Table 1: Letting Go of Stuff and Grabbing Hold of Life
- Consumerism is like an angry mob that drags people along with it. The 100 Thing Challenge is like a loud shout over the noise of the crowd. It is meant to give everyone pause so they can consider what is going on. Is it possible to avoid participating in consumer culture? Is it possible to step away from the rabble?
- Just like it takes two to tango, usually there are multiple people involved in consumerism. In what ways is our consumer behavior aimed to impress and please and unease others? Is there such a thing as an “individual consumer?”
- Everyone has felt the disappointment after purchasing a long sought-after product when it does not live up to expectations. And we all have known of people who relentlessly pursue possessions, only to be unhappy at the end of their lives. So then why is it so tempting and easy to buy more stuff?
- Maybe the most fundamental question about consumerism: Will it really make a positive difference for the world if I don’t participate in consumer culture?
Table 2: Lawsuits and CEOs – Who is to Blame?
If you spill a cup of coffee on your lap and get burned, whose fault is it really? If you invest in a company and the CEO rakes in millions while your investment evaporates, whose fault is that? It seems we have developed an increasing need as a culture to place blame anywhere we can. Is this the only way Americans can cope with adversity?
Bob has worked extensively in the field of community and economic development from a variety of perspectives, including as a nonprofit advocate, a community organizer, a state government employee, a staffer in the U.S. Senate, and as a private consultant working with a variety of state and national foundations and nonprofit organizations. Bob is currently President of Civic Consulting which he started in 1990 to help community-focused organizations and initiatives increase capacity and improve performance. His work has included the development of many new programs and organizations.
Table 3: You Be The Judge!
Justice Patricia Cotter
Last year, a tableful of Helenans debated legal cases with Montana Supreme Court Justice Patricia Cotter, discussing the facts and reasons behind actual controversial decisions, and trying to reach accord on unusual hypothetical cases. We decided to reprieve this popular and engaging conversation, with a new set of real and theoretical cases on the menu. Join Justice Cotter, and YOU be the judge!
Patricia Cotter is a Justice on the Montana Supreme Court. She is seeking her second 8-year term and stands unopposed for re-election.
Table 4: What Would Change the World?
- Poverty and injustice: What is our response as individuals, organizations, nations?
- Why do we respond that way?
- What does lasting change look like for impoverished countries and how do they get there?
- What does a short-term experience in an impoverished country do – for the recipients and for the giver?
Table 5: Book Snobs
Dr. Ann Bertagnolli
Groucho Marx said, “I find television very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I go in the other room and read a book.” If this describes you to a tee, join other book lovers and MSU’s Dr. Ann Bertagnolli for dinner and conversation with the “bookish.”
- What is it that books uniquely give us?
What are we reading and why?
What trends do you see in the “print” world—and what do you conclude from them?
Table 6: Enlightening Teen Literature
Pad McCracken and Niki Whearty
- What books made you a reader?
- How has young adult literature changed over the years?
- What teen books are popular with adults and what adult books are teens reading?
- Is there too much “adult” in young adult literature?
Table 7: A Dinner with Oscar
- Producing films in Hollywood
- Jurassic Park – Were the dinosaurs real?
- Schindler’s List – The story of how one man saved the lives of over 1100 people and gave up his fortune doing so.
- Schindler’s List – Walking in the footsteps of the condemned
Table 8: Jungle Fever: Tropical Adventures of an Infectious Character
Dr. Don Skillman
Travels to Africa, the Amazon, and Thailand are all on the menu with Infectious Disease specialist, Dr. Don Skillman. Traveling to the tropics can be a wonderful adventure, but what about those pesky mosquitoes? Is there more in African water than crocodiles and hippos? Find out what the real health hazards are of tropical travel and why (or if) it’s worth the risk.
Dr. Don Skillman is an Infectious Disease specialist, with 28 years in the Army focusing on tropical diseases. Travels to Africa, the Amazon, and Thailand are all on the menu. A perfect evening includes smoking Cuban cigars under Amazon stars, discussing tropical germs and intestinal worms, holding babies with scabies and a fresh caipirinha.
Table 9: The Psychology of Happiness
Dr. John Tupper
Fill in the blanks: happiness is __% genetic, __% circumstances, and __% intentional activity. Answer these questions and more with Dr. John Tupper, psychiatrist at Shodair Children’s Hospital. You will be sure to come away with a smile!
- How can the most popular undergraduate course at Harvard U. help prepare you for a Montana winter?
- Guess what: whether you are truly better off than you were 4 years ago has nothing to do with the president.
- What do Lao-Tzu, Cheryl Crow, and Dr. Martin Seligman have in common? And why are they smiling?
Table 10: Ancestral Voices: Irish America and the Creation of Modern Ireland
Join University of Montana Irish Studies Professor, Traolach O’Riordain, for a fascinating look at the ways in which Irish America revived the old Gaelic vision of an independent Ireland. Learn how the cultural movement to preserve Irish language, music and dance began in the emigrant communities in the U.S. and was transported to Ireland. You will be saying, ‘Ireland Gaelic and free’ by the end of the evening.
- Irish America revived the old Gaelic vision of an independent Ireland based the Catholic faith and Gaelic culture
- A movement of cultural nationalism supported by Irish American money, manpower and expertise overthrew the old order and led to the establishment of an independent Irish state based on the concept of an ‘Ireland Gaelic and free.’
Table 11: Religion and the First Amendment
The wall of separation between church and state was identified by Thomas Jefferson in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists. Since then, it has been referenced in Supreme Court decisions more than 25 times. Laurie Simms, Capital High School AP American Government teacher, discusses religion and the American government from the Constitutional Convention through current challenges. Exercise your right to freedom of speech; what do you have to say about this?
Table 12: A Peace within the Puzzle
In working to understand the critical roles of religion, politics, and culture in the Middle East—the past, the turbulent present, and the future—you might wonder if others can really help. What is the proper role for the United States and other non-Middle East nations in this volatile region? Join this discussion with Carroll College Assistant Professor of history, Jeanette Fregulia, as she takes you beyond the popular news media to gain a better understanding of this region of the world, and perhaps a better appreciation of it.
Jeanette Fregulia is an Assistant Professor of History at Carroll College. Her teaching interests include courses in pre-modern European History, History of the Modern Middle East, History of Ireland, and Gender History, and her research focuses on the activities of mercantile women in early modern Milan, Italy. Jeanette is the mother of a seventeen-year-old daughter who loves traveling and experiencing new places just as much as she does!
Table 13: Who Discovered “Who” in 1492?
- “Indians 101” We will discuss frequently asked questions about Indians
- What is Indian Education for All and how is it working in the schools?
- We will discuss contemporary and historic issues having an impact on Montana Indians.
Table 14: So Much More than Coffee
We most often hear of Colombia through headlines about its drug wars and violence. Guerillas and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are legendary. But do you know Colombia has ultra modern cities, is the largest producer of cut flowers in the world, and borders two oceans? Estela can give you an insider’s perspective on the drug wars, and share the other side of Colombia – its people, food, culture and passions.
Estela Londoño has joined us from Colombia where she teaches at the University and is a visual and graphic design consultant for retail stores. She’d like to learn a little more about our culture as well!
Table 15: So, What Now? A Fulfilling Retirement
- Time to serve.
- Time to learn.
- Time to play.
Jim and his wife Linda retired from their “day jobs” almost five years ago. With their newly acquired flexibility, they have tried to structure their retirement years by contributing their time to causes they strongly believe in, taking time to really pursue their recreational interests, while continuing to learn new skills. Jim and Linda have traveled extensively in Asia and Central America over the last four years, combining interest in foreign travel with volunteer work. They are avid backpackers and hikers.
Jim will discuss the challenges faced by the newly retired and how to make the most of these precious years.
Table 16: Corny, But it Ain’t No Joke
- Is Ethanol the way to go?
- Should it be mandated? (i.e., Minnesota)
- Are there ripple effects?
- Who are the winners and losers?
Denny hopes that corn will be the evening’s side dish!
Table 17: MPC: Does Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?
Donn Kirk and Mike Holland
The story of Montana Power’s decline is all too fresh for many. However, in the light of the flood of business failures which may have been rooted in de-regulation, it is interesting to reconsider. Donn Kirk’s father was commissioned to write a history of the company by MPC. Years later Donn was successful in bringing the story to light. This conversation connects Donn’s knowledge of MPC’s glory years and D.A. Davidson executive and Butte native Mike Holland’s business perspective to highlight what we can still learn from this piece of Montana history.
Donn Kirk grew up in Butte, earned his BS from Purdue and MS from Stanford. He worked as a research scientist for NASA from 1956-1986, specializing in high-speed aerodynamics. Mike Holland is also a Butte native and is currently an executive with D.A. Davidson in Helena.
Table 18: Conserving Energy Makes Business Cents
- Watkins & Shepard has just received an Environmental Excellence Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency SmartWay Transport Partnership for its leadership in conserving energy and lowering greenhouse gas emissions from its transportation and freight activities and was the only Montana company to receive this award.
- Conservation has to be a major part of solving the energy crisis.
- The economic effects of Cap & Trade Laws to reduce carbon.
Table 19: Balance Your Checkbook; Balance Your Life
- The money side of life – is there a need for financial education?
- With consumer debt on the rise and U.S. personal savings rates at historic lows it’s a great opportunity to look at how financial and consumer education can combat these issues.
- The ability to manage day-to-day finances is a basic life skill.
- How families, schools, and communities can reach out and help consumers begin making healthy financial choices for themselves.
Table 20: No Child Left Inside
- The traditional bond between children, nature and play is broken.
- Our children grow up very different from generations before them.
- A more sedentary and indoor-based lifestyle has implications for the health and well-being of our children in ways we didn’t anticipate and are just now beginning to understand.
- A restored relationship promotes physical, emotional, spiritual and mental benefits to the child, among others.
- There is a movement underway to reconnect children and nature to promote health and well being, and Montana has a great opportunity to lead the way.
Table 21: Montana’s Changing Forest Landscape: Wildfire and Recovery
- Montana and the West have experienced severe wildfires over the last two decades.
- Global warming, drought, severe forest insect infestation, and demographic growth all but insure that this wildfire trend will continue into the immediate future.
- Public and media attention has primarily focused on the dramatic effects of wildfire and the high cost of wildfire suppression.
- Less attention has been paid to the hard work and cost of protecting and repairing natural and cultural resources, recreation facilities, roads and trails in the aftermath of wildfire.
- This conversation explores the impacts of wildfire and recovery, and how these may affect and shape our relationship with the abundant national forest lands that surround us.
Table 22: ¡PURA VIDA!
Take a trip to Latin America and study the culture with Helena teacher, Jesse Franzen. Learn more about Ecotourism, where the term was born, and how this growing form of tourism minimizes impact and builds environmental and cultural awareness and respect. Explore the countryside, the cities, rain forests, and an active volcano. Enjoy your journey!
- Ecotourism (where the term was born)
- Latin American culture
- Education system of Costa Rica
Table 23: Fires in the Big Sky
- Helena recently approved city wide zoning aimed at preventing the spread of wildland fire. Should the County do likewise?
- Do you think the current Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic will cause more destructive fires in the Wildland/Urban Interface (WUI)?
- Should the County adopt subdivision regulations preventing development in the WUI?
- Should the County adopt subdivision regulations controlling development in the WUI to meet FIRESAFE Guidelines?
- Should defensible and survivable space around homes in the WUI be mandated by law?
Table 24: A Clear and Presidential Danger: Who Would Want the Job?
Mark Johnson and Cory Swanson
- What’s next for the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East?
- In light of the end of the surge in Iraq and the possible withdrawal of US troops, and a projected surge in Afghanistan, what situation has the new President inherited, and what is he likely to do?
- More importantly, how will key players in the Middle East likely respond to America’s foreign policy as it is expressed in military, diplomatic and economic terms?
Cory Swanson is an attorney in Helena, Montana. He served with the Montana National Guard’s 1-163rd Infantry in Iraq in 2004-2005. He now seeks to learn all the things he wished he had known when he was there.
Table 25: Balkan Spring: The Flowering of Freedom and Prosperity in a Cauldron of Historic Anxieties
- Why should we care about what happens to and for people in Kosovo, Bosnia, Albania, Macedonia and Serbia?
- What is it about this region of Southeastern Europe that makes it so utterly fascinating and confounding?
- What lessons can be drawn from the wars, war crimes, and peace accords of the 1990s?
- Why go there? What’s to be gained or given, for a cause, by traveling to this still troubled region of the world?
Table 26: Law and Disorder
- Law-making by Initiative: a curse or a blessing?
- Montana has had a statutory initiative process since 1903. The 1972
Montana Constitution contains an Initiative provision empowering the
enactment of laws proposed by “the people.” Since then, there have been
a myriad of proposals placed on the ballot from draconian limits on
state spending to a ban on use of cyanide to process gold ore.
- Between1903 and 1972, some 23 initiatives made the ballot.
Since 1972, over 49 measures have qualified for the ballot. Of those, 24 have failed.
- Do Montana voters still cherish the right to take matters into their own hands when elected officials fail to act?
- Have special interests exploited the process to aid their pet issues? Are there better ways to conduct a “direct democracy?”
Table 27: An Election Postmortem: Dissecting November 4th
This is the most important election in decades. Just as Lincoln’s election may have saved the Union and FDR’s brought us through the Depression, this is a landmark year which has also allowed us to witness candidates breaking through racial and gender barriers on the national political stage. When it is over, join Dennis Wiedmann, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Carroll College, to analyze what the voters have said and where we will go from here.
- Explore the results of the 2008 presidential election.
- What did voters say?
- Where do we go from here?
Table 28: Cool Energy, New Technology
- Can Silicon Valley save the world?
- The generation who so famously seized an Internet fortune is now taking on energy – technologies that could lead to a clean, cheap, and never ending supply to power us in the lifestyle we enjoy today.
- They seek to replace fossil dependence with a combination of advanced photo-voltaic (PV) solar cells and high-capacity battery technology… at costs competitive with fossil fuel. Not fantasy: though still produced only in modest volume, PV technologies can produce electricity at $0.05/KWh – the price of coal.
- Their success could lead to rekindling of American leadership in technology, and provide a level of international security; it will also require unparalleled investments in public utilities, displace a 100+ year old energy system within short decades, and create a new class of billionaires.
Table 29: Is There Life on Mars?
- Today, Mars is a frozen desert, but everywhere we see evidence of water in the past, dry lake beds, dry river beds, flood channels, telling us that in the past Mars was a warm wet place.
- Did life form in the lakes and seas of the young Mars? If life formed on Mars, could we find fossils? Could there still be organisms still fighting to survive under the Martian surface?
- Astronomers have recently discovered that the gas methane is being currently produced somewhere on Mars and released into its atmosphere. Here on earth, methane is generated by living organisms. Where is the Martian methane coming from?
- Ten years ago, the scientific world was rocked by the announcement that fossils of living organisms had been found in a meteorite from Mars. In the following years, detailed study of this rock has cast doubt on this claim, but has helped us learn a lot about what it will take to prove the existence of life on Mars.
- We currently have three operating probes orbiting around Mars, and three landers sending us data from the surface, with several more on the way.
- NASA plans to retire the space shuttle in just two more years, in favor of a new generation of space craft that would be capable of building permanent bases on the moon, and sending a manned mission to Mars.
Table 30: Digital Natives Living With Digital Immigrants
Jason Neiffer and Don Pogreba
When not quixotically running for political office, Jason Neiffer and Don Pogreba teach at Capital and Helena High, respectively.
- Researchers often describe the student-aged population as “Digital Natives,” a title acknowledging their seamless adoption and use of digital tools.
- Schools have had a mixed response to this shift. Some teachers are indeed “Digital Immigrants” while others are adapting.
- What should the response of schools be? What adaptations need to be made to classrooms, schools and curriculum?
Table 31: Standardizing “Man” – Not a Black and White Issue
- February 12, 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Although both men are rightly recognized as ardent abolitionists, both were also steeped in racist ideology, the ramifications of which still permeate our society and our educational system.
- Indeed, the usage of standardized testing has its roots in these racist ideologies, and has resulted in the society’s mistaken belief that intelligence (read “people”) can be reifed and thus scaled.
- What are the causes and consequences of this mistaken belief?
- Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” offers background and context for this discussion.
Table 32: The Hysterical Art of Humor
- Is there a “science” of humor? Humor 101. Bring your bibs.
- Is Good Humor Always Rooted in the Truth?
- The Neural Basis of Cognitive Processes In Humor. Oh Please!!
- Can Laughter Really Be the Best Medicine?
- Why Do Babies Laugh?
Table 33: Beer!
A discourse on the cultural & natural history of beer:
- After 2 months at sea, the Pilgrims curtailed their search for a more suitable harbor because, “We could not take much time for further search, our victuals being much spent, especially our beer.”
- The Volstead Act prohibiting intoxication beverages went into effect in 1920; it has been credited with spawning American organized crime and NASCAR.
- Today’s craft-brewing renaissance owes its humble beginnings to a law passed by President Jimmy Carter in 1976 that legalized homebrewing.
- Montana has more than twenty breweries producing some of the best beers in the nation – some of which we will sample during our evening at Great Conversations 2008.
Table 34: Sikh and You Shall Find
- “Who are the Sikhs? What does a Sufi do?”
- Sikhs are one of the world’s major religions by number, counting over 500,000 in the US alone, yet many Americans do not know anything about their belief and practice.
- Sufis presents a very different side of Islam from the way that it is commonly portrayed in the West. Discover a tradition that is brimming with music and creativity, and whose message to adherents is about spiritual love and focus.
- Both of these religions (plus many others) are rooted in India, a culture very different than our own. We’ll talk about the different underlying ideas, and social factors, that create and support these traditions.
- Religion and the Arts: For me, both of these faiths are largely about creative and artistic responses to spirituality. I hope everybody can bring a moment or story when music or art touched your soul, as it will help us relate to the rituals we discuss.
Table 35: One Father, Two Children, Three Religions
- Three faiths all claiming to be the off spring of Abraham, all at odds with each other.
- Similarities, crossovers, and hold-overs in Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
- How to discuss topics that should not be introduced around the Thanksgiving table by spiritual relatives.
Table 36: Eve Didn’t Eat an Apple!
- What did Adam and Eve eat from the tree in the Garden of Eden?
- What profession was Mary Magdalene?
- What do we think is in the Bible that is not actually there?