News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Guns rule over intelligence

Voters in Colorado recalled two of their state senators, one the Senate president, for advocating and passing strict gun laws.  Colorado is the scene of two of the mass shootings that have defined what has become part of American culture, Columbine and the Aurora movie theater.  

The Second Amendment, which in the time it was framed was intended to establish a means of maintaining an armed militia that could be called up in defense of the nation, has been given an interpretation that rules over all other parts of the Constitution which provide individual rights and public safety. Voters in Colorado Springs and Pueblo have decided that the right of mentally deranged killers to have any type of weapon they want and use it any way they want takes precedent over rights of kids to be safe in schools and of people to enjoy a film without being threatened by nuts with guns. 

I am a gun owner and user who has enjoyed shooting sports.  My advocacy of reasonable gun laws has and will result in gun addicts saying I am anti-gun and anti-Second Amendment.  However, I am also convinced that some kinds of weapons should be regulated.  Those with violent criminal histories and the mentally ill should not have unrestrained access to firearms, and some types of weapons should be restricted as to where, when, and by whom they can be used.

The argument advanced by the NRA and other gun nut organizations is that Obama and others are plotting to take away all guns to set up  a totalitarian state.  They can cite no proposals that do more than try to keep guns out of the hands of those likely to use them to kill other people.  Still the hysteria that someone is out to take away all their toys spreads and becomes a basis for the law of the  land.  

The last time I went pheasant hunting with my son, we were stopped by conservation officers who checked my son's shotgun to see if it contained the plug that limits it to three shells, and they checked the ammunition to see if it was lead or steel shot, as we were hunting in a state preserve area.    And, of course, they checked his hunting license.  We had complied with all the rules.  But I wonder, if given the interpretation that any rules and regulations restricting guns is considered an infringement on the Second Amendment, if the rules restricting the amount of shells in a shotgun and the kind of ammunition used can hold up under the current interpretation. 

Furthermore, if one chooses an automobile as a weapon of choice, need one abide by the licensing and insurance requirements and the traffic laws.  Many people use their automobiles to run down animals in the night and to defend what they regard as their rights on the highways.  Are all the vehicular laws infringements on their right to bear automobiles as arms?

Do we even need a constitution when we can solve our problems with guns and other devices we can use as arms? (And I wonder why any of these Second-Amendment-over-all advocates should give a shit if Obama wants to use weapons on Syria.)

Ridiculous, you say?  Not any more so than what the NRA is promoting.  If people are against laws restricting the violent aspects of human behavior,  it may be time to go all out and let our violent tendencies and the devices we express them with supplant the rule of law.  The only constitution we need is the Second Amendment.  And without any constitution, we don't need that. 

For accounts of the Colorado recall elections, you can consult the following links:

The Denver Post

The New York Times

Huffington Post Denver

Talking Points Memo


Top Dem: Colorado losses due to 'voter suppression, pure and simple'



 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Of lickspittles and playground bullies

Politics is all about competition.  Competition to claim the stupid vote by seeing how stupid we can become.  Equal opportunity in politics means dummying down the electorate so that it creates a constituency of idiots who can be governed by imbeciles.   Morons are considered elitists.  

What is currently tolerated in political discussions is preposterous.  South Dakota has assumed more than its share of the burden in making people stupid.  The plan seems to be establishing villages of idiots in which a person of some education and intelligence is the one who will be regarded as having special needs. 

The epitome of this movement  is the blog South Dakota War College, which claims to be "South Dakota's #1 Political Website."   That rather spurious claim comes from the fact that The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza takes a poll on the most popular blogs in the states and has indicated that Madville Times and South Dakota War College are the most popular in South Dakota.  But the two blogs are hugely different in ways much more significant than political orientation.  Madville Times is liberal, but it is also a thoughtful blog that assembles facts in support of its positions and shows the basis for its opinions.   War College is the most abject kind of political hackery, and it has accrued a long list of credentials in that regard.   Truth and accuracy are not in the blog's vocabulary.  Perhaps it knows the words but hasn't the vaguest idea of what they mean. 

There are other blogs that represent some factions within the GOP, but readily fall into the category of batshit crazy and are quickly dismissed.   SDWC, however, has the endorsement of the party.   In fact, it has been used for some time as its official internet communication outlet.  

When War College first started up, it appeared to be a blog

O, the humanity!
for the discussion of political strategies.  However, it soon developed into a highly partisan blog that was virulent in its denunciation of anything Democratic.  It abandoned discussion about political strategies and took up personal, libelous  attacks against Democrats as its main function.  The South Dakota GOP uses SDWC as its official Internet outlet.    That fact became apparent during the campaign preceding the 2010 election when the War College published GOP press releases before any of the legacy news media got them.  

During that period there was a flurry of posts which stated things that were quickly changed or deleted altogether, as the blog engaged in a frenzy of maligning and libeling Democrats.  Suddenly, as the blog's author took a job in the secretary of state's office, the blog was totally eliminated from the Internet,  although it was revived in an enfeebled form by some pseudonymous individuals somewhere.  When Pat Powers was caught  in a conflict of  interest by trying to peddle his malign campaign wares while being an employee of that office,  he resigned and returned to his blogging activities.

Most of the posts on South Dakota War College are profoundly unintelligent.  They either dutifully reproduce the partisan cant of the Republican Party or they take on the guffawing  belligerence of the perennial fifth-grade bully, who stands in the playground shouting insults and abuse to those he chooses to demean, while his buddies lurk about chortling and snickering at the witless, petty malevolence.  If South Dakota War College is a leading place for political news in the state, that is a devastating statement about the intellectual level on which the state operates.  

The social media technology has given the ignorant, the illiterate, and the ill-willed a voice that is often loud enough to shout down the educated and considered. The fact that SDWC gets the attention that it does is an indicator of the intellectual climate of the state.  As is true with global warming, human activity influences the public mentality.  There is much celebration of technology and its use as a medium for communication.  Popular culture is overwhelmed by technology and fixates on the gimmickry of the technology, not the content of what the technology transmits. For many, the medium is the message.  And the message is to play the gimmick games if you want to be with it.  Content and mastery of the language which it transmits have been eclipsed into oblivion by the obsessions with the virtual.

Those who preside over the legacy media which claim stewardship of  carefully chosen and deftly used language as their function share a responsibility in the loss of language.  When newspapers lost advertisers because they were losing their readership to the new media, they attempted to gain a foot in the media door by emulating what is called its "interactive" feature by allowing unmoderated and unedited comments on its news stories.  Instead of attracting readers, the practice drove away the literate who were looking for considered presentations of facts.  Even those publications which once prided themselves on the highest level of writing, such as The New Yorker, permitted the crude and trite responses from the knee-jerks in the name of free expression and robust dialogue.  Little intelligible or worthy of consideration comes out of the ensuing sound and fury.  

It has become a convention that Twitter is a means to reaching a massive audience.  It, like Facebook and other social media, does reach millions and millions of people.  But it also demonstrates how actual communication is sacrificed to mere noise.  A Twitter-user is limited to responses of 140 characters or less.  It poses the same problem that headline writers have in fitting a coherent and accurate summary into a limited number of characters,  Or the problem faced by the writer of haiku  who is limited to 17 syllables.  How many people have the verbal command and the desire to write a credible, intelligible, and engaging haiku?  How many people have the verbal command and desire to put an intelligible, coherent, and engaging statement into 140 characters?


Most of the tweets registered on Twitter are sentence fragments or unpredicated attempts at a sentence.  They are signals like cat hisses and dog growls, which express some emotive force at work on the tweeter, but cannot penetrate into those areas of human understanding that communication is supposed to reach.

The great failure of the legacy press is that it has never critically examined the limitations of the new media, but instead allowed itself to be cowed into accepting it as an irresistible force that it must reshape itself to accommodate.  Journalism is essentially literary.  It depends upon writing talent, broadly educated practitioners, and a firm grasp of how language and story are the tools we human use to record and transmit our experience and accumulated knowledge.  Journalism incorporates the narrative and expository aspects of literature.  It tries to leave the argumentative--the rhetorical---for specialized editorial sections.  Most of what is posted on the Internet has an argumentative intent.  There is little interest in finding, examining, verifying facts and presenting them in a narrative context with the confluence of human history.  

That is why nearly all of what is posted on line cannot be regarded as journalism.  And that gets to an issue regarding the South Dakota War College.  Its author was   recently called up in a court case to reveal some anonymous source who he said told him information that he posted on his blog.  He claimed that he should not need to testify because he is a journalist who has the right to protect his sources.  Circuit Judge Vince Foley pronounced,  “I am of the opinion that ... bloggers in their vein are journalists in the modern sense of the word,” Foley said.  However, he also said that he would not exempt Powers from testifying.  

It is a sad blow to journalism when a judge decides who is a journalist and what journalism actually is.  But it is evidence of what journalism has come to mean "in the modern sense of the word."  Not all bloggers, as explained by Scott Ehrisman out of Sioux Falls, have such an inflated notion of what blogging is. 

The issue is not whether the public should be denied any avenue of expression and free speech.  It is whether there are any professions that stand for the integrity and power of language and are willing to serve those people who hunger for carefully explained facts and the intellectual and aesthetic experience of vigorous thought and fine writing. 

South Dakota War College stands in refutation of what once comprised the important function and purpose of journalism.  It is the work of lickspittles and playground bullies. 





  The South Dakota
       Wart Collage

South Dakota's #1 blog for everything ugly and stupid

by Pissant Power 







Friday, September 6, 2013

Fool me once, shame on you. You ain't going to get another chance.

When the U.S. government geared up to invade Iraq,  there was some resistance.  There were some people who asked questions about the evidence of weapons of mass destruction,  the report of the U.N. team that looked for them but found none, and what the actual intelligence agencies of our country and our allies had for information.  The lack of evidence was compelling, but the nation had been whipped into the mood for war, and the voices that asked for the evidence were shouted down.  And so, we sent soldiers to their deaths, maimed and crippled many others, and spent billions and billions on a war that was contrived.

We are facing a very similar situation.  News reports and intelligence assessments indicate that people in Syria were killed and made ill from the use of gas, sarin.  It is known and has been for some time that Syria possesses chemical and biological weapons, and has purchased the means of delivery from Russia and Iran.  President Obama has taken up the vow of the western world to never let a holocaust, the killing of civilians, particularly with chemical and biological means, to happen again without holding the perpetrators to account.  

But this time those folks who were so rabid about invading Iraq and plastered decals on their cars in support of that war are inveighing against Obama for wanting to take action against Syria.  For many of the opponents, it is not a matter of responding to an atrocity that is clearly a holocaust-style war crime but a matter of venting hatred against Obama.  The Obama derangement syndrome overrules any concern about the mass killing of the innocent.  

However, for some the reluctance to strike Syria is the result of the lesson learned from Iraq.  People have been made wary about the claims made in support of war by their government.   The 6,000 dead and tens of thousand troops maimed in Iraq are evidence of what deadly foolery a war based upon false information can be.  And so, many of those in opposition to Obama's plan are so because of Iraq.

People do deserve to have any information calling them to war detailed and verified.  One of the leaders against the mounting of war in Iraq was former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who  was among those pointing to the falseness of information and the assessments of Iraq by people who actually were acquainted with the situation on the ground in Iraq at the time.  But when a populace is whipped into a war-mongering frenzy, truthful information is sacrificed to the lust for blood.  

Dennis Kucinich now offers a list of  things that have not been verified about the justifications for a war strike against Syria.  They are worth your attention in making any decision about supporting a planned strike.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Assad regime: They're war criminals. Our main job is to make sure the rest of the world knows that.

The most comprehensive and pertinent suggestion about what to do concerning the use of poisonous gas in Syria is made by Thomas Friedman. He says Obama is taking the wrong tack.  I agree.  As with many people, I have found no option for action that does not embroil the nation in another costly, life-killing situation over we can have little control.  Friedman's idea answers the objections.

He acknowledges that Syria "is a wickedly complex problem."  But, he states:

...only America can spearhead a credible response: Russia and China have rendered the United Nations Security Council meaningless; Europe is a military museum; the Arab League is worthless; all others are spectators. We are out front — alone. We may not want to be, but here we are. So we must lead.  
 His plan:



We need to use every diplomatic tool we have to shame Assad, his wife, Asma, his murderous brother Maher and every member of his cabinet or military whom we can identify as being involved in this gas attack. We need to bring their names before the United Nations Security Council for condemnation. We need to haul them before the International Criminal Court. We need to make them famous. We need to metaphorically put their pictures up in every post office in the world as people wanted for crimes against humanity.
  The full explanation of his idea is at The New York Times.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Where are the Labor Days of yesteryear?

Living in a virtual world has estranged our civilization from some sources of strength and power that have sustained humankind throughout its history.  Acknowledging and celebrating the changing seasons have been essential to understanding the pace and the rhythms of life in making human adjustments and adaptations to the natural universe.  Physical and psychological survival have been geared to accommodating the seasons.

We celebrate Christmas a few days after the winter solstice.  The birthday of Christ, a new hope for humankind, comes when the sun is ascending after its shortest day on earth to carry the human spirit forward to a season of renewal and growth.  As Biblical scholars point out, Christ was actually born during the month of March.  But when early missionaries went into the cold lands of Europe, they found the people there devoting much human endeavor to pagan rituals.  The rituals of the winter solstice, that darkest season of the year, included the use of evergreens and candles to signify the expectations of a coming season of renewal of life and light.  Those shrewd missionaries made the story of Christ's birth part of the ceremony of changing seasons and gave it relevance and power by allying it with the pagan celebrations.  

Similarly, Easter comes shortly after the spring solstice and the celebration of earth's fertility.  Thus, Easter eggs and the crucifix are allied in the understanding of the power of that story.

The rhythms of agriculture are critical to life in America, even though so few people now gear their work lives to actual involvement in the growing and harvesting of crops and raising livestock.  But the urban world cannot escape the change of seasons, even though we have virtual contrivances that push the natural world into the deep recesses of human consciousness.  

We celebrate Memorial Day, which coincides with the time that crop seeds are in the ground and emerging to grow in the summer sun.  It is not insignificant that we acknowledge the dead buried in the earth at the same time we observe the sources of life coming forth to sustain us.  The plants are a metaphor for how the legacies of those who have died sustain us.

We have Labor Day at a time when there is a lull in the agricultural cycle between the intense planting and harvesting of summer crops and the final harvesting of maize and the preparations for winter.  Of course, Labor Day is meant to acknowledge those who toil off the farm in pursuits not necessarily geared to the cycles of the natural world.  However, in South Dakota, people say that we have two seasons:  winter and road construction.  The lives of those who build and maintain roads are much geared to the seasons.

In my life, Labor Day was a tremendously powerful and significant marker in the pace of life.  Not that many years ago, it was unthinkable to start the school year before Labor Day.  There was an agricultural imperative in that custom to permit farm children to be available to their families during the busiest time of the year.  For college students who worked summer jobs, Memorial Day and Labor Day marked the period of time when they made the money that made it possible for them to attend college.  When I was a youth, colleges generally began their year in mid-September, which gave students the chance to make the transition from summer employment, which ended on Labor Day, and prepare for the season of study.  

When I first came to South Dakota and schools were beginning to start in August, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to require that schools not start until after Labor Day so that students would not be forced to leave their jobs before the summer tourist season ended.  There is something poignantly sad about summer ending before Labor Day, and this year it was particularly noticeable.  Aberdeen has a beautiful city-owned water park which gives a gorgeous aspect of summer as people, mostly children, splash and frolic on the slides and in the pool.  But shortly after mid-August, it goes dead because the children have to go back to school and the lifeguards are no longer available because they also have to return to their classes.  In late August and on Labor Day, the water park sits empty of water and life, like a monument to something dead. At a time when people like to relish the last benefits of sun and warmth of summer, a shroud covers that place of light and color and fun.  

The water park on Labor Day
When I was an undergraduate,  Labor Day was celebrated with an intensity.  In those times, celebrating college students got a bit too intense at times and went a bit wild before returning to classrooms for the academic grind.  I lived in a community in which five major manufacturers of farm equipment had factories.  Many college students had summer jobs in those plants between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Labor Day was celebrated because the drudgery and fatigue from the summer job was at an end and study, consorting with the opposite sex on campus, and all the activities of campus life was about to begin.

My most memorable Labor Day came one summer when I worked in the traffic department of a plant that made and shipped harvester-threshers throughout the world.  I was prepared to go off with my friends on Labor Day who worked in summer resorts and would be ending their jobs.  A man who worked as an attendant at a gate where trucks came and went became ill, and the plant officials were having a very hard time finding  a replacement.  Most people had plans for Labor Day.  I did, too, but because my summer job dealt with the loading of equipment on rail cars and trucks, I was acquainted with the job of checking trucks in and out at the gate.  My boss said they really needed someone to work the night shift over the Labor Day weekend, there wouldn't be that much work, and because I had already put in a full work week, the night incremental and the double-time pay would be substantial.  I consented, and in one weekend made enough money to pay for tuition and books for one semester.

Other Labor Days were spent with my friends who worked in resorts and tourist facilities in the lake country.  While they were winding down their jobs, we went to spend what time we could with them to enjoy as much summer as we could.  One place was a resort town that featured a dance pavilion that extended out into a lake.  Some of my friends played in a jazz band featured there.  A custom had evolved in which musicians gathered on the Labor Day weekend at resorts for the summer bands to play their last gig and to organize for their club and  concert dates for the next nine months.  Many of the members of those summer bands were music teachers and students who would return to their schools.  For jazz lovers, Labor Day weekend promised some special and memorable musical performances.  

Jazz was the favored musical form in those years, and it was common for college students to drive caravans 500 or 600 miles to hear a favored band or performer, such as Dave Brubeck, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Kenton, County Basie, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, and a host of others.  Those Labor Day weekend performances marked the shifting of college students from laborers to scholars, both identities we were proud to claim.  The music, the attitudes, and the spirit kept cadence and connection with the natural world.

As we now organize human life with electronic devices which are marketing tools designed to change our patterns of life to serve corporate ends, we live in virtual, not natural worlds.  Many people seem to have no sense of the cycles in which the natural universe operates.  That may well be why so many find it convenient and credible to deny science.  It interferes with the electronically induced and controlled universe.  

Many do not miss those markers in the natural cycle of things because they have not known them.  What is never experienced is never lost.  And empty water parks on the glorious last days of summer are facts of their lives. 

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