Trying to Imagine How Not to Impeach


Week one of the hearings. My take: He’s guilty, my lord.

A quid pro quo is simply a “this for that” agreement. It’s a common aspect of diplomacy and always has been—discussions between governments about what they would give and agree to in exchange for other things that they want.

So, no, trying a quid pro quo with Ukraine is not the problem.

The problem is that President Trump was not using a quid pro quo to advance the national interests of the United States, he was using it in a blatant effort to gain political dirt on a potential presidential rival. The request for an investigation of Hunter Biden was based on mostly discredited fringe conspiracy theories that the president buys into.

Is that an impeachable offense? The Republican defense of his horrible president has evolved to the point where “the phone call” isn’t even all that defended any more—it’s just not bad enough to overturn an election, they say.

OK. I don’t concede that point, but maybe it’s arguable. The president is a giant festering sore on the body politic, but voters knew his lack of character when a minority of them voted for the boil who is the Tangerine Disaster, and we have to live, under the Electoral College, with this nightmarish anomaly of a minority president. Maybe Ukraine needs to teach us some democracy.

But impeach Trump anyway because of how he has responded to the investigation. Before the full House voted to proceed with the impeachment hearings, the presidential line was that House committees could not investigate him.

Yes, they can. They must.

Congress is a separate and equal branch of government. I don’t get how Republicans, who waive the Constitution when it’s convenient, can be at all comfortable with a President who simply rejects cooperating with a congressional inquiry. And the House has voted now, so that argument, which was bogus to begin with, is now moot.

A Republican won’t always be the president. Probably in a bit over a year, President Lizzie or Pete will be in office, and then what? Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress should agree and insist that a White House doesn’t get to dictate what Congress will look into or who in the White House can ignore congressional subpoenas.

I’ve been teaching this week, so I have not watched the hearings wall-to-wall. But I’ve seen enough to be thoroughly disgusted with the House GOP. The witnesses who have testified have been admirable men and women who have given years of dedicated service to our country.

And then there is our Dear Leader, who has acted with such calmness and sanity during this time of crisis.

JK. Trump has predictably gone crazy. Although, to be fair and balanced, he’s kind of a permanent resident of crazy town, so it’s not as if this is anything new.

Consider Friday morning, when the world was hearing from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Yes, Trump could remove her from office. Ambassadors do serve at the pleasure of the president. But it’s also fair for Congress to ask why this ambassador was removed at that time when it fits into the pattern of the President ignoring U.S. national interests (and promoting Russian national interests) when he deals with Ukraine.

And as the former ambassador calmly laid out the facts, the President laid into her, attacking her in a tweet that was both crude and thoughtless. The ambassador served in Somalia after conflict there had broken out—she didn’t break Somalia; she served her country in a hardship post. Trump has no respect for others’ service. More to the point, Trump was attacking a witness while she was testifying not to reveal some counter narrative or provide a defense.

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He just hits and hits. And his hits are crude, awful in their language and content. In this case, the context of the attack is pretty clearly an effort to intimidate witnesses who dare to testify against Trump. It’s also telling that what set the Trump rhetoric train in motion was a woman’s testimony—there’s something about having a woman criticize him that really gets under Trump’s fake orange skin. It’s not why he’s being impeached, but as an old man, let me say I tire quickly and can’t abide old men who cannot abide women who dare speak.

Ladies, speak up. Some of us guys may have trouble listening. That’s a reason to speak out more, not less.

Trump, when asked about his tweet, gave a very Trumpy response, attacking the whole idea of an impeachment probe, launching into a litany of complaints about how badly Republicans are treated. He’s right on one point, he does have a First Amendment right to spout his brand of crazy. But that does not protect him from consequences of what he says. Clip of the exchange from Friday’s hearing about the tweet, and President Trump speaking with reporters about his tweet, which he claims is not at all intimidating:

And there you have it. A president under impeachment investigation engaging in brazen open attacks on sworn witnesses, exercising his First Amendment right to create a new impeachable offense right in front of us in plain sight.

We’re getting further away from the original plot, which was full of the rotten smell of impeachable offenses. Like the whistle blower, whose identity at this point is irrelevant, even the original charges need updating.

I know that the hearings have just started and we as a public should be patient with it and let it play out. But does Trump deserve to be impeached and removed from office? To me, the affirmative answer seems clearly obvious. From just the first two days of hearings.

Last but not least, let us savor the deliciousness of the following tweet. Thank you, Mr. President, for your leadership in Louisiana, which narrowly voted for the Democrat.

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An Interesting Writer Speaks Provocatively of Place


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Books on a table at MMU Nov. 7, 2019. I bought one and had the author sign it–she spoke about her writing process to a nearly full community room of students and faculty.

Was my father completely an American?

Well, he served in the Army in World War II and was trained by his country as an officer and engineer. He left the military with the rank of captain. He then graduated from Purdue University with a degree in chemical engineering, married an Irish Catholic and proceeded to procreate seven times.

Sounds like an American biography, to be sure. Possibly more American than me, a late baby boomer who was too young to be a hippie, too old to be of the post-Vietnam generation. But my father’s parents were Hungarian, and that was the language of his home when he was young. In Ohio.

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Patricia Parks speaks.

I thought of my father and his experience while I listened to Patricia Park talk about the writing of her novel “Re Jane.” In her case, the character Jane is a New Yorker, but the child of refugees from Korea. As a Korean-American, not a Hungarian-American, Jane has the added bonus of appearing to be Asian in a country were too many assume that if you’re not white, you’re not from here. (Of course, to Native Americans, if you appear Asian you may appear more American than all those washed-out Europeans).

Ms. Park even wrote a column for The Guardian in which she discusses her reaction to the question “where are you from,” Queens not being the answer most are after.

As Americans, to some extent, many of us are partly rootless. Technically, I’m a Southern Man, but Neil Young wasn’t singing about me. Because I really have little cultural connection to the state of my birth (Tennessee). My early growing up was in that anchorless stew of American culture known as California. But by mid elementary school, I was an Iowan.

I guess it would be most accurate to say I think of myself as an Iowan, even if I’m not really from here.

Where is Patricia from? Her parents grew up on a small peninsula of Asia whose ownership was the subject of multiple wars in the 20th century. In America, her skin tone and eye shape marks here as some “other,” possibly Chinese or Japanese in the same easy way that too many of us may think of “Hispanic” as a synonym with “Mexican.”

Anyway, I liked hearing her speak. For a New Yorker, she speaks good American. She sounded more American than that other New Yorker, Donald Trump, but then again English is her native language. Given the hash he makes of nouns or verbs, I am not sure Donald has found his native language yet.

Ms. Park, a university professor from out East, was in her element in front of a largely student audience. She praised students for their ideas, and had a genuine rapport with the audience. It was interesting to hear how long—the better half of a decade—she spent working on her book.

She almost got Iowans to ask a few questions—not something that Iowans seem to naturally do.

Or so I assume. I’m not always from here.

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Keep an Eye on the Money and the Snow


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Dr. Tracy Tunwall, chair of the business department at Mount Mercy University, speaks with Dr. Fred Croop, who delivered the annual Knapp lecture at MMU.

At first glance, the 2019 Barbara Knapp Lecture at Mount Mercy University didn’t seem like something that would appeal all that much to me.

Given by an accounting professor from Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania., the Oct. 30 speech in the Sisters of Mercy University Center at Mount Mercy University was entitled “Addressing Financial Mismanagement in Volunteer and Nonprofit Organizations.”

But past Knapp lectures had been good, and I enjoy making images at Mount Mercy events, so I decided to take a chance, roll the dice, see if lady luck was with me.

And she was. Unlike the ruinous gambling addictions that ensnare some who volunteer at nonprofit agencies, this particular game of chance came up aces.

Dr. Fred J. Croop did indeed cover financial controls that he sees as essential to preventing problems, but also told several real human stories touching on tragedy and ruined lives. He noted the scope of nonprofits in America, which collectively are quite large, and how key they are to small towns where the library foundation or volunteer fire department depends on fund raising to function.

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Dr. Fred Croop speaks in the University Center at MMU Oct. 30.

One point that gripped me about Dr. Croop’s talk was his portrayal of the perpetrators of the frauds. They aren’t evil, greedy hobgoblins, but real flawed humans who fall victim to temptation. He touched on many cases of theft from nonprofits—one of which involved a former student of his.

“I would have trusted him with my life,” Dr. Croop said. And yet, the person in question became addicted to gambling—legalized in Pennsylvania a decade ago—and the temptation proved too great. Which led to theft, discovery and shame.

Dr. Croop spoke of financial controls as not just a way for nonprofits to protect themselves and donors—but also as a way for them to protect their employees and volunteers who may otherwise be tempted to help themselves. Monthly reconciliations involving someone other than the treasurer, an insistence that employees take some vacation time, rotating financial duties, making sure duties are properly divided among non relatives and that boards are attentive—not all of the controls Dr. Croop advocates would be all that easy at all small nonprofit agencies, but fraud can be very costly and potential existentially threatening, so prevention seems worth it, to me.

I think small town Iowa is not all that different from the Pennsylvania towns Dr. Croop described. We too have government providing fewer services, causing more pressure on nonprofits. At the same time, population drops means the pool of volunteers to run these agencies is thinner. And gambling is a big industry in Iowa, too.

What a storm. Well, we had some weather the night he spoke, too. Dr. Croop, at least, said he was enchanted by the snow. Here in Iowa, where the month of October started with flowers and butterflies and proceeded rapidly to frost followed by several snowfalls, the white stuff is indeed pretty, but also causes some caustic reaction. As Dr. Croop was speaking, a Halloween Eve snow wafted down on the University Center.

The next morning, news reports said there was something like 40 traffic accidents in the Cedar Rapis area. Despite our life experience, we Iowans have to learn how to drive on snow every year. We have to be reminded to watch the weather and roadway.

And if we are involved in a nonprofit agency we have to watch the money to prevent financial storms that could slip us up badly.

Well thank you, Dr. Tracy Tunwall, chair of business, and Barbara Knapp, MMU trustee whose generosity fuels this annual lecture series. Despite my allergy to money and numbers (which explains the writing career), I found Dr. Croop to be equal parts scary, engaging, interesting and thoughtful.

And I am glad he liked the snow. It’s nice to be reminded that it’s pretty.

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Sounds of Hope During Fall Planting


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Whimsical street signs in Madison, Wisconsin.

It’s a stressful time for your gardener correspondent. Mid-term hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’m swimming hard to dig myself out of my work hole.

But what else is new? It’s the rhythm of life for a college professor. And my students would hasten to add that I can reduce my own stress by reducing theirs—fewer assignments would make grading a lot easier.

Anyway, in between grade binging, I took a recent trip to Madison, Wisconsin—a brief fall break getaway to a nearby city I had not visited before. My wife and I went, along with one of our daughters and a young grandson.

The 3-year-old grandson, for the most part, had a blast. The daughter was ready to smother her father in his sleep. My snoring, apparently, is not a restful background sound. Sorry about that.

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View of Madison from observation deck high on the Capitol.

Anyway, now that I’m back, I have found a few minutes for things other than school work. Starting last weekend and continuing this weekend, I’ve been planting bulbs—the usual suspects, some tulips and daffodils and crocus. The young grandchild has been “helping,” and his grandmother even got him his own gloves and trowel today.

Well he used them for a few minutes, then wandered off to the sandbox. Despite a cool, wet day, he removed his boots and socks—because, for unknown reasons, it’s a rule to him that the sandbox is a no-shoe zone.

Anyway, I haven’t gotten all of the bulbs in the ground yet, and may not tomorrow. I’m over halfway done, however. I also have some milkweed seeds to put out. A few of my milkweed were, I’m afraid, completely consumed by hungry caterpillars, killed by the butterfly that I’m trying to aid. I’ll plant more.

Although I never have enough time for it, I always like fall bulb planting. It seems like an investment in future hope, and I need that.

Also, I was watching four grandchildren for a daughter whose babysitter was not available, and tonight after supper, one of those grandchildren volunteered to play a tune on the piano. That piano originally was my mother’s. I owned it for a while, but had to give up piano lessons because I didn’t have time for them. I gave the piano to this granddaughter, who wanted to take lessons.

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Small hands pick out a tune on an old piano. These hands are small I know, but they are hers they aren’t my own and I enjoyed what they did. (Yes, I’m quoting a Jewel song, why not?)

And it was nice to hear the old piano make some music. Again, it’s a connection to the future. The future is uncertain and sometimes a frightening place, so it is good, I think, to have some positive ties to it through music and flowers and Madison.

We’ve talked about taking more grandchildren on short trips next summer, if time and our lives and theirs allow it. Madison isn’t the only place we may go, but based on my our first trip there, it won’t be our last.

Among other things, I am thrilled that the city is committed to having public places publicly accessible. We wandered into the state Capitol and were astounded at how open it was—entering the Iowa Capitol feels like going through airport security by comparison. The zoo in Madison is fine and free. We paid to get into a botanical garden and a children’s museum, but the entry fees were ridiculously low by 2020 standards. And we didn’t have any bad food experiences in Madison; we enjoyed our every meal there.

Well, cool. And again, something from my past that I can also look forward to in the future.

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An Interesting Dive into the Dumpster Life


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Dr. Joseph Hendryx speaks Oct. 3 at Mount Mercy on the politics of dumpster diving.

Lars wrote an interesting article. Dr. Joseph Hendryx, assistant professor of English at Mount Mercy University, covered some highlights of a piece that put the practice of dumpster diving into some new perspective.

People who scour dumpsters often have a system and a reason for what they’re doing. Many dive because they have to, but some are also driven to it by a countercultural rebellion against our consumerist society.

And there is a hierarchy among divers, too—from those who are doing it to survive to those who check through trash looking for  useful items rather than mere sustenance.

But beware the can scroungers, who Lars says will lay waste to a dumpster and make a terrible mess.

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Dr. Joseph Hendryx speaks.

The one article was the jumping off point to a broader exploration of this topic. Dr. Hendryx was the latest speaker in the fall 2019 faculty series at Mount Mercy University. His presentation was called “Eating in the Margins: The Politics and Experience of Dumpster Diving.” He contrasted the experience of Lars with others, including a man who has a “cooking with trash” YouTube channel.

And there is the whole “freeganism” movement that touches on diving with some political and ecological motives.

logoDr. Hendryx’s Oct. 3 presentation was interesting and thought provoking, and it was off the beaten path enough that it took me on routes unexplored and that I did not always understand. Which I like.

One nice note was that the crowd size was a up a bit for this presentation. Dr. Joy Ochs, the series coordinator, estimated that about 55 people attended, which seems about right, to me. It was a bit more than we’ve seen as some other series presentations.

This particular fall series has featured diverse presentations. Food is a provocative and big topic—and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. The next presentation will be “Food and the Making of a People: A Biblical Perspective” by Fr. Tony Adawu on Nov. 5.

Faces from the audience in the Oct. 3 presentation:

 

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And, of Course, I Left my Notes in the Office


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Dr. Matt Bejar and Dr. Joy Ochs listen to Dr. Kris Keuseman during a summer scholarship sharing event. I used my phone because my camera battery was dead–it was that kind of day.

My morning was a little weird—I had spent hours Thursday night getting assignments ready for a Friday morning class, but when I got to work Friday morning, I didn’t have the file anymore.

I had an early draft of the file instead. I had some trouble with Word on my laptop and had saved the file under the same name in several different places, and had the wrong version on my jump drive. Typical students excuse, right? The computer ate my homework.

thumbnail_image001This afternoon I went to an interesting program where three faculty members gave presentation on summer scholarship. That, of course, is what this post is about.

And I left my notes in the office. So, again like a mediocre student, I present my essay in all its glory, sans notes. At least that should keep it more concise.

Anyway, I heard these three interesting presentations:

  • Dr. Matt Bejar: “Athletic Trainers’ Perspectives of Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction During Sports Injury Rehabilitation.” Bejar and fellow researchers asked trainers questions and the interviews were transcribed and analyzed—one thing that stood out to both me another faculty member was how similar persuading athletes to keep with physical therapy routines is to teaching.
  • Dr. Joy Ochs: “A Comparison of Environmental Humanities Theory in India and the United States.” Honestly, what stood out to me is that there is a university in India that MMU could form a relationship with, and that faculty members who had never been there could apply for a grant to go there. Hmmmmm.
  • Dr. Kris Keuseman: “ A Tale of Two Bromides: Student Preparation of Cinnamic Acid Dibromide and 4-Bromoacetanilide.” It was an interesting story about efforts to achieve more “green” science, where the chemicals used are not harmful to students or the environment.

For Dr. Keuseman, I did make the helpful suggestion that his paper should begin “it was the best of labs, it was the worst of labs …” It was interesting that he described two efforts, one of which worked and the other did not. Such is science, I suppose. The other thing that stood out to me is how Dr. Keuseman was able to find sources from the late 1990s that gave him new ideas to apply in 2019.

Well, it was an interesting, if mildly disturbing day. Naturally, as I type this blog post, Word on my laptop behaves perfectly.

Figures.

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Dr. Joy Ochs speak on her research in India.

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A Week of Tributes to History


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On Sept. 17, Constitution Day, a panel at Mount Mercy University discussed how the First Amendment is related to coverage of elections. The event was called: “If You Can Keep It: The First Amendment and the Election of 2020.”

I’m not sure we came to any great conclusion, but those who attended tell me that the panel discussion was worthwhile. Lyle Muller, retired director/editor of Iowa Watch; Zack Kucharski, executive editor of the Gazette; and Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science joined me on the panel.

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Dr. Tim Laurent, MMU provost, at Fall Faculty Series event Sept. 19.

I reviewed a little history related to the First Amendment and talked about why it exists. The title of the event came from a famous story told of Ben Franklin, who was asked as he was leaving a meeting of the Constitutional Convention whether the new United States would be a republic or a monarchy.

“A republic, if you can keep it,” he said.

Dr. Barrett posed an interesting question: How would we write the First Amendment if we were going to write it today? In response, I think the rest of us agreed that part of the power of the amendment is it’s endurance.

By the way, I didn’t think it was that much of a surprises, but several of those who attended noted that they didn’t realize the First Amendment is first not by some grand design, but a bit by chance. In the original Bill of Rights, 12 amendments were proposed, and only the final 10 were approved by the states. What we call today the First Amendment was the Third Amendment, originally.

Never mind. Freedom of speech and of the press have been keys to our politics for more than 200 years. The media system that covers our politics keeps changing, and is in a particular state of flux now.

But, as Zack Kucharski noted, no matter if the wrapper changes, there is still a need for truth telling journalists.

Well, if that rumination on our country’s history were not enough, we got another taste on Thursday night. As part of the fall faculty series “Setting the Table: Perils and Pleasures of Food in America,” Dr. Kris Keuseman explored food rationing during World War II.

Although Dr. Keuseman did give some interesting information about what happened in this country, including showing some old family cookbooks from that era, much of his presentation covered the fascinating story of rationing in the U.K. During the war, new science on nutrition was used to plan how to allocate food—and the government dictates in that intimate area of life proved beneficial. Most measures of public health, absent all of the violent death caused by war, improved during the war years because the wartime rationed diet was actually pretty healthy.

And tonight, before writing this, I got the munchies and had a fatty plate of nachos. I need some rationing, I think.

One of the slides Dr. Keuseman showed featured some British propaganda aimed at boosting morale and enthusiasm for wartime food. A cartoon character named “Dr. Carrot” tried to make the orange root vegetable a friendly personality to children.

logoAnd carrots were even used in a disingenuous way, with a poster urging service people to eat more carrots to improve key night vision for night bomber tracking. The reality was that carrots can only improve vision if you have a vitamin deficiency, and then only raise your vision to normal—they don’t give you any super vision. The carrot poster was meant to help obscure that it was improving British RADAR technology that was seeing the German bombers, not carrot-enhances eyes.

Sorry, Dr. Carrot. You may have helped some kids but you weren’t Britain’s secret weapon, just an orange root of deception. Orange—the color of lies. Thanks goodness we don’t see any evidence of that today!

Dr. Keuseman noted that American rationing wasn’t to keep the national going, it was to retain food for export. British rationing, in contrast, was more a matter of survival.

The Sept. 19 presentation, called “Rationed: When Food Becomes a Weapon of War,” represented the end of the opening events of this series that focused on food history. Next comes more on current issues related to food. This fall series on food continues Oct. 3, when Dr. Joseph Hendryx, assistant professor of English, will speak on “Eating in the Margins: The Politics and Experience of Dumpster Diving.”

Well, Britain survived food shortages in World War II. American democracy may be ailing today, but so far, we have kept our republic, and I hope we continue to keep it. Maybe, clarity of vision could help our politics today.

Paging Dr. Carrot …

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