Author: Cassidy Neuner

Visiting lecturer explores Chinese hermit tradition

Bill Porter, also known by his pen-name Red Pine, visited campus on April 5 to present a talk entitled “The Search for Solitude: China’s Hermit Tradition” and to discuss his most recent book, “Finding Them Gone: Visiting China’s Poets of the Past.” Porter is well known for his translations of Chinese texts and poetry and is a famous travel writer in China.

“We had used translated texts by Bill Porter in my classes,” Department Chair of Asian Studies Karil Kucera said. “We felt it would be incredibly useful to have a discussion of what it takes to do translation as well as bring to light a little-known area of Chinese tradition and ongoing practice – the mountain hermit tradition.”

Porter’s engaging lecture primarily focused on the tradition of Chinese hermits and his own experiences in the Zhongnan Mountains, where he spent time in the 1990s interviewing and studying Taoist and Buddhist hermits.

“The hermit tradition in China is one of the most important traditions in Chinese society,” Porter said. “Hermits have always been the most respected people, they’re part of society, not outside of society.”

Porter was working towards his Ph.D. in anthropology at Columbia University when he dropped out in 1972 to study at the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist monastery in Taiwan.

“I met a Chinese monk who taught me how to meditate, and I thought, ‘This is so much more interesting than studying,’” Porter said.

When he left the monastery two and a half years later, Porter turned his attention to doing translations of ancient poetry.

“Before I left, the abbot gave me a copy of Cold Mountain’s poetry, Han-shan,” Porter said. “And he had pirated Burton Watson’s English translations and stuck them in the back … so I took these English translations and looked at the Chinese, and saw how Burton Watson worked and thought ‘I could do this.’ And I started doing it, and I discovered that translating is a great way to improve your language skills. If you can look at something in Chinese and think you understand it, try to put it in English, you have to dig really deep.”

Translating Cold Mountain and other poetry written by Chinese hermits sparked Porter’s interest in the hermit tradition, and he soon found himself applying for grant money to fund a trip to China. After securing the funds in 1989, he went off in search of hermits to interview.

“Eventually I went to Xi’an and hired a taxi, and asked the taxi driver to take me to the foot of the Zhongnan Mountains – which is weird, because the Zhongnan Mountains stretch 800 kilometers east to west and 100 kilometers north – south … so the taxi driver just took me to the road that went deepest into the Zhongnan Mountains, and I said ‘Come back in a couple days and pick me up here.’ So I just hiked into the mountains, and within two to three hours I was writing down hermit addresses.”

Porter described the hermit tradition in China as similar to a Ph.D. program for the “spiritually inclined.”

“It has this aspect to it whereby they venerate solitude, [or] spending time alone. Because it’s a Ph.D. program, you need a B.A. or an M.A., you just don’t go into the mountains and live this kind of life. It’s really hard, you have to have a practice.”

Hermits typically spend three to five years alone in the mountains before returning to society, though some realize on their way down that they’re not ready to reenter and end up spending decades in solitude.

Chinese society has long revered hermits for their perceived wisdom and discipline, and in ancient times it was practically a prerequisite for government officials to spend time in the mountains before taking office.

“During the Tang dynasty, there was even a little joke about being a hermit. If you were a would-be official and you weren’t able to pass the exams, you went into the Zhongnan mountains and built a hut, and waited to be noticed.”

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Northfield’s Hallmark film provides novelty, little else

“Love Always, Santa” is the touching story of a widowed single mother, Celia Banks – played by Marguerite Moreau, better known to me as Nurse Rose who briefly threw a wrench in Derek and Meredith’s relationship on “Grey’s Anatomy” – and her journey to find love after losing her husband. The movie premiered on the Hallmark Channel on Nov. 6, and was filmed right here in Northfield.

Celia’s daughter Lilly is trying to find a new love interest for her mother, since beloved husband and father Bradley died of mysterious causes an indeterminant amount of time ago. The story begins near Thanksgiving, where Celia is shown preparing a turkey dinner.

“Daddy used to love Ritz cracker stuffing,” Lilly says two minutes into the movie as she watches her mother cook, subtly setting the somber mood for viewers and simultaneously pushing name-brand butter crackers.

It’s clear that everyone in Celia’s life is very concerned about her status as a single woman. Celia’s sister pushes her to date Randy, a stereotypical blockheaded oaf who Celia has known since high school and who only asks her out after he eats dinner at her house and realizes she’s a good cook. There are a lot of jokes about Celia being too picky for not wanting to date Randy, which are frankly just uncomfortable and cringeworthy. Her daughter is concerned too, and pens a letter to Santa asking for him to bring a worthy man to her mother this Christmas.

Enter the male lead: bestselling children’s book author Jake Granger – played by another generic actor who could best be described as resembling the victim in an episode of “CSI” – who for unknown reasons donates his time to Santa Inc., which hires people to impersonate Santa Claus and respond to children’s letters. Jake receives Lilly’s letter and is moved by it, responding with eight pages of really generic but trying-to-be-deep prose. This letter ends up in Celia’s hands and the two begin corresponding regularly. I think we all know where this is going.

The best part of this movie is the fact that it is set in Northfield. Celia runs a bakery called The Bun Also Rises (she’s really into Hemingway, another part of her backstory that goes unexplained, and is also vaguely concerning), which is actually local cafe The Hideaway. Other notable Northfield landmarks can be seen in B-roll shots, like Quality Bakery, the Rare Pair and the Cannon River. They also filmed scenes during last year’s Winter Walk.

Besides the novelty of seeing local haunts on the silver screen, the rest of the movie is pretty tough to watch. The dialogue is saccharine and cheesy, the characters are one dimensional and there is little to no conflict throughout. Jake briefly becomes discouraged in his pursuit of Celia when he thinks she’s dating Randy, but quickly bounces back and returns to sweep her off her feet, just as we all expected.

I really didn’t feel attached to the story or its characters, and I was mostly just irritated by the end since they really drag out the minor conflict that is keeping Jake and Celia apart. However, it was pretty entertaining precisely because it was so bad. Since the whole film is available via a YouTube account that appears to be dedicated solely to posting Hallmark’s holiday movies, should you ever have an hour and a half to kill and literally nothing else to watch, why not try “Love Always, Santa.”

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Clinton email case unjustly reopened

On Oct. 28, FBI Director James Comey reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, citing new discoveries while investigating former congressman Anthony Weiner. Nine days later, on Nov. 6, he officially announced that the new emails had failed to produce any new evidence against Clinton, and that the FBI would not be recommending any charges. His decision to reopen the case was incredibly controversial, considering it came less than two weeks before the election. I would also argue that his decision was incredibly irresponsible.

For many people, Democrats and Republicans alike, Comey’s decision to reopen the case appeared to be a political move, designed to shake voters’ confidence in Clinton. Comey is a Republican, which only exacerbated people’s concerns that further investigating Clinton was not warranted. He had very little information about the new emails, and did not say upon announcing their discovery what they might contain. People were left to speculate what could possibly be important enough to look into so close to Election Day. On top of it all, Comey went against the wishes of the Department of Justice, which told him not to notify Congress that the case had been reopened, since it is against department procedures to comment on ongoing investigations so close to an election. Some politicians, namely Senator Al Franken, are even calling for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on Comey’s handling of the investigation, calling it “troubling.” Clearly there was something wrong with the way the FBI conducted their investigation.

This ridiculous email scandal has been dogging Clinton ever since the Democratic primaries, and has often overshadowed the more important aspects of her campaign, like her qualifications for president and stances on the issues at hand. The scandal was overblown and dramatized the first time it faced investigation by the FBI, and the second time was even worse. This intense focus on Clinton’s private email server was unwarranted and a waste of time.

Did we already forget that President-elect Donald Trump has been accused by countless women of sexual assault, rape and generally inappropriate behavior, and that more women are coming forward with new allegations every week? Did we forget that he has managed to avoid paying taxes for years using quasi-legal maneuvers? That he behaves like a child on a daily basis, and that his staff had to take away his access to Twitter so he wouldn’t shoot himself in the foot days before the election? I certainly didn’t, but it seems like the rest of the country has already moved on.

I can’t completely defend Clinton’s actions. Yes, she was being irresponsible by using a private email server for sensitive communications. However, she’s certainly not the first to use questionable email practices as Secretary of State. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell used a personal computer and private phone line when he conducted government business, but there has been little to no attention surrounding his email activities. I have to wonder if the focus on Clinton’s emails is more about her gender than anything else. Considering that the FBI is primarily made up of white men, and that their director is a Republican, I don’t think this accusation is much of a stretch.

I simply cannot understand how people can get so up in arms about the careless handling of emails, but meanwhile brush off a lifetime of inappropriate and sexually aggressive behavior. I’ve heard many voters lamenting that they’ve been forced to “choose between two evils,” but these evils aren’t on the same playing field.

Cassidy Neuner ’18 ( is from Carmel, Calif. She majors in political science and economics.

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Boastful college claims are misleading

President David Anderson ’74 was proud to announce at Opening Convocation this year that St. Olaf is now a carbon neutral campus. To be considered carbon neutral, all of the electricity used on campus must produce no carbon emissions.

It really is quite an accomplishment to power all of a college campus – even a small one – with no carbon emissions, and this is something that St. Olaf should take pride in. However, the term “carbon neutral” isn’t quite as simple as producing no carbon emissions. St. Olaf still produces carbon emissions, but those are “offset” by our solar and wind power sources. Natural gas is still used to heat the school, and natural gas is not a carbon neutral source of energy by any means.

So calling St. Olaf a carbon neutral campus is more of a technicality than anything. If you asked me what carbon neutral meant, I would probably say that it meant we didn’t use any power that produced any carbon emissions whatsoever. And I would bet that when our president announced to campus that we are now considered carbon neutral, most others would have an interpretation of carbon neutral similar to mine.

It’s not that this one particular claim bothers me all that much, but it does follow a pattern I’ve noticed more and more as I enter my third year at St. Olaf. I feel as if I can’t take anything that the administration says at face value, because there’s always a complicated backstory behind it. They tell us one thing and we interpret it as such, when in reality it’s probably far more nuanced than the catchy two sentences in the admissions brochere.

When prospective students walking through campus on guided tours are told about the diversity of the campus, what they don’t know is that of the 830 students in the class of 2020, only 51 are domestic students of color. There are over 200 student organizations on campus, but in reality only half of them ever meet or plan events. The Piper Center advertises funding for unpaid internships, but they fail to mention that the deadline is in March and many people haven’t been hired before then.

It’s a pattern of misrepresentation and I’m tired of it. It’s definitely not something that just St. Olaf is guilty of. All colleges have to market themselves and try to convince prospective students to spend $50,000+ a year at their institution. St. Olaf certainly can’t keep its doors open if no new students are enrolling.

But I also feel like young people are more aware of these marketing strategies now than they have been in the past. When I was applying to college, I knew that the brochures strategically used pictures of minority students in order to show how “diverse” they were. But I was applying to small, liberal arts colleges – often in rural areas – and I knew the reality of what the student bodies typically looked like at these schools.

St. Olaf proudly declaring itself a carbon neutral campus seems like a stretch at best and a lie at worst.

Cassidy Neuner ’18 ( is from Carmel, Calif. She majors in political science and economics.

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BeyHive misses Lemonade’s message

ust in case someone out there hasn’t heard yet, Beyoncé released a new album on Saturday, April 23. It’s called Lemonade, and it’s my favorite album that she has ever released. While I realize that there have been hundreds of responses, think pieces and analyses published about Lemonade since its release, I just couldn’t resist publishing mine too.

Lemonade is centered around the theme of infidelity, presumably Jay Z’s. Beyoncé makes no effort to hide the fact that she’s singing about her husband’s extramarital affair (affairs?).

“What a wicked way to treat the girl that loves you.”

“If you try this s*** again, you gon’ lose your wife.”

Within the hour of its release, rumors were already flying. Who did Jay Z cheat on Beyoncé with?

The first victim that the BeyHive (the name given to Beyoncé’s rabid fan base) accused was Rachel Roy. Her Wikipedia page was edited on April 23 to read “Dusty side ho that died under a lemonade stand” one hour and then “Rachel Roach” the next. Shortly after, people began confusing Roy and celebrity chef Rachael Ray. Ray, even though she has absolutely no connections to Jay Z, received her fair share of hate. A few days later Rita Ora, who is signed to Jay Z’s record label, was also implicated.

First of all, we still have no idea if what Beyoncé details in Lemonade is based off of her own life. Is Lemonade a piece of art or an autobiography? And if everything she says is true, why are people so viciously attacking women who have flimsy connections to Jay Z while Jay Z himself has stayed relatively out of the line of fire? Jay Z had some memes made about him. Rachel Roy had to cancel an event she was supposed to speak at.

But Beyoncé addresses more important issues in her album than her husband’s potential infidelity. In the video accompaniment that was released with the album, she details the difficulties of being black in America, specifically those of American black women. She addresses her relationship with her father, her family and her husband. Lemonade’s most important message is not for people wondering what’s happening in her marriage, it’s for black women.

There’s a reason that pretty much everyone in the video is black and why the music videos are interjected with bits of spoken word poetry from a black woman and quotes from Malcolm X. I can’t speak on how this focus impacts black women, but there is a lot out there to read.

Lots of people have written thoughtful and meaningful pieces on Lemonade and all of the issues that Beyoncé tackles in it, and I have read these and appreciate their contributions to this conversation. I just worry that the average listener will miss these important messages in their frenzy to discover who “Becky with the good hair” is.

Cassidy Neuner ’18 ( is from Carmel, Calif. She majors in political science and economics.

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