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, February 28, 2007

Who reads what in the News Wars

Here is how many people consult news sources throughout the day and what they consult from Part III of the PBS Frontline series "News Wars."

Read it all at the PBS website.

On a typical day...

  • 57% of Americans watch TV news
  • 54% watch their local news
  • 34% watch cable news channels
  • 28% watch the nightly network news
  • 23% watch the morning news programs (The Today Show, Good Morning America, etc.)
  • 40% of Americans read a newspaper
  • 36% of Americans listen to news on the radio
  • 23 % of Americans get news online
  • 18% visit news aggregators (Google News, Yahoo! News, AOL News, etc.)
  • 14% visit national TV networks' sites (CNN.com, MSNBC.com, ABCnews.com, etc.)
  • 14% visit newspaper Web sites
  • 4% visit news blogs
  • 3% visit online news magazines (Slate.com, Salon.com, etc.)

Groping around in the abattoir?

This post is a big question mark about the beef packing business in South Dakota.

Ridgefield Farms, that erstwhile operator of South Dakota beef packing plants, has reared up in Aberdeen.

Monday night, Feb. 19, Dennis Helwig, one of the main movers of Northern Beef Packers being built south of Aberdeen, explained the history and proposed operation of the plant to the Brown County Democrats. Helwig, whose family runs the Hub City Livestock Auction on the south edge of town, said he got interested in the possibility of a beef packing operation in Aberdeen when he received a call from the CEO of Ridgefield Farms suggesting he give the idea some thought. After some meetings and discussions with Ridgefield personnel, Helwig decided he wanted to initiate the effort that would establish a packing house in Aberdeen, and he then visited with Norge Sanderson, another principal in the project, to see how it could be done. He was impressed by the chance to take advantage of a source of finished beef, becoming part of an instate value-added certification program, and providing an alternative market to the heavily consolidated beef packing industry. That, says Helwig, is how the project came to be.

Ridgefield's role in all this is bothersome. No explanation was made as to why a company that obtained state and community money in Huron and, then, Flandreau, would default on its commitments and hand off a project to Aberdeen.

A few years back, a number of beef producers put together the financing for a beef packing plant in South Dakota. The plan was abandoned. Although they never got to the point of specifying a location for it, Aberdeen was a consideration. Agriculture in East River South Dakota has changed during the last 20 years. An extension agent told me recently that there are misconceptions about where the big beef ranches are in South Dakota. Most people look at the west and West River as ranch country, but in fact some of the biggest cow-calf operations are in East River, and Brown County has its share of huge herds.

The change in agriculture involves a shift from growing wheat, flax, and sunflowers to becoming a part of the corn-and-bean belt. With corn a major crop in East River, beef breeders can either feed their calves themselves or sell them to regional operations that feed beef. The state offers opportunity to cash in on a regional market.

When Dakota Turkey Growers, a producer-owned plant, announced its construction in Huron, Ridgefield Farms announced at the time that it would build a modest beef operation adjoining the turkey processing plant. The plan was endorsed by the governor, and the state, a number of investors, including the Farmers Union, kicked in funds to get the project going.

What happened then is where the information gets muddy. Suddenly, Ridgefield Farms announced that it was abandoning its Huron plans and was moving the project to Flandreau. A rendering plant was planned in conjunction with the packing plant, but some zoning and infrastructure issues came up and matters got contentious.

One beef producer told me that the Governor had encouraged the Huron investors, but when Ridgefield asserted its management prerogatives and did not take its orders directly from the Governor, he got torqued and pulled his support and told the investors to withdraw their funds. Another producer doubted this story. He said people with that kind of money don't take orders from the Governor as where to invest it.

Huron has a long history of being home to beef packing operations. When Ridgefield Farms announced its plan, it looked as if Huron could regain one of its industries and replace some of the 850 jobs lost when Smithfield Foods closed its pork plant in Huron in 1997. The latter producer cited said there has to be other matters involved in Ridgefield's withdrawal from Huron, including some matters involving the abandoned rendering plant and the Farmers Union.

This summer Ridgefield, after getting $850,000 from the Flandreau Development Corporation and the city, abandoned its plans there. The Yankton newspaper carries a story reporting that the state has written off almost a half million dollars in grants and the Corn Utilization Council another $100,000, and Sen. Frank Kloucek is forming an investigation task force.

There are a lot of questions about Ridgefield Farms floating around out there, and we can only add to them. Just what happened in Huron? Why did they abandon Flandreau? And just how much are they involved in Aberdeen?

Is there any information out there that is accurate and reliable?

Sen Tim Johnson and the unholy uses of gossip

Sen. Tim Johnson's illness has brought out some of the best in a few people, and the worst in a lot of them. Kathleen Norris in her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography devotes a chapter to the holy uses of gossip. She recognizes that gossip is the means through which people express their interest and concern for others, and through which we become engaged in the human community. However, her observations are limited to benign gossip. She does not devote much commentary to malicious gossip.

Nor does she go into the personality factors involved in those who try to become the gatekeepers of gossip. This is a familiar type. We have one who is an officer in a corporation in which I also hold an office. [Yes, rightwingers, you can blog about this. It is a business corporation with the purpose of making a profit (well, sometimes remaining solvent). I have current responsibilities with the finances, and I have been president. The blog mob, as Erin calls it, can go on for weeks on my hypocrisy at being involved in a capitalist venture and being a "liberal.'] The personality type to which I refer is one who always has all the inside and correct information on everything that happens in the world. Even if you inform this soul of a transaction that just took place between you and an associate in the privacy of your office, this person already knows about it. And if there is business to be done, this person always knows the "best" people or places to get it done. The telling characteristic is that if another individual comes up in a conversation, this person always has a comment on how defective and untrustworthy the person is. Most of the information this person transmits is false, at least in part. It is used as a posture of power and knowledge, and it usually is smothered by the presence of malice.

Almost every utterance that comes out of people like this damages the human community. Forgive the old professor at work, but "community" is derived from "communication." It defines a group of people who share and exchange information and develop common purposes with it. When communication is deleterious, the community is injured.

That is not to say that the examination and criticism and resulting condemnation of actions and words committed are malicious gossip. That is the function of dialogue. What makes the human community dysfunctional is the ad hominem attack, the distorted, contrived, and resentful representations of other people for the purpose of diminishing them and claiming superiority over them.

And that leads us to the case of Sen. Tim Johnson. Most people seem to wish him a recovery and the resumption of his duties in the Senate. The Johnson family has become an inspiration for those who find themselves beset by illness and misfortune. Barbara is a breast cancer survivor who has traveled the world to encourage women to have regular examinations and take the measures that can defeat this disease. Tim has had a bout with prostate cancer. Now he is recovering from a congential brain malformation that caused bleeding and some brain damage for which he is undergoing rehabilitation. Many people are hoping for the best, because when Tim resumes his Senatorial duties, it will mean a triumph for new knowledge and new procedures for treating brain damage.

I have a personal interest in this, because I inadvertently became part of research studies involving the treatment of aphasia, the loss of word recognition abilities because of brain damage. When a close friend of my family's was beaten with an antique table leg and left for dead, the left side of his brain was severely damaged. I worked with him intensively to help him restore his speech, but I had the help of a young professor and his chair in the communications disorders department at the college where I worked. At the time, researchers were just finding some tantalizing evidence that the brain can repair itself with the proper stimulation. Up to that time, the assumption was that a damaged brain was a dead brain.



My colleague was working on using reading texts and verbal exercises that could re-stimulate the brain into regaining the full powers of word recognition and speech. My role was to help find the texts that worked. The theory was that literary texts which reach into the emotions and the memory as well as the intellect have a powerful effect in restoring verbal powers. Reading to patients, having them read, and talking about the reading has a healing and restorative effect. The process is called bibliotherapy, and it is now used in treating many mental-related illnesses and injuries. The key is in finding texts that engage the individual patient.



I saw the technique put to effective use a year ago when my brother suffered a stroke. The therapists worked him so hard that he complained, but he regained his speech in a few months and was able to resume an independent life. Now rehabilitation people devote as much attention to exercising the brain as they do the body. And the process works.



However, Tim Johnson's illness moved some individuals who use gossip for malevolent purposes to emerge from under their rocks. A medical doctor in California who professed to be an expert in rehabilitative medicine posted a blog giving a prognosis that Sen. Johnson could not regain his powers and should resign. Because of my background in working with aphasia, I seriously doubted that this man was a legitimate M.D. If he abided by the standards of his profession (he did not have any of the diagnostic files on Sen. Johnson) and if he was current in the developments in his own field, he would not make such a specious prognosis. I had a friend in the medical field in California check him out, and he is a licensed practicing physician. But he suspended the standards of his profession in this instance and opted for an unholy use of gossip because of his political creed.



The Aberdeen newspaper, as we sometimes euphemistically call it, published two items that attempted to construe Sen. Johnson's illness into a disability. A woman named Roxanne Gill wrote a letter to the editor calling for Tim to resign because we need two senators. Then a man who is something of a community scourge, Bill Welk, took out a paid advertisement also calling for the Senator to resign.



Our colleague in history, Prof. Bob Thompson, wrote a letter to the editor making these points:



History shows us that Republican Sen. Karl Mundt suffered a stroke in 1969 and died in 1973. In that period of time he remained a U.S. Senator but was unable to participate and never cast a vote. In contrast, Sen. Tim Johnson has been ill for a little more than a month and his condition has been
upgraded.

It is true that South Daktoa has a problem with Sen. John Thune being in the minority party in Congress, under a lame duck president of the same party, but let's have some patience and give Tim Johnson our support during his recovery.

Some outcry was heard when Sen. Johnson was dismissed from the hospital and moved to a rehabilitation facility which his family and staff declined to name. Claims have been made that the public deserves more information on a more timely basis than has been released. The fact is that information on the Senator's condition has been released as promptly and completely as it can be established and verified. Those who object to the confidentiality of the treatment facility are whining because they can't act as gatekeepers for the medical information and have no easy basis for representing their malevolent little conjectures as a prognosis.



At two meetings of the Brown County Democrats last week, Sen. Johnson's staff updated the public on his progress. Barbara says that he has progressed to using multi-syllable words and is keeping up with the news and briefings from his staff. His staff reports that he is reviewing the Whitehouse budget proposal and is engaging in Senate business that does not require his presence on the floor. His main physician has described his recovery as "miraculous."



The only bad news is for the detractors and the would-be informational gatekeepers. The Senator is recovering and we will have two Senators on the floor soon. In the meantime, the purveyors of busy-body conjectures and unholy gossip are limited in how much damage they can inflict on the information environment.

That other poet David wrote about the unholy uses of gossip in Psalm 36:

For they flatter themselves in their own eyes
that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit;
they have ceased to act wisely and do good.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Just how in the hell did this train get on that track?

The DM&E, which was denied a $2.3 billion federal loan yesterday, has been a Republican railroad from its outset.

It had its origins when the old Chicago & Northwestern was in its death throes. Its current president Kevin V. Schieffer (1996–present) served as counsel for Senator Larry Pressler starting in 1982. Schieffer began working with DM&E business in 1983 when he worked to prevent the abandonment of C&NW branch lines that would eventually form the beginnings of DM&E. He initiated the negotiations in 1985 that led to DM&E's creation. He was promoted to Chief of Staff for Senator Pressler in 1987, a position he held until 1991 when George Bush the elder appointed Schieffer to be U.S. Attorney for South Dakota. In 1993, Schieffer left his U.S. Attorney post to become the legal counsel for DM&E. In that capacity for the railroad, he oversaw its recapitalization in 1994 and the acquisition of C&NW's Colony line. He held this position until he was unanimously elected president of the railroad on November 7, 1996.

In 1997, DM&E announced its plans to expand its lines into the Powder River Basin of Wyoming to be the third carrier that hauls coal from that Basin to electrical generating plants in the east. Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific already have lines pulling coal trains from that area.

Those two railroads have remained fairly silent, but not totally mute, on the DM&E. Both think they can haul the coal trains east using the lines they have and without a major expenditure on laying new track. Their opposition to the DM&E plan has not been widely reflected in the media, but it is no secret among people who track the goings-on in railroad headquarters. Their opposition was just one factor among many factions that had come out more openly against the DM&E.

Here are the factors working against the $2 billion loan.

  • When railroads were dismantled in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the consensus among communities along rail lines and rail companies was that any new construction of rail lines should avoid crossing highways without underpasses or overpasses and they should not be routed through communities to disrupt traffic and tranquility. DM&E plans showed no attempt to avoid those safety and community concerns.

  • The opposition to DM&E routing plans by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., were reflective of objections voiced, but ignored, all along the proposed route. Many communities wanted any new tracks to by-pass the communities in ways that would permit unobstructed traffic flows on streets and highways.

  • The financial structure and abilities of the DM&E to pay off its federal loan have been questioned by many from the start. This month a coalition of communities sued to obtain the financial records of the railroad.

  • A bill was introduced in Congress by a bipartisan group of Minnesota legislators, including Republican Senator Norm Coleman, and with the sanction of the Republican governor, to require that any rail loan over $1 billion be submitted to Congress for review and approval.

  • The nation's largest rail union, the United Transportation Union, came out against the loan on the basis of the railroad's saftey record and shaky financial structure.

  • Energy and environmental groups pointed out that building a railroad to haul coal was a dubious prospect when there is a growing consensus that new electrical generating stations should be run on renewable and clean-burning fuels with more attention devoted to a technology that can use wind power. Advocates of more nuclear energy also opposed the DM&E plan.

Sen. John Thune led the federal efforts in obtaining the$2.3 billion loan by getting Congress to increase the limits on such loans. However, the Federal Railroad Administration denied the loan on the basis of having doubt whether the railroad had the resources and a projected future that would enable paying back the loan. Safety and noise issues also played a prominent role.

But the real power behind the denial came from other railroads who want to expand their own businesses.

The big question is whether new electrical generating stations burn coal or the cleaner, renewable sources of energy.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Champagne and Chocolate Sunday Afternoon is canceled

The Brown County Democrats' Champagne and Chololate Sunday Afternoon, scheduled at Alonzo's for 2 p.m. Feb. 25, has been postponed.


It is among the many events that have been canceled in the region because of the weather and dangerous travel conditions.





We will reschedule this event for a time and place soon to be announced.





However, the next big event is on Saturday, March 1o, with Tom Daschle being featured at a number of party meetings in Aberdeen. The big rally is at 7 p.m. at the Eagle's Club.



Our champagne and chocolate event will probably be postponed until after that day.



The Brown County Democrats are gearing up to help take America back from its dangerous ventures into totalitarianism and the banishment of freedom and equality. Tom Daschle's return to his hometown and his endorsement of Barack Obama are important events in the return of America to its people.

Keep the dates open and watch for our rescheduling of events so that you may hear the word for yourselves and participate in the resurgence of democracy.

Friday, February 23, 2007

George W. Bush finally reaches status of Castro and Chavez

"According to a recent survey of 20,200 people in 18 countries by Latinobarómetro, a Chilean polling firm, most Latin Americans lumped Chávez with Fidel Castro and President Bush as bad leaders, citing Brazil's Lula and Chile's Bachelet as the best. And most of those polled classified themselves as political moderates ."

It's all in this Washington Post story.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Patronizing and dishonoring the troops

It's a legacy from Vietnam and before that a beautiful monument in the nation's capitol has not fully rectified. It is the attitude that soldiers who loyally serve our country are disposable. During the Vietnam War, men and women identified as soldiers were vilified and reviled on the streets. Now a pat on the back and a yellow decal on the SUV satisfies any gratitude we think we owe them. Attitudes have not changed that much.

The Washinton Post revealed in stories over the weekend that the outpatient program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center is tacky. While the stories focused on mildew on the walls, water stains on the ceilings, and decrepit beds, outpatients point out that these factors are just surface symbols of a deeper attitude of dismissal and negligence.

What happened during the Vietnam War was years in the making. In the 1950s, after the Korean War, the draft became a designator of the privileged and the lightweights in our society. The privileged thought that anyone who was drafted did not have the status, the connections, or the wit to avoid military service. I remember being in a session of veterans while we recounted some overseas experiences when I asked a chap where he had served. He replied that he knew what he wanted to do and how to do it, and military service was not something he needed to do. His attitude was not uncommon.

During Vietnam, that attitude intensified. Men who were drafted were regarded as deficient and expendable. I recall on a below-zero day at the University of Iowa donning my old army overcoat to trek to campus. While waiting at a stop light, some coeds made deprecating remarks and even spit in my direction. I never wore that coat again or revealed to fellow students--except for a few--that I was attending graduate school on the G. I. Bill.

Like Barack Obama, I opposed the war on Iraq from the build-up to it. Even though many politicians protest that they authorized the war based on the intelligence presented to them at the time, the fact is that both intelligence and news accounts coming out of Iraq, accounts of administration obsessions with Iraq, and reports of weapons inspectors cast deep doubts on the Bush administration rationale.

But the worst aspect of it all is that no thought was given to supporting the troops in ways that really count. Even though many diplomatic and military strategists knew that Iraq was likely to end up as a guerilla war against U.S. troops, the leaders dismissed the notion even when the insurgents made clear that they were battling our troops. It was the Little Big Horn and the Valley of Death in Vietnam all over again. Leaders were sending loyal and proficient troops to their deaths as a matter of personal preference and contrived reasons. And a huge element of incompetence.

During those times when the public was reviling and dismissing our soldiers, it was not conscious of the attitudes building up in the soldiers concerning the people they were allegedly serving. I recall a man who went to Canada saying on television that if we were fighting in Vietnam for something worth saving in America for its women and children, then let the women and children go do the fighting.

The Vietnam War Memorial finally gave acknowledgment and some measure of respect for those who fought in what the majority came to think of as an ignoble war. It helped, but it did not erase the lingering memories of an attitude of dismissal and diminishment that characterized the time of the war.

Many political and military leaders are so intent on their venture into what Patton called life's greatest adventure that they have lost a grasp on the values that make America. The constant drumming that criticism of the war and debates in Congress "emboldens the enemy" and sends them messages of defeat is the biggest symptom of America's leaders having lost any notion of national purpose. Debate and criticizing government--especially in times of gross deception and incompetence--is a way of saving the country from military dictatorship. The other way is open insurrection--and we experienced a little of that during the Vietnam War with violent protests on the streets and fraggings in the services.

There are more than 20,000 young soldiers and veterans whose wounds, both physical and mental, need binding up and healing. In this current war, that is the only objective that can save this country from disgracing itself further.

There is terrorism to be fought. But what threatens us from the outside is not nearly as deadly as what is killing America from within.

Tom Daschle's endorsement of Barack Obama

ONCE IN A GENERATION: Here is the complete text of Tom Daschle's endorsement letter for Barack Obama.

February 22, 2007

Dear Friends,

I know that the Presidential election is far away. I know that it's early to be picking a candidate. But I also know that someone like Barack Obama only comes around once in a generation.

Everyone running in this race is a friend. I have the utmost respect for all of them and believe that each would make an excellent president. But only Barack Obama has been able to tap into that mixture of frustration with the 'same old politics' and the common hope for the future that lies in us all.

In my 26 years in Congress, I watched as our political system degraded year after year. We became more polarized, more partisan, and less responsive while the American people became more disillusioned and skeptical.

I believe Barack can change that.

He hasn't been in Washington that long, but he's been there long enough to know that Washington needs to change. And he's been working towards that change from day one in the United States Senate as the party point person on passing the most sweeping ethics reform since Watergate.

Everywhere he goes from California to New Hampshire, from cities to the countryside he brings together thousands of people with different backgrounds and diverse ideas. He's been able to focus on the common values that unite us instead of the politics that divide us.

Barack Obama will bring fresh thinking and a new kind of politics to Washington that focuses on finding consensus so we can actually tackle the challenges our country faces.

I will be there at Barack's side doing whatever I can to help. I hope you will join me in this new brand of politics.

Join Me and Support Barack Obama for President

Sincerely,
Tom Daschle

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Rinktum* Dialogues: over by the swingset, down at the tavern

[As a companion piece to this, read this article in the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.]

Talk about culture wars has died down a bit after the Democratic resurgence in the 2006 elections. However, in South Dakota, cultural attacks are like truck bombs in Iraq. They happen so often that, even if one notices them, one doesn't find it necessary to remark on them. They happen. And no place is that more evident than on the blogs which purport to be political in nature.

Those stalwart publishers of the abortion-bans are still screaming "baby-killer." The prairie regressives are still labeling any government program designed to give assistance to the poor, the sick, and disadvantaged a communist plot. And loquacious liberals are, well, loquacious. But the culture wars were never really about the conservative-liberal divide or merely about sectarian fundamentalism versus secular science--although the battle lines sometimes get drawn at those disjunctures.

The culture wars are really between people who hold to the social relationships of feudalism--which stem from the social organization in chicken flocks and dog packs--and the people who have accepted the concept of democratic individuals whose relationships to the human community include autonomy, equality, and a regard for personhood.

Everyone who has attended a school is acquainted with bullies who gather by the schoolyard swingset to assert control over their peers. They try to intimidate those who appear weaker than they. The deride the achievers. And they taunt and insult the low-achievers. And to anyone who exercises some independence of thought and conduct that is not submitted to the bully-gang for approval, they proclaim the individuals are not fit to be their friends. This proces goes on throughout the school years. The process of community socialization often breaks down into grades of submission or alienation or rejection. Young people who leave states like South Dakota are frequently motivated by a desire to be rid of the schoolyard discriminations and oppressions that they lived with throughout their school careers. I have read hundreds of papers from college students that talk fondly of their homes but explain why they will never return to their hometowns. The common reason is the pettiness, the peevish resentments, and the underlying malevolence that appears to be what bonds the playground despots and the town tavern detraction choirs together. Following the words of Christ, many young people simply have to shake the dust of those places from their feet and tread on more respectful ground.

This attitude is by no means confined, however, to small towns and rural America. It raised its malformed head in many in ways in America in recent weeks. As the new season of American Idol got underway, the show received many comments about the cruelty of its panel of judges toward some contestants. Still, the show has the highest audience rating of any show currently on television. In responding to the criticisms, television critics make the point that people find such moments of humiliation for others entertaining. And the television producers merely give people what they want.

Anyone, who like me, is involved in ways to develop and showcase talent knows something about the show that is never mentioned. First of all, I have judged and adjudicated numerous talent contests over the years. I have never seen any performers as bad as the ones that appeared on the first episodes of this year's American Idol. Such performances are disqualified in the audition stage. Even in small contests, such as the South Dakota Snow Queen Festival, you will not find performers who are as devoid of talent as some of those who appeared on American Idol. Clearly, the producers put some of those non-talents on the show so that the audience could have the entertainment of seeing someone abused, humiliated, and despised. The American media has found huge successes in catering to the ignoble mentalites of the playground bullies and town cafe gossips. To us, those mentalities that find amusement and pleasure in the humiliation and denigration speak for themselves. They sure as hell do not speak for us.

Blogs have joined the other media in becoming a gathering place for those who have something malevolent to heap on other people. The death of Anna Nicole Smith produced an insane media frenzy and accompanying maledictions on blogs. On the state level, the South Dakota hearings into the Sen. Sutton and his encounter with a page produced the same kind of perverse speculations and condemnations. If one reads the comments on any of the blogs that permit--and don't edit--them or the discussion boards sponsored by newspapers, one realizes that the undercurrents of malice run deep and fast in our culture. Some blogs and discussion boards post stories solely for the purpose of boosting readership by appealing to depraved and malevolent attention. It sells.

America has an unusual history. As literary historians point out, every stage and nuance of its development has been recorded in the literary record. The genius of America has been in the way that its culture has surmounted envy, resentment, and the presence of malice to form the national character that has been so admired throughout the world. Until recently.

Those of us--and there are many--who admire the advances of technology and the opportunities they offer for human communication find the content on television and the Internet fails terribly the benign tradition of American culture. There have always been the mean, nasty, and slanderous, but they have a dominating effect on the new media, just as the schoolyard bullies often had a dominating effect on the character of their shools.

It is not difficult to identify which blogs lower the cultural level. They are obsessed with the ad hominem disparagements of other people. And we are not speaking of the criticism leveled at the actions and words of politicians and other public figures. We are speaking of the personal attacks, the name calling, the application of patronizing and demeaning stereotypes, the denigrating categorization of personality. Those personal attacks are not mitigating by couching them in affectations of smarmy humor. And we speak of the habit of misquotation. Many blogs undermine the whole concept of rhetoric.

The new media makes rhetoric a dirty word. In fact, many people know it only by the negative connotation supplied by our current modes of political debate and information control.

Utimately, it is a matter of the culture wars--the battle of the autonomous with the resentful. We have many e-mails asking us to give examples of the good blogs and the bad. We do not wish to get drawn into any peevish, insulting exchanges by identifying those who offend us. We've been there before, and nothing constructive is accomplished.

We know of many people who have found blogs not worth the time. In fact, in the past two years, we have had numerous friends move out of the state to find more culturally compatible environs.

Some blogs contribute to the cultural dialogue. Others corrupt it. Right now, American society has lost its glow as the beacon of freedom and democratic society. It festers under a blanket of belligerent propaganda and it provides no reason for people of the world to trust it as a model of democracy.

America needs a stringent criticism of its culture to define what is valuable and what is destructive. It does not have enough blogs to point out what is so terribly wrong with some blog posts. But sometimes, the only thing to do is shake the dust from your feet and leave the swingset to the bullies.

*See William Faulkner

Thursday, February 15, 2007

When blogs actually do what blogs can do

Want to actually read a blog that does something right? Well, here is Greg Sargent at TPM Cafe who noted that a false attribution was made to Abraham Lincoln on the U.S. House floor. Note the difference between fact-checking and exhibitionism. And the discernment of accurate and honest use of quoted materials. Honesty and competence are offenses in the South Dakota blogosphere, so tread gently.

GOP Rep. Recycles Phony Lincoln Quote During Escalation Debate
By Greg Sargent bio
Here's GOP Rep. Don Young of Alaska on the House floor today, coming out against the anti-escalation resolution. To make his case, Young very portentously attributed the following quote to Abraham Lincoln: "Congressmen who willfully take action during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs, and should be arrested, exiled or hanged." (If you click on the link above, you can go to a video of Rep. Young's performance.)


Of course, as many of you know already, Lincoln never said those words. The quote, which has been recycled endlessly by war supporters, has been thoroughly discredited. Given that the discrediting of this quote has been all over the internet for over six months, we have to ask: Did Rep. Young know that the quote was bogus, but recycle it anyway? We'll never know. He certainly seemed to think what he was saying was very profound.

Ben Franklin wrote the style manual followed by most bloggers

I am not anti-blogger. I am anti-stupid. So, I reprint this passage from Ben Franklin, who addressed those characteristics that diminish human communication to the yowls from the dog pack and chicken flock.

Ben Franklin long ago wrote the style manual and defined the essential purpose of blogging:

  1. If possible engross the whole discourse; and when other matter fails, talk much of yourself, your education, your knowledge, your circumstances, your successes in business, your victories in disputes, your own wise sayings and observations on particular occasions, &c.&c. &c.
  2. If when you are out of breath, one of the company should seize the opportunity of saying something; watch his words, and, if possible, find somewhat either in his sentiment or expression, immediately to contradict and raise a dispute upon. Rather than fail, criticize even his grammar.
  3. If another should be saying an indisputably good thing; either give no attention to it; or interrupt him; or draw away the attention of others; or, if you can guess what he would be at, be quick and say it before him; or, if he gets it said, and you perceive the company plea's with it, own it to be a good thing, and withal remark that it had been said by Bacon, Lock, Bayle, or some other eminent writer; thus you deprive him of the reputation he might have gained by it, and gain some yourself, as you hereby show your great reading and memory.
  4. When modest men have been thus treated by you a few times, they will choose ever after to be silent in your company; then you may shine on without fear of a rival; rallying them at the same time for their dullness, which will be to you a new fund of wit.

This was published by Franklin in The Pennsylvania Gazette on November 15, 1750, under the headline:

"RULES, by the Observation of which, a Man of Wit and Learning may nevertheless make himself a disagreeable Companion."

Northern Beef Packers, SDDP, champagne and chocolate scheduled for BCDs

Because of family business, we are a bit behind in getting out communications for the Brown County Democrats through our usual channels, so we post the schedule of coming events here.

MONDAY, FEB. 19: The monthly meeting, which would normally meet Thursday evening, Feb. 22, is being moved up to Monday, Feb. 19. A Chamber of Commerce banquet conflicts with the Thursday schedule. We will meet Monday, the 19th, at 7 p.m. in the meeting rooms of the Brown County Courthouse. Dennis Helwig of Northern Beef Packers will speak and answer questions on the packing plant being constructed a mile south of town.

Friday, Feb. 23: Dollar-A-Month Club, 11:30 - 1 p.m. What is going on with the South Dakota Democratic Party? Our own Deb Knecht, the newly elected vice president of the state party, will give us the lastest information and her perspective on changes taking place in the party. Here is a chance to get the lowdown.

Sunday, Feb. 25: Shake off the midwinter freeze at Champagne and Chocolate Sunday Afternoon, 2 p.m. at the new Alonzo's (former First Ave. Grill) across the street from the Courthouse. This is the first in our fundraising activities as we begin to rebuild our coffers for the 2008 election.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Edson Carl Newquist, September 19, 1922 - February 11, 2007

[In a recent visit to Edson, he is caught in mid-bite at his breakfast table in front of one of his paintings, in the artistic milieu in which he lived.]




While in our hotel room in Winnipeg preparing for the day's events Sunday morning, Virginia and I received word that my oldest brother, Edson, was found dead in his home in Bella Vista, Arkansas. His close friend and companion, Lt. Col. (ret.) Garland McAbee found him and telephoned us while the EMT squad was still present.

Edson was born in Moline, Illinois, to Carl G. and Alice E. E. (Johnson) Newquist. He graduated from Moline High School in 1941 and from the University of Illinois College of Fine and Applied Arts in 1945.

Edson worked as an art director and creative director for advertising agencies. He was an art director for Needham, Louis, and Brorby in Chicago, and transferred to their New York City office. He then moved to Benton & Bowles. While on a sabbatical leave, he went to California and decided to move there. While there, he worked for some time as art director for some organizations and then devoted full time to his painting, his writing, and his music.

Edson lived an aesthetic life. While in Los Angeles, he lived in an all steel and glass house that was on the architectural tour. Its living room featured his grand piano.

He then moved to Palm Springs, and in 2003 moved to Bella Vista, Arkansas, where the climate is more moderate.

Edson's living room in Bella Vista featured some of his wall-size paintings of flowers which became his main interest in his later years. It also featured his grand piano.

Edson has lived with prostate cancer for a number of years and was troubled by reactions to the treatment.

Edson left home to go to college during my early grade school years, so we did not share many childhood memories. Later, we collaborated on a movie script called "The Right Stripe," which was an adaptation of events in an autobiography of a frontier bounty hunter titled Banditti of the Prairies. Edson maintained a creative interest in the musical theater and was involved in writing and music, as well as art, throughout his life.

When I could not find a summer job in my hometown because of a severe recession, I lived with Edson and my brother Ted in Chicago during the time I had a summer job there after my freshmen year in college. I returned the following summer and worked in Chicago while attending college part time before earning enough to return full time. During that time is when Edson moved to New York.





Alice, Carl, David, Ted, and Edson just before Edson moved to New York.



Edson is survived by brothers Ted, Moline, Ill., and David, Aberdeen, S.D., sister-in-law Virginia, nieces Leslie, Denver, and Andrian, nephew David, Aberdeen, and an adopted son, Vadim, New York City.


And his art.


PBS offers a critical series on the "new media"

Tuesday night, the PBS news show Frontline aired the first in a four-part series of shows on what is taking place with the news media. Frontline broadcasts on South Dakota SDPB stations Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

The entire series can be viewed online at PBS.org. It gives an abundantly documented explanation of how America became Orwell's Oceania.

The series chronicles in detail how the Bush administration manipulated and appropriated the news media to launch its war on Iraq. Reporters such as Bob Woodward are interviewed and explain the lapses in journalistic procedure that made the misinformation and the deception possible. Web logs played a significant part in spreading the misinformation and misdirecting attention away from the essential facts. Even on those occasions when blog posts purport to offer a perspective that goes beyond the mantra of pack journalists, the information is obscured by incoherence, intellectual clutter, and verbal deficiencies. Rather than amplify the reporting, blogs tend to merely repeat the misinformation and misdirect attention to the motives and mindsets of their authors.

The major criticism made by commentators in the series is that the "new media" invests almost nothing in original reporting.

There are a few online sources, including web logs, that follow the principles and process of gathering and reporting accurate and significant information. But the new media, including the internet versions, are largely devoted to extending the rituals of popular culture that subvert genuine communication. Probably because they are closer to the grounding of the English language, British writers have portrayed the causes of that subversion with particular intensity. The portrayals are, of course, in Orwell's work, but also in works such as William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange.

I note that my own blogging tends to cause a bunching of the panties that, in turn, produces great hows of pain and indignation. The use of computers is, as I have stated before, probably the most significant development in human communication since the invention of the lead pencil. It makes the production of communication much easier, and it makes possible a concentration on content rather than the mechanics of transmission. If the Internet is not to devolve into the kind of exercise in scurrility and stupidity that characterizes so many discussion boards, it needs constant criticism and reminders that some people are trying to undo what centuries of human endeavor in thought and expression have produced. So, let the panties bunch up.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Why bloggers are of no importance--except to bloggers

When I remarked in a comment on another blog that blogs are not an important development in human communication, one of those pretentious semi-sentients with which South Dakota seems overburdened, snarked that I should read Marshall McLuhan.

I have read Marshall McLuhan. In fact, I covered him in classes on mass communications and the criticism of culture. There are such classes. I doubt that many bloggers would have heard of them, especially those who can't think beyond the petty and diminishing stereotypes that are the vehicles of their thoughts.

First of all, I blog. I think blogs have a potential. But that potential has been taken over by the base, the malevolent, the devotees of self-fellation, and those who cannot get their words registered in the more sentient and literate forums. Blogs provide anyone who can click a mouse and manipulate a keyboard a place to express their attitudes and thoughts. And by the same token, they provide evidence of how many people lead lives of ignorance, resentment, and petty malevolence. People who value the best that is thought and said by humans necessarily avoid blogs.

This is not to say that some blogs and some posts do not contribute to discourse that informs and elevates. But few people have time to sort through the mean and petty and scurrilous to engage human discourse on an elevating plane. While it may be instructive for everyone to be reminded that malicious bigotry is a large force that threatens our democracy, it is more efficacious to frequent those published words that people of knowledge and discernment have edited for us.

Back to McLuhan. For those who do not know who he is, he was a professor of English who concentrated on the media that transmits human communication. He was born and educated in Canada, received degrees at Cambridge, and taught in both the U.S. and Canada with most of his career at the University of Toronto. He was a convert to Roman Catholicism and remained so throughout his life. He died in 1980.

McLuhan liked wordplay and often summarized his ideas in aphorisms. Many people who claim to know McLuhan's ideas really know only a few of the aphorisms, such as "The medium is the massage." They are not aware that while McLuhan reported observations on how technology was shaping humankind, he did maintain a critical perspective that suggested that such forming of the human intellect by its technologies was not necessarily in the best interest of humankind.

A couple other of his aphorisms are:

At the speed of light, policies and political parties yield place to charismatic images.

Politics offers yesterday’s answers to today’s questions.

At the same time McLuhan loomed on the scene as a commentator on cultural development, the book by Arthur Clarke and the film by Stanley Kubrick of 2001: A Space Odyssey took the world by storm. McLuhan wrote about how mankind became the tool of its own technology, being directed and determined by it. In science fiction Clarke and Kubrick presented a story of the computer Hal who developed a sentience and self-will and turned against the people who had created him. McLuhan's suggestion that mankind could lose self-determination and become the creature of his own technology lay behind much of the cultural criticism being created in the 1960s and 1970s.

The self-consuming aspects of humanity's technology became apparent in recent weeks. I spent a long weekend in Winnipeg where I hoped to escape the interminable gossip and speculation on Anna Nicole Smith. CNN was particularly grotesque in its obsessive coverage. The dementia that infests tabloids and cable news was not escapable in Canada. We Americans tend to forget how our culture pervades the world. In fact, a Baptist church service that originates in Aberdeen was broadcast in Winnipeg on Sunday morning. But Winnipeg (which has a population as big as South Dakota's) is a cosmopolitan city and offers many cultural alternatives to the stuff of technology.

People spin webs of malevolence and get caught up in them. On CNN, people started making judgments about Anna Nicole and making the most scurrilous speculations about the cause of her death. The chicken flock syndrome set in. People found someone of prominence that they could start pecking on and they soon were pecking away in a malevolent fury.

We note that some South Dakota blogs joined in on the pecking and tail-biting, obviously getting great pleasure from their indulgences in depravity.

But that is nothing new. The posts and comments on blogs about the Sen. Dan Sutton matter and Sen. Tim Johnson's health showed a species of human that has surrendered its intellectual apparatus to the exercise of its technology for debased and regressive purposes. Some folks prefer the chicken flock and dog pack to a life of knowledge and constructive enterprise.

Marshall McLuhan had some important things to observe about technology. Willa Cather also did so brilliantly in her long short story "Neighbor Rosicky." She described a people whose humane values were not corrupted by technology and greed. And she described those whose values were so corrupted. Cultural criticism is a long tradition in American literature.

I have nothing against blogging. I do have a revulsion toward willful ignorance and human malice. Blogging permits people who are driven by those qualities to assert themselves. I prefer to avoid such assertions. And so do many people who want humankind to stay in control of its technology, not be controlled by it.

While we hear and see day after day the use of technology in Iraq being the instrument of hatred and mindless malevolence, we can hear and see in our own time and place the use of blogs being used for the same purposes on the verbal level. Words generally precede the acts.

And so, excuse me, if I pay less and less attention to blogs. There are more positive and constructive ways to spend what little time is allotted to one on earth.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Time for a rebirth

Abraham Lincoln b. February 12, 1809

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Republican ministry of disinformation rises again

A hallmark of the Bush administration has been its skill in distorting the truth and lying outright to push its political ends and malign its opponents. The weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's cozy ties with al Qaida come quickly to mind. Scooter Libby's testimony about the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity is getting the scrutiny it deserves.

Now the lying machine is taking after Nancy Pelosi, and the request that she be able to use an airplane that can fly to her home state, California, without stopping to refuel. In covering the story, CNN provides a clip of a Republican congressman charging that Pelosi wants a big, luxurious airplane with entertainment features that can provide sumptious diversions for all the guests she plans to haul with her. The CNN story concludes with the information that the Pentagon says it will use the same plane used by her predecessor, Dennis Hastert, in going back and forth to Illinois.

MSNBC has quite a different take on the story. Their take is back by the White House press secretary. MSNBC reports that the House Sergeant at Arms, who is in charge of the security of House members, requested the larger plane because of security concerns with refueling stops. Members of that office have made clear that no requests have been made for luxurious craft, as the Republicans have tried to insist.

The matter will be settled between the Air Force and the Sergeant at Arms to satisfy the security concerns.

And we in the U.S. sometimes make fun of the ranting lies coming from Iran and North Korea.

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