brutality of the film is incredible and necessary. Movies in the past that have dealt with Jesus' crucifixion did so with considerable censorship of what real crucifixion was all about. Because of the influence of popular culture and our application of that culture to our histories, we typically picture the crucified Jesus with four wounds - spikes driven through each hand or wrist, a spike through his ankles, and a spear wound in his side. The Passion presents the horrific reality of Roman executions as they were - Jesus, as an historical figure, went through beatings that would kill most people. It is depicted so accurately and so brutally on the screen that audience members are begging (either in their thoughts or vocally) the cruel Roman centurions to stop.

Much greater than Jesus' physical pain, though, was his spiritual burden - the sins of a thousand generations laid upon his shoulders. The pressure of this spiritual load is seen in the opening minutes of the film, pictured in the Garden of Gethsemane. Besides this implied spiritual presence that causes Jesus intense spiritual, psychological, and physical pain, Satan looms throughout the movie. His quiet yet intense presence stares down Jesus in attempts to get him to give up his spiritual mission. Demons attack Judas after he betrays Jesus, and these scenes make the movie not only the most "spiritually aware" that I've seen, but also the most terrifying.

Flashbacks to parts of Jesus' ministries speak of the love that he preached, and his endurance of torture and crucifixion speaks of the love that he had not only for his followers of the day, but for all people yet to come. Mary follows him throughout the movie and stays loyally by her Son's side. In the end, a brief glimpse of the resurrected Christ presents yet another spiritual turn that gives the viewer relief, hope, and an uplifting sense of Christ's accomplishment.

The movie absolutely has to be seen to be believed and appreciated. It has the ability to play on every emotion of a person, and for Christians, the underlying and subtle meanings will be glaringly apparent. Mel Gibson had a lot of guts to make this movie his personal project - with such a potential for backlash and failure, The Passion of the Christ has succeeded in every way.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS AND MY TUITION

Those two elements are not mixing well. I realize that Kansas has serious fiscal problems most likely to be blamed on rabid conservative tax cuts during the Graves Administration, but it is very unfortunate that the money that is being put into some KSU institutions will be taken by the state for general public projects. Something about that doesn't seem right to me. Here's a couple of quotes that put the issue in perspective:

In her State of the State address, Sebelius said, "because of our difficult financial time, we have failed to keep a promise made to the state's colleges and universities to provide funding to retain key faculty and minimize the need for tuition increases. My proposal fulfills that promise."

But that promise is not being fulfilled, Student Body President John O'Hara said.
"It's bleak," he said. "It's opposite of what's she is saying in the public."

The budget proposal mandates a 3-percent salary increase, as well as fringe benefit increases for all state employees — totaling $10 million for K-State. However, Sebelius is funding only half the money with state funds, leaving K-State with a $4.9 million bill.

In addition, the governor is recommending $2 million in efficiency cuts from tuition revenue and general fund accounts, which brings the total budget gap to $6.9 million.


To read more, click here to read an article that was printed in the Collegian last week. Here's an letter to the editor from KSU's President and Provost, among others, who were bringing attention to the harsh cost of Kathleen Sebelius' budget and how it would hurt college students in Kansas.

It looks like Sebelius hasn't really come up with any innovations concerning our monetary problems and is just pulling the noose a little tighter around the necks of us who'll have to pay. I realize that something has to be done somewhere because we are in a bit of a fix, but it's a shame that a large part of the burden is falling to college students and their parents in the form of tuition, housing, and health care costs. Some poor students will be paying off their loans for years and years to come. The highway plan hasn't even been vetoed by the President yet, and Sebelius is already looking at our money for housing and tuition as the future highways of Kansas.

MARCH MADNESS

I heard Lent humorously referred to as March Madness once, and the Catholics out there know what I'm talking about. It's time to sacrifice something for the 40 days between now and Easter, and every Friday comes with the extra perk of not eating meat. Sure, it's a sacrifice to give up sweets, or Pepsi, or swearing for 40 days, and not eating meat is harder than you think. But what most of my fellow Catholics fail to do is question "why" we do these things. For most, it's just become tradition...you don't ask why, you just do it. Well, there are reasons why, and they're meaningful and important to remember.

Not eating meat on Friday is something that is traditionally assumed to be a Lenten practice, but it is actually supposed to be practiced all year long. Very few Catholics still do this - if you do eat meat on Fridays, some other penance is supposed to be done, like saying the Rosary, attending Mass that day, etc. Unity of community is the reason that we give up beef, pork, and poultry on a certain day and opt, instead, for fish. When Christianity first began to spread, it was based around the Mediterranean, where fish was plentiful and inexpensive. To bind all Christians together, the wealthier of Christian society would give up the more expensive meats and eat a common meal that the poor were eating as well. It's a bit different today - fish is perhaps one of the more expensive meats available, but the principle remains the same...we share a similar meal to bond us together as one community on a certain day, and in that meal we are also sacrificing other parts of our diet. It could make you much more thankful for the meat that you do enjoy the other six days of the week.

Lent is a time when we should be especially mindful of the sacrifices that have been made for us, especially through Jesus' crucifixion. Thus, we also sacrifice something important to us. For kids, this is not a well understood practice, and unfortunately, the confusion over sacrificial practices follows them into adulthood as well. While we do give up something during this 40 day period, the reason why shouldn't be resigned simply to tradition. We usually give up a luxury - something that we take for granted, and giving that up can be difficult. This sacrifice should in some way bring us closer to God.

This year, I've given up meat entirely - and that's a big step. You don't realize how much meat is a part of your diet or taken for granted until you're keeping yourself from eating it. In this 40 day, meatless journey, I'm going to have to go out of my way to find specific meals at our cafeteria that fit my sacrificial diet...that's harder than you'd think, too. Most of the main courses are beef this, chicken that, or pork something-or-other. So why put myself through this? Because there's more to be gained than just a little pain in the butt - when this is over and I can finally dive into a steak again, I'll realize how much I truly have in this world. God's been pretty good to me, and there are literally billions of people worldwide that go without meals at all, and they would be darn glad to have some vegetarian scraps. This could not only make me more sympathetic to the plight of the poor (whom Christians are supposed to reach out to), but also make me a bit more understanding about the day-to-day meal challenges faced by a group of people I personally despise - vegetarians.

So sacrificing is meaningful, even though many people forget that very meaning. Lent officially kicked off yesterday with an Ash Wednesday Mass, and I'm going to see The Passion of the Christ tonight, which will probably give me a reminder of what true sacrifice really is. So happy Lenten season, everybody, and stick to your sacrifices...you may just learn something from them!

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

TIME FOR A BIT OF LIBERALISM

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a conservative. Most liberal views are wrong, as far as I'm concerned. I'm also a modernist - I'm open-minded to the other points of view. I recognize and accept that liberals just think differently than I do, and that my ideas and opinions must seem equally ludicrous to them. They're still wrong, though. That said, I do have some views that don't exactly lend credence to my conservative nature. I don't fall in lockstep with the RNC, and my opinions on several issues like stem-cell research, environmental regulations, and capital punishment (to name a few) would be closer to the left of the political spectrum than to the right. A couple of issues that have presented themselves within the last few days have caught my attention, and when I thought about how I felt concerning them, I realized that I'd be considered liberal for how I see these subjects. I'll tackle one right now, one later on if I have the time to write about it.

First up - a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I'm leaving my feelings on homosexuality out of this one. Surprisingly, they don't even really apply. Whether I was pro-gay rights or anti-gay rights, it wouldn't matter - I'd still think that supporting a constitutional amendment to deal with this kind of an issue is a waste of time and rather offensive to what the Constitution should really be used for. Look through the amendments to the Constitution sometime. Most of them have some basic things in common - laying out our fundamental rights and freedoms as individual US citizens or clarifying how a certain branch of government works. Only once has the Constitution given us a law based on what our moral standards should be. Remember that one?

The 18th amendment to the US Constitution - [T]he manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

Three amendments and just a little over a decade later, this horrible addition to the Constitution was repealed. It created far more controversy than it was meant to, all because the moral positions of a few were imposed as law on the entire nation. Banning gay marriage (or, to be more technical, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman) would be just as ridiculous of an addition to the Constitution as prohibition was. And the biggest reason that I oppose it? If an amendment banning gay marriage were to be passed, I would almost guarantee that within half-a-century it would be repealed. Societies historically liberalize, and I would guess that one day, same-sex unions won't be all that big of a deal, and any possible amendment banning such unions would seem silly and archaic, regardless of the moral bedrock that its intentions may be grounded in.

Think what you will of homosexuality - that's not the issue right now. The issue, fundamentally, is the state of our Constitution, and whether or not the moral values of the majority should be placed, by force of law, onto a minority. The whole situation brings into question how much authority that state and local governments have over such matters, but I'm positive that adding a new line to our Constitution is not the way to deal with this.

The Religious Right, I'm sure, is at the heart of this debate. President Bush can press this issue and quickly shore up support within the core of the Republican party. As a historian (and a Christian), here's what I really resent about the majority Christian position in this country. There was a time, nearly 2000 years ago, that Christians were oppressed by a government. They were wrong to be what they were. They were persecuted, loathed, beaten, tortured, and executed for their beliefs. The Roman government outlawed Christianity for almost 300 years, and the common thought among Christians of the day was that if they were to ever gain governmental influence, their positions would only be used for good and decency.

Today, I would say that Christianity, or a Christian influenced majority, has a lot of power over the government of the most powerful nation on earth. But instead of seeing that understanding that Christians preached - that kindness and decency - we're seeing a majority forcing moral standards on the minorities of our society...just like the Romans forced the minority Christians to practice the polytheistic rituals of the Roman religion. Somewhere within the role reversal, hypocrisy has developed, and that's too bad. Christianity, in the near future, will come under more and more fire, and when the persecutors turn into the persecuted, sympathetic allies will be in short supply.

Monday, February 23, 2004

I'VE HAD ENOUGH or "JESSE'S GETTIN' UPSET!"

Internet popups have become the scourge of the world wide web. I can't even get into my e-mail anymore without at least one (and usually two or three) cropping up to advertise some new weight loss plan, or announce that I've just won $1,000,000 by being the 3,423,423,562,893,659,235th person to use Yahoo!. It got insane enough just a few minutes ago that I decided to install a toolbar on my computer - something that I'm NOT an advocate of. I've had far too many sites covertly install things on my computer that end up bogging me down to willingly put one on, but in this case, I think I chose the lesser of two evils. Here's some handy sites that I'll recommend.

Click here to take a look at Google's toolbar, the one that I've just installed. It's been on for about three minutes and already blocked five popups for me. I probably won't use it for anything else, and it's small and unobtrusive in my internet browser window.

SpyBot Search & Destroy is a little program that my dad discovered from Kim Komando's website. I think it's the best program I've ever put on my computer. When I first ran it, it discovered literally hundreds of covertly installed tracking programs that various sites had put on my computer without my knowledge - being on a large and fast network, I'm more susceptible to this kind of Spyware, but it affects everyone. If you download this, you might be surprised how much junk it finds hiding on your hard drive. I run it about once a week now and keep my computer Spyware free.

SO MUCH TO SAY, SO LITTLE TIME

It looks like I've only been able to post about three updates in the last week. Sorry about that - I keep so busy during the week that updating the blog is about the last thing on my mind. There for a long stretch over Christmas break I was able to write several times a day, but now I'm lucky if I find a little free time to peck out a short paragraph. Trust me, I have more to say, just not enough time to say it right now. But, Monday and Friday mornings are pretty quiet at the front desk, so here's an attempt to write a few coherent things.

Liberals are going crazy - Ralph Nader is running for president again. The K-State Collegian's editorial board stated today that it was a mistake for him to run, and that he should support the Democratic nominee. This coming from a group of liberal people who usually advocate opening up the electoral process to more participants and more parties. Their argument against Nader: he can't win. Of course he can't win - since when has that meant anything to a third-party candidate? Their entire reason for running is to shake things up. I guarantee you that if it had been a prominent conservative running as an independent with the potential to split the Republican vote, the good ol' Collegian never would have said a thing.

The Collegian is really a worthless newspaper anyway, regardless of all of the awards that it's won for layout. The layout is really professional - the content is crap. Around 90% of our students read the paper for one reason: the forum - the section where anonymous comments are called in and subsequently printed. It's generally amusing, but it's also a real shame to waste so much paper just to get that one section out to people.

OK, I'm particularly bitter about our paper today for a couple reasons. One, of course, was the editorial board saying that Nader shouldn't run. That's the absolute height of hypocrisy. They also reviewed the movie that I saw this weekend, Welcome to Mooseport. My previous blog entry told how much I liked the movie - the Collegian gave it one out of five stars. This ticks me off not only because I thought it was a well put together, funny movie, but also because the Collegian never, NEVER, gives anything a good review. Music is bad, movies are bad, food is bad, theater is bad...it goes on and on. There have been several fairly decent movies that rate half or one star from our intrepid reporters. Sometimes, a half-a-star is justified. Giving poor reviews 98% of the time just to keep on a critical level with Roger Ebert is ridiculous. Remember, we're college students: we don't have to have Shakespeare to entertain us. The poor reviews just pile up to a point of idiocy - they're giving things low ratings just for the heck of it, and it makes me mad.

Speaking of movies, I wonder how Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ will fare with the Collegian's review board. It surely couldn't be any worse than some of the criticism that it's gotten from the mainstream press. I watched Mel Gibson in a Diane Sawyer interview the other day - it's amazing that you can tell Diane Sawyer was trying to make him look bad, yet she hardly has to say a word. You can see it in the disgusted looks she was giving him. The criticism about this movie being anti-Semitic or fueling anti-Semitism is absolute crap. Sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but the Jewish people did play an intimate role in this little section of history. The masses had influence over the Roman procurator (Pilatus), and some of them called for Jesus' death. See, it seems funny to me that some who are preoccupied with wanting some parts of history to be told accurately (the Holocaust, for instance), will fight so hard for a revisionist history to be presented when it would serve their purposes.

Don't misunderstand me: I don't think there's any group of people who have been through more in this world than the Jewish people. Their history does need to be told accurately, but that includes the good and the bad. There were people complaining that The Passion was too violent and that some of Jesus' messages of peace, love, and hope should have been presented. Sorry again, but the last 12 hours of his life (the context for this movie) were not butterflies and rainbows. Again, it just shocks me the amount of intelligent people who advocated a revisionist history to be presented here. Maybe that would put some minds at ease, but flogging and crucifixion are not easy things to bear. You know how you die from crucifixion? Most people would say bleeding to death from the spikes driven into your wrists and your ankles, but that's not it at all. You suffocate: you suffer a slow, immensely painful death by suffocation. The pressure on your lungs while you hang on a cross is so great that in order to breath, you have to pull yourself upwards. Imagine the pain of pulling yourself up with the only thing to help your ascent being the spikes driven into your wrists. There's just no way to make death by crucifixion less violent. That's the way Jesus died. Whether you're a Christian believer or not, you can't deny that he went through a heck of a lot in his last 12 hours.

I'm going to see The Passion on Wednesday when it comes out, and I have a feeling that I'll give it a good review, no matter how the Collegian or our revisionist historians see things.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT

Ray Romano and Gene Hackman are the leads in this really funny movie. It came out this weekend, and next year's roommates and I saw it in Salina. First, we met my parents in Smolan to eat at the Hickory Tree Restaurant...if you haven't been there, make a point to go. It's fantastic barbecue, set out buffet-style so you can go back as often as you want. Set up inside the old school building in Smolan, it is a really interesting restaurant - old school relics decorate the gymnasium (the main dining room), and the old classrooms upstairs are still intact.

In Welcome to Mooseport, Ray Romano plays a small town plumber who runs for mayor against Mooseport's newest citizen - former-President Monroe Cole, played by Gene Hackman. It's hilarious as Hackman's well-oiled political machine pulls out the big guns against his bumbling opponent who still seems to get the best of him in every way. If you're planning on seeing a movie in the next few weeks, I'd recommend it - it advertises itself as the year's first "grown-up comedy", and it sure delivered that way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

LESS, IN THIS CASE, IS MORE

The less hours I have until I finish my degrees, the better. Then I can get started on some real work on a Master's degree. I was inspired tonight to see how many classes I'll have left until I can graduate, and the answer was a little surprising. I have fewer classes left to take than I thought - nine hours in Political Science, six in History, and nine in General Education credits: a total of...ummm, let's see (counting on my fingers)...24 hours. That's after this semester, of course, but easily do-able in a year's time.

Here's how my departments work. I need 36 hours in Political Science to get a degree in that. After this semester, I'll have 27 hours, so that leaves me with three more classes to take in that department. We naturally have to take the basic courses: the intro American Government, International Relations, Political Thought, and comparative Politics classes, and then one upper level class in each of those categories. That's 24 hours, plus three electives of your choice and Political Inquiry and Analysis, which I'm taking now. So just three classes left for me: one of them is the upper level comparative Politics requirement, but the other two will be electives. Good...I'm hoping to get into a class on the Electoral College this summer, and perhaps take a purely research class next year - I'd like to research alternate electoral methods.

History is really screwy and confusing on their requirements. I need two intro-level classes (either American or European history) and Advanced Seminar, where I learn to research and write. Then I need two classes above the 300 level that focus on a time period prior to 1800. In addition to that, I need three classes above the 500 level that focus on each of these areas: US History, European History, and non-Western History. Other than that (which is a total of 24 hours), I'm free to choose electives. However, since I'm a double-major with Political Science, I don't need the regular 36 hours to complete my History requirements...I only need 30. After this semester, I'll be sitting at 24 total hours in the History department, which means once I take Advanced Seminar and a non-Western History, I'll be done there, too. But here's another beautiful little advantage - History 505: Civilizations of South Asia - this class can be my non-Western requirement, but it also overlaps into the Political Science department as a comparative Politics class. When I take that, I'll be killing two birds with one stone.

So here's how it's looking so far: after this semester, I'll have three Political Science classes and one History class left. I could potentially do that in one semester, but I won't. These are, after all, upper level classes that still require a lot of work. Plus, I've got the darn General Ed requirements to get out of the way, too. That's a Fine Arts class (2 hours), a Literary Arts class (3 hours), and a natural science with a lab (4 hours). I'm planning on being here over the summer, so I could knock out my science and one Political Science requirement during that time. That'd leave me with 18 hours left until I could graduate. I'd have to fill some gaps in there somewhere, since you need 12 hours to be a full time student, but I was pretty happy when I figured out that I'm getting quite a bit closer to being finished with my two bachelors degrees.

I don't know that my Political Science courses have helped me much, though...I never could have predicted Howard Dean's crash and burn. John Kerry's won nearly all of the primaries so far, so I'd just like to ask him, "why the long face?"

Monday, February 16, 2004

ANOTHER FULL WEEK ON THE WAY

Snow days are long past us, so I'm in for another full five days this week. I start lecturing on Scipio Africanus today in Roman History. He's an interesting historical figure that probably most people never hear about...that's one of the main issues we'll be looking at. Concerning the Second Punic War (between Rome and Carthage), Hannibal of Carthage is the figure that is most remembered and his achievements most glorified. But Hannibal, while being a brilliant tactician, was a poor strategist - it was Scipio who defeated him in battle at Zama and won the war for Rome. Scipio's character, on comparison, completely overshadows Hannibal's - he's courageous, humble, religious, caring, open-minded, and a brilliant military leader. But Hannibal gets remembered and Scipio doesn't - I'm going to lecture about Scipio's personality and career for a bit, and then open it up to discussion concerning why Scipio gets left out and Hannibal elevated to the status of a "hero figure". Don't think that this is the only time in history that this phenomenon has appeared - Lee is more remembered than Grant, Napoleon over Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, and Hitler over Marshall. Anyway, it should open the class up for an interesting discussion.

The Kansas State Collegian had an article today about minority faculty members and how there needs to be more of them. The article also stressed that KSU will never institute quotas. Hmmm, I'm left wondering - when do we know that we've got enough minorities working at the college? I think the whole process is way too focused on numbers, while trying to hide the fact that they're focused on numbers. It's likely that the majority thinks there's plenty of minority faculty, and the minority thinks there's never going to be enough minority faculty. For a program that is trying to eliminate our focus on skin color, it sure focuses a lot on skin color. I don't know what the answer is for "increasing diversity", but trying to flood positions with minority applicants and inventing jobs for them to fill isn't the way to go...but that's the route KSU is taking.

I worked quite a bit this weekend, so not much went on. I spent most of the weekend thinking about this upcoming week and how busy it's going to be. I did get most of my lecture notes prepared and some reading done, though. Lots of sleep, too!

Saturday, February 14, 2004

WHAT'S YOUR POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY?

My parents showed me this website when I was at home on Tuesday, and I've been showing people how to discover their political philosophy ever since. Click here to take the quiz. Now it's, of course, not a definite indicator of what your political leanings may be - it's very, very general, but the issues are some of the bigger, more general ones that crop up every presidential election season. How you feel on those basic issues gives a clue into how you'd feel about more detailed, nitty-gritty issues, and thus can formulate what your basic ideology is. Try it - it's kind of fun, and only takes a minute. I came out as a moderate conservative, just like I thought I would.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

PRESENTATION BY THE POPPERS

Frank and Deborah Popper were at KSU yesterday to discuss their ideas of a "Buffalo Commons", along with former-governor Mike Hayden, and their ideas were reinforced by geographic and demographic information presented by Professors Bloomquist (Sociology), Lynn-Sherow (History), and Harrington (Geography). Here's the gist of what the Poppers are trying to get across - rural areas of the Great Plains (like Western and North-Central Kansas) are changing. Fewer and fewer small farmers are able to make a living off of the land that once provided for entire families. Economic opportunities elsewhere have prompted a mass exodus from the rural Great Plains - young people aren't returning to their hometowns, and rural infrastructure is breaking down. The once prosperous and productive little towns dotting our rural landscapes have dried up, losing needed resources like grocery stores, restaurants, and other main street staples. The rural areas that are gaining population are getting it in an influx of Hispanic immigrants (either directly from Latin America or from the Southwest United States).

These are, of course, well known yet still startling facts of rural life. Our way of life is dying, and everything is being outsourced to one central provider city - a Salina, Wichita, or Kansas City. A fact that until yesterday's presentation was unknown to me, however, was presented by Gov. Hayden - only three percent of land in Kansas is public land. Few people get to enjoy much of the beauty of Kansas because so much of its land is privatized and off limits. Now I'm like Gov. Hayden - a Republican who is all for private ownership rights – but there's a limit to how privatized we should be. Public land could be turned into beautiful parks like Cedar Bluff Reservoir, where Kansans and out-of-state tourists could enjoy our natural beauty. Prompting further ecotourism could bring millions of dollars to Kansas, making better use of land and bolstering (not overshadowing) the small town economies of Western Kansas.

The idea pushed forward by the Poppers is to turn more of Western Kansas (and many areas of the rural Great Plains) into public land, restored to its original grassland, and filled with the native species, most prominent of which would be buffalo. Ecotourism would sprout from such restoration, as could an entirely new industry: buffalo farming, so to speak (buffalo farming is not necessarily a new idea, but this would be on a much more massive scale than previously seen). While I was very skeptical of what the Poppers would be advocating at first, their ideas do make sense. Rural Kansas is dying, and a continuation of the way things have been for 100 years will only ensure that our rural heritage will completely disappear in time. Something different is needed; a new method of economic security that will bring a certain amount of prosperity and a new influx of people into Kansas.

Governor Hayden gave the best presentation of the day, in my opinion. He admitted that drastic measures were going to be needed in order to save small-town Kansas. The family farm that he grew up on supported 16 of his family members just 40 years ago. Today, it supports four, three of whom are over the age of 80. The old way of doing things just isn't enough to keep our rural heritage alive. Gov. Hayden advocated allocation of more public land, not just for projects like the Buffalo Commons idea, but to save existing treasures that have not been well taken care of on private land. He mentioned Monument and Castle Rocks as examples.

I was impressed with all of the presentations and how much these PhDs from New Jersey seemed to care about preserving the Great Plains. Governor Hayden's speech (and subsequent answers to questions from the audience) spoke loudest in my opinion, as he has been affected by a love for rural Kansas throughout all of his life. But good ideas can only get us so far, and here's my problem with what the Poppers presented:

Imagine that I went to NASA to give a speech to several hundred scientists who had been working their entire lives to build better rockets, plan missions, and explore space. Imagine that my speech would be an outline for saving NASA, and I thought that the most important thing they could do would be to scrap the old ways of doing things and start working on a manned mission to Mars. And that's it...that's my speech - a no brainer. These hundreds of NASA scientists already knew that the space program had been floundering for years, and that a new and different mission would probably be needed to restore the program. So I didn't tell them anything new, or outline how they were to get to Mars.

I saw much of the same situation in what the Poppers were presenting. Those of us who live in rural Kansas know that our populations are declining, that infrastructure is disappearing, and that small farms don't make the money that they used to. Furthermore, the more enlightened among us (Peg Britton comes to mind here) have touted tourism and restoration for years. More or less, the Poppers were telling me something that I already knew - Kansas is dying and needs resuscitation. The question and answer session brought up some questions about the technical details of their plans, to which the Poppers responded that it was Kansans’ jobs to figure out the details – they had just presented the demographic research and thought of a way to fix our rural problems. It was up to us to take their data and work with their suggestions to save ourselves. Now I don’t condemn the Poppers for this – coulds, shoulds, and woulds are the building blocks and foundations for creating a better future for ourselves. Although some of us had the idea of ecotourism and environmental restoration, the Poppers can be applauded for one very important thing: making these ideas visible to the public.

This is most clearly illustrated with Governor Hayden’s change of heart. During and soon after his term as governor, he railed against the Poppers’ research and proposed ideas, but now he has come to realize that tourism and increased public land usage would make Kansas a better place to live and to visit, especially with our rural communities yielding less and less prosperous lives. A change in our economic priorities could turn many communities around. It took quite a bit of guts for a prominent politician to admit such a change in beliefs, and Governor Hayden is just one example of someone made aware of our rural economic problems by research done by the Poppers.

Despite the general nature of what the Poppers are proposing, it’s a heck of a start, and high profile discussions like the one held here at KSU yesterday only increase awareness. And despite the uniqueness of the Buffalo Commons idea, I hope that those in attendance took more to heart the plight of rural Kansas and rural communities throughout the Great Plains. A Buffalo Commons may not be the final solution to our economic and demographic ills, but rethinking how we approach rural economics is a start. Governor Hayden presented that point very well, and I hope it’s one that those who were unfamiliar with the decline of rural Kansas can learn from. Those of us who were already familiar with our rural plight can only be encouraged by seeing that people do know of our problems, and ideas and ways to help are on the way.

All in all, it was a good and informative presentation. I enjoyed getting to see Peg and Linda, and meeting Sandra for the first time. Sandra has done an excellent job with her economic development program, and I hope that Ellsworth County can get someone half as knowledgeable and resourceful as she is. We’ll need people like her at the forefront of rural economic development if we want to make a difference and provide new life for our old communities.


Monday, February 09, 2004

PUSHY SALESMEN

LJ and I went to the mall on Saturday afternoon and avoided stores like The Buckle. OK, The Buckle is not a cheap place to shop anyway, but it's the people who work there that you really want to stay away from. They're not all like this, but most of the time you'll get jumped by two or three employees upon entering the store. Each one of them is telling you exactly what you'd look good in. I don't like that - I'm more of just a browser in stores, and if I need help I'll ask for it. I don't like someone looking over my shoulder while I shop.

So we were walking past all of the tables that were set up near the food court, and I spotted a fellow student that I knew from ROTC. I hadn't seen him in over a year, and he recognized me, so I stopped to talk for a while. Too bad that was a mistake...he was in uniform and, of course, pitching for the Guard. Come on, I knew this guy when I used to wear the same uniform that he had on...I could expect a couple of minutes of "hey, how have you been"-type of conversation, right? Not quite. I'd barely said hello when his sales pitch started.

Alright, I'm sure the Guard worked great for him. Fantastic, I'm happy for him. But dangit, I don't want to hear about how it would work for me. And anyone who has experience with Army (or any branch of the military) recruiters knows that they just won't shut up. I tried a couple of times to steer the conversation away from his sales pitch, and when that didn't work, I walked away.

I'm sure military experience is a positive thing for anybody, and it can do everybody some good. The tiny bit that I've had has stuck with me. But here's the thing: our army is volunteer, now, and that's a sign of an evolving society. For better or worse, our country is great enough to give us the freedom to choose whether we want to be a soldier or not, and I'm not about to waste my Saturday listening to a line of bull from someone younger than I am. All I wanted was to say hi!

SIGNED, SEALED, AND DELIVERED

We signed our apartment lease on Friday afternoon. The one apartment that she had left was available - there apparently was one person that currently lives there who was wanting to come back next year, but as of Friday morning, he was unable to find three other people to take the other spots. Since we were for sure committed by that point, I got a call from the owner early on Friday afternoon letting me know that we had a place. That was a relief - the other apartments in that complex had gone so fast, and then as of Thursday evening we weren't guaranteed anything. We would have just had to look for a four-bedroom place somewhere else, but this location is so good that I wasn't looking forward to looking elsewhere. But it turned out just fine, and we've got our living arrangements out of the way for next year.

There are a lot of people looking at apartments now - freshmen are getting groups of people together, and older students are scrambling to compete with them...now is the time that everyone starts looking for a place to live. I'd been working toward getting our apartment since November, and you can see how close I came to not getting a spot there. A lot of freshmen are looking at the University Commons, which would be located at the very top of this map. See the football stadium? They're just above that on the map. University Commons are nice apartments, and they're furnished, but I never even considered them. I like being able to walk to campus and walk back home. Being that close, you don't have to drive or stay on campus all day. That's a generalization, of course - not everyone who drives stays on campus all day, but as spread out as my Monday, Wednesday, and Friday classes are, I'd almost have to stick around if I lived too far away.

We saw "Miracle" on Saturday night. I thought it was a really good movie - I didn't know much about the story to start with, which made it better for me. It's about the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that went on to win the gold. Now that doesn't spoil the movie - I knew what happened in the end, too, but it's the story that makes it interesting, not just the result. Kurt Russell played a good ol' Minnesota coach in it - I've never seen him in a role quite like that before.

I can't believe how the ProBowl turned out. I lost interest when the AFC got so far ahead, but the NFC came back and won 55 to 52.

One of CNN's executives came out over the weekend and said that his network had "overplayed" Howard Dean's post-Iowa "scream" speech. Really? Ya think so?

I don't have a clue where all this snow is going to end up going. We still have a good six inches on the ground in most places, deeper snow in others, and these huge mountains piled up in parking lots. I dug the BC out of the snow yesterday. I hadn't driven it since our first ice storm that we had over a week ago, so it was under a lot of snow and ice. It took almost a half hour to get all of the snow off of it, and I've still got to take a shovel out and dig out around the tires later today.

Friday, February 06, 2004

TOO MUCH SNOW FOR KSU

Classes were cancelled after 2:00pm yesterday because the snow continued falling until about 12:00pm. Maintenance crews needed time to load up all of the excess snow and either put it into dump trucks or find somewhere else to pile it. A lot of students are done with classes by 2:00pm, but I do have a Thursday night class from 5:30pm to 8:20pm. I don't like missing that one, since it's only once a week and will be hard to make up, but the professor had even cancelled it before the rest of the university shut down - he lives in Lawrence and didn't want to travel, which is understandable.

We had a fire alarm at about 2:45am this morning. I wasn't surprised, since Moore Hall seems to have an overabundance of false alarms. I'm just glad I had enough of my wits about me to throw on a coat and some pajama pants. It was under 20 degrees outside, and some of the poor, sleepy people didn't think far enough ahead to put on much of anything besides what they were sleeping in. There's another reason to move off campus: no more early morning fire alarms.

The apartments we looked at went really fast. A couple of nights ago we worked out which four would be staying there, and I called the owner yesterday. She got back to me last night and said they had one left, and it wasn't 100% guaranteed (although she seemed pretty sure it would be vacated for next year). She'll let me know this morning if it will be open, and then we've got a lease to sign this afternoon. I didn't know that they were going quite that fast, but then again, they are in a great location, so its entirely logical that they wouldn't be around for long.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

CAMPUS MAP AND NEXT YEAR'S APARTMENT

Click here to see a map of K-State's campus. I've marked a few places on there pretty clearly - where I live now and where I'll most likely be at next year. The apartment we looked at shows up as a blank spot on the campus map, but it's there. Pretty close to everything, huh? And with a parking lot right there, there's no need to spend $75 on a parking pass, plus I won't have to drive to campus - just walk across the street. The two buildings highlighted in the middle of campus are Eisenhower and Waters halls, the two buildings that I spend 90% of my time in.

I WON'T BE SURPRISED IF YOU DON'T READ THIS ANYWHERE ELSE

John Kerry, the media's newest golden boy, seems to have a bit of tarnish on his record after all - at least after looking at this news story. This just goes to show you that special interests are everywhere, and I would say that any politician who rails against them (as John Kerry has on his campaign) is being completely hypocritical. That's any politician, regardless of party.

Now I doubt you'll see this story anywhere else unless it's buried in a newspaper somewhere tomorrow. It was posted on Yahoo! a few hours ago and has already been taken off of their headlines section. I haven't seen it anywhere else - CNN, FoxNews, or MSNBC - none of them have reported on it. Now that's unfair, no matter how serious or minor the charges may be. If Howard Dean had had some shady dealings, I guarantee that the media would be beating him up about them (even more than they already are). You see, the media made Dean and subsequently destroyed him. Had they not mocked his post-Iowa caucus speech, had they not suddenly questioned his temperament, he would have done very well in New Hampshire. But for a week they focused on nothing but his personality flaws.

That's unfair, too. Kerry received a boost by his win, Dean was dogged on TV and in newspapers for a week, and none of the other candidates got any exposure whatsoever. The media had thus destroyed the candidate that they had made (though I think Dean still has the potential to do well, especially in the March 2nd primaries), and their new favorite John Kerry can now do no wrong. Unless this becomes a much bigger story, I doubt that Kerry's shady dealings with AIG will come to light in most of the mainstream media.

ANOTHER SNOW DAY ON THE WAY?

Who knows? I don't really trust our weather prediction services...but I did get a message from Bonnie Orozco this morning letting me know that EHS was having another snow day - not a full one, but at least letting out early. I called my mom around noon to see how the weather was in the Kanopolis area, and she said it was snowing fairly heavy and that the wind was blowing hard. I imagine that it's heading this way, though I haven't seen anything yet. It would be very rare for K-State to have two full days of cancelled classes in one week (let alone one year), but if the predicted 6 to 10 inches does fall, it'll be piled on top of our 8 to 10 that we already have, which itself was on top of a layer of ice. LJ had talked to some maintenance and facilities people, and they said that if it snows more, they've got nowhere left to pile it. I hadn't thought of that - the parking lots are already full of several-foot high piles of shoveled snow.

I'm happy to be back to a normal schedule, though. Having one day off was nice, but it kind of throws a wrench into the gears of our professors' schedules. My lectures on Scipio Africanus in Roman History have been pushed back nearly a week.

Political Inquiry and Analysis is an interesting class. Right now we're dealing with the very basic concepts of social science theories, and we tested one in class today. The theory: party affiliation affects how one will vote in a presidential election. One of my theories was proven wrong in the testing of this theory - I had always thought (and it seems logical) that, despite being a university in Kansas, that a college full of young, idealistic people taking liberal arts classes would mean that Democrats and Liberals would outnumber Republicans and Conservatives. My assumption was proven wrong when the professor divided us into our parties.

Now it was a very basic test of a theory on a tiny sample population: nine people aligned with the Democratic party and 16 were of the Republican party, with only two in the class staying neutral. Of the nine Democrats, eight opted for Kerry (a presumed nominee) and one for Bush. All 16 Republicans said they would vote for Bush. Wow - Bush got nearly 61% of our sample vote, with Kerry getting only 28.5%. It was an interesting cross section, and I saw several people on the Democratic side looking highly confused as to why anyone would vote for Bush. (My advice would be not to ask pushy, repetitive, and annoying questions as to why we're voting for Bush, ya liberal wusses - Republicans are warlike people and don't respond well to your inquiries! Only joking, only joking!)

The point was that an independent variable (which party we belonged to) could predict a dependent variable (who we would vote for). So why even ask such obvious questions? Of course party affiliation has somewhat of a determination on which party we vote for! Well, not quite. We only test social theories to prove them wrong, not to prove them right. There are many, many examples of what we assume to be true being wrong - like my assumption that most college students in my political science classes are liberal. We continue to test these theories so we don't end up eating crow.

We looked an an apartment yesterday - it's off campus technically, but only off of the main campus. It's actually closer than the Kramer Residence Hall complex that is about two blocks west of Moore Hall, where I currently live. With its own parking lot, I wouldn't even have to buy a parking pass, since I'd be just as close to all my classes as I am now...I'll put a map of exactly where the building is up on the internet later. LJ and I are going to go ahead and sign the lease, and two of the three others that looked at it with us are going to sign as well. It'll be nice to have those arrangements for next year out of the way already. There's already a few people upset that they weren't asked to live with us, but that's how it goes when you get a four-bedroom place...not everybody gets to stick together. Most of them may just end up staying in the dorms - after all, maybe they're looking to be around a lot of people. I've just gotten to the point where the dorms aren't working well anymore. Not that the living conditions are bad - in fact, I don't mind the space or the community, but being a senior now around a lot of freshmen just doesn't work. I like to do homework at home, but so often, most of the freshmen don't have enough to do and are pretty noisy. It'll be somewhat nice to get away from that, and all of us that are going in on this apartment together are roughly the same age and class in college.

One more class for the day and then homework awaits me. See, this having fun in the snow on Monday did nothing but pile up more homework for me today. At least I'm reading interesting stuff...that makes homework not so much like work.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

ROTC IS STILL WITH ME

I haven't been in ROTC for over a year, but what I picked up in the time I was in it sure came in handy last night, even if we were just having fun. There were 13 of us that went onto the Quad last night to play "capture the flag". I wasn't about to have cold hands and wet feet after playing around outside again, so I dug up my army boots and gloves. The boots come up to about mid-calf and fit really well, so there was no chance that any snow was getting in - they're leather and waterproof all around. The gloves are double layered, with the typical green army wool on the inside and a removable leather glove on the outside. They're also waterproof and made it much easier to keep low and sneak around.

My team was, as far as searching for the other flag goes, quite a bit weaker. Two random girls that were walking on campus asked to join us, and my team picked them up. We had eight people then, but four of them chose guard duty instead of searching. So immediately our team was cut to half capacity as far as capturing the other team's flag goes, although admittedly we needed at least one person to hang around our flag. Come to find out later, two of our four recon people were captured right away, so it was me and one other person looking for their flag.

As soon as the game started, I sunk back into ROTC mode. It had been a while since I'd trained in any squad maneuvers in the snow, and it was different, too, since I was running by myself, but movement and making good use of cover were a couple of lessons that came right back to me. My first solo trek took me to the western part of our playing field around some maintenance buildings. I'll mention that snow is my favorite environment to be sneaky in. While the cold isn't so much fun, it's better than heat when you're running around, and the 8 to 10 inches of snow that we had provided a lot of good cover. Two of their people patrolled right past me. By the maintenance buildings I spotted another one of them and was sure that he would have been able to see me from his position. Just in case he didn't see me, I shimmied under an air conditioning unit to keep totally hidden from view.

But, I hit my heel on the side of the air conditioner and got his attention anyway. I wasn't sure if he knew where the noise had come from, but within a minute he was bearing down on me and I was still on my belly under a piece of machinery. I rolled out and took off as quick as I could, and a quick glance at him told me what I needed to do to get back into friendly territory. I could probably outrun this guy anyway, but I had been running, ducking, crouching, and crawling while he'd been walking, so in terms of energy he had an advantage. But I saw he was wearing tennis shoes. On flat ground, my boots are not good for running, but I quickly took a path through the deepest snow, and my feet stayed dry, he didn't get too far into the drifts before his socks were soaking. So I'd lost him, but blown my cover, too.

I stayed in our territory for a while - checked on the flag, caught my breath, captured one of their players, and then started towards their territory again, this time, on the east side. It took nearly a half hour to get where I was going, only about a block-and-a-half away. Keeping low, scaling walls, and staying quiet got me to within striking distance of their flag...when the game ended. I'm not really sure how since I wasn't anywhere near close enough to our flag to see what happened, but apparently their people that were "in jail" got tired of being there, just walked away and grabbed our flag. That was the reports I heard from our side anyway, which I can hardly believe. The other team always cheated, right?

Anyway, it was quite a bit of fun and a nice way to end our snow day. Classrooms were up and running again today, but a little less full than usual. People still aren't wanting to get out. I'm just glad that my only class was over and done with by 9:30 this morning.

Monday, February 02, 2004

NEITHER RAIN, NOR SLEET, NOR DARK OF NIGHT...BUT YOU CAN FORGET ABOUT SNOW

I got a call from Leah at 6:00am saying that classes were cancelled today. I was a little bit out of it when I first got up - I stumbled out of the loft and reached the phone on the 4th ring thinking, "I don't work until 7:00am, why are they calling me now!?" But it was good news telling me to go back to sleep...unfortunately I still had to work at 7:00. Someone's got to be here to answer the phone and say there's no school! I woke LJ up and told him that he could sleep in - he flipped off his alarm and went right back to sleep. I put up a couple of signs in our hallway to let people know that they could go back to bed.

I think today's snow day has more to do with professors than with the weather itself. Although it's still snowing right now, I don't think that roads are bad. My guess is that KSU faculty didn't want to get out and defrost their cars any more than we do. That's understandable - the thin layer of ice that was on most cars is now covered by what looks to be about seven inches of snow. And it's still coming down. There are a couple of South American students in the lobby right now - looking kind of nervous. I don't suppose they've seen snow like this before.

I went outside briefly about 11:00pm last night to see how heavy it was coming down. I ended up sledding on stolen lunch trays until midnight. It was a lot of fun but really, really cold - if we do that today I'll have to dress a little better. It wasn't even all that cold out - maybe 25 degrees or so, but you ice up pretty quick when you go head-first into a snow bank.

The Super Bowl ended up being quite a game last night, and Adam Vinatieri won another one for the Pats. I didn't really care too much about the game, but there are three NFL teams that I root for: the Chiefs, the Packers, and the Patriots. So since New England was in the game, it was worth watching. There's also three teams that I can't stand - the Cowboys, the Broncos, and the Raiders...I have to root against them no matter what. I couldn't believe that a game that started as slow as that one did ended up coming down to a field goal in the last few seconds. I'm glad the game turned out as well as it did - the commercials this year weren't quite as good as I've come to expect.

It's kind of good we've got a snow day, I guess. I didn't get as much done this weekend as I should have. Friday night, Bob was in town. Bob graduated last year at semester and comes up every once in a while. His visit prompted the prerequisite trip to Aggieville. On Saturday, LJ, Stephen, Larissa, Cedrique, and I went bowling. We did that last week, too, and probably should more often. Our student union has a really nice bowling alley and pool room, and that wasn't a bad way to spend a Saturday night. After all, I'm not a freshman anymore - I can't keep up with parties night after night!

I doubt today will be very productive, either. I can't get out, so there's not much I can do. I'll be getting at least a couple more hours of sleep, though, after I get off work at 8:00. That's one thing that I can never get enough of!

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