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Northern Valley Beacon

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

Thursday, March 23, 2023

What can people in Aberdeen do to get some news?

 The most noticeable symptom that something was wrong was that the newspaper featured a front page photo of Governor Ditz (aka Noem) almost everyday.  That seemed  to be a distraction for the fact that the paper contained no local reporting whatever.

The Aberdeen American News has been wheezing along on life support for a couple of years now.  About all that's left to do is close the lid on the casket and bury the remains somewhere.

It announced its ill health in the spring of 2020 when it shut down its press and printed the paper in Sioux Falls, where it said it would be adding production staff, and moved ts editorial operation out of its building on Second St.  into office space on Main Street.  Twenty-one employees got booted in the old wazoo with that move.

Then in November 2021, the Gannett folks, who own the paper, announced that it was closing down the press in Sioux Falls and printing the paper in Des Moines, Iowa.  It said that the rinktums* of 24 people were the boot targets in that move.

There seems to be no one in Aberdeen working on the paper, but someone in Des Moines or environs is filling the news hole with canned copy and getting Kristi Ditz's petulant pucker on the front page every day to signal who is in charge of life in the great state of South Dakota, land of the Oahe stock dam.

When I came to teach at Northern State College, I was faculty advisor to the student publications.  I found that Aberdeen was monitored by a substantial news crew.  It had the Aberdeen American News, reporters and video photographers working out of two television stations, KABY and KELO, and news departments in three radio stations.  And once a week or so, an Associated Press correspondent dropped by to see what was going on in town. Those sources have all vanished.

But there are news people, mostly from the defunct newspaper, trying to keep up some semblance of community journalism.  A local communications entrepreneur, Troy McQuillen, who publishes Aberdeen Magazine, has started an online news publication,  The Aberdeen Insider, which has announced plans to publish a weekly print version in April.  Former Aberdeen American News employees Elisa Sand and Scott Waltman are heading up the news reporting operation.  The Insider openly states that it operates behind a pay wall because bills need to be paid.

The Insider does not plan comprehensive coverage of sports, but directs attention to the online SD Sports Scene run by another former Aberdeen American News staffer Dave Vilhauer.  It contains some great photojournalism by retired American  News photographer John Davis.

All one can do, at the least, is patronize and support these efforts to keep local reporting flowing.  These folks are all we have right now to keep some version of the fourth estate alive for Aberdeen.  There are blogs which make some effort at tracking news, but they are sporadic and often a bit notional about what comprises useful news.  There are other online enterprises that cover news on the state level, such as South Dakota News Watch, South Dakota Search Lightand The South Dakota Standard. However, the Aberdeen American News is a prime example of what happens when hedge funds take over the news business.  We owe a debt of gratitude to those who survived this destruction of journalism and are at work to keep us informed.

*Rinktum: as in "rectum." "I'll skin your rinktum" (William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury, p. 70).

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Fired NSU president appointed president of Minnesota State U. Moorhead

Here is the news release from Moorhead: 

Timothy Downs Named President of Minnesota State University Moorhead

The Board of Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities has named Timothy Downs to serve as president of Minnesota State University Moorhead. His appointment becomes effective July 1, 2023.

“Dr. Downs brings considerable expertise and keen insights into the changing nature of higher education,” said Devinder Malhotra, chancellor of Minnesota State. “He is a great communicator and a person who is strongly committed to being an ardent supporter of students and the innate missions of a regional comprehensive university anchored in liberal arts and sciences. Without a doubt, he is the right leader at this point in the university’s history.”

Downs is a leader known for facilitating transformational change and positioning campuses to meet current and future demands and needs. In past roles he has dedicated himself to student success and sustaining a campus culture that facilitates a spirit of belonging. Bringing enrollment management skills and strong financial acumen, he is an accomplished fundraiser who has successfully cultivated a shared vision with stakeholders and investors.

He currently serves Cal Poly Humboldt as interim chief of staff where he is responsible for coordinating efforts among all divisions within the university.

Previously, from 2016 to 2021, he served as president/CEO of Northern State University (NSU), a member of the South Dakota Board of Regents System with enrollment of 3,500 students and 330 employees. 

Under his leadership, NSU revised its campus strategic plan, including a refinement of its mission and vision, and revised its recruitment and enrollment plan to stabilize undergraduate enrollments, increase graduate enrollments, and increase student retention.

He worked to sustain respectful and supportive learning communities to serve all members of campus with respect and dignity.

He designed and led a capital campaign that raised over $62 million, raised additional endowed scholarship funds totaling $5 million, and, in total, received over $110 million in gifts to the university during his five-year tenure at NSU.

He facilitated efforts that yielded 20 new academic programs and partnerships, including a graduate program expected to become a national benchmark in special education.

His efforts have helped to confirm NSU as a regional economic and workforce development partner and build exceptional relationships with the community.

Previous engagements include serving as provost and chief academic officer at Niagara University (NY) from 2011 to 2016, and Gannon University (PA) from 2002 to 2011.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Sacramento, a master’s from West Virginia University, and a doctorate from the University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Downs will succeed Anne Blackhurst who has served MSUM as president since 2014 and has announced her intention to retire.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

A deathwatch for a community

If you notice that the community you live in is unraveling, it can be dangerous to mention it.  Communities seldom actually die, but they do fail.  Community leaders tend to take explosive umbrage if someone notes that their community is showing signs of failure.  They will rail that the person stating such notice is a negative a--hole, and they will launch into an inventory of all that is alive and thriving in the community and why that negative person is mentally deficient for claiming otherwise.  I live, rather I dwell, in a community that is diminishing in aspects of community life.  Rather than face the facts regarding the faltering community, many who regard themselves as leaders go into a raging denial.

The latest crisis for Aberdeen, South Dakota, is the announcement of the closing of Presentation College at the end of summer.  The closing of an educational institution is a significant loss to a community, a  reduction of its status in the world.  The closing of Presentation College has implications that have not been fully confronted in terms of the resources it once provided or the options it offered. Finances and enrollment are the usual reasons a college has for closing.  However, the place that an educational institution has in the lives of its staff, of its students, its sponsors, and the community is part of their development, their identities, their very lives.

Small colleges such as Presentation which do not operate with a substantial endowment have a formidable disadvantage.   The annual tuition and expenses at Presentation is cited as $22,006.  Across town at the public Northern State University, it is advertised at $8,845.  Northern has the further advantage of more than 50 academic programs, a full range of extra-curricular activities, and supplies financial aid to more than 80 percent of its students.  It also has a much longer history of being part of the Aberdeen community.  Northern was founded in 1901, and Presentation 50 years later in 1951.  However, that indicates a half a century's tenure as part of the community for Presentation, and raises questions about the decision to end that relationship.

The questions raised are not about the college's assessments of its financial and enrollment outlook, but how those assessments reflect on the community's ability to support and sustain an institution that has contributed much to its intellectual, educational, and public services environment.  The loss of Presentation College is a severe setback.  It significantly diminishes the community.   And it comes at a time when Northern State shows faltering in enrollment numbers.  In terms of full-time equivalent enrollments, Northern has the lowest of the state's public colleges.  The reasons given for the closing of Presentation are "a high dependency on gifts and tuition revenue, a remote location that’s hard for out-of-state students to reach, and the pandemic."  As a public institution, Northern is part of the state's regental system and has the resources of the system to help out when enrollments decline and tuition income drops.  But it is also affected by potential declines in enrollment and a remote location that affected Presentation.  So, college officials at Northern and the state have to be alert to any circumstances that might disrupt its operation in ways experienced at Presentation.  Northern had a sudden dismissal of its president in 2021 that was never explained to the community, nor addressed by the faculty.  That dismissal makes many of its constituency wonder if the institution has lapsed into the status that once earned a censure by the American Association of University Professors.  The closing of Presentation alarms community members who know and understand the crucial tasks of keeping higher education functioning and reputable as it might affect Northern.

Aberdeen has experienced many severe reductions in employment by companies throughout the years.  In the mid-1980s, it lost 750 jobs when Control Data closed a plant and more recently hundreds of jobs when Molded Fiber Glass shut down its operations.  Aberdeen has an extensive history of employers abandoning the town. 

It has also lost its status of being a regional shopping center with the closure of such retail operations as Shopko, Kmart, and Herberger's.

The closing of a college is a different dimension in which a community can falter.  Residents are right to wonder what will be next.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

South Dakota Democrats are becoming extinct

 South Dakota has become a one-party state.  Democrats are an endangered species.  The big question is why.  The answer has to do with brain power.  Bright young people who tend toward liberal principles of life do not find them in South Dakota.  If they advocate for more humane and intelligent values and diverse lifestyles, they are told that if they don't like it here, they should move.   So, they do.  And that leaves the residue of racism, intellectual incompetence, and regressive society that characterizes places that resist the principles of democracy.  

South Dakota as a state reminds me of what happened to Cairo, Illinois, as a town.  Cairo strangled itself to death by an insistent racism and intolerant attitude, going from a population of 15,200 to a current population of about 1,600.  It became the kind of place that people of talent and good will wanted to avoid, and so they moved.   And the rest of the state distanced itself from the town as if it were the source of some contagious pestilence.

The abandonment of a place like Cairo involves a process that seems to eliminate any opportunity for the place to recover and rebuild.  The deconstruction removes the social foundations upon which a community is formed.  Abandoned towns like Cairo are tombstones for failed communities.  I have vicariously witnessed the deaths of many small towns, as students wrote about them and the causes of their deaths.  Malevolent bigotry and willful stupidity are the main causes.

I  had a student who so loathed her hometown that she refused to return to it for the holidays.  Rather than go home, she spent her holidays in her dorm room or with friends. Her parents implored her classmates and professors to encourage her to visit her family and friends at home, but she vowed to never return.  She had witnessed the mistreatment of a classmate on a racist basis and conducted a one-person boycott of the town.  Her avoidance of the place became a trend among young people in the town, and eventually the only functioning establishment on Main Street was a senior center,  where the elderly gathered and complained about the lack of civic pride among the younger people.  Young people left to go to college or to find jobs and never returned.  Those few who remained seemed unable to figure out why people left.  Eventually, the town became geriatric in population, and its main street business area withered away.

When I was more politically active, it was my job to maintain a list of active party members and donors.  The list began to dwindle through a steady attrition.  As people were taken off the list because they moved or died, there was nobody to replace them.  As the party attempted to generate interest and attract new members, it became apparent that people were losing interest in participating in group activities.  The party held an annual picnic that once formed lines of attendees that numbered in the hundreds.  It dwindled to the point where the only attendees were the people who volunteered to bring the food.  Its monthly meeting which once packed the courthouse basement shrunk in attendance to the point that it could be held around a dining table. 

We noted the loss of interest in participating in party activities, but we did not know why.  Other civic and cultural groups complained of the same problem.  Something had changed in the social dynamic, and this was long before Covid.  In Aberdeen the American Legion, Elks and Eagles lodges operated facilities where big public events could be held. Their memberships declined to the point where they had to abandon the large facilities.  There has been a change in the desire to gather together to pursue common interests.

What changed was the angry, divisive attitude that some people adopted.  Political discussion had devolved into accusations and invective.  Even though my party knew that mean-mouthing drove people away and refrained from engaging in it, the negative effects from the other side set a tone for political dialogue that offended people of good will so that they avoided all political activity.  In monitoring membership lists, a demographic shift became apparent.  People of liberal tendencies were leaving the state or withdrawing from participation. Their interests and talents were drawing them elsewhere.  People of a regressive bent were moving in.  They found a comfort zone in the backward populations of the state.  In today's South Dakota, the election of a George McGovern or a Tom Daschle or a Tim Johnson would not be possible.  The mood of the state is a placid dullness and backwardness.  And discriminatory hatreds are evident.  A friend who left the state asked recently, "How can you stand to live there?"  The answer is that you keep believing that escape is possible and imminent. Change within the state seems impossible at this juncture.

At this writing, Republican have total control of state government.  The state house consists of 63 Republicans and 7 Democrats.  The senate has 31 Republicans and 4 Democrats.  And Republicans hold all the major state offices. That's how the state votes, and with those huge majorities, alternative ideas don't even get a hearing.  That reflects the dominant attitude in the state.

Democrats I am acquainted with expect their children to leave the state.  And they expect to eventually join them.   There is no talk among them about a future in the state.  Their talk of the future centers on other places.

Such talk gives a lot of insight into South Dakota's future.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

In case you didn't notice, American democracy has had some severe failures recently


On Valentine's Day, we were 45 days into the year 2023, and the U.S. had 67 mass shootings for the year.  America is unique for its mass shootings.  Despite its claims to be the peace-loving citadel of democracy, it killed 104 and wounded 269 so far this year in mass shootings.  Some quibblers will challenge that statement and insist that the country didn't kill them, some mass shooter did.  Those people cannot understand that the country is an accomplice to the crime.  Mass shootings have become a commonplace occurrence over four decades, and the country has been unwilling and unable to do anything about them.  And in 2021,  a total of 48,000 Americans were killed by firearms,

Easy access to guns, especially assault weapons, is a major contributor to this pestilence that asserts its rule over America.  The gun lobby has been successful in promoting an interpretation of Second Amendment that makes any attempt to control the presence and use of fire arms unconstitutional. That interpretation of the Second Amendment holds sway despite the fact that the right to bear arms is stated as conditional upon "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..." 

For the gun lobby and its adherents, a conditional sentence is beyond their comprehension.  Therefore, conditional terms like "well regulated," "militia," and "security of a free state" are excised from any interpretation of the Second Amendment.  Any interpretation which embraces those conditions is interpreted as an infringement on the right to strut around with firearms ready to blast the ass off of anyone who seems threatening to you.  And the more people carrying firearms, the more threatening the country becomes.

A newspaper editorial responded to the school shootings with the comment that we need to love our children as much as we love our guns.  The gun nuts responded indignantly that they have guns because they love their kids and are armed to protect them, and that people say things like that to force gun control on them.  We've sure seen how well their owning guns for their kids sake has worked out.  

I am a gun owner, but have not as yet had to carry firearms around as I accompanied my children and grandchildren on their activities.  Nor have I stood guard over them at night in case the monster crept out from underneath their beds.  I am also an old soldier who on occasion slept with a carbine, but also understood why no one was considered off duty and went to bed in the billets or went out on pass until the battery armor reported that all firearms and bayonets were cleaned, turned in, and locked up.

And, when we have to teach our children to run. hide, and fight if a shooter shows up, we hardly live in a secure or free state.

 There are others ways that the stupid have found to inflict their vengeance on the intelligent.

As of the first of this month, 1,136,042 people in the U.S. died from covid.  The original White House Response Coordinator and other scientists say 30 to 40 percent of those deaths could have been prevented.

When Covid-19 began its spread throughout the land, quarantine and lock-down measures and the wearing of masks were ordered to reduced the spread of the disease.  Many people adhered to the rules;  many did not.  Those who followed the rules, as disruptive and inconvenient as they were, understood they were the only way to control the spread of the disease until medications and vaccines could be developed to combat it.  Others whined and raged that their freedom was being infringed and they weren't going to take it.  So they exercised their freedom to spread the pathogens and  endanger the health and lives of their fellow humans.  The hopelessly stupid are one of the biggest threats to life in America.

Friday, February 10, 2023

The state of the nation may be strong, but it has malignant tumors

At the 2009 State of the Union speech,  Rep. Joe Wilson yelled "You lie!" at President Obama, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution of disapproval against him.  Last year, Rep. Lauren Boebert and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene set loose streams of heckles.  There were objections, but nothing happened to them.  This year, the deranged juvenile function was womaned by Rep. Greene, who fired a volley of "liar"s at the president.  She was supported by other members of her party.  A New York Times columnist described it this way:  "...members of the G.O.P. majority tossed aside rules of decorum and turned the annual speech into a showcase for partisan hostility."

Rep. Greene, I(diot)-Co.
Greene seems to have received some of the attention she so insanely craves, but no official response has been made by her House of Representative colleagues.  She was previously stripped of committee assignments for advocating false conspiracy theories and the infliction of violence on the Democratic leadership.  Congress does have the Constitutional right make  rules of conduct and discipline its members:  "Each House [of Congress] may determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member." (Art. I, Sec. 5)

While we may be concerned that a person of Greene's malicious personality is involved in making the laws for our country, we should not ignore a more ominous threat that her presence in Congress poses for the country.  What kind of people elect and support people such as Greene and Boebert and Trump to represent them and direct the course of our country?  The people do have the right to obtain legislation that puts an end to the democracy or imposes restrictions on our liberty, equality, and justice.  Do we really want people of their values and lack of basic decency to determine the way we live?  Do they represent the country's current aspirations?

We may take some satisfaction that the country is strong and has survived some assaults on its democratic principles, but its health is in jeopardy.  Greene and Boebert and others like them are malignant tumors on the body politic.  Forty-seven percent of the voters in 2020 voted for Donald Tump, who represents the values that Greene and Boebert put on display.  He is on record for lying to the people 30,573 times while he held the presidency.  He entered the office despite being caught bribing a mistress to keep quiet about  his affair with her while married.  His claim to being a successful businessman is tarnished by his record of stiffing people who did business with him.  And his acts of petty malice were reported daily during his term of office.  By electing him to be president, America resigned its claim to be the shining light on the hill. It was reduced to being a dark human refuse pit with a few flickering match lights of people searching for a way out.

The State of the Union speech is the form that presidents have used since 1913 to meet this Constitutional requirement:       
The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” (Art. II, Section 3, Clause 1.)

The  annual speech became customary with the development of radio, and the people could be informed of the president's appraisal and plans for the nation at the same time as the Congress. Members of Congress demonstrate their approval and disapproval of the president's assessments and agenda, but until Rep. Wilson started the erosion of decorum at the affair, it was done with respect and restraint.  Members did not shout personal insult and abuse at the president.  That has changed.  Personal nastiness has become a feature that is so normalized that disorderly behavior receives no reprimand.  And when the State of the Union speech is punctuated with anger and malice, it indicates the actual state of the union.

Speaker McCarthy tried to restrain Greene with facial gestures and soft shushes from the podium, but he was ignored by her.  So, we see how malignancy gets established and spreads.  And although Joe Biden appraises the nation as strong and in his optimism chooses to ignore the ugly growths on the body politic.  

President Biden found the nation strong, but Rep. Greene showed that it is infected by a malady that could eventually weaken it and prevail.  She showed how the shining city on the hill is sliding toward the swamp. That's what a lot of people voted for.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Waffles and chicken and malevolent ignorance

An insensitive insult?

A school in Nyack, New York apologized for serving waffles and chicken and watermelon on the first day of Black History Month.    Some people thought doing so "reinforced negative African-American stereotypes."  A middle-school child called attention to the meal, saying the waffles and chicken might have been served without much notice, but watermelon served in middle of winter stood out.

The school missed an opportunity for a significant teaching moment.  It assumed that the menu of chicken and waffles was a mockery, not an attempt to acknowledge the purpose of Black. History Month: "the month that honors the triumphs and struggles of African Americans throughout U.S. history."

Apparently, attempts of white people to replicate soul food are resented, rather than acknowledged as a tribute.

But this isn't the first time Aramark [the company that operates the school food service] found itself in hot water. Back in 2018, another racially insensitive meal was served at New York University during Black History Month. It included barbecued ribs, collard greens, cornbread, Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water. When called out, the company apologized and workers were fired.

African-Americans created a huge amount of American culture.  Their contributions are particularly notable and evident in music, sports, and cuisine.  Our popular music including jazz and rock and roll has direct derivations from slave  work songs and spirituals. Many, perhaps most, of our sports heroes are black. And much of what we term American food has origins in the black experience.

African-American culture grew out of "the depravity, emotional abuse, torment and murder that drove and sustained American chattel slavery."  It devised ways for people to survive and support  themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Food played vital role in the development of a survivalist culture.  Many plantation owners provided slaves with inadequate food.  To get the nutrients that could support them, slaves developed strategies that could make unsavory ingredients palatable.  Slave women who cooked for their masters found ways to obtain and cook things that expanded the diet and tasted good, too.  They would catch and cook animals such as opossums, and some thought it was a treat.  After slavery ended, a black woman wrote  dialect poem to celebrate the 'possum.

What’s mo’ temptin’ to de palate,
When you’s wuked so hard all day,
En cum in home at ebentime
Widout a wud to say,–
En see a stewin’ in de stove
A possum crisp en brown,
Wid great big sweet potaters,
A layin’ all aroun’

Watermelon is regarded as a stereotypical craving among blacks, but it is much more than that: 

 Watermelon became a staple crop for black farmers after emancipation, with many growing and selling the fruit which slowly turned into a symbol of freedom for the community. 

Southern whites, threatened with new agricultural competitors and still reeling from the loss of the war, responded by associating the fruit with racists tropes aimed at the black community.   

Racists have promoted the image of black people taking simple minded pleasure in eating watermelon.  But while they are taking pleasure in the taste of the fruit, they are also thinking of the part it played in gaining freedom and self-sufficiency.   People in general like to celebrate with foods that are associated with the better moments of their lives.  Sharing food is an act of sharing life, and foods that have contributed to peoples freedom and aspirations convey a festive element.

One such food for people of Scandinavian descent is lutfisk [Swedish spelling].  My mother hosted the Christmas Eve smorgasbord for our families relatives, and lutfisk was a necessary part of it.  Lutfisk means lye fish.  To get through the harsh winters, Scandinavians dried fish to preserve it for use over the cold season.  When it came time to eat the fish, it would be soaked in a lye bath, which would reconstitute the fish.  Then it would be soaked in clear water to get the lye, then cooked.  

Lutfisk is the object of jokes among Scandinavians. It is not exactly a delicacy; some people detest it.  But it is a traditional food with which people survived and thrived in a harsh climate, and it was served at Christmas as a reminder of a  sustenance that made their life and their culture possible.   Soul food carries that kind of significance for African-Americans. It is the product of their ingenuity and persistence in surviving and gaining their status as a free people.  Why is serving soul food on an occasion to memorialize the liberation of blacks regarded as insensitivity or an offense?  Why would anyone choose to see as a racist taunt?

Perhaps, some regard it as cultural appropriation, which is an anti-democratic concept. No one owns a culture.  But the fact that someone is castigated for serving a food as part of a recognition and celebration of a people's freedom is very hard to comprehend. It seems that some people regard food as a weapon in a culture war, not as something that can be shared as a basis for life.

I have no idea what the food servers at Nyack Middle School and New York University had in mind when they put soul food on their menus for Black History Month, but I doubt that it was a food fight or a mocking insult.  They might be the ones owed an apology.


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States