Author: Bjorn Thompson

Cross Country dominates MIAC again

On Saturday Nov. 1, the St. Olaf men’s and women’s cross country teams competed at the 2014 MIAC Championships at the Como Golf Course in St. Paul. Both teams performed strongly at the prestigious race, with the men winning the 11-team field and the women taking second of 12.

St. Olaf finished with an an astonishing 16 points – just the second time in MIAC history that a team has finished with that total. The score was just one point short of the conference record, which was set by University of St. Thomas and Macalester College.

The indefatigable champion, Grant Wintheiser ’15, won the men’s championship 8K with a time of 24:47. The victory was Wintheiser’s third straight MIAC individiaul title, making him just the second runner to achieve the three-peat in MIAC history. The Oles completed a near-sweep with second through fourth places being taken by Jake Campbell ’16, Jake Brown ’15 and Phil Meyer ’15, respectively. The men rounded up their top five with Paul Escher ’16 in sixth place with a time of 25:27.

Jamie Hoornaert ’17 was the first St. Olaf women’s finisher, taking 8th with a time of 22:40 for the 6K. The St. Olaf women also took 10th through 12th and 17th places to beat out University of St. Thomas. Carleton College won the women’s team competition under the leadership of Ruth Steinke ’17, who won in a time of 21:28.

St. Olaf will now look forward to the NCAA Division III Central Regional Championships, held in Pella, Iowa. Last season, the Oles won the event by a margin of ten points, beating out Central College for the top spot. Wintheiser will be looking to defend his title at the event.

Following the event, St. Olaf will turn its attention to the NCAA Division III Championships, where it will be looking to defend its historic national title.

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Diwali celebration dazzles packed Pause

The night was a blur of wonderful food, hilarious skits and beautiful clothing. There were even personal anecdotes about fireworks, saris and babies. On Saturday, Nov. 1, students gathered in the Lion’s Pause for the annual Diwali celebration. Talk about dinner and a show!

Diwali, or the “festival of lights,” is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated every autumn. The festival signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair. The holiday has become more inclusive and secular over the past few decades and now involves Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Although each religion celebrates the festival differently, there exists a common tradition that has allowed South Asia to celebrate its rich religious and cultural heritage.

Diwali was first celebrated in the White House in 2003 and Barack Obama became the first president to attend the festival in 2009. Today, there are 3 million Hindus in the United States. At St. Olaf, the celebration has also been one of the most popular cross-cultural events on campus in recent years. The highly-attended event is hosted annually at St. Olaf, and is organized by the Celebrate South Asia CSA student committee and the Diversity Celebrations Committee DCC.

After an introductory speech by Debratata Mukhopadhyay regarding the history of the festival, the festivities began. The first dancers took to the stage for a splendid rendition of Bharatanatyam, a style of dance renowned for its grace and purity.

Next up was “Jiya Jale,” a Bollywood dance involving much rhythmic arm waving and hip-shaking. The performance also included contemporary Bollywood selections, such as “Tum Hi Ho” or “Only You,” which was one of the more somber and romantic pieces of the evening.

After an intermission in which the nearly 500 attendees dined on catered Indian food, Diwali resumed with a flurry of red dresses and quick twirls in the form of Nagada Sang Dhol.

Traditional dances weren’t the only attraction, however. The celebration also included a skit of the ever-important myth of Rama and Ravana, which embodied the recurring Diwali theme of light’s triumph over darkness. The celebration concluded with “Lagu Mela Gaya,” the pièce de résistance of the entire evening. After such a warm and energetic performance, one could not feel amiss walking out into the cool November night.

“Participating in Diwali was one of the coolest things I’ve done in my four years at St. Olaf College. Learning about another culture by actually partaking in their celebration was incredible,” Colton Rod ’15 said. “Every person involved had great energy, which made the whole event exciting. CSA did such a great job with the event, and I would recommend that every individual at this school participate or attend Diwali before graduating.”

Many other participants found that Diwali celebrated culture, creativity and community.

“Being a part of Diwali is meaningful to me because the event brings together a community of individuals devoted to celebrating unique cultural values significant to them,” Mudassar Sandozi ’15 said. “I admire that kind of respect for cultural heritage.”

The international celebration has become a hallmark event on the St. Olaf campus. This year’s event was certainly the most popular yet, with dozens of performers and many times that number of spectators.

India Palace catered the event and matched the spicy performance on stage with its own flavorful food, including basmati rice, naan, madras and other splendid dishes.

Diwali’s increasing popularity in the United States is heartwarming and not unexpected. Expect to see more of the celebration, which is renowned as a day of forgiveness and overcoming discrimination. These are certainly important values in an increasingly globalizing society.


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Wellness Center, Randy Clay team up

Craft brewed beer has experienced a renaissance over the past several years; President Obama brewed his own batch in the White House.

That being said, it was surprising to many that the St. Olaf Wellness Center would hold an event dedicated to the subject. After the necessary “spiel” regarding the dry-campus policy, Bon Appétit Manager Randy Clay took the podium. While it became apparent to him that St. Olaf was not a genuinely “dry” campus, Clay thought it prudent to educate students on the value of quality rather than quantity, all the while showcasing the history and tradition of craft brewing.

Randy Clay was first inspired to brew when his wife bought him a home brewing kit. After moving from Colorado to Minnesota in the 1990s, he decided that if he wanted good, local beer, he would have to brew it himself. The craft beer scene in Minnesota has since exploded. The Twin Cities area is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best regions for local brewing, alongside notables such as Portland, Ore. and Denver, Colo.

“I’m not a snob, but a beer geek,” Clay said. The difference is that the former will tell you what is good, while the latter is process-conscious, appreciating the quality of ingredients and combination of art and science that is beer brewing.

“Beer is like food,” he said. The process of making beer paralleled the rise of man and the development of the larger food system, including the development of agriculture. To overlook its importance is to ignore the history of human development. In fact, beer is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest written stories.

While he considers commercial beer to be “well-constructed products,” Clay believes that in order to understand the processes of brewing, one must understand the seasonality and sustainability of particular ingredients, something his experience with Bon Appétit has undoubtedly fostered. For example, while one could always reach for a Budweiser – the embodiment of the American pilsner – a better alternative for fall would be a harvest ale or pumpkin beer.

While it may seem a foreign topic at St. Olaf, many other colleges and universities have craft beer societies. Kalamazoo’s Kalamabrew society and Carleton’s Hill O’ Three Oaks brewery are two examples.

“The importance of consuming a craft beer,” said Clay, “is that small-scale beer producers have more control over their alcohol content.” Increased alchohol content can be used to mask flavor, and he believes that this contradicts the point of drinking the beverage in the first place. A responsible beer drinker should be looking for a “dense array of flavors and aromas.”

One aspect of contemporary beer culture that irks Clay is that the price of commercial beer – especially at bars and restaurants – is often tied to the alcohol by volume ABV of the beverage, which “can be a dangerous mentality to have.” Needless to say, drinking from a keg is certainly not the best or only option for those in the party scene. As with food, it is always better to know precisely what one is consuming. Simply put, it is always safer to BYOB bring your own beer than take what is offered.

Clay advised students determined to imbibe to “watch the alcohol content” of the beer they consume. For more discerning tasters, he added that people should be aware of a changing palate.

“It’s like spicy food,” Clay noted. “Just because you don’t like it now doesn’t mean you won’t like it in the future.” There is so much variety in local beer; to relegate oneself to a particular style or brand would be foolish.

“Push the limits of what you try,” Clay said. As the old adage goes, “you may know what you like, but you only like what you know.”


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Afghan power transition tentatively bodes well

Following a decade of turmoil, violence remains rampant in Afghanistan. Instability is the order of the day, with 18 of 34 provinces still being contested between federal Afghan police and Taliban-associated insurgents. Despite the uncharacteristically positive news regarding the “democratic” transition of power in Afghanistan, corruption, drug production and regional divisions have left the central government bankrupt and virtually powerless. Thankfully, the United States and the new Afghan government have recently signed a series of security pacts, thereby allowing for 9,800 U.S troops and 2,000 NATO troops to remain within the country until the conclusion of the international coalition in December.

However, as millions of Americans have I hope learned since 2001, throwing troops and billions of dollars of defense spending at a problem doesn’t make it go away. It may be time to reexamine U.S policy efforts in Afghanistan, such as whether the United States should still be fighting to preserve the corrupt and, admittedly, fraudulent system of Afghan democracy. It has become extraordinarily clear that U.S. presence is no longer desired: during Hamid Karzai’s September farewell address, he not only failed to acknowledge the 15,000 foreign casualties sustained since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, but outright condemned recent involvement by Western powers in Afghanistan.

It is, however, quite refreshing to see compromise prevail in the first peaceful democratic transition of power in Afghanistan’s history. President Ashraf Ghani has agreed to share executive power with runner-up Abdullah Abdullah by appointing him CEO, a newly established position, similar to Prime Minister. There is hope for the freshly elected government. Ghani is no Karzai; he received his Master’s degree in anthropology from Columbia University in New York and was a frequent contributor on BBC Farsi before joining Karzai’s cabinet. Ghani also married into a Christian American-Lebanese family from Beirut, and – in an unexpectedly modern gesture – publicly thanked his wife for her support and initiatives for Afghan women.

This silver lining should not distract from the dichotomous legacy of Hamid Karzai. The former Afghan president embodies the struggle between Afghanistan’s ascent into a western-led international regime and a tribal confederacy rooted in Sharia law and radical Islam. The U.S has embroiled itself in a cultural conflict against traditional Muslim values that pre-date the United States by a millennium. Therefore, it is essential that the U.S limit its involvement in the budding state to secure the interests of the newly-elected government, ideally enacting the same style of self-determination and popular rule that was envisioned after the topple of the Taliban in Kabul.

To successfully legitimize their power-sharing initiative and establish popular support, it would be prudent for Ghani to call for the immediate assembling of the “loya jirga,” or mass meeting, that takes place to resolve constitutional items or issues of national importance. This would allow for a federal projection of power, while seeking to include traditional tribal leaders in their equivalent of a constitutional referendum.

Despite the uncertainty and detrimental obstacles to a strong central government in Kabul, there is a golden opportunity for cooperation between the Ghani and Abdullah. By enacting popular reforms and embracing modernity, these two leaders could pave the way for a new era in Afghanistan, ideally one of peace and stability.

Bjorn Thompson ’15 is from Edina, Minn. He majors in mathematics.


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Unethical company policies fail to acknowledge medical marijuana cards

Despite the extensive gains of pro-marijuana legislation during the last five years, broader reforms have failed to translate into the work- place. Jack Healy’s enlightening article in the Sept. 7 edition of the New York Times details the underlying hypocrisy of efforts to create a sustainable environment for marijuana users. The article recounts the tale of Colorado resident Brandon Coats, who was fired from his job as a customer-call representative for Dish Network after failing to pass a routine drug test.

Coats, who was paralyzed in a car crash at age 16, has been using medical marijuana since 2009 to treat his painful muscle spasms. He was reportedly prescribed to smoke a few puffs each night, outside of the workplace. Although his work performance never suffered and despite his having a medical marijuana card to verify the legitimacy of his drug use, Coats’ employment was terminated on the basis that he violated company policy. Stories like this are rampant in the 23 states that have been battling to enact legislation for medical marijuana and general use.

If our ethical attitudes regarding marijuana have truly changed, users should be protected by the same common-sense legislation that allows them to have a beer after work and individuals with painkiller prescriptions to work regularly. One aspect of the equation is the outdated nature of drug-testing standards, which, although able to detect THC in an individual’s blood, are unable to determine the level of an individual’s impairment. The timeline for urine samples, the most common drug test, can be anywhere from several days to several weeks, depending on the degree of an individual’s consumption.

Obviously, there are certain jobs – those involving public service, heavy machinery operatoration, or law enforcement – where it may be necessary to limit or even prohibit the consumption of behavior-changing substances. However, this determination must go hand-in-hand with rules surrounding the consumption of alcohol and powerful opiates such as Vicodin and Oxycontin.

In the same way you would prefer your employee not use his or her lunch hour to drink five martinis, so too would it not be acceptable to step outside for a midday joint. That being said, much of the existing sentiment surrounding the consumption of marijuana – medical or casual – is dictated from the federal level, much of it due to the fact that marijuana is still a Schedule One Controlled Substance. Regarding the upcoming Supreme Court hearing of Coats v. Dish Network, L.L.C., the company released a statement saying that it would risk its eligibility to compete for federal contracts by failing to comply with federal drug-free workplace laws.

This type of bullying undermines employers’ abilities to adapt to the changing trends of social acceptability. At the end of the day, the federal government’s atavistic and obstinate view with regard to marijuana hampers the safe development of the fledgling domestic marijuana industry, demonstrably hurting individuals and companies that believe marijuana is one of the few safe and reliable painkillers.

It is high time that marijuana legislation is reconciled between the state and federal levels, thereby eliminating workplace discrimination and allowing people to utilize marijuana for their medical treatments or participate in safe and legal levels of recreation. It may even finally be time for general legalization of medical marijuana.

Bjorn Thompson ’15 is from Edina, Minn. He majors in Math.


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