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Theodore Talks 2024: TEDer Than Ever

  • Jan 1, 2024
  • Brad Lucht
Stylized image of a man at a comptuer with multiple video chat windows open

Last year was a year of growth for the Mensa-volunteer-led virtual Theodore Talks: 1,282 members from 114 Local Groups and 47 states registered for at least one of the 10 talks. We also had our first attendees from France, Ireland, and England. Talks averaged 128 registrations, and our most popular was by Life Member and Mensa Foundation Copper Black Award winner Jerry Martin, whose talk, “Riddle Me This: Using Sudoku to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills,” drew 271 attendees. Another talk that drew considerable interest was given by renowned Harvard professor of astrophysics Dr. Avi Loeb; his presentation, “The Galileo Project: In Search of Technological Interstellar Objects,” was viewed by 255 members.

Of course, none of this could happen without the help of volunteers. Theodore Talks Co-Chair Shirley Mouer began attending in 2022 and wrote in expressing her thanks for offering this service. Like me, she believes in improving the Mensa experience. I have found her cheerful personality, patient guidance, and thoughtful suggestions invaluable.

We’ve also gathered quite a group of members who have volunteered to post Theodore Talks information on Mensa Connect: Kimberly Strickland in Region 1, Nancy Jarrin in Region 2, Alison Brown in Region 4, Deborah Bell in Region 5, Martha Confray in Region 6, and Rachel Kibler in Region 9. Mensa relies on volunteers to keep this organization running, as do Theodore Talks, so thank you. Shirley and I post for Regions 7 and 8; however, we still need a couple more volunteers to cover Regions 3 and 10. If you’re interested, email us and we’ll explain just how easy it is.

Why Do Theodore Talks Exist?
We don’t all live in large metropolitan communities or belong to an active chapter. Through our post-talk surveys, members have consistently told us that Theodore Talks add value to their Mensa membership and provide an opportunity for a virtual connection with other Mensans. That is why we continue these talks and will keep on doing so. We are constantly striving to improve Theodore Talks and reach more Mensans.

A KC AG Theme for 2024
To promote the 2024 Annual Gathering in Kansas City, we hope the first six talks whet your appetite for KC while introducing you to the city’s unique attractions. Jazz, history, BBQ, and whiskey are just some of the talks we are offering. To culminate our AG series, we will host a BBQ Eat 'n’ Greet during the AG with our Theodore Talks namesake, Theodore Johnson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas. The remainder of the topics are based on suggestions from Theodore Talk attendees. We will examine what makes your clock tick, dig deeper into China-U.S. relations, explore generative misinformation, and peer into the far reaches of the universe.

Mid-America Mensa's Theodore Talks

Theodore Talks take place on Zoom the fourth Sunday of each month at 2:30 p.m. (Central) and are open to all members. You must register for each lecture with an email address associated with your Zoom account. Each month’s talk will appear on the Bulletin calendar, and all talks are online at us.mensa.org/calendar. Even if you can’t attend the live Theodore Talk, register and you will receive a link to a recording of the event. All talks have closed captioning. Questions? Contact Brad at TheodoreTalks@MAMensa.org.

Next Talk

March 24, 2024, 2:30 p.m. (Central)

Give ’em Hell — The Harry S Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Harry S Truman Library, the first presidential library to be created under the provisions of the 1955 Presidential Libraries Act, was established to preserve the papers, books, and other historical materials that document Mr. Truman’s life and careers as a farmer, soldier, businessman, local politician, U.S. senator, vice president, and former president, with an emphasis on his ideals of citizenship, learning, and service.

The Truman Library was dedicated on July 6, 1957. Truman established an office in the building and worked there five to six days a week. He actively participated in its day-to-day operations, personally training museum docents and conducting impromptu “press conferences” for visiting school students. He frequently arrived before the staff and often answered the phone to give directions and answer questions, telling surprised callers that he was the “man himself.”

Visitors to the Harry S Truman Presidential Library & Museum are immersed in some of the most dramatic chapters of world history, from the Great War to WWII and the Cold War, to the creation of the State of Israel, Civil Rights advancements, the extreme makeover of the White House, and, of course, Truman’s Whistle Stop campaign and 1948 victory. Learn more about this treasured historical site, only about a 20-minute drive from the Annual Gathering.

Learn More & Register

Upcoming Talks

April 28 - Why Black Baseball Matters: In 1920 Andrew “Rube” Foster established the Negro National League in Kansas City, Mo. Featuring teams in Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and St. Louis, the NNL adopted the slogan “We Are the Ship, All Else the Sea” as a pledge to set its own course. Many teams discovered financial success coming out of the gate; Foster’s American Giants drew nearly 200,000 spectators during the 1921 season. The NNL created a forum where many star players could make a bigger name for themselves — especially to white audiences. Future Hall of Famers Cool Papa Bell, Martín Dihigo, Willie Foster, Judy Johnson, Satchel Paige, and Turkey Stearnes flourished in the NNL, along with many others. The creation of the Negro Leagues proved that Black players could play on even terms with their white counterparts — and draw just as much interest from baseball fans.

Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, will discuss how these men of color changed the landscape of American history and became a bridge over troubled waters. When you place their achievements against the background of discrimination and political resistance, it makes all of baseball history more impressive in its efforts toward social change. Register now!

May 26 - Rags to Bebop: The Swinging Sounds of Kansas City Fueled by riffs and powered by tight ensemble work, Kansas City jazz first rolled across the nation in the 1930s. Between 1890 and 1945, Kansas City was a wide-open, prosperous, swinging town. Musicians from across the country flocked to Kansas City, drawn by the easy atmosphere and wealth of jobs in the dance halls and nightclubs sprinkled liberally between 12th and 18th streets. It was in this permissive atmosphere that Kansas City jazz flowered. Legends such as pianist-bandleader Count Basie, saxophonist-bandleader Andy Kirk, singer Big Joe Turner, trumpeter Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page, and pianist-bandleader Jay McShann all played in Kansas City. And a saxophone player named Charlie Parker began his ascent to fame here in his hometown in the 1930s.

Through historical photos and recordings, Chuck Haddix will describe what these halcyon days of Kansas City jazz were like. Haddix is Director of the Marr Sound Archives, which houses a collection of more than 450,000 historic sound recordings. He also teaches Kansas City jazz history at the Kansas City Art Institute and is the author of Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker, as well as co-author of Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop — A History. Register now!

June 23 - Bottoms Up! A History and Revitalization of a Cocksure Era Spirit: From its earliest days as a settlement of French trappers and traders, Kansas City’s West Bottoms area grew more than a century ago into a bustling railroad hub and agricultural and livestock center. The distillation, distribution, and consumption of liquor are ingrained in that rich history. Before Prohibition, dozens of West Bottoms saloons served locally produced spirits to a thirsty clientele of workers from nearby stockyards and packinghouses.

When master distiller Alex Lindsey founded the West Bottoms Whiskey Co. in 2021, he embraced the Bottoms’ legacy of industrialization and entrepreneurism with a passion for innovating whiskeys through the appreciation and embodiment of a truly optimistic era in the United States. This presentation will highlight the unique spirit and history of the area and encourage participants to explore the people and places in Kansas City doing the same. Lindsey’s West Bottoms Whiskey Co. won a Double Gold Medal at the 2021 Denver International Spirits Competition and was named the top-ranked American blended whiskey at the 2022 Las Vegas Global Spirit Awards. Register now!

July 28 - A Horological Discourse: Mechanism, Risk, and Wonder: With ingenuity and design came reflection on our place in the universe, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, precision and predictability, and the limits of our cognitive capacities. We engineered mechanisms to navigate our oceans and map the cosmos, explore metaphysical realms by animating the dead, and render forms from the golden mean. We generated machines of wonder that could play music, make magic, and conjure birdsong. We made devices for detonating the first manifestation of human-made existential risk, destroying living organisms by the millions.

Through examining the connections between this diverse set of objects, we will trace the story of craft and the science of horology, demonstrating its pivotal role in design through the ages and why their preservation is vital to our future. Brittany Nicole Cox, a horological conservator based in Seattle, has a master’s in the conservation of clocks and related dynamic objects from West Dean College in the U.K. She founded Memoria Technica in 2015, where she teaches, makes original work, and operates her conservation studio. Her work has been shown at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York and has been featured in Vanity Fair, National Geographic, and two feature-length documentaries. Register now!

Aug. 25 - Resisting Misinformation: As the growth of humanlike chatbots and other forms of generative AI continues to accelerate across the internet and infiltrate every aspect of our lives, we are inhabiting a reality where misinformation and disinformation become increasingly more difficult to discern and combat. Detecting deception has never been so difficult and so imperative. Don’t assume that being a Mensan makes you immune to being duped!

Dr. Jevin West, Associate Professor at the University of Washington’s Information School, will address some of the new challenges of generative misinformation and potential next steps to resist manipulation. Dr. West co-founded the new Center for an Informed Public at UW, aimed at resisting strategic misinformation, promoting an informed society, and strengthening democratic discourse. His research and teaching emphasize the influence data and technology have on science and society and explore how to slow the spread of misinformation. Register now!

Sept. 22 - No Way Out: Xi’s Determination to Retake Taiwan and America’s Predicament: Several years ago, a retiring U.S. Indo-PACOM commander boldly stated that he believed China was increasingly inclined to invade Taiwan, notably in 2027 or earlier. That kind of statement, with that kind of specificity, is rare in Washington circles, so it gained a lot of attention. There has also been much talk about a couple of concepts that always seem to surround discussions about Taiwan and the larger Sino-America competition:

The two sides are destined for conflict. As the logic goes, a so-called “Thucydides Trap” will inevitably ensnare the two powers, and global war will ensue, just as with Athens and Sparta long ago.

“Peak China” asserts China’s economic and military power is, or will soon be, at its apogee. That being the case, the argument is that China, seeing the writing on the wall, will be compelled to act before the correlation of forces begins to swing against it.

But, as former Secretary of State Robert Gates argues, neither theory is particularly convincing. First, there was nothing inevitable about WWI (the most common analogy for the U.S./China clash). Second, the Chinese military is far from ready for a major conflict. Thus, a direct Chinese attack on Taiwan, if it happens at all, is some years in the future, outside the 2027 time frame. Unless Xi miscalculates — again.

Dr. John H. Modinger served in the USAF for 25 years, flying the KC-135 Stratotanker and C-130 Hercules for the first half of his career and spending the second half largely in academia. His last active-duty assignment was as a Permanent Professor at the U.S Air Force Academy. He is currently an Associate Professor at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. Register now!

Oct. 27 - Above and Beyond: The James Webb Space Telescope: The James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, is the largest space telescope ever constructed, giving humanity its first high-definition view of the infrared universe. The JWST is observing early epochs of the universe, revealing how its galaxies and structure have evolved over cosmic time, exploring how stars and planetary systems form and evolve, and searching exoplanet atmospheres for evidence of life.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center astrophysicist Matt Greenhouse has served on the JWST senior staff as Project Scientist for the science instrument payload since 1997. He will discuss the overall Webb mission, its motivation, technical challenges, and scientific performance.

Greenhouse is the recipient of more than 20 individual performance awards and honors, including the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal and the Robert H. Goddard Award for Exceptional Achievement in Science. Register now!