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

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

If you think Trump is okay, you aren't


The legacy of Donald  J. Trump, a project of some Aberdeen high school students

I've recounted the incident a number of times.  I returned to my hometown in Illinois to visit my family and was staying at my brother's house, along with a couple who were with him for a weekend.  She was someone he had worked with for many years in the past and with whom he maintained a close friendship.  Her husband was a retired banker from Chicago who had also served as the head of some important cultural organizations.  My brother was hosting a get-together for the couple, when someone brought up an incident that happened when I was the farm and business editor of the local newspaper.

I have often said it was the best job I ever had, except for the business part. That was because business people are constantly trying to get mentioned in the newspaper in laudable ways and often are not truthful about what they claim.  The newspaper had a stringent policy about not printing false or misleading information in the paper.  Consequently, I spent an inordinate amount of time fact-checking information that came from businesses, and this produced some tense and unpleasant episodes with business owners and executives when we asked for clarifications or refused to print something.  There was an incident in which a well-known executive held a press conference to announce a development for his company.  When checking some of the claims for the company, we found them provably false, so we did a rather small story that covered only the facts of the presentation.  The man went on a public relations rampage, threatening to sue the newspaper and maligning it in general.  This alerted other media to check the facts and make retractions for their coverage.  The tale prompted the banker to talk about the problems of dealing with unscrupulous  business  people he dealt with as a commercial banker.  He cited Donald Trump, who was promoting a book at the time, as an example, and he gave a vigorous account of why he and his associates loathed Trump.

I don't think he had ever actually met Trump but was aware of his reputation in the ethical business community from his associates.  This was early in Trump's career, but he had already established a reputation among business  insiders.  He was known fo stiff contractors who worked for him.  He lied constantly and maligned people behind  their backs.  

Since that conversation thirty some tears ago, I have never heard a good word about Donald Trump.  People have acknowledged that he had a knack for asserting himself into public attention and of making money, but I never heard a positive word about his character or the way he did business.  As it turns out. the people from New York where he lived had his number.

A real estate manager said:

People in real estate are afraid to do business with him because he and his family and his organization are not honest people,” he added, referring to, among other things, Trump’s reputation for not paying his contractors

Another business New Yorker was asked about Trump's reputation before he became president.

To answer your question, everybody in NYC had a Donnie story - none of them flattering. All of them involving him cheating somebody, stiffing his contractors, caterers, workmen and how he was “mobbed up” so his cement got delivered when the rest of the building industry was at a standstill. Donnie could build a hotel in Las Vegas but he couldn’t get a license for a casino because of his mob connections. Pity we don’t have such high standards for who sits in the White House.

In the end, he barely got 9% of the vote from New York - we all knew him for what he is. We’re just waiting for the rest of you to wake up.

The big question is, why do so many people support Trump despite his reputation and the malevolence with which he conducted his campaign?  The answer is obvious:  he appeals to them.   The significance is in the nature of that appeal.

Trump is the antithesis of what our democratic republic is supposed to stand for.  He is dishonest, preys on the work of others, lies constantly, disrespects women, and has failed in as many business ventures as he has succeeded.  So what is his attraction?

It is something that goes beyond partisan politics.  It is the primal politics of the dog pack or chicken flock.  

Some years ago a well-respected high school counselor presented a paper on it.  It deals with the matter of bullying.  His premise is that we misunderstand bullying in schools and beyond.  We think of it as a situation in which bullies seek out weak people to inflict themselves on, and we tend to see the problem as a matter of standing up to the bullies.  If we define  the problem in those terms, we miss the crux of it.  What deserves attention more is the people who support or fall in line behind the bully.  Many people see allying themselves with bullies as a way to obtain power and status for themselves.  They form a relationship in their minds that is emotional and impervious to facts and reasoning and, often, standards of decency.  The counselor made the point that if we do not understand this aspect of bullying, we do not understand how the holocaust happened and what World War II over Germany was about.  It was not merely about Hitler; it was about the people who chose to follow and support him.  

Many members in the American dog pack are incapable of dealing with the facts of the character and history of Donald Trump. In their frenzied minds, Trump is elevated as a billionaire hero and they they choose to believe the conspiracies that portray him as good and his opponents as wicked demons.  They are mentally unable to recognize and consider the facts behind the opposition to Trump.  They just dismiss them as as leftist propaganda.

The power of a bully to gain mindless but powerful followers is being written into history by the Federal Elections Commission.  Trump got his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to be quiet about an affair Trump had with her.  Cohen got convicted and sent to jail for violating the law prohibiting bribery in election campaigns.  The evidence against Cohen included canceled checks and the testimony of Stormy Daniels.  But when the FEC considered the payment by Trump, the GOP members said the violation had already been litigated and penalized by  the conviction of  Cohen.  So, the man who approved and benefitted from the bribe was spared any adverse action even though the bribe was made under his authority.  This was not a miscarriage of justice;  it was an induced abortion by dolts who choose to be his acolytes.

The effect of worshippers at the bully pulpit is demonstrated by the reaction to Liz Cheney's refusal to accede to Trump's lie that the election was stolen.  She was one of Trump's most avid supporters in Congress. She voted with his positions 93 percent of the time.  But Trump's lie about the election and his provoking the assault on the Capitol were a changing point.  She has denounced Trump as a threat to the Constitution and the democracy. This has prompted many in her home state of Wyoming to turn against her with a viciousness.  When MSNBC interviewed conservatives in Wyoming about her, their denunciations were angry.  And unhinged.  One man angrily called her a traitor.  Calling someone who calls out the malfeasance of a president a traitor reveals the kind of mentality possessed by what is being called Trump's base.

Some people defer to Trump because they are fearful and think he possesses the strength to protect them from whatever makes them fearful.  Others endorse some of Trump's political stances and are willing to overlook his lies, his betrayals of wives and people who have done business with him, and his abusive demeanor.  They subject themselves to a bully who they think can give them what they want despite Trump's betrayal of his oath of office.  And there are those like the man who called Cheney a traitor.  They are the weak of mind who interpret Cheney's exercise of the First Amendment as an act of betrayal. In their deficient minds, they regard anyone who opposes the false notions that comprise their political and patriotic makeup as traitors.  They are too mentally incompetent to understand the democracy that provides their equality.

The divide in our nation is not fundamentally partisan.  It is actually a divide between the ignorant and stupid and those with enough intelligence to distinguish between the world of established fact and conspiracy fantasies, between the somewhat principled and those who think any means to money and power is fair, and between those who cower behind boisterous swindlers and those who try to assert some integrity of purpose in life.

If you support Trump, you fall into one of those defined categories:  stupidly ignorant, morally coward, or ethically depraved.  There are no other explanations for supporting him.

Your endorsement of Trump labels you as a miscreant in opposition to the fundamental principles that frame our republic. It is not a chicken flock that operates on a pecking order.  It's a constitutional democracy that strives to establish freedom, equality, and justice for all. The division is not between Democrat and Republican. It's between those who work for those principles and those who deny or ignore them.  If you think Donald Trump is okay, you think America can be betrayed.  And to those who understand what the nation is trying to become, that is not okay.


Thursday, May 6, 2021

The messiah tries to purge the woke from South Dakota colleges -- Update on violation of policy

Note:  This post gives an account of faculty directly lobbying legislators.  The author knew that is forbidden, but forgot.  Some former colleagues reminded him that faculty dealing with legislators on institutional matters is expressly forbidden and think it should be emphasized in this account.  The Regents Policy Manual states:

NUMBER: 1:12


  1. Relations to State Legislature

    All institutionally lobbied relationships and negotiations with the State Legislature, including its committees, shall be coordinated through the Board of Regents. No subordinate official representing any of the several institutions may appear before the Legislature or any committee except upon the authority of the Board or when requested by the State Legislature itself.


It is good for a man that he bear the woke in his youth.  Lamentations 3:2

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the woke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness...Isaiah 58:9 

Why did Dr. Tim Rounds resign suddenly as president of Northern State University?  It appears that some professors with virulent cases of the messiah complex decided to lift the woke from the campus and free it from the threat of noxious liberalism.  And yes, I am using woke in a pun to replace the word yoke.  But apparently some regarded Dr. Downs as a woke agent and thought it was time to exterminate the wokes.

The part that inspires a snicker is that woke is a figment of their beleaguered imaginations.  It is a word that has entered the popular culture, originally as a satiric word.  It comes from black street language and is a derivative of the word that in traditional English is awake.  Black  people used it to describe people who were awake to or aware of what life is like for black people in our society.  But as white people appropriated the word to describe themselves, it became a sardonic term when blacks used it.  A black person might say of a white guy who thinks he has a total understanding of what it is to be black in America, "He be woke."  Sarcasm is conveyed about the attitude.

As white people used the term, they did not understand that the word conveyed a deprecation of their presumptions.  Black English, sometimes referred to as Ebonics, is laden with words that convey ridicule of white presumptions of superiority.  So, woke names a silly presumption, not an actual state of awareness.

Some faculty think that woke refers to some definite, organized political mission.  They oppose that mission as they think they see it emerging on their campuses.  Although what they see are some inchoate attempts to deal with issues of race and other reasons for exclusion, they choose to interpret them as an insidious effort to impose wokism on their campuses. 

The notion of wokism is an outgrowth of the efforts to encourage diversity.  As universities implement programs and appoint officials to comply with demands for inclusiveness, they announce more measures to expand equal opportunities.  Some faculty felt threatened by those measures and launched a blog which purported to make a record of those threats.  They call it Woki-Leaks South Dakota.  Its stated purpose:  "We have made a commitment not to stand by idly while Woke activists turn South Dakota’s public schools into far-left political organizations."

According to an investigative article by Jonathan Ellis of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the blog printed emails from Dr. Downs that agitated legislators.  He wrote, "Lawmakers drafted a letter accusing Downs of fostering a woke community that suppressed other viewpoints. The letter demanded Downs put an end to the program or resign."  Downs apparently chose the latter option. 

Dr. Downs established some committees to put in place policies and practices that promote diversity on campus.  They are the Diversity Action Pillar Team and the Athletic Council on Community, Culture, and Social Justice.  Those committees issued a notice to the campus that stated:

Students, staff, and faculty who need a space to process the events of the day are welcome to the Multicultural Affairs Center in Avera Student Center room 201 from Monday through Friday, from 9am until 5pm. We acknowledge that the topics of racism and police brutality are complex, with varying perspectives. We ask our community to respect that this space is not the appropriate one for political or philosophical debate.

 The Woki-Leaks blog announced this offer with this heading:   NSU’s Woke Have Created a Safe Space in Which Open Discussion of the Chauvin Trial is Not Allowed

The bloggers stated:  "Note that the email, which can be read here, implies that the Chauvin trial was “just” because it yielded the particular outcome the activist authors were looking for."

We also note that this comment implies that the conviction of Derek  Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd was not just. But the blog chooses to misstate what the committees actually said in regard to their offer of a place to reflect on what the Chauvin trial signifies.  It asked people making use of the room to respect it as a sanctuary free from the angry arguments that erupt over topics like racism and police misconduct.  That Woki-Leaks statement reveals a mindset clouded by racial obsessions.   They take offense at the idea that someone offers a place where people can go to contemplate the George Floyd murder and its implication free from the malice-oozing  chatter from folks like the authors of Woki-Leaks.

If the authors of Woki-Leaks are indeed professors, it is clear why they display  academic cowardice by choosing  to remain anonymous.  (Some old colleagues from NSU, however, say that it is obvious to the faculty who they are.)  Their blog violates one of the three transgressions against scholarship for which tenured professors can be fired:  plagiary, fabrication, or falsification.  Their misrepresentation of a request for respect by stating that discussion of the Chauvin trial is not allowed is a false characterization of what was said.  And that invites further scrutiny into the accuracy of what is represented in the blog.   Even though academic free speech invites critical comment, such speech must not misrepresent another person's words for defamatory purposes.  The characterization of the efforts to promote diversity as "woke" subversion of the academic enterprise steps over the boundary of criticism into falsehood.

Dr. Downs' sudden resignation raised some alarm in the community.  He raised $110 million in donated funds, which is an unusual achievement for a public university.  Some people worry that if the man who attracted that money suddenly left, the donors might have second thoughts about their donations.  When the information about the letter of ultimatum by the legislators was revealed, the worry intensified.   Professors' professional organizations are particularly wary of political intrusions into campus business.  When politicians assert direct control over a state college,  the freedoms to research, study, and teach are endangered.  In this case, legislators threatened to withhold funding.  If that happens or the school responds with an act of conciliation, it could be censured by scholastic organizations for compromising academic freedom to political interests.  Dr, Downs resignation is an accession to the legislator's ultimatum and a signal that NSU has acceded to political interests. 

At NSU the compromised status is compounded by the complicity of faculty members who chose to subvert the independence of the academic enterprise through an act of complicity with legislators who wish have the colleges operate under their will.  Northern State was censured by the American Association of University Professors in the past for not following academic due process in personnel decisions.  This case involves faculty members circumventing the Board of Regents in their complicity with legislators.  Whereas censure is usually placed on an administration for violating academic due process,  in this instance of political co-option the faculty  was involved.  That has a very negative portent for anyone who might apply for the job of president of the university.

Who would knowing apply for a job where faculty take insidious action against a president who was trying to advance diversity? The Northern faculty may have assumed messianic intent in saving their college from wokeness.  But they have demonstrated compelling reasons for why qualified people would not be their president.  Or their colleague. Or their students.


Saturday, May 1, 2021

Is "Gypsy" a racially offensive term? Not to a lot of people who call themselves that.

 Northern State University's homecoming celebration is called Gypsy Days.  Administrators recently responded to the objections of some students and outside groups to the Gypsy motif and decided to call the homecoming something else.  The administration asked for reactions from the alumni and, apparently, received overwhelming objections to changing the motif, so  then it announced it would not change the name of the homecoming.

For some years, I was adviser to the Northern student publications, and at one point some of the staff was curious about how Northern came to use the Gypsy imagery.  They poured over past copies of the student newspaper and yearbook and asked some of the senior faculty.  The explanation they received was that the University of South Dakota has its Dakota Days, a historical theme; South Dakota State University has the Hobo Days theme; and Northern students chose the Gypsy theme.  The idea was to have a homecoming theme based on the  periodic gathering together of people who are related and joined together by tradition.  Gypsies were known to have such gatherings to which participants traveled from afar to attend the occasion.  (You can read an account of a Gypsy gathering here.)

Current students at Northern said the use of the term Gypsy is a racial slur.  They seem to equate it with the N-word.  It does not have the kind of history the N-word has, however.  The word Gypsy descends from a middle English word for Egyptian.  People in that time thought the nomadic people they encountered came from Egypt.  Most of those Eurasian nomads they encountered called themselves Romany people, and in their migration to Europe, they did come through Egypt.  One of the current errors about Gypsies is that they all prefer to call themselves Romani.  They don't.  Many bands have different identifying histories, but do share the nomadic way of life.  And they call themselves what best identifies their particular history.

The word Gypsy is regarded as a pejorative in some quarters, but largely by people who aren't Gypsies.  Some Gypsies object to  being referred to as Romi.  The NSU administration decided to stay with a school tradition in keeping Gypsy Days, because there has not been any history of disrespect or stereotyping in its use.   Sports fans of the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins mock Indians when they do a silly tomahawk chopping gesture which is a disparagement of the Native American culture.  Aside from some ceremonies in which a few people don some colorful Gypsy dress as they crown the homecoming king and queen, there has been no mocking imitation or minstrelsy of Gypsy culture at NSU.

Another factor is that numerous organizations identify themselves with the Gypsy name.  A directory of organizations in English-speaking countries lists the following:

National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Groups

The Gypsy Union 

Gypsy Lore Society

Association of Gypsies/Romani International, Inc.

National Gypsy Council 

Gypsy Council for Education, Culture, 

   Welfare and Civil Rights

Gypsy Traveller Health Information Service 

National Association of Gypsy Women 

National Gypsy Council 

Gypsy Heritage Centre 

Gypsy Association of Women 

The question facing the NSU administration is if the tradition of Gypsy Days has been belittling, disrespectful, racist, and if it has been harmful to the Gypsy people.  It obviously came up with a compelling lack of such evidence in deciding to continue with the tradition.  The point of homecoming is to gather former students together to reunite, continue friendships, and  contemplate the bonds they share with the college and fellow alumni.  Ethnic groups have social traditions that celebrate a rebonding of people to each other.  For example, the Sons of Norway promote such reenactments as a way of keeping alive their heritage.

In a time when diversity on campuses is a major concern, it would seem that the elimination of cross-cultural sharing, particularly of positive traditions, would be counter-productive.

The "Gathering of the Gypsies" is a tradition that grew out of the defamation, discrimination, and oppression that the people who call themselves Gypsies had to survive.  It seems a good tradition to explore and emulate, not to abandon.

A Gathering of the Gypsies at the Appleby Fair in England.  It draws 10,000 Gypsies to celebrate their tradition of gathering and renewing their bond to each other.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

You want WHO running your healthcare? Revisited.

After 14 years, the miserable experience we had in the emergency room still nags at me.  I now think I should have taken some action against the hospital personnel.  They were incompetent.  This incident occurred the day after Christmas in 2007.

The incident touches many of our current political issues: teen-age drivers, health care, especially healthcare, law enforcement records, and insurance laws. And dealing with bureaucracies.

We were less than a hundred miles from Denver, just passing Fort Morgan on I-76 a few minutes after 7 p.m. the day after Christmas. A long string of emergency vehicles was lined up on the right shoulder with yellow lights flashing and flood lights illuminating the scene. I slowed down and moved over to the left lane into the cautious line of traffic that was carefully obeying the laws about how to proceed around emergency crews.

As the procession of vehicles moved past the police cruisers, fire trucks, and ambulances, I saw no vehicles approaching us in the rear view mirrors. As we passed the emergency vehicles, I noted an unusual amount of smoke around one of the patrol cars, and just as we passed it is when I felt the jolt and heard the bang. I said to my wife, in the manner of the mayor of Hiroshima, “What the f*** was that?” I thought a vehicle at the side of the road had exploded. I was pushed onto the left shoulder of the Interstate, but could not slow the car or bring it to a stop, so I drove onto the median hoping the snow would help slow down our car, which it did and we came to a stop.

It was not an explosion. We were rear-ended by a 17-year-old girl in a car with three other kids. This I learned from a state trooper who came to the emergency room where we were being treated and gave us a report. We were hit from behind by a car going at a very high rate of speed and because we were in motion, the impact accelerated our speed. The line of traffic in the left lane was doing about 40; the young woman was doing about 80. Apparently, with the impact, my hand struck the cruise control lever and the car was resuming cruising speed and that is why it was difficult to bring the car to a stop. But that is a small part of the story,

Our car carried our rescued greyhound Ingrid in the back seat and a load of Christmas presents in the cargo area. We traveled quite some distance before I could bring it to a stop and it took some minutes for emergency personnel to reach us. They had witnessed the collision. I managed to get out of the car and saw that our rear end was totally mashed in. It was 7 degrees outside, so I put my coat on and in doing so felt twinges in my back and neck. A fireman named David was the first to reach our car and he, of course, asked if we were okay. Neither of us was sure. We were confused about what had happened.

An ambulance drove up and some EMTs thought that we should be checked over at the hospital. They asked us to get out of the car and take off our coats and back up to those hard, flat back boards that they strap you to and immobilize you with. We were strapped and taped down to the boards. However, Virginia had found our cell phones, had one arm free, and had our Aberdeen insurance agent on the phone while we were still in the ambulance. I was in the emergency room for about an hour strapped to the board, but any pain I felt was from an arthritic hip that was protesting at being immobilized on a hard board in a very uncomfortable position. All I needed to do was to be able to elevate my knee a bit to relieve the pressure, but the medical personnel said they could not loosen the straps and I must remain immobilized until I was checked over. After an hour or so, I was given a cat-scan and finally an MD came in. He said, “You’re neck is a mess.”

I have been dealing with arthritis problems in it for years, and I replied I was aware of that. My concern was that the impact may have aggravated those problems. The cat-scan showed that the impact probably knocked loose some bony tissue, but nothing of note seemed broken.

Except for the emergency and health care system in which I found myself an unwilling victim.

Virginia had made sure that Ingrid would be taken care of before we were transported to the hospital. If Ingrid gets off leash, she sometimes gives in to the urge to show off her speed. (She won or placed in 35 of her 84 career races.) We feared that she might take off down the Interstate. Emergency personnel assured us she would be taken care of.

These people were doing their best.

However, the emergency room was another story. The personnel were in no hurry to examine us, but once they did they were clearly very anxious to get rid of us. However, we were interviewed by a state policeman for his report. He is the one who told us we were rear-ended and the young driver was cited for a bunch of stuff. We were given some vials of Vicodon and 800-mg. Motrin, I was put in a cervical collar, and told we could wait for whatever rides we had arranged in the reception room. No one asked if we had arrangements to go anywhere or any way to get there.

Dr. Lang, the emergency room physician and the other medical personnel were clearly anxious to be rid of us—once they were sure they had all the billing information they needed. They ushered us to a waiting room and said we could wait there until our transportation arrived. That was the last we saw of any hospital personnel.. I was having muscle spasm that felt like I was being hit in the back with a sledge hammer. The Vicodin and Motrin were useless.

We had a hotel room reserved in Denver. Both my oldest daughter, my son, and a nephew live in Denver. We called them and told them what happened, and they immediately left their evening jobs and piled into two RAV4s to come get us and haul all the cargo to Denver. They arrived after an hour's wait in the waiting room, and we went about the business of collecting Ingrid and retrieving the items from our wrecked car, which included our coats, our eyeglasses—which we found missing while we were in the emergency room, and must have flown off from the impact—and our luggage and the gifts.

Getting Ingrid was no problem. A deputy sheriff had taken her to the local animal shelter. His dispatcher called him and he met us at the shelter, and Ingrid was happy to be reunited.

Getting the stuff out of our car was another matter. The tow-truck operator had locked our car in a compound, and he refused to come out and open it up because it was late and he had settled in for the evening. We had to return in the morning during business hours if we wanted our belongings.

So we headed to/Denver in zero-degree weather without coats, turning up the car heat, and drove the two hours to our hotel in Denver. Daughter Leslie stopped by her house and lent us some parkas and t-shirts we could use for pajamas. We were glad to get the hell out of Ft. Morgan.

The story goes on for seven months, involving surgery, and a car that was returned to us in July after $18,000 had been spent to repair it, and it had over 20 visible errors in the work done. There are some good parts of the story, involving health care in Aberdeen;, but also some not-so-good parts.

It all raises the question of who should be in charge of emergency treatment and healthcare? What we have now just ain’t working.

[To be continued.]

Something I recall that this original account did not include:  While lying strapped to a table in a way that was causing great pain to an arthritic hip (which was finally replaced this year, 2021) for an hour,  I could hear the emergency room doctor chatting and giggling in a flirty way with a young woman in another treatment alcove.  Over the years, I have felt guilty that I did not report the doctor somewhere, somehow.  I wonder how much suffering he has caused in other patients over the years.

Monday, April 26, 2021

The demise of college presidents. And colleges.

 My first close encounters with college presidents were as a journalist.  Part of my editorial duties were to cover higher education.  This put me in contact with the college presidents in my newspaper's coverage area.  At the time, little of the contact involved the financial and business aspects of their jobs.  They had vice presidents and directors to do most of that work.  What I reported on mostly was scholarly, research, and teaching projects in which they were involved.  At that time, the role of a college president was not to be a CEO, but to be the lead scholar in the enterprise of learning and teaching.  My experiences with such learned people led to my transition from journalist to professor.  Back then, most college presidents held their jobs because they were active, accomplished scholars.

Today, fund-raising and the public relations needed to attract funds is the dominant activity of a college president.  Whatever attention they pay to academics is related to increasing enrollments to maintain the tuition stream.  That is reflected in the resignation notice for Timothy Downs, the Northern State University president who left his job last week.  The notice stated that he was responsible for "new facilities...funded by donations that amounted to more than $110 million."  Then it added that he instituted "nearly 20" new programs and increased the number of graduate credits conferred by 30 percent.  He had also increased the freshman enrollments and the retention rate of freshmen going into their sophomore year.  These activities all had the emphasis of producing revenue, not scholarly accomplishment.  

Dr. Down's Ph.D. is in organizational communications.  I am certain he knows that his resignation announcement raises questions.  It certainly did for statehouse reporter Bob Mercer.  The announcement contains discordant elements.  When presidents leave for another opportunity, the new opportunity is usually specified.  And, the departure was immediate.  Usually, an announcement is made in advance of the departure so that a search for a replacement can be organized and the departing president can hand off his duties in an orderly way.  Bob Mercer hit a wall of obfuscation when he tried to get answers to the questions raised by Down's sudden departure. 

I retired from NSU 20 years ago, so I am not privy to the talk about why and under what circumstances Downs left.  I sorely miss my late colleague in history, Bob Thompson, who in retirement had coffee on campus everyday and could gather accurate information in a way that made the CIA look like amateurs.  Whatever facts are being covered up, the handling of the resignation announcement broadcast a loud and clear message that something was wrong,    Dr. Downs seems to have disappeared into the murk of misdirection.  That is not a healthy indication from an organization which is supposed to operate and support the handling of honest information with forthrightness and  integrity.  The Regents and legislators questioned about Downs' leaving have decided to play hide-the-reason. 

However, there are things going on with the legislature and the regents that have portentous implications.  Gov. Noem has appointed three people to the Board of Regents this month:  Tony Venhuizen, her former chief of staff;  Tim Rave, a former legislator, president and CEO of the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations from Baltic; and Jeff Partridge, also a former legislator and currently  president of Partridge Financial Services in Rapid City. Of the nine members  on the board, only one has been involved with academics.  

This is happening at a time when the Regents are working to meet the demands of a law passed by the 2020 legislature to form a task force to look for ways to save money:

      Section 2. The task force examination shall include the following:

  1. (1)  The possible combining of administration at all levels of operation within an institution;

  2. (2)  The possible combining of operations and functions across multiple institutions;

  3. (3)  The possible combining of the administration of programs across multiple institutions;

  4. (4)  A review of the duplication of program offerings;

  5. (5)  A review of the academic majors with low enrollments and low numbers of graduates;

  6. (6)  A review of functions outside the core missions of teaching, learning, and research;

 (7) A review of the operations and functions provided  as an efficiency through the central office of the Board of Regents;

(8) A review of the viability of the university centers; and 

(9) Any other possible cost-effective measures the task force determines are worthy of examination.

Some of the legislators have said some menacing things in regard to their intentions:

Representative Steven Haugaard said the regents have the duty. “They just haven’t been doing it.” He asked whether each of the six universities needs a president and whether South Dakota needs all of the campuses. He acknowledged discussions are hard because they dramatically affect communities.

“The ultimate hammer is the allocation of funds from the Legislature. We can certainly cut off a hundred million dollars as an incentive if they don’t do their job,” Haugaard said. 

If a college president raises $110 million for his institution and the overseers are expressing the intention of hacking away at its budget, the president has cause for concern.  And so do people donating the money.  It is not hard to see where there might be a collision of intentions.  Looking at it from the president's perspective, one can understand where one there might be occasion for a president to tell the regents to take the job and shove it.

That may not be the case.  But what Haugaard's words do is send a strong message to potential applicants for the job of president.  No qualified, serious-minded person would consider the job.  And with that attitude in play, fund-raising may well be impossible.

President Downs and Northern Foundation president Todd Jordre announced their resignations in the same week.  Regents point out that they have no control over the Foundation and the two resignations were pure coincidence.  However, they and the legislature do have control over the funds.  

Gov. Noem is  a part of the GOP anti-academic force.  Her regents will carry out the anti-intellectual vendetta that has been mandated by law. And that legislators are excited about.  

As for Northern, is a campus with two new dorms and an unfinished athletic stadium for sale?  


  • **The members of the task force to look for ways to cut costs in state higher education.

    Brian L. Maher, regents’ executive director and CE

      Sen. Ryan Maher, Isabel; Sen. Reynold Nesiba, Sioux Falls; Rep. Hugh Bartels, Watertown;

  • and Rep. Chris Karr, Sioux Falls; representing the Legislature’s Joint Committee on


  •   Regent Jim Thares, Aberdeen; Regent Joan Wink, Howes; and Regent Barb Stork, Dakota


  •   USD President Sheila GestringBHSU President Laurie Nichols, and SDSU President Barry


  •   Jim Neiman, Hulett, Wyo., Neiman Enterprises CEO

  •   Tyler Tordsen, Sioux Falls, southeast regional director for U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds

  •   Paulette Davidson, Rapid City, Monument Health CEO

  •   Elsie Meeks, Pine Ridge, Lakota Funds board chair

  •   Nadifa Mahamed, Sioux Falls, South Dakota State University student

  •   Hal Clemensen, Aberdeen, Agtegra Cooperative Board of Directors

  •   Jon Veenis, Sioux Falls, ELM Resources CEO (retired)

  •   Jim Lochner, Dakota Dunes, Tyson Foods COO (retired)

  •   Doug Morrison, Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls School District director of research, innovation, and


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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Who was that unmasked idiot?

As a professor, I can attest that people except for a very few are not inherently stupid.  They work at it.  It's a matter of choice.  They choose to suspend intelligence and reasoning in large parts of their lives, but can be coerced into mindfulness if need be.  They tend to be intellectually lazy, but can muster great bursts of energy when it comes to defending their ignorance and their biases.  In most of those defenses, they display a commitment to stupidity.  

Human culture has evolved a system of education to teach people not to be stupid.  It is a process that faces tremendous inertia.  Many people avoid the state of sentience when possible.  They only submit to it when great disaster befalls them.  Of course, most great disasters are the result of people avoiding sentience.

The matter of wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic is a defining occasion for revealing stupidity at its most stunning.  Whether to wear a mask or not is not a matter of personal choice.  It's a matter of intelligence,  Only the irredeemably stupid make the choice not to wear a mask, no matter what reason they may supply.  A reason may be malice, but malice is a form of stupidity.  

We live in a time when most of us understand pathogens and ways to avoid them.  Wearing masks to limit the transmission of breathe-born pathogens has been a medical practice since the 1860s as scientists applied their knowledge of germs to  the prevention of disease.  Masks filter the air we breathe.  When we are in a pandemic with pathogens flowing through the air all around us, we can put on masks for the same reason we would put on masks in the military when someone shouts out the warning "gas!"  It's a matter of staying alive.   And so is wearing a mask when pathogens have invaded our breathing space.  .

Except for some people.  They are the special ones.  They are the ones who think being stupid is a display of character.  They are the ones who won't let anyone tell them what to do.  Rather than comply with a reasonable request for the sake of public health, they will regard the request to put on a mask as a violation of their freedom.  

The problem here for public disease is not so much avoiding the pathogens but the idiots who masklessly  spread them.  Stay away from the bare faces.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Watching a man die, and die, and die....

 I have watched the trial for murder of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin.  The coverage of the trial involves the playing and replaying of videos of the death of the man he was apprehending, George Floyd.  It took more than nine minutes for Floyd to expire with his neck under the knee of Officer Chauvin as he repeatedly gasped that he couldn't breathe.

The episode was captured on a cell phone by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier who was on her way to the store  with her 9-year-old cousin when she came upon the scene.  When she saw that George Floyd was in agony, she recorded his ordeal.  She posted her video on the social media later that night, and it circulated around the world.  

Concerns about how law enforcement officers do their jobs became a major issue when a man recorded the police beating Rodney King in 1991 after he was stopped for driving under the influence.  Since then, video recordings have become a major form of evidence for law enforcement and a check on how law enforcement officers are doing their jobs.

Ms. Frazier's video inspired protests throughout the nation and the world.  It captured a moment and an image of a black man desperately pleading for his life in the hands of men who demonstrate that they don't think it matters.  Videos of police killing people are a genre, in fact.  In addition to Ms. Frazier's video, the trial features more from police body cams and security surveillance cameras.  George Floyd's last moments are thoroughly captured on videos.

The agony and desperation of George Floyd is a grim spectacle, and it overshadows what Floyd is saying from the time he is approached in his car to his death.  The police intervention began with a rookie policeman coming up to Floyd as he sits in his car, points his gun at Floyd, and orders him to put his hands on the fucking steering wheel.  Immediately Floyd responds by putting his hands on the wheel and pleads not to be shot.  From that point during the time Floyd is removed from his car to the time he is taken down at the police car and is put to death, he is constantly pleading for his life.  Floyd, understood that as a black man, his death was imminent at the hands of the police.  He seemed convinced that this encounter would conclude with his execution.

Why would he be so convinced?  Because of precedents established in the Twin Cities.  One precedent that is impressed on the mind is the shooting of Philando Castile.  Here is the account of his murder from the Beacon:
 On a Wednesday evening, two days after the Fourth of July in 2016, Philando Castile and his girl friend were returning from grocery shopping.  Her four-year-old daughter was in the back seat.  
A police officer thought the occupants of the car looked like those described in a police bulletin after a bank robbery.  He stopped the car and asked Castile for his driver's license and proof of insurance.  Castile informed the officer that he was armed, and the officer told him not to pull it out.  He said he wasn't, but was reaching for his identification, at which point the officer pulled his gun and fired seven shots into the window of the car.  Five of them hit Castile.  The girlfriend, who was then  ordered to her knees and handcuffed, captured it all on her phone.
The videos of George Floyd's execution by knee record a man pleading for his life, calling out to his dead mother in recognition that he was being processed to join her.   With all the videos, his death can be played time and again.  You can watch him die and die and die.  Grab a beverage, sit back, and join the death watch.  Celebrate America.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States