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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Gangs take over the reservations

What used to be thought of an urban problem has invaded Indian reservations. And the reservations have few resources to deal with them.

Details of gang crimes emerged from tribal leaders testimony before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee this week.

The AP reports:

At the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, 39 gangs have led to thousands of gang-related police calls. At the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, in eastern Washington state, two predominantly Mexican gangs and four tribal gangs battle for territory.

Pine Ridge leaders detailed the problem they face:

"
We need more officers and we need them now," said Hermis John Mousseau, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council at Pine Ridge. "We have 5,000 gang members, but we also have 45,000 scared law abiding people whose lives I have sworn to protect."

In South Dakota, Mousseau said his police department of 48 officers — 12 per shift — must patrol a reservation the size of Rhode Island. Many of their police calls are 50 to 60 miles apart, leaving their response time to an hour for even the most violent acts. Many calls go unanswered.

The cases are hardly routine. Pine Ridge has battled an influx of drugs from Minneapolis, Denver and Omaha, Neb., Mousseau said.

The Argus Leader provides further details on what law enforcement faces at Pine Ridge in a few weeks' time:

A police officer with the Oglala Sioux Tribe shot and killed a gang member who attacked her on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota two weeks ago. Last weekend, reservation police responded to three separate gang-related crimes - a shooting, a stabbing and a brutal beating. On Tuesday, another officer shot a gang member who came at him with a knife.


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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Bend over, here come the rubber gloves and no health care

It is now the progressives in Congress who might just say no to proposed health care reform.

Health care costs and accessibility have gone out of reach of a significant portion of Americans. While advances in technology are part of the escalating costs, the insurance companies and HMOs are major obstacles to affordable, effective health care for all.

The opposition to health care reform has managed to turn the focus from people being denied health care to a government takeover and a cost that some claim we can't afford. The opposition is particularly militant against the public option, although the insurance and drug companies have created the current state of health care accessibility. In other words, the opposition wants any bill stripped of the very things that would reform health care. The proponents of reform think government intervention is necessary for any genuine overhaul. Leaving control in the private sector will not produce any change in the practices that leaving so many without access to care.

While the Blue Dog Democrats claim to have reached a compromise with the House leadership on the bill, progressives have signed a pledge not to vote for any bill that does not include a public option. Their concern is not a government takeover. To them, the only way to achieve reform is to take control of health care out of the hands of the insurance industry and drug companies.

The debate needs to get refocused on the primary question: should health care be available to everybody or not?

Scurrility and scatology

Most of the South Dakota traditional media ignored the press release sent out by the state GOP in response to Scott Heidepriem's announcement that he will be a candidate for governor. If there was anything that remotely qualified as news regarding it, it is that a political party sank so low that it issued such an exercise in mindless scurrility. It was not a press release; it was merely an attempt to inject some malicious and totally false propaganda into the legitimate media.

Keloland news tried to do some fact-checking on what was stated in the release. When it asked the South Dakota GOP to verify the statements made in the slime effort with documented facts, the GOP was unable to furnish anything other than a greasy deflection away from its scurrility. Here is Keloland's report:


"After KELOLAND News asked the Republicans to prove their claims, they backed off some of the comments and responded to their inaccuracies. Instead of saying he's selling his house and his car and cancelling his country club membership, in an e-mail to KELOLAND News they said, "It is common knowledge that Heidepriem is a member of an elite country club, drives a fancy car and lives in a mansion.""

The Mitchell Republic dropped any pretense to neutrality on the matter and defended the propaganda piece by claiming that the Democrats had used the same tactic on Steve Kirby, a possible Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate who might have run against Sen. Tim Johnson. The claim was that Sen. Johnson's campaign was "stalking" Kirby and then issued a fund-raising letter citing Kirby's wealth.

The stalking charge grew from Kirby's statement to the Argus Leader that he saw people drive by his house pointing a camera with a telephoto lens at him. Whether that actually happened and, if it did, the alleged photographers were from the Johnson campaign was never established. It was a matter of conjecture, based upon what Kirby said. Kirby's claim to political fame is when he was a candidate for governor and his fight in the Republican primary with rival Mark Barnett got so stupidly nasty that the voters elected present Governor Mike Rounds over both of them. And the business of stalking people with cameras is a very Republican tactic. We recall when Sen. Tim Johnson ran against Thune and made an appearance in the livestock pavillion at the Brown County Fair. Thune goons were running around smirking and aiming cameras at anyone who looked Democratic. Such ploys are given in South Dakota politics. The stalking gambit was the largely the fabrication of a blogger.

In defense of the libel a la press release, Republicans have also cited a fund raising letter that mentioned Kirby sent out by the Tim Johnson campaign early in 2008. The purpose of the letter was to get Democrats to contribute to the campaign. It did not berate Kirby for being a successful business man. It did point out that he is a multi-millionaire who could finance a campaign from his own pocket and that he belonged to a class of people who had little interest in the concerns of workers and those struggling with matters such as health care and the outsourcing of jobs. It did not make any false claims against Kirby.

The propaganda sent out by the GOP regarding Scott Heidepriem was totally a lie. There is a big difference between making up lies about a candidate and noting his background and affiliations.

Ultimately, if the media--both traditional and new--are functioning with any purpose, candidates will have to run on their demonstrated character and integrity. When some bloggers quote a paragraph that is an obvious sarcastic exaggeration and go into a puerile name-calling rage under the presumption that it is a serious statement, we have the advantage of seeing their intelligence and character on display. Likewise, when a blogger consistently posts libels about people, we have evidence of why we should avoid them in their professions and in any possible social contacts.

Politics is nasty enough without outright lies and libels. That seems to be all some political parties have to run on and some bloggers to blog about.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

South Dakota GOP gives "suck" a new dimension

When the river is running low, it reveals the bottom-feeders. You know, those slimy things that revel in the muck and thrive on detritus. The river is running real low for the Republican Party, and the muck-suckers are having a feeding frenzy in South Dakota.

State Senator Scott Heidepriem announced that he is a candidate for governor. The South Dakota GOP immediately started secreting slime in the form of a press release that was one of most inanely juvenile ad hominem attacks that rivals anything South Dakota Wart Collage (South Dakota's No. 1 site for ugly) or South Dakota Politics (South Dakota's site for Number Two) could come up with.

We will pin it up on our political memory board, right next to the ad by John Thune supporters that pictured Tom Daschle with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

And if anyone wonders why bright, young people leave this state, they need only look at this kind of thought and expression by those who hold power in this state.

Kevin Woster supplies some competent coverage of Heidepriem's announcement in the Rapid City Journal.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hang a noose from the flag pole. The darkies are acting like white folks.

Some people thought that the election of a black person as president signaled that the United States was conveying to the rest of the world that it was finally putting its racist past to rest. Having a black man in the White House has merely inflamed it. Racism is like anthrax. Its spores can lie dormant in the earth for decades, only to be revived and virulent when stirred up.

Racism is raging again with the help of a new vector: the Internet.

The issue of healthcare has stirred the racist spores into the atmosphere with a vengeance. Some people think that every person should have access to health care, because such thinkers are part of that conspiracy started by a Jew from Nazareth who instructed his followers to feed the poor and heal the sick. Others think that the problems of poverty and illness can be solved if those so afflicted just damned well die. Government instigated health care reform, they say, violates patient's rights by intruding on their right to be sick and die. One doctor found the racial angle in the opposition to healthcare reform and circulated an e-mail picturing Obama as a witch doctor.


Then a professor at Harvard , Henry Louis Gates, Jr., got himself arrested by trying to get into his own house. Obama said the police acted stupidly in the case, and later said he should have calibrated his words more carefully. Ain't no black man in American, even if he is the president, dumb enough to call the police stupid. Gates was clearly guilty of H.W.B. As Michael Eric Dyson explains, that is still a crime in America. It is Housed While Black. Where do these uppity niggahs get the idea that they can act like white folks and live in something other than slave shanties. It could lead to the crime cited by Stanley Fish: P.W.B. President While Black.

Then we have a president who is not even an American citizen, as some of the more honest and astute citizens have pointed out.

You were warned about this in 1861, You give an inch in justice and equality and opportunity, and they'll take a mile.

But don't worry. The white sheets are out in force. On the Internet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

If you can't fix stupid, there's not much you can do about mean

Big Springs, NE.--The Associated Press is giving Zeeland, North Dakota, some really bad press. Zeeland is a town of 140 that lies just a smidgen north of the South Dakota border.

The AP story, which was put on the front page of the Aberdeen American News last Sunday, says that the people in Zeeland are so torqued off at each other that they don't wave anymore when they pass each other in their cars. The county state's attorney is quoted as saying the rancor began during a power fight in the volunteer fire department. And then the story relates that the town mayor is under a restraining order because he bitched out some woman for a yapping dog and allegedly pointed out that she was unemployed and fat, using expletives. She charged further that the mayor's brother's dog runs all over town and pees on her plants. She has charged the mayor with disorderly conduct and he has a court date coming up.

I stress: this story is about Zeeland, North Dakota, not the South Dakota blogosphere, which somehow has convinced itself that its piddle fights are providing the citizenry information denied it by the main stream media. Piddling is how it interprets the "stream" in the term "main stream media."

As a former journalist who covered rural life, I must point out that Zeeland is not unique. Small towns suck. In fact, most human organizations--clubs, political parties, bureaucracies (which include corporations)--suck. American literature has a huge genre called "the revolt from the small town" which chronicles why bright and aspiring young people are so disaffected by small towns and leave for bigger places and brighter prospects. This genre began with Hawthorne, Melville, Mark Twain, and many other authors in the 19th century and continues to accumulate works today. Its theme is people with some inclinations toward intelligence and good purpose struggling to get away from mean and stupid. Those latter qualities of the human psyche are inseparably fused. They are pervasive and persistent. They just show up more emphatically in microcosmic communities like Zeeland.

Zeeland shows the pattern of thought and expression that dominates the South Dakota blogosphere and the blogosphere in general. As with Zeeland, dog yaps and dog piss become the paramount concerns. People devote their intellects and lives to yawp and piddle.

Our nation's founders were acutely aware that the biggest threat to democracy is stupidity and meanness. That is why Thomas Jefferson put so much effort into laying out the plans for the University of Virginia and Ben Franklin did the same for the University of Pennsylvania. It is why during the most intense violence of the Civil War, Abe Lincoln signed the Land Grant College Act into law. To him, who had less than a year of formal schooling, education is a way to let the better angels of human nature surmount its insidious demons.

The rancor that so taints the atmosphere in Zeeland is not limited to small towns or the blogosphere, which is the province of those whose thoughts and words would never be published in forums that set some standards of intelligence, literacy. and decency as a condition of being published. There are some blogs that are produced on a literate level. There are others that revert to a primitive and depraved need to dominate and destroy, an impulse rooted deeply in the reptilian cortex. Rather than counteract the effects of the tabloid media, the blogosphere is dominated by those who merely wish to emulate and amplify it. The major contemporary problem in communications is that our country, and much of world, exists on the level of pettiness, rancor, and mental failure that typifies little towns like Zeeland.

We have a huge health care problem with a sizable faction that opposes any suggested remedy. Rather that come up with information and ideas, the GOP leadership fixes instead on how to defeat and destroy Obama.

The same is true with the financial crisis. If there are better ways to restore some stability to the economy, the GOP demonstrates that fixing it is not its purpose. It would rather pursue its accusations tax-and-spend and fiscal irresponsibility than engage in a serious discussion about what can rescue and revive the economy. Limbaugh and his claque openly hope that Obama fails. Country first, my ass. With almost every word the GOP and its vocal adherents utter is that they could not care less about the country. Their power and getting their way is all that matters. Their patriotism is totally defined as self-sucking, self-serving dominance.

But do the Democrats confront the full implications of GOP propaganda and point out the insidious motives behind it? No. The Democrats too often get pulled into the petty and infantile exchange of accusations and name-calling. They demonstrate the intellectual failures that beset the country as much the GOPers. For example, rather than work within their own party to find workable and agreeable solutions, the Blue Dogs appear more interested in placating the vocal minority and allying itself with them than using the majority to hammer out policies and solutions. They don't have to agree with their party's leadership, but they can work by contributing ideas and engaging in critical debate, not appeasing the GOP opposition.

We should not point and laugh at Zeeland, North Dakota. It is merely what the nation has become: A country that is consumed with yapping dogs, using unemployment and obesity as an insult, and getting enraged over peeing dogs. America, the beautiful.

Franklin, Jefferson, and Lincoln did their jobs in building the democracy. We are the ones who just can seem to live up to their precedents.




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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It isn't rhetoric. It's merely squabbling.

In the past, an educated person was defined as one who was trained and skilled in rhetoric. Rhetoric is defined as the assembling of orderly, reasoned argument. In one textbook I used, rhetoric was defined as "the making of knowledge."

Much to the detriment of society, the term rhetoric has come to cover all the noise that issues from the mouths of humans. Consequently, many people think what they hear in the political world is rhetoric. Seldom these days does political discourse rise to the level of real rhetoric. And seldom are people exposed to the exercise of real rhetoric.

Nowhere is that more clear than in the Senate Judicial Committee hearings for Sonia Sotomayor. What Americans are getting a chance to see is crude politics devoid of careful attention to facts and rational argument. They are seeing one side doing a public relations campaign for the candidate, and the other side contriving ways to discredit her.

Maureen Dowd goes to the quick of what is really taking place in the hearings:

A wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not know that a gaggle of white Republican men afraid of extinction are out to trip her up.

After all, these guys have never needed to speak inspirational words to others like them, as Sotomayor has done. They’ve had codes, handshakes and clubs to do that.


The absurdity surrounding Judge Sotomayor is the accusation that her race and her gender and her political affiliations disqualify her from the status of impartiality. Justices Alito and Roberts were nominated to the Supreme Court precisely because they espoused conservative viewpoints and because their biases and political perspectives set an agenda they would follow on the court. Their decisions and opinions as Supreme Court justices demonstrate an unabashed pursuit of a political agenda.

One wonders how many people are fooled into thinking the Senate committee hearings have anything to do with anything but the petty squabbling that our democracy has devolved into. One wonders if the news will ever again reflect a serious consideration of real issues.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Federal lawsuit reopens professor's murder investigation

The day before the 2004 election, Professor Morgan Lewis was found shot to death outside his office building, Seymour Hall, on the Northern State University campus. Eventually, the Aberdeen Police Depaartment, which was in a state of turmoil at the time, issued a determination that the death was a suicide. However, many people who had knowledge of the circumstances and the evidence found discrepancies which put the suicide determination into doubt.

A federal court suit has been filed on the case which will effectively reopen the case. Beneficiaries of insurance policies taken out by Prof. Lewis have been denied claims on the basis of the suicide determination. They are challenging the decision in court. The story is carried in today's Argus Leader.

When the Police Department termed the death a suicide, it refused to reveal the evidence gathered in the case. The coroner initially termed the death a homicide, but later changed the cause of death. The holding of the investigative materials confidential was a source of frustration to many people who had been informed of evidence that conflicted with the suicide theory.

The federal court case may do what inadequate open government and sunshine laws have failed to do: give the case a real examination of evidence.

The Indian Wars come to the campus

The University of Colorado is bi-polar. On one extreme, it has some of the most progressive and productive academic programs in the country. On the other, it has some of the most oppressive political involvement in its governance in the country. The polarities are most evident in its program in Native American Studies.

Professor Ward Churchill, who headed the program in ethnic studies, was fired from his job. A source of much controversy, he wrote an essay following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in which he contended that many of the people who worked in the Trade Center buildings worked in complicity with the forces that oppressed and exploited people throughout the world. He called them "little Eichmanns," a phrase which induced apoplexy in many Americans. The governor of Colorado at the time, other politicians, and regents of the University called for his firing. Academics responded that firing him for saying something because it offended some people would be a violation of the most basic academic freedom. The CU administration concurred on that point.

However, some critics of Ward Churchill had long claimed that he misrepresented and fabricated source materials in some of his work. These charges were seized upon by those who wanted him fired and were escalated into charges of academic misconduct. The University submitted the evidence to review panels on academic ethics, and those panels found that Churchill had misrepresented source materials and recommended his firing, which the University did.

An academic organization I belong to was confronted by some members with the question of whether it should intervene or take a position on the matter. It assembled a panel of professors who were scholarly writers and editors and asked it to review the materials Churchill was charged with misrepresenting. I was asked to serve on the panel. I found that Churchill had, in fact, violated the rules of academic integrity. That was the unanimous verdict of the panel. The panel was not asked what disciplinary action would be appropriate for Churchill, but I have long thought that any professor who misrepresents or fabricates source materials should be dismissed. Some prominent academic leaders thought that what Churchill did is routine in the squabbling that comprises much academic debate and that he did not deserve to be fired.


Churchill sued to get his job back. In April, a jury found that the University of Colorado had wrongly fired him. Their verdict found that although he had violated scholarly rules, that violation was only a pretext for his firing. They determined that the real reason was his inflammatory essay that used the phrase "little Eichmanns," Their finding was made ambiguous when they awarded him $1 in damages. Whether or not he should get his job back was left to the judge.

Last week the judge, Denver Chief Judge Larry Naves, issued a ruling that supported Churchill's firing. However, the ruling was widely misreported in the press. What Judge Naves did was set aside the jury's verdict. He said that the Colorado regents were protected from being sued because they were acting in a quasi-judicial capacity when they fired Churchill. Consequently, the whole jury trial was, in effect, dismissed because the suit was not legitimate, therefore, the verdict was an exercise without any legal standing.


Churchill and his lawyers have said they will appeal Judge Naves' ruling. While the ruling is an elaborate and complex analysis of legal principles and precedents, it does not address the degree of political pressure and influence in Churchill's firing. A number of legal experts have pointed out that the political motive behind Churchill's firing nullifies any claim to judicial immunity on the part of the regents. One Denver legal scholar puts it this way:


At trial, regent after regent testified about the pressure put on them by their constituents and other elected officials to rid the university of Churchill at any cost. Politics was obviously intimately involved in the process of firing Churchill.


Churchill and his lawyers have said they will appeal the case. In the opinion of many academic scholars, the case could well make it to the Supreme Court. Many conservative commentators have heaped accusations on Churchill in addition to his mishandling of scholarly materials. The essential question concerns the controlling motive behind the firing: political suppression of unpopular speech or academic misconduct.

And that question defines the bipolar state that the University of Colorado finds itself in, as do many universities. While the Internet has provided professors with extra-mural venues for expressing their opinions, it has shown that many of them do not know or do not abide by the rules that define legitimate citation of sources and the representation of materials. Like their non-academic counterparts, professors seem to think that the standards of scurrility practiced on blogs exempt them from the stringent rules of academic discourse. I for one thought the firing of Churchill for his falsification of source materials was appropriate, but the political climate in which it was done is troubling. Some professors on the panel that found him guilty of ethical violations recommended lesser discipline, such as demotion and temporary suspension. Their stance is probably more reasonable under the circumstances.

But this is not the first time that the University of Colorado has shown its bipolar symptoms. Another prominent American Indian on its faculty was the late Vine Deloria, Jr., the Standing Rock Sioux who became a leading spokesman for Native American rights and recognition. Deloria retired from the U. of Colorado in 2000 and died in 2005. Deloria taught at the University of Arizona from 1978 to 1990 and at the U. of Colorado from 1990 to 2000. The year before his death, CU wanted to bestow an honorary degree on Deloria for his scholarly leadership in Native American issues, but he declined it. The reason was that CU was embroiled in a scandal involving its football team. A woman place kicker had charged that she was sexually assaulted by male teammates. The coach's response was to deride her performance as a kicker. Deloria thought the handling of the incident was contemptible. In rejecting the honorary degree, he said, "It's no honor to be connected to these people."

The American Indian program at the U. of Colorado shows the forces at work in academe in general and the bipolar forces at work between academic integrity and excellence and political motives to suppress academic research and debate and reduce universities to sites for sports entertainment.

The Indian Wars have come to the CU campus, and they are probably just beginning.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

O, say can you seethe


Greenpeace seems to have taken a page out of Adrian Louis' Pine Ridge novel Skins or the movie made from it starring Eric Schweig and Graham Greene. The novel ends with its protagonist, Rudy Yellow Lodge, a Pine Ridge police officer, dumping a bucket of red paint down the forehead of George Washington's face at Mt. Rushmore. The movie version changes the paint trickle from the forehead to Washington's eye. Rudy commits the act in memory of his brother, Mogie, a Viet Nam veteran entrapped by the experiences of Pine Ridge, Viet Nam, and alcoholism. Among the patriotic ironies the red paint marks is that the father of our country was a slaveholder.

Greenpeace also chose Mt. Rushmore to make a statement to President Obama. Many progressives who elected him to change the regressive policies of exploitation, oppression, and destruction are getting impatient with his deference to neo-con obstruction and intransigence. Greenpeace used Mt. Rushmore to give him a nudge to get moving on environmental issues. However, unlike Rudy's lone venture with a bucket of paint, Greenpeace put together an elaborate plan for unfurling a 65 by 35 foot banner to dangle for an hour next to the face of Abraham Lincoln.

As the Christian Science Monitor put it, " What’d they get out of it? A dozen arrests. But also massive media exposure for one of their top issues: global warming (they’re against it)."

And they tweaked the knots that seem to be permanently sewn into the regressive skivvies It moved those perennial defacers of the blogosphere Sibby the Simple and South Dakota Wart Collage to trot out their favorite cliches about anti-Americanism and put their stained knots on display. And Greenpeace is supposed to be against pollution.

From the standpoint of blitzing all the forms of media and getting attention, a media expert quoted by the Monitor said:

"in terms of communicating a message effectively, he’d give it a “nine out of ten.” But the jury is still out he says on whether the overall strategy will work. That’s because Greenpeace broke the law and if any damage to Mt. Rushmore was done, it could be a big negative for the organization."

Unfurling a banner is a lot less destructive than a bucket of paint would be, but the fact is that Mt. Rushmore is the supreme site for launching messages. I don't condone doing plastic alterations on the Rushmore visages, but I can't but admire Greenpeace's strategy.

Ir was followed this morning by AIDS activists shutting down the Capitol Rotunda and getting arrested to protest what they regard as Obama going back on another promise.

We appear to be entering a new age of civil disobedience. It is so many notches above the retard choir's chants about Obama being like Hitler. Some intellectual redemption is a afoot.

To paraphrase Dorothy Parker, I'd rather flunk my Wasserman Test than read or hear some of that tertiary-stage trash from the regressives.

I look forward to the next message to Obama by people with some wit and grit.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Public service is no longer an honorable pursuit

Although I am married to a member of Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's staff, I am not privy to decisions and the decision-making process regarding her office. In fact, because I am a blogger, great effort is made to keep information from me. Scooping the rest of the media and being the first to publish information has never been an interest of mine. Nor has speculation and gossip. Getting the facts straight is and putting them in perspective is my interest. And occasionally, even after the most strenuous efforts to check facts, I have passed along information about which sources have been confused.

But the wariness of officials about releasing information is part of living in the age of cable news, tabloid journalism, and the obsessive fixation of the blogosphere with making up dirt when it can't find any. I have been involved in recruiting candidates to run for office, and I am fully aware that many fine people would never run for public office because the
y and their families will be exposed to the kind of defamation that is rife in the new media. It is not a matter of facing opposing opinions or taking responsibility for things one has actually said or done. It is a matter of a corrosive and destructive environment that makes families, not abilities or interests, the main factor in considering public service.



Some time back, I consented to have a petition circulated for nomination to the state legislature. At the time, one of my children was experiencing great difficulty. After a few weeks of reading some reactions on discussion boards and blogs, I withdrew from the nomination. Exposing children to the malevolent defamations that occur in the "new media" is the most sinister kind of child abuse. There is no honor in running for public office anymore. Pubic spirit has been poisoned. And one can explain one's stances and actions, but there is no defense against false accusations and malicious lies meant only to hurt and destroy.


Unfortunately, many good people assess the current political climate and decline to be a part of it
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The clamor for Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to make a decision about which office to run for is a symptom of politics as a "blood sport," as Sarah Palin termed it. It has nothing to do with finding talented and capable people to represent us and run public business. Honest and productive debate of actual issues is dull and boring. Rather, political discourse has become manure wrestling, and the deeper the combatants get mired in muck, the better the press and many good people like it. Our democracy, consequently, is not in very good shape. It is not the policies that are deteriorating the country. It is the blood sport that politics have become.


So, as Rep. Herseth Sandlin was making her decision, I was aware that her considerations were going far past the notion that she was pondering which office she has the most chance of winning. She had to face what kind of campaign would be best for her young family and where she could most effectively serve. And you will hear a chorus of churlish guffaws at the suggestion that some people actually think at that level.



I disagree with the Blue Dog stance on many issues. But being a Democratic representative in a Republican state means having to make some very tough decisions in behalf of the constituency. And I know Rep. Stephanie makes her decisions honestly.


It is the legislaor who spends his time and energy proposing laws against sham issues, like cow farts and government ownership of General Motors that is of far more sinister concern. But given the kind of campaign he runs, I wouldn't let my Greyhound run against him.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

La Belle Ditz Sans Merci takes a dive. Maybe.

Sarah Palin's defining moment came when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler recreated her interview with Katie Couric almost verbatim and it produced a sterling moment of comic satire.



The skit defined more importantly what the culture wars were really about: the battle launched by those who militate for provincial ignorance against the more cerebral classes of Americans. After this sketch played on SNL and replayed on the Internet, some of the cerebral members of the Republican Party began to defect and endorse Barack Obama for president. The McCain-Palin campaign had become an offense against the intellect.

Palin's candidacy for the vice president produced some snarky attacks on her and the seamy aspects of her family, but it also produced some sell-documented reviews of her performance as governor of Alaska. The Native American community reported on her dismissive and belittling attitude toward the natives of her state. Both The New York Times and Washington Post did reports on how her administration was characterized by pettiness, deviousness, and vindictiveness. In Alaska, her tactics-- not necessarily her politics--had earned her the enmity of many within her own party.

After her return from the campaign to her duties as governor, she nominated a person for state attorney general who received a soundly bipartisan rejection. Palin's intelligence was called into question by numerous public actions. To many in both parties, Palin was the poster girl for petty squabbles that take on a vicious and juvenile intensity.

Her embarrassing dissembling and posturing in her encounters with the press have called into question her inellectual competence. But there is a significant portion of he electorate who resent intellectual competence, and to them she represents political power.

Palin was the target for derisive humor, such as David Letterman's jokes about her daughter. She also inspired other commentators and bloggers to indulge in trashy snark.

But one need not resort to such sources to get a factual, documented appraisal of Palin's performance in political office.

However, as the GOP demonstrates dailly, competence and integrity are not much of a consideration in the game of politics.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Michael Jackson and the hard-wired churls



I don't think anyone involved in communications and the arts can escape the presence of Michael Jackson. And I use "presence" in the present tense because it is one that will be with us despite the death of its author.

I know his music and his videos because I have children. My oldest daughter wanted us to name our son Michael Jackson Newquist. I remember hauling my kids to Chicago for a family event and listening to Michael Jackson on the car stereo during most of the drive.

I also was involved in a popular culture class with professors from all of the fine arts leading an analysis of the music video as an art form, and, of course, Michael Jackson dominated the course. He is an astounding creative force whose influence on culture is inestimable.

But that is not why he is such a presence on my mind. A colleague of mine with expertise in photography and lighting and who specialized in musical events worked on Jackson productions a number of times. While he was in the background and by no means close to Michael Jackson, he often talked about what a creative force he was. He recalled how Michael Jackson collaborated with writers to get song lyrics just so, and he recalled that when Jackson thought something would improve a production, no expense and effort would be spared to make it happen. But he also expressed dismay at some of the people who surrounded Jackson. My colleague brought this up many times because it bothered him that so many people gather around a major talent not to support and enjoy its development, but to exploit it and destroy it. He talked about the toxic environment in which Jackson operated and the horrific nature of some of the people who surrounded him.

My colleague's words have come back in full force as I have heard many others remark on Jackson's death using that same term "toxic" to describe the human atmosphere around him.


Michael Jackson was never given a chance to experience boyhood and to be part of the experiments and testing that are a part of it. In adult life, he tried to capture that experience somehow, and it led to charges of child molestation. Although he was found not guilty in a court trial, many people chose to ignore the verdict. In looking at a number of blogs and their comments, I find among the many comments of people who acknowledge Jackson's talent a considerable number who take pleasure in Jackson's problems and humiliations and, apparently, his death. Their words about Jackson are dismissive and more than a little malicious. A growing malignancy in the American character is apparent in our response to Michael Jackson's death.

A poem of Tennyson's, "The Lady of Shalott," speaks of the gathering of the surly village churls who react to the presence of someone of beauty and graceful qualities with crude, ill-bred, and destructive behavior. Those of us who have dealt with people of large talent refer to such treatment as churlishness: the jealousy, resentment, and malicious intentions expressed toward people who seem to have something that others don't and expressed against those who seem to exist on a higher plane.

As a college professor, I think back on the many talented people I have known, and some of those thoughts are not pleasant. They recall some shining talents, but also some of the darkest human tragedies. Among those talented people are stories of suicide, mental anguish, failed relationships, and the struggles to live in a toxic environment.

Michael Jackson was superbly disciplined when it came to creating and performing music. His talent made him a star at the age of five, and all the accounts of his development as a performer verify the professional excellence he brought to his artistry. In other areas of his life, he never had a chance to develop that kind of discipline. Into his adulthood, he was struggling with childhood and adolescence. Genius needs the balance and moderation of a liberal education to allow it to develop without distorting the personality of the genius. Michael Jackson was never given that discipline. Consequently, he was grossly naieve about some of the people around him and what motiviated them.

The personality issues of MIchael Jackson should not be confused with the egotistical displays of some celebrities or would be celebrities. Those of us who have taught and written about talent come to a quick understanding that many of the individuals with humongous egos have the least reason to indulge in such egotism. For them a pretense to talent substitutes for the real tihing. Such was not the case with Michael Jackson.

What was the case was the people who attached to him in order to appropriate some of his fame and fortune, and it was the people whose only response to real talent is the jealousy, resentment, and destructive hatred it inspires in them. Churlishess.

The press fixes on the churlishness and feeds it because it sells newspapers, attracts listeners and viewers, and gives that certain segment of bloggers their orgasmic thrills of defamation that is an essnetial part of churlishness. Entertainment writers who have gone beyond the tabloid gossip have reported that the press accounts had a debilltating effect on Michael Jackson over the years. The press claims it just gives people what they want. The toxic.

The churls are setting the tone of our political discussions and our appraisals of talent. It is hard to find voices with a little class and informed discernment.

As goes Michael Jackson, so goes our culture and our democracy. It is a foolish hope, perhaps, that real talent can prevail.

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