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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Al Franken gets caught with his skits down

Al Franken revived a boob routine and it fell flat

Those of us ancient enough to remember Minsky's recognized burlesque routine in the photo of Al Franken about to make an adjustment with Leeann Tweeden's knobs.  Hooters,  boobs, knockers, the human female mammaries referred to in some way were the focus of many comedy routines in the old burlesque houses of which Minsky's was a chain..  The lines that would be said with the routine recreated by Franken could be any such as,
  • "Stand by.  I'm about to turn it on."
  • "I'll keep tuning; I think I'm getting Hong Kong."
  • "Let's see if we can get the news."
  • "How much do you have to turn 'em to get the eyes open?"
  • And on and on.
Burlesque houses featured strip-tease acts, but also vaudeville and comedy routines.  Many famous comedians honed their comic skills in burlesque theaters.  The kinds of shows that were featured in burlesque houses found a lucrative home in  Las Vegas in later years.  

Burlesque is a form of parody that often descends into crudeness.    It strips away the pretenses of humankind and puts on display the things that motivate it.  Satire is a mode of exposing the phony and the oppressive, and it often leads to a higher sensibility.  An example is illustrated through the career of Richard Pryor.  One of his best known and best selling routines was recorded in an album called  "That Nigger's Crazy."  Black comedians used the N-word as a parodic way of reflecting the minds of white bigots.  But as Pryor realized how much blacks were hurt by use of the word,  he vowed to stop using it in his later years.

I don't know about the kissing part of the accusations against Al Franken, but I recognize an old routine whose time is gone.  A woman's body is not a stage prop and the time when anyone can get by using it that way is gone.  We are dealing with the process of extending equal rights and respect.  In his apology to Ms. Tweeden, Franken acknowledged that.  But maybe too late.  There seems to be more interest in banishing Franken than in the working on a just society.

The Rialto in Chicago, long gone, was a Minsky burlesque theater.  While it featured striptease, it also featured elaborate costumes and dances and classic comedy routines.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why you may not have noticed that America ended

We tend to forget and ignore those voices that have thought democracy cannot work.  But after the election of Donald Trump as president, those voices have taken on a new relevance.  Whereas the  U.S. was once held up as the living proof that democracy, although messy and cumbersome, can work,  since the reign of Donald Trump it is held up as evidence that it doesn't.

While thinkers have probed the weakness of the democratic ideal since Plato, one of the most commanding voices to express doubt about the efficacy of democracy was Thomas Carlyle's.  He said:

I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
Democracy will prevail when men believe the vote of Judas as good as that of Jesus Christ.
Published 2016
A book published last year by a Georgetown professor is one of the latest examinations of why democracy is not the blessing we like to think it is.   Jason Brennan contends:

But democracy is the rule of the ignorant and the irrational, and it all too often falls short. Furthermore, no one has a fundamental right to any share of political power, and exercising political power does most of us little good. On the contrary, a wide range of social science research shows that political participation and democratic deliberation actually tend to make people worse—more irrational, biased, and mean.
The election of Donald Trump, after a campaign of displaying all the traits that are the opposite of the values our country once professed, proved Brennan's point.  Irrational rejection of science,  lying, defamation, and most expressions of debased character became the operating principles of the nation.   After Trump's constant exposure, the people who voted for him were either knowingly voting for his degenerate values or were too stupid to know what they were doing. That has caused a split in the American people which cannot be reconciled because it is not a political divide:   it is a split over basic values of decency.

After winning some elections Tuesday throughout the nation,  Democrats are claiming a resurgence and a reunification.  They do so with a foolish disregard of their own turmoil.  The contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has produced a strain of hatred for Hillary Clinton that parallels the malice and mindless rage of Trump's defamations against her.   Many Democrats are repulsed and dismayed by this fall into degradation and choose to disassociate themselves from those who indulge in it.

And that leads to the status of Democrats in South Dakota.   I have written many times about the diminishing number of Democrats I noted when  I was the keeper of the list of most active party members.  While attrition, including moving out of state, accounted for much of the loss, there was a significant number of people who simply dropped out of active participation.  In some cases, people told me that the social experiences and treatment they received at Democratic functions was not something they wanted to put up with.  These experiences were connected with the tactics and internal manipulations by people within the party.  When people within a party display conniving and mean-girl behavior,  they call into question the integrity of the party as a whole.  And this not only drives people away from the party, but it calls into question all political activity.  People give up on politics as a degrading experience.

South Dakota's voter registration figures illustrate the trend.  In the chart below the Republicans comprise 46 percent of the voters, the Democrats 30 percent, and independent-non-affiliated 22 percent.  While the Republicans have added voters,  as the Democratic rolls have diminished, the largest surge is in the independent registrations.  

Current Statewide Voter Registration Totals
DemocratRepublicanConstitutionLibertarianNPA/IND*Other**Total Active VotersTotal Inactive Voters
Tuesday's elections were considered referendums on Trump.  The Democrats should not be so foolish as to consider a rejection of Trump as a success of their party, when they often display the same kind of behavior as Trump and the GOP does.  

Increasing numbers of voters are repulsed by the entire political enterprise as it has been conducted of late, and the Democrats have contributed to the growing perception that democracy as it is practiced is not working.  People who do politics are perceived as not very nice people--ignorant, irrational, biased, and mean.  

There are alternatives to Democrats and Republicans, and informed people are exploring them.  Brennan suggests "epistocracy" which means governing by the knowledgeable.  American democracy has lost the belief and trust it once had.  The election of Trump has proven that Americans are as susceptible to moral and intellectual failure as the Germans of the 1930s.  American democracy, as we have come to understand it, is going out of business.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The general doubt

It's an old joke from the era of the draft, but it has particular relevance in this time of generals in the president's cabinet.

The recently drafted slick-sleeve walks by his  post commander, a general,  and does not salute.  The general calls him to a halt and stands him at attention for a dressing down.       
"Do you know who I am, soldier?" the general bellows.        
"Nope," the draftee replies.      
 "Do you see all these buildings, these weapons, and all the troops on this   post?           
"Well, none of them do anything unless I say that they do it. And they do  everything I tell them to.  I control everything on this post. That's my job."        
"You've got a good deal, man," said the recruit.  "Don't fuck it up."
Some generals have shown major talents for fucking up.  Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn who was trusted to be made director of the Defense Intelligence Agency  under President Obama and then Security Adviser to Trump turned out to be an intelligence double-dealer.  It is widely anticipated that the Special Counsel will prosecute him for his betrayals.

But then comes along John Kelly, a Lt. General of the Marines, who Trump appointed to director of Homeland Security and after six months to his Chief of Staff.  A Gold Star father, whose son was killed when he stepped on a land mine, Kelly was expected to bring some order and discipline to the White House.  However, when Trump got into a tiff with a U.S. Representive over how he handled a phone call to the wife of a special operations soldier killed on a mission, Kelly said some derogatory things about the representative.  He said she made a speech in Miami during the dedication of a new FBI facility in which she claimed credit for the building.  A Florida TV station had a video tape of her speech which shows that she said none of the things of which Kelly accused her.  

After the news media played the video on news shows,  Kelly refused to admit his error.  He said he would not apologize and would stand by his words.  That changed him from a chief of staff and ex=general who might have been mistaken into a liar.  And the lie was maintained against proof and with malice,  which makes Kelly a libeler.  Libel is the major tool in the GOP bag of trips.  But when generals who make the decisions about the lives of the troops and the welfare of the nation are proven to be betrayers, liars, and libelers,  we have serious reason to question if they capable of protecting the nation,  as they have become the kind of people we wish to protect the nation against.  

The one thing Flynn and Kelly have taught is that there is no honor in being a general.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

When a truly rotten person is elected president

He was retired, but had been a top commercial bank executive in Chicago.  He had also been on the boards of cultural organizations and had over time been president of an opera company, an art museum, and a library. He was often consulted about business and civic ventures.

I met him at my brother's house when he was staying there.  We often talked about his work with the cultural organizations.  We had a common interest in the buildings in Chicago designed by architect Louis Sullivan. But when he found out I had been the business editor of a newspaper, he pumped me for stories about some of the shady characters I had encountered.   In his work as a banker, he developed a concern about deceptive business characters and schemes and pondered writing a book about them.

We were discussing architecture that detracted from a city.  Donald Trump's name came up, and the retired banker got very animated. He told me how much Trump was detested by the Chicago business community for his inanely petty and juvenile character, his unscrupulous business practices, and his "whorehouse renaissance" taste in architecture.  He said he and his associates avoided any association with Trump and tried to discourage any Trump business ventures in Chicago.  Trump was deeply despised and business leaders thought he gave business a bad name.

Trump Towers in Chicago with its name obscured by golden pigs.

My banker acquaintance has passed on, but mutual acquaintances say his fervor against having anything to do with Donald Trump lives on in the business community.  A group of architects with the support of other business drew up plans to have huge balloons gilded and floated in front of Trump Towers in Chicago for a day of protest.   The City denied them a license, but plans are still in the works for next year.

The opposition to Trump in Chicago was demonstrated when he canceled a campaign rally on the University of Illinois=Chicago campus.  

The opposition to his building reflects opposition to his politics.  But budiness people in Chicago oppose him because they think he is a vile person who they do not want as part of Chicago business.  

Most Trump voters say they supported him because of his business expertise.  But real business people revile him for his fraud, his overall dishonesty,  his bilking of contractors, and his many failures in business.  

The people who elected him president had no notion of who he really is, but what happens to the country was their choice.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

The retired lieutenant general discharged himself dishonorably

The making of a three-star liar

As a general  [pun alert!] rule, I am not impressed with people who hold the top military ranks.  That is largely because of what I learned about them in the Army.  At the time, the Commander in Chief was Dwight Eisenhower,  and many of the cadre in the unit  i was in were veterans of World War II and Korea.  They generally held Eisenhower in high regard.  There were other generals that they spoke of with great respect.  They had doubts about some others, like Patton.  And they regarded many as useless.  A man who held most of the highest decorations for service, made it to the rank of sergeant major, eventually was busted down to corporal because of alcoholism, summed up the attitude of experienced soldiers:  a few generals earn their rank because they are smart, know what they are doing,  and work hard,  but most of them get there because they suck hard.

When Trump larded his cabinet with CEOs and generals,  the uninitiated into the ways of business and the military thought he was appointing people who could get things done.  
What he was doing was choosing people who could put on the trappings of authority and do what they are told.  As we are reminded, when Harry Truman fired General MacArthur, Generals are not to go off on their own and dispute the policies of the Commander in Chief.  On the other hand,  the president needs men who insist upon hard facts and competently assessed intelligence to advise him while he is formulating policy,  and who can then competently carry them out.  Generals do not have to be servile lackeys to their commander-in-chief, but Trump's generals seem adept at playing that role.

Trump's current disinformation team makes Baghdad Bob look like a boy scout.

When Gen. Kelly appeared at the White House daily briefing to defend Trump's telephone call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson,  he used two tactics that has become standard procedure in the White House with Trump.
1.  He made a personal attack to discredit and defame Rep.
Fredrica Wilson, who reported on the tenor of Trump's call to the press.
2.  He out-and-out lied about a speech Rep. Wilson made during the dedication of an FBI building in 2010.

In his presentation, Gen. Kelly's ploy was terribly dishonest and stupid.  It did not take long for  the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper to come up with video of Rep. Wilson's speech which proved Gen. Kelly to be a liar.  His lie, furthermore, was told with malicious intent, meeting the definition of deliberate libel.  

It did not take long for the fact-checkers to detail the extent of Kelly's libel.  
When the chief of staff of a U.S. president uses a news conference to publicly lie to the American people, the occasion marks how far a country that was once regarded as the leader of democratic virtues has sunk into the dystopian state that Orwell envisioned in 1984.

Kelly's act of character assassination is a rejection of the basic ideals for which America once stood.  And he has brought the country down to a level that it is no longer a place to which one wants to pledge allegiance.   Unless, of course, the resistance rises up and restores the integrity of America.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Harvey Weinstein likes to jerk off in front of women; Trump likes to do it before the whole world

Anyone who has worked in the world has encountered people like Harvey Weinstein.  He treats women as if they are slaves,  chattel put on earth to indulge his whanker.  Men who treat women that way usually treat other men the same way.  Their mentality is driven by the need to exercise power, make others bow down before them in servile, humiliating obedience.  They form bonds with other men who can help them in their quests for power, but they regard all others as their serfs.  They derive great pleasure from fucking over people.  And they make great displays of sexism, racism, and the other forms of misanthropic perversion that titillate them.  Bullying is a way of life for them.

How do people like Harvey Weinstein get to be so powerful?  Because so many people share the desire to fuck over other people as a badge of their social status.  People flock around and support and emulate Weinstein and his kind because they want to be associated with that they regard as the power elite.  That is also true of Donald Trump and what constitutes his base.  There is the infamous video of Trump bragging about pussy-grabbing, and a multitude of women accusing him of sexual assault.  But to Trump's apostles,  those are demonstrations of his power, not offenses.  Trump lies to Americans an average of 5 times a day, but to his followers that is not an offense;  it is a demonstration of his power.  

As the week drew to a close, Trump has put on a demonstration of his power to destroy that sends his base into orgasmic glee.  Trump has found his greatest successes by appealing to and inflaming the racism and misogyny of his base.  He started his campaign by repeatedly stating that Obama was not born in America, and he has since attacked everything Obama has done.  At his post-election rallies, he still brings  up Hillary Clinton so that his base can chant their hate anthem "Lock her up."  But this week he has put a a power demonstration of destroying some of the things Obama did, despite that fact that that destruction will end up inflicting mortal damage on the country.

 Trump's exhibitionism is not directed only at subjugating women,  but at hurting great masses of people.  He gets off on watching people suffer.  It is the ultimate expression of power.  And so many people love to watch him get off.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Emmett Till and Philando Castile died for your sins

Philando Castile was shot five times while sitting with his seat belt buckled, a friend and her child in the car.

Emmett Till, 14, flirted with a white woman and was lynched

I am not a football fan.   i began my journalism career on the sports desk of a morning newspaper and became aware that many athletes in contact sports suffered debilitating injuries.   I realized that many football fans were attracted to the sport because they liked to see men smash together and limp or get carried off the field.  The irony that we outlawed dog fights but made a thriving business out of getting humans to bash and lash each other was not lost on me or other sports writers. 

The sports editor I worked under had often served as a boxing referee and had made many friends in the sport.  Old boxers often dropped in on him and they would repair to the saloon that occupied a ground-floor niche of the newspaper building to talk about old times.  Almost invariably, these men showed signs of being "punch drunk," which was how we referred to the brain damage they had suffered.  That and the behavior and attitude of many "sports fans"  focused my thinking on the role of sports in our society.  I enjoy sports that emphasize the use of skill and athleticism, but disdain those sports--and their spectators--that attract those who enjoy the infliction of violent damage.  

That's where you have to confront some tough facts about humanity.  We are divided.  The division goes far beyond political preferences.  Or religion. Some people love violence, either directly or vicariously.   They revel in ill will.  Other people seek peace.  They try to maintain a sense of good will.  Some people enjoy maiming and killing.  Others get pleasure from peaceable and friendly pursuits.  The two groups live for opposite purposes.  They have directly opposing values.  This divide is the basis for the cultural divide.  There is no way the two groups can reconcile their differences.

These differences underlie the silly, amazingly stupid argument about whether football players should stand during the national anthem.   In July 2016 a black man in Minnesota, Philando Castile, was pulled over while driving with his girl friend and her little daughter in the car.  Castile, who had a permit to carry a gun, told the officer.  When Castile reached down to his pocket, presumably to extract his driver's license,  the officer blasted him five times, while the girlfriend sat next to him and the child sat in the back seat.  The girlfriend recorded part of the episode on her cell phone. The officer said he feared for his life, and was acquitted of any wrong doing.  It was this incident which motivated Colin Kaepernick to refuse to stand for the national anthem as a protest to the unarmed or unthreatening black men being gunned down by police in the streets of America.  

The NFL men who kneel during the national anthem are paying reverence to victims who have had their lives taken in acts of inequality and denials of justice that are the actual rejections of the flag and everything it is supposed to stand for.  They are not showing disrespect to the flag, but are showing sorrow that the country and its flag have betrayed its people.  During 2016, the police killed 258 black men.  Thirty-nine of them were unarmed.  They were shot down as if they were rats in the town dump.  Those who kneel during the national anthem are, in fact, honoring the quest for freedom, equality, and justice that the flag symbolizes.

Those who say that the kneeling is an affront to the principles that America professes and those who fought for those principles are the ones who besmirch the national honor.  The NFL football players who kneel have stated clearly and precisely that they kneel to call attention to the racist acts of violence that have besmirched the flag.  When Trump and his minions say that the kneelers are dishonoring the nation and those who have served, they are indulging in one of the many malicious lies they engage in to aggravate the racist divide that they have revived and widened during Trump's reign of malice.  Trump and his hate squads are fanning the lust for blood and death in the people who love and live for moments of atrocity.  Watching football players deliver concussions is not enough.  Trumpists defame the kneelers in the hopes that they will be fired and left to roam the streets where anxious and avid guns await them.  

When Vice President Pence walked out of the Colts-49ers game Sunday,  he emphasized the lie that the kneeling was disrespect to the flag and its meaning and put his support behind Trump's endorsement of the Nazis at Charlottesville and the shooting of black people in the streets.  

The killing of Philando Castile was an act of the revival of the racial violence that tortured and killed Emmett Till.     Instead of using the overt hatred of black people as the motive,  the shooter used the currently acceptable pretext that he was afraid for his life.  And that gave good reason for all black people on the streets of America to fear for their lives.  The lynchers of Emmett Till were acquitted od charges against them after an hour of jury deliberation.  Castile's killer was also acquitted by a jury of manslaughter and endangerment  of lives.  

And so the flag flies and people honor it, condemn the kneelers, and celebrate the racist renaissance of America,  as it puts all people of color on notice.  

When the flag has come to stand for the freedom to kill in the name of white supremacy,  it may be time to take it down,  fold it up, and give it a decent burial.  And then people of good will may try again to build a nation of liberty, justice, and equality, and design a flag that, in fact, honors those qualities.  And does so in remembrance of those killed under the old flag by those who said they were serving it.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States