South Dakota Top Blogs

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

Friday, December 2, 2022

On Hating Joe Biden

While browsing through the social media, I noted some intensely hateful remarks against Joe Biden.  People may disagree with him, but he is affable man who does not inspire vicious hatred among rational and civilized people.  But some of the remarks were of the kind of malicious intensity that drove an idiot to break into Nancy Pelosi's house and attack her 82-year-old husband with a hammer.  That comment, however, is unfair to idiots, because they are not generally driven by such degenerate violence. Nevertheless, such violence is to be expected in a country that cherishes and protects the Second Amendment so that 47,000 gun-owners can shoot down fellow Americans each year.

Our country's motto printed on currency, "In God we trust," should be revised to a more accurate "You can't fix stupid."

Some people will respond to my observations by citing the fact that a lot of people detest Donald Trump.  He is a prodigious liar.  He openly demeans and abuses people.  Before he entered politics, he established a reputation for stiffing contractors and other businesses and engaging in shady business practices.  There is a huge matter of well-documented bad character behind the dislike of Trump.  He is a moral and intellectual malignancy. In fact, to admire Trump is to call one's own character into question.  He embodies the malice that Lincoln worked to remove from our social and political transactions.

Unbridled hatefulness has changed the complexion of our politics.  The attitudes some Americans have toward their diverse fellow Americans is lethal. It is a cancer that spreads and threatens us all.  I used to be somewhat proud of having served my country in the military to help preserve freedom and the right to maintain diverse ideas and culture.  Now, when I think of that service,  I can only hum to myself the song "What a Fool Am I."

Friday, November 4, 2022

Where did all the patrol boys go?

I went to grade school at Garfield in Moline, Illinois, and for the sixth grade my family moved.   I transferred to Lincoln and automatically became a patrol boy.  Patrol boys served as crossing guards at the street intersections around the school.

At that time, kids went home for lunch, except those few who brought their lunch in a brown bag because no one was at home during the day to make lunch for them.   The elementary schools did not have food service facilities back then.  So kids made the trek to school and back twice a day.  The patrol boys' job was to see that the kids safely crossed the streets at designated crossings.  The patrol boys had to be on duty before school and when school let out to oversee the crossings.  They wore white canvas Sam Browne belts to designate their authority and responsibility.   There were so 

many crossings around Lincoln that it took all the boys in the sixth grade class to cover them.   I was elected lieutenant of the patrol, which may sound like an honor, but really wasn't.

There were two officers for the patrol, captain and lieutenant.   The captain was in charge of the morning shift and the lieutenant the afternoon.   Being in charge meant that you had to check the crossings before students started arriving to be sure each crossing had a guard.  If a guard didn't show up, you filled in for him.  If more than one guard was absent, you had to report it to the principal's office so that substitutes could be arranged.   Thus, the officers had to be the first students to come to school and, often, the last to leave.  No kids really wanted to be an officer.   It was considered a sucker's job.

Eventually, the crossing guard role was taken over by adults who are paid.  But back then, there were no organized activities for elementary students that interfered with crossing guard schedules.  And kids didn't resist or complain much about being crossing guards because every sixth-grade boy did it.

Likewise, there wasn't much problem with getting kids to follow the patrol boys' directions because they were taught it was all a matter of safety, and standing in line a bit and following directions was just something you did to make it through the day so that you could do what you wanted.  If some kid reacted with that no-one-tells-me-what-to-do attitude, he would be reported and his parents would be asked to make arrangements for him to get to and from school so that he wouldn't interfere with other children's safety.  Discipline had a totally different aspect then, because the elementary schools were neighborhood institutions.  School was a integral part of daily life in the neighborhood, and was not separated from the relationships and interactions that comprised neighborhood society.  If a kid acted like an asshole in school, he would be known as an asshole throughout the neighborhood.  School consolidation changed the social role played by the elementary school.

Girls were not at that time involved in the patrols, although I recall that one of the grade schools in town did not have enough boys to fill the roster and included girls.  My female classmates were content, however, to expend their time and energy on other pursuits.  They did not have any patrol boy envy.

By the time my children came along, patrol boys had gone extinct.  Those lines of children straggling along the sidewalks around the schools have largely been displaced by hordes of automobiles searching for places to drop off and pick up children.  

Folks generally accepted the custom that they would contribute to the tasks maintaining the safety and well-being of the community.  That attitude extended to the military draft when we were inducted into military service.  But I recall vividly when during a social occasion shortly after I was released from active duty in the Army, I asked a man if he had served and where.  He rather snottily replied that he knew what he wanted to do with his life and it didn't include floundering around in the military service.  It became a bit of a vogue of the time to regard those caught in the draft as feckless dupes who had no purpose in their lives.  We veterans learned to be very circumspect about talking about our military experience.  Among many people, it was not something to be proud of.  

Among a class of conservatives,  public service is regarded as designating an inferior servant class of people.  That class of people thinks the only use for terms such as equality, justice, and honor is to dupe the gullible into thinking they live in a democratic society.  Meanwhile, those conservatives set up a system of privilege and power to keep that servant class in its place.  In their authoritarian hierarchy of fools, even a bumbling moron like Donald Trump can rule.  A large segment within the GOP accepts the abrogation of democratic rule as a means to gain  and stay in power.  In their minds, the serving class doesn't count.  And that means the patrol boys and those who get conscripted into service, those whose service protects the ruling class.

The problems arise when the patrol boys and the enlistees realize they are protecting those who think the protectors don't count.  The protectors decline to protect those who discriminate against them, and democracy must deal with some harsh matters of inequality.  And the question is raised:  can democracy survive?  There are no patrol boys who have reason to protect it.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Reign of the Stupid

 A fact that gets lost in the angry rage of partisan politics is that Donald Trump is an astoundingly stupid man.  The press focuses on his malevolence and his lies, but tends to ignore that a person must be supremely stupid to do and say the things he does.  The most disturbing aspect of Trump's lack of probity and intelligence is that it appeals to at least 73 million voters.  The United States has abandoned its claim to be the world model for the decencies that comprise a functioning democracy.  While the  political parties wrangle over migrants trying to get into the United States, there is a group of the more astute who are seriously discussing that it has become a nation to consider leaving.  The press has run many articles recently about indications in America that democracy is trending toward failure.  

Maggie Haberman of The New York Times has covered Trump since he became a presidential candidate.   She just published a book on him:   Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breakings of America.  As the title indicates, her book sees the United  States as a severely wounded nation.  As with other books by reporters about Trump, it is filled with accounts of Trump saying and doing things that are stupidly foolish.

In an interview in The Guardian, Haberman was asked if there were any incidents in Trump's behavior that stood out or surprised her.  She said such an occasion  was at a news conference on Covid-19 in which disinfecting surfaces with laundry bleach to kill the virus was brought up,  Trump asked his pandemic advisor at the conference if anyone had thought of injecting bleach into patients to control the virus. Clearly stunned at the stupidity of the question, she muttered "not as a treatment."  That was a moment in which Trump revealed on camera to the world that he is mentally incompetent, and that in electing him president, America revealed that it is in a state of intellectual destitution.  

While some people are not quick-witted or in command of much knowledge, few people are inherently stupid.  They understand that a successful society is one based on sound thinking and relevant information and they a try to make their essential choices on that basis.  Stupidity is a matter of choice.  And that is the regrettable aspect.  Many Americans have chosen stupidity and its associated feeble-minded malice as the goals of their lives.  They see freedom as their right to live mean and hate-filled lives that permits them to castigate people for the color of their skins and possess a content of character teeming with malice.  They elected a president who could lead them in displays of  petty malevolence and pride in stupidity.  

Trump cannot be blamed for the demise of democracy, however.  His malice and incompetence fulfill the aspirations of about half of America.  For a time after World War II, the people in charge of things called that the era of America's greatest generation.  But whatever greatness the American people can claim is being smothered in the fog of conspiracy theories, a nice name for outright malicious lies, generated by people who take great pride in being deplorable.   

The most lethal enemy of America is not communism or totalitarianism, or any form of government that fosters  oppression and injustice.  It is the stupidity, a virulent mental disease which reduces those infected into a violent, rabid lunacy.  As the late comedian Ron White observed, you can't fix stupid.  It is a state in which communication and cognition are not possible.  Although the founders of America conceived of a public education system that might prevent utter stupidity, some people regard it as a human right to be protected.  Schools, in what minds they have left, are a threat to it.

On January 6, 2021, we saw the power of the stupid demonstrated.  Yesterday when Nancy Pelosi's 82-year-old husband had his skull fractured with a hammer by a devotee of  stupid, we were presented with an insight into what the stupid can do.

And if you resent hearing that America may be coming to an end, that's one of the symptoms.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

With malice toward all.

 It takes some massive deformities of mind and character to make a person as despicable as Alex Jones.  It is a serious mistake to attribute his malevolent dementia to a  matter of political choice.  There is a deeper, fundamental moral defect that drives him to do what he does.  As a nation, we mount extensive responses when the nation is physically threatened, as we are doing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  More than a million Americans have died from the disease and the fatalities are down to about 375 per day.  We haven't conquered the disease, but have adjusted to living with it, and progress is  being made in prevention and treatment.   We have still to confront the pathology that possesses people like Alex Jones.

We have laws that make the intentional spread of germs a crime:

SDCL 34-16-2Release of disease germs as felony. Any person who releases or spreads any disease germs intending thereby to accomplish the infection of one or more persons or domestic animals is guilty of a Class 2 felony.

We do not have laws regarding the spread of mental pathogens that make minds unsound.  And the intentional contagion of mental malignancies among the public is what Jones and his ilk do.

People like Alex Jones cite the First Amendment when what they say and do is challenged.  They insist that the right to free speech gives them the freedom to say anything they want.  There was once (and still is in some states) laws against criminal libel.  They largely have been suppressed because aspects of them seem in violation of the First Amendment.  Some legal scholars hold that the civil libel laws are sufficient to deal with destructive acts of libel, although that is demonstrably not true.  Among people like Jones, malicious libel flows like beer at a college fraternity kegger.  

When people tell malicious lies about people and events in our country, we have applied the misleading term "conspiracy theory" to what they are saying, putting them in the category of a superstition.  Denying that the Sandy Hook massacre of children and teachers did not happen, but was a stunt , is easy to refute from the testimony of those who experienced it.  The damage done by the deniers of the mass shooting is a crime as lethal as the shooting itself.  While Jones has been successfully sued for almost a billion dollars for the damage he has done to the lives of affected people, he still is free to spread malice and hatred.

The First Amendment permits freedom of speech, but people still are accountable for what they say.  Jones' spreading of lies should be seen as a crime, just as the intentional spreading of disease germs is.  And people who commit felonies have their freedom and rights suspended so that they cannot commit crimes on the public.  While juries have awarded a billion dollars to those affected by Jones' pathogens, those awards are more symbolic than real.  It is unlikely that anywhere near that amount of money will reach Jones' victims.  And Jones is still free to criminally assault innocent people with his verbal pathogens.

We live in a time when the country is bitterly divided.  Malice-inspired lies play a major role in that division.  Those lies are not  harmless.  They cripple and kill.  And we tolerate them as "conspiracy theories."  

A country that that can't tell the difference between inane babble and lethal crimes against humanity doesn't have much of a future.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

That gorgeous history of feudalism consumes us again

The United States are destined either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else prove the most tremendous failure of time.--Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas

The death and funeral arrangements of Queen Elizabeth II has dominated America's attention and news for the past weeks.    The United States have serious problems to confront, such as the overt criminality of Donald Trump and his deflation of the nation, but people are too absorbed in the British monarchy, whose rejection was the founding of our nation, to give much concern to the state of America.   Americans are generally not very savvy about what defines their republic, and raise the question, as Ben Franklin did, of whether we can keep it.

Americans are enamored of royalty.  Pomp and luxury define for many status and success.  Some prefer a monarch to an elected president, despite the fact that the British monarch wields little political power.   British royalty is a matter of feudal nostalgia, not functioning government.  Where democracy has taken root, homages to royalty are reminders of a rejected past.

Some members of my mother's family claimed to have royal blood.  My oldest brother and some cousins did a genealogy of the family and found it wasn't true.  When we asked my grandmother, who with her sisters emigrated to America from Sweden, about it, she said no: royalty was what they came to America to get away from. 

But the fascination with royalty lingers on in many who think it distinguishes them from the rest of the American hoi polloi.  This fondness for a higher status reveals a misunderstanding and sometimes an outright rejection of the concept of equality as the basis for our government and culture.   Many people, if not most, believe in social ranking as an organizing principle.  They believe in class stratification as an inherent force in society.  They accept class division and intensify it. They really don't like democracy.

No one understood the attraction and destructive effect of feudalism better than Mark Twain.  He portrays it in all its forms in his written works.  Slavery, he shows, is the extension of the feudal mentality.  And so is the mind and manner of Donald Trump.  His regime as president was a return to feudalism.

The point to understand is that it is what many Americans want.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The American lesion

  Prominent political observers have noted that the political divide in America could evolve into a civil war.  Anti-Trump Republicans, such as members of the Lincoln Project, have commented on the possibility in recent weeks.  The news media tends to treat the opposition to Donald Trump and his supporters as a matter of partisan politics, Democrats versus Republicans, liberals versus conservatives.  That is a grave mistake.

The contempt for Trump and his kind is far deeper and more fundamental than the political preferences that exist within a democracy.  America was founded on principles of equality, liberty, and justice.  Its history is one of a struggle to instill those qualities into the life of all its citizens.  There have been failures, but it has progressed through a civil war, world wars, and a civil rights movement to move the country toward those ideals.  The presidency of Donald Trump brought that movement to a halt and reversed the trend.  Trump represents the odious aspects of mind and character that America was designed not to be.   

Trump is a despicable person.  He is a prodigious liar.  He is petty and mean-minded.   He is vengeful. His history of bankruptcies and business failures show him to be incompetent.    We ask what there is about him that his supporters like, but it is more to the point to ask what kind of people admire  him.  The answer provides the reason some observers see the potential for a civil war.  And the answer identifies the lesion that festers and mars the American political  body.

Business executives do not make good public officials in a democracy.  A few try  to practice the concepts of a democracy in their business practices, but business corporations and democracies have opposing purposes.  Businesses are organized on hierarchical lines with ascending ranks of authority.  Executives measure their success according to how many people work under them, not how many people they serve.  Corporations are feudal in nature, and America's founders were committed to overturn feudalism on America's land.  Slave-holding plantations were an extension of the feudal system, and the Civil War was a battle between democracy and feudalism.  Walt Whitman stated the American agenda:

The United States are destined either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else prove the most tremendous failure of time.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency signaled a failure of democracy among the American people, a return to feudalism.  While commentators keep stating that he has put democracy itself in danger, the public seems to regard those warnings as the usual partisan rhetoric.  They fail to recognize that there is a significant segment of fellow citizens who define liberty as a right to discriminate against other people.  The Trump mentality from which these people draw their inspiration is not one embraces human rights and equality.  It stands in direct opposition to government for, by, and of the people. As noted in a recent Washington Post story, America is in a state of decline and the rest of the world has noticed.

And Trump and his followers are leading the way.  They are a lesion on democracy.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

When kids go to school and no teacher is there

The shortage of teachers has causes that are deeply engrained in our culture.   A Washington Post article outlines the many causes:

...pandemic-induced teacher exhaustion, low pay and some educators’ sense that politicians and parents — and sometimes their own school board members — have little respect for their profession amid an escalating educational culture war that has seen many districts and states pass policies and laws restricting what teachers can say about U.S. history, race, racism, gender and sexual orientation, as well as LGBTQ issues.

As we near the beginning of a new school year, there are news stories of districts scrambling to fill teaching vacancies.  At the beginning of the month, South Dakota still had 300 positions to fill.  A number of internet sources that track teacher staffing are reporting shortages with no prospect in sight for relieving them.  Schools of education are not producing enough graduates to fill the vacancies, so panicky measures with no regard for training and qualifications are being taken to get someone in the classrooms when the students arrive.  The Florida governor is trying to supplant the teachers with military veterans who have no training in education, in some cases very little education.  That act is evidence of how education is a negligible priority in the exercise of political power. 

South Dakota's shortage of teachers has gotten the attention of national media

South Dakota has long faced a teacher shortage due in part to low salaries and large class sizes, but a new factor seems to be worsening the problem: politicization of education, South Dakota News Watch reports.

The politicization of education actually has been taking place for a long time.  We are feeling the effects of it now.  Some years ago experienced teachers who were friends of mine were advising their children not to go into education for the reasons listed in the sentence above.  The Governor, whose college degree is questionable, has commissioned Hillsdale College, a bastion of conservative anti-intellectualism, to write a set of standards for teaching social studies, as if social studies teachers or the colleges from which they obtained their degrees or the schools they work in have never considered how effective teaching is done or been exposed to what the subject matter entails.   The Daily Beast details the political intrusions into education in South Dakota:

State officials are taking a more hands-on approach to education—recently, lawmakers have tried to regulate the treatment of transgender students, the state DOE removed references to Native American culture in social studies guidelines, and the governor banned critical race theory, even though it is not taught in public schools. Parental presence is also increasing, and some educators have faced criticism about their classroom decorations. The state’s secretary of education said there are programs to help recruit and retain teachers, but some education experts fear that the K-12 system may begin to unravel due to the heightened micromanagement of teachers

The news makes clear that the political interference is eliminating education and replacing it with indoctrination in our schools.   There is a national shortage of teachers, as people who would become teachers realize that they will not be allowed to educate in many schools.  Politicization is displacing education as the dominant principle in the management of our schools.  People who value true education cannot and will not teach under political dictatorships.  That unraveling of the education system that is so feared is well on its way.  Competent teachers will go to where they can teach, and that is not the South Dakota of Kristi Noem.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States