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Four Years at the Mount

Junior Year

On Pure Onsense

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(2/2014) A great comedian once said, "Everything in life is about perspective; the Titanic was a miracle to the lobsters in the shipís kitchen." Itís a funny statement. Amusing enough to be told at dinner parties or out with friends, but just poignant enough to make people think that they really may be missing something in their daily lives. Perhaps in the things that they see, their vision doesnít extend far enough. Itís a lesson that crops up in daily life. Sure, that bag of gooey, doughy, cookies looks phenomenal, but is it worth breaking that diet youíve been planning? Is your self-worth worth sacrificing for a few fleeting moments of sugary bliss? That moment happens every time you walk to the trashcan, bottle in hand, rather than taking those three additional steps to the single-stream recycling bin. Iíve seen people go through that mental process where they look at the plastic bottle in their hands, look back at the recycling bin, shrug, and then toss the bottle in the trash. Those are small examples, I know, but they illustrate a greater point. Very few times in our daily lives do we take a second to meditate on how everything we do could possibly affect another person, and equally important, how something they do could affect us.

This month our assignment for the Four Years at the Mount section was to take a look at another part of this paper and see why it was important not just within the context of the paper, but also within the context of our college, town, and wider community. Iím happy to say that I had a chance to sit down and truly appreciate one part of the commentary section of our newspaper: "Pure Onsense" by Scott Zuke. Itís not uncommon for a newspaper to cover things that happen in and around the local community. However, for a section of a local newspaper to take on world issues and connect them to our little home on the mountain is something that is incredibly special. When was the last time that you linked what happened at the Jubilee to events in the Middle East? Ever wonder why Israelís foreign policy was distantly but inexorably linked to Mount St. Maryís University? Read "Pure Onsense" and youíll find out.

While reading Scottís work I was struck by the simple honesty of his writing. It didnít matter what issue Scott was tackling. He addressed it with the same matter-of-fact tone and genuine attention that a craftsman would use in hand-carving a statue. Whether he was talking about why itís patriotic to question the actions of our president, or the emergence of the Tea Party, or the complexity of the United Statesí relationship with China, Scott talks to the reader as an equal. He doesnít pander or "dumb down" the language. He says what he wants to say and lets the person looking at his article ruminate on it. In a day and age characterized by political game playing, there is something to be said about having an honest conversation.

Scott began writing for our editor, Mike Hillman, in 2005 when he was a student at Catoctin High School. However, "Pure Onesense" as we know it today did not come to be until 2010, when Scott had a chance encounter with Mike that led to the formation of the column. Its peculiar name stems from a quote attributed to William James, an American philosopher and psychologist. James was known for experimenting on himself with laughing gas, believing that it increased his clarity and abilities of perception. While he was on the gas he would write down the phrases that came to mind and occasionally the things he wrote wound up making more sense than coherent thoughts. His nonsense occasionally became "onsense" and the name stuck.

Scott currently works as a Communications Officer at the Middle East Institute in Eastern DC. Although busy analyzing foreign politics, Scott still finds time to write and emphasized its importance. "I learned that the process of writing was the most effective way for me to understand complex ideas and form well-reasoned arguments," he said. "The column helps keep me sharp now that Iím no longer writing academic papers on a regular basis. Itís also an opportunity and incentive to research and develop a better understanding of whatever topic has recently sparked my curiosity."

Scott mentioned that in addition to keeping him sharp, the column is important to the community: "The News-Journal has a diverse lineup of local and, amazingly, even international personalities in its commentary section," Scott told me in our correspondence. "It thereby serves as a bridge between the local community and the rest of world, showing that even in small-town America, residents have an interest in stories and issues that otherwise would seem very remote from their daily lives."

Still, as amazing as reading Scottís work was and how nice it was to gain some insight about why Scott does what he does, I wanted to go straight to the source. I needed to find out why he was hired and what he brings to our staff. Pardon the pun, but I desired to find the proverbial Master Yoda behind Scottís "Zuke Skywalker." I decided to place a call to my editor, Mike, about why he hired Scott and what he thought about the article and its importance to the paper as a whole. Over the course of the conversation I found that Mike had an awful lot to say about why he enjoyed Scottís column and the entire commentary section of the paper.

"I wanted to have people tell the news who didnít have an ideological position," he told me, "and every one of our writers is worthy of being in the London Financial Times."

Mike went on to tell me that he loved the commentary section of the newspaper because he thought it was incredibly important to broaden the horizons of people in our community, and Scottís column did a particularly good job at that.

"He can let people know why whatís happening in Egypt is important to Emmitsburg," Mike said.

Scott contacted Mike when he was a junior at Catoctin High School and asked about writing a column on current political events. Mike was immediately impressed with Scottís writing style and with the connections that he made between current events and great thinkers of the past like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rosseau.

"To find someone so brilliant and so close to home was a gem," Mike told me. "Heís your generationís Henry Kissinger," he gushed.

After speaking with Mike, it was apparent to me that "Pure Onsense" holds a special place in Mikeís heart and in the newspaper. The more I read about Scott, the easier it is to see why and how his work relates to what my fellow Mount writers and I do. Every month I try to bridge the gap between the town of Emmitsburg and the students here at Mount St. Maryís University. I make it my solemn mission to tell the stories of our students and the experiences that we have and how they relate to the people who live and work around us. Scott does a similar thing, relating stories and experiences from the world stage back to our community. He does more than just tell us why something is important and what we should listen to; he provides us with a lens, a method of broadening our perspective. By doing so, he improves our lives. After all, the greater our vision, the more we can take in, and the more we take in, the more we learn. I can honestly say that Iím proud to share this newspaper with someone like Scott. You may not agree with the things heís saying. You may not even like politics! But if you can learn something, if you can walk away being more informed about this amazing world around you, then Scott and this newspaper have done something amazing. Iím Kyle Ott, wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott