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

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sign posts on the journey to dysfunction

The attempted bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner has produced a classic epidemic of Monday-morning-quarterbacking.  And we hasten to point out that the term "Monday Morning Quarterback" is not exactly a compliment.  It designates those people whose only sense of consequence is to sit by while other people engage in all the work and action and then bicker and criticize, even though these kibbitzers have never had what it takes to play the game in which they pose as experts.  Monday Morning Quarterbacking is a harmless pretense, unless it is mistaken for informed intelligence.  When it is taken seriously, it becomes dangerous.  It has become dangerous.

Current polls show that few Americans have any confidence in Congress.   Many informed observers have written about the escalating dysfunction of Congress and its inability to do much more than bicker, obstruct, and resolve itself into resentful factions.  The real significance is that Congress is a direct reflection of the American people.  The country that fought World War II, moved forward with civil rights, and produced ideas and products that made it the world leader no longer exists.  The resentment, petulance, and petty malice demonstrated in Congress shows a deterioration of intellectual discernment,  The irrelevant and often foolish quibbling of the Monday Morning Quarterbacks are being taken seriously, probably because members of Congress are so slavishly devoted to garnering votes, no matter what level of inanity.

Discussions of national security are immersed in the muck of that petty  egotism which deludes people into thinking that inane bickering is intelligent discussion.  A survey of of the media and the blogosphere reveals how mired the nation, and therefore Congress, is in the sloughs of contention.  The Dutch government, for example, is planning to subject all airline passengers going through its terminals to full-body scans.  Many commenters decry that this technology has not been put in place sooner.  They forget that when full-body scanners were developed and demonstrated, there was an outcry about their invasion of privacy because the images of the full body included rather detailed scans of the genitalia.  A blocking device could be put in place over the crotch, but savvy would-be bombers would fasten their explosives in the crotch area somewhere.  This is exactly what the Nigerian Christmas bomber did.    The TSA delayed implementation of full-body scans because there was so much opposition to imaging the public's pudenda.

Then there is much criticism and accusation about the fact that the Nigerian's father informed the Dept. of State that his son was being radicalized by Islamic terror groups but he was not put on a list that  would have prevented him from boarding a U.S.-bound flight.  While the critics think he should have made the A-list of potential terrorists, they conveniently ignore the ruckus raised about just what criteria must be applied to curtail people's rights.  Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, has said that we need to practice outright discrimination in order to  prevent Islamic terrorists from entering the country or engaging in activities within it.  Some people have been wrongfully placed on lists and some have been subjected to humiliating searches and interrogations.  These instances show actions taken against people on the basis of false accusations.  With the aborted airliner bombing and the shootings at Fort Hood, we are told that the security measures following 9/11 are not working as well as they should be.  We even have some valid analysis as to why they have not worked.  But the questions of abandoning our fundamental principles of freedom, equality, and equal protection of the law loom over all information and discussions of deterrring terrorisim.

Predominantly, we have the  Monday Morning Quarterbacks sending up their sound and fury. Cogent and valid analysis gets intermixed and lost in the raging babble.  Instead of rolling up their sleeves and asking just what caused the malfunctions of the security system and what is the best way to correct it, the people in charge are busy looking over their shoulders to hear what the pundits will say, how the polls will respond, what the bloggers say, and what kind of political spin missiles they will have to deflect.  Responsible government is confused with responsive government.  And it is dysfunctional.

The loudest voice in all this is those who could care less about what happens to the people of the country as long as they can find some pretext in terror attacks for accusing the Obama administration of dire things which they hope will lead to its defeat.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney is the  loudest cheerleader for failure.   His latest sally can be easily demonstrated to be an outright lie, but truthfulness and accurate representations are not part of his party's operating standards.  That fact accounts for why government will not in the current intellectual climate be able to formulate a competent and effective means for dealing with terrorists.  A nation possessed by an unstable mentality lacks the capability of dealing with other unstable mentalities.  The insane asylum is being run by the insane.

Dealing with the pathologies in the human personality is the toughest of jobs.  It would much simpler to, as New Gingrich suggests, give in to an open policy of discriminating against anyone against whom we have suspicions.  We would become like Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, and contemporary Iran, China, and North Korea.  We would simply kill or incarcerate those we suspect or dislike.  And, of course, we would lose America in the corrosive mists of our reptilian past.  Those mists are present in the petty and often stunningly stupid discussion about how to deal with terrorism.  They are our biggest national threat.

The difficulties of making sound and justifiable decisions about people who pose possible threats is covered in two Washington Post articles of intensive reporting on the Nigerian bomber and on the Fort Hood shooter.  In both cases, the clues about the directions that these men took are ambiguous and not definitive.  They follow a pattern of men who live in isolated devotion to their religion.  If they were Christian, they would be termed monkish.  The recriminations about missing the clues they presented are demonstrations of how much easier it is to be stupid than intelligent.  People have a right to their opinions, but we have a dire need for cogent criticism of the presumptuous opinions of those who choose to be dummies.

America has gone about the business of defining itself since colonial times.  It wrote itself in lofty and inspirational words and went about the business of growing into those words.  During the last half of the twentieth century, America flourished.  But in the 21st century, the language that dominates American consciousness has changed.  It is the language of bickering, quibbling, carping, and denial.  If one gauges America's destiny by the quality of its language and the reach of  the words that define its sense of purpose, we clearly live in an age of intellectual decline.  When people become dysfunctional, their language expresses it.

As an old man, I have seen much failure.  I have seen corporations descend into failure.  (I worked for one of the  nation's most spectacular failures, International Harvester Company.)   I have seen colleges and universities lose their way when the small mindedness of the educational bureaucracy stifled the intellects of its scholars.   I am watching such a case now.  I have seen communities wither away and die when the petty resentment  and bigotry of the carpers in the town cafes characterized the town culture.  And we have entire states, such as California and New York, demonstrating the processes of dysfunction and failure.

There was a time when Americans for the most part could recognize when a job had to be done, such as in confronting Islamic terrorists.  They realized that something had to be done and there were multiple ways of accomplishing any such task.  They also realized that there are a number of ways of accomplishing a task, but that the real goal is to accomplish the task and not get diverted by bickering over just how to go about the task.  America, as in World War II, put aside petty preferences, rolled up its sleeves, and concentrated on accomplishing the task to be done.

As we have seen in the last Congressional session, that kind of cooperation and focus on end results is not possible.  Instead, we are immersed in the language of dysfunction and personal insult and abuse.  This state of affairs is exactly what terrorists hope to accomplish.

The better angels of human nature are being vanquished by its most insidious demons.  
 
The  language what swirls around us foreshadows an age of darkness, a return to those dark ages that the Age of Enlightenment dispelled.  Our country is being rendered incapable of cogent resolve and competent action.  The terrorists are winning because they know how to manipulate the strings of the dummies. 

The map to America's future has been drawn in words and images.  How many will follow it? 
[A state employee in Colorado is facing disciplinary action for 
circulating this picture  from her office computer.]



Monday, December 28, 2009

The holiness of mangers



 I admit to being a great admirer of  animals.  They buoy the spirit.  And although I have never been in a situation to own a horse, boy, have I coveted.

 Here is a photo gallery in the Washington Post about how the Army horses at Arlington Cemetery that pull the caissons with the caskets of service people killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are helping cure and rehabilitate wounded veterans.  Horses, even the ornery ones, can be therapeutic. 

During eight years of war that has generated nothing but news of human degeneration, these horses bring a message of beneficence that is alarmingly absent in current human affairs.  

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas as offense

When people exert themselves during the year expressing ill will, maligning other people at every opportunity, and working hard at fomenting malice, it is offensive when they get sanctimonious at Christmas time and profess messages of peace and good will.  A "merry Christmas" from the mouths of the perpetually malevolent desecrates the message of Christmas, which is one that has significance for people of all creeds and beliefs.

The blogosphere is cheerless during the holidays, because most bloggers who engage in ad hominem  malice seem to realize that words of cheer and good will coming from them will be taken as an obscene besmirching of what some people hold sacred and uplifting.  Some bloggers try to enlist Christian theology in support of their verbal pogroms of defamation and hate.

Educated people, whether they receive those educations form their native intelligence or formal schooling, know the difference between an honest statement of opinion and an ad hominem attack.  They know that people who  constantly contrive defamatory accusations against others are not engaging in debate, but in hateful slander and libel.  The problem is that the educated tend to avoid the blogosphere as the province of the malicious, and expressions of malice and defamation go unchallenged. 

There is a parallel problem in the major religious communities.  Theologians from both the Muslim and Christian beliefs have a task that they aren't carrying out very effectively.  The Muslim theologians have to teach more effectively that Islam is a religion that teaches peace and good will.  Christian theologians have the same problem.  There are those who use Christianity to foment hatred and discrimination and destructive action just as the jihadists use a perverted version of  Islam.

Perhaps the attempt by a Nigerian to set off an improvised explosive device on a Northwest flight coming in to Detroit was our best Christmas gift.  It reminded us that there are those out there who do not want peace and good will.  And the incident can remind us of the consequences that  malicious words lead to.  

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Obama dilemma

In the frenzy between attempts to pass health care reform and to destroy it, no one seems to be asking what happens if no reform is passed.   That question seems to be in the minds of the White House, but no one has flat-out addressed it.

Part of  the problem is that Obama finds himself cornered by trying to be considerate and nice.  He won the nomination as Democratic candidate because he refused to engage in the ad hominem tactics that caused people to side against and defect from Hillary Clinton.  As the Democratic candidate, he steadfastly stayed above the cheap defamation and false accusations that came from the McCain-Palin campaign.  The mindless yawp of Sarah Palin was a major factor in Obama's margin of victory.  Obama's articulateness and intelligent bearing offered a dramatic relief from the dull incompetence and deception that created a huge intellectual gap between the red and  blue factions during the previous eight years.

Obama projected a promise to lift politics out of the blogger level of endemic malice and petty resentments that are rooted more deeply in infantile egotism and the hubris of ignorance than in any coherent political positions based on facts.  Obama's supporters were so buoyed by the optimism of returning to intelligent dialogues befitting the democracy envisioned by the founders that they neglected to assess the motives of their opposition and their intensity.

Obama's promise was:

  • to extract the U.S. from its futile waste of life and taxes in Iraq and to put the nation on a course toward a constructive solution in Afghanistan;
  • to end the demolishing of American policies of decency represented by water boarding and other extreme measures and the threat to American standards of justice represented by  Abu Ghraig and Guantanamo;
  • to end the rapid dissolution of the economy and rescue a financial system that had become totally driven by greed and predation;
  • to deal with the mounting costs and inaccessibility for many of health care.
There are other hopes, of course, but these are the top ones.  Health care  receives emphasis because it is consuming family budgets at a an alarming rate and is projected to continue.  In 2005, a Harvard Medical School study found that 60 percent of the bankruptcies filed in the U.S. were triggered by medical bills.  A 2007 study confirmed that figure and indicated it is rising.


While one can Google for refutations of those studies, none of the denials are based upon actual criticisms of the study protocols.  In other words, there are denials of the figures, but no valid critiques which examine the actual numbers cited.

There is also a loud denial of the 47 million people who do not have health insurance and the number who are underinsured. It has become customary among the Republican misanthropes to dismiss this by saying such things as these people chose automobiles or other frivolities over health care.  The demographics  and the magnitude of the number indicate the absurd falseness of this dismissal, but the stance reveals the moral dimension of the reform opposition.  The opposition has chosen to bare its soul and put on a display of ill will that resides deep in the reptilian cortex.

The Republicans claim they have plans to reform health care, but no such plans were reported in the congressional committees that dealt with health care bills.  What has been expressed most loudly and consistently is the desire to demean and destroy any plans that come from the Democrats.    

The tea party movement was motivated by a supposed opposition to aspects of reform, but the dominant message was one of racist  belligerence.  The signs and slogans which contained false accusations and openly racist insults showed the nation that racial hatred is still a driving force in American politics.  While some tea party celebrants insisted that their participation was based upon earnest opposition to policy, they made no attempt to disassociate themselves from those who came with AK-47s and signs depicting Obama as a witch doctor.  In fact, they generally defended the right of racist belligerents to express themselves.  But they resented the right of observers to  conclude that their protests were grounded in plain, old-fashioned racial malice, not in any knowledge of what health care reform actually proposes.  And the progressives' notion that the election of Obama signaled a post-racial era is now recognized as a hopeful silliness.

If no health care reform is passed or if it is so watered-down that it doesn't extend coverage and reduce costs,  this episode will be a triumph for those who contend that people who do not have the wherewithal to have health care coverage are undeserving of it.  The term "fascist" has been used to so much in the right wing sound and fury that it has lost its meaning.  But real fascism advances the belief in  designating an underclass as inferior and, therefore, qualifying for denial of humane consideration.  That designation has been made stridently by the right wing.  People who for all the various reasons do not have health care coverage or for whom it is inadequate deserve, in the minds of the Becks and Limbaughs who speak for the right wing, all the pestilence that can be heaped on them.  Racial hatred is the paradigm for health care protest.  Mitch McConnell standing before the Senate vowing to block any health care reform is the reincarnation of Orville  Faubus blocking black students from entering the Little Rock high school.  The  main difference is that the hatred has  expanded to encompass anyone of any race who is designated by Beck and Limbaugh as liberal.  It is about the right wing obsession with exclusion as its fundamental political motive. 

Obama has extended the hand of civility and friendship to the right wing.  It has consistently been spurned and even slapped down with vehement fury.   His pledge to restore intelligence, comity, and basic respect to the governing processes has exposed him to all the denigration, obstruction, and destruction that his opponents can dream up.  His dilemma is that being nice has greatly impeded his agenda, and his supporters think it is time to get on with business--the rage, the obstruction, and petulance of Republicans be damned.

Howard Dean has commented that if the Republicans were in the majority and were promoting health care reform, it would be done by now.  They extract jack-boot discipline from their party members, and they are not  concerned about decency, unless it can be used a pretext for their outbursts of phony outrage. 

No matter what Obama does, he will lose support, as he has been.  People are impatient for results.  Progressives think he should have used the economic crisis as the chance to purge those responsible for America's failures--the auto industry, the financial industry, the war mongers.  Moderates realized that a summary disposal of the misperforming factions would make the Great Depression look like a minor discomfort in comparison. The country would have to go through economic hell while it tried to rebuild its financial and industrial infrastructure.

Similarly, on the other fronts, Obama chose to work as much as possible with the people who were in place in the military, in the intelligence agencies, and in health care.  Progressives think doing so was a mistake.  Moderates are wary of any consideration given to those who begged for bailout money, then moaned and whined at conditions put on it--and later rebuffed Obama's attempts to get them to reform their practices.  The ridiculous bonuses to those who almost brought the country down are a case in point.

But health care is the focal  point.  If nothing is changed or the changes are inadequate, what will those who voted for it do?  The flagging approval ratings give a hint.  Obama seemed like the last best hope to restore American democracy.  While the right wing rails about what Obama is doing to America, the America they treasure was the America of military belligerence, unconscionable deceptions of the people, special privileges for an overclass, and a version of patriotism that was carefully modeled on obedience to the fascist precepts it followed.  This is what the right wing wants restored, and the left wing wants to move away from.

The  political divide is made for civil war.  As the polarity between the left and right wings increases, the differences become irreconcilable.  As a former colleague in political science put it when asked to be on a discussion panel, it is hard enough to be on the same planet with some of these people, let alone in the same room.


It would be a serious error to read the flagging poll ratings of Obama as a loss of faith in him alone.  The disapproval ratings of the political parties must be pulled into the context.  The loss of faith is in America.  It is simply dysfunctional. 

What happens in health care is the touch stone.  If nothing happens, the left wing will not wait another 15 years.  While the Republicans seem able to exert control over their minions, the Democrats are not so tractable.  The poll numbers and the more reasoned commentators identify dysfunction in government as the reason behind the declining approval ratings.  And only one political party can claim unequivocal sponsorship of the  dysfunction.

Since the election of 2004, a number of friends left South Dakota because of what they regarded as an unhealthy political climate.  The restlessness that drove the pioneers and early settlers from one state to another is not dead.  Just as our children accept the fact that there is little in the state that can satisfy their ambitions and aspirations, they question whether the America that can be dominated by perverse hatefulness is a place worth bothering much about.  I also hear this from contemporaries who have been politically active in the past, but who now regard voting as a joke.  The government has become incapable of registering what they voted for.  And they point to the election of 2000 as the ultimate desecration of the ballot box.

America is not too big to fail.  Many doubt that it has the intellectual acuity or the moral substance to rescue itself.  Obama's biggest dilemma is the doubt that possesses some of his strongest supporters. They are carefully watching what happens with health care reform. And whether there is much to hope for in America anymore. 

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Pine Ridge gangs covered by The New York Times


    Ever since birth
    I been waitin’ for death ...


    The South Dakota media, legacy and new, seldom bother to cover the reservations.  The New York Times features a a front page story today on the burgeoning of youth gangs on Pine Ridge.  Other reservations, such as Standing Rock, Cheyenne River,  Rosebud, and Sisseton-Wahpeton also have severe problems with gangs and crime and hopelessness.  The press in South Dakota does not function beyond its pseudo-political pontificating.  Except for an occasional flare of intelligence and enterprise, the South Dakota media is as dysfunctional as reservation life can be.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Did Obama sell out the U.S. to Wall Street?

    One of the few bloggers who build cases that require serious attention is Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stones.  Many of the more astute of bail outs and health care reform proposals are concerned that the measures being advanced under the Obama administration are give-aways to Wall Street, bankers, and insurance companies.  Read Taibbi's case here.

    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/31234647/obamas_big_sellout/print

    Thunacy: Let them die, quickly or slowly.




    John Thune has become the voice of the GOP--Groundless Obstinence and Petulance--according to the Huffington  Post.  He says his party will unanimously oppose any reform, no matter what it proposes. 

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Where politics has no business



    The past weekend was one of  celebration.  My daughter Leslie is graduating from Metropolitan  State College of Denver and presented her senior recital Sunday afternoon.   On Thursday night we heard her perform in a music bar, Old Curtis, with a band which draws on a mix of musical genres.  (The band instrumentation is amplified ukulele, keyboard, electric bass, drums,  violin, viola, two cellos, trumpet, and tuba.)  Then Friday night was the Metropolitan State music department's Christmas concert at which Leslie played in the wind ensemble and the brass ensemble.  Great performance.  Full house for Friday and Saturday nights.

    The creative excitement and accomplishment I witnessed over the weekend reminded me of why I became a professor.  But Metropolitan State has something going on that reminded me of why I hesitate to advise talented young people to become professors.  It is the educational bureaucracy which seems more focused on suppressing and destroying talent than in developing and promoting it.

    The quality of a higher education institution is determined largely by how campus politics are managed.  Colleges and departments are in competition for funding and acknowledgment.  Good institutions pay meticulous attention to seeing that its academic units and personnel are given equitable treatment.  It takes superior people to maintain equitable standards.  Poor institutions, on the other hand, encourage rivalries among departments and personnel, and those rivalries produce factions and divisions among the faculty.  Faculty caught up in factional disputes are dysfunctional.  Consequently, the institutions in which such divides exist are dysfunctional. Their students are denied the experience of how people of diverse and differing viewpoints conciliate to produce a cohesive and inspiring academic experience.

    In recent years, partisan politics have become an issue on campuses.  In my time as a professor, we may have been aware of the political stances of some of our colleagues, but partisan politics were never permitted to intrude into academic business.  That is no longer so.  In the lesser institutions, partisan politics have become just another dimension of faculty divisiveness.

    I am a firm believer that faculty who violate any rules of academic integrity should be stringently disciplined.  That means that any faculty who plagiarizes  or fabricates or misrepresents evidence should be fired.  I have sat on review panels in which such firings were upheld.  Academic incompetence, slovenliness, and dishonesty, I think, must be dealt with decisively.

    Recently,  my son had a conversation with a music professor where I last taught.  The professor told my son he could never agree with my politics.  I have never had a conversation about politics with this professor.  I have no idea why my political party or convictions would be relevant to any conversation about academic business, but party politics has become a malignancy on some campuses that saps the intellectual vitality out of the collegiate environment.

    In campuses where the culture has degraded into personal rivalries and resentments among faculty, the politics of the malformed egos are enough to contend with.  Professors in such places find that they have to remain aloof from the campus milieu if they are to do their teaching, scholarship, and service with any effect.  Shortly after I retired, I started writing a newspaper column.  Some colleagues and students told me that doing so had raised resentment  and ire among some former colleagues in that I did not deserve recognition for doing something they thought they could do better.  Even though I am retired, I am still engaged in academic work, both in terms of scholarship and faculty issues.  As a former officer on both the state and local level of faculty organizations, I am often asked to review cases where faculty have gotten into difficulty to see if there are violations of academic freedom involved and if the organizations might wish to intervene.  Sometimes faculty are at fault; sometimes administrations are at fault.  But in most cases, ego-driven rivalries and resentments inflate the issues into major problems, problems that would not become so if true intelligence were exercised and if collegial purpose was pursued as the driving force in the institutions.  But I must say, the most admirable and accomplished people I have known were professors.  But so were some of the vilest people I have known.  Jealousy and resentment and a belief in their superiority is the first mark of a faculty member striving for vileness.  They serve their egos, not their discipline or their profession, and they are the most threatening pestilence in academic life.

    Leslie began college at Northern State University.  She played in the brass ensemble for the graduation ceremony at which my retirement was acknowledged.  She credited  her studies there in the program for her senior recital.  However, shortly after I retired, Leslie decided she needed a change.  She did not play her tuba, or any of the other instruments she plays, for about three years. I do not know the specific reasons for her loss of interest, but those faculty politics I mention are not well managed at NSU and I have seen all too many promising students lose interest and get discouraged.

    As an officer in faculty organizations, I was often involved in dealing with grievances and issues of integrity and fair play with faculty members.  There were people at the university who did superb scholarship and provided students with knowledge and find examples of academic purpose.  There were others who were devoted to personal resentments, bitching, and backbiting.   In the 1980s, a change in administration operated by fanning those resentments and rivalries as a means to divide and conquer the faculty.  In this context, programs and course offerings were cut, and cost-accounting rather than academic leadership and building and maintaining strong programs became the rule.  The fact that Northern is the only state institution to experience declines in enrollments in recent years has much to do with how the university is managed and the kind of academic experience students find there.  Under the cosmetics of slogans and claims are seething blotches of intellectual failure. 

    When Leslie moved to Denver and enrolled at Metropolitan State, I was pleased.  I was more so when she resumed her musicianship and responded to new opportunities and a challenging and rewarding environment.  Over the years, I have visited the Metro campus and met some of her professors, and have been impressed with the environment and the sense of direction provided students.  Metro has an enrollment of about 22,000 and shares the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver with Denver Community College and the University of Colorado at Denver.  A walk on the  campus is invigorating, as students bustle about their business with energy and purpose.  Metro feels like a campus should.


    Leslie has met success and achieved a goal, and plans to keep moving forward.  Metro supplied the opportunity and the atmosphere for accomplishment that one hopes every student will find when they enter college.

    But Metro has those problems of faculty politics, too.  It fired a professor of 20 years of unblemished tenure in an instance that emits the strong reek of faculty rivalries and resentment.  According to an account first published in the student newspaper, the professor was undergoing her annual performance review and listed a publication which had not, in fact, been published. She presented the paper at a professional conference and paid a fee required by the organization for it to be published in its journal.  She had contacted the journal's editor and says she was told it was being published.  The Metro administration and board said she had deliberately lied about the publication, and it fired her for academic dishonesty.

    As I stated, I believe that professors who plagiarized, manufacture evidence, or misrepresent materials that they cite should be fired.  But unlike the case with Ward Churchill, who was fired from the University of Colorado, no question about the integrity of the information in the paper was raised.  The paper was written and scheduled for publication,.  The professor made a mistake in not having the publication on hand before listing it.  In light of the professor's 20-year record at Metro, firing seems like an extreme measure.  Charges of racism have been raised, and the professor had testified in behalf of another professor who was terminated, but then was awarded $300,000 in compensation for a hostile work environment.  The firing under the circumstances seems terribly vindictive and vengeful.

    I have been impressed with Metro.  I hope it is not headed into that state of dysfunction that faculty politics can result in  when they are not intelligently and effectively dealt with.  And I hope Leslie's experience, not that of fired professors, is what will define Metro State. 

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Taking back the country--all the way back to segregation, slavery, the crusades, and The Inquisition





    This billboard appears at an automobile leasing and consignment business in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, owned by Phil Wolf.  The dealership, Interstate Sales and Leasing, is part of the Wolf Automotive Group.  Phil Wolf also owns Chrysler product dealerships in Jackson and Pinedale, Wyoming, and a Suzuki dealership in Bozeman, Montana.  He put up the sign.  He has been interviewed a number of  times as to why he put the sign up.

    The sign makes a number of claims that have been proven false, except in the minds of those who make up phony reasons for their hatred of President Obama.  The sign implies Obama is  Muslim.  In interviews, Wolf has stated that Obama is anti-Christian and anti-American.  The sign raises the phony claim about Obama's citizenship and birth certificate.  It connects Obama to the shootings at Ft. Hood. 

    A former colleague of mine who is a social psychologist specializing in advertising, propaganda, and human resources, points out that this sign, along with those that have shown up at tea parties, and the tea party protests in  general, have made false claims.  He examines the fact that so many of the claims against Obama are apparently and provably without any foundation snd are total fabrications.    Why do people create them and believe in them?

     Pure, simple, good old-fashioned racial hatred, is the answer.  And it is an answer that presumes a divide in the U.S. population that runs deeper and is more pernicious than most Americans would like to admit.

    My psychologist friend says that people who supported and elected Obama assumed his election to the presidency marked a final surmounting of the history of racial prejudice, discrimination, and violence in the nation.  But, instead, it unleashed a new wave of racial hatred and resentment that expresses itself in the falsehoods circulated about Obama and his administration.


    My colleague likens Obama's presidency to the time when women and people of color began to move into important and influential jobs in the work place.  As the consultant for large corporations, he recalls the problems that the companies experienced when they started promoting minorities and women over other people.   He says at that time, people were at least more forthright about their resentment.  He recalled when a black man was promoted to vice president of labor relations at a large, successful corporation.  Another vice president asked for a meeting with the chief executive and the advisory staff, and blurted out, "Do you realize that you've just made me equal to a fucking nigger?"

    My friend recalls the problems were worse when women started moving into executive positions.  A number of people quit rather than work for a female boss.  They said they would not submit to the indignity of being bossed by a woman.  Others did not quit but did everything they could to obstruct and undercut their female bosses.  My colleague says things have not really changed.  While people would not use such overtly demeaning terms as nigger, spick, or cunt to register their resentments, they do so in code by constantly finding other faults and making up false accusations about their bosses.  This is the tactic that the tea party protesters and some in Congress have used to assail Obama.  They are possessed of a seething resentment that a black man has risen to a position over them.  Except for the hardcore KKK types, people will not openly use the deprecation "nigger."  So they challenge Obama's citizenship, claim he is not Christian,  call him socialist, communist, fascist, jihadist and all the other pejoratives, except the one they really mean.  Crude pictures and false representations avoid the words, but do not hide their intention.

    The media might be faulted for publicizing signs such as the one in Wheat Ridge.  However, slanderous and libelous expressions, while not subject to court challenge by public figures, is news.  It is not good news.  It is even worse news when the press allows the people who claim that  such defamations are merely an expression of policy disagreements to  remain unchallenged in their dissembling.  At minimum the press should be asking why people persist with such outright and obvious lies.  Attorney Gneral Eric Holder identified the probem when he said that people were cowards about the matters of race that remain a big factor in American life and politics.  Most Americans of the more tolerant sort want to be proud of their country, and , therefore, ignore its history of slavery, racial oppression, and genocide against the American Indians.  And they do not want to confront the racial and the political hatred that is finding expression in the tea parties, the town halls, and on the streets.  They think that as long as the protesters are not using the words "nigger,"  "spick," and "cunt," we are living in a more enlightened age.   A great, dark rage enveloped the country when Obama was elected.  And in trying to maintain postures of conciliation, the progressives are allowing that dark rage to  over the country with an insidious cloud.

     As with that sign in Wheat Ridge, much of the political discussion on  talk radio, cable television, and the internet is sub-literate and incoherent.  Words are symbols of natural facts, but in the current forms of discussions, there is no attempt to connect words with actual facts.   A quick look at any aggregator of South Dakota blogs reveals a devastating record of sub-literacy and incoherence   The new media has the intellectual resemblance of the chatter of the dayroom in a home for the mentally disabled.

    The quality of  thought and expression defines the quality of a country.  Popular culture is obsessed with the degradations and intellectual atrocities of the past.  And that is where the author of the sign in Wheat Ridge and his kind are taking us.

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Fire the lying profressors

    There is one way to settle the question raised about the quality of science in climate change: 

         1.  Fire any professor who is proven to have fabricated, distorted, or otherwise manipulated data.  

         2.  Insure that any such firing be attended by the most meticulous academic due process.  

    Such due process would require that anyone making accusations of academic misconduct to come forth with the evidence  and to explain their reading and analysis of the evidence.  And such presentations and examination and rebuttal of the evidence would done before and decided upon by a jury of peers.  In this case, peers would be defined as disinterested professors of equal professional stature and qualifications to examine the data at issue.

    I do not know exactly what are the rules are for the European and Asian scientists involved  in the charges against professors,  but I know well what rules apply to American professors--although most institutions of higher learning try to avoid the expense, embarrassment, and turmoil of such proceedings as rigorous applications of the rules involve.  I have sat on panels that consider evidence brought against professors and make assessments and recommendations, and I am familiar with many cases.  Many cases of misconduct involve matters of felonies, sexual involvements and sexual harassment, or gross negligence of duty.  Such cases are generally resolved by the professor resigning and quietly withdrawing.  

    Cases involving professors charged with academic misconduct in scholarship and teaching are less frequent.  The established reasons for firing or taking other disciplinary action against them include instances of:

    • Plagiarism;
    • Fabrication of data or manipulation of data to lead to a foregone conclusion;
    • Gross incompetence;
    • Gross negligence of defined duties;
    •  Scholarly slovenliness;
    • General mendacity in the role of professor, whether on campus or in extra-mural settings.  
    The first two rules listed above are the most serious in their effect on scholarly integrity, and a professor proven to violate them will not be a professor any longer or ever again. 

    The  general public does not often hear of cases of professors being fired or disciplined for such misconduct because colleges and universities go to great lengths to suppress any hint that something is academically amiss on their campuses.  The cases with which I am familiar often involved a professor who was at odds with an administration, was dismissed, but claimed there was no reason of academic performance in the firing.  Some cases are upheld, but in those where no basis in academic performance is found, a quiet cash settlement is generally made.  The South Dakota Board of Regents made such a settlement with a professor whose dismissal from Northern State was found to be in violation of academic freedom.  In cases where the firings are upheld, the matters centered on plagiarism or the misrepresentation and misuse of data.


    The most recent and familiar case of such dismissal was that of Professor Ward Churchill who was dismissed from the University of Colorado for falsifying and misrepresenting materials he cited from other scholars.  The matter probably would not have come up had Churchill not enraged a portion of the  public by publishing an essay in which he called the victims of 9/11 'little Eichmanns."  Although complaints about his use of source materials had been registered, the Colorado regents and administration did not pursue them until the political furor over his "little Eichmann" comment called them into attention.  Churchill claimed that his dismissal was for making that comment and was a violation of his right to free speech and academic freedom.  The professors who reviewed the charges found that his misuse of scholarly materials was sufficient cause for his dismissal.  


    However, the case of the e-mails between scientists who developed the global warming theory rests upon a different basis.  Ironically, the invention used to expedite research and scholarly work is being used against them.  The World Wide Web was invented by scientists to permit them to have convenient access to information and to have a means for exchanging ideas and information about theories they are pursuing.  Part of its purpose was to allow them to exchange comments and criticisms over long distances as if they were working next to each other in their labs or offices.  They were looking for a way to exchange the casual comments and concerns that occur to them in the  early, pre-formative stages of analyzing data. In other words, they used e-mails and listserves to exchange what they call "lab chatter," which is the scientists' equivalent of the chatter and banter exchanged between all workmen as they go about the performance of their jobs.  Much of what is said is just venting, which may or may not be relevant to the tasks at hand.



    However, when scientists  formalize their theories and prepare them for publication, their work is taken out of the context of lab chatter and the petty politics that is the bane of academic organizations.  Their work is presented in formal papers which review all the literature pertinent to the subject they present, and they build a case for the theory being advanced through a careful and critical analysis of the data.  And because it is a theory, their conclusions will be open to the inclusion of new data and to criticisms and evluation by other scientists.


    When the e-mails of the scientists were hacked into, which is in itself illegal, the hackers found statements that they construed to be evidence that the scientists were manipulating and falsifying data that conflicted with the theory of global warming.  The scientists claim that the e-mails were taken out of context and do not represent any substantive information about the global warming theory, and are largely matters of incidental lab chatter that does not bear on the theory itself.

    An example is that one of the e-mails cautions scientists to be careful about any information that they copy to the science reporter for The New York Times.  Scholars are always careful about what information they give to reporters because reporters are not necessarily interested in the integrity or the precision of the science when they report on it.  Most scholars prefer to withhold information until they publish their own papers on their work.  Much of the press is interested in finding conflict and sensation and gossip than in reporting the actual science.   The New York Times has an informing overview of the e-mail hacking incident.



    The biggest problem is that politics has become a part of this theory.  And so, the tactics of political propaganda have entered into its discussion.  At the outset, a favorite technique of the conservative movement is apparent in the propagandic use made of the e-mails.  The critics find an e-mail that they can construe as an admission that the scientists are not telling the truth to the public.  Then they launch an attack on the character of the scientist, rather than explain and substantiate their reading of the e-mails and the process by which they justify their condemnation on the character of the scientist.  They divert the discussion away from the scientific evidence and the facts at hand to a slandering and libeling of the scientists.  The scientists claim that the comments are deliberately misconstrued and have no bearing on the scientific evidence or the way they have arrived at their theory.



    Some websites have called the scientists frauds and are calling for their exposure and dismissal.  


    If the academic world operates as it should, these critics should be allowed to make their case where it counts--in a proceeding where they can make their accusations and in which the professors accused have an opportunity to face them and require an accounting.


    There is a huge difference in science and the rest of the academic work between having a different viewpoint based on the evidence or of being wrong and deliberately falsifying or manipulating the data.  


    Unfortunately,  the internet is a culprit in allowing the intrusion of politics into science.  In a medium where plagiarism, fabrication, and falsification has become a characteristic, some professors have abandoned the precepts of their disciplines in order to satisfy their political perversities.  On the local blogs, one professor blithely plagiarized a newspaper editorial, which also had misrepresented some data it cited. Plagiarism and falsification of data are considered fair and clever practices by some professors when they venture onto the internet.


    The universities and agencies involved in the study of the global warming theory have a responsibility to insist that the charges of misconduct of the professors be prosecuted with substantive evidence and the e-mail hacking incident be given full examination.  


    The academic world needs to restore itself by getting rid of dishonest and incapable professors.  But first, it has to decide who they are.

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    Woman from South Dakota pleads guilty to spying for Cuba

    Gwendolyn Myers, a woman from Aberdeen, and her husband, Walter Kendall Myers, pled guilty to spying Friday in a federal court, according to an Associated Press story.    Mrs. Myers had worked as a political campaign staff member in Aberdeen and then worked in  state government in Pierre, where she and her husband were contacted by Cuban agents.

    Walter Kendall Myers, 72,  will serve a life term in prison and Gwendolyn Myers will serve about seven years. 

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    The longing for competence: the death of Morgan Lewis

    Daniel Zwerdling is a professional journalist for National Public Radio.  He came up with a document that shows that Maj. Nidal Hasan, the killer of 13 soldiers at Ft. Hood,  had raised questions about his competence among his superiors.  An evaluative memorandum lists problems with Major Hasan's performance and his personality.   The memo does not say anything about any tendency in Hasan toward becoming a violent jihadist against his fellows, although it notes that he did some inappropriate religious proselytizing.  Here is a transcript of the relevant evaluations and conclusions in the document:

    3. The Faculty has serious concerns about CPT Hasan’s professionalism and work ethic. Clinically he is competent to deliver safe patient care. But he demonstrates a pattern of poor judgment and a lack of professionalism. In his PGY-2 year, he was counseled for inappropriately discussing religious topics with his assigned patients. He also required a period of in-program remediation when he was discovered to have not documented appropriately an ER encounter with a homicidal patient who subsequently eloped from the ER. He did successfully remediate this problem. At the end of his PGY-2 year, he was placed on administrative probation by the NCC GMEC for failure to take and pass USMLE Step 3 and to obtain an unrestricted state medical license by the end of his PGY-2 year; as a result he was not promoted to PGY-3 on time. He did eventually complete step 3 and get a license and was promoted to PGY-3. He was counseled for having a poor record of attendance at didactics and lower than expected PRITE scores. One year he failed to show for his PRITE examination at all.  During his PGY-3 year, he was counseled for being consistently late to NNMC morning report. During his PGY-4 year, he was discovered to have only seen 30 outpatients in 38 week of outpatient continuity clinic. He was required to make this missed clinic time up using his elective. He failed his HGT/WGT screening and was found to be out of standards with body fat % and was counseled on that.  Lastly, he missed a night of call for MGMC ER and then did not respond to numerous pages by my office the next day.

    4. Taken together; these issues demonstrate a lack of professionalism and work ethics.  He is able to self-correct with supervision. However, at this point he should not need so much supervision. In spite of all of this, I am not able to say he is not competent to graduate nor do I think a period of academic probation now at the end of his training will be beneficial. He would be able to contain his behavior enough to complete any period of probation successfully. My purpose in writing this letter is to give the credentials committee the benefit of full disclosure and the opportunity to modify CPT Hasan’s plan of supervision following initial privileging.

    Some people are reported in the press and are using blogs to use this document as the basis for tirades about the incompetence of big government.  In so doing, they misrepresent the facts.  The facts are that a superior of Major Hasan's did note the problems with his performance, but also noted that further disciplinary action at that point would seem counterproductive.  The memo was made part of a record to be used in consideration of Major Hasan's future assignments and evaluations.  There may be further documents that bear on whether Major Hasan's alleged eruption into a murdering jihadist could have been predicted.

    There are those who are misportraying this document as evidence of  bumbling when, in fact, it is a careful assessment that shows attempts are being made to correct Major Hasan's deficiencies of performance.  Unfortunately, some of those making the false portrayals are in the teaching profession.  One can only hope that their superiors are  putting on record their incompetent and slovenly performances in representing what very competent reporters publish and that appropriate remediation or disciplinary action is taken in those cases.

    I am not defending the Army or government in this matter.  I am pointing out the absurdity of the incompetent and devious calling someone else incompetent.  I decry the incompetence of all huge bureaucracies, including the higher education bureaucracy for which I once worked.  My own take on the Army is supplied by my father, who carried U.S. mail for 34 years.  When I was inducted into military service, my father drove me to the train station, and used the F word the only time I ever heard him do so.  He commented that I tended to attempt to rectify what I pereceived as wrongs, and he said, "Just remember that the government and the Army are so f**ked up so far back and so high up that there is nothing you can do to  change it."   I listened and remembered, although that did not keep me from joining in some efforts to change some wrongs, which resulted in the courts martial of some people who were mistreating recruits.   But for the most part, my father was right and there is little one can do to fix incompetence.  Or perfidy and mendacity and malice in those who hold those qualities as  basic tenets of their value system. 

    And that is not to say that I did not also come across instances of brilliance and unparalleled competence in the service.  Or in higher education.  But they are subverted by those who dwell in the lower regions of human sensibility.

    In yesterday's news was also the announcement that the last chance to examine the death of Dr. Morgan Lewis, an assistant professor of German at Northern State University who was found dead at the doorway of Seymour Hall Nov. 1, 2004, of a gunshot wound in the back of his head.  The Aberdeen Police Department eventually labeled the case a suicide and closed it.  The Police Department or other authorities never released the evidence or investigative record on which they based their conclusion.

    Some litigation ensued.  It was over insurance,  which the agencies involved would not have to pay if suicide were proven.  The latest suit against Prudential Life Insurance was settled to the satisfaction of  the parties, according to the news report, but it closed off what is probably the last opportunity to examine the evidence and the investigative record for veracity and competence in the handling of the case.

    In the case of Major Hasan, his personnel records, at least in part, are being made available.  In the case of Dr. Lewis' death, the records are not released because some bureaucrats have the authority under South Dakota law to keep them from public knowledge.

    Dr. Lewis' death came during a time of chaos and controversy in the Aberdeen Police Department.  A chief of police had recently been forced to resign.  The reasons are kept confidential because they are "personnel" matters.  Two detectives were fired and protested their firings, on which some kind of settlement was reached.  The reasons for the firings and the settlement were never explained to the public because they are personnel matters.  The policeman who patrolled the NSU campus at the time of Dr. Lewis' death was forced to resign  The reasons, which had something to do with the handling of the Lewis case, were never revdaled because they were "personnel matters."

    Still, at the federal level og government, when a time of great tragedy and concern occurs as in the Ft. Hood shootings, the personnel records of Major Hasan are released as a mater of pubic information so that the record can be examined and appropriate action taken.

    The Hasan case will go on for years.  But at least we can take assurance that some people involved have performed competently and professionally.  However, in South Dakota in the handling of the Hasan personnel documents and in the withholding of information on the Morgan Lewis case, we are left to long for integrity and competence. 

    We can only long for disclosure and freedom of information laws that the federal government and other states have.  But that would  be relying upon big government to enforce the rights of tax-paying citizens to know what their tax-paid employees are doing.  And if they are competent enough to hold their positions. 

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    John Thune: one big macaca moment


    Now comes Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post to speculate about John Thune rising to the role of savior of the Republican Party,  following on the heels of David Brooks' paean to Thune's cowboyiness.

     Thune's current claim to prominence is his efforts to put an end to TARP, which is in contradiction to his performance in support of those things that made TARP necessary.  And then there is his legislation to prohibit any taxing of cow farts and burps, despite the fact that no one has actually proposed such taxes.

    He could really promote his presidential ambitions if he were to sponsor legislation prohibiting the Obama gun fairy, which sneaks around at night trying to wrestle guns from the hot little hands of those who live in constant fear that someone will come and take their favorite toys away in the night.

    Thune has no opposition in his run for re-election in 2010 so far.    That is no opposition except that held in the minds of those who really know his record in the House, where he had to be dragged screaming and hollering to join the agriculture caucus, look at water development, and stop his opposition to all expenditures on the South Dakota infrastructure.

    Then there is the tea-party campaign he ran in 2004.

    Thune is making a lot of noise with his quiet poses.  He reads scripts well.  It is thinking and doing constructive things that he has trouble with.

    The descent into pettiness

    Having covered agriculture and business for many years, I have developed a huge disrespect for corporate bureaucracies.   There are dangers to big government.  But bureaucracies are bureaucracies, no matter their setting, and they operate on the lowest common denominator--the stupid, the mean, the incompetent, the crooked, the retarded.

    All people are created equal in the sense that no  one is to be regarded as more or less valuable than anybody else.  But they are not created the same.  They are equal but different.  And many people just are not very smart or very decent or very noble.  But we give them equal status, and that is why we find ourselves dealing with incompetent idiots much of the time.

    Nothing is more idiotic than yammering about the dangers of big government.  If they want to talk about the incompetence, inefficiencies, and crookedness of big, let us talk about General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Citicorp, Enron, Worldcom, and the list is almost endless,  because it would include almost every large enterprise.  People have a huge capacity for stupidity, and bureaucracies cater to it.  That is a basic premise of bureaucratic culture.

    My own position on the matter of bailouts is that we should just let the greedy and fatuous fools who got the economy to where it has sunk  go under.  I realize that the government took the actions because it realized that the rest of us would go under with the huge, incompetent bureaucracies and not all of us should have to reap what the big corporations have sown.  About 17 percent of our people who are unemployed and can't find jobs are reaping the raping of the economy by being asked to bend over and smile while they take the reaping up their individual wazoos.  There is a huge denial of equality when some people can't get enough to eat and others can garner million-dollar bonuses from bailout money from American taxpayers.  Some people defend corporate executive pay scales and bonuses as a capitalistic right.  I think it is their right to reap the consequences of their mental and moral failures and go to the end of the soup lines.  But Bernie Madoff is the capitalistic Jesus and the only people we permit to pay for the bureaucratic shystering are the poor.

    Obama ran on the promise to change all that kind of nonsense.  He is a smart man.  He is a decent man.  His flaw, which may prove to be fatal, is that he is a polite and considerate man.  In making nice to an opposition which is on the side of economic and actual rape, he has squandered the opportunity to drive the rats out of the ship of state and has allowed them to derail real reform.  His opposition will oppose anything he proposes or stands for.

    One of their latest complaints is that Obama bowed to the emperor of Japan.  He also bowed to the Saudi King and the Queen of  England.   Obama is a bower.  Some people think that a bow is a sign of respect and good intentions.  Like in dancing the Virginia reel which begins with the men bowing to the women and the women curtsying to the men as a demonstration of respect and good will.  But the opposition sees the Obama bow as the damned field slave being so enthralled at being received by his massas in the big house that he falls to his knees in a gesture of supplication that pledges slavehood to the royalty.   On the other hand, any attempts to give the ordinary, working people some equity in their country is decried as socialism and communism. The fact that such mean and petty nonsense is circulated around the country shows what a mean and petty and utterly stupid country we have  become.

    Just as the corporations deserve to reap what they have sown, it may be time to let the country itself reap what is sown.  We have serious issues that could be talked about on the basis of sound information and intelligence, but the GOP has decided to put on displays of stupid obstinacy and false accusations.  Health care is one of those areas  which a would-be ruling class uses to put the American serfs in their place.  The reform efforts have been compromised by making nice to the "rulers."  The GOP has launched a barrage of insanity.  The Democrats have allowed themselves to be drawn into the noise of idiots venting their sound and fury as if idiots can be reasoned with.  And so, we are left living at the level of the mean and petty and greedy and nefarious, who would rather slur the President than solve the country's problems.

    Critics of American democracy have said from its inception that it was doomed to failure because it would be dominated by the lowest motives in the human spirit.  Perhaps, it is time to see the government as being operated on the same moral and intellectual basis as the big corporate bureaucracies.  It might be time to let it fail and let people confront the reality of what we have become.  There will be turmoil and atrocity and obscenity of the kind that takes place daily in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere.  It may be time to put the theories of those persistent critics to the test.

    The voices of indecency, the sound and the fury, are loud and clear.  It may well be time to let America fail and see if what endures is the better angels of human nature or the malevolent demons that thrive on the mean, the petty, and the stupid. 













     a

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Lou Dobbs and the struggle for journalism


    Lou Dobbs suddenly announced on his CNN show Wednesday that it would be his last appearance on the network.  The moment could hardly be regarded as the product of clear objectives and careful planning.  Only a few follow-up stories delved into the reasons why Dobbs left so abruptly, after being one of CNN's originating anchors and having a news show during the prime hour for news. 

    The Sunday morning talk shows have rehashed the points to which Dobbs drew the most attention.  They are his crusade against illegal aliens, about whom he made provably false statements, and his joining of the nonsense about President Obama's birth certificate, even after CNN executives told him it was not a story.  


    There were disagreements between Dobbs and CNN management, but  Dobbs' sudden departure is indicative of the general problems facing news organizations.

    CNN changed the news business.  Initially, for the better. By 1980, television news had become the major source for most Americans, but was delivered by the three major networks in 20 highly-edited minutes per day during their half-hour evening newscasts.  For people who wanted more detailed and expanded information,  print journalism filled the void.  Then Ted Turner, amid a storm of skepticism, stepprd in with his 24-hour cable news network, CNN.  


    Initially CNN intensified the reporting aspect of news.  It emphasized reporting and the generation of facts and information based upon on-the-spot coverage and carefully sourced and verified facts.  CNN was a success, and it inspired rival cable networks devoted to news.  But the task of filling 24 hours a day with news proved a strain.  At first the format was hourly segments which, while emphasizing breaking news, were repetitive.  To provide a change of focus and pace, CNN,and its competitors, programmed "news magazine" segments, modeled roughly (and I mean "roughly") after public television's News Hour, with in-depth interviews and panel discussions.  They found that the interview-and-discussion format was a cheaper and easier way to fill the time than having a bunch of reporters out digging for facts and another bunch of editors checking those facts. 

    Ted Turner started CNN as an alternative to news programming that was merely an adjunct to entertainment programming, which draws the larger audience.  A staple of entertainment programming was the talk show.  While the late night talk shows emphasized show business and variety, the day time talk shows centered ostensibly on issues.  But their real attraction was that issues spark controversy and conflict.  While conflict is one of the dozen or so criteria by which news value is evaluated, it has taken over cable news and internet reporting almost to the exclusion of other criteria and to the oblivion of the journalistic processes by which they are applied.  Some people find conflict entertaining, as they did when Jerry Springer prodded people on his show into such degrading rage that they physically attacked each other.  Conflict and its devious and nefarious expressions are a staple of the "reality" shows which feature people being vicious and hateful to each other.  For a very significant portion of Americans, watching other people being abused and humiliated is a favorite entertainment.  Social psychologists point out that the popularity of such debasing spectacles is partly because it gives the audience the chance to feel superior to the subjects of humiliation, a chance for those who feel inconsequential in their work-a-day lives to feel  part of an "elite."  Television has serviced the less-than-admirable motives of its audience, and this servicing has shaped the way news is presented in the media in general.



    For cable news, the appeal to the baser instincts of its audience is in the constant bickering and prattle by "experts" over every topic that comes up in the news.  Cable news also finds that appealing to people's prejudices, notions, ignorance, and distorted world views  builds audiences.  People like to feel that their perceptions, notions, and attitudes are legitimized as part of something larger.  That is what Fox News and MSNBC are using in their attempts to win audiences and ratings.


    In the ratings wars, CNN has dropped behind its two competing cable networks, Fox News and MSNBC, who have openly decided to base their editorial decisions on different sides of the partisan divide.  Fox, a part of the Murdoch empire, which includes the Wall Street Journal, is devoted to propagandizing far right wing propaganda.  MSNBC takes the left wing perspective.  Although both of those networks have news gathering operations, their partisan manipulations of information take away the credibility of anything they offer as hard news reports.  As MSNBC uses reports from NBC News, its partisan stance compromises the work it uses from the professional journalists.


    This kind of compromising of the integrity of professionally developed reports is where Lou Dobbs got into trouble.  His news hour showed that he had a partisan agenda in both his selection of news and the slant with which he delivered the stories.  He used work and had interchanges with reporters on which he imposed his slant.  This caused complaints from CNN's hard news workers and they felt uncomfortable appearing on his program and being associated with the distortions he imposed.  His distortions became particularly noticeable in the antagonisms he consistently expressed against Barack Obama.  Journalists both within CNN and outside the network remarked that Dobbs had abandoned reporting altogether for propagandizing and he violated the basic premises of factual accuracy and credible sources in the process.


    While Latino groups and other civil rights organizations launched a campaign to have Dobbs removed from the network more than a year ago,  professional journalists began writing to CNN that, aside from the major network newscasts and the PBS News Hour, there was no cable show devoted to hard reporting during the prime news time across the nation.  The emphasis on what people with conflicting viewpoints said about a few issues displaced the news itself.


    Ted Turner whose interests in CNN were bought out and who was eventually displaced on the CNN board of directors has commented on what CNN has become.  He lost a good portion of his money in market  collapses and says he does not have enough to buy his way back into the cable television business, but he is disappointed in the abandonment of hard news reporting as the primary function of CNN.  He would to see the network give up the fluff and return to news reporting as its central commodity.


    The departure of Lou Dobbs reflects that CNN management is sensitive to the criticism of the network news role.  It has previously let Glenn Beck go and appears concerned about its reputation as a news source rather than a partisan chatter source. 







    CNN has competition coming on strong.  Bloomberg has openly announced that it intends to become the most influential news organization in the nation.  CNN has reason to scramble to regain and maintain its credibility as a reliable reporter of the news.  


    News organizations in general are looking at downsizing but finding a niche in the real news market in which they can survive.  CNN may have to forget the ratings races and serve the audience attracted to it.  At a time when it is becoming apparent that "citizen journalism" on the internet is just more chatter and a total failure by journalistic standards, responding to the challenges on the Internet is not the way real journalism can survive.  More organizations may have to take the measures CNN seems to be taking. 























    Friday, November 13, 2009

    David Brooks gets off on John Thune

    Basing his opinions largely on John Thune's appearance and demeanor as a cowboy who has not as yet visited Broke Back Mountain, David Brooks in The New York Times touts Thune as a leader in the model of Barack Obama who could save the Republican Party.  The piece is so gushy that one suspects if Brooks were to visit Broke Back Mountain, he would like to go with John Thune.

    Conspicuously absent from Brooks" appraisal is John Thune's record as a representative in the House, the nature of his campaign against Tom Daschle, the absurd and pointless and hypocritical legislation he is currently sponsoring, and the fact that he is a script reader who plays a role designed by political hacks.  Brooks has ventured into the realm of celebrity gossip in this column. 

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    The ghouls invade Ft. Hood

    The killing of 13 people and the wounding of 29 at Ft. Hood is an occasion for respectful honor and somber reflection about those killed and harmed. But not for some who turn it into a frenzy of manic bureaucratic blame-placing and a harvest festival of wingnut malevolence.

    The press in its eagerness to get scoops bears responsibility for a large part of the bureaucratic brouhaha.  One can only wax nostalgic over the days when the press was eager to report the facts, not the pissing duels.

    The press is reporting that the FBI and the Department of Defense are embroiled in mud wrestling, which is brought about by the question of whether the government missed warning signs about Major Nidal Malik Hasan.  There are many instances being raised about incidents that may be regarded as foreshadowings of what Hasan allegedly did.  The FBI electronic surveillance network monitored correspondence Maj. Hasan had with an American-born imam in Yemen who advocates a jihad against Americans.  A Department of Defense investigator says there was nothing in the correspondence that did not deal with legitimate questions that Hasan was pursuing.  And so, the blame-placing frenzy begins.

    But the press plays a major role.  In both sides of the issue, the press cites statements from people whose names and identities are withheld "because they are not authorized to talk about the matter."  The obvious question:  if they are not authorized to talk about it, why the hell are they talking about it?    And just what gives anything they say any credibility?  Was a time when establishing the credentials of someone being quoted was the first priority in journalistic practice.  But that gets in the way of feeding the appetites of the mean and petty whose sole motive in life is to find condemnations of other people.

    For the press to retreat into an anonymous citation because the person "was not authorized to speak" is like those commenters on blogs who post anonymously.  One learns quickly that their facts are seldom accurate and their thinking processes, if they exist at all, are impaired.  Mostly, one learns that they are only interested in venting malice,  and their motive is to poison any discussion that is taking place.

    That brings up comments by some bloggers, who are not necessarily anonymous, but whose thoughts and expressions fulfill the requirements of ignorance, falsity, and malice that appears to be the qualifying criteria for posting anonymous comments.  The question has been raised if political correctness caused officials not to investigate Hasan's statements and behavior and to take preventive measures.  In this case political correctness would be to be oversensitive to Hasan's Muslim religion and give him special leniency.  The bloggers ignore the rules of evidence and due process and insist that Hasan should have been subjected to some kind of discipline and punishment.  The one real indication that he had violent intentions was in purchasing the high powered handgun he used in the murders of 13 people.  Of course, requiring information of his gun purchase and pursuing it as an indication of his intentions would be a violation of the Second Amendment.

    The wingnut bloggers have taken after Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey for his warning about jumping to conclusions about the Ft. Hood massacre: “I'm concerned this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers, and I've asked our Army leaders to be on the lookout for that,” he said.  The charge by the bloggers is that Gen. Casey is being politically correct and is woefully misguided.

    Of course, Gen. Casey is following the rudiments of competence.  As a commander, he knows the history of the Army and that this is not the first time that racial, religious, or sexual persecution has endangered the function of the military.  The military took the lead in desegregation.  It did so because it became apparent that internal ethnic conflicts render the military dysfunctional.  It was a problem during World War II, but in the Korean War it cost the U.S. some victories and many lives.  Units of black soldiers were accused of being bad soldiers.  When the command investigated their performance, it found that the black units were staffed with white officers who were not considered competent enough to be assigned to other units.  And it found that the discrimination against blacks was so intense that black soldiers resented deeply having to fight for  freedom, equality, and justice that they were systematically denied. 

    President Truman signed the order to desegregate the military in 1948, but little was accomplished.   In 1951, when Gen. Ridgway was put in command of the troops in Korea and charged with reversing the terrible defeat American forces were experiencing, he asked that he be allowed to immediately desegregate the units under his command, and he took immediate action to do so.  He changed the course of the war. And of racial history,

    But the effects of segregation lingered on after a truce was agreed to and prisoners of war were exchanged.  Some black U.S. troops chose not to be repatriated.  They were called "turn coats."  They stayed in North Korea, but not for long when they discovered that the treatment by the North Koreans was no better than the segregated society they would return to in the U.S.  However, these men troubled President Eisenhower, who understood well the dangers of having troops who had reason to distrust and fight each other rather than the enemy.  An exhaustive study was ordered, desegregation in the military was expedited, and the lessons learned played a strong role in the decisions to desegregate civilian society and in the actions taken to enforce it. 

    The problems caused by racial discrimination did not end with military desegregation.  I experienced those problems during my time in the Army and  saw the need to transfer some racially motivated soldiers to jobs and places where they could not interfere with and obstruct the mission we were given to perform.  There were instances of violence against blacks and Latinos, and retaliations for those acts of violence, and the participants had to be removed to allow the units to function and perform their duties.

    There were flare-ups in Viet Nam with fraggings that had racial motivations.  There were problems when women were permitted to assume the same roles as men in the military.  To win military victories requires first that the demons in human nature be defeated.

    Gen. Casey's warning about retaliation against Muslim soldiers is grounded in actual history and in his realization that such retaliations would play into the hands of Al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals by proving their contention that the U.S is not conducting a war on terror but a war on Muslim. 

    There are those who want to see a general attack on the 3,000 Muslim soldiers in the military, because they are Muslim.  There are those who want an attack on the blacks because they are black.  The election of a black president has aggravated the racial animosities and has brought us to another confrontation with prejudice.  It is one of the battles that Gen. Casey and his command have to confront in addition to those with enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

     Islamic radicalism has to be investigated for any role it might have in actions taken by Nidal Malik Hasan.  Whether it conspired with him or inspired him must be assessed.  But we have loud and persistent "Christian" voices  that dwell on the same notions of persecution and vengeance, and they seem to want a revival of the Crusades.   We have those who presume to speak for Christianity who seem unaware that there is a New Testament.

     Thank God, Gen. Casey is in charge of how to handle what happened at Ft. Hood. 
     

    Blog Archive

    About Me

    My photo
    Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

    NVBBETA