2011 Great Conversations Tables

Who We Are: Round Table Discussions

1. The Battle for the Bible: How Christians See Scriptures Differently

The Bible may be read in many ways: devotionally, historically, literally, liturgically.  Consider why the Bible matters today and the way the Bible 

came to be, with Reverend Stephen Brehe who served as Dean of St. Peter’s Cathedral for two decades.  Although retired from daily ministry, he continues to be active in the Episcopal Church and the Ecumenical community and brings a wealth of insight to the table.

2.  What is a Real American?
Are we still a nation that’s united behind “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?  Bob Brown, retired teaching and research fellow at the University of Montana and long-serving Montana lawmaker, will explore with his guests the hot topic of what makes a “real” American.  Current dialogue shifts—being born here may no longer be sufficient; does the citizenship status of both parents matter?  What about religion, language and more?
 
3.  Sudden Moments of Awe and Unity: Exceptional Human Experiences
Following Abraham Maslow’s pioneering work on peak experiences—humanistic and transpersonal psychologists such as Helena attorney, Jay Dufrechou, have focused on the potential of sudden experiences of interconnection, gratitude, and mystical awareness for positive personal transformation.  These experiences, if integrated into our lives, may change us and the world around us.  Jay will explain this trend in positive psychology as it relates to health and human potential.
 
4.  Virtue—Beyond Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not
According to Aristotle “We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.” Aristotle wasn’t available to continue the conversation, but Carroll College Professor of Theology Beth Haile is.  Because the concept of virtue is an ancient way of talking about ethics, Christian virtues have many parallels in other faith traditions.  Explore these and delve into the notion of whether or not traditional Christian morality is “out of date.” Perhaps “virtue” is exactly the means of “updating” our approach to controversial moral issues.
 
5.  Brain Mysteries
What are the differences between conscious and unconscious brain activity?  How do our brains take material substances such as protein, salt and sugars and transform them into our subjective, conscious states?  Delve into the recent studies that have provided great insight to the workings of the brain and consciousness with UM-Helena psychology instructor Nathan Munn.
 
6.  Mormons Meet the Mainstream
Is religion, community and politics a savory stew or a volatile mix?  Discuss when religion becomes an issue in light of the Romney and Huntsman presidential candidacies and the appropriate role of religious leaders in shaping political thought and action at the local and national level.  Randl Ockey and Robert Oliver, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will share their insights and thoughts on this important issue.
 
7.  Human Faces—Human Voices
Vanessa Roth is an Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on social issues as seen through the eyes of those who live inside them.  Her films have focused on children and family issues, child abuse, foster care, health, education, criminal justice and equal rights.  She believes  social action is pushed forward (in communities, in legislation, in organizations) when people have a common point at which to begin the discussion. Her most recent film, American Teacher is currently showing in theatres and communities across the country.  Join her for a compelling conversation on her work as a documentarian and her perspective on the ethical questions that arise in producing her films.
 

How We Live:?Education, Literature, & Culture

8. Life and Times of a Western Author

Join one of America’s most acclaimed authors, Thomas McGuane, to discuss the literary and sporting life in Montana. In addition to his work as a novelist, essayist and screenwriter, McGuane raises cattle and horses in southwest Montana. His new novel, Driving on the Rim, according to the New York Times Book Review “hilariously takes the pulse or our times.” We guarantee both hilarity and insight for those who join his discussion.
 
9. Superman Is Already Here
Ninive Calegari is the producer of American Teacher and the founder of The Teacher Salary Project. She is a veteran teacher and cofounder of 826 Valencia, a literary nonprofit that galvanizes volunteers in eight cities to support teachers and help students improve their writing skills. Join Ninive for this conversation about education in our country and how the film, American Teacher, contributes to that discussion.
 
10. What Are You Reading…and How Are You Reading it? 
What books have you read lately that you are dying to share with others and what are your best sources for discovering books to read? Even though Janice Bacino has been a librarian for 35 years and is currently the director of Library Services at UM-Helena, it is okay to tell her if you are now reading books on your Kindle, Nook or iPad. Janice delights in hearing the reading recommendations of others and is always on the lookout for that “gem” of a read.
 
11. Balance in the Age of the Blackberry
Has your spouse threatened to throw your smart phone out the window? Explore the strategies and challenges of achieving “moderation in all 

things”, including work. Jean Bailey has a doctorate in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education from Michigan State University and is currently an administrator at UM-Helena. She has researched and published on the increasing difficulty of striking balance in our lives. Look ahead to what we can do to foster healthier work and personal lives.
 
12. Wine a Little
Join sommelier Kevin Hamlin on an exploration of Italian wines from North to South with little known grape varieties to taste along the way. Kevin earned his graduate degree in wine and environmental studies in Australia and is fresh from a tour of wineries in Italy. He will explain how the same grape varieties differ among countries and regions. You might even get some hints for great food and wine pairing for your next dinner party.
13. A Sipping Tour of Bourbon County
As uniquely American as…well, apple pie, bourbon is our own invention. Ben Horan has been engaged in numerous organized and impromptu spirit and wine tastings, and is looking forward to spending an evening further exploring bourbon with you—discussing its history and distinguishing characteristics, tasting a variety of large and small batch samples, and consider cocktails and more expansive applications of the spirit. A spirited discussion, indeed.
 
14. Wading in the Shallows: Reading in a Distracted Age
Why, in an era in which many of us are reading more than ever before, do we seem less capable of reading deeply, for pleasure and insight? Can we ever put down our technology for immediate response and go back to deep reading and understanding, or has technology changed the way children and adults read and think? Share your insights with Helena High English teacher, Don Pogreba, as he takes you out of the shallows and into the deep.
 
15. Are We in the Platinum Age of Television?
If “astonishingly choreographed, brilliantly acted, and socially progressive” are criteria used to define the “Golden Age of Television” in the 1950’s, how do today’s offerings measure up? We have more than 300 channels instead of 3, but is TV better or worse? Perhaps “Modern Family” is the new “Father Knows Best” and Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” eclipses Ed Sullivan. Or is this pop culture blasphemy? Jim Shea, currently the Workers Compensation Court Judge, admits spending way too much time in college and law school researching the subject of what constitutes quality television and is eager to have you join the conversation.
 
Where We’ve Been: History

16. Montana: Ireland’s Fifth Province?

We all know that the Irish capital in Montana is Butte, but their influence was, and is, statewide. Meet University of Montana Professor of History Emeritus, Dave Emmons, who is the author of The Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town and Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West. Find out what you really don’t know about the Irish presence in Montana.
 
17. U.S. Constitution—Sword and Shield
Why is the Constitution the nation’s supreme law and why can it affect our lives so profoundly? Who has final say about what the Constitution says and means? Is the Supreme Court an undemocratic body in a democratic government? Explore these questions with political science professor, Jim Lopach, who teaches American Constitutional law at the University of Montana.
 
18. A Singular Woman: Jeannette Rankin
Join Dr. Jean Luckowski, professor of Education at the University of Montana, for an in-depth look at the first woman elected to the U.S. Congress. Was Jeannette Rankin the outstanding feminist of the 20th century? Was she first and always a Montanan? Dr. Luckowski is co-author of Jeannette Rankin, A Political Woman, and will demystify this important historical figure.
 
19. The World Was Never the Same: Events That Changed History
Laurie Simms is planning a great conversation about the great events in history—religious, political, social, technological—and their impacts on the world. A native of Canada with dual citizenship, Laurie Simms is a history teacher and raconteur who has taught in Helena for nearly twenty years and will bring history to life with you. 
 

Where We Are Now:?Political Science & Economics

20. Does America Still Need Labor Unions?
Roughly 12% of American workers belong to labor unions. It doesn’t sound like much, but it represents 14.7 million workers, half of whom are teachers, police officers, fire fighters and other public employees. Mark Anderlik, the Executive Officer of Unite Here!, will lead the discussion on

 recent challenges to collective bargaining for public sector workers and the relevance of unions in today’s economy.
 
21. “An Ingenious Device for Obtaining Profit Without Individual Responsibility”
According to Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary that is the definition of “corporation”. Tackle the topic of the obligations of success and whether or not they are quantifiable with Bill Beaman who has 30 years experience in the investment industry and a fascination with our society’s financial workings. Interestingly enough, Steve Jobs was worth billions, yet was very vocal about never giving any money away to ‘do-gooders.’  Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, on the other hand, formed a foundation and funded it with billions to do incredible things. Is there an extra golden rule that applies here? 
 
22. Divided Government: Compromise or Partisan Warfare? 
John Bohlinger was elected to serve as our Lieutenant Governor in 2005. Although he has never settled easily under the mantle of a particular party, he had served as a Republican in the Montana Senate and much was made of his selection as the running mate of a Democratic candidate. However, Lt. Gov. Bohlinger considers himself a Montanan first and is eager to discuss his belief that the best legislation is not exclusive to the right or the left; it comes from the center. Do you think we’ve lost our way or can we regain the sense that compromise yields good governance?
 
23. You Say You Want a Revolution?
For the first time since the 60’s, global politics is playing out in the streets, from the Arab Spring that toppled governments to the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. James Grady, former investigative reporter, award-winning novelist and cultural columnist, points out that here in the U.S. both political parties are spending millions to tap the grass-roots citizenry—but is it to listen, to lead or lasso? 
 
24. And Justice for…All? 
The notion that 9/ll affected our justice system is not in dispute. Whether we consider Guantanamo and indefinite detention, or court trials as opposed to military commissions, the debate continues about how these topics and others reflect our traditional interpretations of justice in the United States. Sam Kauffman is an attorney in Portland who has represented two Syrian men detained at Guantanamo, US Naval Base. Join him for a rousing and relevant discussion on Article One of the Constitution. Whatever happened to habeas corpus?
 
25. True Grit: Honor, Revenge and Comebacks in the 21st Century
Why is it that bad news about public figures doesn’t always stick? Consider the resurrected reputations of former governor Elliot Spitzer, NFL quarterback Michael Vick, or President Clinton. What is it about our culture, or is it the short attention span of the news business that determines who gains redemption from the public? Table leader, Peggy Kuhr, is Dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Montana. A long-time newspaper editor, she has specialized in news ethics and the changing nature of the news business.
 
26. Political Twitterpation: Would the Founding Fathers say OMG or LOL?
Candidates announcing Presidential runs on Facebook?  Members of Congress “tweeting” during the State of the Union? What is the impact on democracy and does it encourage young people to engage or does it minimize serious public discourse? Explore the subject with one of Montana’s most experienced political operatives. Doug Mitchell has been involved in political campaigns in Montana since 1988. He has worked in both Houses of Congress, served as Chief Deputy Secretary of State in Montana and now is the Managing Director of The Montana Land Reliance. 
 
27. A Fair Share: Taxation in the 21st Century
As the national debate focuses on increasing or decreasing the tax burden on certain segments of the population, is it fair to tax different citizens differently or should we all pay the same rate? Discuss the distribution of the tax burden with Samantha Sanchez, who is a member of the State Tax Appeal Board in Montana and taught at the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University in Washington D.C.
 
28. Fixing a Hole: The Mining and Restoration of a Sacrificial Landscape
Montana’s Clark Fork River, the country’s largest Superfund site, is being restored to a natural state, but the waste doesn’t just disappear. How do we decide who carries permanent burdens of extractive resource development? Former editor of the Missoula Independent Brad Tyer is currently writing a book about Opportunity, Montana, which is the state’s designated disposal site for clean-up efforts up and down the Clark Fork. Don’t miss this opportunity to discuss the ethics of environmental justice and whether compensation is called for or even possible in these communities.
 
29. Data, Demographics and Details
Jim Sylvester, an economist with the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research, will dissect the 2010 census figures and talk about what the numbers might mean for Montana. Our population increased by almost 10 percent, but details, details, details. . . What sectors increased? Which declined? What do the latest population statistics portend for voting patterns?  Our economy? The data itself is easily accessible, but Jim will help put it all in perspective.  
 

Where We’re Going:?Science, Technology, Travel

30. In the Year 2045 
In the Singularity hypothesis, popularized by Ray Kurzweil and originated by others as early as the 1940’s, the growth of machine intelligence will soon reach a self-propagating point of no return. In this world, technology designs its own improvements, ad infinitum, spiraling forward at an ever-increasing pace. Humans either side with technology and embrace co-evolution, or are left behind as an inferior species, or disappear. Jim Arnold’s technology and business development efforts have led to fundamental advances in commercial software, including the speech platform behind the iPhone4S and contextual search in Microsoft Bing. Join him in a discussion of the social and moral consequences, and society’s appropriate response should Singularity become imminent.
 
31. Amazing Landscapes What do Montana and East Africa have in common? 
According to the Nature Conservancy’s Caroline Bird, the parallels have to do with the levels of local community involvement in successful conservation efforts. Learn more about her travels to East Africa and her experiences here at home while together you identify the ingredients for collaborative success.
 
32. On the Road Again
An active couple’s guide to the nuts and bolts of making the transition from work to a dynamic retired life will be led by Matthew Cohn and Mary Ellen Holverson. They began their transition with a 2,800 mile bike trip along the Atlantic coast and have since visited 40 states as well as Mexico, Costa Rica, Argentina, France and soon Spain. They will share their insights on how to manage your home, finances and health while on the road as well as handling the challenges of a 24/7 relationship. Get ready to utilize your “free time” in a meaningful way.
 
33. Helena in 2030: Can we be a Sustainable Community?
Housing, agriculture, energy, transportation, water…How will we plan for changes in these sectors and how can we bring in experiences and solutions from developing countries to help us make cost-effective and practical decisions? Steve Loken is a nationally recognized authority on sustainable building and resource efficiency and will lead this interesting look at our future Helena.
 
34. Graduation Does Matter
As a 2011 Bezos Scholar to the Aspen Institute, Helena High senior Andrew Mitchell attended the Aspen Ideas Festival and was challenged to return to his community and make a difference. Find out his idea to reduce dropout rates through a mentoring program called “Helena High Five”. Andrew will be joined by Helena High counselor, Linda Safty-Unsworth, who also attended the Aspen Institute and has been an educator for 28 years.
 
35. Our Next Man on the Moon Moment
What will the future bring? We have watched a man walk on the moon; we have experienced the interconnectedness created by the evolution of the internet. Perhaps if you can anticipate what’s next, you can obtain a timely patent and become rich beyond your wildest imagining or change the human condition in a breathtaking fashion. Table leader Richard Opper, by day Director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, claims no qualifications that enable him to anticipate what’s next, but guarantees an invigorating discussion about our societal needs and what the future might hold. He adds, you will make no money doing this, but guarantees a delightful evening of thoughtful and engaging speculation.
 
36. Looking for Drugs in All the Wrong Places
Can the Berkley Pit be a source of anticancer agents? UM Professors Andrea and Don Stierle think so. They believe in looking with “new eyes” at the world around us and see the Berkley Pit as more than an acid mine waste lake, but a developing ecosystem worth exploring. Together they are investigating possible therapeutic agents that could fight cancer, autoimmune disorders and migraine headaches from the not-so-healing waters of “the Pit.”