Category Archives: Mount Mercy

The First Amendment Spreads


isu

From Greenlee School web site, picture of ISU First Amendment event.

I’m pretty excited about next Tuesday night, when America celebrates Constitution Day.

MMU is hosting a panel discussion on how the First Amendment freedoms, especially of the press or speech, are related to the upcoming presidential election.

mmu

On that night, at 7 p.m. in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall, a panel will discuss how the First Amendment is a key to our political system and the election. We’ll consider questions like: Why is freedom of the press in the Constitution? At a time when the U.S. president calls journalists “enemies” and the best of their work “fake news,” what is the role of the new media? Why the distrust between the media and the public?

From the famous Ben Franklin line about whether the United States would be a monarchy or republic (“A republic, if you can keep it”) the panel event is called: “If You Can Keep It: The Election of 202 and the First Amendment.” It will feature the Executive Editor of the Gazette Zack Kucharski, retired Executive Director and Editor of Iowa Watch Lyle Mueller, MMU Assistant Professor of Political Science Richard Barrett and me.

I’m looking forward to the event, which I hope will be popular and also be part of the important, ongoing conversation we need to have in this country. In our republic, in my opinion, we have lost our way and need to reconnect and learn to speak with rather than shout at each other.

And in an era when the First Amendment is under attack, the fact that MMU is not alone in marking the First Amendment is some comfort. A number of Iowa colleges will be teaching about and celebrating freedom of expression and other First Amendment freedoms next week. I’ve seen pamphlets for events at Des Moines Areas Community College and Simpson College.

I credit Iowa State for starting us on this adventure. The Greenlee School of Journalism holds an annual springtime celebration of the First Amendment, and in April I attended a workshop they offered for educators to plan such events.

I think the September anniversary of the Constitution drew many of us Iowans to plan fall events, and DMACC and Simpson were, like MMU, inspired by ISU.

Well, good going, Cyclone nation.

Next week is also “Mercy Week,” when Mount Mercy celebrates its founding by the Sisters of Mercy and continued commitment to their legacy.

Which is cool. Celebrating the First Amendment as other Iowa colleges also do—makes the cool week way beyond cool. The coolest.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Journalism, Mount Mercy

First Fall Series Presentation is a Feast for the Mind


a01

Dr. Anna Waterman, associate professor of biology, Mount Mercy University, talking about food.

Food changes everything. The way we live, where we live, how we live and the fact that we have “the man” to please and to defy—it all starts with food.

For the first several million years that our species walked on this planet, we foraged and hunted. We gathered the leaves and seeds and roots that we wanted to consume, and killed our fellow creatures and ate them.

It wasn’t an ideal life, but it was a life we were suited to. We already had fire—cooking predates our species and, along with the ability to make and use tools and weapons, is part of the legacy we get from our related hominid ancestors.

Then, about 12,000 years ago, starting in the fertile crescent of the Middle East but also independently developing in South America and China, humans began to fundamentally change the way we had lived.

logoThat fascinating history—how we are creatures of food and how our relationship to food changed everything about our lives—was the topic of Dr. Anna Waterman’s presentation “How the Agricultural Revolution Transformed Human Diet, Culture, and Society” that she gave Aug. 22 at Mount Mercy University. It was the first event in the 2019 Fall Faculty Series.

It is a bit weird to think that for most of the time we homo sapiens have been around, we shared this globe with other kinds of humans—literally other homo species besides ourselves. No more. Our spread worldwide happened before agriculture and “civilization,” and we either out-competed or eliminated our nearest relatives. (Dr. Waterman didn’t go into this point, but we also incorporated some of their DNA into ours—Neanderthal and Devonians, for example, didn’t all die out, some joined our clan).

People some 12,000 years ago began slowly to tend the plants that they like, and in what was wetter grasslands of the Middle East at that time, some of those grasses became selectively bred into cultivated grains. Those grains fueled dramatic changes in our diet—the invention of bread and beer as staples of what we eat and drink.

And with cultivated grains came larger populations, villages, hierarchies—eventually, nation states. Bosses. Work. Specialization. Organized religion. And, as formerly nomadic, now fixed peoples, we started to find that tending animals was more convenient than hunting them—chickens, pigs, cows, goats were bred from wild animals into the domestic creatures we care for and consume today.

Suddenly land wasn’t something you moved over and foraged on, it was property that was owned by some rich people. The concept of “stuff” was invented as we had fixed residences to store valued objects in.

In the blink of an eye, in the grand scheme of things, the globe was transformed. Today, there are still nomadic hunter gatherers in our human family, but they are rare, located in isolated pockets of land that typically are not that good for raising crops.

Where we can farm, we farm. Thus Iowa is carpeted with corn and soybeans from river to river, a dramatic change in the landscape from what it was 200 years ago. Our immigrant ancestors conquered the New World because residents already here did not have immunity to European diseases—caused, partly, by Europeans living in such proximity to their domesticated animal sources of protein.

Family size was dramatically changed. Nomads carry what they can, and usually can’t have more than one “carry” child at a time, so their norm was to breastfeed for three or four years, which was a form of birth control. With grain, you can make soft food that an 18-month-old can slurp down, so you can wean her and make another baby sooner. And if you’re farming, you tend to want more babies because those kids are farm labor.

The vast, varied ways that agriculture has shifted our environment, our social structures and our ways of life were interesting to hear Dr. Waterman speak about. The changes have had plusses and minuses. I’m not against having a computer to type this blog post on, nor being able to microwave my lunch.

But Dr. Waterman played an interesting game. “How many of you,” she noted, “could go out into your back yard and find stuff to eat?”

There are edible plants there, probably. If we were hunter-gatherers, we would know which roots to dig and which leaves to pluck. Today, our lives are divorced from our sources of food.

Not that I want to trade places with my great, great, great nomadic ancestor. They had cookies with this presentation Thursday night—something those ancestors never saw.

And afterwards, pizza with some brews. Beer and bread, man. They changed everything.

There are eight presentations in the fall series this year, come on down. The next presentation on Sept. 4, by Dr. Normal Linda Mattingly, will cover the history of school lunch programs.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Mount Mercy, Science

Light a Candle and Make a Change


candle
I wish that there had been more people there, but at least some people were there, and I hope it’s a start of something.

I attended a candlelight vigil in a parking lot across the street from the Federal Courthouse in Cedar Rapids Thursday night. It was a bit informal, two speakers, the reading of names of victims from El Paso and Dayton, a moment of silence.

The location was just across the street from the handiest local symbol of the federal government, and the building where U.S. Senators from Iowa have their offices.

Memo to members of Congress: It’s 2019. 2020 is coming, and I sincerely we don’t forget what you say or fail to say at this moment.

Anyway, I took my camera, hoping a few images can help boost the signal. It was nice to see my sister and sister-in-law there, and I’m glad my wife decided to come down with me. I also ran into some Sisters of Mercy, who were nice to see.

sign

But my candle kept going out. Somehow, it felt like a symbol of the whole advocacy effort for sensible policy steps to reduce gun violence—our President says there is no political appetite for that at the moment. Sadly, he may not be wrong. If Democrats are to be elected next year in Iowa, we have to hold on, hold together, speak up and fight the headwinds of violent status quo.

It’s not time for gun reform now? Not after El Paso, Dayton, The Pulse, Sandy Hook?

My candle keeps going out. But I will keep on relighting it. The winds blow, but I will not be moved.

Enough. Time for change.

phones

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Mount Mercy, politics

The Kaleidoscope End of Spring 2019


a01-4

Rainbow flag on campus for the Alliance Club Rainbow Fest.

The pace of academic life in spring can be grueling. At the end of any semester, things heat up—suddenly the crushing weight of grading, prepping exams, viewing speeches, etc., is combined with the need to look forward, finish reports and prepare for what comes next.

There’s so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

a10

Student from American Lit class, with chalk that was used to write quotes on campus.

It’s stressful, these final weeks of any term, but especially stressful in spring when a long break is coming, some students are graduating and everybody is making decisions about What Comes Next.

But, even if I feel like a hamster on a wheel moving at least twice as fast as it ought to, there is a lot to treasure in spring on campus. Recently at Mount Mercy University, for example, we’ve had a number of year-end events that are fulfilling and enriching.

Monday here was “Scholarship Festival,” a celebration of both the scholarly and creative work students have done this year. There were presentations, poster displays and creative writing readings.

My favorite? Paha! I always enjoy the readings done by young writers of their own works when this MMU creative magazine is published each spring, and Paha was a highlight of the Scholarship Festival.

Spring at MMU has featured so much more—Rainbow Fest celebrating the club that supports LBGTQ+ students; Eco Week, shining a spotlight on campus efforts to become more sustainable; smaller events, such as an English class chalking the walks with American literary quotes—and more is to come. Besides graduation and all the associated events, there will be concerts and retirement parties.

And even if it is cool and wet today, with more rain on the way, campus is suddenly green, the grass has been mowed several times and trees are waking up. It’s hard to even think of how dreary winter was–the mole people of MMU are emerging from the steam tunnels and can be spotted out in the outdoors.

The kaleidoscope that years end always brings can be disorientating and discomforting, but it is also energizing and exhilarating. Here’s to spring on a university campus!

a01

Dr. Carol Tyx, English professor, shows Paha at Scholarship Festival.

Images of the kaleidoscope:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Flowers, Mount Mercy

A Man Walked the Walk Despite Cows


a01

Books for sale at evening presentation.

The Great Plains seems to be a beautiful place—a place of big skies, great distances and cows.

Beware the cows. A city kid from Buffalo, New York, Ken Ilgunas set out in fall several years ago to walk the route of the Keystone Pipeline, planned to go from Alberta to Texas. His purpose was to write a book about the land the controversial project would cross.

inthelight

At the evening speech, in the light.

But his worry, besides being shot for trespassing as he followed the route, was the potential for cattle catastrophe.

Although he did have some scary encounters, cows, it turned out, where not the bad.

And the people he met were mostly willing to help a scruffy looking stranger walking across their land. Ilguan, who spoke March 5 at Mount Mercy University, told both a journalism class and an evening public program that he had a particular approach to strangers.

 

Ilguna would walk up to a house, knock on the door, and then say, “I’m walking across America. Can I trouble you for some water?”

The answer was almost universally “yes.” One-on-one, as it turns out, Americans are not hostile or violent. They’ll invite you in, give you water, sometimes offer a meal or even a couch for the night.

I enjoyed both of Ilguna’s presentations, and hope to get and read his books—I did not have enough cash in my pocket to buy one tonight, but I’ll shop for “Trespassing Across America” soon.

Besides being an interesting and entertaining personal journey, Ilguna was also recording what he called, in scope, one of the biggest of all human-made environmental disasters, second perhaps only to global warming. Great swaths of land in Canada are being stripped to get at the oil tar, and great damage is then done to extract the oil from the sand and clay it is bound to.

The afternoon session, in which a social work professor kindly allowed my introduction to journalism class to sit in, included some interesting thoughts on launching a writing career. Among other things, Ilguna urged students to have their own web site—which validates a requirement I made in my writing classes for students to do that very thing.

The class also included an interesting discussion of the reality that Ilguna was a white man walking across the whitest part of North America, which was to his advantage. He and the students speculated it would be harder for any person or color, and several women noted that it would be difficult for a female to make that kind of solo journey.

It was an interesting day. More images. I’m glad Rachel Murtaugh and the MMU sustainability effort brought this interesting writer to campus.

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Mount Mercy, Travel, Weather, Writing

A New Web Site is Headed Our Way


Untitled

Web site as of Feb. 28, 2019

10 years, a marketing professional told me this afternoon, is a long time on the web.

That’s about how long Mount Mercy University has had its current web site. It actually has two, which is a minor irritant to me, because when I google MMU seeking our main web site, I sometimes end up in a special online school web site, which is not a terrible fate except when I’m there, I don’t know how to get to the “regular” home of Mount Mercy.

DSC_0012Well, the web is a complex, evolving system, more accessed these days via smartphone than via computers. Which is another point make by Jamie Jones, marketing director, as she spoke to my Introduction to journalism class.

The students are learning about interviews this week, and having a news conference fit into the lesson plan—so thank you, Jamie, for attending my class and subjecting yourself to students’ questions.

I think the question were decent, and I’m glad the class had this experience. I also think that Jamie is right—the MMU site is due for a significant rebirth. Personally, what’s most important to me is ease of navigation—and having a way to get there quickly when I land, by accident, on that online school’s alternative university web site.

Leave a comment

Filed under Computers are stupid, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

Do God and Science Play the Same Game?


speaker2

Dr. Brad Gregory speaks in the Chapel of Mercy.

If you’re looking for Him, people of faith say He is around. Everywhere, in fact.

But science hasn’t found Him—and it won’t, according to one Catholic thinker.

Dr. Brad Gregory, professor of history at Notre Dame University, spoke Feb. 21 at the Chapel of Mercy, giving a talk he called “Religion vs. Science? Don’t Believe It.” It’s part of spring series called “Faith/Reason: Friends or Foes?” going on at Mount Mercy University.

The next event is March 7, when Dr. Bryan Cross, MMU assistant professor of philosophy, will lead a faculty panel discussion on Faith and Science, at 3:30 p.m. in Flaherty Community Room.

hands

A student takes notes.

Back to Thursday night. I’m not sure I can do Dr. Gregory justice, because I was late. In my defense, I was attending a granddaughter’s fifth grade rock and roll revue show, and my blue suede shoes weren’t available. But I also messed up—going to the wrong venue on campus before I checked on the location and learned the speech was to be in the chapel. Also, I took some notes (on the fifth-grade concert program) and accidentally left those notes in the chapel, so I’ll be flying blind in this blog post.

Like a scientist looking for God, I suppose.

A business professor was setting behind me, and at the end of the speech, I turned to him and asked about the highlights of what I had missed in the first 20 minutes.

“I think you got the gist of it,” he said.

I hope so. It was a mind-bending lecture—an English professor who was there the next day told me that if felt like a brain workout. Dr. Gregory said that Catholic thinking is consistent with some other major religions—Islam and Judaism—in believing in a transcendent God who is present but is not constrained by the same space and time as we experience life in.

speaker

Dr. Brad Gregory speaks.

He noted that, in the past, some thinkers attempted to find God in nature. And he did say that, for a Catholic, science is a way of understanding the universe and that understanding the universe is a way to understand God, but he also said that science and theology are disciplines that grapple with different questions using different methods—and while many scientists are led to skepticism about God because He’s not “there” in the scientific sense of being observable, that’s partly due to the way science frames questions. Science rests on the discovery of truth through what is observable.

But, Gregory said, a modern thinking person of faith doesn’t expect to find God in a microscope. Nature and God aren’t the same thing. Here is where it gets a bit sketchy for me, and I wish I had been there for the whole speech and took more notes. It was an interesting argument, one that I’m very much giving a Reader’s Digest version of, which is unfair to the presentation.

I have long felt that a religion that asks you to not believe in what you can observe and rationally prove is fatally flawed—Dr. Gregory is suggesting that expecting God to be pinned down by what you can observe is also fatally flawed. Hmmm. My brain pan, I’m afraid, may have started to overheat.

ducey

Dr. Mary Ducey of MMU calls a break before questions.

At least it’s nice to know the Roman Catholic Church learned some lessons from what Dr. Gregory called “the Galileo affair,” which is why the church itself did not take a position against evolution. Many Catholics and Catholic thinkers over the years may have, but not the church itself.

Dr. Gregory was even critical of the modern idea of “intelligent design.” Asked what he thought about that, he quipped that he “wished it would go away.” But then he said he was being flippant and gave a longer answer. He sees it as resting in the dark corners of what is not understood about evolution—but science may fill in those gaps, and resting one’s faith on the gaps means planting a foundation in sand.

Anyway, I don’t think his goal was to win over anybody to Catholicism, but rather to give an understanding of the basis of thinkers who don’t see a conflict between religion and science.

It was an interesting talk. I’m glad MMU is putting on this spring series, which seems an echo of the fall faculty series that I helped bring about.

More brain workouts to come!

Leave a comment

Filed under Mount Mercy, Science