Category Archives: Mount Mercy

My 2019 Letter to Santa Claus


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Santa with marketing crew at MMU at Christmas Club Friday this fall semester. Image by Audrey Sheller.

Dear Santa:

How are you, big guy? Good luck on the deliveries this year. You’ll need to wax the sleigh runners even more this year, there is not a lot of snow to land on these days in our area of the world. Of course, snow is only a 50-50 shot for Christmas in this part of Iowa anyway, but global warming is changing those odds.

For me, asking for a lot of stuff for Christmas makes little sense—my life is brimming with things, and I’m at a time in life when, while I do appreciate a special gift, mostly I don’t have lots of objects to desire.

So, I’m going to go the Amy Grant route and make a more grownup Christmas list.

What would I be asking for if I could ask you, as if you were a magic genie, for anything?

Well, world peace, naturally. Humans have a shocking capacity to tear at each other. Our literature is full of monstrosities that we can fear (if you don’t ever catch Dr. Emily on the PBS Monstrum YouTube channel, check it out), but most of the time, the most fearsome monster that humans face is us. I not only would like us to stop killing each other, but not eliminating other species and trashing the only planet in our neighborhood we can inhabit would be nice, too.

Item one, then, is to achieve world peace partly by humans recognizing the value of the world we have and learning to act together to preserve it.

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Volunteer helps to plant a new pollinator garden at Mount Mercy campus in 2019. May there be more of this in 2020.

I would ask for peace at heart, too. For myself, naturally. I do get too stressed at times, and have a natural ability to look at the dark side. When my phone blings with a message tone, I almost always imagine some catastrophe, which the message, thank goodness, almost never is. The imagining is irrational, but that doesn’t make it go away.

Still, I’m blessed, for the most part, with decent mental and physical health. Not everyone I know and love is in a happy zone in their life right now, and I would wish for peace at heart to all my family and friends.

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Digging this chick more and more all the time. If the caucus were tonight, I would be standing in the Amy corner. Not a formal endorsement, I am still playing the field, but I”m feeling more like I’m on Team Amy. Image from Wikimedia Commons, a 2019 picture of her by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ.

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From The Gazette’s web site, the “Impeached” front page.

I have a few more practical items on my list. We have a president who has been impeached, but the Republican Senate is unlikely to convict and the party of Lincoln can’t seem to free itself from the destructive hypnosis that seems to have descended on it.

I want Trump to not only not be re-elected, but to be soundly trounced. Only a thorough thrashing is likely to help renew our poisoned politics. So, Santa, put a landslide defeat for Tangerine Hitler on my list, please.

Right now, I’m liking Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, so if I get to add more results for the voting in 2020 to my Christmas list, it would be great to have the Senate flipped so that incoming President Klobuchar can look forward to fights within her party rather than being constantly blocked by the GOP.

I have a few smaller-scale items on my list, too. I hope to do better as a professor, to find strategies to communicate with and teach my students to the best of my abilities. I know that their success or failure is not primarily due to anything I do—it’s decisions that these young adults make—but to the extent that I can, I want to be a better role model and mentor to students and help them to decide to succeed. Not sure how to write that on the list, but Santa, I think you get the idea. Or at least I hope I am communicating it clearly enough. Help me get through to my students, but most of all, help me to understand what I’m trying to get through.

I am a biker, and right now the bicycling world in Iowa is riven by civil strife: Iowa Ride v RAGBRAI. I’m on team RAGBRAI in that fight, by the way, and I hope that ride can find a way forward. I also think that it needs reforming, and maybe the current crisis will lead RAGBRAI to be better—but I don’t want it done away with.

So, a successful RAGBRAI 2020 is on my Christmas list.

We welcomed a new grandchild in 2019. I won’t wish for another in 2020 (although I would also be thrilled if it happened)—I think my own children should guide those kinds of big life decisions for themselves—but I hope to see and have fun with all of my grandchildren, somehow, in 2020. Some are at a distance, and how and when I will see them isn’t 100 percent clear, so mark it down, big guy. Joe wants more grandpa time.

Have I been good enough for this list? Hard to say. Unlike President Trump, I can think of things in my life I could do better or should apologize for. And, while many items on my list are beyond my control (world peace), others are more aspirations that I can have an impact on.

So maybe that’s the final item on my Christmas list. A sort of version of the Serenity Prayer. If I can’t change it, help me to deal with it, and if it’s in my power to change, help me do the best I can. And may I and more of us flawed mortal creatures act in 2020 to achieve a place on the “nice” list.

Yours,
CRGardenJoe

PS: And let’s let Dr. Emily get us into the holiday spirit:

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Filed under Grandchildren, History, holidays, Mount Mercy, politics

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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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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Filed under Environment, Food, Mount Mercy, Writing

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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Filed under books, Mount Mercy, Travel

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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Filed under Food, History, Mount Mercy, politics, Science

The First Amendment Spreads


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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.

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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.

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Filed under History, Journalism, Mount Mercy