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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Old fads never die; they just end up on blogs

Computers and what kids can do to them and with them is the latest incantation of the blog buddies in South Dakota. I could write a book on this subject. I just may, and call it something like "Kids vs. Machines: the Anatomy of Petty Vandalism on the High Plains--and Everywhere Else."

I am a great advocate of the use of computers in education. But computers are merely tools. When educators and the public begin to confuse the medium with the message, then we have problems. Marshall McLuhan made the glossy statement about television that the "medium is the message," but he later recanted and clarified his remarks. Many people tend to think in faddish terms, and it is de rigueuer to proclaim that computers are essential to any relevant developments in human communication and the dissemination of knowledge.

In my field, personal computers and word processing were the greatest boon to thinking and writing since the yellow No. 2 pencils with erasers on the top. Word processing eliminated much of the drudgery of producing a final manuscript that made the writing of papers for class, for professional review, and publication such an ordeal. The process of producing a correctly formatted, error-free manuscript takes a fourth of the effort it did with typewriters. The World Wide Web and the Internet for a time put the gathering of source information and certain forms of research at the hands of almost everybody. That is probably not true today, because online sources are subject to contamination and unreliability to the point that it is better to consult original sources, but computers do make the search more convenient. Things are much easier for anyone writing today than they were 10 or 15 years ago.

Computers, however, are of little help in developing the essentials of writing: organization, coherence, fluency, precision, style, sentence construction and grammar. Spell check is useless beyond the most rudimentary kind of writing, but it does alert one to typographical errors. The syntax check in programs such as Microsoft Word is ludicrous for anyone beyond the third or fourth grade. And the grammar check is more misleading than helpful. Whatever tool is being used to generate writing, the essential developmental factor is practice. And much reading of good writing.

So, I am a big advocate of computers used with attention to what they can and cannot do. In a writing class, real-time conferencing and discussion sessions in which every student can be required to contribute are exceptionally effective in providing the groundwork needed for expository and argumentative writing. And they provide those three essentials: practice, practice, and practice.

When it comes to students taking up combat with machines, they are playing out the myth of machines over humans that was developed in 2001: A Space Odyssey and is a familiar theme in much folk literature. People do not like being under the command of machines and they try to frustrate them and mess them up.

I have been involved with computers since the method of checking for accurate data was to run long probes through the holes in stacks of punch cards to locate sticky chads. I have had many experiences with this kind of technology, and therein lies a tale.

I was the copy chief at a research and development firm in Davenport, Ia. that, when government contracts begin to get sparse after the Sputnik furor, decided to make some proprietary technology. It designed a teaching machine. This machine ran teaching programs which were written according to behaviorist psychological theory and were so tedious that even those of us who were supposed to try them out bounced off the walls with near-fatal attacks of boredom. A number of the machines were placed with university professors who wrote teaching programs for them. The professors would then test out the programs and machines in the university laboratory schools, and of course they worked fine. That's because most of the kids in those schools were professors' children and they understood that Daddy needed to have some successful attainments for tenure, promotion, and general good standing.

When the machines were placed in public schools for trial, the story was quite different. The kids would work the programs for about five minutes and then devote their attention and concentration to jamming the machines. They were unusually successful.

The attraction of the machines to many politicians and administrators is that they seem to offer a cheap and tractable substitute for teachers.

That same notion is what drives the craze to provide students with laptops and digitize learning so that those in the higher reaches of the educational bureaucracy and beyond won't have to deal with teachers, unions, and other conflicts that humans generate. What they are too far removed from students and classrooms to understand is that computers used legitimately and effectively for instruction are labor-intensive and require immense amounts of preparation time and skill.

In an hour's class time, an instructor can put students through an arduous program of instruction and obtain immediate results and give them immediate feedback on their progress. It is a grueling hour, but one that took four or five hours of preparation time to write and set up on the computer server. When it comes to matters of system security and debugging, instructors have little time and little access to the programs that monitor such stuff.

Yes, students fool around with the system. I had one young man from New Jersey who managed to hack into the instructors' program in my course. He put a cancellation notice for my class up three times on the log-in page and he made comments about other students in the class in my name. The system administrator caught the hack-ins and the young man was denied computer privileges for the rest of the semester. I let him finish the course by having him do his drafting, editing, and final papers on computers where the word processing functioned but were not connected to any network. It was a constructive experience for him, but hell for me.

I thought the pranks were enterprising, amusing, and bright. Other students did not think so, as we had to make up the work lost from his hack-ins. And, of course, the hours of preparation I had put in were all for naught. While amusing, his hacking was an act of vandalism and other people did have to pay. Some students who were serious and diligent in their work regarded it as an unreasonable imposition on their work.

I go along with the bloggers who think that the people in charge of the computer programs are not doing their jobs. I know that few of them have actually worked with students and computers so that they know what procedures and safeguards are needed to keep the computer instruction focused and responsive. But these students are also supposed to be learning the exercise of civic responsibilities, and that means that they might have to face some consequences. The incident I cited and the ones at Madison High School referred to by other bloggers were benign and high-spirited, but I have also been involved some that were terribly dishonest and damaging. Kids will pull pranks. Parents and teachers will let them know the limits and dangers of pranks. I think.

What is disconcerting is how many times the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off is cited in regard to these incidents with a kind of scriptural reverence. It is a teen-exploitation film in which Ben Stein's portrayal of an economics teacher out-stereotypes any portrayal of a black person by Stepan Fetchit. But I will not argue the case, because I have never been able to sit all the way through the movie. There is no profit in arguing matters of taste.

I do not defend the administrators and those who think that dumping computers in the laps of children is going to improve education. Administrators are not generally hired for their teaching skill but for the obsequious service they can provide to those who pay their salaries and set their agendas. They, K-College, seldom have the foggiest notion of what it takes to support effective teaching programs or how to devise and implement such programs. They could, of course, ask the teachers, but that is not likely to happen in a society which regards teachers as bonded servants or even slaves of a kind. You know, why should they want money? Where is their dedication?

If anyone is really concerned about why our education system seems to be lagging behind much of the industrialized, technologized world, they should examine the circumstances and attitudes that emerge in incidents like the Madison kids hacking into the computer system.

Oh, well, just take the day off. It will all go away.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Old Iron Tits, we need you now!


Old Iron Tits does not refer to Madonna. It refers to General Matthew Ridgway. The troops called him Old Iron Tits because he wore two metal cannisters clipped breast high on each side of his shoulder harness as he toured among them on battlefields. One of them was a hand grenade and the other a first aid kit. They characterize the kind of soldier he was.

Gen. Ridgway’s brilliance as a military commander is chronicled in David Halbertstam’s posthumously published book on the Korean War, The Coldest Winter. The book is excerpted in the November Smithsonian magazine.

Most old soldiers are tremendously troubled by the war on Iraq. That it is an inane exercise in vainglory for George W. Bush and his Orwellian followers is of prime concern. But to people who have served in the military and not under current orders to obey military commands, the conduct of the war and the heedless dangers and waste of lives of our military is a profound subversion of American patriotism and duty. The history of Matthew Ridgway's intelligence and leadership become significant for the alternatives they suggest to what we are doing now.

I served in the Cold War during the Sputnik era, but the heat of Korea was still radiating through the military and diplomatic corps. Gen. Ridgway and his Commander in Chief at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, rescued the country from the vainglorious disaster into which Gen. MacArthur had plunged the country. In the mid-1950s, Gen. Ridgway's examples and policies were on the minds of every soldier. He understood that America's superior military resources were under technological challenge by the Soviets and China, and he urged and lead in preparing for a new kind of military. He believed that the key to a competent and effective military was intelligence, and the effect of his policy was that every soldier was not only a fighting man but an intelligence gatherer. Those of us who spent long nights on the dark and cold Rhine in heated vans in front of humming control boards did not only keep the weapons ready to fire, we constantly processed information that our radar networks and our guards recorded and reported. We were periodically debriefed on our interactions with people we met off post. Matthew Ridgway's influence was behind this intense activity.

Douglas MacArthur was relieved of command and replaced by Ridgway in circumstances much like what Bush and Cheney have led us into in Iraq. Halbertstam quotes Ridgway: "There isn't any question that MacArthur wanted to go to war, full war with Communist China. And he could not be convinced by all the contrary arguments." Truman relieved MacArthur of command and Ridgway was appointed to lead the U.S. out of incipient defeat. MacArthur had convinced himself that China would never come to the aid of the North Koreans and he sent his troops into a trap in which 300,000 Chinese troops badly defeated American forces. Ridgway reversed the matter in a matter of months. Like MacArthur, Bush and Cheney ignored any intelligence that interfered with their consuming desires to go to war in Iraq. But there is no Commander in Chief above them to fire them and replace them with a Ridgway.

But mostly, Ridgway adhered to the values of the American republic. He understood that America in war is not a military enterprise based upon executive authority. As Halberstam explains, the politicians who authorize and implement a war have to face political realities and pressures that field commanders might not know about or understand. He knew that lives would be sacrificed in a legitimate war, but he knew the price: "All lives on the battlefield are equal, and a dead rifleman is as great a loss in the eyes of God as a dead General. The dignity which attaches to the individual is the basis of Western Civilization, and this fact should be remembered by every Commander." It is doubtful that those presiding over the first decade of the 21st century ever knew this principle, let alone forgot it.

Halberstam says that Ridgway's obsession with accurate and thorough intelligence came from his superior intellectual abilities and his genuine conservatism: "the better your intelligence, the fewer of your men's lives you were likely to sacrifice." This is another measure of good, competent commanding that is lost in our contemporary blustering at war.

Three major events stand out as Ridgway's superior intellect, ability, and soldiering. He commanded the airborne invasion of France on D-Day in 1944. He reversed a humiliating and dangerous defeat in Korea. And when the U.S. was pressured to enter Vietnam and help the beleaguered French, he wrote a strong and detailed memo to Pres. Eisenhower asserting what a tremendous cost and endless morass such an invasion would be for America. Eisenhower quickly decided against entering the Vietnam conflict.

Ridgway would never stand up in the front of the U.N and recite the Bush-Cheney cant for entering Iraq. Colin Powell blemished an otherwise distinguished and honorable career by not putting the intelligence he cited to the kind of test for accuracy, verification, and reliability that Gen. Ridgway had established as the standard for military decisions.

All soldiers want to be proud of what they do. They do not, as in Lincoln's militia days, have the right to vote on who exercises direct command over them. They depend on their commanders to do what is right and to insure that sacrifices made on the battlefield are not done for vainglory or blustering incompetence. And they depend upon their Commander in Chief and staff officers to insure that any sacrifice asked of them serves the purposes and principles of their country, not the self-serving schemes of those who place power over the welfare of the country.

I was fortunate that I served in the era of Ridgway and Eisenhower. A very strong case can be made that if men of their caliber were in place today--such as Generals Anthony Zinni and Wesley Clark--we would not be flushing America's human and economic resources down the drain of Iraq. Nor would we be moving toward disaster in Iran.







Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The war on Iraq rages on in the U.S.

Moline, Ill.--As I noted in a previous post, the war on Iraq was evident in stops I made along the way from South Dakota to Illinois. Around here it is the elephant in the room--and I use that cliche with all the symbolism it can carry.

Saturday morning as I approached the main turn off from the expressway to a sprawling shopping mall, the intersection was lined with people holding signs that tallied the number of dead and injured American soldiers and the number of Iraqis killed and maimed.

A friend who served in the military the same time I did spotted a pickup in a parking lot while we were chatting that carried a bumper stick that said support our troops by supporting Bush and his war on terror. My friend fumed over the absurdity of supporting a leader who tosses away the lives of soldiers as if they are used nose tissues. My friend said that John McCain got it right on the Letterman Show when he slipped up and called them wasted lives. My friend spoke of the President and Vice President sending out the same propaganda they did in preparation for declaring war on Iraq. They are insisting that Iran will start World War III, and they are using the phony nuclear weapon scam again. I don't think we can wait for a year to get these maniacs out of office, he said.

On a college campus I drove through, a young woman handed me a flyer through the open window. (It was 80 degrees Sunday.) It invited me to join a huge war protest to be held in Chicago later this month. There was a sense of urgency in the flyer.

Still as I read news accounts and blogs coming out of South Dakota, I see that some people think the war is going well and is on the way to success--whatever the hell that means. The New Yorker this week has a lead article pointing out that the ultimate occupiers of Iraq will be Iraqis, and they want us out now, and have wanted us out for some time.

This next month will show some concerted resistance to continuing the war on Iraq. Maybe reason, instead of Orwellian connivance and war propaganda, can prevail.

Sen. Tim Johnson and the gathering of the packs

Moline, Ill..--The technique is used by canine packs. Wolves do it. Coyotes are not supposed to do it, but farmers around Brown County, South Dakota, have witnessed them doing it. When dogs pack up and revert to their feral instincts, they do it. One of the goriest sights I ever covered as a journalist was the slaughter of 80 sheep about 20 miles from Moline by farm dogs that would gather in packs at night and kill farm animals out of sheer primitive delight and exhilaration at shedding blood and destroying life. They did not kill for hunger. They killed out of some primitive pleasure.

Humans do it, too. The head of the juvenile division of a law enforcement agency near here claimed that when adolescents begin to gather in aimless bands, they are forming packs that can erupt into mindless rampages and violence. That is why gangs are so troublesome. It is a reversion to running with the pack and exerting power and domination over others. It is the unleashing of very primitive instincts.

Some political “operatives” do it. They have been packing up around Sen. Tim Johnson. When bison dominated the plains, a constant companion was wolf packs. When the pack noticed an aging, or an ill or injured, or otherwise weakened, or very young bison, the lower ranked wolves—those down around the omega zone—would stalk, and nip, and harass the target bison to wear it down. When and if it got weak enough, the alpha types would move in for the kill. It is a nice, participatory system for the operation of the primal food chain. It is not uplifting process for human endeavors that are supposed to aspire to higher modes and higher laws of transacting business. But it is part of the game of “politics” as they have developed in our country. For many, it is the entire game.

The word that Sen. Tim Johnson had suffered a brain hemorrhage had barely been verified when the furies of gloom began their assertions that he was incapacitated and should resign so that the Governor could appoint an able person to the Senate. As recovery seemed a possibility, the cant changed to assertions that he would not run for another term. Even now that Sen. Johnson has announced his full intention to run and has started to build a campaign staff, there are strident, whining voices insisting that he will not really run for re-election in the final analysis.

One need not be a devotee of Jane Austen and the other novelists of manners to see the ill hope expressed in the peevish, resentful dismissals. It is the old business of confronting a target prey that appears weakened with constant, petty doubt. It is the articulation of hope that the perceived weak can be made weaker, and finally be brought to a state of exhaustion and hopelessness by the nipping and yapping. The obligatory recital of best wishes does not disguise the small-minded ill will behind the constant speculations about Sen. Johnson and the niggling complaints about his management of his recovery.

Just before Sen. Johnson narrowly defeated John Thune in 2002, his wife Barbara spoke to the Brown County Democrats at their monthly meeting. Some of the elders in attendance questioned the tone that the campaign had taken. Thune had gone into his ad hominem mode against Johnson, and some Johnson ads responded. Barbara Johnson said the personal attacks and misrepresentations had to be answered. But many people, particularly the seniors, were put off by the mean and negative tone that the campaign had taken. It may well have cost the interest of a significant number of Johnson supporters, especially among the elderly, and it was a consideration when Tom Daschle’s campaign decided not to engage the barrage of personal attack and false representations directed at him. Ill will does tend to drive away the good.

One of my loyal critics, Vicki, who sends e-mails about my posts noted the latest round of expressions of ill will and dire hopes in the question raised on blogs about whether Sen. Johnson appears capable of running for office and serving. She said that before Sen. Johnson appeared in public, there were constant speculations that he was too incapacitated to do so. When he did appear, he has been under intense examination for weakness. The circling of the pack, you know. Vicki asked the question of whether South Dakota deserves to be represented by a man of the caliber of Tim Johnson. She finds his recovery and determination an inspiration, and can not understand what manner of person gains pleasure in contriving and predicting his demise.

I can only say that those persons speak for themselves. They don’t speak for all of South Dakota, but their nipping and yapping certainly pollutes the intellectual and moral environment.


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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Parents, do you know where your teachers are tonight?

Parents, do you know where your teachers are tonight?

Moline, Ill.--South Dakota ranks 25th among the 50 states for firing teachers, according to a series of stories running in the The Dispatch, a Moline-based newspaper. There is some specious statistical reasoning involved in the rankings, but we’ll look at that later.

In the last six years, South Dakota has fired 20 of its 9,245 teachers. The yearly breakdown is:

2001: 7

2002: 1

2003: 1

2004: 2

2005: 3

2006: 6


Reporter Scott Reeder (sreeder@qconline.com) says the Small Newspaper Group, which owns The Dispatch, filed 50 Freedom of Information requests with the departments of education in all the states and built a database of suspensions and revocations of teaching certificates. In all, he says, the newspaper group filed 1,500 Freedom of Information requests at almost 900 government agencies and received 100 percent compliance with the requests.

That compilation from Freedom of Information requests is more astounding than the matter of teachers getting fired, at least for South Dakota. There are two reasons.

The first is that South Dakota has no state Freedom of Information act. According to the Better Government Association, South Dakota ranks absolute last in freedom of information and access to government. Journalists and those of us who try to get information from government agencies in the state run up against a stone wall of refusal and resistance. Two years ago, the state put a freeze on vital statistics, claiming that it needed to do so to prevent identity theft. So, why can an out-of-state newspaper obtain data about teacher firings when our in-state journalistic organizations are constantly complaining about being unable to obtain government information?

The second reason the Small Newspaper Group’s project is somewhat astounding is that familiar claim of South Dakotans that they have the strongest work ethic in the nation. I have always been puzzled about the basis for that claim. I have worked many places and in many circumstances, and I have often witnessed people who work harder and smarter. One of those places was at The Dispatch where I worked as an editor many years ago. Those were exciting times because of the diligence, the resourcefulness, and the team efforts of the staff. I cannot but wonder if those people worked in South Dakota whether government agencies would successfully sit on information. I doubt it.

But back to the firing of teachers. Our neighbor North Dakota ranks 18th with 12 of 8,027 teachers fired in the last six years. States with the highest rate of firings are Utah with 235 out of 22,147 teachers and California with 3,075 out of 304,311 teachers. States with the lowest rates are Virginia with 25 fired out of 90,573 and Illinois with 51 out of 127,669 fired in the last six years.

Most of the firings appear to be sexual violations. Incompetence and misconduct of other forms are also cited as reasons. However, the first articles in the series did not break down the reasons by category.

An argument advanced in the series is that low firings are a result of a lack of effort in ferreting out the poor performing and misbehaving teachers, and there is some anecdotal evidence cited in support of that contention. Some states have investigators who examine charges made against teachers. Others don’t. Some states are more aggressive in dealing with the charges; others go very slow.

The reasoning that states with low rates of firing are failing in policing the teaching force is a bit specious, It assumes that there are incompetent and predatory teachers lurking in abundance out there and the miscreant educators are not exposed because the administrations are not making the effort. It fails to examine the differences of intensity of the teacher education programs and the credentialing process in various states. It also fails to account for the number of bona fide charges against teacher and the number of false charges.

I have sat on review panels in the discipline of professors and about half of the incidents required disciplinary action and about half were false charges. Students do make up charges when they have vindictive motives against their teachers. And there are teachers who do things that disqualify them from the profession.

The answer to the problems with bad teachers is to sharpen due process in dealing with charges and make the credentialing process thorough and accurate.

But I am pondering how Mr. Reeder and his colleagues got that information out of South Dakota.


Simultaneously posted at KELOland blogs.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The War on Iraq on campus

Moline, Ill.--I am back in my home territory to help a family member through a medical episode. But the real point is the long drive from Aberdeen to the Quad-Cities, during which it rained the entire drive. However, as I went south and east, the temperature went from the 40s to the 60s, and I assumed Al Gore must be in the neighborhood.

I have a problem when I travel and don't have a tight schedule to keep. I stop along the way, and this time it was at campuses that I frequented over the years. At a coffee shop where some Iowa State students were assembled, they noticed a political sign on the back window of the car I am driving. It is for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, and is there to sort of identify it as kind of a staff car. My spouse went to work for Rep. Herseth Sandlin last month. A young woman seemed a bit perplexed that an old man seemed to support a young congresswoman so far in advance of the election. I said something to the effect that when they are bright and competent, one must support them all the time. And the young woman then asked, somewhat aggressively, what is her position on the war?

I noted that Rep. Herseth Sandlin had signed a compact with 14 Republicans and 14 Democrats to work for a bipartisan solution to solve our problem in Iraq. The young woman got a bit strident: "Is she for or against the war? Does she really want us out of a place we should not be at in the first place?" Before I could answer, the young woman said she hoped no more lives would sacrificed at the expense of being reasonable and bipartisan, and the group she was with got in their car and drove away.

I stopped in Iowa City. The bulletin boards on the campus hangouts were full of posters announcing war protest rallies and urging actions to stop it. There was much of the mood of the Vietnam protests of three decades ago. Clearly, the war has moved onto the campuses.

I asked a former colleague in Rock Island if he noted growing anti-war activities. He said that during Vietnam, the draft brought the war to the campuses as an issue that students were concerned about. This time, our national resources are concentrated on Iraq when there are so many other problems that need them. And it is difficult to find people of any political persuasion on campuses who have any tolerance for his war.

He talked of watching an interview of retired Gen. Wesley Clark who made the point that it is impossible to play a responsible role in world affairs when the rest of the world distrusts and dislikes you. Clark made the point that when your forces are involved in killing people in other countries, those people tend to hate you. Good soldiers do not allow the lives of their troops to be wasted for political thinking that has gone awry.

I noticed that some of the old rock stars of the Vietnam era are urging demonstrations against the war on Iraq.

Here we go again. The students are getting restless.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

WWCD? (What Would Coulter Do?)

Impeach Al Gore, of course.

And following the words and examples of the Goddess of Good Will and Sweetness and Light, that is exactly what the faithful are doing. If you can’t impeach the sumbitch from office, you can impeach his character, his integrity, and his reputation. And so, under the ring-a-ding sharia, the Goddess has issued a fatwa calling for the assassination of the character of Al Gore. At least, the faithful take it that way.

We thought the Supreme Court had banished Gore once and for all after the election of 2000. But he is a graceless man. He did not go gently into the good night of obscurity. He has prowled the world, subverting honor-bestowing institutions and spreading left-wing heresies under the guise of science. This year he went absolutely berserk. He ruined The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by winning an Oscar for his sensationalist left-wing lies on global warming. Then he turned the Nobel Foundation into a hotbed of depravity by winning its Peace Prize. If there was ever a candidate for stoning, it is Al Gore.

The salt of the earth faithful in South Dakota have stepped up to the plait--well, tresses--and cast their blogs at Gore. The Academy and the Nobel Foundation, the faithful think, are running Gore for president. What's more? Michael Moore as vice president.

Giving Gore the Nobel Peace Prize is so totally unfair. Especially when others deserve it more. Like George W. Bush. For the peace and democracy he has brought to Iraq. For the honor he has bestowed upon 3,821 deserving American soldiers. For the valor with which he met and is still meeting the aftermath of Katrina. For giving all America comfort and security with electronice eavesdropping. For insuring that all children who need medical attention can get it.

And let us not forget that paragon of forthrightness and justice Alberto Gonzales. He deserves both an Academy Award and a Peace Prize. And if anyone deserves an Academy Award, it is Larry Craig for his tap dancing. After all, he turned a lowly restroom stall into a national shrine.

There are so many people more deserving than Al Gore. He'd have us think that the earth is warming up and there is something we can do about it. That is an affront to the sovereignty of the Goddess of Light and Truth and Kindness and the horde of virgins waiting to reward the faithful.

The Nobel Foundation has its sights set on the White House. Sweden plans to invade the U.S. to convert it to socialized medicine, lutfisk addiction, and blonde, blue-eyed hussies of liberal ways. Al Gore is a stalking horse for the Svenkies who want to sneak in here with their weapons of mass deconstruction and enslave the people to Volvos and Absolut.

We can take some assurance that we are being protected from such an invasion. The Goddess has issued her fatwa. And the bloggers have obeyed. Especially in South Dakota.

May the military force be with you.



Thursday, October 11, 2007

Waste water scheme may signal faltering Northern Beef Packers

The headline in our local newspaper proclaimed "Beef plant floats water plan." To some community officials and supporters of the beef packing plant, the announcement and details of a waste water treatment plan is sending signals of a sinking enterprise.

Northern Beef Packers is constructing a packing plant south of Aberdeen next to the city's waste water treatment plant. From the outset the enterprise has had opposition and detractors. The most vocal and strident objections came from people who expressed

opposition to the “the kind of people” the plant would attract to the community as employees—Latinos, Asians, illegal aliens, and people from other parts of our country and the world who would contaminate the racial, social, and cultural purity of the

Aberdeen area. The detractors argued that the influx of such people would overload the school system, the police and fire departments, the welfare program, the housing market, and would inevitably send the crime rate soaring.

Others opposed the beef packing plant on the grounds that it would reduce property values by changing the nature of the south side of town, would create noise, visual pollution, bad odors, and in general be an environmental nuisance because of its proximity to the town. A problem was that the environmental concerns were usually linked to the racial concerns, so that whaver the pretext for objecting to the plant, the motives for the opposition appeared to be thinly disguised racism.

Community officials and leaders who are trying to develop the town were understandably chagrined by the racist assumptions and characterizations generated by townspeople. Northern Beef Packers applied for a Tax Increment Financing status, which defers paying property taxes on a commercial real estate project until it is running and producing revenues. Petitions were ciruculated to put the TIF status to a public vote. The TIF was approved by voters by a large margin. Law suits on environmental impact were dismissed, and Northern Beef Packers received the go-ahead to begin construction.

Supporters of the plant, first of all, cited the shrinking and aging of the population around Aberdeen as a reason for a new enterprise. If the plant reaches full production capacity, it will employ 600 and process 1,500 head of cattle a day. Agriculture interests saw it as an important step for value-added agriculture within the state. It would process state certified beef, and it would serve as an economic delivery point for cattle feeders in the region. It would also provide a marketing alternative to the three giant corporations that control beef packing in the U.S.


Plant promoters countered all the environmental objections to the plant by assuring that it would be constructed to eliminate noise and odor and would treat its waste water to prevent any kind of air, water, or ground pollution.

That is why the announcement in the newspaper cast such a dark cloud over the prospects for the plant to reach production status. Some officials and leaders have known about the plan announced in the newspaper for some weeks, but assumed it would be quickly rejected.

The new plan would circumvent waste water treatment and instead divert the waste water to a series of five to seven holding ponds of 17 acres each. As one city official put it, for “holding ponds” read “sewage lagoons.” The ponds would aerate the water and then send it by pipes to farms where it would irrigate crops. The official said, We approved a beef packing plant and now we’re getting an e coli factory.” That was one of the politest and most generous attitudes expressed toward the plan.

The plan would involve buying land for the ponds, obtaining easements for pipelines, and enlisting farmers who would irrigate their fields with the waste water.

The plan was explained to the Brown County Commission Tuesday from whom its promoters were asking for a resolution of support. The County Commisioners said they would defer consideration until they heard from the public on the matter. The plan would have to be approved by a phalanx of government agencies, and one official said he could not think of an agency operating under current regulations that could approve the plan.

The biggest concern was expressed by officials who said their support for the packing plant was enlisted with the assurances that plant would utilize the latest technology in eliminating waste products and pollution and now the plant backers are going back on their word and promoting a scheme that would turn southern Brown County into a chain of sewage lagoons.

The announcement of the plan dampened support for the packing plant and cast dark clouds of doubt about the viability of the plant. A project manager hired for the plant appears to have left and other factors in the project cast doubt on its progress. The promoters of the sewage lagoons claim the plan will save $5 million in construction, but engineers and environmental technicians can’t come up with a rationale for that claim.

Northern Beef Packers has more problems to overcome than its detractors at this point.



Monday, October 8, 2007

Bloggers Rush (as in Limbaugh) in where fools fear to tread

At a recent gathering with academic colleagues, someone mentioned that I write blogs. The reaction was nose-wrinkling disdain as if someone had dropped a malodorous posy at a church altar or got caught with a Playboy centerfold in the hymnal. In an attempt at good-humored tolerance, one person said it is fun to go slumming once in a while and instructive to visit the way other people live.

Blogging has earned a reputation as the province of illiterate outcry and scurrility. That reputation has, indeed, been earned. Some national blogs are operated on a journalistic basis with some attention to literary components of honest and effective writing. A few local blogs provide voice for differing perspectives and even show evidence that their authors did not skip or fall asleep in their English classes, They are literate. Literacy is much more than "correct" grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It is having some notion of how sentences relate to other sentences within a paragraph, and how paragraphs relate to other paragraphs in an effective composition. Literacy also discerns the distinction between human communication, which establishes cognitive contact between senders and receivers, and the cries in the night of the lower orders that assume their howls dispel chaos and form the center of the universe.

But most local blogs are based upon the constant commission of a fallacy of rhetoric and logic. The ad hominem fallacy comprises almost their total range of utterance. Ad hominem is Latin for "to the man or person," and the term refers to the tactic of shifting an argument away from the issues at hand by attacking the person or people associated with a viewpoint being expressed. The use of the old, Latin term for the practice demonstrates that attacking people instead of critiquing arguments has been recognized as fallacious reasoning and a debased irrelevancy from the time humans first recognized that productive and useful communication had standards that can be defined. Aristotle wrote a definitive treatise on what comprises legitimate rhetoric and what comprises fraud.

The ad hominem fallacy can be a very effective tool to use on those who are not educated in the functions of language and the laws of reasoning. Those people tend not to understand or find any interest in issues, but they experience human society as a state of resentment. For them language is simply a means to growl and howl in their struggle to be of some consequence on the dog pack level of existence. Reason and competent communication are not considerations where the total motive is to find some power-niche in the hierarchy of the dog pack.

Forms of ad hominem attacks are essential to the establishing control and maintaining power in totalitarian regimes. The Nazis used the constant defamation of the Jews and other minorities to whip their countrymen into a hateful frenzy that was a cohesive force among those who longed to be part of a “super race.” The Soviets, especially under Stalin, also used the systemized defamation of minorities and social classes to keep the people in a state of mind-numbing hatred and anger. America has used odious stereotyping in its ad hominem propaganda against people it regarded as enemies. The supplanting of intellect with the destructive flames of hatred is used with devastating effect by Islamists. George Orwell portrayed the ad hominem fallacy as the major component in the propaganda that held people in intellectual bondage in 1984. It is all part of attacking people and defining individuals or groups as depraved and deficient and inferior.

The disdain and revulsion for blogs among educated and culturally discerning people stems from the fact that a preponderance of blogs accept and practice the ad hominem attack as the only form of political discourse.

South Dakota blogs are particularly afflicted with the personal- attack-as- discourse syndrome. In fact, some blogs celebrate their defamations and scurrilous personal attacks as their claims to eminence and fame. South
Dakota Politics, for example, was largely devoted to a systematic pogrom of character assassination against Tom Daschle. It was a paid component of the political campaign against him. The authors of the blog claim to have been the deciding factor in John Thune’s winning the election, which is a dubious claim because of the few voters who were aware of blogs at the time. But the blog revealed the tactic of personal attack and defamation that was the dominant strategy of the campaign. No doubt, it worked.

A major part of the ad hominem creed is to insult, abuse, and defame the credibility of any person or medium that carries news or expresses opinions that the ad hominoids do not like. They accuse individuals of mental derangement, moral perfidy, sexual perversion, national subversion, and affronts to God. You know, communist secular humanists who constantly lie and hug trees and are anti-Christian because they may have read a book or two on Buddhism or Islam and are in constant need of medication.

The media that does not adhere to the regressive line also comes under attack. They, the main stream media, are merely the tools of liberal indoctrination and never, never aspire to an accurate and documented version of the news. Liberalism itself is defined as secular humanism, anti-Christian, and given to sexual perversion and political subversion. The word liberal has itself undergone an Orwellian redefinition to mean something intellectually deficient and morally repugnant. Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter. and their ilk, have made liberal the equivalent of the n-word rather the term that defines a political and social perspective.
An example of the attack on the media by an ad hominoid occurred on aKELOLand blog. The writer charges Sioux Falls Argus Leader columnist David Kranz with journalistic malpractice because he turned his column over to the loathsome former Senator James Abourezk, who the writer says “should be excluded from polite political company.” Kranz is irresponsible, according to the blogger, for giving Abourezk a place to “spout” his sympathies with the Palestinian people.

We went very quickly to the Kranz column expecting to find evidence of David Kranz melting down. Instead we found a column about the gist of the controversy generated by Abourezk’s pro-Palestinian views. Harvard law professor and advocate for the Israeli point-of-view, Alan Dershowitz is also cited and quoted. Kranz summarizes the conflicting points of view and by no means turns his column over to anybody. Even a newspaper column is a place where writers can express their own viewpoints. And so, David Kranz is vilified because he reported on a viewpoint that an ad hominoid disagrees with. His journalistic integrity and competence become the target of professional derogations because someone did not like what he reported. The charge that David Kranz allowed his column to be a propaganda platform is a false characterization of the content of the column. That charge is part of the tactic of defamation that shifts the focus from the viewpoints being discussed to a professional libel of David Kranz, largely because the charge is false.

To an old news dog and professor, this kind of defamation is particularly troubling because it violates a basic law of journalism and scholarship. When quoting someone, it is incumbent upon someone in those professions to provide a full and accurate context for the quotation. When paraphrasing what someone writes or says, it is incumbent upon journalists and scholars to be accurate and clear about all the content that is being paraphrased.

When an ad hominoid is challenged for misquoting and falsifying, the standard response is that what they falsified is their opinion of what is said. Opinion is not the mental facility involved in accurate and contextual quotation or accurate paraphrase. Competence is the issue. Often honesty is also at issue.

The attack on David Kranz is a prime example of the ad hominem at work. However, it is impossible to scan blogs, particularly from South Dakota, without finding evidence of the ad hominoids strenuously at work. It is the kind of tactic that gives blogs the reputation they hold among people who look for and expect higher standards of thought and expression from people who represent themselves as journalists and scholars.

It is what gives people the idea that reading blogs is intellectual slumming, although it is instructive at times to witness how other people live. And it is true that some educated people regard blogs with a kind of elitist disdain.

One colleague of mine calls most of what occurs on blogs electronic graffiti. Which is another genre for sending howls into the night.
Elitism has dangers of hubris, but it also keeps alive the essential traditions that grew out of studied human communication. But we are known by the company we keep. And it makes one consider how often one should go slumming.

We must give earnest consideration to whether blogs are something we should participate in. I have increasing doubts

Thursday, October 4, 2007

October 4, 1957, after half a century


It must have been around 3 a.m. Mountain Time, October 5, 1957, at Fort Bliss, Texas. Members of Overseas Package 5, the Second Guided Missile Brigade, did not have restricted hours. They came and went as they pleased, as long as they were present for roll call at 6:30 a.m. dressed in the uniform of the day, which was usually fatigues. On this night, all the men were asleep in the billets. It was Saturday morning, and they had been having a G.I. party for the weekly Saturday barracks inspection they needed to pass before they went off on their weekend.

The Soviet R7 rocket that launched Sputnik October 4, 1957

Later that day, most would venture across the Rio Grande to Juarez, Mexico, in search of their entertainments of choice—the $1.25 filet mignon, stage shows, and the inexhaustible supply of Carte Blanche, rum, tequila, and prostitutes. This was to be a big weekend. The unit had spent the week preparing to go to the Red Canyon missile range on Monday where it would assemble and fire missiles as the culminating test after six months of schooling. After the missile firing test, they would pack up and be shipped to West Germany to deploy Nike Ajax missiles as part of the NATO air defense of Europe.

The guided missile school ranged from 8 to 12 hours a day, at least five days a week and the men were expected to pass a constant battery of tests, so the cadre did not mess with them much in the evening and nighttime hours. That Saturday morning was the first time the loud speakers in the barracks blared in the middle of the night to order the troops to be ready to fall out in ten minutes—except for the times some drunk returning from Juarez commandeered the microphone and thought it would be funny to hold an impromptu formation of the troops. But this time, no sergeant of the guard or officer of the day came on the loud speakers to cancel the order.

As we stumbled into formation, tripping over boot laces and tucking fatigue shirts into pants, we knew something must have happened. Soon a jeep with a brigadier general’s one-star banner on it whined up to the formation, and we were called to attention as the brigadier dismounted. He held us at attention while he made an announcement.

About twelve hours earlier, the Soviets had put a space satellite into orbit. They had beat the Americans in the race into space, but also, presumably, in the technology of guided missiles which would decide who held dominance in space and on earth. As Sen. Lyndon Johnson said at the time, whoever controlled space controlled the world.

The general was no orator. He told us we were like a football team behind in the closing moments of a game, and we needed to get possession of the ball and carry it to victory. With rockets.

After exchanging salutes with the formation, the general climbed back into his jeep and went into the Texas night. We were left to wonder why missile men whose rockets went only about 50,000 feet high and chased down aircraft were being told we needed to compete with an ICBM that shoved a 184-lb. aluminum ball 500 miles above the earth where it traveled at 18,000 mph to circle the earth once every 96 minutes. At three in the morning, the general’s little pep talk did not make much sense. The talk of the troops as they returned to the barracks was not of conquering space, but of invading Juarez.

The Nike Ajax surface-to-air missile (SAM)

Overseas Package 5 performed flawlessly at Red Canyon. In November, the Soviets launched another much larger satellite that contained a dog. Later that year as Overseas Package 5 got off the transport planes that flew it to Frankfort, Germans were demonstrating outside the airbase with signs that said “Sputnik, go home,” However, when the German government explained that our units were to protect them from air attacks from the Soviet Union, the people changed their attitude.

Once we deployed our missile batteries and were operational, we began to get procedures for using our surface-to-air missiles as short-range surface-to-surface missiles. After a year and a half, the Nike Ajax batteries were upgraded to Nike Hercules. The Hercules versions were capable of carrying nuclear war heads.

The Cold War got hot. But 1957, as a recent edition of U.S. News reported, was a year in an era of intense creativity, multiple scientific breakthroughs, such as polio vaccine, and great advances in social progress. The Civil Rights movement made its initial advances during that time. The world was tense, but America was determined to remain at peace, although alert and watchful. Our self-esteem was asserted by launching our own satellite in early 1958 and improving the prospects of freedom and life, not searching for pretexts to go to war and expending our troops, our resources, and our moral resolve on vanity exercises.

America has changed.


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