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 MinneKota@gmail.com
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
For a couple of decades, I have traveled between Aberdeen and Tacoma Park, where I have a place I have use as work studio, on a daily basis. I have previously written about the disappearance of animal life along the way. A few years past, the drive would take me past some horse pastures, some places where lambs would frisk in the spring, and some huge herds of cattle. But those places have all been converted to cropland. The conversion of the prairie into factory farms has eliminated livestock on the land. And people, too.
The significance of that conversion has its effects on the human, domestic animal, and wildlife populations. As I travel through the country, there is little to observe but the limitless fields of corn and soybeans. There is little else.
Many years ago I was the farm editor for a Midwest newspaper. Driving through the countryside was not a lonely experience then. As one passed by farmsteads, it was always easy to see which ones had children. Kids were always outside. Younger ones could be seen on swing sets, bicycles, under basketball hoops on garages or barns, doing what kids do. Often one could see them in the farmyard training and grooming their 4-H animals. Older teen-agers tended to hang out around cars of friends who dropped by. And if one traveled the countryside on Sundays or holidays, it was common to see large family or neighborhood gatherings under the trees around tables laden with food. There was always the activity of a busy community.
When I travel the country side today, I may see some farmyards with swing sets, but never any children on them. If I ever do encounter another human, it is usually a lone person on a lawn tractor mowing the yard. What is striking about the rural landscape today is the desolation.
|No more egrets.|
Posted by David Newquist at 8:03 AM
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Almost everything Donald Trump says is provably wrong. PolitiFact says that 76 percent of statements by Trump that it checked were false. Aside from the juvenile insults and abuse he spews, he constantly makes up lies. He demonstrates every time he opens his mouth that he has a fifth-grade bully's mentality and multiple personality disorders.
But he is the one the GOP voters chose as their presidential candidate. Not that some other contenders, such as Ted Cruz, would be much different. Although a few Republicans repudiate him, he has a large number of followers. Until he was spurred into an insane rage by the Khan family, he was holding even with Hillary Clinton in the polls. But if American voters can elevate a wretch like Trump to be the candidate of a major party, they can rally and put him into the presidency. Remember: Half the people are below average.
All the attention given to Trump misdirects attention away from the real reason that the United States is at a tipping point. Trump is not the problem. The people who are attracted to him are. Trump is the kind of person that our parents, our teachers, our pastors define as the ultimate human failure, as the kind of person to avoid and avoid becoming. So, why would so many people choose him as a leader? To do so, they they have to give up the values of honesty, respect, and good will that are the base from which America launches its quest for freedom, equality, and justice. At every campaign appearance, Trump blatantly flouts those qualities. So why do so many people cling to a person who constantly makes things up that are so easy to disprove?
It is because he tells the lies that his adherents prefer to believe. The anti-intellectual faction cultivated by the Republican party cherishes and takes pride in its ignorance and its inability and refusal to handle factual information. Social scientists have studied this mentality over the years. When people's beliefs in false facts are challenged, rather than examine them, they feel threatened, reject any conflicting information, and lock down on their preferred beliefs. Appeals to reason with verifiable facts makes them cling to their false notions more desperately.
Some months ago, I noted, along with other observers of history, that the rise of Donald Trump put America on a parallel track with Germany of the 1930s. The Nazis played to a sense of shame at being defeated in World War I and to white supremacy and its accompanying racial and ethnic hatreds within the people to engineer its takeover of Germany and much of Europe. Trump portrays American progress in dealing with racial and international conflicts as a state of decline. Americans who hid their racial hatreds and their deficiencies of thought and character following the civil rights movement, now openly express and practice those traits of character. They have revived the spirit of Jim Crow. They feel that if a billionaire and reality television star can openly demonstrate ignorance, stupidity, and the perverse characteristics of human nature, so can they.
A person who was once a state legislator and the minister of fundamentalist church took issue with that post. We got into an exchange about what sources of information provide reliability and integrity, and he cited sources such as Breibart--proven fabricators and deliberate misconstruers--over fact checks such as Politifact and the Washington Post's Fact Checker as credible sources. A man with presumably some education who is in the business of interpreting texts chooses spurious and scurrilous sources over those that make earnest and professional efforts at determining truth and accuracy. His comments are a case study in how prejudice and mental attitude nullifies any inclination toward intellectual integrity. And as is the case in most such exchanges, he turns to Trump-like denigrations and malevolent accusations at the end.
It is not Trump, then, who is responsible for the descent of American politics into insane-asylum incoherence. It is those people who education has failed and who have failed education. The divide is not between liberals and conservatives. It is between those who value the development of intelligence and those who give in to the malignancies of the human spirit.
If Trump were to be elected president, that great experiment called American democracy would be at an end. The people would have proven what the skeptics have contended every since the founding of America: stupid people cannot govern themselves. And the stupid outnumber the intelligent.
I am not one who thinks the American people ultimately choose rightly. Yes, we have slowly worked our way up from slavery, Jim Crow, and the all the religious and life-style oppressions that exist in the country. But Trump in thought, word, and deed expresses a desire to return to those conditions of life. Although the polls currently show a rejection of him by the majority, he has the support of the GOP and adherents who find in him a leader back to the bigotry and oppression that they long for. Just as the Germans did in the 1930s, a majority of Americans just might vote to choose malice over liberty, equality, and justice.
If Trump loses, the United States will still have to deal with the malevolence he has unleashed in the electorate. If he wins, the human aspiration we called America will effectively close. And the violence that exists in so much of American life will rule. There will be no winners.
People who believe in the better angels of America are ashamed of what Trump represents in their country. People who prefer to vent their hatreds and to oppress have found a way to channel their malice.
America is at its tipping point. Whatever way it tips, people of good will and good purpose will have prodigious work to do and some strenuous battles to fight to allow the better angles to rule.
Trump is not the villain. The people who want malice to triumph are a fact of life that will be with us no matter which way the election goes.
Posted by David Newquist at 10:32 AM
Saturday, July 30, 2016
Both of the Obamas have committed what has become an unforgivable sin in our current culture. They went a bit literary on us.
It may be that in our current digital state of affairs we have lost the ability to handle any messages more than 140 characters long or to understand any expressions more complicated than howls of anger or squeals of delight. Entering Facebook or the comment sections on news media and blogs is like stepping into a pit viper den. Its inhabitants are able only to strike out at the intrusion, and then coil back down to ready their reptilian brains to strike out again.
Barack Obama's DNC speech had political purpose, but it was largely an essay on how American democracy has evolved so that the facts of our political status fit the aspirations of the language in which the nation's founding was framed. He emulates the speeches of Lincoln, which are part of America's literary canon.
In providing courses in literature in our schools, we strive to enable the students to understand communications that have cognitive content, that consist of more than squeals and howls. Literature consists of much more than imaginative fiction, poetry, and drama. It also consists of modes that deal with facts: exposition, narrative, and the methods of analysis, such as cause-and-effect and comparison-and-contrast. The objective is for students to recognize and understand such forms of communication when they encounter them and to be able to use them in their own thought and expression. Working with language in its various forms is what literacy is.
Michelle Obama's speech to the DNC produced an outpouring of illiteracy. One part of the speech became the focus of many demonstrations of the ignorance of language:
That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. [Emphasis is mine.]
And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.That phrase "a house built by slaves" spurred some howls of rage from those who identify themselves as conservatives, whatever that means in their minds. It sent Bill O'Reilly off into claiming that the slaves who worked in building the White House were well fed and well housed, as if that mitigated that they were held in bondage and required to do the work. And a comment at the Dakota Free Press accused Michelle Obama of being a liar:
I see Michelle repeats her prevarication of a slave built White House. The historical truth is that the White House was built almost entirely by Scottish masons and their apprentices, local tradesmen, local carpenters, immigrant Irish and Scottish laborers and free blacks. Slave labor was used primarily for rough cutting stone and timber. Scottish stone masons were even used in the quarries to train the slaves on how to quarry the stones. To claim that slaves built the White House one would also have to claim that wheat farmers bake wedding cakes and lumberjacks build houses.
The White House Historical Association refutes that:
The D.C. commissioners, charged by Congress with building the new city under the direction of the president, initially planned to import workers from Europe to meet their labor needs. However, response to recruitment was dismal and soon they turned to African American—enslaved and free—to provide the bulk of labor [my emphasis] that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings.The significant aspect of those who fix on "a house built by slaves" is their illiteracy, their inability to handle any form of communication that is more than a howl or a squeal. Michelle Obama's speech is devoted to showing what is right with America:
So, look, so don't let anyone ever tell you that this country isn't great, that somehow we need to make it great again. Because this right now is the greatest country on earth!She uses the story of her daughters to illustrate that the greatness of America is in its striving to live up to its call for freedom, equality, and justice. To do this she uses the imagery of a house built by slaves and two young descendants of those save now being occupants of that house and playing on the lawn with their dogs. The imagery captures the progress the nation has made from being built on slave labor to the free and happy young women playing on the lawn of the house that represents their nation.
Michelle Obama's speech clearly states what she is illustrating:
That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.
There are many peoplewho are rejecting, consciously or not, the premise on which the nation was built.
Posted by David Newquist at 10:03 AM
Saturday, July 23, 2016
As the GOP grappled with hard evidence that Melania Trump incorporated verbatim portions of Michelle Obama's speech into her own, without acknowledging the source, it put forth the charge that Michelle's speech was plagiarized. It is the juvenile tactic of
trying to deflect blame for wrongdoing by accusing someone else of the same act.The claim is that Michelle Obama plagiarized a part of her speech from Saul Alinsky.
Here is the part of the speech that was said to be plagiarized:
Barack stood up that day and spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about the world as it is and the world as it should be. And he said that all too often, we accept the distance between the two and settle for the world as it is — even when it doesn't reflect our values and aspirations.
3. As an organizer I start from where the world is, as it is, not as I would like it to be. That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be — it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be. That means working in the system.
Snopes investigated the claim against Michelle Obama and also found it abjectly and stupidly contrived out of malice, not fact:
A simplistic comparison of Alinksy and Mrs. Obama's uses of "the world as it is" and "the world as it should be" (phrases that were arguably exceedingly common in concept for policy speeches) suggested a surface likeness. But Alinsky's purportedly plagiarized half-sentence was part of a passage about adopting a realistic approach to "the world as it is" versus "the world as it should be." By contrast, Michelle Obama was paraphrasing her husband's lamenting acceptance of "the world as it is" when "the world as it should be ... reflect[ed] our values and aspirations" and was not expressing it as her own thought.
As such, the plagiarism claim applied to Mrs. Obama was weak on its face, given that it involved a mere eight common words supposedly lifted from the oft-invoked Alinsky and expressed a notion opposite to the one offered by Alinsky.
Politics has always had the willfully ignorant and malicious. In our time, cable news and the Internet have given them amplifiers. Those who circulate the charge of Michelle Obama plagiarizing Alinksy are members of that group and need to be identified as such. What they say rises from endemic untruthfulness and malice. And that is what defines defamation.
Posted by David Newquist at 7:51 PM
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
JT, the managing editor who had worked his way up from city hall and police beat reporter, said that police department corruption ran in ten-year cycles. Every ten years, police departments would have a scandal in which some of its members were exposed for corrupt relationships or practices. He said that low pay and constant contact with criminality wore away at some officers and they gave in to the temptations of money or angry rage.
I remember the night that the Rock Island Police Department teamed up with the sheriff's department and raided Mills' whorehouse, which had been in operation for decades. They arrested Jenny, the madam, who was allowed her one phone call and made it to the chief of police. "Goddamnit, Klaus," she said, "we paid you to warn us when a raid was coming." Klaus soon found himself out of a job and opened an antique store. Jenny retired, too.
And I remember Big Joe, a lumbering 6-foot-6-inch cop who wasn't the brightest but maintained a rigid Irish Catholic honesty and an intolerance for police misbehavior. So, he was assigned to the night beat foot patrol in the merchant area of the downtown when there were no enterprises open that might invite police collaboration. There were some bars where workers from the factory area would stop by after the second shift for boiler makers and occasionally get a bit out of control. Big Joe would lumber in, wrap the offender in a bear hug, and assist him out the door. Often, he'd summon a squad car to drive them home, even though the squad drivers wold protest that they weren't running a taxi service. Other times, he would call for a family member to drive the drunk home. Joe arrested very few people.
There wasn't much gun violence back then. It was against the law at the time to carry a gun into a bar. When one was displayed or discovered, Joe would approach the armed person and tell him that weapons had to be checked outside. Joe would "take charge" of the weapon and check it in at the police station, where it could be retrieved when the owner was fully sober. A factor in Joe's ability to maintain the peace was that he was the department's best marksman. He consistently scored the highest in the qualifying tests and was a frequent winner at sports shooting contests. He was known for stopping attempted night time burglaries of stores on his beat and of spotting incipient fires and busted waterlines and of helping vagrants find shelter for the night. He knew his beat so well and was so alert and conscientious that he could spot problems in the making. He was affable but no one messed with him. If someone misbehaved, they would usually straighten up when people threatened "to call Joe."
I knew him from the time, as a college student, when I had a job in a shoe store. I special ordered his work shoes for him. They were size 18.
Joe was a peace officer from a different time and a different theory of policing. Many of his colleagues operated on the theories of "police science," which advocated a more commanding presence for the police. Their relationships with the public were more authoritarian. They dominated the hierarchy and were the kind that reporters dealt with most often. They tended to not like reporters. That was because reporters kept track of habeas corpus matters and insisted upon reviewing the records on a daily basis. Police found this inconvenient at times. One reporter was grabbed by the neck by a duty sergeant and lifted off the floor. JT published the incident in the metro section and sparked an investigation of police brutality. That reporter and I are still friends on Facebook.
One of my first journalistic encounters with police came as a student newspaper reporter in Chicago. Some students who worked at concession stands during sports events witnessed police accosting people in restrooms and arresting them for various violations such as soliciting sex. Then they would try to extract a bond or a "fine" from the accused. The editor of the student newspaper, who was a veteran of the Korean War, was told about the scam and managed for reporters to witness the operations and then interview the victims and other people who were witnesses. The stories were picked up by a major newspaper and some reform ensued. But the Chicago police departments have a long and varied history of cop crime. JT would point out that they aren't alone.
There are good cops and bad cops. There are cops who act with respect for liberty, equality, and justice and try to follow the requirements of due process. There are cops who think only in terms of their badges of authority. Some are focused on their clearance records. And there are cops who make one question if they are bright enough to be wearing a badge.
Police departments are often fractious organizations. The rivalries, resentments, and animosities threaten their ability to function. Aberdeen went through an extremely tumultuous period about ten years ago when detectives and patrol officers suddenly resigned or were fired, chiefs resigned or were fired, and the public did not know if the city was running police department or producing a reality television show.
This kind of dysfunction was demonstrated last week when some off-duty officers were working as security for a Minneapolis Lynx basketball game. When the players, in response to the police shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop, came onto the floor in T-shirts that supported Black Lives Matter in protest of the pointless shooting, the police walked off the job. Their petulance and support from the police union spokesman received a rebuke from the mayor and police chief. Their action demonstrates the racially charged attitude that questioning police actions in the apparent executions of black men is an attack on law enforcement. Exhibiting that attitude places the police in a posture of justifying lynching, rather than making earnest attempts to deal with gratuitous killings. The more police try to dismiss or justify the executions, the more reason the public has to be wary and skeptical of the police. When the public "honors" the police, it is put in the position of honoring the executions.
The killing of five policemen in Dallas and three in Baton Rouge exposes the added complication that our gun culture adds to racial discord. A few years ago, the Colorado legislature reacted to the mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater with a number of restrictive gun laws. Those laws were later repealed, but they caused a sharp spike in the sales of assault rifles. The gun advocates contend that people need to arm themselves against their government in case it tries to take away their liberties, and the increase in gun sales was attributed to this faction. However, one gun dealer said it wasn't only the NRA types who were buying guns. Many people were arming themselves to protect themselves against the NRA types should they go on a rampage.
When the advocates of arming the citizenry said arms were needed if the government encroached on their lives, the message got through to some people. Micah Johnson and Gavin Long were paying attention. Both military veterans, they armed themselves with assault rifles* and semi-automatic pistols. They used their training and their weapons to attack the police. And both men cited the police executions of black men, some unarmed and others not showing any evidence of drawing weapons, as motives behind their attacks. They saw the police shootings as evidence that the government was engaging in combat against black men. They were acting upon what they saw as the eventuality that the gun advocates warned about.
The police serve an essential function in society, often at the peril of their own lives. No one disputes that. And no one disputes the fact that the police are assigned the task of protecting the public and most do it well. But that does not mean that when the public sees corruption and unwarranted killings on the part of the police that its expressions of concern and protest are anti-police. Its concerns are anti-corruption and anti-murder.
When the police hide and defend actions by their members that violate the right to life and due process, they comprise a danger to the public. They are seen as the blue menace, not the badges of protection and service. Anti-police attitudes are something that the police have earned through their tolerance and protection of misconduct of their own. They need to fight the crime in their own ranks as stridently as they go after civilian offenders.
That would be their strongest antidote for a bad public attitude toward them. And a more scrupulous image would diminish the motives of people who see them as a part of government that has declared war on black men That is something that Big Joe understood.
* Johnson had an IWI Tavor SAR 5.56-millimeter rifle and a Stag Arms M4 variant 5.56-millimeter, and Long had the same set, an IWI Tavor SAR 5.56-millimeter rifle and a Stag Arms M4 variant 5.56-millimeter rifle, according to police accounts.
Posted by David Newquist at 12:42 PM
Sunday, June 5, 2016
The question raised among many of my colleagues in language and communications is how to deal with the social media. As one colleague put it, we used to warn students that drugs and alcohol can make you stupid, but they never had the overall effect that the social media has had on the human mind.
This Internet and the World Wide Web were invented by professors who saw the unlimited benefits that instant digital communications would have for the creation, refinement, and dissemination of knowledge. For a couple of decades, those expectations were in the process of being realized. However, from the outset there were people who used comment sections and the social media for malignant purposes. Students of communication recognized that the these people detracted from honest communication, like farts at a gourmet banquet, but were regarded as manageable among people educated and literate enough to see the warped and twisted personalities they are.
The alarm bells began to ring when Obama was elected president. The kind of racism which seemed diminished, if not vanquished, by the civil rights movement re-emerged with a furor. In the country at large, racism had come to be regarded as a defect of mind and morality that few people would admit to, but electing a black man as president of the United States was more than those possessed by lingering racist tendencies could handle. The worst kind of racist reactions began to be displayed on the Internet. The racist expressions proliferated. People who would keep their racist feelings private and subdued began to feel encouraged to give them full voice.
Anti-black racism, anti-semitism, and all the other forms of hatred, prejudice, and malice became a staple of electronic communication. The hate squads realized that electronic media could affect and shape the way society thought and reacted. Some countries with predatory and domination motives, in fact, sponsor and train hate squads to attack people and ideas that interfere with their designs. An example is the Russian-backed trolls who have gone after a Finnish journalist. While hackers who get into government and corporate documents receive the most consternation among cyber security experts, those forces who influence, shape, and even control the minds of vulnerable people are more dominant and threatening.
Cases of bullying among school age childlreln and among adults involving internet posts have resulted in numerous suicides. The internet has become a huge force in the human environment through computers, tablets, and cell phones. Many people devote the better part of their day to being online, so that the Internet becomes a major influence in their communication and thinking, in fact a dominant part of their consciousness. My colleagues who are still active professors note that the occupation of students with Internet sites is a formidable impediment to the development of critical intelligence. Students are so caught up in the blizzard of information that they are dysfunctional about separating accurate, verifiable information from the misinformation and disinformation. Cable news, talk radio, "reality:" television, and tabloid journalism have created a population that has lost the capability of critical thinking, of distinguishing between truth and falsehood. In fact, many people no longer care and simply fit into the trends of their electronic environment with no regard for what is intellectually and morally defensible.
The softening of the mass mentality is no more evident than in the rise of Donald Trump. As personal attacks, false information, and appeals to ignorance and resentment fog the communications atmosphere, people fall back on primitive instincts. A large part of trump's appeal is that he is a billionaire (some have questioned that) and seems to be successful in exploiting business for wealth and power. Just as during the democratic revolution that overthrew feudalism in the Old World, there were people who thought their best options were to cower behind the aristocracy and curry its good will and hoped-for largesse for their survival and well-being. They chose lives of unquestioning subservience and class ranking over independence, equality, and the integrity of the self. They chose to remain ignorant and biddable to the whims of their chosen masters. Their model of social organization is the class rankings of the dog pack and the chicken flock, not the equal society of free yeomen.
Global corporations are reversions to the feudal system in which a very few people control the wealth and, therefore, exercise the power over the masses. While people resent the inequality and the lack of good jobs, they still support the forces that create that inequality and push the middle class into poverty as means of control. Donald Trump can get away with inane bragging, with flagrant lies, with unforgivable insults and abuse, but his supporters remain unfazed because he appears as the alpha dog who can lead the pack. His plans are incoherent, unfeasible, and stridently antidemocratic, but his pack seems to have no destination to which it wishes to be led. It seems happy to merely join in the juvenile, unthinking belligerence that comprises Trump's campaign.
Trump is the quintessential example of arrested development. His ideas, his vocabulary, and his total demeanor is on the level of a grade school bully. He seems incapable of dealing with facts or to reason cogently. There will always be such cases of arrested development, we can suppose, so the real question is what happened to so many American people that they would choose him as a leader. They answer is a massive intellectual and moral failure, the loss of ability and desire to apprehend facts and analyze the causes of the trends that affect us. The popular media has softened their minds to the point that they are impressed only with the most boisterous yapping in the dog pack.
The political divide in America is no longer a matter of conservative versus liberal. It is now a matter of the informed and educated versus the mindless and anti-intellectual. Our founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, saw the future of our democracy invested heavily in education and means of productive discourse. As communities developed throughout the nation, the first effort in their establishment was providing schools. The political dialogue of the past quarter century or so has trended more toward demeaning and interfering with public education, with denying the place of science and the arts in a viable national life, and with attacking liberalism as the vector of equality, opportunity, and justice for all. We have regressed to open racism and violence toward others is advocated and practice in the electronic media, so many people think it is now permissible and desirable. Since the 1980s, America has taken giant steps backward in economic equality, productive education, and democratic rule.
We often read George Orwell's 1984, as a warning about Soviet style totalitarianism. We neglected its portrayal of how the electronic media could invade our lives as a means to monitor, influence, and control us. We did not pay attention to the idea that large corporations are bureaucracies, too, and that their impulse is to eliminate competition and establish monopolies which will be unchallenged in what they produce and how they treat people, customers and employees alike.
We have not paid attention to the dismantling of an informed democratic society that has made Donald Trump possible. Many prefer to bury their heads in their cell phones and tablets and let the totalitarian forces take over their minds. That is what troubles my colleagues in language and communication. So many people have surrendered their minds to the electronic dog packs.
Posted by David Newquist at 10:18 AM
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