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

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

On the efficacy of riots

During the most intense part of the civil rights era, a friend of mine became known as a devoted follower of the 
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through his work in peaceful protests.  I became acquainted with him when we were on the same train during our induction into military service, although we never served in the same units.  When we were released from active duty, we frequently ran across each other and  chatted about our service experiences.  Mine involved integration matters, and my friend, an African American, was interested in how the process went where I served in Germany.  As the civil rights movement intensified, my friend emerged as a leader and we often crossed paths at events promoting equality and justice. When I was teaching at a college in our community, he was often on the campus working with students.

At the time, there was much violence as protestors moved from civil rights protests to Viet Nam War protests.  President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for election because of the turmoil taking place in the streets, some of it outside the fences that surround the White House.  College students were restless and volatile, and disruptions on campuses were frequent.  My friend worked closely with college staff and student leaders to keep the protests non-violent.  

One spring day after a meeting with faculty and students about some resistance programs, my friend and I went to the union for some iced tea.  He was troubled, and brought up  a problem that had bothered him.  He studied the history of nonviolence in making social changes in the U.S., and he found a contradiction.  He said he noted that most of the major political changes came after periods of violent turmoil.  He'd noticed that nonviolent demonstrations were largely dismissed in the public mind unless there was some violence taking place somewhere to show what peaceable demonstrations were trying to avoid.   He said he had a dedicated belief in nonviolence and was committed to solving problems peaceably, but had doubts that his advocacy for peace was presenting the truth.  He noted that when the groups he worked with had productive negotiations with some official agency, they always occurred when there was violence in the news.   Citizens tended to ignore protests unless they posed some danger.

My friend said he and advocates for nonviolence talked about advancing the causes of freedom, equality, and justice through peaceful means while taking credit for what is achieved by people using more forceful methods.  His doubts began when he visited an ex-Army buddy in Los Angeles who experienced the riots in Watts over police brutality and the general discrimination against African Americans. His army friend told him the destruction to the city seemed devastating but produced the first serious attempts to address the concerns of the residents of the inner city.  No one paid attention until the city was threatened with destruction.  Nobody took the grievances seriously until people started burning things down.  

In our time, there is evidence which supports that observation.  After the massive demonstrations by the Occupy movements and the women's pink hat and anti-Trump marches, nothing seems to have resulted.  In the Dakotas, the pipeline protests have resulted in lawsuits and state officials and legislatures cobbling together laws against riots that clearly infringe upon free speech.  If there is one thing the corporate establishment and its lackeys fear, it is a citizenry in revolt.  So they create laws designed to keep the constituents in a submissive and ineffectual state.  In so doing, they make a convincing case to the public that if you want to be effectively heard, you have to put on one hell of a riot.

One law passed in South Dakota this year protects and promotes the interests of pipeline companies, SB-190.  The law clearly declares that it conceives the  purpose of the state to serve corporations rather than its citizens.  The law is entitled "An Act to promote pipeline construction and fiscal responsibility by establishing a fund, to authorize a special fee for extraordinary expenses, to make a continuous appropriation therefor, and to declare an emergency."    It does raise some question about whether it reconciles with the State Constitution:

§ 3.   Laws for benefit of corporation as conditioned on compliance with Constitutional provision. The Legislature shall not remit the forfeiture of the charter of any corporation now existing nor alter or amend the same nor pass any other general or special law for the benefit of such corporation, except upon the condition that such corporation shall thereafter hold its charter subject to the provisions of this Constitution.
The state has never let laws or any code of integrity interfere with its suppliance to corporations.

To discourage any resistance to its obsequious sucking of corporations, the GOP regime has passed SB-189, which addresses riot boosting.  It provides criminal charges for anyone who:
(1)    Participates in any riot and directs, advises, encourages, or solicits any other person participating in the riot to acts of force or violence;   
(2)    Does not personally participate in any riot but directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence;
We do live in an age in which a large segment of the population can't grasp irony.  A law which tries to intimidate people from making any vigorous statement of their grievances is a sign to many that government is so corrupt that any submission to its dictates is a collaboration with evil. The rioters in Watts thought that the destruction of their community was better than living with the evil in it, and the destruction was necessary to rid it of the evil.  Rather than live in obedience to a malignant authority, it was better to start over from scratch, if necessary.  For those whose lands were criminally taken from them and are now threatened with leaking pipelines, the collaboration with corruption is guaranteed destruction.  Why not burn down the infestation so that future generations can launch their own quest for freedom, equality, and justice?  Those laws passed for the pipeline companies were declarations of oppression, and statements of what their collaborators fear most.  The irony is that the laws make clear their malign intention in that the only registration of grievances permitted is what the authorities so blithely ignore.  

I am not advocating riots.  However, I cannot but note that the laws tell would be rioters that they have nothing to lose but oppression and the further degradation of their lands.

Remember Wounded Knee II.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The First Amendment needs to be better taught

It seems simple:  Congress shall make no law " abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."  Through the incorporation doctrine triggered by the Fourteenth Amendment, the obligation to observe the rights conferred to people by the Bill of Rights are extended to state and local governments.  The major misunderstanding of free speech is that people think it is protected no matter where they are or what they say.  And its application of the amendment to the press is terribly misunderstood.

Some people contend that slander and libel laws and laws against making false reports to the police violate the Constitution because they punish free speech.  Again the Fourteenth Amendment with its "equal protection under the law" clause comes into play.  That clause gives government the obligation to protect people from harm, and libel can do devastating and unfair harm.  The categories of speech which can be regulated  include "obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, fighting words, and speech integral to criminal conduct."  The reasoning is that those categories "are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth.”  In other words, those kinds of speech have no value which contributes to freedom.  Rather, they can jeopardize a person's freedom.

Lies are covered by the term fraud in the delineation of what is not protected by the First Amendment.  In court, telling a lie is punished as perjury.  So, while purposeful speech is protected as free, there are measures to protect the integrity of speech.  People are free to speak as critically as they wish, but are restrained from vandalizing other people or the language itself.  Such restraints are necessary to prevent society from falling into to total dysfunction.

The rule of free speech protects the right of people to speak out but also the right not to be compelled to speak.  You cannot be made to say something you don't wish to. Again the Fourteenth Amendment affects this.  If you are witness to an action that harms another person, you can be subpoenaed to come to court and testify.  If you refuse, you can be jailed for contempt of court. It's a matter of giving everyone equal protection under the law.

Freedom of the press has an aspect that confounds many people.  Any medium has the right to be selective in what it chooses to print or broadcast.  That right also has limitations accorded by libel laws and the prohibition of fraud.  Although the freedom of the press gives the right of some media, such as Fox News, to dabble in proscribed practices, it also gives media the freedom to strive for excellence.  Some media does that.  Such media is selective.  It fact checks what it publishes.  It is selective about the caliber of material it uses. It insists upon literate, reasoned, fact-based writing.  And that causes many to complain.

When the Internet made it possible for readers and viewers to comment on articles, the responses flooded in.  At first, the media was not prepared to monitor the responses.  Whatever was submitted was printed and the media was inundated.  But  a Pew research study showed the media that the responses had a very negative effect.  Readers tend to perceive a medium according to the lowest and worst items it publishes.  At a time when a loss of subscribers and advertisers was forcing a retrenchment in the media, many simply ending, it was losing its most discerning audience.  Newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post started monitoring the comments although they were financially limited in how thoroughly they could do it.  They applied computer algorithms so they could weed out the most flagrant violators of thought and grammar, but they do not have the resources to edit comments to standards of informed literacy.  To maintain standards, however, the most deficient comments have to be eliminated and bad grammar and spelling makes the entire publication look bad.  With letters to the editor, staff will work with intelligent contributors to bring the level of thought, expression, punctuation, and grammar up to the level required in the medium's style book.  But no media has the money for the extra staff to accomplish that, so comments hang out there by themselves like a piece of toilet paper stuck on a shoe.  The media hopes that illiterate and incoherent comments that slip by will not dissuade readers and viewers who expect intelligence and literacy.

Maintaining high levels of reporting and writing is as much a right of a free press as expressing criticism or publishing material that some might find offensive.   It is a right that extends to bloggers.  They have the right to set and maintain standards for comments on their blogs.  Those whose comments are rejected for malice, stupidity, and illiteracy will whine about elitism, but being reasonably educated, capable of rational thought and literate expression is a goal of our democracy, not a matter of being elite.  The First Amendment protects the right to exercise intelligence as well as the right to join the idiot chorus with sound and fury,  And it gives the media and bloggers the right to reject the sound and fury.  Some fine blogs would improve if they rejected the comments by trolls.

That raises the question of some people being rejected as speakers on college campuses.  When some speakers have been rejected, they whine that their freedom of speech has been infringed.  But some Constitutional scholars have pointed out that the freedom to say what you want has a concomitant right of freedom to listen to what you want.  And that right is particularly strong when you determine that what you refuse to listen to has "no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and [is] of such slight social value as a step to truth.”  Thus, college students have the right to reject certain speakers as part of their exercise of freedom of speech.

The First Amendment gets complicated by equal protection under the law.  It needs to be better explained so that people fully understand their rights and the rights of others.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

You might not realize you are starving to death

When I was in the army, many of the cadre who trained us were World War II and Korean War veterans.  Part of the training was to instill in us the U.S. Military Code of Conduct, which had been instituted a fews years earlier under the Eisenhower administration.  It has a section devoted to how to behave if you are taken a prisoner of war.  It instructs:  Article III - If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

The sergeant who covered that article for us had been taken prisoner by the Germans.  He and some fellow soldiers escaped from the prison camp and made their way across the Alps to neutral territory.  Their escape took some elaborate preparation.  The GI prisoners were underfed and under-clothed and in a weak and vulnerable condition so that escape was not much of a consideration.  The Germans were confident that the GIs were not in any shape to execute a successful escape.  That confidence was used against them.

The GI prisoners were assigned to do the menial tasks for the prison, such as peeling potatoes.  They were supposed to take the peelings and other waste to feed a herd of pigs that was maintained to feed the German personnel.  But all of the potato peelings did not make it to the hogs.  The GIs developed a system for diverting the peelings to two  other places.  One was to a fermentation vat where some GIs were engaged in making a crude vodka.  However, that enterprise was a diversion in case the Germans discovered some missing potato peelings and had a lockdown search of the prison camp.  The other place was a nightly enterprise of turning food waste and any other ingredients which the POWs could smuggle away into a stew rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Potato peelings were the main ingredient because they were the most abundant source of nutrients.

The taste of the stuff was not a consideration.  The health of the POWs was the objective.  Their diets appeared to the German guards to keep them weak and unlikely to revolt or take on strenuous tasks, so the GIs played the role of listless and demoralized prisoners, while almost every night making a concoction that kept their bodies nourished for action.  If the Germans pulled a surprise inspection, all evidence of the stew could be disposed of quickly, leaving the vodka-making apparatus as the only evidence of a surreptitious enterprise.  The Germans would confiscate the vodka for themselves, but regarded its making as an enterprise that would further weaken the POWs and divert their energies from revolt or escape.  The Germans were kept unaware that the GIs were fortifying themselves with a nutrient-laden broth and a physical conditioning routine almost every night.

I do not remember any details of the escape. I do recall that the escapees traversed some mountains in the winter, but the point of the presentation was to stay in shape as much as possible so that one could create and take advantage of opportunities to escape.  I cannot forget the part about the nutritious value of potato peelings.  When I cook potatoes, I try to leave the peelings on.  But that probably has more to do with laziness than nutrition.  Nevertheless, potato peelings are a constant reminder to me of survival in perilous times.

We have reached a point in human history where many of our brains are not receiving the essential nutrients to function.  They are getting too weak to generate logical thought.  Like people whose diet is largely junk food so that they can't digest  proteins, many peoples' brains cannot digest facts.

The fact is that the means to deliver information on a mass scale is so constricted that it does not handle essential facts well.  The human brain is getting unaccustomed to direct exposure to hard facts.

For a number of years now, the news media has pared down its editorial staffs and its coverage of events.  The Internet has had a huge effect on the distribution of information and goods.  Aberdeen, for example,  has lost department stores--Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Herberger's--and other retail outlets--Osco, Ben Franklin's, Walgreens--and Shopko announced it will close in May.  The mall is half empty.  The news media has experienced a concomitant decline because of the loss of advertising revenues from retailers.  The local newspaper recently announced a serious reduction in staff.

In addition, the media has changed the way it delivers information.  Cable news finds it cheaper to fill its broadcast time with panelists who sit around and give their opinions about politicians and events rather than send experienced and competent reporters out to determine what the facts are.  And as people turn to the Internet to get news, they tend to select sites which conform to their prejudices.  Even when facts get presented with some clarity and verification, they get so mauled over by commenters on the Internet that the facts get lost in the contentious noise.  The facts get displaced by exchanges of ignorance and animus.  The internet exchanges feed stupidity.

People who realize the deficiencies of the information they are receiving become like those GI prisoners of war scrounging for nutrients to survive.  A constant message going out from the White House is that the legacy media is the enemy of the people and produces fake news.  Those who have some understanding of how real journalism works, however, rely on the legacy media to get at the true facts.  Real journalism has the job of finding and verifying actual facts, not merely passing on jabber that may or may not have any relevance to real life.  If you watch cable news or browse the Internet, there is a good chance that you won't encounter a single fact.  And when you do come across one, a swarm around you will be screaming that it's fake. 

The human brain can't function properly on a diet of opinion.  It needs the facts of the reality in which it operates to successfully deal with that reality.  And it needs the facts to analyze the coherence of the opinions it encounters.  It also needs some skill in assessing which opinions are valid and which are ignorant reaction.  Providing brains with facts and the ability to reason with the facts is the underlying objective of all education.

Many of the attacks on public education are coming from the right wing that seeks to keep students ignorant and gullible.  Right wingdings have sought positions on school boards and state legislatures so that they can tamper with education and make it a brain-washing process to create ignorant and unthinking constituents.  The Washington Post has the slogan .  The objective of many in the Republican Party is to darken public school classrooms so that democracy may die.

There is no better example of the GOP undermining education than the 2019 South Dakota Legislature.  Fortunately, it has kept the wingdingbats in check.  Somewhat. Nevertheless, the dingbats have introduced legislation that tries to overrule practices and policies put in place by the professional educators.  South Dakota Republicans have an obsession with transgender kids.  This is despite the fact that only "about 0.7 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds living in the United States identify as transgender."  Most schools make provisions for these kids to use restrooms and locker rooms according to the physical plants they have to work.  Their main concern is to provide clean and safe places for kids to go to the restroom and practice hygiene, not whether some kid might catch a glimpse of another kid's genitalia.  

The Governor is promoting a bill to require the passing of a citizenship test to graduate from high school, despite the fact that the state content standards for social studies are constructed around the development of civics and citizenship.   The Legislature is diddling around with a bill that requires each school to display the motto "In God We Trust" prominently somewhere on on the premises.  It looks very likely to be put into law.  

Perhaps the most anti-education proposal was voted down, but it proposed that the mandatory attendance age for students be lowered from 18 to 16.  The legislator who sponsored the bill is a retired high school English teacher.  Proponents of the bill said current law puts too much of a burden on schools to manage kids who don’t want to attend class. The sponsor, says the state is doing an injustice to its schools, parents, taxpayers and students.  These legislators would rather see uneducated 16-year-olds roaming around aimlessly with  no futures rather than be kept in school to improve their opportunities.  This failed bill raises serious questions about what kind of effect this former teacher had on students.  It is an example of the attacks on education within the GOP.  The goal of these attacks is to create an ignorant and inert constituency that does not question the demeaned status with which it is regarded by the right wing.

If there is one thing the South Dakota GOP hates it is that the educators might be quietly and competently doing their jobs.  The efforts to tamper with and pervert education are  a constant obsession in the GOP mentality with the goal to turn schools into indoctrination centers.  The success of those efforts is illustrated in the kind of people who are elected to office in South Dakota.   The Speaker of the House, in response to a bill for Spanish language drivers'  license tests actually said, "The idea that we’re going to dilute our population with a second culture and encourage that second culture it doesn’t advance our state at all."  He is the same man who banned a lobbyist from the House floor because she noted that a signifiant portion of the state legislators were "wackies."

While one can point to the anti-democratic absurdity of the man, one must address the people who elected him to office.  The ignorance and crude malice of the electorate is the issue, and the subversion of education and the media has contributed to the prevalence of that ignorance and the environment of malevolence that pervades much of the state..  The wackies in the state legislature are creating a stupid constituency designed to keep them and their kind in charge.  

Our young people of intelligence and talent seem to have subscribed to a civilian code of conduct requiring them to escape the state at first opportunity.  South Dakota officials have long been perturbed that it loses its brightest students at high school graduation because they tend to choose colleges out of state.  But they then lose those good students from the state's colleges when they look to advance their careers in other states.  The reasons for this are many, but a driving factor is the attitude expressed by the Speaker of the House about protecting the purity of the state culture.  To the educated, that purity means stupid and mean, and they want to move away from it.

We citizens are prisoners of a culture war.  Those who preside over us issue a mental diet designed to keep us weak, flaccid, and indolent.  Like those POWs who scrounged potato peelings while watching for their opportunity to escape, we have to be on the look out in our education system and our media for the hard facts that can lead us out of the morass of lies and deceit in which we are forced to operate.  We need to face the facts of global warming, lying presidents, a moronic state legislature, and especially our collaborating friends and neighbors who help those who wish to keep us ignorant and inert.  

Remember the potato peelings.  They may keep the democracy alive so that it might work again.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

If you wonder how Nazis and the Holocaust happened, the American Reich is putting on a demonstration

Hitler had the Jews.  Trump has the Latinos.  Both men were supported by people who joined them in their racist manias to oppress and commit atrocities against a specific ethnic group.  Ultimately, their supporters and enablers are the ones to hold responsible.

The tendency for Americans who still value the principles that our democracy once professed is to regard Donald Trump as anomaly, an accident.  They assume that when he is no longer president, the daily news reports of malice, mendacity, stupidity, and incompetence will diminish and no longer dominate the country's attention.  They ignore the fact that the people who put Trump in power and have endorsed his fraudulent and iniquitous conduct will still be with us.  Trump is a symptom of a change and a deterioration of democratic values, not the cause.  The voters who put Trump in office and endorse him have gotten what they want and have reshaped the country.  The United States is experiencing the kind of moral and intellectual transformation that Germany did in the 1930s.  

I have written before about being a soldier in Germany shortly after the occupation.  We were coached in the attitude that the Nazis took over the country and the good people fell under their rule.  We were instructed to treat all the German people with respect and sympathy as survivors of an evil regime.  We were discouraged from asking questions about what the people thought of Hitler and what they did during the Nazi reign.   We had our doubts and our curiosity, but at the time our questions were unanswered.

A woman who read one of my blog posts on the subject responded.  She came from a military family, and her father had served in the Air Force in Germany.  She graduated from a military high school in Germany, and recalled that during exchange programs with students from German schools, the question of participation during the Nazi era came up.  She went to a U.S. college that required a thesis paper for the baccalaureate degree, and she did hers on how the German civilians reacted to the Nazi regime.  Her conclusion was that while many people were opposed to it, a majority of the people wanted the Nazi state and were in full agreement and participation with it.  This was demonstrated by their participation in the pogrom against the Jews.  The people who resisted and tried to help Jewish people were routinely betrayed by their friends and neighbors.  

Around the turn of the century, a number of books and films emerged which explored how the German people were the perpetrators of the Third Reich, not the hapless victims of it.  The younger generations of Germans have insisted on examining this aspect of their history and confronting the facts.  

The parallels of what the Germans did to the Jews and what Americans are doing to Latinos and other immigrants are striking.  A woman in Montana near the Canadian border ran into a friend in a convenience store.  She and her friend are Latina American citizens, but they were chatting to each other in Spanish and were overheard by a Custom and Border Protection agent, who detained them and asked for identification papers.  He said that speaking Spanish in that neck of the woods made them suspicious.  The women have received threatening and nasty messages, but also expressions of support.  The incident is illustrative of how some Americans have adopted the moral code of the Third Reich and how the political divisions in America are defined.

We now understand that Hitler had many collaborators in Germany and in the countries he invaded that desired the Holocaust and all the persecution of minorities that were part of it.

Trump's war against Latino immigrants parallels the early stages of the Nazi pogrom against the Jews.  Although the purported objective of the Trump wall and the suppression of immigrants is to keep the criminal and terrorist elements out of the United States, many of the people who come to the southern border are refugees looking to escape violence and oppression and to find some opportunity to make a life.  It is Trump's pretext for the persecution and confinement in concentration camps of immigrants.  His administration came up with a policy of separating migrant children from their parents.  Some 7,000 kids were shuttled into custody and provided some kind of foster care.  1,475 of the kids were lost.  

Trump has a lot of help and approval in the Nazification of America.  One of his most effective henchmen is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  McConnell has been the most perfidious but effective destroyer of democratic comity to operate in a long time.  During the presidency of Barack Obama, he famously announced, "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

Then this master of obstruction refused to submit legislation to end the government shutdown until he got a signal of approval from Trump.  Then when Trump issued his phony crisis emergency declaration, McConnell said it was caused by Democrat obstruction: "President Trump’s decision to announce emergency action is the predictable and understandable consequence of Democrats’ decision to put partisan obstruction ahead of the national interest." 

McConnell flaunts hypocrisy as a badge of power.  He is a dedicated enabler of Trump's destructive presidency because he understands that the chaos created sustains his own power, which he never exercises for the national good, but only for the purpose of retaining power.  

Lurking deep in McConnell is the racial history of McConnell's home state.  Kentucky has a double history regarding racism.  In some regions, it has made strides toward equality, but in others it has a record of vicious racist acts.  McConnell aligns himself with those latter regions, as his treatment of President Obama indicates.  McConnell is in fact the antithesis of democratic equality. He is a perpetrator of the neo-Nazism that has taken hold in America.  He has sold the Senate out to Trump and protects those programs of discrimination and oppression that Trump is waging against Latinos and other minorities.

Just as Hitler put Jews into concentration camps and  separated them from their children, Trump is doing the same to Latino migrants and some, such as the two women in Montana, who are, in fact, citizens.  It's the same playbook administered with the help of Americans who want to deny the rights of democracy to groups that they hate.

If you want to understand how the Holocaust happened, just look around you and see what is happening right now in America.  

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Remembering a poseur who got away with it, I think

On an academic website, a professor whom I attended graduate school with mentioned the death of another graduate student we both knew.  His reference to her was somewhat guarded and ambiguous, and it raised some lingering questions I had about her.  The vast majority of people I've come across in the academic world are conscientious.  One can disagree with them on issues, but cannot accuse them of faking.  Only a very rare few elicit that suspicion, and that's because the pretenders usually get caught quickly and eliminated from the profession.

The woman attended a number of the same classes I did, which included some intense, difficult seminars.  One such seminar was at the house of a highly acclaimed scholar.  It began at suppertime and included a buffet prepared by the man's wife and ended when we finished with the agenda for that week's session, often around midnight.  I  gave my fellow student  rides home after the class.  I am not sure I could call her a friend, but we were very familiar classmates and knew each other well.  

One of the things that bothered me and others about her was that she constantly disparaged her professors.  She did not make note of their strengths and find flaws;  she totally disparaged them as scholars and human beings.  Her deprecation extended to the wife of the professor who provided the hospitality at the professor's  home.  Most of the woman's fellow students wondered why she attended graduate school if she found it so inferior.  

She had another ploy at which some of the women students were particularly miffed.  She was very good at  remembering certain phrases or statements that some of the more astute students would make in class.  She would repeat those statements as her own in other classes even if the comment was not relevant to the class discussion at the time.  She sounded intelligent and original.  Some of her classmates who shared classes with her recognized that some of her comments were, in fact, things they had said in other classes.  They had expressed their resentment to me a few times, and wondered if the professors saw through her.  I had noticed after a time that when she gave presentations in seminars, she seemed to string together what seemed like sharp insights, but with no coherent pattern.

I remember when she did that in a class I was in with her.  She said something that I could not connect with what was being covered in the class.   I was walking out of the class with the man on whose website I learned of the woman's death.  He said to me, "What was she talking about?"  I said that I couldn't figure it out either.  He said, "Can anybody?"  

Nevetheless, the woman graduated with her Ph.D. and landed a job at a Michigan school of some repute, where she worked for more than 20 years, and then moved to a Big Ten University, where she was until she died rather suddenly of cancer.   The mention of her death sent me looking for her obituary.  While she was a doctoral student, she lived with a partner with whom she had taught before they pursued their doctorate degrees together.  I got to know him rather well, and we were friends.  It was he who asked me if I would give his partner rides home from the evening seminar at the professor's house.  I looked for an obituary to see if he and she had formed a permanent relationship.

I could not find a formal obituary.  I found a laudatory tribute to the woman that was referenced on the web site where I learned of her death.  But it did not include the usual information about what family members or close associates survived or about any services in remembrance.  The obituary quoted the praise of graduate students, but contained no factual information or comments by colleagues.  As I searched, I found a rating sheet with comments by students that I would characterize as diffident.  She seemed to inspire the same dubious attitude during her working life that I witnessed during her time in graduate school.  She insinuated herself into good positions, but had a tenuous grasp on them.  

The absence of any acknowledgement by colleagues was striking.  She had been listed as the co-author of books and articles that had gained some recognition, but none of her collaborators or her departmental colleagues commented on her passing.  That fact emphasized the casualness of the reference to her death by my former classmate on his website which dealt with scholarly news.  And so, I conducted a brief look at the woman's scholarship, and found that she had allied herself with a peculiar speciality of literature within the post modern movement.  And all of her published work was done in collaboration with someone else.

The so-called post modern movement was a disaster for the field of literature.  In its name, some cogent and critical questions were raised, but many people were attracted to it because it seemed to offer the prestige and kind of complicated knowledge as quantum physics.  It produced some of the most abstruse, unintelligible academic writing ever to be published.  Many young English professors adopted the attitude that they were engaged in a theory of the universe that only a rare few had the intellectual capacity to understand.  This pretentious pose was offensive to other academic disciplines and create a backlash which contended that the movement was fraudulent.  The movement occurred at a time when universities were dealing with what should be a required curriculum and budgets were shrinking.  The study of English and other literatures lost out to science and technology as departments grappled for their share of required courses.  In many universities,  the study of English was largely reduced to the teaching of spelling, punctuation, and grammar--basic literacy--and many courses in literature were abandoned.  An ivy league university president remarked after a faculty presentation defending some English courses that no one had the vaguest idea of what the young English professors were talking about.  They put on a demonstration of their own irrelevance, he said.

As I reviewed some of the work with which the late woman professor's name was associated,  I read some sentences so clogged with academic jargon that they were impossible to paraphrase.  The former chair of a large university English department put it bluntly in regard to that kind of writing:  "No one can read that shit," he said.  I recalled what classmates had noted about the woman back in graduate school:  she used intelligent-sounding words, but no one knew what she actually said.

When the professor noted her death on his website post, he seemed to merely be expressing that she was gone.  She, and a few people like her that I've encountered (one was a journalist) are troubling.  They insinuate themselves into the work of other people and end up ruining it.  I cannot but wonder if that is reason my ex-classmate remarked upon her passing.  It occurred to me that the reason she inveighed so constantly against her graduate professors was because they were addressing her incoherence.  Her denigrations were an adverse experience for those of us who witnessed them. She's gone now.  May she rest in peace.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Don't put on a red hat, Mama.

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, writes a column for the Aberdeen American News.  He writes one in defense of the MAGA hat.  He correctly identifies the fury directed at the Covington High School boys who taunted Nathan Phillips as a reaction to their wearing of MAGA hats.  That is true.  Although many people focused on what appeared to be an insolent leer on the face of one of the boys, the real objection was to the fact that his schoolmates around him who taunted and derided the Native American drummer were nearly all clad in red or white Trump MAGA hats.

Lowry remarks that to many people, progressives mainly, the MAGA hats brand the wearers as racist bigots and goons.  He says, that is an "uncharitable view of their fellow citizens, who voted by the tens of millions for the guy who invented the red cap."

Lowry betrays  some inane adulation in his words.  Printing a the campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" on a hat is hardly an act of invention.  It is an inherent implication that America was somehow diminished because its previous president was black.  Trump has  accrued a long list of documented slights and insults against  people of color.  

One recent article says the wearing of a MAGA hat is a declaration of identity.  That is partially true, but it doesn't fully explain that the wearing of the hat is an endorsement of Donald Trump.  It declares that the wearer supports what Donald Trump says and does.  And what Trump does is deny the freedom, equality, and justice that are the goals of our
democracy.  But he also refutes the standards of decency that define an honest and just society.  He defrauds, defames, and lies incessantly.  His business resume reads like a criminal record.  He is possessed by malice.  Wearing one of his hats is a declaration of approval and support of all the insidious schemes that make up the Trump biography.  The hat is a declaration that its wearer is a disciple of Trump, and therefore an enemy of decency.

The Covington school boys ostensibly came to Washington, D.C., to participate in an anti-abortion march.  Why were so many wearing MAGA hats?  Why not clothing that identified their school?  Why this apparently coordinated effort display political support for Trump?  What exactly was the purpose of all those MAGA hats?  

When the Nazi flag is displayed, it tells us that the person who displayed it is for the things we fought against in the Second World War.  It is an endorsement of Hitler.  Therefore, it is an endorsement of the Holocaust, of genocide, white supremacy, dictatorship, and all the evil that attends those things.  It seems preposterous that they might have been individual choices.

Wearing a MAGA hat sends the same kind of message as the display of the Nazi flag.  That message is that the wearer is declaring that he/she believes in the words and deeds of Trump and will act accordingly.   A San Francisco chef has banned MAGA hat wearers from his restaurant for those reasons:  " if you come to my restaurant wearing a MAGA cap, you aren’t getting served, same as if you come in wearing a swastika, white hood, or any other symbol of intolerance and hate.  MAGA hats are like white hoods except stupider because you can see exactly who is wearing them.”

In America, we do not ban the display of the Nazi flag as a bit of political speech.  Some countries, such as France, do.  In the USA, banning it would conflict with the First Amendment.  There are those who think that freedom of speech lends an endorsement to anything they might believe or say.  They have difficulty in understanding that people also have the right to make intellectual and moral judgements on the basis of what others say and do.  And they have the right not to be bothered with speech that violates standards of truthfulness and intelligence.  That's why college students have the right to ban the deranged and corrupted from using their campus forums to spread malice.  They have the right to insist that participants in their forums meet standards of integrity and competence.

When those very young men from Covington donned hats that convey messages of malicious bigotry as part of their demonstration, people have every right to question why they were sending such a message.  Their appearance and behavior was disturbingly redolent of Nazi youth groups.  No one has as yet answered the question of why they were there demonstrating as they did.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The South Dakota Legislature: idiot(s) full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

          In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash

The Displaced Plainsman points out another one of the absurdly pointless exercises of the South Dakota legislature with the introduction of Senate Bill 55.  It requires that all public schools display the motto "In God We Trust" where it can be inescapably seen: "The display shall be located in a prominent location within each public school. The display may take the form of a mounted plaque, student artwork, or any other appropriate form as determined by the school principal."

This is the legislature that so inspired a high school student who went to Pierre on a civics class trip and wrote this account on The Dakota Free Press:

"My 9th grade civics teacher is the reason I became passionate about politics. His class made me so fascinated with how our government worked. Then, we took a trip to Pierre to see the legislature in action. I was so excited and ultimately, so disappointed. Half the members were not there. The half that remained were sleeping at their desk or reading the paper. Not one member even acknowledged our presence. A wide-eyed, idealistic 15 year old got a real education about politics that day."
This is the legislature that proposes Senate Bill 52, which requires a half credit of civics as a high school graduation requirement.   The bill's authors did not bother to check on the fact that civics receives a heavy emphasis in the state's Social Studies Content Standards, or how civics and citizenship has content throughout the curricula.

SB 55 authors did not bother to review actual curricula to see where and how the application of civics is applied in other courses.  Below are the Aberdeen high school curriculum requirements, which show courses in the Social Studies requirement, in addition to the .5 credit in U.S. Government which would obviously contain content in Civics.

Four units of Language Arts:
  1. 1.5 units of Writing
  2. 1.5 units of
    Literature; must include .5 unit of American Literature
  3. .5 unit of Speech or Debate
  4. .5 unit of other Language Arts
Three units of Mathematics:
  1. 1.0 unit of Algebra I
  2. 1.0 unit of Algebra
  3. 1.0 unit of
Three units of Lab Science:
  1. 1.0 unit of Biology
  2. 1.0 unit of any
    physical science
  3. 1.0 unit of
    Chemistry* or Physics*
Three and one-half (3.5) units of Social Studies:
  1. 1.0 unit of U.S. History
  2. .5 unit of U.S. Government
  3. .5 unit of World History
  4. .5 unit of Geography
  5. .5 unit of Personal
    Finance or
  6. .5 unit elective
One unit of the following in any combination:
  1. approved Career and Technical Education (CTE)
  2. Capstone Experience
  3. World Language
1.0 unit of Fine Arts
1.0 unit of Laboratory Computer Studies
1.0 unit of Physical Education** 1.0 unit of Health
6.5 units of elective credits

This is the legislature whose House Speaker banned a lobbyist for the South Dakota Municipal League and the state's chiefs of police, Yvonne Taylor, because in her organization's publication she noted, as did the high school student on the field trip, that the South Dakota legislature contained a number of dolts who demonstrated a lack of mental capacity. She called them "wackies," which is a very mild term for the level of meanness and stupidity that  is constantly put on a display when democracy does not work.  Here is Ms. Taylor's explanation, courtesy of the Dakota Free Press, of how the legislature sinks far below the level of competence and integrity expected of a "normal" such body:

“Normal” doesn’t mean we always agree – but The Normals are usually willing to look at issues one by one, listen to facts, and make rational decisions. Wackies, on the other hand, have come in opposed to government in general and all forms of taxation; seem to firmly believe the state and local governments are ripping them off; and often have their own particular nit to pick on some other topic. They think facts they don’t like are lies and they blanket vote based on a preconceived mindset, not on the issue at hand [Yvonne Taylor, “Director’s Notes,” South Dakota Municipalities, May 2018, p. 4].

The House Speaker said he banned Ms. Taylor because she made the legislature look like a bunch of buffoons.  It is well documented by many people who observe the legislature and by the kind of legislation with which they are obsessed, such as SB 55, that they are not merely acting like buffoons.  They try to emulate their hero Donald Trump in reveling like warped juveniles in their  diminished intellectual and moral capacity.  In unabashed defiance of the separation of church and state, they try to cover their depravity by forcing the schools to display a theistic motto that they deny by their their own doltish behavior.

As for the display of mottos and their effect on kids, it was demonstrated by my son when he was in elementary school. His school had an annual program on Veterans Day to which all parents and grandparents who were veterans were invited to be recognized.  The kids were rehearsing a song for the occasion. and my son was going around singing, "I love the USA, cause that's where the toilets are made."  We wondered where he picked up those lyrics.  Then at the Veterans Day program, I ducked into the boys restroom to use the urinal, and in very large blue lettering across the back of it was "Made in the USA."   My son made the association.

If "In God We Trust" is to be given prominent display, it could receive no more notice than emblazened on the restroom plumbing. Let the kids make their own associations,

The South Dakota legislature is dominated by the very people conservative icon Barry Goldwater thought could destroy the country.  Victorian British author Thomas Carlyle explored the possible successes and failures of democracy.  When he examined the potential for failure, he seemed to have examples like the South Dakota legislature in mind.  His remarks were prescient:

  • If Jesus Christ were to come today, people would not even crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, and hear what he had to say, and make fun of it.  

  • Democracy will prevail when men believe the vote of Judas as good as that of Jesus Christ. 

  • Democracy is, by the nature of it, a self-canceling business: and gives in the long run a net result of zero. 

  • I  do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

 When it comes to whom the legislature emulates and passes resolutions to support, here is Carlyle's observation:
  • Show me the man you honor, and I will know what kind of man you are.

That revelation says much about the voters of South Dakota and who they "honor" with the offices of governance.  Various agencies are attempting to attract businesses and workers to South Dakota and to stop the out migration of talent, but the people chosen to hold office in South Dakota reflect the kind of people who live here.  Who wants the Trumps of the world as their constituency?  

Our schools are staffed for the most part by people devoted to the building of intellect and character.  For years, school boards have been infiltrated by interests who want schools to create a workforce of groveling servants.  South Dakota has earned a reputation for corrupt government, low wages, underfunded education, and little opportunity.  Students whose talents and character have developed leave in the realization that they are not what the dominant mentality in South Dakota respects or wants.

"In God We Trust" is the motto on our currency.  If the legislature truly was concerned about the souls in their state, it would provide the schools with adequate amounts of the currency that bears the motto they so cherish.

There a some intelligent and discerning people in the legislature.  Their names are not on SB 55.  They do not prevail, but they are reminders that all of humanity need not be wackies.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States