Watering Gardens of Worry in Fall Heat Wave


c01

Browning ferns in odd late September heat. The calendar says fall, but the weather says heatwave.

A former professor of mine posted an interesting video on Facebook recenlty, a Vox commentary on how news media use a war analogy to cover natural disasters, especially hurricanes.

One point of the commentary is that positioning Mother Nature as the enemy in a heroic survival struggle absolves humans from a more difficult conversation. Such as, who put all those expensive developments on barrier islands? If a dam fails and 70,000 people have to flee—what does it say about that dam idea? And isn’t climate change influenced humans and a real thing?

Mother Nature isn’t our enemy. Earth does not have to mean, but be. It’s up to us to understand and do what life has always done: Adjust.

I am not trying to belittle or trivialize the struggles or tragedy humans face. We’re all in this together. I and my wife are conversing about which aid agency we will donate to, and I’m worried about in-laws in Florida and an in-laws family in Puerto Rico.

Instead, what I’m thinking about is how tragedies tug at our hearts in the short run, but sometimes we increase risk in the long run. We should be careful about earthquake resistant construction, about leaving flood plains open for water, about farming practices in Iowa that will absorb more water and leave less runoff.

Sadly, that does not seem the mood of the times. We fuss about how we react and think less about how we act.

This morning was a weekly ritual, these days. I unwound my garden hose and sprayed on the backyard gardens, trying to save what can be saved in this odd, hot, dry fall.

Ferns are browning—not a serious problem, honestly, because I know from experience most ferns just let their tops die in a drought and emerge again when the wet returns. But young bushes, trees and perennial flowers planted this year are at risk. Given heat in the 90s, I should be watering maybe every other day, but I only have time for once a week due to the crush of school work.

So, I do what I can and do what we always do—hope for the best. And hope I’m not wasting too much precious water. We’ll see what comes back next year. If a few flowers expire in my gardens, I’m aware that’s a pretty minor issue compared to flooded homes or lost lives.

Still, I’m trying to adjust to Mother Nature in the short and, I hope, longer term. My heart was a bit heavy as I sprayed my garden, despite the assistance of two young grandchildren who helped lighten my mood a bit.

I was wondering about what it would be like to be in oppressive heat on a tropical American island with no power and no way to contact relatives to let them know you’re OK. Puerto Rico, Texas, Mexico—I hope we do what we can to help you. Thoughts and prayers are just the start; treasure and action must follow.

And I hope we learn.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Garden, Grandchildren, Weather

Pope Francis and His Call for “Mercyfying” Hearts


francis1

Dr. Matthew Ashley, University of Notre Dame, speaks at Mount Mercy University’s Chapel of Mercy.

As Dr. Matthew Ashley, theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, noted, Pope Francis, a man of peace, has done some violence to the language.

One of the Pope’s favorite words is “Mercy,” and he has called upon Christians to work for “Mercyfying” hearts. “It doesn’t work any better as a gerund in Spanish than it does in English,” Ashley said.

But the idea is important. Mercy, Ashley noted, can be sort of condescendingly granted, as when a professor grudgingly looks the other way when a student has a lame excuse for a late paper. He contrasts this with the way Jesus treated St. Peter.

“Peter was not the brightest bulb in the package,” Ashley said. “He made lots of mistakes.” But, he also accepted God with an open heart, and that gave him the steadfast faith that made Jesus declare him the rock on which the church would be built. The mercy extended to Peter included a call to action. “Jesus was ‘mercifying’ him,” Ashley said. The mercy was not condescending, but rather empowering. And our world desperately needs more such mercy.

“Mercy is probably the one word that characterizes Pope Francis’ papacy,” Ashley said. His presentation, “Pope Francis and the Message of Peace,” was Sept. 19, 2017, in the Chapel of Mercy. I think around 90 people attended the event, which was both the keynote speech for Mercy Week, which celebrates MMU’s Sisters of Mercy heritage, and was part of our Fall Faculty Series, “Divided We Fall: Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Age.”

Ashley did take one minor, but well-paced, jab at President Trump, noting his threat to annihilate North Korea clearly falls outside of what Catholic teaching would call a “just war.”

The presentation was laced with quotes from Pope Francis, and it couldn’t have been a starker contrast between the leader of the Catholic Church and the President of the United States. Trump delights in cheap insults like “rocket man” while he dangerously plays with unthinkable violence. Pope Francis insists in seeing connections between violence between people and violence to the Earth and condemning violence in all its forms.

When Trump jokes, it is with inappropriate and violent memes. When Francis jokes, it makes you think.

Anyway, the speech tonight was the second one in the Chapel of Mercy for the fall series. One week ago, writer Tim Wise spoke on “The Great White Hoax: Racism, Divide-and-Conquer, and the Politics of Trumpism.” He speech, as well as being in the fall series, was part of English Program’s Visiting Writer series.

Wise said that Trump must be understood as fitting in to a long narrative in America, of the powerful invocation of ancient racial fears that have always infected our politics. He noted that in American politics, “nostalgia is a sacrament,” although the memory is often not clear.

common-ground-logo

2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

Of the two speakers, Wise drew a much larger crowd and was much more animated. Still, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of Ashley’s presentation tonight.

One thread that unites them, I suppose, is that both speeches are part of Mount Mercy’s ongoing mission to have provocative and revealing public conversations on matters that concern us all. That, to me, is vital to who we are, and a key reason we recently started having these fall series

Ashley concluded his speech by noting “the university” is a key institution that should help the culture by imagining and working towards “another possible world.”

Taken together, the two contrasting evenings felt like highlights of this fall’s series—but the series continues and there is plenty of good material yet to come. Stay tuned and check MMU’s web site—Dr. David Klope, associate professor of communication, is up next in the series on Monday.

Leave a comment

Filed under History, Mount Mercy

Ben Franklin Is Fake News!


talk3

MMU Times photo by Brooke Woolley. Me and some other dude.

I can relax now. My presentation in the Fall Faculty Series is in my rear-view mirror.

It went well, from my point of view. The Flaherty Community Room at Mount Mercy University was packed Sept. 7—standing room only. I quickly counted chairs and estimated there were about 100, so I would say the crowd probably numbered between 110 and 120.

Jon, Phil—Facebook ads may be working! Dixie from marketing also notes that the Happenings on the Hill pamphlet went out in the neighborhood and could be an additional factor.

a01

My pre-talk photo of the crowd. Dr. Joy Ochs, series coordinator, is introducing me.

The title of my talk was “Fake News vs. the Free Press,” and I began with a short review of why the press is free—the “marketplace of ideas” concept that was enshrined by the First Amendment.

Then, I started in on “fake news.” The concept, and even the words, is not new—my first example was Silence Dogood, and I was pleased someone in the audience recognized it as the early pen name of Benjamin Franklin. Today on Facebook, a faculty member who was there noted that a tidbit from the evening was that Ben Franklin being the first Mrs. Doubtfire, to which another faculty member replied that he was also the first catfish.

common-ground-logo

2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

Anyway, I gave a 10 minute synopsis of the use of the term “fake news” leading up to 2016, and then talked about how the term last year originally referred to the false, real-looking stories that were deliberately placed on social media.

And then along came Donald Trump and his cooping of the term to mean anything that The Don doesn’t like.

I was hoping to highlight the need for us, the larger “us,” to be responsible news consumers and to be able to recognize when news is fake and when it’s not. Hint: If Donald Trump labels it “fake news,” it’s almost always not. I put in a plug for one of my favorite pipe dreams, that due to the economic model that supported news media in this country being broken, we need an American BBC. Forget the wall—build PBS.

I was also speaking against the easy, politically based fussing we do about “media bias.” Whether the media are liberal or conservative only makes sense to ask in the rather odd, narrow way Americans define their politics, and, while worth considering, political bias is not the most consequential form of bias built into our news system.

News, for example, focuses on conflict and human interest—which distorts the picture of the world that it presents. I don’t consider that kind of distortion necessarily terrible, as long as the audience is on to what’s going on, but it is pervasive. Bias is furthermore inherent in who presents the news—that it’s mostly white, college educated Americans.

My plan was to talk for 40 minutes and take questions for 15 or so, but I probably spoke for an hour and five minutes. It was past 8:30 by the time we were done, yet the audience seemed engaged, and I had lots of side conversations at the end of the evening.

Earlier in the day, I had emailed our library about recording the talk, but the library can’t spare the staff right now. However, Dr. Joy Ochs, series coordinator, already had that base covered and arranged to have Bob Najoks, a retired professor of art, do the recording.

For me personally, seeing Bob again, having my sisters attend, chatting with some neighbors and seeing so many faculty—that made it a fun evening. Thanks, guys.

talk2

Bob Najoks.

In addition, Robin Kash of “Neighborhood Network News” recorded the program, and says he plans to post a video of it. I’ll pass along a URL when I get it.

So far, we’ve had two events in this year’s series, and both have been SRO in their respective venues. My communication colleague Dr. David Klope is the next faculty speaker on Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall, but the series includes other events. Check it out at the MMU web site.

Fake news! I don’t think that was what we had last night, but then again, I do not claim to be an objective observer. I appreciate that I’ve received some kind notes—the chair of the faculty stated that her husband though it could be a TED Talk, although there aren’t a lot of 90 minute TED Talks—but mostly I appreciate that my presentation was of interest to such a crowd.

It is always nice to speak before a large crowd, but I’ll try not to fixate on crowd size or ratings alone. Doing so would feel too fake.

Leave a comment

Filed under Freedom, Mount Mercy

Sober Optimists Erected Government Guardrails


aa01

Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science, speaks Aug. 29 at Mount Mercy.

The 2017 Fall Faculty Series is underway! Called “Divided We Fall: Finding Common Ground in a Fractured Age,” this year’s Mount Mercy University series started Tuesday night with an introductory presentation by Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science.

Barrett surveyed key points about our democratic republic—including that the founders were fairly sober about what they were doing. They recognized democracy is a fragile form of government, subject to the potential of internal divisions tearing the experiment apart.

So they introduced balanced powers between branches of government, and a complex federal system that balances interests between states.

common-ground-logo

2017 Fall Faculty Series Logo by MMU.

It is, Barrett noted, far from perfect. But perfection and the pursuit of the perfect ideal is dangerous in politics, which must be a messy business of give-and-take. So the United States was not so much designed to be the ideal, but rather to avoid the dangers of democracy. In effect, we were designed to be OK when we are divided. The founders aimed to put guardrails on our national political roadway.

“Democracy is fragile,” he noted. “Our government was designed to minimize the chance of bad outcomes.”

Of course, at various time in our history, we’ve come close to a bad outcome. A Civil War that consumed 600,000 lives (in a country of 30 million—imagine a war consuming 6 million lives today to be of the same scale) was one of those times.

And the Civil War is worth noting today, Barrett said, because our level of political division is again almost at that level.

A chilling thought, indeed. But he did offer some hope. The key, he said, is for us to commit to continued communication with those who disagree with us.

And he made, I think, an excellent point. We need people to express disagreement with us—whoever “we” are. Without vigorous opposition, any political viewpoint can become blind dogma whose rationale is forgotten. It is the need to defend our ideas in debate that keeps us in touch with the reasons why we have a particular point of view.

In that spirit, I thought the questions at the end were a highlight of the event. The start, I hope, of an ongoing, engaging conversation.

The series had an interesting start. Betty Cherry Heritage Hall was packed for the session—there were 72 chairs, and a handful of people standing in back, so the crowd was around 80 people. It was encouraging that they were a mix of young and old. I saw a high school senior I know there, along with many university students, faculty members and people from the community. There seemed to be a lot of elderly in the crowd—which, honestly, doesn’t surprise me too much, since I think older members of our citizenry are often the most politically engaged.

Maybe it takes a lifetime to learn that politics matters.

Anyway, I enjoyed the first session—and enjoyed seeing English Professor Dr. Joy Ochs start it off as the new series coordinator.

I hope you can join us for future sessions. I speak next week about “Fake News and the Free Press.” For more information see the MMU web site.

Leave a comment

Filed under Freedom, History, Mount Mercy

Eating As a Silicon Valley Techie Eats


bridge

My wife and I walking on the Golden Gate Bridge this spring break.

During spring break this year, my wife and I flew out to San Francisco to visit with our son and his wife.

They both work in technology out there—she designs human-machine interfaces for Samsung, he is a software engineer for WhatsAp, a division of Facebook.

nalena and jon

Daughter-in-law and son do an “ussie” during a visit to a San Francisco park with us.

One highlight of our visit was the half day we spent at the Facebook campus. With tens of thousands of high tech employees, the company’s site is a mini city. It has a main plaza with shops and restaurants, for example. You can get your hair cut, visit the dentist, drop off some dry cleaning and get your bicycle fixed (or buy a bicycle) without leaving the company grounds.

Jon explained that he thought it was just smart for the company to provide those kinds of services because tech employees are highly skilled, and the corporation benefits by providing services that keeps those people together and talking with each other.

The day we visited Facebook, we ate both breakfast and lunch there—and both meals were a surreal experience. You walk into a company cafeteria, grab a tray, and go through a food line—and then there is no cashier. You just proceed to a table to eat. Have as much as you want of whatever you want.

facebook

It does rain in California, despite the song. Drizzly day when we visited Facebook.

Again, Jon noted that the food perk, while costly, enhances collaboration and boosts  morale.

Gosh, my wife and I said to each other during the visit. That seems like a neat idea. Maybe they could do that at Mount Mercy University. Then, we shared a laugh. We don’t work for a rich, high-tech company.

wall

At Facebook, they have a wall where you can post any comment you want for random passing people to see. Someone should invent an online equivalent …

Well, surprise, surprise—fast forward to this week, when we had the “opening day” all-employee assembly in the chapel. The President was speaking, and announced a new program at MMU.

On one designated day each week, employees can have lunch in the cafeteria. For free.

The day is Friday in September, and will change each month.

The idea is pretty simple. Students eat there all the time, and having faculty and staff share a meal encourages informal conversations, both among employees and between employees and students. We can break bread together and hash things out over hash.

They don’t offer free food daily, and don’t have the kind of variety and fancy eateries Facebook offers. What’s available is college cafeteria fare. Some may balk at that—it is institution food.

Me? Most days I brown bag it, but in the past on very busy days, such as when I’m staying late on campus for a newspaper production cycle, I have eaten in the cafeteria. And I love my cafeteria days, for several reasons:

  • I like the collaboration it fosters. I have ended up, unplanned, chatting with others about all kinds of topics related to MMU. A lot of plans for the Fall Faculty Series have been hatched over lunch in such informal encounters.
  • I think there is value in seeing my students and them seeing me in this context. If you encounter a person as a student in a class (or as a professor in the class) you have a particular kind of relationship. Seeing them in another place doing something entirely else sort of humanizes them. It makes them more of a familiar “person” rather than “student” or “professor.” In particular, there is something a bit interpersonal in being in proximity to another as they eat. You don’t eat with enemies, and the people that you regularly eat with become, in some minor way, a bit more family like.
  • I love cafeteria food. I know many students complain about the cafe food, and maybe with some reason, but in my experience the cafeteria offers a buffet of wondrous delights. Their cooks have a slightly heavy hand with spices—sometimes you scoop up some veggies and are thinking “bland” and you take a bite and suddenly you’re thinking “chilies.” But I am a spice boy. I’ll tell you want, what I really, really want—some pork or chicken or fish coated in whatever breading, served in a giant pan under a warming lamp prepared by the fine cooks at MMU. Maybe some of my MMU friends don’t agree—food opinions are like music opinions, they are personal and nobody need apologize for their preferences—but I am a fan of MMU cafeteria food. Go Mustangs! To the feed!

Anyway, I understand that the free food program is an experiment, and that it is offered only one day a week. I am also familiar with the old, reliable, wise saying TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). MMU will continue the program only as long as MMU sees some payoff, and if budgets get tight, so might our waistbands.

But for now, I can eat like a techie, at least once a week. I think it was a smart idea for MMU to introduce, and I hope it does what the powers-that-be hope it does so it can continue.

More networking and contacts between employees and students? A plus. Soft serve and salad bar? Count me in.

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Mount Mercy, Uncategorized

The Life and Death of Rainbow Sunshine


 

b07

July 8–one of the people running Monarch Day at Indian Creek Nature Center holds one of the stars of the show.

b06

Rainbow Sunshine in cup the day we picked the caterpillar up. Sadly, the story does not end well.

It is sad to report, but Rainbow Sunshine did not make it. Earlier this summer, on July 8, there was a very nice event at the Indian Creek Nature Center—a warm Saturday devoted to Monarch butterflies.

We went to the Second Annual Monarch Fest, and we met some grandchildren there. They helped make clay Milkweed seed balls, and while riding RAGBRAI this year, I did indeed toss seed balls. The Nature Center gave away some butterfly flowers, and I grabbed some and planted them in my garden.

And they gave away Monarch caterpillars that you could take home, nurture and watch turn into butterflies.

I’m happy to report that’s exactly what happened to a caterpillar named “Cali” that was adopted by the family of four grandchildren and their parents who were with us. They fed the caterpillar Milkweed from their own yard, and successfully raised and released a Monarch butterfly within a couple of weeks.

We tried, too. We brought home a caterpillar, and I gathered Milkweed leaves for it while on bicycle rides. I also daily cleaned the plastic glass where the caterpillar lived and gave it a new, fresh leaf.

My mistake? I think it was when I gathered some leaves from Milkweed plants that were pushing through some bushes at a nearby business. I don’t know if that’s what went wrong, but something did—my theory is that the leaves may have been sprayed with something.

We named our caterpillar Rainbow Sunshine, which was a bit of a family joke (when she was very young, my oldest daughter once asked my wife, “Why didn’t you name me Rainbow Sunshine?”)

Anyway, the caterpillar ate and grew for about four days, but then suddenly stopped moving. The instructions said it might do that for a day or so as it molted, but the caterpillar didn’t seem to molt. But it stopped eating, moved seldom and finally, after several days, was obviously an expired caterpillar, lying in the bottom of its cup home belly up.

I waited, but when the corpse seemed to start to mold, I called it and released Rainbow Sunshine into the soil of our garden.

Well, we were disappointed, but insects lead hard lives or they wouldn’t lay so many eggs. It’s a crap shoot whether any particular baby butterfly will make it to metamorphosis.

Anyway, flash forward. I have been gone from home for almost a week, riding my bicycle across Iowa on RAGBRAI. As I describe on another blog, that didn’t go exactly as planned, either, but still it was a nice five-day ride.

I got back and noted that the new butterfly flowers I had planted with others I was already growing seemed to be doing OK, which made me happy.

Then, on Saturday, the day after I got home, I did a double take.

It wasn’t Rainbow Sunshine (wrong garden), and I’m not sure if it is on a butterfly flower or one of the “maybe Milkweed” plants I tried to grow from seed—but there it was: yellow, white and black, nice and fat, quietly eating away—a caterpillar, already larger than Rainbow Sunshine had been at the time of its unfortunate demise.

I photographed it and checked on it the next day. I saw it for the first time Saturday, and Sunday, it was already bigger (and the plant it’s on has fewer leaves).

There are no guarantees. This humble little bit of life may go the way of Rainbow Sunshine and most other caterpillars. But it has already grown large, and maybe it will form its chrysalis soon.

Of course, I want to see a butterfly emerge in my garden. In any case, whatever the fate of this particular young Monarch, I feel good that I have been working for years to plant varieties of Milkweed in my garden.

And Sunday, as I sat waiting in a rocking chair on my front porch for family members to come outside for an afternoon walk to a park, I saw a shadow on the lawn. I looked up, and an adult Monarch was flitting around 10 feet above my head. It was moving too fast for me to tell if it was a he or a she, and it may have been attracted by the many Coneflowers I have blooming beside the house rather than my tiny Milkweed patch—but there it was.

Hope. Maybe not for you, Rainbow Sunshine, but for your kind.

b01

Two views of the surprise guest. One of my grandchildren is convinced I tossed out my caterpillar too early and it simply grew–not likely, the timing is wrong and this is the wrong garden, but still.

b02

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Planting Before Father’s Day and After


Iowa Tiger Lily

Iowa Tiger Lily

c06

Iowa Tiger Lily

Lilies! They abound in the garden right now—especially the tall native Iowa Tiger Lily, commonly seen in ditches around the state. I planted some in my gardens so I can enjoy them up close—and they are my favorite lily. They are pretty, large and very hardy—compared to hybrid lilies which seen likely to fade in a few years, these lilies are tough.

And they spread, which is there one downside. Anyway, some recent garden pictures here in my Facebook floral gallery.

The Friday before Father’s Day, when plants went on sale at a local HyVee Drug Store, I picked up some comfort plants. None are new to my gardens, although some represent species that have died out. In past years, for instance, I had some nice Hollyhocks, but have not seen them for several years. I keep trying to plant new ones, but seem to have trouble getting these started—still, two Hollyhocks were among the comfort plant purchased, along with two Foxglove, two Butterfly Flowers (a kind of Milkweed) and two Shasta Daisies.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To make room in a fairly sunny area (all of these are sun-loving flowers), I dug out some native Tiger Lilies, which ended up moved to other backyard gardens.

And today, more than a week later, I saw some inexpensive peony roots at a farmers market in Hiawatha, and bought one. More lily relocation was done to make room.

My wife is convinced the new peony looks terrible, and she is right, but my experience with transplanted peonies is that the tops often die, but that doesn’t mean the plant won’t come back. Anyway, I hope this one does because it’s supposed to be pink—a color of peony I like, but don’t happen to have in my gardens.

We had plans to add a new garden in back this summer, but it looks like that project may get put off. Time is getting away, as it often does. Still, it always feels like an act of hope to put new flowers into the garden—so here’s hoping for future Hollyhocks, Peonies, Daisies, Foxglove and Milkweed!

Leave a comment

Filed under Flowers, Garden