Conference on World Affairs-- Monday

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Ellen's picture

Hey, folks. Thought I'd give a brief run down of what Darcy and I heard at the Conference on World Affairs today. We attended three sessions. Darcy, pipe up if you see anything you want to add or comment on. I'll pass it on to the group.

1113 Can Multi-ethnic Nations Succeed

9:00-10:20 on Monday April 4, 2011
Grusin Music Hall
Panelists:
Zulfiqar Ahmad
Benedicte Berner
Gerald Murray

Moderator: Josie Heath

Interesting discussion of some of the different areas in the world where ethnic groups are living outside their home countries and the good news and bad news about those situations. Benedicte has experience in Georgia (former Soviet Union member) where ethnic groups are getting support from the government to use their own language and becoming somewhat integrated into society. But, on the borders, other ethnic groups are insisting on staying separate.

In Haiti, Gerald says that there is only one cultural and historical group of people, Haitians. However, Hatians are entering the Dominican Repuplic for economic reasons and becoming a new ethnic group there, which is causing some economic concerns among the established peoples there. Gerald points out, though, that Hatians, about 1 million strong now, are doing all the labor-intensive jobs. So, if they left, it would cause economic hardship. Apparently the border police are being bribed to keep letting them in, but also extort money from Haitians once they are in the DR to not deport them.

Southeast Asia, says Zulfigar, is an ethnic stew. He emphasized the difference between the state and its government and the dream of one nation where everyone is equal. He said it is messy and it will always be messy. I think he meant that we need to accept that things will not always be straightforward or perfect. It was a little unclear.

All speakers emphasized dialogue among peoples, a unifying language, and an understanding of history to help different groups work together and not see each other as "the other." All speakers seem to agree that the U.S. was actually doing pretty well for all its ethnic groups compared to other nations. Zulfigar suggested we watch an independent film called "A Day Without a Mexican," and emphasized how important Mexican-Americans are to California's economy. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377744/combined).

1350A KEYNOTE What Matters

11:30-12:20 on Monday April 4, 2011
Macky Auditorium
Panelists:
Liz Coleman

Moderator: Phil DiStefano

Liz Coleman was an excellent speaker. She comes from the same emphasis I do: Liberal Arts. The points I remember are that if we focus on educating children in one discipline, and with the focus to get a job and earn money, we are missing much of what it means to be successful and happy in this world. Success (meaning, I think, economic success) is not the only measure of being a good human. Her college emphasizes using the entire intellect touching on many areas of knowledge to solve world problems. She said that focusing on disciplines, such as graduating from Harvard in Law, can lead to missing important things such as ethics. Since the legal scandals of the Nixon era, law schools have added a course in ethics. Why wasn't ethics just an integrated part of their education? Why does it have to be "added on?" With a broader education, we learn to be the best human beings we can be. We don't see things as black and white. No easy answers. We understand better that sometimes the answer is "I don't know."

I would have liked Liz to give examples of students who have benefited from this broader education. Back in 1980 when I started college, liberal arts education was in fashion and that is what my mother encouraged me to get a degree in. But by the time I was half-way done, she was encouraging me to specialize more and head towards technical writing. In doing so, I had to get a master's degree in professional writing to find a job in my field. (recession era) My education was still too broad to look good in the job market. Look at me now: I've returned to my roots: Creative writing. Now I don't feel my education was broad enough. Luckily I can keep learning on my own.

I would also have liked Liz to explore more of her ideas. Like her comments about negotiation. She said sometimes there is no middle ground, but because we are so schooled to believe there is a right and wrong answer, we have to agree. We wind up then with a middle ground between, for example, religious extremism, and freedom. Another example was that there is a broad difference between "being unshackled and being a slave." I think that's what she said.

1501 ARIA Climate Change and Wildfires in the West

1:00-1:50 on Monday April 4, 2011
UMC 235
Panelists:
Peter H. Hildebrand

Moderator: Cindy Schmidt

This topic was a little over my head. I learned a little more about what scientists are using to determine climate change: I didn't realize that we are coming to the end of a world warming trend. The world has gone through several cold then warming trends (the last Ice Age for example, followed by a warm climate where humans flourished.) And that we can look at ice cores and see that previous warming trends ended with the temperatures slowly going down again. When you look at the last 2000 years of the last warming trend (that we are still in), scientists can see this slow cooling trend, but then, since about 1900, after the industrial revolution, you see the trend begin to reverse and become a warming trend.

We seem to be having more wildfires in the same time period as this warming trend. Factors include warmer temperatures, less rainfall, and faster evaporative cycles.

Many volunteer fireman came to this talk and asked questions. They pointed out that increased wildfires can be due to aging infrastructure like power lines, and people talked about protecting their homes. Peter seemed to be resigned to the fact that people will build where they will build so that we will always have an issue of humans contributing to wild fires in more densely populated areas. And there are many factors that we can't control like lightening strikes.

One audience member was a specialist in Ocean Thermal Energy, a renewable energy technology that was dropped after the Carter era. I don't know much about it, but I am going to check out his web site. His name is Dr. Robert Cohen and his web site is www.robertcohen.org. Darcy wondered how scalable such a technology could be. Maybe Darcy can explain it a bit more.

__________________________
Ellen
Ever learning, Everlasting