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The Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum

All reviews are based solely on my own personal experiences. If you have any complaints, please find me at the Ath and explain what they are while I eat grapes and try to ignore you.

Kelly Tsai – “An Evening of Spoken Word Poetry”
September 27, 2016     10.37/12                

A poet, artist, and activist, Kelly Tsai half-presented and half-performed to a sizable and very engaged audience (classically composed of mostly women #wheretheboysat). She deftly tied together her personal identity and experiences with her political work, and showed students that we do not need to separate ourselves out from the work we do. Personally, I enjoyed her discussions on her work in leveraging art to highlight and reform social issues surrounding gender-based discrimination, national volunteering, criminal justice reform etc. The role of spoken and visual performance is often understated in the social activism realm, and her efforts to incorporate them felt very fresh. However, I must admit that I was not as moved by her spoken word pieces, especially when she seemed to take on the perspectives of identities and experiences outside of her own. Her passion as she performed them was evident, but there were definitely times when I found her language to be a bit too performative, although I must confirm that I am not actually a poetry critic. Lastly, I really do appreciate the shoutout she gave to the folks who started and nurtured the spoken word communities in her hometown of Chicago; the history of any unique social phenomenon is always relevant and fascinating, especially on a local level.

The meal was completely vegetarian (eat eggplants, not meat!), but I would prefer a bit more forceful flavors, especially with the promising pesto rice. Also, they took a leap with that cannoli, but they stuck the landing (if a little shakily).  

Brandi Hoffine ‘06 and Michael Shear ‘90 – “The Oval Office and The Fourth Estate: A Conversation on Politics and Journalism in the Nation’s Capital”
October 10, 2016     11.78/12

Two CMC alumni made their way back to the Ath to discuss the intersections of politics and journalism in a conversation moderated by Professor Courser (who did a good job of guiding the conversation without dominating), and it was great to see examples from our own community of folks who have devoted their careers to public service. They provided a fair and informative overview of both the media’s and the administration’s perspectives on how messaging strategies affect public sentiment, and what responsibilities all parties have. It was also evident that they have a working relationship that leaves little to be desired, as they described a competitive, but ultimately constructive, process that increased my optimism (and hopefully others’ as well) for a career in the public sector. They seemed to have a humorous anecdote to showcase every situation, and gave the audience a little peek backstage into the political process and how it is communicated to the American people. Plus Michael called out Jake Tapper for asking bland questions, which is always fun.

The asparagus and scalloped potatoes were classically excellent (although potentially heart attack-inducing), and the little veggie pizzas on filo dough were absolutely delectable. But, the red velvet cake was dry enough that I could not actually finish it.

Andrew Busch, Zachary Courser ’99, Charles Kesler, and William Voegeli – “The Trump Phenomenon”
October 12, 2016     7.48/12

I appreciate the effort put in by our government department to encourage discussion surrounding the rise of Donald Trump, but was fairly disappointed by the panel as a whole. Professors Busch and Courser provided quite generic conservative analyses of the political landscape, and appeared to still be shocked and confused by recent events. While that may be a fair response, I felt that they were unable to leave their elite academic perspective of society and actually address the small-town America support of Trump. On the other hand, I was excited to hear Professor Kesler and Dr. Voegeli defend their support of Donald in a high-minded and intellectual manner. But their arguments seemed half-hearted, illogical, and occasionally even made under false pretenses. I mean, Dr. Voegeli went on for five minutes criticizing the Clinton slogan of “I’m With Her,” even though her slogan is actually “Stronger Together.” However, I do appreciate that the Ath event overall did spur some good conversations among students and faculty as to how national politics affect us here at CMC and how we have to continue to promote that open discussion.

Not a lot of good veggie options tonight, and the broccoli cheddar soup couldn’t make up for the fingerling potatoes unfortunately being a bit mushy. But the tiramisu was good, even if it did have a bit too much cocoa powder on top.

Jane Chang Mi ‘00 – “The Netting of the Distance”
October 19, 2016 (Lunch)     11.63/12

I went to Mi’s talk on somewhat of a whim; a good friend has recently inspired me to be more cognizant of the relationship between art and other disciplines, and Mi’s presentation did not disappoint at all. She discussed her experiences traveling around the world to understand how colonization and occupation shape communities’ cultures and landscapes, and then showcased some art she has created to explore those changes. As a non-artistic person, I found there to be a very low barrier to appreciating her work even as there were so many layers that she uncovered. Additionally, the manner in which she blends science, data, and history to showcase a variety of perspectives really helped me understand some of the nuances in how we can view and connect with native communities through artistic and environmental analysis. Her enthusiasm for the topics she researches continuously shone through, and her videos, pictures, and stories highlighted how much work she puts into truly understanding the circumstances surrounding her work, whether it is on climate change and Antarctic glaciers or on commercialization in French Polynesia. Lastly, it was wonderful to hear from a CMC alum who definitely did not follow a traditional Claremont career path, but who has still discovered some of her passions and been able to do valuable work that she cares about, and that we all should care about.

I am eternally grateful to Dave and Lydia for letting me into the kitchen to grab a quick lunch of rice and stir fried vegetables even though I was late to the talk.

Rukmini Callimachi – “Notes From the Field: How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror”                   October 20, 2016  10.96/12

Rukmini Callimachi, the ISIS field reporter for The New York Times, gave a timely and quite thorough presentation on ISIS’s growth and how Western governments have failed to effectively respond. And even though I am sure she has the benefit of hindsight in much of her analysis, she did provide a variety of perspectives that gave me, someone with little understanding of national security issues, a good picture of how countries respond to terrorist organizations (both above and below the table). In particular, her discussion of how different countries release different information that affects public perception and future policy was fascinating at a time when government transparency is so relevant. I do wish that she had talked more about her specific experience as a journalist, as the investigatory process and decision-making seems like such a unique background. But, I was still impressed by the number of sources she had cultivated in intelligence agencies and actual ISIS affiliates, and how much information she had gotten from them; it really inspired me to put in some time rubbing elbows with the folks in CMC’s Public Affairs office. Lastly, I appreciated that she provided a few moments of levity during such a heavy talk, including a particularly hilarious riff on some ISIS recruiting materials that discussed how to make a bomb in your mom’s kitchen.  

Chef Dave put in the effort to prepare some traditional Romanian dishes, including some great veggie kabobs and a surprisingly sumptuous cabbage and chickpea stew. Oh, and the hummus was absolutely fantastic, ten times better than the hummus at Collins.