Friday, October 7, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Judges turn down cheeky appeal from Kent Sorenson. Sabbaticals: Streetball, German organs, boxing films.


Resembling the boy who killed his parents and then asked the court for leniency because he was an orphan, former legislator Kent Sorenson had asked the Federal Court of Appeals to reduce his 15-month sentence for political crimes connected to the 2012 presidential political campaign by giving him credit for the work he performed for one of the campaigns.

Without laughing, the appellate judges turned him down the other day.

Sorenson, who overcame what could best be called a checkered past to become a state senator and darling of the evangelical right, in effect sold his allegiance in the campaign to Ron Paul after first backing Michele Bachmann. That involved two felonies — willfully causing false reports of federal campaign expenditures and falsifying records intending to obstruct justice in relation to a federal investigation.

He pleaded guilty, and Senior Federal District Judge Robert Pratt sentenced him to those 15 months in federal prison. Sorenson “had damaged the political morale of his constituency, of all Iowans, and of all Americans,” Pratt wrote. He quoted Justice Louis Brandeis as noting that the deviant acts of the corrupt public official are of course horrific, “but a hundred times worse is the demoralization of our people which results.”

At the time, his lawyer said Sorenson “would take it like a man” and not appeal. He then appealed.

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He appealed on three counts. Two alleged that Pratt calculated the sentence incorrectly and the third alleged Pratt should have given him that credit for his political work. The three-judge appellate panel didn’t buy any of Sorenson’s arguments.

Sorenson, now 45 years old, is at the federal prison in Thomson, Illinois. He is scheduled to be released April 13 of 2018. …

The man who Kirk Blunck’s family says killed the architect has not bothered to respond to the family’s civil lawsuit alleging wrongful death, among other things. The family has asked for a default judgment, and Judge Scott Rosenberg has set a hearing on that motion for Jan. 11.

Blunck fell or was pushed to his death in a stairwell of the Teachout Building he owned in the East Village on a Sunday afternoon in January of 2016. The police have considered the death suspicious, and they have questioned Zachary Allen Gaskill, a 27-year-old who at the time was on probation for an attempted robbery in West Des Moines. Gaskill told police he had been drinking in downtown Des Moines that day, but nothing more. No charges were ever filed.

The civil suit alleges battery and negligence and asserts that Gaskill killed Blunck. Gaskill never responded, so the family now is seeking the default judgment. If Rosenberg grants the judgment, the impact on everyone will be minimal. Gaskill doesn’t appear to have any assets, and a civil default judgment would have no bearing on any possible criminal case.

Meantime, a large claim against the estate has been settled. Rolling Hills Bank and Trust told the court it has been paid the $557,214.64 it was owed. And the court has given permission to the estate to hire the Statler Law Firm to fight a $171,124.97 claim from Jeffrey and Mary Lou Tyler, who say Blunck botched a construction job on their house on Forest Drive. …

That lawsuit filed by Heather Ryan against the Polk County Democrats and County Chair Sean Bagniewski was dismissed on Dec. 15 by Magistrate Don Williams. She alleged Bagniewski committed libel and slander in “spreading falsehoods in an attempt to damage [her] political campaign, perception of party loyalty and personal reputation.” After submitting a witness list of 92 people, including four Congress members and seven state legislators, she called two witnesses, neither of whom cited any defamatory statements by Bagniewski and the party. The court then dismissed the case and ordered her to pay all costs.

Ryan is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Republican Congressman David Young. She has no chance to get the nomination. …

Your tax and tuition dollars at work:

The Board of Regents the other day approved the granting of sabbaticals to 124 faculty members at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. The sabbaticals — which the universities call “professional development assignments” — generally allow the teachers to take off one semester at full pay. Anyone can apply, regardless of years of service.

Here are some of the projects from University of Iowa teachers:

Roxanna Curto, an associate professor of French and Italian, will work on her book, “Sporting Identities: Global Sports and National Cultures in French and Francophone Literature.” “This study examines aspects of physical culture — such as exercise, leisure and sports — in literature written in French from Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and North America, including texts about soccer in France and Africa, hockey in Canada, the Tour de France, Senegalese wrestling and the Olympic games.” The work will illustrate “how sports competitions are often used as allegories for cultural contact and conflict, for the aesthetics of writing and literature, and for the construction of national identities in opposition to other social formations, in order to show the fundamental role of sports in post-colonial body politics, nation-building, and the creation of collective imaginaries.”

Gregory Hand, an associate professor of music, will look into Southern German historic organs “and their impact on modern Organ Pedagogy.” He will go to Germany to “inspect, document, and give concerts on five historic organs in Southern Germany that demonstrate a surprising synthesis of Baroque and Romantic elements.” These elements, “long thought incompatible by modern scholars, prove a historic relationship between these two eras, and represent a paradigm shift in our understanding of the vast organ repertoire composed by German organists.”

Brenda Longfellow, associate professor of art and art history, “will undertake field research at the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in Italy, where she will analyze the architectural and decorative remains of tombs that were either built by women or given to women as posthumous civic honors by the town council. She will then write up her results, which will be published as a chapter in her book titled Women in Public in Ancient Pompeii.”

Waltraud Maierhofer, a professor of German, will conduct research for a book analyzing nontraditional family structures and reproductive choices in recent German fiction and film.\

Kenneth Mobily, professor of health and human physiology, will “investigate one of the founders of the Playground Association of America (1906), Joseph Lee, who subsequently went on to serve 27 years as president of the association. Although Lee was motivated by a genuine concern for the welfare of immigrant children, he was also active in limiting immigration as a member of the Immigration Restriction League (1894). One purpose of this research is to discover how and if Lee came to terms with this apparent contradiction.”

Thomas Oates, associate professor of American studies, plans a project entitled “Selling Streetball: Playground Culture, Commerce, and Racialized Space.” This examines “the growing prominence of a distinctive subgenre of basketball often called ‘streetball.’ ‘Streetball’ is characterized by a fast-paced, spectacular style, highlighted by verbal and physical duels between contestants, and is strongly associated with the black urban ghetto. While scholars have examined how the musical genre of hip-hop and cinematic narratives from Boyz in the Hood (1991) to Straight Outta Compton (2016) have shaped dominant ideas about urban black space, they have not directed the same attention to the role of sport. This project addresses that gap by tracing the emergence and commercialization of streetball from the 1960s through the present, focusing on how media narratives confirm, contest, and complicate dominant understandings of the black ghetto.”

Maya Steinitz, a professor of law, will write “Law and the Self: An Imaginary Exchange of Letters between H.L.A. Hart and G.H. Mead.” This “will take the form of a fictional debate between two titans of 20th century philosophy — the social philosopher George Herbert Mead and the legal philosopher Herbert Hart.”
Travis Vogan, associate professor of journalism, will do research for his book, “The Boxing Film: A Cultural and Transmedia History.” The book “will offer the first history of the boxing film and will use the genre to consider the controversial sport’s relationship to United States media culture from 1895-2015.”

A couple of projects from teachers at the University of Northern Iowa:

Thomas Connors, associate professor of history, will look into “The Politics of Pantheons: How Nations Harness the Power of their Dead.” He hopes to “produce a book manuscript on national pantheons around the world. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the study will examine places where the nation’s great are buried together in a temple or park designed to impress visitors, encourage patriotism, and provide a sacred space for state ceremonies.” The work “will offer a transnational perspective on an unexplored global phenomenon found in Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, and Muslim cultures as well as in the service of republics, kingdoms, dictatorships, and communist states on five continents.”

Grant Tracey, a professor of languages and literature, will work on “Shot, Reverse-Shot,” the fourth Hayden Fuller crime novel. It will be set in Montréal in 1966. “The novel will feature a corrupt film director, a sleazy exploitation producer, several actors, a renegade motorcycle gang (The Northern Arrows), First Nations peoples, and a murder on a film set.” The novel “will be a hybrid of melodramatic entertainment (the world is full of irrational chaos that cannot be explained away) and psychological realism (Hayden coming to terms with his past and his own resulting sexual dysfunction).”

And from Iowa State:

Eric Brown, associate professor, apparel, events and hospitality management, “will examine the role of public speaking and communication on self-confidence and career success within hospitality management industries.”

Stacey Weber-Feve, associate professor of world languages and culture, proposes “to complete a book project, Restaging Comedy: Comic Play and Performance in Women’s Contemporary Cinema in France, the first of its kind to explore a specialized examination of women’s roles in the evolution of French cinematic comedy.” …

Meantime, the 100 instructors who recently completed sabbaticals have reported in. A sampling:

The work of Mary Cohen of the University of Iowa “resulted in three publications, four original songs…and progress toward a book about music-making in U.S. prisons.”

Denise Filios of Iowa wrote two chapters of her book “about stories of the conquest of Iberia in ninth-century Arabic and Latin historical writing….Her analysis highlights the vast shared cultural patrimony that informs the contradictory accounts of Muslim Andalusian and Christian Asturian writers….”

Mark Levine “spent a year immersed in reading and writing poetry.”

Donald McLeese “made significant progress” on his memoir, “Trudging Toward Serenity: A Memoir of Recovery from High-Functioning Alcoholism.” “Through six years of sobriety, McLeese has achieved a clearer perspective on the line distinguishing habit from addiction and has found a richness in a life without alcohol he had never anticipated.”

Jelena Bogdanovic of Iowa State completed her book, “Perceptions of the Body and Sacred Space in Late Antiquity and Byzantium.”

Emily Machen of UNI revised and reorganized her book that “explored the place of women in religious communities in early twentieth-century France.” …

The three most expensive home sales in Polk County in 2017 — or at least through Dec. 15 — were in the Glen Oaks section of West Des Moines.

A 4,000-square-foot, five-year-old ranch-style home on 2.3 acres at 1747 Glenleven Terrace sold for $1,890,000. Records at the office of the county assessor list the buyer as the Brenda Annett Revocable Trust and the sellers as Anthony and Katherine Dahmen.

A 5,700-square-foot house on nearly two acres at 5725 Red Bud Way sold for $1,625,000. The buyer was Jessica Clark, the seller George Cataldo.

And a 5,000-square-foot home on 1.2 acres at 1723 Glenleven Terrace sold for $1,600,000. The buyer was Christina Havanan, the seller Kimberley Development.

In all, 20 homes sold for $1 million or more in the county, but only one was in Des Moines. That was a five-bedroom Tudor home on one acre at 5315 Waterbury Road. The house, built in 1924, was sold for $1 million by Neal Logan to Michael Wood and Michael Flesher.

A 3,400-square-foot brick home at 8 Foster Drive sold for $975,000 during the year. The house, built in 1925 and on slightly less than an acre, was sold to Jonathan Swanson by Alan Zuckert. …

Those father-and-son lawsuits by the Rossley family against Drake University are continuing to wend their way through federal district court. Tom Rossley, the father, sued the university after it kicked him off the board of trustees for, in effect, arguing too strenuously over the way the university treated his son in a sexual-assault investigation. The son, Thomas Rossley III — formerly known in court papers as John Doe — also sued, alleging discrimination and violation of his Constitutional right to due process, among other things.

Drake has twice moved to dismiss parts of the father’s suit, and the other day Federal District Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger granted part of the university’s motion. Rossley can go forward with parts of his claim that the university retaliated against him for complaining about his son’s treatment, Ebinger ruled, but she narrowed the case considerably.

In November, lawyers for the son asked Federal Magistrate Stephen Jackson for a 60-day extension of time, and Drake opposed it, saying the Rossley lawyers have been dawdling. The magistrate agreed with Drake, and all eventually settled on a 30-day extension.

Both suits grew out of an encounter on Oct. 9, 2015, when young Rossley and a female student acquaintance who is not named in the lawsuits engaged in oral sex in his car outside a fraternity and then may or may not have had intercourse in the fraternity house. Both students had been drinking heavily, the suit says. The woman ultimately told university officials she had been assaulted, and after an investigation, Rossley — a junior — was expelled in February of 2016.

The elder Rossley, a Drake trustee for 23 years until he was voted off the board in July of 2016, argued to his fellow trustees and to Drake officials that the investigative process was flawed, that in fact his son was assaulted by the female, not the other way around. The suit alleges the investigative process is skewed to favor females.

A jury trial in young Rossley’s case is scheduled for Nov. 18 of this year. No trial date has been set in the father’s case. …

The November election was the last time for a stand-alone municipal election. In 2019, city and school elections will be held jointly. Some final numbers:

According to County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald, the turnout of 33,141 in the various elections was the highest since 2003. There were record turnouts in Polk City (592 voters), Urbandale (3,138) and Windsor Heights (1,548). The Des Moines turnout of 16,758 was the highest since 2003, when there was a strongly contested mayoral race between Frank Cownie and Christine Hensley. The West Des Moines turnout, of 4,508, also was the highest since 2003. …

Have you noticed how the days are getting longer? On Dec. 31, the day was 40 seconds longer than it was on Dec. 21. By mid-June there will be six hours two minutes more daylight than there was in mid-December. ♦

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