South Dakota Top Blogs

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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

How to close a university: hold a lottery

Talk of closing one of the state’s higher education institutions has been circulating through weblogs, and was featured on the front page of the Aberdeen American News. This story is a perennial favorite with the South Dakota news tedia, and is published as regularly as the one they run each spring telling us that the ticks are coming and we should tuck our pants legs into our socks. So far no universities, except for Springfield, have closed, and I have seen no one walking around on spring outings with pants tucked into their socks, except for some bloggers of the right-wing stripe who were also wearing their chastity belts on the outside of their jeans. They wore the keys to the belts around their necks on a lanyard which stipulated "For emergencies and secular humanists only."

A state legislator from Rapid City is planning to introduce a bill which would require the closing of one of the state’s campuses. Early this year an editor on the Argus Leader weblog called for the closing of Northern State University.

A group is circulating a ballot measure to make the wearing of chastity belts mandatory. You know, click it or ticket. The secular humanists have raised a clamor because it doesn't contain an exception for eunuchs.

Many factors are contributing to the urge to close down a college. One is the establishment of University Center in Sioux Falls. It is a place where the state colleges offer a range of courses to serve the people in the state's largest metro area. A lot of folks think it is a seventh university. Now some people in Rapid City also want a university center of that nature.

On top of that the Board of Regents want to spend a bunch of money for labs on each campus. That is a stickler of a problem because most people in South Dakota think a lab is either black or yellow and retrieves dead birds. Geesh, they say, first they want to spend money on laptops for each student and now they want to give them labs.

And then there is the South Dakota rule: you can't improve education by throwing money at it.

People in South Dakota are really for education if it doesn't cost anything. And if money came from somewhere to throw at education, it would ruin the state's distinctive ranking for teacher pay and per-pupil spending, but the legislature would have more occasion to rise on the floor of its chambers and say you can't improve education by throwing money at it, and don't judge another person until you have walked a mile in his/her chastity belt. What the legislature doesn't expend in money it makes up for in wisdom.

There is a simple way to solve the issue of closing a campus. Have a lottery. Like the one in that Shirley Jackson short story we all had to read in high school, "The Lottery." The campus presidents come before the Board of Regents and reach into a hat and draw out slip of paper. The campus of the president who draws out the slip with the black dot on it gets to be closed. The people will get to converge on that campus with their sledge hammers, chain saws, barn cleaners, Bobcats, end loaders, and bulldozers and assail everything on that campus until it is pulverized. With the exception of the political science departments. They will be moved to a reservation in the Badlands where they can work out how millions of years of evolution got packed into 6,000, how Al Gore made up all that stuff about global warming, and how to conduct a liberal eradication program in a way so that no one will call them fascists.

The president who wins the lottery will be blessed by Regents President Harvey Jewett and be given lifetime tenure as the gatekeeper in the Badlands at the Political Scientists Center for Small Particle Physics, Stem Cell Palaver, Literary Criticism, Global Warming Denial, General Fatuity, and Altar Society. The anagram is a quotation from the ever-eloquent George W. Bush. When a reporter asked him just what we think we are doing in Iraq, the President said, "PSCSPPSCPLCGWDGFAS." He is widely quoted by political scientists.

The campus closing lottery would be an annual event, because campuses are like prairie dogs. You take one out over here and another one pops up over there. Closing campuses requires an ongoing effort.

We might humbly make a suggestion about the campus closing issue. No. We'll make it arrogantly. Have you noticed that even with distance learning and computers, the demand for higher education centers is increasing? As a scientist on a nearby campus told me, no matter how sophisticated the computers and fast the network, you can't conduct laboratories by computer. The very word college means, among other things, a body of persons gathered together for a common purpose. No matter how advanced the technological delivery of materials, students and professors need a place to gather on occasion to coordinate, compare, and review the learning activities. In other words, the need for campuses or learning centers is increasing, not decreasing. The information age has made successful learning more intensive and more interactive. And higher education serves a much larger and diverse constituency than 18-t0-24-year-olds who take up residency on or near campuses. Deployment of learning resources requires meeting facilities at places convenient to the students.

A political scientist took issue with something South Dakota War College said in regard to the campus closing issue. By the way, SDWC must be emitting some powerful pheromones of late because the blog buddies sure like to piddle with PP. Anyway, PP referred to liberal arts institutions, and the political scientist corrected him and said South Dakota universities are actually vocational in nature. The last I knew, the universities offer bachelor of arts degrees, which require a broad selection of courses from many disciplines. Perhaps it wasn't a pheromone but that word "liberal" that set the political scientist off. But the political scientist has a point.

In the 1980s, for example, a college president at NSU made a strenuous effort to have the college classified as a comprehensive university. That meant that it offers a full range of curricula in the liberal arts and in specialty areas. But a mandate came down from on high, meaning the Regents office, to eliminate duplicate programs and impose minimum enrollment quotas before a class could be held. In addition, there was a struggle to limit the general education (or liberal arts) component.

Students had two major complaints as a result of the retrenching. They could not get the courses they needed to complete their majors in a reasonable time. And when they applied for premium jobs or graduate schools, they found their degrees were not competitive. I recall a number of students who had to take more undergraduate work before being admitted to graduate programs. Their degrees were regarded as vocational rather than liberal.

The policies of the past have caught up with the South Dakota system. The attempts to upgrade the science laboratories on the campuses reflect decades of negligence. In the 20 years I was at NSU, the scientists complained constantly about how absurdly inadequate the science labs were. South Dakota has also ranked at the absolute bottom for the amount of money invested in research. The Regents have launched a program to elevate that ranking in conjunction with the development of the Homestake DUSEL, but that also takes money. And scientific and engineering research are not the only areas of research that need support and resources.

Before the legislature does something hasty and foolish in regard to closing a campus, it needs to get an inventory of the resources and inadequacies of the system it has. The way to do that is to ask the professors, not the Regents.

Here are some issues that need public airing:

  • The selection of regents. Currently, they are purely political appointees, and few of them have any real familiarity with higher education. They could be elected. But at least they should be nominated by a bipartisan panel of people involved in higher education with approval required by a 60 percent vote of the State Senate. There needs to be some provisions to make them responsible to the professional educators as well as the general public.
  • Require that campus presidents also be approved by a legislative process. South Dakota needs college presidents who are chosen for academic leadership and diplomacy rather than to be shop foremen who carry out the often ignorant and destructive policies of regents.
  • Require that faculty senates issue annual reports on the performance of their campuses and the problems encountered.
  • Obtain optional plans for the deployment of resources and faculty throughout the state. This might involve a change in the way the system is administered.
  • Primarily, get information from the people who are educated to do the work, are involved in doing the work, and whose professional activities keep them in touch with how the work is done in other places.
Over the years I had colleagues leave South Dakota for better jobs in other places. When they left, they raised the question of whether South Dakota really wants to be in the higher education enterprise and whether it has the resources. That is the first question that needs an answer.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mommy, Democrats are lurking behind the lecterns

Orwell was a satirist, not a dogmatist. It is not his fault that a significant faction of the population regards his writing, such as 1984 and Animal Farm, as field manuals for moving us toward totalitarian rule. As is the case with the good people of Oceania, we are mired in a contrived war which has been used to intimidate the gullible into a patriotic frenzy in which they are willing to relinquish Constitutional rights and give the state permission to intrude on their privacy, spy on them, and suspend due process. Perhaps the most salient feature of this movement is the propaganda strategy that propels it. That strategy is to locate those little areas of hatred, discrimination, resentment and fear and agitate them into festering boils in the brain pans of the susceptible. As in 1984. the people are given their five minutes of hate. Except now it takes the form of the interminable and tendentious cries of accusatory alarm rolling through the blog aggregators.

The regressives have a new cry of outrage. That cry is over the fact that many university faculties are predominantly Democratic. My alma mater, the University of Iowa, has been selected as a particular target for the cries of outrage. A scholar of the regressive stripe applied for a job in the history department and did not get it and filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity office at the University. That complaint has been fanned into the charge by the regressive factions that the history department at Iowa is an ideological monolith.

The applicant also was rejected by Duke University, but the fact is that he has compiled quite a history of rejection, including by the U.S Air Force War College. He has written a book in which he takes the stance that America was justified in waging the Viet Nam War. The fact that he cannot find a job in the academic world is cited as evidence that higher education is dominated by liberals who don’t give conservatives a chance. The regressives point out that the University of Iowa History Department has 27 faculty and all are registered Democrats. The local paper in Iowa City even went to the effort to track the faculty’s voter registrations, which is okay because voter lists are public records. They do not indicate how people voted, but they indicate what party they register so that they may vote in the primaries.

This whole idea of party affiliation as an element of diversity flummoxes me. I cannot recall a time in 30 years of applying for academic jobs and sitting on search committees where political affiliation came up in regard to a candidate. I do recall concerns about a few Marxist scholars and whether they would cover their subjects fairly or would use their teaching to condition students with an ideological agenda. That is a legitimate concern. But I cannot recall a time when the question of whether a candidate is conservative or liberal was broached. Committees are too involved in looking at candidate’s credentials and trying to see how they would fit into their departments’ curricula and academic functioning. The demeanor and attitudes of candidates have more to do with considerations for employment than does any political affiliations they have. Often, the credential files reflect attitudes that .indicate that a candidate has personality issues that would not make the person a good hire. They are usually screened out during the early stages of the selection process. And often when people do advance to the interview stage, they display traits and attitudes that indicate that they might interfere with the functioning of the department. Many competent scholars come up short on their intrapersonal skills.

As for Iowa, from where I have two degrees, I have no idea what the political preferences were of the faculty I worked with. They were not relevant to the work that occupied us. As in any department, there are a few members who are more politically active than others. At Iowa, the legendary novelist Vance Bourjaily in the Writers Workshop was an active Democrat. He gave fund-raising parties at his farm for Democrats, but those affairs were more social and literary than political. No one could make the most remote claim that Bourjaily’s political preference in any way affected his writing or his teaching. It was just part of a complex, many-faceted, and fascinating personality.

The complaint against Iowa and all of academe is raising the suggestion that politics should be a factor in considering the diversity of the faculty. I assume this means that candidates will have to include their political preference on their curricula vitae`

The import of all this, however, is that professorships are now regarded as indoctrination platforms. The assumption is that being a registered Democrat is a sign of political seepage that contaminates the intellectual environment. And so the regressives are cyring out for their chance to lend their particular brand of contamination to the battle for minds. They see academe as an Orwellian bureaucracy, not a neutral agency of thought and study that considers but transcends partisan ideas. Big Brother wants his niche behind the lectern.

An irony is that Jon Lauck who wrote Daschle vs. Thune has an article in the online History News Network in which he encourages historians to get involved in campaign politics. He testifies what an edifying experience it was for him to be a consultant to John Thune. Lauck, by the way has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Iowa. Actually, he was a paid agent and provocateur at the time he held a professor’s chair at SDSU. I have called him a paid character assassin because he took after Tom Daschle like the boys at the Ministry of Truth in 1984 took after those the party labeled enemies of the state. But the real question raised is how he reconciled his role as a political agent with his role as a professor.

I question this because I used to post satirical materials that sometimes had political ramifications on my office door and was asked to refrain from the practice. I was told that it compromised my role as a professor. But here was Lauck occupying an office on campus and being paid to vilify Tom Daschle. He is no longer a professor, and I do not know how the issue of him reconciling his political activities with his professor’s duties was resolved. But in the HNN article cited above, he seems to regard a professorship as a place to engage in political propaganda.

Some inheritors of his blog at NSU also seem to think that a professorship is a platform for launching political propaganda. They use their professorships as a special authority to engage in Ministry of Truth-like portrayals of people, issues, and events. While much of their effort is self-stimulation of erectile little egos, some of it involves falsified representations and personal defamations of the type that professors are not supposed to commit under any circumstances. We note that the University of Colorado fired a professor for indulging himself in such tactics. The complaints about a liberal bias on campuses seems to be based on the notion that campuses are a front for political battles and the regressives want a louder voice.

In South Dakota, the issue of its relatively small population and its number of university campuses has brought up the question again of closing down one or more campuses. If we have reached the point where campuses are merely turf over which partisans do battle, it might be time to close them all down and start over. Big Brother does a lousy job of educating youth.

That's what Geroge Orwell tried to tell us. And so did Sinclair Lewis.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

George W. Bush wants to conduct Sen. Johnson's speech therapy

The regressives on the blogosquare want to get Sen. Tim Johnson out of office. They hover over their keyboards drooling over any halting moments in the Senator's speech that they can contrive into evidence that he can't do the job of Senator. Despite the fact that the Senator has not missed a vote since his return to the Senate chamber in August, that he now visits the state and has resumed his meetings and telephone briefings with reporters, that he has supplied updates and analysis of legislation since last spring, and that last week he walked onto the Senate floor with the aid of his cane, the malevolent lobby finds that a brief pause while searching for a word is the sign of incapacity.

The real problem is that even with a severe brain injury, Sen. Johnson has not reached the level of inarticulation of their regressive Alpha male, George W. Bush. If you need a review of W's bon mots, click here and play the videos.

British turn Basra Province over to Iraq today

While America speculates about what might happen in Iraq if it withdraws its troops, Britain today is relinquishing control of Basra Province to the Iraqis. Britain has had charge of the province since the American-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Britain began its withdrawal three months ago when it pulled out of the city of Basra. It did so with the recognition that the patrols of its uniformed troops as an occupying force provoked violence against them. The withdrawal of British troops from the city was followed by a marked decrease in the violence.

Basra is the key to economic independence for Iraq. Ninety percent of the country's wealth comes from the oil revenues. Basra is central to the oil industry in Iraq and Basra city is the country's only deep sea port from which oil is exported.

Basra is the ninth province in Iraq to be returned to Iraqi control. The British plan to reduce the level of their presence in Iraq to 2,500 troops by spring.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Praise the lord and pass the steroids

One of the most prevalent false myths in America is about the virtues of competition. When people compete, we like to say, they are more productive and produce better products, and competition builds character. We seldom note that when people compete, they tend to cheat. As did a number of major league baseball players according to George Mitchell’s report, and Olympic athletes who have been stripped of their medals.

Friendly competition under rules of fair play can be fun and productive. But competition rarely remains friendly. Competitors have a way of turning into enemies. And enemies develop the attitude of winning at all costs.

The real facts of competition have made me a somewhat tepid sports fan. As a college student who had to work, I started out in journalism on the sports desk of the old Davenport, Iowa, Morning Democrat. The sports editor was a very famous figure in the sports world and spent more time downstairs at The Ringside Tap schmoozing with sports celebrities who stopped by to see him than he did on the sports desk. That left the sports staff to deal with all those competitors for whom getting good press was part of winning. We often saw humanity at its worst in ways that rivaled anything the guys on the police beat came across.

I witnessed high school coaches who ran model athletic programs get fired because they were not ruthless enough in going after wins. Schools which were supposed to be tending to education got mired down in community disputes over sports. To many “fans” it is more important to produce winning teams than to educate young people. At that time, the major sports venue in that part of the Midwest was the Big Ten. Iowa and Illinois teams in the conference did not play each other because the rivalries were so intense the players fought and the fans rioted, and meetings between the teams were considered a threat to public safety. You know, character building.

Back then, cheating was a problem, as it is now. In both high schools and colleges, there were constant complaints from the teaching staffs about pressures to give passing grades to athletes who were failing so that they could remain eligible. Alex Karas played for Iowa at the time, and he later developed some comedy routines on courses developed specially to make them passable for athletes. In college sports, star athletes found that the schools competed for them by requiring few classes but providing much in the way of housing, cars, women, and all manner of diversion as long they stayed in shape enough to win games.

Sports are not the only area where competition can have a deleterious effect on character and integrity. The No Child Left Behind competition has produced a rash of cheating on tests and school records. Kids have been given some very good lessons in how to compete. And does one even need to mention the forms that competition takes in the business world? They have a semantic cover, however. Anything that costs people their jobs or provides them an inferior product is called a business decision, a term which legitimizes fraud and corporate tyranny.

Professional sports have little to do with sports . They are first and foremost businesses, and fooling the consumer of them is what their business is all about. Their standards of performance are emulated in our schools: win at all costs. If we were true to our real faith, our currency would say “Win at all costs” instead of “In God We Trust.” Winning is our salvation. We divide humanity into winners and losers, and anything is permissible to avoid being called a loser.

So, pass the steroids, please, and praise the lord, and salute the flag at the start of every competition.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Violence is decreasing

This week only two Ph.D. students were found massacred down on the Louisiana State University campus.

It's still early in the weekend, however.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hey, putz, choose your weapon.

Cory Allen Heidelberger of Madville Times has been posting on blogging as a long tradition of discourse in America. He cites the book The Rise of the Blogosphere by Aaron Barlow who sees blogging in the tradition of journalism before it became a profession. Barlow lists The Federalist Papers, Thomas Paine, Ben Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton as examples of blogs and bloggers in their time. Alexander Hamilton, in fact, got killed for his “blogging.” His attack on the character of Aaron Burr became a matter of such rancor that it resulted in a duel, which, of course, Hamilton lost.

The Hamilton-Burr duel provided some of the motivation for the “professionalizing” of the press. Just as James Madison in The Tenth Federalist Paper saw the representative government of a republic as a way to moderate the passions and rancor of factions in a democracy, early journalists saw a need to moderate and refine what was published in the media of the time. The passions of people who were attacked became so inflamed that they thought the accusations made against them needed some final resolution by resulting in the death of one of the combatants.

Abraham Lincoln’s only involvement in a duel, which was aborted at the last minute at the urging of friends of the combatants, was the result of something he wrote about Illinois State Auditor James Shields. Lincoln and wife Mary were the authors of some fictitious letters published in a Springfield newspaper making fun of Shields, in one of which Lincoln called Shields “a conceity dunce” and “a liar as well as a fool.”

The early days of the republic were also very litigious. Many people thought the courts rather than duels were the way to deal with accusations and characterizations published about them. The courts were clogged with cases, and through case law gradually developed legal definitions of libel that provided quick resolutions to the cases. They defined types of libel which presumed damage on their face and types which damaged by implication. But all that has changed. People who find themselves victims of libel today have little chance of resolving their grievances in the courts. We might need to revive dueling as a means of redressing grievances against libel and prove to ourselves once again the efficacy of using words with skill and responsibility.

Journalism of the early nineteenth century started the development of reporting and editing as a professional activity which avoided those aspects of public discourse which inflamed the passions rather than informed the reason.

Those of us who take a literary approach to verbal communications have been talking much of what literary traditions inform blog writing and what genres they entail. The Internet is a medium to which writers bring many traditions. Some are literate. Some ain’t. Many bloggers draw on the tradition of the personal essay, which is not taught very often as a literary mode of expression. Some work in the tradition of argument-advancing rhetoric, which utilizes the literary standards of argumentation. And many draw from the Hugo Chavez school of discourse in which the kind of false accusations, insults, personal abuse, and malicious deception form the larger part of their expressive efforts.

Early commentators of the American tradition were largely self taught, but they learned the efficacy of developing editorial judgment or consulting with editors to check the effect of their writing. Thomas Paine stands out for the impact his pamphlets had on the American revolution. Most of Thomas Jefferson’s writing was in `18,000 letters. Ben Franklin developed journalistic pieces into major works of cultural criticism and political satire. That’s why he became known in Britain as the most dangerous man in America. Abraham Lincoln’s legacy is in his speeches, which incorporate a number of the literary features that distinguish the English language tradition. But most of American literary effort from the early theater, to the sermon and lecture, to journalism, and to culturally self-conscious literature is composed of works that have a high rhetorical purpose. And its participants were extensively read in the theory and practice of rhetoric and the literary merits of effective writing.

Our nation reached a point when the literate population understood that anger, malice, falsehoods, scurrility, and defamation are destructive and dangerous. They are counter-productive to democracy. It has reached the point again in this electronic age when those qualities form an unabashed part of what passes for discourse and often predominate. A significant sector of the public likes to see people humiliate each other, debase themselves, and otherwise participate in the degradation of humankind. We have developed a media to serve that audience.

Aaron Barlow discusses the protocols and operating rules of rhetoric on his blog.

The decline of the teaching of English and of rhetoric as a literary enterprise is a factor in the new illiteracy. While there is much anguish and wailing over the status of math and science in American education, few people except teachers of English note the decline in the teaching of the language arts and their literary components. The art of nonfiction has largely been dropped from the teaching of literature, which is devoted to fiction, poetry, and drama. And the number of all literature courses in general education requirements has been cut significantly. In my last years of teaching, I taught courses in the theory and practice of rhetoric, but spent a good deal of time covering material which was once taught in freshmen composition courses. Most people now think that the teaching of English is a matter of how to avoid sentence-level errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

Now that writers are looking at the literary traditions that are involved in blogging, maybe we don’t have to whet our rapiers or tune up our dueling pistols. But then, again, some blogs were invented as vehicles of defamation, scurrility, and hatred. In any case, it might be time to look at another aspect of our education that has fallen to neglect.

It's the rhetoric, stupid.

The holiday season is upon us so the armed security guards at churches and shopping malls may have to work overtime. The celebration of peace on earth and good will toward all people intensifies. One young man killed a bunch of people at an Omaha mall, another gunned down people at a missionary training center and a church in Colorado, and six high school students were blasted at in Las Vegas as they got off a school bus. The spirit of Christmas is a-raging.

In two of those cases, at least, the perpetrators, as the celebrants are sometimes called, posted warnings or what could be regarded as warnings on the Internet. This is part of what has become a traditional way of expressing joy and spreading good will throughout the land. You plan a massacre and announce it in advance. Who can forget the wonderful times of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Red Lake—the list goes on and on—and the moments they gave us?

Even those alien types we call terrorists want to get in on the act. They gave us 9/11. And those envious folks in Iraq made these celebrations of peace and good will the essential feature of their culture. Joy to the world.

This kind of celebration has largely been developed by the young—people under 25 when the brain is not fully developed. But our culture supplies them what maturity denies them. It provides video games that coach them in the killing arts—particularly with things like assault rifles. But mostly it has the Internet where they can gather in packs and insult and abuse each other and raise the level of adrenaline and anger to the point that they want to get off the couch and go out and really do something.

Political blogs and discussion boards are a real resource if you want to find insults and name-calling and accusations and lies of the kind that can really get you to the point where you say, “I’m not going to take this anymore; I’m going to do something about it.” All you have to do to get really torqued off is browse the blogosphere, as this warp in the planet is called.

The support system goes beyond the Internet. You can find examples of dishonesty and indecency that will hype up the anger hormones almost everywhere. One is a feature of public discourse that we have come to call Swift-boating. If you or some one you like is Swift=boated, you soon realize that there is no rational response because the only purpose of Swift-boating to is incite hatred and anger. Refuting a Swift-boat is a waste of time. You have nothing to do but act out. Or turn the other cheek and get hit with the other fist. And then you will really be torqued off and inspired.

The mass media can supply all your party needs. Osama bin Laden is there to teach you the art of hate and vicious rhetoric and killing lots of people. If a more western style of mindless belligerence fits your taste, you can have examples of our own leaders insisting that someone is getting ready to attack us with weapons of mass destruction and we’d better get them before they get us, and that is what we do. And it gives us years and years of watching bunches of people getting killed and maimed, and we can feel real good about all the peace and good will we are spreading.

The election campaign is sure to provide some moments of pure inspiration. While some candidates will try to make nice, the media will soon goad them into attacking each other and getting real mean and stupid, and you will undoubtedly find examples of how to be mean, stupid, and vicious. But that resource is always available on some talk radio shows and some blogs.

We have developed an entire grammar and rhetoric to develop and support mindless rage. We even offer college courses in it. Nobody has a reason not to get torqued off and get off their duffs and do something. Just read blogs and their comments. In a democracy like ours, we fulfill everyone’s needs.

It’s all in the rhetoric. Actually, it is in the ignorance of what rhetoric really is. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever. May the peace of the season be with you all year.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Who "owns" Bear Butte?

The State of South Dakota would like to forget the Treaty of 1868 which cedes most of West River and parts of East River to the Sioux nations and stipulates that it is:

set apart for the absolute and undisturbed use and occupation of the Indians herein named, and for such other friendly tribes or individual Indians as from time to time they may be willing, with the consent of the United States, to admit amongst them; and the United States now solemnly agrees that no persons except those herein designated and authorized so to do, and except such officers, agents, and employes of the Government as may be authorized to enter upon Indian reservations in discharge of duties enjoined by law, shall ever be permitted to pass over, settle upon, or reside in the territory described in this article, or in such territory as may be added to this reservation for the use of said Indians...

The Sioux nations have never assented to any changes in the treaty and have never relinquished their claim to the land, although it was taken from them. In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court said they had never been properly compensated for the land and awarded them compensation plus interest, which amounts to about $120 million.

The Sioux nations have refused to accept the money. They want their land back. They want adherence to the treaty.

Bear Butte sits in the middle of the land they claim and stands as a focal point for what the land means to them. The question of whether using tax money to obtain a buffer zone around Bear Butte to preserve its geographical, historical, and spiritual significance might violate the establishment clause of the Constitution is not relevant to the legal issues that concern it. To the Sioux Nations, compensating land holders for a buffer zone is giving them money for land they do not legally own and on which they are trespassing.

In the 1980s, Sen. Bill Bradley enraged South Dakotans by submitting a bill that would resolve the dispute over the land by returning undeveloped land in the Black Hills to the indigenous people along with compensation.

The Sioux people hold that there is a spiritual presence in all creation that cannot be separated from it. Whether Bear Butte is treated as a natural treasure, a historic site, or a state park, they will observe its full significance for the indigenous people.

The issue is not the spending of state money to preserve the integrity of the site, but whether the right of the indigenous people to maintain the site is acknowledged and restored.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sen. Tim Johnson featured today in newspaper stories

Both the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and the Rapid City Journal carry stories today on Sen. Tim Johnson and his recovery from the brain hemorrhage he suffered a year ago.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The symptoms of malice

I wish Professor Blanchard would stop reading the Northern Valley Beacon and confine himself to the study of the convolutions of his own navel. The Beacon provokes his obsessive rage out of its usual level of petty insult and abuse, which he regards as “witty repartee,” into outright libel, such as in this example: ”Professor Newquist likes to accuse me and others of logical fallacies but, oddly for a former English professor, he doesn't seem to know what any of these fallacies are.”

Prof. Blanchard assumes a prodigious responsibility when he calls into question more than 55 years of the study (including a doctorate), the practice, and teaching of rhetoric. However, the point is that there are more appropriate and effective venues to resolve such accusations than on Internet blogs.

For readers and contributors who frequent the Internet for purposes of information and discussion, the issue is the definition of terms which describe rhetorical errors. The teaching of rhetoric as a discipline has been displaced by the teaching of technical production of the electronic media. While some universities have tried to include the complications of hypertext writing in their courses of instruction, there is more involved than can be accommodated in the ordinary college curriculum. Dakota State University, for example, offers a curriculum in writing for information systems and deals with what is sometimes referred to as the “new rhetoric” as writing applies to computer technology and the way visual and aural images affect communications.

One can enter any term for a rhetorical fallacy into an Internet browser—such as ad hominem, straw man, bifurcation, equivocation—and come up with thousands of sites that offer definitions of the terms. Nearly all of the definitions will be accurate, but none will be comprehensive. (Ad hominem on Google produces, 233,000 citations.) That leads some people into choosing a definition they prefer and concluding that others are inaccurate. Rhetoric, as with all disciplines, has many facets and dimensions. The purpose of scholarship is to make essential distinctions and to work toward a comprehensive knowledge. That does not mean dismissing definitions that are merely inconvenient or disagreeable to one/s purpose of the moment.

The ad hominem fallacy is the most frequent error to occur on the Internet, but it is a general term that covers many forms, such as the abusive ad hominem, the circumstantial ad hominem, and ad hominem tu quoque. These categories adhere closely to the categories that define libel. Many of the Internet sites provide definitions in the context of formal debate and provide examples of syllogistic reasoning that focuses on statements that can be reduced to formulas. They examine argument on the level of grammar, which deals with words and how they form sentences.

Words and sentences, however, do not occur in isolation. Statements have pretexts, texts, subtexts, and contexts. The meaning of words is often controlled by when, how, for what purpose, and in what context they occur. In addition to their grammatical meaning, words are signs that draw their significance from their contexts. These contexts are amplified and complicated in the electronic media. Contemporary rhetoric, therefore, requires not just a command of grammar, but a command of semiotics—the study of signs and symbols that comprise the range of human communications and how they relate and influence each other.

Some sources suggest that it is an error to cite all instances of personal abuse as ad hominem fallacies. However, anytime someone tries to discredit what another person says and to discredit the person, the pretext and the context and the subtext broaden the focus to the person, and the text must be perceived as part of those circumstances.

Forms of debate governed by Roberts Rules of Order and the rules of order of the U.S Senate have elaborate measures to prevent any dialogue from becoming personal. For example, one always addresses the chair, not members of the body. When it is necessary to refer to another member, it requires that it be done so with great courtesy, such as referring to “my esteemed colleague.” The pervasive damage of the personal attack cannot help but detract from and debase the legitimacy of an argument. Very often, arguments are raised as the pretexts for making personal attacks.

It is pointless to try to defend oneself against the malicious. That is why many of us who write wonder if we are not merely inciting more malice when we write for blogs. It is terribly wasteful to use a resource like the Internet for personal vendettas. There has to be a better way to engage in discussion, and some of us are set on finding it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Short ideas sometimes need stilts

In addition to his addiction to the ad hominem argument, Ken Blanchard loves to indulge in the rhetorical fallacies of bifurcation and equivocation. He gives a very narrow definition of the straw man fallacy and then asserts I was wrong in a definition I gave. Insisting that only his definition is correct, he says mine was wrong. That is called the fallacy of bifurcation.

Here from one of numerous sites listing definitions of rhetorical fallacies is another definition of the straw man fallacy:

Description: It is a fallacy to misrepresent someone else's position for the purposes of more easily attacking it, then to knock down that misrepresented position, and then to conclude that the original position has been demolished. It is a fallacy because it fails to deal with the actual arguments that one has made.

He uses the same tactic on the definition of fascism. Twelve years ago Italian semiologist and novelist Umberto Eco published an essay in The New York Review of Books exploring how fascism exists in our contemporary times. It launched an awareness and a continuing disccussion of how fascism pervades our contemporary lives. Here is the concluding paragraph of the essay:

  • Ur-Fascism is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be so much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, "I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares." Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances — every day, in every part of the world. Franklin Roosevelt's words of November 4, 1938, are worth recalling: "If American democracy ceases to move forward as a living force, seeking day and night by peaceful means to better the lot of our citizens, fascism will grow in strength in our land." Freedom and liberation are an unending task.

    Umberto Eco
    (c) 1995
I also take issue with his gross misrepresentation that I have contempt for the people of South Dakota. Pointing out that some people in the state have a provincial outlook and that some have fallen victim to a propaganda campaign is not registering contempt. I do have contempt for such misrepresentations.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How do you know a putz when you see one?

Or, a putz by any other name is a putz.

Sometimes we refer to a certain stupid verbal phenomenon as the straw man fallacy. It is when one person makes up a bunch of stuff about someone and then attacks that someone for possessing all the fabricated things attributed to him or her. Often people who make up things about other people come to have a pathological belief in them. The delusions become part of their creed. The things they make up and believe in originate in their ignorance, prejudice, and innate human need to hate, but they worship them devoutly.

If you want examples of their liturgy, go to a thread at South Dakota War College on the Argus Leader review of Jon Lauck’s book Daschle vs. Thune You will see a multitude of comments in which a few stalwart souls try to engage in a somewhat reasoned discourse with people who merely wish to attack the straw men they created and now threatens their world. The rational ones tend to sign their names to what they post. The others cower and snivel and hurl abuse from behind their cyber anonymity, like belligerent children hiding behind their mamas.

There is much name-calling and maligning of character and personality on this thread, as is characteristic of blogs and discussion boards in general. Most people who frequent blogs don’t know the difference between naming—the proper application of nomenclature to the thing being described—and gratuitous name calling—the infliction of harm and abuse on someone by terming them something denigrating and odious. People get exercised by the name-calling and insult. They tend to forget that when a person calls you a name or imposes an image on you created out of their mental failings, they are giving anyone who cares to notice a map of their mentalities, a window into their essential character, a printout of their mental processes. These individuals have the right in our culture to express their minds. We have the right to note the shortcomings of their minds, but we need to learn how wasteful it is to engage them. Some call that elitism. In our age anyone with brain cells that function seems to be elitist.

The blog discussions of Jon Lauck’s book are largely inane. The “reviews” of it have said little about what the book actually accomplishes and how it does it, thus not fulfilling the function of a review. So, much discussion has been taking place and no one seems to know exactly what it is they are discussing.

In noting what information is available through a review, I made the point that the focus of the book on the Argus Leader as a medium of partiality seems to obscure the fact that all of the news media in South Dakota tend to let partisanship determine their news coverage. The review in the Argus Leader overtly informs the reader that it will not deal with the substantive materials in the book—somewhat strange for a book that purports to be history—and concentrates on the book’s treatment of the Argus Leader. I said nothing regarding the worth of the book, but comments I did make excited fellow-blogger Prof. Jon Schaff to break open a bale of straw and erect an effigy in my name.

He states, “Of course, it is unlikely that Newquist would approve of any review that didn't trash the book and discuss the degradation to American civilization caused by the scurrilousness of Lauck's Orwellian fascism.” While I admit there is a crude likeness in this image, it is still a very crude straw man which represents Prof. Schaff’s thinking, and certainly not mine.

I have a reverence for books and expectations for essays which presume to review them. Jon Lauck’s book has not yet received a substantial review that gives readers a descriptive overview of the book and examines its premise and its achievement. That was my point.

I don’t know how the book treats Lauck’s role in the Daschle/Thune campaign, but I know that he was a paid blogger while a professor at SDSU and much of his blogging was devoted to character assassination and appeals to the ignorance, prejudice, and mean resentments of a very provincial culture. People like blogger and commenter Jer Bear have saved examples of his work.

Scurrilous? I don’t know of a better word to describe the example. Or the comment thread at South Dakota War College on the alleged book review.

Fascist? Fascism is undergoing a renaissance in the 21st century. It has pervaded American politics. Our current regime is fascist in many aspects. It espouses a belligerent nationalism. It is militaristic. It is moving toward totalitarianism with its warrantless wiretaps, its advocacy of torture, its systematic defamations of its opponents and its repressive policies and actions, its control by a corporate hierarchy that is allowed to set policy and rig the economy to only its advantage, It fits the descriptive taxonomy that defines fascism. Anyone who supports the ideologies and political machinations that define fascism might be said to be a fascist as a legitimate denotative term, not as a gratuitous epithet. I don’t know just how far Lauck’s conservatism accommodates fascism, and I wouldn’t call him fascist, although he seems to embrace fascist principles and totalitarian propaganda techniques. And I don’t think his boss is cerebral enough to be self-consciously fascist. He is just obedient to those who give him his marching orders.

Orwellian? Jon Lauck was part of a campaign based upon misdirection, defamations, and misinformation designed to appeal to the fears, peevish resentments, and small-mindedness of an exceptionally provincial electorate. When college freshmen from small communities in South Dakota return home for vacations, they find that their former classmates and friends, except for those who also went off to college, regard them with suspicion and resentment, as leaving the community for college is a snobbish affront. If they succeed and make their way in the outside world, it is regarded as an unforgivable sin. When a political leader goes to Washington, his/her constituents begin to suspect that they are being betrayed. If that leader gains success and recognition, the folks back in the province get resentful and feel neglected and betrayed that anyone would dare fix on horizons beyond their parochial vision. This, among other appeals to petty jealousy and resentment, was used effectively against Tom Daschle, as it was George McGovern before him and crops up against Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. It was a very effective tactic. The question is whether it is intellectually and morally defensible.

Daschle supporters are often told that the election is over and to get over it. It was not Daschle’s loss that is the issue. The issue is that the campaign n that won adopted the propaganda philosophy and perfidious techniques of the worst and most repressive political regimes of the last century or so. It has left the stain of malice on the state and nation.

There is no doubt that, from hindsight, the Daschle campaign made some mistakes. I was involved in the campaign and participated in the canvassing of the eastern part of South Dakota. We knew there were problems and knew what they were. The ruling attitude of the campaign was that the majority of voters would not be swayed by disinformation and phony issues raised by the Thune campaign and would rise above them. This was a tactical mistake, but not a moral one.

A cursory look at Daschle vs. Thune did not reveal that much is said about the thinking and strategy on which the campaign operated. Rather, it seems to focus on the alleged partialities of the Argus Leader and its portrayal of Tom Daschle as a dissembler. No reviews have so far ventured to deal with those claims.

Words and books exist in semantic and historic contexts. For example, as we are in the holiday seasons, we can examine how those contexts work by looking at our most familiar carols:

“Hark, the herald putzes sing”

“Joy to the putz”

“O, little putz of Bethlehem

“Deck the halls with boughs of putzes”

“Silent putz”

Most people can recognize the semiotic nonsense in those titles, but they are not as adept as recognizing it in political discourse and books.

Daschle vs. Thune exists in a context of semantic intent and historical fact. It has not been examined in those terms to date. It will be, if it is taken seriously as a contribution to history.

In the meantime, we’ll keep our putz dry.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Polluters, anti-worker forces rush to get favors from Bush

The New York Times reports that business lobbies are rushing to obtain permission to pollute and enact anti-worker rules before George Bush leaves office.

Hoping to lock in policies backed by a pro-business administration, poultry farmers are seeking an exemption for the smelly fumes produced by tons of chicken manure. Businesses are lobbying the Bush administration to roll back rules that let employees take time off for family needs and medical problems. And electric power companies are pushing the government to relax pollution-control requirements.

Here is the article.

Book on Daschle/Thune race is still not reviewed

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader published a review of sorts of Jon Lauck’s book Daschle vs. Thune, which should put an end to the petulant whining about the newspaper not reviewing the book. It won’t. The whining will persist, you can be assured.

As book reviews are not news reports, those who wail and moan that the Argus Leader was journalistically remiss in not reviewing the book simply display an ignorance of what is reporting and what is feature-writing. The persistent complaint against the Argus Leader has been couched in terms of its partiality to Tom Daschle, but if one reads blogs and the comments on them, it is clear that the real complaint against the Argus Leader is that it does not cater to a conservative bias. Impartiality is not the issue

South Dakota has more newspapers that display a conservative agenda in their coverage and writing and editing of news stories than it has media that show any willingness to allow an impartial reporting on moderate and progressive views and people. The local Aberdeen newspaper is unabashed about giving favorable coverage to conservatives, no matter how extreme, and choosing to ignore progressive issues. When it does feel compelled to put on a demonstration of impartiality for the sake of journalistic credibility, it peppers its reports with snarky editorial critiques.

This was evident in the 2004 campaign. When John Thune came to town and made a speech, the paper treated him like a rock star, reported on how his supporters fawned over him, and treated his stump speeches as if they were always fresh and brilliant. When Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin came to town, the news reports commented on how their stump speeches contained the same, old messages and said nothing new. If they stayed on message, they were accused of being redundant. If they departed into different issues, they were accused of being unfocused.

I have not read all of Jon Lauck’s book, but enough to see that it is an extension of the complaints against the Argus Leader that his poltical blog and fellow bloggers took up during the 2004 campaign and his claim that they contributed to the defeat of Tom Daschle. Brent Lerseth, the reviewer for the Argus Leader, comments that a weakness of the book is that it does not give an accounting of how other media may have acted as a counter to the alleged bias of the Argus Leader.

With all the attention to the claims of the Argus Leader’s bias, no one has paid much attention to the editorial bias toward the conservatives that is reflected in the other media throughout the state. A survey of what is covered and how it is covered by the other media could provide a more definitive explanation of why Tom Daschle lost.

A book is waiting to be written from a more objective point of view on the 2004 campaign. Nationally, the campaign inspired a number of efforts at fact-checking because so much scurrilous and libelous information was put into circulation. One such effort was The Press Project headquartered in the Fargo area to examine the kind of political coverage and statements that was published and broadcast on the northern plains. The Project was largely devoted to fact-checking and analyzing the rhetorical practices for false information and fallacious reasoning. At first The Press Project was not going to examine blogs. The scholars and journalists who were doing the analysis did not think blogs were read by enough people at that time or were regarded as sources of information. In fact, at the time, according to the PEW Internet Project, only 11 percent of Internet users consulted blogs and a majority of those were for matters other than politics. However, advisors to The Project said that blogs did reflect the kind of thinking and tactics being used on the public and should be examined as expressions of what people were thinking and what was influencing them.

The Press Project compiled the raw data which was to be used as the basis for a definitive study of what kind of information and ideas went into the campaign. Initially, some prominent writers and scholars agreed to do such a study, but since then they have indicated that there is other work they would prefer to spend their time and effort on.
Reviewer Brent Lerseth stresses in his review that its purpose is not to evaluate the substantive claims made in Lauck’s book or to challenge or affirm them. In the election of 2004, fact-checking and rhetorical analysis became a huge issue. Scholars, journalists, and other writers became concerned about the kind of information that people were forming their opinions from. The salient and essential questions coming out of the campaign of 2004 is whether the people were being told the truth and whether they were being subjected to Orwellian mind-manipulation that fed on their fears, bigotries, and ignorance.

A comprehensive review of Jon Lauck’s book will address those issues of accuracy and veracity. It is part of the campaign material that needs a definitive analysis. And some of us are still waiting fo such a review.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blue suits and the decline of the dollar

My blue wool suit is missing. I have no idea what happened to it. The only thing I can figure is that 2007 was a year when I rushed around the country attending family funerals and other momentous events, and I suppose it didn't make it into my suit bag during one of those hectic return trips and was left hanging in a closet somewhere.

That leads to the shocking confrontation I had with the American dollar. As I have some social and professional engagements to fulfill that require the wearing of a sedate, formal looking suit, and a navy blue suit is to a man a what a black dress is to a woman, I thought I'd better replace old blue. So I looked for a replacement at a prominent men's wear store and got hit between the eyes. The blue wool suit that looked similar to the one I wanted to replace had a price tag of $1,895,

It was made of Italian wool and was sewn together in China.

La Spouse said if I bought a suit that expensive, I'd better really like it, because I was going to wear it for eternity. We'd have to take out a second mortgage to buy the suit or cash in on the death benefit of my insurance policy.

At the present time, I still do not have a wool blue suit. I am still pondering the price of that suit. Made of Italian wool and assembled in China.

Perhaps, if the suit-making company starts making them in America again, I can afford one.

When I complained about the price of blue wool suits to a friend who dabbles in the stock and futures market, he said the price tag probably reflected the declining U.S. dollar. That made me think about the last time I recall the dollar sliding down the tube. I think it was in the 70s. Gold prices soared. So did petroleum prices. Communities were sponsoring low-interest rate mortgages so that people could buy houses that were glutting the market.

People started telling government officials that the dollar should return to the gold standard. The officials replied that American productivity is what would bolster the dollar. The efficiency with which workers produced quality goods and services would boost the dollar to be competitive with other currencies. That is the way things worked out during that dollar slump.

The problem this time is that all those jobs that produced goods for the inernational market have been shipped out of the country. The skills and production systems and even the know how to make things have been sent off to lands where the labor is cheaper. But now with the shrinking dollar, that labor is getting pricey.

During the 2006 election campaign, there were groups warning that the outsourcing of jobs was accompanied by an outsourcing of job skills and production facilities that were making America dependent on foreign countries for its manufacturing. They warned that American's basic economy was at issue.

I also hear that Warren Buffet is investing in foreign currencies. So he can afford a b lue suit or two, I presume.

I am not an economist. However, I am not very confident that people who call themselves economists have any better an understanding of the implications of outsourcing and the weakening of the dollar than those of us who get hit with economic surprises. What I do understand is that if I want to replace my missing blue suit, I'd better hope I can find one in the "pre-worn" clothing shops. Or perhaps I should just stay home.

This is one subject that has not had much mention in the current the political debate. Along with fuel, health care, and food, blue suits are getting so that you can't afford them anymore. And that is one item of fashion wear I can't find in our local farm and fleet store. However, most of the stuff it sells in made in China, so I expect it will get pricey, too.

I need cheering up. I guess I had better visit South Dakota Politics and read how great the American economy is one more time.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

They threw a pot confab and no one came

What if you arrange a meeting to tell parents how to recognize when their kids are using marijuana and no one shows up?

That's what happened in Aberdeen last night. A group called Positively Parents scheduled an informational meeting at which a police officer was to make a presentation on what to look for when kids are using pot. No one showed up.

Positively Parents is a joint venture of the Yapatorium, a program designed to provide youth and adults opportunities to communicate with each other, and the Aberdeen Career Planning Center.

Why did no parents show up? Well, would you? If you're a parent can you imagine joining a throng of other parents to learn how to tell if your kids are inhaling the funny stuff somewhere? You mean you don't enjoy gathering together with your parent peers and being treeated like an idiot?

As the father of three and a professor who has worked with young people over the decades, I can attest to the ineffectiveness of programs dealing with drugs and alcohol. They are ineffective because they are patronizing. Patronization is the severest form of insult.

Drugs and alcohol are probably the biggest issue facing anyone--parents, educators--who deal with kids. As for the kids, by the time they reach middle school, they have sat through so many DARE programs and other lectures on the evils of ingesting substances that they find them boring, annoying, irrelevant, and, yes, patronizing. The anti-drug and alcohol sessions become a joke.

As a parent, I am more concerned about the peer attitudes that make alcohol and drugs such cool things to mess around with. None of the programs deal with the real motivations behind drug and alcohol use among the young. In fact, they aggravate the problem. The programs make their use even more attractive because they give the young something specific to feel superior to and rebel against.

Coming the day after the Aberdeen School District approved a mandatory-voluntary drug testing program (see our previous post), this failed meeting says something about the ineffectiveness of the standard efforts to deal with drug and alcohol use.

Just as the first step in treatment for an addict is to admit having a problem, it is time our society admits it has a problem in the way it approaches alcohol and drug issues.

And our problem is that stupid can't be fixed and stupid meddling can fix nothing. And in Aberdeen drug issues have been met with incredible ignorance and stupidity. Our failed attempts should at least show us how not to be stupid.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ted Klaudt Gynecology Clinic opens branch in Aberdeen

Pat Powers over at the South Dakota War College is disgusted. If he wore thongs, they’d be tied in a series of granny knots. If he wore briefs, they’d be bunched up in the galling zone like a group of shoppers at 5 a.m. on Black Friday at the doors of Wal-Mart. I mean, he is torqued.

The Aberdeen School Board did it to him. The Aberdeen School Board does it to a lot of people. In PP’s case it is a very severe case of torquing. It made him say, “We’re the victims of altruism run wild.” A sentence like that is the first symptom of severe torquing. I think it means that he sees a bunch of altruists boobing him during a wild spring break. In any case, there are a bunch of boobies involved. In this case, they are the members of the Aberdeen School Board.

What knotted PP up so badly, I think, is one of the silliest semantic finagles I have ever come across. It put a few kinks in my own boxers. The Aberdeen School Board has approved a plan for making high school kids participate in a great big pee-in-a-bottle lottery. The idea is that each kid has to sign up for the lottery and four times a year the nice nurse ladies and gentlemen at St. Luke’s Avera Hospital will reach into the hat and draw the names of the winners. The winners get to pee in a bottle and have their urine tested for drugs. Whee.

The semantic finagle is in the statement that each student is required to sign up for voluntary drug testing which gives them the chance to pee in a bottle. Go figure.

The notion of high school kids lining up and wizzing in bottles sounds more like something that would originate in the fertile (as in egg) mind of Ted Klaudt. I suspect he is a consultant to the Aberdeen School Board.

I also note that the bottle-peeing is to be paid for by a grant. If grants are being given for peeing in bottles, they don’t have to have a lottery. I volunteer. I can be very productive. I could probably in the course of an afternoon fill all the bottles the testers need. And if the tests are sensitive to single-malt Scotch, we might hit the jackpot on occasion.

If I can stop giggling, there are some points to be made. The motive behind this pee-in-the-bottle fest is substance abuse. First, if a kid is a minor and his/her name is drawn, the parents have the chance to assent or decline the testing. If the kid is 18, he/she can decline or accept on their own. The school does not get the results of the test. The parents get them, and if a kid tests positive, the parents have the option of obtaining the services of a drug abuse counselor, in which case the school district will be informed. The news story on this did not indicate who gets the results if the kid is 18.

The virtue of this whole scheme is that it can be used as deterrent to the use of drugs. The school district can say that if you use drugs, your brain might come up with a policy like this.

Drugs and alcohol are serious problems among high school students. The reasons behind their use and abuse are what some people with functional brain cells need to address in terms of a solution. Being educated by people who think peeing in bottle is a solution is enough to drive anyone to drink and substance abuse.

The real issue is the matter of school boards. They were not conceived as a board of managers for the school district. They were conceived as a board which mediated between the professional staffs and the public constituents. The professional staff created the policies and practices and presented them to the board for approval or disapproval. If someone came up with a policy as dumb as the Aberdeen drug test lottery, the board could get rid of the poor sumbitch. Times have changed. School boards imagine themselves as corporate boards of directors that can dictate policy.

I am convinced that the problems with public education are the result of school boards gone wild with managerial powers. They have imposed ignorant, stupid, and silly policies on educators. The responsibility for educating and disciplining students needs to be returned to the people who actually do it everyday in the classrooms. That can be done with legislation defining the role of boards and administrators and giving the teaching staff some voice in who is hired to administer the academic programs.

Until that happens, we’ll have pee-in-the-bottle lotteries.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The degradation of democracy

One of the most dubious notions circulating in America is that voting and participating in political life is a virtue. Try selling that line to young people.

Political commentators are going through their election cycle ritual of bemoaning the fact that young people vote in such low numbers. Campaign advisors rub their hands and drool at the thought of getting these large numbers of people into the voting booths and, of course, voting for their party. The assumption is that the young people of America are too preoccupied with frivolity and the concerns of the young to bother with politics and voting.

It never seems to occur to political operatives and activists that they might be the reason young people and many not-so-young have such little interest in politics. In its assumption that personal attack is the rhetorical currency of campaigning and political discussion, the political class does not appear capable of considering that what passes for politics in American life is something that many people find offensive and prefer to avoid.

A former contributor to this blog recently made the point that our current political system does not address the real issues affecting people, but turns all discussion into petty, mean, and viciously partisan fury. She pointed out that blogs nearly always end up attacking the personality and character of other people for what they believe. Bloggers, she said, think that the ad hominem attack is the only form of political discourse.

Comments by students and young professionals I have worked with recently show what they consider most absurd and degrading about politics.

  • Global warming. Turning global warming into a partisan issue seems to be the ultimate inanity among the thinking classes. All scientific theory must go through the process of hypothesizing, criticizing, testing, and refining. That, by definition, is what science is. The presumptuous, ignorant, and error-filled opinions on global warming sent down from the Ministry of Truth and circulated by the true party members contributes nothing to the information and understanding of global warming. Specious discussion stands in the way of resolving the scientific issues.

  • Abortion. The most anti-abortion young people I have associated with think he issue has long since gone beyond the point where rational discussion about it is possible. All that can be said has been said. It is now a matter of one group of people imposing their sectarian beliefs on others. The absurd level to which the subject has fallen is demonstrated by the proposal to introduce an amendment to the Colorado Constitution which declares that fertilized eggs are human life. A young engineer who is a devout Roman Catholic and opponent of abortion says this is like saying that a hunk of iron ore is a skyscraper. As long as this issue dominates political discussion, other issues will not receive constructive attention.

  • Stem cell research. Tied to the abortion issue, stem cell research has been assailed with ignorance, misinformation, and notional opinions. Sectarian beliefs have intruded into scientific protocols. When two universities announced that their scientists had managed to replicate stem cells from non-embryonic tissues, the news was hailed as a great breakthrough. Tt was significant from the scientific standpoint, but the celebrators neglected the full story. While the non-embryonic stem cells have the potential for the reparative work that embryonic stem cells can do, they also tend to form cancer cells, which the researchers at this point do not know how to control or even know if they can be controlled. The issue of medical promise has been submerged under the issues of sectarian, partisan dogma. More research on both types of cells is the only way to determine the real potential, and partisan bickering and blockage promise to impede that work.

  • War on Iraq. The partisan cant is that people who do not support the war on Iraq are unpatriotic, disrespectful of our troops, and soft on terrorism. The issues of why we really went to war in Iraq, the cost in American lives, and the cost in national resources cannot be discussed without arousing the partisan furies. Even though about two-thirds of the nation find the war wasteful and ineffective in establishing democratic principles in Iraq, the Ministry of Truth reduces the discussion to accusations of treason, betrayal, and weakness. Even Congress is cowed by the Ministry’s ability to malign anyone who questions the validity and conduct of this war.

  • Health care. The raising of a national health insurance immediately inspires shouts of “the sky is falling” and “socialism.” A young person found out that subscribing to his company’s health insurance plan would reduce his take-home pay by one-third and would put him under a plan administered by an HMO. What difference does it make, he asked, if my health care is administered through a government agency or an HMO? They are both bureaucracies? He asked if universal health insurance might not be more affordable. But that is not how the issue is treated by the partisans.

  • Big government. The size of government is not an issue with many young people. Most people do not want government intruding into their personal lives, but they want government to build the country and to keep them free and insure equal opportunity and justice. The issue is not big government, but good government. The contradictions between claims for less intrusive government and warrant-less wire-tapping and surveillance are not lost on a majority of citizens.

  • Energy. To many, America is being held hostage by the oil industry and its suppliers. Conservation and pollution of the environment are integral aspects of energy policy. But as long as there is a sectarian divide between carbon-advocates and tree-huggers, there will be no constructive discussion leading to a solutin.

  • Education. Why is everybody except the parents and teachers proposing the plans for our education systems? Young people, especially college students, question who is measuring their inadequacies when no one is measuring the inadequacies of the political schemes that presume to educate them.

The very form in which we discuss these issues seems to preclude and productive ideas and decisions about them. In many ways we are as deadlocked in our culture as the Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq are in theirs. But that is politics in our day and age.


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States