Author: Christine Barkley

St. Olaf Sentiments: April 17, 2015

Treasures in the College Archives

St. Olaf is considered to be one of the most haunted college campuses in the United States. The college’s archives department routinely gets calls from television shows and other requests for information. In addition to spooky tales, there are many interesting and rarely talked about stories and objects detailing the extensive history of St. Olaf.

In the days of old at St. Olaf, when people like Mohn and Kittlesby were walking around, there was an outbreak of Scarlet Fever. Professor Ytterboe decided that the contagion was in the men’s bathroom in the basement of his namesake dormitory. To get rid of the cause of the disease and protect his students, the concerned professor decided to burn chemicals in the bathrooms. He did this for around ten weeks in the fall of 1903.

Unfortunately, while burning the chemicals, he did not open the windows or leave the room. Professor Ytterboe died a few months later, in February of 1904, as a result of formaldehyde poisoning. The man who had been beloved by St. Olaf faculty and students died on campus with his nervous system severely compromised.

In the early days of the College, many families lived on campus. These were the families of faculty. In fact, many families started at St. Olaf; around half a dozen babies were actually born in Old Main.

Some college practices have, thankfully, come to an end. According to an alumnus’ diary, in the early 1900s, female students had to be in their dorms by 10:00 p.m. and have their lights out by 10:45 p.m. In addition, if a gentleman wanted to take one of the ladies out to spend some quality alone time with her, he would have to meet with her “housemother” first. These processes gradually ended.

Some St. Olaf traditions have come to an abrupt halt in more dramatic ways than others. The Homecoming Court was discontinued at St. Olaf when a few disgruntled students entered a large female farm pig in the race for Homecoming Queen. “Alice Swineson” became homecoming queen in 1969.

However, Swineson did not get to wear the queen’s crown and it was donated to the college archives in 1972. Several students have had the opportunity to try on the ornate crown.

“If students come down with a little bit of notice, I am always happy to show them our treasures,” said Jeff Sauve, college archivist.

Sauve is caretaker to this treasure trove of college history. The college archive includes roughly 2,000 linear feet of manuscripts, 5,000 photographs, 700 videos, 1,000 audio recordings and one silver crown.

Two coins dating back to the time of the Roman Empire are among the rarest items in the archives.

“We have one coin dating to around the time Of Jesus’ birth and one dating to the end of the empire,” Sauve said.

These objects were a surprise find in papers given to the St. Olaf archives by an alumnus who was an art collector. Alumni have bequeathed most documents in the archives. This ensures that there are always interesting items such as 80-year-old locks of hair – and even teeth – in the basement of Rolvaag Library.

Along with collecting and assessing historical documents, the archivist’s duties include undertaking projects to preserve the history of the College.

Coming out this summer is a “Sight Story Mobile Historical App,” a virtual tour of historical – and present day – St. Olaf College. Included will be 28 sights with a plethora of information.

The information includes, but is not limited to, audio clips, pictures, biographies, video clips and tours. This was made possible with a grant from the Minnesota Legacy Collection. The goal of the project is, “to make new information available and dig into the story of St. Olaf.”

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Fixation on Clinton e-mail is ridiculous

Most of us will never end up as the Secretary of State or potentially have an extremely high-profile presidential run. Though we all sometimes take some shortcuts to get what we want, not all of our mistakes will be publicly exposed. A probable Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has recently been put in such a difficult situation.

Media outlets have recently highlighted Clinton using her private e-mail account for government correspondence during her time as Secretary of State. I’m sure every one of us has used a private e-mail account to send a school or work e-mail. While most of us are not in positions of power, it is something that almost everyone has done at one time or another. The issue at hand is that Clinton may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record, which some government officials are calling a “serious breach.”

Without a doubt, what Clinton did was not correct due to its violation of the Federal Records Act. By using her private e-mail, she corresponded with foreign dignitaries in a way that could not be completely monitored by the U.S. government. However, how many of us can completely separate work and personal matters, especially within a job as prominent and demanding as Secretary of State?

The uproar surrounding these communications is already moving into its second week. Clinton tried to avoid speaking about the issue, hoping it would blow over, but it did not.

The first thing that Clinton did when she got in front of a room full of press at the United Nations was apologize and admit to her mistake. However, that did not seem to quell the stream of questions and the press conference quickly descended into a defensive mockery of civilized discussion.

But who really cares? All of her work-related e-mails are being released, and 55,000 pages have already been pored over. In addition to that, the public nature of her job leads one to assume that Clinton was not actively trying to keep her actions secret by using her private e-mail; it was simply an oversight. Unfortunately, making a story out of her mistake sells papers, so it has been blown out of proportion.

Nothing can prompt us to pick up a paper like a big picture of someone we love to hate facing hordes of hostile reporters. Of course, nothing of any substance is discussed in news articles that use words like “yoga” and “wedding” more frequently than terms actually relevant to Clinton’s former job description. The import that our nation’s media is giving to a situation of questionable relevance belies the American people’s preference for sensationalism.

In a country that is facing massive internal crises, such as police forces’ treatment of citizens and the vast gulf between our two major political parties, focusing on this triviality is extremely detrimental to facilitating any sort of positive political discourse. We can’t seem to go ten minutes into a news show without mentioning personal e-mails sent by a woman who hasn’t proven herself to be untrustworthy, but we spend little to no time on other issues of actual domestic importance.

A situation such as this cannot get much more ridiculous, but I am sure the media can find a way to make the e-mails of a woman doing her job an even bigger “scandal.”

Although, did you see her hair at the press conference? It looked really nice; I think that she has been doing something new with it.

Christine Barkley ’18 is from St. Paul, Minn. Her major is undecided.

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Thomas Pope lectures on successful storytelling

Thomas Pope, a professional screenwriter and artist in residence at St. Olaf, started his presentation on storytelling with a PowerPoint. Despite the inclusion of technology as a modern storytelling technique, Pope began with a timeless classic: “once upon a time. . . .”

Continuing the classic beginning, Pope told the audience a story that had a basic structure. A curious individual asks a wise man a probing question: “What holds up the world?” The wise man responds, “An elephant holds up the world.” Obviously unsatisfied by that answer, the individual asks, “What holds up the elephant?” This can get to be quite annoying for the old master, as the writer noted, ending his short narrative with a line we all know so well: “Kid, don’t bother me.”

What does hold up the last elephant? What holds a story up? This is the question that the professional storyteller has been attempting to answer, and what he presented to a room full of students in Rolvaag 525 on Tuesday, March 10.

Starting the meat of the presentation with a description of the basic structure of a story, Pope embarked on a 40-minute lecture that, while entertaining, resembled a middle grade picture book.

The professional screenwriter stripped the art of storytelling down to its basics: a lot of cause and effect makes a story.

In addition to cause and effect, contingency and coincidence make a story interesting and worth telling. These two elements made up the bulk of the presentation.

Beginning with the three-act structure that has been the building block for hundreds of years, Pope first explained the finer points of cause and effect.

“Every event in a story wears two hats: cause and effect,” Pope said. “Every event in a story is an effect of another event and a cause of a later one.” Causality is the most basic element of a story. It has to be there. It is not random at all, it is what makes sense to us.

However, a story with just causality would be absolutely dull, and no storyteller could ever be successful with that one element. This is where contingency comes in, to add some “spice.”

Contingency is the occurrence of some random events. It is commonly used to provide interest in a story. Where causality can commonly be represented by the protagonist, contingency can be represented by God.

“The protagonist is a plot magnet, walking through a contingent minefield,” Pope said. If contingency is God, then coincidence is plain insanity. This is what writers turn to when they have nothing else to use. This is when the aliens appear out of nowhere. Coincidence feels like a cheat.

“You can make a lot of money with that sort of crap in Hollywood,” Pope said.

The presentation was punctuated with interesting facts, such as, “when you have a casual world, it leads to a drama, and when you have a contingent nightmare, it leads to a tragedy.” Pope also included one tidbit that took a bit of the magic away from storytelling.

“They lived ‘happily ever after’ just means that they lived in a state of reduced tension,” Pope said.

Pope ended the lecture on an interesting note, introducing a fourth element to the basics of a story: choice, the choices of the protagonist and of the other characters. This is an especially relevant element in society today, with video games being so prevalent. He went so far as to say that he recognized a new generation of storytelling watching his sons play video games.

St. Olaf students, staff and community members alike took valuable insight away from Pope’s talk.

Pope has been a screenwriter for 30 years, working with Francis Coppola, Robert Redford, Wim Wenders and many others.

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Pros and cons of PolyMet mine

When the Political Awareness Committee PAC announced a dinner with Brad Moore ’83 to discuss a proposed mining project in northern Minnesota, some students expected heated debate about the controversial topic. Instead, the Feb. 24 dinner discussion allowed for civil debate of a complicated issue.

Tim Bergeland ’18, the freshman PAC representative and coordinator of the PolyMet dinner discussion, said, “This was an issue that is important to a lot of Minnesotans, we wanted to address that in some way.”

The event started with a 45-minute presentation by Moore, Executive Vice President of Environmental and Government Affairs for PolyMet, about the effects of the proposed mine.

PolyMet mining is close to breaking ground on a copper and nickel mine in the Lake Superior watershed near the community of Hoyt Lakes. PolyMet has cleared the public commenting period and only has one more environmental review before it starts the permitting process.

At the beginning of the dinner, Moore said, “No mining situation is perfect, but this project has come a long way.” Throughout the dinner, Moore argued that the proposed mining project has undergone numerous modifications and improvements.

After his initial disclaimer, the talk turned to the economic and environmental benefits of the mine. An important feature of the PolyMet mine project is the reuse of the same facility and tailings basin of a mine that operated in the 1970s.

The original mine had fewer environmental regulations. In fact, some of the work of the PolyMet mine will be to mitigate the damaging effects of the old mine.

“For every acre of wetland we use, we are restoring an acre and a half,” Moore said.

The PolyMet reworking of the old mine will bring an estimated 400 long-term jobs back into the struggling community.

“St. Louis County will get an additional $500 million in taxes and increased spending,” Moore said.

There is only one other nickel mine in the United States. The mine near Lake Superior could make Minnesota a central player in these key resources.

Claire Bransky ’17 challenged Moore on Polymet’s job statistics.

“As someone from northern Minnesota, I can appreciate the need for economic revival,” Bransky said. “However, according to some estimates, 55 percent of jobs will be non-local and 20 percent will be commuters from centers like Duluth. Do you think that PolyMet has done everything it can to employ local people and keep the money local?”

Moore disputed these statistics.

“Those numbers are a bit exaggerated,” he said. “We have done research that shows about 75 to 80 percent of jobs will be local, and those jobs will act as an enticement for people to move to this area.”

When asked about the public opinion toward the mine, Moore said, “There is more opposition in the metro area than in Northern Minnesota.” He went on to say, “This is a community that is really struggling. They are struggling to keep enough kids in the schools – there is no year-round economic stability in this region. They can’t even keep a Pizza Hut open in the winter.”

The question and answer period of the dinner ended nearly 15 minutes late.

“I thought that it went well, everyone was respectful and the dialogue was really constructive,” Bergeland said.


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Fantasy football: is it worth it?

I can still vividly remember my first experience with fantasy football. I was 10, and my football-obsessed math teacher created a league for our class. Admittedly, it was not the best mathematical education strategy in which I have ever been involved. Our league was comprised of 25 nerdy, mostly female, pre-pubescent children. I know my reaction was along the lines of, “Football? The one where they wear the tights?”

Despite how misguided I was at the beginning of my extremely short fantasy football career, I was just as addicted as any middle-aged man after a month. It was intoxicating. The thrill of being able to call these big-name players “my players,” and to watch them score points for “my team” was incredible. I essentially became a 10-year-old gambling addict.

Fantasy football is just one of a multitude of fantasy sports you can play. The first fantasy league was actually baseball, started in the 1950s by statistics-savvy fans. With the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, fantasy football moved online and became much more accessible to millions of people, most notably on ESPN, NFL and Yahoo.

Over 28 million people played fantasy football last year. The basic premise of fantasy football is that you get to manage your own team, making it a “fantasy” for many. With a Wikipedia page longer than St. Olaf’s, fantasy football is clearly not going anywhere. Unfortunately, it can turn into a nightmare.

At its root, fantasy football is gambling. Most, although not all, leagues have an entry fee and a payout. However, this always comes with a chance to win. In fact, The National Football Championship offers prizes of up to $150,000, with a minimum entry fee of $150. The average fantasy sports player spends $467 per year, adding up to a $15.7 billion market for an imaginary pastime. Fantasy football is a lucrative and widespread business. It is no wonder that there are no limitations on it. In 2006, legislation was passed to limit gambling; however, there was a specific exception made for fantasy sports.

Along with the monetary commitment many participants make, the average fantasy football player spends three hours a week managing his or her team and a further nine hours reading or watching something about fantasy sports. This all-encompassing passion costs the United States an estimated $6.5 billion a year in lost productivity.

Not all the resources associated with fantasy sports are intangible. ESPN has television shows devoted to fantasy football. Estimated advertisement revenue, per year, is $2-5 billion. Fantasy sports are so popular, websites can charge $2-10 to advertisers per thousand page views. Fantasy football has become deeply embedded in our culture.

After coming off my forced fantasy football high, I realized it wasn’t for me. I got too obsessed for my own good; it was more about my ego than enjoyment of the actual game. However, if fantasy sports are not consuming too much of our energy and time, they can be one of the most rewarding practices. They not only give you an excuse to watch your favorite sport, but also allow you to be actively involved.


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