Northern Valley Beacon

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Friday, September 5, 2014

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Why people leave or stay in South Dakota

This story in the Washington Post may provide insight into why working-age people are leaving South e Dakota and what accounts for the decline in Democratic voter registration.  The rural slump into poverty is basis for the problems examined in this story. 

Here are some pertinent quotations:

It’s the kind of poverty that can affect anyone who finds themselves in a place when the native industries disappear, as they have in Southeast Colorado and other rural areas across America.

“I think it’s more of a place-based poverty than it is demographic,” says Tracey Farrigan, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is studying how rural poverty has spread. “People are moving to areas where they can afford to live, which are areas with less support for them. It’s kind of a cycle. So the places are poor, and the people are poor.”

“You could ask ten people what they think of the area, and nine of them would say they can’t stand it, but they never leave,”

Most of their kids have already left town, for good reason.

Boredom, it turns out, is a dangerous thing. Without so much as a skate park, an arcade, a movie theater, or even a nearby mall to hang out in, kids find less wholesome activities: Drug use and early pregnancy are everywhere.

Poverty in early childhood is correlated with significantly lower incomes down the road, as well as higher incarceration and pregnancy rates, behavioral problems, and depressed educational achievement.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Listicles and goat testicles

“I noticed that all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same fifty percent rate. Half the time I get what I want, half the time I don't...Same as the four-leaf clover and the horseshoe...same as the voodoo lady who tells you your fortune by squeezing the goat's testicles. It's all the just pick your superstition, sit back, make a wish, and enjoy yourself...”  George Carlin

I don't post much of late..  I do not apologize because I am not presumptuous enough to think that people anxiously await my next blog post.  And it isn't that there are no potential postings in the draft folder of  It is because as blogging has evolved, it is a degraded activity. One of the original bloggers for the Beacon was asked why she no longer blogged.  She said for the same reason she doesn't frequent biker bars. It contributes more to human degradation than to any valuable or thought-provoking dialogue.  If you look at blog posts and their comment sections or the comment sections in even the most reputable news sites,  you find that the majority of comments are recitations of the mindless slogans of political hacks, or the uninformed expressions of the petty and peevish and ill-willed.  And they nearly always descend into personal attacks and insult among the commenters.  While the Internet provides valuable access to information sites,  its interactive features display the mental and moral failures of humankind and show a horde of people busily engaged in degrading human life.  Although, they are either too self-adsorbed or stupid to realize it.

Groping goat testicles to see if one can elicit  some kind of personal affirmation is not about engaging in an informing conversation that can produce understanding of other perspectives.  Most blog posts and commentaries do not engage in the journalistic or rhetorical purpose of convincing us to consider different viewpoints.  The reaction they generally produce is to suggest that much of the human race is flirting with idiocy as a way of life. 

Much of the problem comes from the major media's attempts to attract readership.  The Huffington Post is probably the biggest practitioner, although Salon is right up there with it, in its attempts to compete with the social media for inane trivia and puerile obsessions.  It has people actually working on posts that concern themselves with getting a glimpse of celebrity boobs.  

There are two aspects of the new media that tend to reduce literacy in its audience.  It does not concentrate on providing accurate and verified information, but focuses on diverting attention so that the advertising and entertainment function becomes its primary concern.  And, as teachers and writers have known for some time, digital information reduces reading comprehension—teachers and editors find that that the cut-and-paste  and Internet search processes often lead student writers and readers  to manipulate words with little knowledge or understanding of what they actually say.

Threads of comments abound with the hackwork slogans and platitudes of politics, but most threads demonstrate that very few people can stay on topic.  Most respond to blog statements by reciting their favorite bits of cant, whether or not it has any merit of veracity or knowledge of the subject.  So many people are conditioned like Pavlov’s dog salivating at the ring of a bell.  Their responses are conditioned patterns of behavior, not the result of comprehension through actual cognitive activity.

This matter of the illiteracy of so much of the public is a symptom of the real problem in education.  For many years, people in the conservative movement have criticized public education when it does not condition students to think and say  and do things that conform to the dogmas of the conservative mentality.  Any educational activity that motivates independent and original thought is a regarded as a threat.  Teachers are evaluated not on how they teach students to use and develop their thinking skills and their learning habits, but on how they indoctrinate students into a canned set of dogmas as measured on standardized tests.  The constant preparation for standardized tests limits the classroom activity and content  to teaching to the test.  Teachers are evaluated on how well they have done their indoctrinating and the schools are ranked on well they enforce the indoctrination process.  No individual thinking and things that inspire it, such as literature, is allowed.
The new illiteracy is catered to by the social and legacy media in their quests for audience.  No form of writing illustrates that quest more than the listicle.  A listicle is an article based upon a list of some kind.  Examples are:

The first problem with listicles is the matter of ranking things.  Were the ilthings listed derived from criteria established by some comprehensive, scientific process  Or were they the product of some writer contriving some lists that might grab some readers’ interests.  The basis for ranking things is the assumption that some things are better than others.  For people, it denies the idea of equality.  And many people are devoted to the notion that some things are better and superior to others.  Most listicles operate on the belief of inequality.  And that is dangerous mental territory. 

While many listicles may seem trivial and entertaie ning, the format of the listicle reinforces that notion that underlies mass, standardized testing.  That ntition is that the premise of the universe is inequality and things can be ranked so that the lowest of things on the inequality scale have earned negative  discrimination.  Under the rules of inequality, teachers can be found ineffective and fired; schools can be designated for condemnation and closure; some races as inferior; some people as unworthy of life.  The listcle reinforces that notion the all things can be defined and ranked on some criteria of worthiness,  denying the premise of our decomcracy that all people are created equal.

The criteria of most listicles is derived from groping those goat testicles.  In this age of inequality,  they are all we-ve got.  Unless you are a very discerning reader.  And our education system is designed to rank them as unworthy. 


Saturday, August 2, 2014

When politics no longer work, try boycotts

The art of the boycott

For a number of summers when I was an undergraduate, I worked at the East Moline plant of International Harvester Co., which made harvester threshers and corn pickers.  One summer I worked in the traffic department, which routed shipments of the machinery and assigned orders to specific rail cars and trucks.  I got to know many truck drivers and companies.

Years later when I was released from active duty in  the Army, I went back to work at the IH plant on a correspondence desk.  I was drafted during the time when the military services were ordered to desegregate, and one of the biggest battles during the Cold War years involved a race war.  Some members of the military acted out against blacks and latinos and anyone who associated with them.  There were incidents of overt hatred and violence, and those of us who had instructional duties were often involved in dealing with racial conflicts.  When I was released from active duty and went to work for IH, I made contact with civil rights organizations through church and educational organizations.  I and some people I worked with were approached by people in these organizations about a project they were working on that involved boycotts of some businesses in the south.

Many Afro-American people lived in communities that were segregated and where discrimination was a condition of life.  That discrimination was part of business practices.  While the merchants sold their goods to black people—they did not mind taking their money—they overcharged and often held black customers in debt where credit was involved.  There were instances in which blacks could barely afford the food they ate, let alone any of the conveniences of life at the time.

One of the concerns was some merchants who sold household appliances were charging so much and literally held black customers in debt-bondage.  Members of a civil rights organization worked out an arrangement with an Afro-American church in which ranges, refrigerators, and washing machines could be made available at discounted prices with the church providing delivery and financing.  One of the members of the civil rights organization worked for a large appliance sales company which had a warehouse full of used, scratch-and-dent, and superseded model appliances that the company was willing to sell at a hefty discount.  The problem was how to ship the appliances to the church in the south which would act as distribution point.

As I had experience in a traffic department, I was asked what would be the best way to ship these appliances to the south.  I rode home on the train after being processed out of active duty at Fort Sheridan with another veteran whom from my home area that I knew slightly.  We chatted about our experiences in the Army including the desegregation problems.  When he got home, he was returning to his job as trucker with his father, who worked on contract for a freight company that hauled machinery for International Harvester.  I looked him up and called him about how he would recommend shipping the appliances to the church in the south.  He came up with a plan.  He often hauled trailers that were not fully loaded, particularly during heavy shipping seasons for farm equipment.  He said the appliances, as long as they were carefully crated, could be hauled at a discount as partial loads on trucks headed south.  Over a period of about a month, we managed to ship a very large inventory to the church in the south by trucks that dropped off their partial loads as they passed through the town where the church was located.

As time went by, regular shipments of household appliances were made to the church.  The leaders of the church organized a boycott against the appliance dealers in their region, and helped black families get working kitchen and laundry appliances without having to go to the dealer.  The dealers felt the impact of the boycott to the point that they had to scale back on their inventories and deal with the fact that their market had shrunk.

The civil rights organization also worked with churches in setting up food pantries at which African-Americans could purchase food without having to pay exorbitant prices and deal with the discriminatory practices of the merchants.
Those pantries quickly evolved into food co-operatives.    

The boycotts had two effects.  They made life easier for the people, and they showed the merchants that their discriminatory practices were putting their businesses in jeopardy.  When black people found a way around segregation and developed their own resources for necessities, the merchants began to soften their attitudes about past business practices. 

Ultimately, boycotts became a significant factor in the civil rights movement.  What could not be achieved through political means was achieved through economic strategies.  They weakened the forces of segregation while strengthening the movement toward civil rights. 

However, the boycotts were very quiet affairs.  They were not publicized.  People simply stopped patronizing those merchants who extorted their money and treated them with disrespect.

When the communities realized that the African-Americans had obtained a degree of independence, the more racially intolerant in those communities were enraged, and some attempted to stop it.  The church that took charge of distributing the appliances and food was accused of dealing in stolen goods.  A team of lawyers was dispatched to the community with inventories, invoices, and bills of sale and demanded that the accusers come forth with their evidence.  That charge was withdrawn, but the anger and rage continued so that some of the segregationist practices were intensified.  But they were met with massive demonstrations and publicity as the civil rights movement gained momentum.

People do not understand the power of the boycott.  In a capitalist country,  it strikes at the economic heart.  It is a way for people to manage their own lives rather than be part of oppressive and devious schemes of the corporate mindset.  Many people find themselves doing business with companies they don’t like because those companies seem to hold a monopoly on items that the people need.  A boycott works only when people have an alternative source for the things they need.

Like those people who were paying ransom to merchants for the things they needed like food and household appliances, many people find themselves purchasing products  in oppressive circumstances because they have no other choice.  The key to a successful boycott is to create other choices.

We have lived through three decades when corporations, which want to be regarded as persons, have been horrible citizens.  They spurned American workers by outsourcing production to other countries with cheap labor, mostly China.  Now they are practicing “tax inversion” by which they evade American corporate taxes by registering the headquarters of their companies off shore in countries that have a lower tax rate.  They use the American infrastructure to market their products, but they don’t want to pay for it.

It is apparent that our tax code needs revision, but that is no excuse for corporations to renounce their citizenship while exploiting the American markets.  Conservative folks are raging about the influx of immigrants that are coming to the U.S. for jobs, but they ignore the fact that corporations have sent jobs overseas and are becoming  the corporate citizens of other countries while exploiting the American marketplace. 

If they want to take their companies offshore, let them find their markets offshore.  Don’t buy their products.  As long as they base their corporations elsewhere, the idea of buying American is rendered pointless.  Buying American no longer contributes to the national economy.  It supports companies which take the buyers' money and funnel it into the exorbitant salaries and bonuses that have reduced workers’ wages and created a situation where a minor percentage of  people hold the nations wealth and earnings.  They are the creators of wage inequality and the growing ranks of the poor.  Every dollar spent on their  products creates more poverty in the ranks of those who actually do the nation’s work. 

The Financial Times reports that “In 1960, the US was home to 17 of the world’s 20 largest companies. Fifty years later, only six were headquartered there.”

Some of the companies, according to Wikipedia, that have inverted are:

While the brands and services offered by some of these countries are buried in subsidiaries, some, such as Walgreens, Fruit of the Loom, Chiquita, are familiar.  For me, they are a place to start.  I will not patronize a Walgreens, buy Fuirt of the Loom t-shirts or skivvies, or a Chiquita banana anymore. 

If enough willpeople begin to understand how these companies are  betraying them, they  boycott them and their products and let them know that as they have chosen to leave America, they should find their markets in their new homes, not in ours. 

 Conservatives are in a rage about illegal immigrants, but they allow their corporate masters to take out corporate citizenship in other countries and siphon American dollars for their own benefit and that of their new countries.

We have a civil right to do business with thos who do not abuse us.  One of the ways to take America back is to shun those who bilk and betray us. 


Thursday, July 24, 2014

When politics is a game designed by imbeciles to be played by idiots*

The Republican National Committee is sending out robocalls that connect Senate primary candidate Rick Weiland with Harry Reid.  Bloggers havetaken up the issue of why the national committee is coming to the aid of the a Republican candidate.

The robocall is an example of the supreme duplicity that has become a major definer of the GOP brand of politics.  When Weiland first announced his candidacy, the GOP minions reveled and chortled over the fact that Harry Reid would not support Weiland’s candidacy and preferred others. They launched a vigorous campaign with the theme that Weiland was doomed to failure from the outset. 

 Now the RNC is claiming that Weiland is merely a Harry Reid surrogate.  The factual conflict between Reid and Weiland is conveniently ignored and the mendacity is the basis for the latest propaganda tactic.

Why would the RNC push this claim at this juncture in the campaign?  Because it has worked for them in the past.  A major claim made by the GOP against Tom Daschle in 2004 was that he was tied so closely to the Beltway power elite that he no longer represented South Dakota.  The same tactic was used against Stephanie Herseth Sandlin when the GOP claimed she was subservient to Nancy Pelosi, although as a Blue Dog Democrat, Herseth Sandlin voted against some significant legislation that Pelosi promoted.  Of course, the GOP portrayed Pelosi as the Witch of the East from the West Coast to make the claimed relationship look more ominous.

The entire GOP agenda is to retain what power it has and gain more.  It no longer even attempts to take coherent stands on issues.  Its strategy is to demonize and assassinate character, and its level of mendacity in attacking individuals from Obama to candidate Weiland  Its entire political activity in the primary campaign for  Senate is to malign, ridicule and try to tarnish Rick Weiland as doomed to failure.   

That is the primary objective of the GOP.  If it can’t get its way, it obstructs the legislative processes and holds government in a state of dysfunction.  On neither the state or federal level, has the GOP  advanced legislation that solves problems or builds the state of the union.  It has refused to address the aging and failing infrastructure, care of veterans, a crooked financial system,  the real problems in health care, or the issues of immigration.  Rather, it has chosen to obstruct rather than to work out legislation.  While the Tea Party faction holds the GOP hostage and hides behind its insistence to reduce taxes and the size of government, its constant outpouring of defamation and mendacious accusations defines the real motives driving the movement.  The GOP adopts its hostage-holding tactics in its obstruction of government functions with the idea that voters will vote Republican in the hopes of getting something done in government.  

In South Dakota, the Tea Party driven agenda has had a particularly devastating effect on education.  It has reached the point where superintendents are testifying before legislative committees that the pay scale makes it impossible to hire people to fill the teaching staffs with qualified people.  However, the superintendents gloss over the attitudes and treatment of teachers in the state, something that comes up in any conversation with teachers about the status of teaching in South Dakota.

Democrats share some of the blame in the attempted pillorying of Rick Weiland.  They read South Dakota War College and get so incensed at the petty mendacity and character assassination that they let the GOP and that scurrilous wretch Powers set the discussion agenda, rather than mount their own advancement of the facts and the issues.

Another reason that the GOP douses Weiland with its disrespect and abuse is that they do have reason to fear him.  The press keeps insisting that Rounds is a sure winner, unless the scandals of his office become issues.  But as a former Daschle staff member, Weiland knows politics.  He knows South Dakota. His strategy has been to avoid engaging in the specious and malevolent sniping on the social media and legacy press and to take his message directly to the people.  His record of work is as a capable and effective administrator as a FEMA and AARP executive and he has an unblemished record for honesty, integrity, and forthrightness.  In those aspects, he is superior to the other candidates who vied for the candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

Rick Weiland has run a meticulous and honest campaign.  He has personally visited every town in South Dakota and is now conducting a second round of visits.  He has met with small groups of people in his meetings and town halls and the size of those groups is growing as his name and his message gets known.  But most importantly, there are now people in every town in the state who have met Rick Weiland personally and have had the opportunity to meet and talk with him.  That is a set of personal relationships that no other candidate for any office has made, and that is a powerful reason for the GOP to fear Weiland, and a reason to conduct its campaign of defamation with false and petty accusations. 

Many Democrats insist that Weiland has to “take the gloves off” and go after Mike Rounds' record.  But that would involve Weiland in the petty exchanges and put him on the level with the GOPers such as Powers and his retard chorus at the SDWC.  Rounds is in office because leading candidates for the GOP nomination for governor took themselves out of the race because of a pissing duel and the people chose Rounds over them.

Weiland is a populist and presents a platform that is quit liberal.  But every element in his platform confronts facts and offers solutions to problems.  He takes issue with many GOP stances, and that includes the record of scandals and mistakes made during Rounds’ terms as governor.   Except for the stance against the Affordable Care Act, the GOP has addressed no issues and proposed no solutions that involve a careful delineation of facts.  As stated before, its entire program is character assassination and mendacity.

Rick Weiland has laid out a clear platform.  He has met with people in every town in the state and explained and answered questions about his platform.  Thoughtful voters in every town in the state know Rick and his platform.  And that is something to fear among those whose campaigns consist of paid advertisements that defame and misinform. 

As for going after Mike Rounds on a personal basis, that is something that is best accomplished by the Democratic Party and Democrats throughout the state by making  a factual examination, not superficial accusations, about Rounds performance as governor and the way the GOP is conducting itself in the legislature and in the public media. 

But that is a tall order.  Up to now, the Democrats have let Powers and his cronies, which is most of the GOP, keep them stuck in the level of petty malignity that passes for political discourse.  They need to come to a better understanding of what Rick Weiland is doing and get themselves informed and campaign on the level of facts and issues.  When the people have to confront such things and the way they are affecting their lives,  they may vote more intelligently.  The Democrats have let the GOP dominate the state by letting the Republicans set the agenda.  The Democrats’ job is to repudiate that agenda, point out its meanness and dishonesty, and forcefully show why their agenda is more in the interests of the people and good, effective government.  They have to show that they are superior more trustworthy than those who can merely defame.  

*A line I appropriated from the play "Mr. Roberts" which describes war in those terms.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How to kill civilians and their families and revel in glory, or whatever

The Nike Ajax which guarded the U.S. and its NATO allies in the 1950s.


The downing of Malaysian flight 17 puzzled me.  That is because I am an old surface-to-air missile crewman for the first anti-aircraft missile deployed by the U.S. to protect its borders and those of NATO allies, the Nike Ajax.

 What puzzles me is the information, particularly coming from Russia and its agents in Ukraine, seems so ridiculous that I wonder why the news media has not delved into the facts about missiles, how they operate, and what they can do.

Somewhere in my files is a small ring-binder that we crewmen carried in the breast pocket of our fatigues that contained the information given us during our training.  It was classified as secret and we had a notation mandated on the first page that the information was for the use and dissemination of crewmen only.  Much of that information is available on the Internet so I think I can disseminate.

The development of the Nike Ajax started in the late 1940s.  By the early 1950s it was widely deployed in the U.S. and  deployment continued throughout the world during the 1950s.  My unit, Overseas Package 5, was sent to Germany in 1957 to convert an anti-aircraft gun battery to a missile battery deployed in remote parts of, then, West Germany.

Here are the characteristics of the Nike Ajax that have to be compared what is said about the downing of MH17.

  • It was 18 feet long with a two-stage system propelled by a booster rocket and a sustaining engine.
  • It traveled at 2.3 times the speed of sound, breaking the sound barrier as it left the launcher.
  • It could reach 70,000 feet.
  • It was guided by ground radar, a tracking radar and an analog computer which tracked the target and guided the missile into it.
  • Its pattern of attack was to ascend to an altitude above the target, execute a high altitude turn back down to the target, and approach the target from above—it is very difficult for a target to evade a missile approaching it from above.
  • It did not have to make a direct hit on the target; its 3 warheads, which weighed 1455 pounds (the missile itself weighed 1000 pounds) could destroy a target by proximity.
  • The radar system contained a Friend or Foe indicator which could identify friendly, commercial, and non-combative aircraft and track only hostile aircraft as potential targets.
  • The firing procedure included a series of steps to verify the status of the target and to prevent any targeting of innocent, non-combative aircraft.

Sixty-some years after the deployment of this missile system, the downing of MH17 is incomprehensible.  The photographs of wreckage are pretty conclusive evidence that missile shrapnel shredded the aircraft. and its pattern of descent fits that of missile-hit aircraft.  The accounts of the drunken Russian separatist militia, the mindless statements of its leaders, and Putin’s assurances that he is advising restraint to the Russian separatists, while Russian ordnance continues to pour into the regions they hold, indicate the downing of MH17 was no accident. 

The real puzzler is why the press is so timid about putting the claims of Russia and its separatists in the context of facts as they are verified and established.  When things are said, the first task of the press is—or, at least, it used to be—to check them for veracity, verify the facts in terms of the circumstances they allude to, and present the confirmations or the discrepancy to the public in clear terms.

We are living in a time when atrocities are being committed under the rules of jihad and now in Ukraine and Gaza with a political aggression that rivals Europe of the 1930s. 

The dismaying aspect is that there seems to be few people in the world who understand the difference between the fact and propaganda that led to World War II and the Cold War that followed.  If blogs claim to be superior to the legacy media in presenting uncomfortable facts.  Maybe its time they dropped the snark and mindless bickering and start concentrating on facts. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States