Dialogues about politics, spirituality, climate change, religion and higher education were some of the highlights of the final day of panels during this year’s Conference on World Affairs.
Keeping your politician on a leash
Panelists shared stories and cracked jokes in My Dog is Smarter than Your Politician, a panel—writer and film critic Jim Emerson assured audience members—that was meant to be “entirely metaphorical.”
Examining the similarities and differences between the animals that serve man without question and the men and women who claim to devote their life’s work to the people, panelists touched on the importance of loyalty and communication.
Lt. Colonel-Promotable Ike Wilson said that dogs are all about serving something higher than they are. Whether they work for the pack or a human owner, their motivations are seldom self-serving. Americans—and American politicians—are at their best when they also work in service of something greater, such as the American public as a whole, Wilson said.
“Dogs are loyal to a fault,” he said. “They don’t worry about building any personal legacies.”
Michael Fink, a founding member, board member and former vice chairman of the Visual Effects Society, said that dogs have the ability to rise above whatever a person is or does and offer them kindness and warmth in a way that he has never witnessed in a politician.
“Politicians are going to bite the hand that feeds them,” Fink said. “One thing a dog would never do is confuse affection for granting power.”
Cam Nielsen, a 21-year-old junior majoring in mechanical engineering, said that he enjoyed the light-hearted commentary at the panel.
“I went into it more for entertainment than deep political insight,” Nielsen said. “I got out of it what I was expecting.”
Much of this entertainment involved personal anecdotes from the panelists.
Professional storyteller and writer Liz Weir told the audience that she had earlier updated her status on Facebook to say that she was speaking at this panel and to ask for input on the subject.
Weir said that one of her friends had this sentiment to offer about dogs in relation to politicians: “At least they’re faithful.”
Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility
The financial situation of the U.S. is “worse than advertised,” said David Walker, president and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
Walker discussed the out-of-control debt in the country right now. According to him, there is a $1.5 to $1.6 trillion deficit for the year 2010. Debt, he said, has more than doubled in the last 10 years.
“We are at a critical crossroads as a nation,” Walker said.
Walker also said that the subject of fiscal responsibility is not a partisan issue. Blame for the nation’s current problems—for the immense foreign debt, for underfunded Medicare and Social Security, for the decrease in the quality of income, health status and education—can be placed on both parties, and on many presidents.
It is up to everyone, to the people of the U.S., to fix these problems and “keep America strong,” Walker said.
Justine Smith, a 21-year-old senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, said that while she’s not a very political person, she thought Walker laid out the situation in a way that was easy and interesting to follow.
“I think he did a really great job of explaining the issues,” Smith said. “I’m impressed with his big-picture optimism.”
Keane Southard, a 22-year-old first year master’s candidate majoring in music composition, said he agrees with Walker’s concerns for the country.
“I think he’s right-on that we definitely have to do something about this spending issue,” Southard said.
Southard went on to say that he would have liked to hear Walker talk about the issue of climate change, because he thinks it’s an important factor to consider in the effort to solve the nation’s budget crisis.
“All of these problems are so connected,” Southard said.
Walker emphasized the importance of taking action, of making tough decisions and meaningful progress before it’s too late.
The nation needs to implement statutory budget controls and pay-as-you-go rules, Walker said. It needs to reform Social Security and create automatic savings accounts, where 2 to 3 percent of pay will be automatically deposited.
Walker said that the current generation is mortgaging the future of their children and grandchildren, and that something has to be done to put an end to this destructive process.
“We must avoid a Thelma and Louise ending to this movie,” he said.
Many audience members were on their feet, trying to peer over the heads of the people in front of them for a better view of the spontaneous performance spectacles in The Art of Improv.
The panelists here drummed, beat-boxed and acted their way through a discussion about living by the rules of improvisation and taking the leap into a world where—although you might not always have a scripted response—you can at least feel comfortable reaching for an answer.
Former Saturday Night Live actor Julia Sweeney said that, from the first day she tried improv, she knew it was going to change her life.
“It was really a transformative experience,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney also said that many of the rules involved in improv, such as adding information and having an emotional response, can be incorporated into daily life.
Gordon Adams, a professor of international relations at American University in Washington D.C., said he agrees that improv rules can be useful in establishing a general trust in your own intuition. By listening, being aware and keeping a certain kind of rhythm, you can trust that something will always come to you when you need it to, Adams said.
Hip hop artist Shodekeh chose to beat-box his point instead of speaking it, and used audience members to contribute to his impromptu performance.
In response to a question from one audience member about getting up the courage to perform on stage, Shodekeh said that this audience involvement is what helps him to be more comfortable. He also said that a part of the ability to go in front of people the way he does is to not fear that you won’t succeed.
“Not being afraid to fail is absolutely key,” Shodekeh said.
Mia Wilhelm, a 22-year-old senior majoring in anthropology and economics, said she enjoyed this panel for the increased audience interaction and the fun atmosphere.
“I thought it was an interesting reaction with the audience,” Wilhelm said. “The dynamic between the panelists was interesting as well.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Kaely Moore at Kaely.email@example.com.