Home - Admission & Financial Aid - Apply - Scholars Programs - Benton Scholars - Benton Scholars News
Benton Scholars News

Latest Posts

XYZ with Q 10: Board Game with Ben Kelsey ‘18

By Quanzhi Guo on December 7, 2016

This is the last post of the series XYZ with Q this year, where Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. Q is going to be in Europe next semester and if you are around and wanna meet up, please send her a message! In this post, Q went to play board game with Benton junior Ben Kelsey ‘18.


I don’t usually play games, but I grew up in China, the nation of Gowhich some say is the most ancient and sophisticated board game in the world. I remember walking past public parks, spotting elderly people playing Go on stone tables while onlookers around the battlefields commented and cheered. So it felt nostalgic to join Benton Scholar Ben Kelsey ’18, from Manlius, NY, to play board games. Having lived in Belgium and Italy for 9 years, he speaks English, Dutch, Italian, and French fluently, and he is now a French and Japanese double major.

When I arrived at Multiplayer House on a snowy Friday night, many people were already playing video games in the living room. Each week, the house hosts a Game Night where people just hang-out and play everything: from tabletop roleplaying games to trading card games. As I have almost zero experience with Western board games, we started off with Candy Land. Finding it a bit simplistic, we moved on to Settlers of Catan, a strategy board game about settlement, discovery, and trade. It turned out to be a fine choice.

The sequence of play goes something like this: the board has hexagonal terrain tiles representing different resources, like brick, sheep, stone, wood, and wheat. We, the settlers of Catan Island, rolled dice and gathered resources, which we later traded or used to build roads, settlements, and cities.

  • Friendship first, gaming second...
  • started off with Candy Land
  • Catan!
  • Quote Wall of the Multiplayers' House
  • Preparing for the battlefield
  • Thinking Hard

Ben easily tops the list of nicest people I know. But I tend to be competitive in situations like this. So, as we sat around the table munching on pretzels, I discovered something cool about this game: it is competitive, but it requires cooperation, because players have to engage in trade. Also, while it is simple to learn, you need a strategy to win. And the killer—chance—is always there, too. Whom does the dice favor? What cards might you draw?

Ben has been interested in games for almost his entire life. “I’m not sure how games have changed me, but I think I have learned some patience from them, and I think they’ve helped me to learn to think critically, whether it’s to strategize on how to overcome a difficult part of a game, or to make plans outside of games,” he said. He started playing a Pokemon trading card game at the age of 4 or 5, and his favorite game is The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

“I think there’s a certain sense of escapism in games for a lot of people. While I don’t think I enjoy them so much to escape ‘real life’, I do think that I enjoy the ability to immerse myself in another world and the social aspect of game,” Ben said.

To Ben, games are just there to be fun, and if you are having fun, you are doing it right. Now the Co-Consul of The Game’s Afoot, Co-President for Trading Card Club, and Vice President of the Colgate Roleplaying Game Society, he sees the niche community he is involved in providing an alternative social scene at Colgate, and he has been trying to spread this fun. For example, he has helped with ‘Gate Night—the late-night programming organization on campus, or trained new Colgate employees by acting like a zombie while they did puzzles, or run a game night at the Earlville Free Library.

“People who are interested in [games] tend to not feel as though they fit in elsewhere. Because of that, I think a large part of our role is to cultivate our own community, [one] that isn’t necessarily cut off from the Colgate community, but offers another alternative,” Ben said.

While the games group is a niche community, it is open, really, to everyone. Ben thinks that making the social scene at Colgate more inclusive, which has always been an issue, requires avoiding strong divisions. “Programming that’s not explicitly anti-alcohol or pro-alcohol would, I think, help to provide a space for a middle-ground, which is what I think a lot of people want and is necessary. Intentionally excluding people who want to drink or party or whatever responsibly only makes them feel unwelcome and pushes them to the fringes,” he said.

To build a diverse community, it is important not to equate being different with being worse. Colgate has a strong student archetype, which makes it hard be who we really are. Ben is low-key and knows how to leave distance. While he described himself as awkward, others describe him as reflective and caring. “Growing up, I think I had an unusual perspective, and that makes me feel different, but it’s not that I’m better than anyone else. I try to let people be and stick to what and whom I like instead of getting upset about them,” Ben said.

For Ben, there are ideas and opinions with which he disagrees and others he might like to change. “However, I know that, in the same way as I have reasons for what I think, others have reasons for what they think. I try to do what I can, but ultimately I think people need to change on their own, and me trying to tell them what to do isn’t going to accomplish much,” Ben said. 

It was really fun to sit at a table and talk while playing board games before final exams, and before I leave for study-abroad. On the Island of Catan, Ben scored 10 victory points first—and won the game. But I was really close. (I had 9!) 


XYZ with Q 9: Cheerleading with Taylor Mooney ‘17

By Quanzhi Guo on November 16, 2016

In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In this post, Q went to cheerleading practice with Benton senior Taylor Mooney ‘17.


I didn’t quite know what to make of cheerleading before attending practice with Benton Scholar Taylor Mooney ‘17. I knew the stereotypes, though, and just couldn’t imagine myself in a skirt, holding fluffy pom-poms, wearing a big smile and performing for other people’s enjoyment. Thus I defied the rule of my own blog (for the first time!) by not participating but observing the activity of my interviewee.

Taylor, a Geology major, Film & Media Studies minor, and proud feminist from Lowville, NY, also experienced conflicting thoughts when she joined cheerleading at Colgate. As a gymnast of 14 years, Taylor hoped to maintain her gymnastics skills and be a part of a community with whom she could share that passion. However, Colgate does not have a gymnastics team, so she turned to cheerleading.

The decision was not easy. “I felt by doing cheerleading, I was perpetuating feminine stereotypes and gender roles,” she confessed.  She ended up deciding to try it, and it has been a really important learning experience for her. “I realized that believing cheerleading to be a one-dimensional sport was very ignorant and rooted in a lack of experience and a lack of knowledge of its history. It’s certainly difficult to reconcile how cheerleaders are perceived and what it actually means for me to be a contemporary cheerleader, but I have grown a lot in terms of being a feminist in the context of cheerleading,” she said.

And cheerleading turns out not really to be the fun-house depicted in pop culture. Taylor’s team practices three times a week with one to three games per week. My heart skipped a beat as the girls threw Taylor in the air. She then sprang into the air, kicked, turned and tumbled into a cradle of arms.  

Cheerleading requires intense trust and cooperation. “Being on the team has given me a really amazing community. Gymnastics is an individual sport. Besides the cheers you get from your teammates, you rely on yourself to do better, athletically. Cheerleading, on the other hand, is team-oriented. As someone who is thrown in the air, I need to have faith that I will be caught by my strong teammates waiting for me on the ground. It requires a lot of encouragement from everyone on the team, despite all the bumps and bruises and mild concussions everyone gets along the way,” Taylor said as she broke into her iconic laughter – loud, genuine and penetrating.   

Just as cheerleading encourages trust, it also encourages inclusivity. “We want everyone to have the chance to experience this community we build. We try to make it as inclusive as possible by encouraging any and all to try-out, including those without experience,” Taylor said. Rather than being just an expression of popularity and desirability as many perceive cheerleading to be, Taylor’s cheerleading team is full of pride, confidence and supportiveness.

Taylor also appreciates how cheerleading helps her develop a different side of herself. I would not have believed that she is a cheerleader if it was not for this interview. Always unassuming, Taylor was in her gray Colgate hoodie during the interview. “When I put my uniform on with my other teammates I can take on a different persona and experience a different part of myself, one that is more colorful and outgoing and confident than I would normally describe myself. We all build our confidence by performing for people and engaging with Colgate Athletics supporters, it’s a really important aspect of being on this team,” she said.

However, sometimes it is frustrating for her because cheerleading is seen as a supplement to the sporting events. “Instead of being considered an individual entity, some view us merely as part of the atmosphere. Cheerleading is actually a rigorous sport and is incredibly athletic, requiring intense strength and endurance, with the added need for uniformity through the sharpness of motions and a grasp of balance and tempo,” she said.

Just as Taylor supports her team and the community through cheerleading, she is a super-accessible and caring senior to everyone around her. For example, after the 2016 presidential election, she sent out GroupMes welcoming people “to talk or eat or lay on the floor” at her apartment as a form of support.

Within academics, Taylor is passionate about science outreach. She wants to help others understand science better, especially through the medium of film. In her summer after sophomore year, she interned in the Visual Productions department at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.  During her sophomore and junior years, she made videos and taught basic video production for the Advent of Atomic Bomb and BreadXclasses at Colgate produced for the edX platform.

“What is most fun about editing videos is that I get to pick out important clips, ensure a narrative, organize them in a coherent manner, and make sure it is understandable. It’s very much like a brainteaser—trying to figure out what works the best within the confines of the scope of the video. Having a final product and taking ownership are very satisfying,” she said.

Over the past summer, Taylor worked in Wisconsin with the Keck Geology Consortium and assessed the remediation efforts for pollution in the Shadow Lakes.

Knowing how the environment works and why things are the way they are is important to understand the complicated relationship between humans and the natural environment. To Taylor, understanding the sciences is not only important in the science research sphere but also the political sphere. “Science tends to become political, despite it being rooted in fact and intensive research. In the media and politics, many times science is skewed to fit a particular agenda, or the person speaking about it doesn’t necessarily have a real understanding of it. They spew out things that are not necessarily true. That’s why I think it’s important to be a science major when pursuing a career in scientific media– I want an understanding of the science before I try to teach it through film. That way, I can more easily create a video or film that accurately depicts and explains the science behind certain issues,” she said.

Coming from a conservative, small and impoverished community where there are more cows than people, Taylor experienced frustration before leaving for Colgate because, as a more liberal-minded person, she could not understand some of the perspectives people had. “But after I left, I started to see my privileges I wasn’t aware of before and appreciate my people so much more. I now realize it’s less about wanting people who disagree with me to see things my way, but more about trying to open up communication, making sure people are heard on both sides and making resources available to learn from each other. That’s where film comes in—film is an attainable and accessible resource that I can use to do that,” she said.

Among all her jumps during cheerleading practice, Taylor once almost fell onto the ground, yet she was laughing loudly when she opened her eyes and got up for the next routine. Taylor is both independent from and dependent on her team and community. When I asked her to describe herself in three words, she thought really hard for a while . Finally she broke into laughter, and I could’t help laughing with her. Isn’t everything as simple and as complex as that?


XYZ with Q 8: 3D printing with Ishir Dutta ’17

By Quanzhi Guo on October 5, 2016

In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In this post, Q 3D printed a Möbius strip with Benton senior Ishir Dutta ’17.


3D graphs can be really hard to visualize and, sometimes, really ugly to look at, even if you model them on a computer screen. (If you have taken classes like Multivariable Calculus or Linear Algebra, you have probably felt this pain.) Such is the case for the surface of a Möbius strip. On a Saturday afternoon, I not only learnt how to model it on MATLAB, I also printed out one using a 3D printer, all thanks to my great teacher, Ishir Dutta’ 17 from Delhi, India.

The weird thing about a Möbius Strip is that it only has one side and one edge. As a result, its discontinuous curvature makes it not only hard to visualize, but also hard to do 3D-modeling.

“There’s a hole in the middle; and to make the surface smooth, it’s like 800,000 triangles to clean up by hand. So if we can print out this object, we probably can print most 3D graphs,” Ishir explained. As graphs contain a lot of information, he hopes to make them more accessible. “When you hold something in your hands, you know exactly what it really looks like,” Ishir said.

Over the summer, under the guidance of Professor Kiko Galvez, Ishir explored ways to take any graph from MATLAB and generate a 3D model. It was months of difficult research; but when Ishir explained the process to me, he did it in such a digestible way that I had no problem following along.

Ishir is definitely no stranger to teaching. As a physics major, he has tutored first-year introductory physics classes, as well as a handful of mathematics classes, since his sophomore year. He was also a TA for the Benton first-year seminars and was involved in developing the first free online course designed by students, for students: BreadX.

“I love teaching, and I think it is a critically important part of society,“ he said. “There’s a meta level to teaching – training teachers to teach – but college professors typically do not have to formally learn how to teach. Given that I may be in academia and likely won’t be taught how to teach, I thought this is the best time for me to learn,” Ishir explained.

During his three years of tutoring, Ishir adopted different approaches to learn when different pedagogies work. “It really depends on the students, the class, and the teaching material,” he said. For example, lectures sometimes just don’t work because teachers can’t gauge how students are processing the information. However, when you have a large class of people, lectures can be a good way to start off and set a baseline.

Ishir not only wants to bring his expertise in the subject area to students, but also his skills in teaching and some different social perspectives. “I especially want to push against the troubling idea that physics and mathematics are inherently difficult and that women are not good at them. Getting to teach would allow me to fight against these stereotypes and educate people on multiple levels,” he said.

He admits that he is probably not going to be the tipping point, since individualized teaching is expensive to implement and, therefore, elitist. “But if a fraction of people start to talk about the problem, change can start to spread,” he said hopefully.

And for all students in his tutoring class, Ishir always makes the effort to know them as individuals, which also facilitates his teaching. He tries to engage at a personal level with as many people as he can. “At this point in time, I care about how I can shape Colgate, or at least how I can shape a niche at Colgate,” he said.

As an international student, Ishir has been a group leader for every year’s international student orientation. “Having been here for three years, I am able to recognize the importance of forming a network of support in my peer group, and so I would like to extend my support to other people,” he said.

I guess the central theme in all Ishir’s involvements is accessibility. From making esoteric knowledge easier to understand to building more genuine relationships, Ishir, like the Möbius Strip, is trying to bind different exteriors into one loop.


XYZ with Q 6: Pudge Wars with Caio Brighenti ’20

By Quanzhi Guo on September 15, 2016

dsc05872-min

It’s been a long while and XYZ with Q (and Q) is back!

In the blog series XYZ with Q, Quanzhi “Q” Guo ’18 visits current and former Benton Scholars to learn about their interests, passions, and accomplishments. In this post, Q played a video game called Pudge Wars with Benton freshman Caio Brighenti ’20.


Almost every guy I know has played Dota or Warcraft at some point of life, and Caio Brighenti ’20 from Brazil is no exception. However, he did not just play it, but also modified it into a full-fledged mod game—Pudge Warsthat has been downloaded for 4,038,232 times.

Caio’s Pudge Wars is a mod of Dota 2 created by Valve Company. A mod is a custom game where new features, monsters, levels can be added to existing game. For example, Dota 2 is a recreation of DoTa by Valve, while DoTa is a mod of the popular Warcraft 3 by Blizzard Entertainment.

During our interview at Caio’s dorm, Caio and I each controlled a team of 5 players on his dual-monitored computer. The two teams are separated by an uncrossable river, and the one who get 50 kills first wins.

In Caio’s game world, Pudges, which are pudgy monsters, fight wars and throw bloody “meat hooks” to the other side of the river and grab enemies to their side. The meat hook, which is the only spell in his game, can also be upgraded in terms of its damage, radius, distance, and speed. Oh, and with a grand slam of totem, the whole earth can be fissured. Isn’t that cool?

But what blew my mind more is that all these designs, interactions, and functions are developed from scratch by non-professional game developers during their free time; and this first-year guy beside me is the core member of those masterminds.

“We didn’t start off thinking that it would be a big project. I love Dota 2, so I wanted to make its mod so that I can play it and other people can play it,” Caio said.

When Caio was little, he always enjoyed playing video games. At 12, he started messing around with his sister’s game by adding different clothes and got really interested in programming.

So when, in December 2013, Caio received a message from another player asking him to join an internet chat group for a potential mod of Dota 2, he didn’t hesitate.

At that time, Dota 2 had not released any mod yet. Players were anxiously waiting, and some started to poke around in programming files. They found some rudimentary source code created by Valve, and ideas about a mod made from scratch soon ran amok. Caio decided to work with a likeminded gamer; and the duo later worked as team for thousands of hours to develop the new game.

As ideas collided and developed, the team also grew. Caio and his partner were project heads, but they had members from all around the world, including countries like Germany and Poland.

“It is all out of passion for the game and the power of community,” Caio said, “everyone was doing it for free using their own time. For example, the icons were custom made by a professional artist. All our source code is also available on the internet.”

Caio did about 40% of the coding for the game. He also handled outreach, like writing blogs, contacting people, and managing project teams. But to develop a game with the scale of Dota 2, there were definitely difficult times. “We started from basically nothing. We just first changed this and that to understand how everything works. Sometimes I would stay up till 5 am to work with the New Zealand guy because of all the different time zones, then sleep till 7 am and go to school,” Caio recalled.

“Many people get frustrated very easily, but I don’t look at difficulties as frustrations. Just motivational challenges,” Caio said.

His efforts paid off. After a year and a half, Pudge Wars was released to players. Caio can still recall the day Valve released its official Dota 2 mod trailer in 2015. “I started screaming when I saw the video because our game was featured,” he said. “It started off as a little fun thing, but got big enough for Valve, a billion dollar company, to make a teaser video about it!”

Today, Pudge Wars is an official mod game on Valve’s website and the most well-known mod. Best of all, it’s free of charge. “Making money, that’s not the whole point of it,” Caio said.

Perhaps Caio’s incredible adaptability and maturity have something to do with his globe-crossing childhood. Originally born in São Paulo, Brazil, he moved to Michigan at age seven. Then it was back to to Santos, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina—before he came to Colgate.

“I’ve been through so many moves, so many goodbyes, so I am not worried about going to new places any more. Because I have done it so many times, I thought new challenges as adventures,” Caio said.

As our mouses clicked fast and keyboards knocked furiously, a new game awaits.


FinStoniBurg: President’s Residence

By mdirkers on August 6, 2016

On the crisp morning of May 19th, 2016, the ’19 Benton Scholars experienced what would be their first full day in the Eastern European country of Estonia. Why where we here, in this small country on the Baltic Sea? How would this trip be meaningfully linked to all the information we had been internalizing for the previous semester? In alignment with the theme of the ’19 Bentons’ second semester class Innovation in the Digital Age, Estonia was an suitable and stimulating destination, considering how the people of Estonia are so tech-savvy and steadfast in their dedication to digital literacy and transparency. This digital literacy is fostered through entrepreneurial endeavors and technical startups. Some of the most notable digital innovations from Estonia are Microsoft’s Skype, the widespread video chatting software, and Estonia’s E-Estonia, software that allows Estonian citizens to file taxes, keep health records, and vote entirely online. Why have these been so successful? One reason is that the Republic of Estonia supports entrepreneurial and technological innovation.

In fact, this government support of new ideas has grown under the current President of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who has been in office for nearly ten years. One of his accomplishments has involved being more receptive to citizens. President Ilves lives in the Presidential Palace in the subdistrict of Kadriorg, Estonia, which was constructed in 1938 after the Government decided to build an official residence for the President of the Republic of Estonia. Today, the President is the head of state of the Republic of Estonia, and his powers range from calling meetings of the Estonian parliament to representing Estonia to other nations and the European Union. All of these official duties are balanced with being a stable and accessible public leader.

President's Residence

Residence of the President of Estonia

Even the house of the President was accessible for the citizens of Estonia and had a welcoming atmosphere. To our surprise, there were no fences with steel spikes in the front of the structure, nor was there an abundance of armed guards. Only one armed guard is barely visible in the photo above, if you pay attention to the front porch of the building to observe his shoulder and his shadow. A group of ’19 Bentons (on the left) were able to walk on the stairs of the residence, where some Estonian people were awaiting a meeting indoors. The greeter that came to the door even asked us if we were there for a meeting. This governmental openness even extended beyond this physical residence. Citizens can even contact the President of Estonia (https://www.president.ee/en/contact/index.html) where their electronic messages will be registered with the appropriate department and treated as if they were physical documents. Not only is this innovative, but this also allows the concerns of the public to be heard and addressed, instead of being swept under the rug. These interactive opportunities between the people and the government foster a national rapport and serve as an example for how this degree of accessibility could be implemented by other nations.

Gardens between the President’s Palace and Kadriorg Palace

While the front of the President’s Palace is accessible to guests, the back of the palace, containing a scenic pool and gardens, is secluded from the public via white and yellow walls (above). The public, nevertheless, is still welcome to enjoy the gardens, fountains, and scenery between the barrier and the Kadriorg “pint-sized” Palace (below).

Kadriorg Palace

Previously, the Estonian head of state lived in the almost 300-year-old Kadriorg Palace (above) built in 1718 by Peter the Great for Catherine I of Russia. Today, the Kadriorg Palace has been renovated into the Kadriorg Art Museum, showcasing paintings, sculptures, vases, and other artistic relics from the 16th century forward.

The visit to the President’s Palace demonstrated how a the mindset of free inquiry in the digital world has resulted in a greater degree of openness and interaction between the government and with the constituents in the physical world, evidenced by allowing guests to peruse the grounds and those with appointments to enter in for a meeting. Not only was this display of technological transparency a refreshing and interesting observation, but it also has the potential to serve as a model for a similar system could be implemented in countries abroad to achieve similar results. Overall, the buildings at Kadriorg taught us about the local history, Estonian art and design, technology and innovation, and the support means the government has taken to make sure its citizens’ concerns are received and resolved.


FinStoniBurg: One month anniversary!

By mdirkers on June 22, 2016

05-22-16, Catherine's Palace

 

On the 22nd of the previous month, a time that seems almost alive in recent memory, the Benton Scholars ’19 experienced what may have been one of the most glorious Russian residences one could occupy. This palace is called Peterhof’s Palace, Peterhof meaning “Peter’s Court,” in honor of Czar Peter the Great. Located in the district of Peterhof in the city of St. Petersburg, this palace has been named “the Russian Versailles” for its stunning expression of architectural beauty and detail. Interestingly, in alignment with the nickname, Czar Peter is said to have drawn his inspiration for this palace from the French palace at Versailles. Peter the Great’s daughter became very fond of the palace, and she was the one responsible for expanding the grounds to showcase a series of magnificent statues and exquisite parks. Adorning the palace grounds is the Grand Cascade, a series of gravity-fed water fountains, the tallest of which is the fountain of Samson wrestling the lion. The water from all of these fountains flows out to the canal from the palace and into the Gulf of Finland, where Russian rulers would welcome foreign royalty to Peterhof. Between the waters of the gulf and the palace are the Peterhof Gardens, a potpourri of fountains, statues, hedges, trees, and shrubs. From the sea to the palace grounds, this expansive mansion was undoubtedly a visual wonder to behold!

While all of the architectural splendor of this site was certainly to be admired, what really stood out were the skills required to envision, design, and construct such a magnificent palace. Today, architects can plan and model buildings in a computer program, easily testing and refining their plans in a digital world, thanks to all of the technological innovation within the last fifty years which has moved our world into the digital age. However, these luxuries for construction that we enjoy contemporarily were not in existence approximately three-hundred years ago when this palace, started as nothing more than scratches on parchment, was in its infancy. Imagine having to plan and build such an expansive residence, detailed golden statues, plumbing for fountains, aqueducts for water, and parks with royal landscaping, without any electronic assistance. Yes, this means entirely by paper and by hand, a feat which serves as testimony to the mastery of those who built this wonder. The one who began the palace as marks on parchment birthed a vision for one of the most breathtaking palaces in Russia.

And to think, “This palace was not just a fancy display item; it was someone’s residence—a place where people awoke each morning, conducted national business, enjoyed the fresh air of the parks, dined on fine food, slept in comfort and security, and lived their lives.”


TBS Abroad Week 10: Weather

By Evie Lawson on April 5, 2016

20 - Weather

Week 10 Prompt: Weather

In the film-musical My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle’s companions at Ascot were warned to limit their conversation to “the weather and everybody’s health.” While Prof. Higgins had ulterior reasons for making this suggestion, it remains true that the weather often drives small talk and casual chit-chat. Both generic and intangible, the weather unites us with our neighbors in lived experience. We all have something to say about it, because it impacts each of us in our own way: from flooded lawns, to flowers that need watering; from garden vegetables wilting in the heat, to seemingly unshakable winter temperatures. This week, pay attention to the weather — both as a meteorological phenomenon and as an object of common discourse. Take a picture of the sky on (what feels like) a typical day. Then, tell us how people treat the weather. Is it a topic of common conversation? Do people often complain about it, or is the weather loved and celebrated?


Ryan Hildebrandt

The weather in Japan varies widely by region, from the tropical islands in the south to the snowy mountains in the north. But no matter where in Japan you find yourself, the weather plays a very important and perhaps unexpected role. Talking about the weather in Japan is similar to how it’s talked about in the West; small talk, ice breakers, pleasant observations. But in Japan, this is taken a step further, with written letters to anyone often opened and concluded with an inquiry about the weather (more taken as a sign of seasonal change than the particular day). Weather finds itself into all sorts of Japanese poetry, literature, artwork, folk stories, and proverbs. Weather also can be fond in Japanese religion, namely in Shinto, where the weather can be thought of as being in tha hands of the gods as well as out of their control, and sometimes just the work of mischievous spirits. But many days I spent in Kyoto looked like the photo here, clear and sunny with just enough shade to stay comfortable.

ryan


Allison Zengilowski

Currently, it is summer in Australia. The weather has been between low 70’s to upper 80’s almost every day, making for an enjoyable beginning to what is typically a rather cold semester.

Australia is a rather outdoor-centric country, thus, the weather is an important aspect of daily life. When speaking with my American friends, the conversations regarding the weather tend to be centered around what we should wear (we’ve never had this warm of weather in February and March!) or how bizarre it is to be sweating just walking outside in what is typically our winter. However, many of my Australian peers are avid surfers, a perk of living in the residence hall with a five-minute walk to the beach. When speaking with them about their days or their surfing endeavors, they will almost always determine a surf to be good or bad based on the weather. Temperature aside, the wind is a strong indicator of how their outings go. For if the wind is too strong, it will make the waves strong and surfing difficult; however, if the wind is weak, the waves will not be large enough to facilitate a good ride.Allison 6

Perhaps due to the fact that I do not participate in sports that are weather-dependent, my main view of meteorology is centered around what I’ll be wearing or what I’ll be doing that day. For many of my friends in Australia, the weather is not just a side note, but rather, it is a key player in their daily activities.


TBS Abroad Week 9: Architecture

By Evie Lawson on April 1, 2016

19 - Architecture

Week 9 Prompt: Architecture

Every city has notable architecture. Global cities, like New York, are made famous by their skyscrapers: the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, or One World Trade Center. Small towns and villages, like Hamilton, NY, have their own notable buildings, just on a much more limited scale: the Colgate chapel or bookstore. Architecture can be famous or notorious, beautiful or ugly. The White House may symbolize global power, while Alcatraz brings to mind the high-profile criminals it once housed. Antoni Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia is recognizable for its fairy tale-like eccentricity, while Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building exhibits a thoughtful simplicity. This week, observe the architecture in your local community. Are there any memorable buildings? Are any wrapped-up in local history? Why? What’s the story? Take a picture of one notable building, then explain why it stands out.


Ryan Hildebrandt

The architecture of Kanazawa Station (in Kanazawa, Japan) embodies a number of notable features of traditional Japanese architecture and how that tradition has been modernized and incorporated into modern cities. The most notable feature of the entry to the station is the massive torii (Shinto gate). The torii itself is a common structure used in Japanese architecture, and it traditionally marks the entry into a dwelling of the gods, or some holy site. You’ll find these at every Shinto shrine across the nation, and the torii has unsurprisingly become a symbol frequently associated with Japan. The torii that stands over Kanazawa station is at first glance much less traditional than any you are likely to see at a shrine, but it retains several key elements of traditional architecture, such as the reliance on large, continuous timbers, the natural color of the wood, and the balance between the straight lines of the timbers and the curves of the top beam. These elements have been incorporated into a distinctly modern interpretation of the torii. Another architectural element is the building behind the torii, which is the station building itself. The stark contrast between the natural, earthy tones of the torii and the sharp, modern lines of the glass and steel behind it make for another commonly seen Japanese architectural element, which is the balance of seemingly opposing designs into one final composition. Finally, the layout of the courtyard around the torii is very important to the architecture of the entire building. The use of trees and stone also remind one of nature and the interplay of natural structures and man-made buildings, which as a motif can also be seen all over the country.

10687282_1481178665491024_6489633377049702498_o


TBS Abroad Week 8: Flowers

By Evie Lawson on March 23, 2016

15 - Flowers - Field of Bluebonnets with Trees by Julian Onderdonk

Week 8 Prompt: Flowers

Flowers look beautiful and have a wonderful smell, but they have a steep environmental cost. Cut flowers — the kind given at holidays, birthdays, funerals, and dinner parties — are often grown in countries where the climate is warm all year. Kenya sends roses to Europe; Equador supplies them to the United States. At the same time, labor practices can be exploitative, and lax environmental regulations mean flower-bearing plants can be treated with harmful chemicals. In that sense, perhaps the best and most beautiful flowers are those that grow locally: as “weeds,” in flowerpots, on trees, in bushes. This week, as spring begins to bloom in the northern hemisphere, look at the flowers blooming in your area. Are they native? Do they grow on their own, or are they actively cultivated? Take a picture of some flowers, then tell us where they’re grown and who (if anyone) is responsible for them.


Ryan Hildebrandt

Flowers are everywhere in Kyoto, as they are in much of Japan. Flowers are found in many aspects of Japanese culture and have a much stronger symbolism in Japan than they do in America. Most flowers have a strong connotation and symbolism associated with them, and they are accordingly used much more extensively in literature, art, and storytelling than in other cultures. Most of what you’ll see in Kyoto, however, are wildflowers or flowers growing in people’s gardens just next to the sidewalk. Many homes and apartments have small flower gardens or boxes in the front, and throughout my time in Japan I took many many photos of these streetside flowers.

benton ryan flowers


Zachary Weaver

Flowers have special meaning here in Wales. Two of the most well known symbols of Wales are plants – the leek and the daffodil. Naturally, one may ask how leeks and daffodils, two very different flowers, came to represent Wales in addition to the Welsh Dragon. The root of the issue comes in the form of the Welsh Language.

In ancient times, there was a large battle for Wales in which Welsh archers were firing at their enemies from the top of a hill. The plants that covered that hill? The leek – or cenhinen in Welsh. While the authenticity of the story has been called into question, the leek has historically been the main plant of Wales. However, in the 19th century, there was a large push for a more romanticized version of Welsh history, changing the national costume and history to bring a “better” version of Wales to the modern world. A politician named David Lloyd George championed the adoption of a national plant. In a mistranslation (which may or may not have been on purpose), George accidentally translated cenhinen Bedr as the national flower, instead of cenhinen­. In Welsh, cenhinen Bedr stands for St. Peter’s Leek, which is known today as the daffodil.

Next to Cardiff Castle are many beds of flowers, such as this bed, that are grown in the form of another national symbol of Wales: The Welsh Crest.

Next to Cardiff Castle are many beds of flowers, such as this bed, that are grown in the form of another national symbol of Wales: The Welsh Crest.

As such, these two plants are seen growing everywhere in Wales. It is quite common for households to have pots of daffodils growing in pots outside their house or in their garden. Many national buildings and sights, such as Cardiff Castle, grow beds of leeks and daffodils to promote national pride.

However, other flowers are often grown in Wales. Many large estates have very intricate and beautiful gardens filled with flowers both foreign and native to Wales and the United Kingdom as a whole. Going to national gardens in the UK is a favorite pastime of many people, and many residents have their own miniature gardens where tulips and roses are grown in addition to many different forms of vegetables.

 


TBS in the Southwest: Los Alamos and Individual Responsibility

By bkelsey on March 19, 2016

I have spoken before of secrecy, but today (Friday) really took the fenced-in cake, for today was the day of our visit to the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory. I don’t dare share of its secrets, but it brought to mind a question that still perplexes me, because it has broad implications as well as narrow  applications.

That question, to put it briefly, is: To what extent do individuals have a responsibility for the ultimate effects of their actions, and can this responsibility be renounced, deferred, or delegated to someone else? What brought this question to my mind was our tour guide’s statement that – and I’m paraphrasing here – the staff at Los Alamos is responsible only for finding the truth and communicating it accurately and effectively to those policy makers who use it; Los Alamos is not responsible for policy, and its collective job consists in carrying out the policy without regard to opinion or belief of any personal kind.

That is not, of course, to say that no one at Los Alamos feels any sense of responsibility. I am sure that many of the scientists and other staff members who work there feel a deep and compelling sense that they are responsible for carrying out their jobs effectively, and potentially even a sense of duty to contribute towards the safety/well-being/knowledge/etc. of their country (assuming, of course, that they feel as though their work does contribute in these ways). What I wish to bring to the surface is merely the official stated position of the Lab as I understand it.

So, then, what might be the answer to my question? Speaking only for myself, and not in any way for the Benton group as a whole, I have to believe that each individual must have some responsibility for his or her actions. One cannot simply act without thought or care for the effects of that act on others and claim total ignorance, lack of intent, or lack of authority as a defense (lack of authority referring to the “delegation,” if you will, of responsibility to policy makers). The argument that seemed to be central to the Lab’s explanation of this sense of lack of responsibility is that said responsibility lies with elected or appointed policy makers: therefore, the moral/ethical/practical implications of what goes on in and as a result of the lab are placed on the shoulders of others. They do not cease to exist, but are transferred. This concept sounds reasonable, and indeed it seems to be a core part of the U.S. government’s legitimacy. Leaders are elected or appointed to represent the populace, and thus they take some of the responsibility onto themselves when they act on behalf of the populace. The moral act, then, is not in the decision of whether or not to follow orders, but rather in the act of choosing who will give the orders. And yet, I find it hard to justify such complete detachment from morality and ethics. A system of morality that promotes a common good must surely place responsibility for realizing that common good in each individual; one cannot refuse it. Equally, a system that promotes acting purely on what is in the interest of each individual must surely compel that individual to act on his or her own behalf without conscious or voluntary decision-making, seemingly making it impossible to deny moral responsibility and act in the absence of it. Thus I fail to see how it might be possible to exist as an individual entirely separately from any external concerns, and I fail to see how Los Alamos can fully detach itself from such concerns.

Of course, this lack of responsibility goes the other way, as well: if they have no responsibility for policy, then the staff at Los Alamos also ostensibly have no power over policy. Indeed, it is perhaps because they have no power that they can claim no responsibility. If their job is only to provide information, and if they never influence policy, then surely they cannot possibly be responsible for policy. Firstly, I would point out that the creation and the carrying out of policy are entirely separate: while it may be true that they cannot control the order given to them, they can control whether or not they carry out those orders. Furthermore, I would suggest that they do in fact have power because it is impossible to separate supposed truth from ideology and bias. Los Alamos may seek to present only the pure data without the varnish of political or ideological concerns, but even the way in which the data is presented can reflect these. For example, the decision on what data to present is inherently subjective; assuming that a policy maker is not shown every number ever recorded, the selection or synthesis process must, even unconsciously, bear the taint of human judgment. Thus there is in fact not a lack of power as I see it.

This is only a broad and shallow treatment of my above question, and one that I will admit is imperfect and altogether biased. I do not pretend to have answered the question definitively, but I have given my thoughts on it to the best of my ability. And yet, it is still not answered. The further question is: If it is not possible to entirely rid oneself of responsibility, is it possible to rid oneself of merely some responsibility? That is a question to which I have no answer at the moment, and I have already spoken for long enough. I leave it to you, humble reader, to ponder on this question and decide for yourself.

Again, I would like to stress that these opinions and thoughts are purely my own, and that I do not wish to denounce or condemn the individuals at the Los Alamos lab. I am merely using their example as an impetus for a broader and more general discussion.

css.php