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

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ross Perot was wrong. That big sucking noise is coming from the Supreme Court.

Yesterday's decision by the Supreme Court to restrict the use of race as a factor in attempting to integrate schools was a denial of segregation and the legacy it has left. Colin Powell said last night on Larry King Live that the decision ignores the fact of what Brown v. the Board of Education decision addressed and the lingering effects that segregation has had in keeping many people from full equality in our country. The decision has, indeed, turned back the clock.

The decision introduces a factor into the presidential race for 2008 that is as compelling as the war on Iraq. The surge in Iraq would be farcical if it wasn't wasting American lives on a military venture that has no hope of producing anything more than anguish and atrocity from anyone involved. The real enemy in Iraq is the intellectual intransigence of the people who put us there and keep us there trying to democratize a country in which the primary value is sectarian dominance and the beheading of people with opposing views.

In America, we need a resurgence of the civil rights movement. Conservatism in America has come to mean the conservation of that part of our heritage that embraced racial discrimination and injustice. The Bush appointees to the Supreme Court may have valid concerns about the pragmatic affirmative action measures in our schools, but they have chosen to deny the reasons for those measures. While those people we call conservatives (I think "regressives" is a much more accurate descriptor) recite their party line about patriotism and family values, they are, in fact, dismantling the political framework that justifies patriotism and a defense of humane values. Regressives yammer endlessly about the failures of our public schools in some places, but they deny the traditions of racial discrimination and hopelessness that created the conditions for failure.

The Supreme Court is like those folks in Europe who deny the fact of the holocaust. They are denying slavery, segregation and the lingering inequalities that are their legacy.

Looks like we'll have to march on Selma once again. During the campaign for the 2008 election.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Anti-intellectualism as an American business cult

Brother Todd Epp has a post about the end of publishing American Heritage magazine because its publishers find there is no market for American history in America. I join his sense of grief. As the bumper sticker says, "Don't trust education? Try ignorance." We are trying ignorance as if it is the great American heritage.

History is not the only part of our heritage that has undergone a massive devaluation. American literature and the communicative arts have also undergone a process of dismissal as luxurious irrelevancies to contemporary life. This attitude represents a revolt from the basic belief in education as the major factor that has and will make the great American experiment in democracy a success. All of the writing about the developing America cites education as the key to a successful republic. Three of our founders who were largely self-educated provided us with the frameworks around which our public (and in many case, our private) education systems were built. Thomas Jefferson (who studied under prominent scholars, but worked independently) wrote extensively about the need for education and formulated the plans for the University of Virginia. Ben Franklin who was totally self-educated also wrote about the need for an education system and formulated the plans for the University of Pennsylvania. Abraham Lincoln, who claimed only one year of formal schooling, signed the Land Grant College Act at the most intense moments of the Civil War. These men revered knowledge as essential to the realization of democracy and worked to create a system that would make knowledge accessible to all of America.

So, how has America come to dismiss the value of knowledge about our poltical and cultural heritage?

The key is in the language of the quotation that Todd Epp cites for discontinuing American Heritage:

“There is no market for American history,” said Scott Masterson, a senior V.P. at Forbes Inc. and president of its American Heritage unit.

That word "market" is the revealing term. In our contemporary culture, if it can't be marketed for profit, it isn't worth anything. When the value of something is determined by whether it can sell in the commercial marketplace, the value of knowledge is reduced to a kitsch-like commodity. Perhaps, we should turn our heritage over to Ron Popeil and see what he might be able to make with the stuff. But behind the values held most highly in our current culture echoes the words of Oscar Wilde about people "who know the price of everything, and the value of nothing."

Another way of approaching what happened to American culture is the cry of the American cowboy as ranching became the province of corporations. The cowboys called forth the alarm: "The bean-counters are coming!" And come they did. That phenomenon in agriculture that we call "consolidation" has been propelled by the slogan that "farming is a business, not a way of life." And the aspirations that were realized through an agrarian democracy have been dismissed as impractical, wishful thinking. Along with the idea of a nation of independent, but interconnected yeoman farmers, the political, social, and cultural values that drove American aspiration have been dismissed. In a culture that adheres more to the model of a bee-hive or ant colony than to a free, equal, and just society, knowledge and education are impediments.

Those of us in education have noted the source of problems in our failing system. Students who have been programmed by television and video games find it difficult to concentrate on anything longer than 5 to 10 minutes. The pace of thought processes has been conditioned to the commercial message, which promises some form of gratification every few minutes and interrupts the narrative-lines of stories or the orations and debates of politicians to prevent any extended absorption and analysis of the content. We note that researchers into attention deficits have raised the question of whether the problem is not conditioned by the segmenting of concentration through our electronic media. Kids are programmed not to give their attention to anything for more than a few minutes and to expect some offer of gratification to be provided them at frequent intervals.

As I watched recreations of the Lincoln-Douglas debates a few years back, I kept thinking about the impossibility of holding such extended elaborations of reasoning and ideas anywhere today. The audience for such discourse would be paltry, indeed. Our technology has been developed as a conditioning device for sales messages, and it has truncated the human ability to hold and pursue ideas that go beyond 30-second sound bites and horny music videos. Function has been reduced to the forms of communication, which are geared to the suspension of thought.

While public education is under attack and its alleged demise has become a popular intellectual posture since the issuance of the report "A Nation At Risk" in the mid-1980s, no one has bothered to ask the teachers, the people who try to impart knowledge every work day, what the problems are. The common experience in education, K-graduate school, is that our culture militates against coherence of information and intensity of thought processes. School as a quiet place where individuals are coached in developing their skills of thought by acquiring knowledge is a concept that has passed us by and is considered irrelevant.

Critics of culture have been warning us for over half a century that our culture is driven by the need to turn people into mindless consumers. The ideas of knowlegeable, critical thinkers are threats to that kind of society.

The war on Iraq represents the ultimate triumph of ignorance and mindless obedience over knowledge and coherent thought. Perhaps it can be used to explore the perils of ignorance and the mindless imposition of power by the ignorant.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Good start, but it isn't enough, damn it

The only person in the time I have lived in South Dakota who has seriously addressed the matter of closed government in the state is current Attorney General Larry Long. He has proposed putting in place a Freedom of Information Act that would specify how citizens, and therefore the press, can go about getting records on the business being done in the name of the people. This is a great idea, but it does not address matters that make the state the most secretive and repressive one in the union. That last comment is not hyperbole. The Better Government Association rankings on freedom of information and access to government place South Dakota dead last.

Attorney General Long's proposal does not address the statutory provisions to keep records closed on criminal investigations and business proceedings.

Often, during the course of a criminal investigation, it might be compromised if investigators reveal what they are doing. However, at some point, all records concerning an investigation should be open so the public can assess the integrity and competency of the investigation.

In Aberdeen, the death of Prof. Morgan Lewis on the day before the 2004 election is a case in point. The case was officially closed as a suicide, but the case involved the resignation of police officers, conflicting and unaccounted for information, and a level of secrecy that heightented suspicions about the integrity of the investigation. When the case was closed, all information should have been opened for public scrutiny.

Other investigations over the years have also accrued grave suspicions about their competence.

All business transactions involving any public entities should be open for examination. South Dakota officials have acted as if the cement plant, state owned railroads, and taxing agreements with credit companies are their private little secrets. Actually, they have been. And South Dakotans have been treated like idiots on the funny farm who are not competent to monitor their own affairs.

Any new provisions for Freedom of Information in South Dakota should first involve the repeal of some very bad and insidious laws. Then we can start talking about how to treat the people's business.

A tribute to the Taliban, and other sound and fury from you-know-where

During his last election campaign, Tim Johnson commented on some perverse politics that he attributed to the "Taliban wing of the Republican Party." Whether from its puerile intellectual insufficiency or the moral terpitude that dwells within some in the Republican Party, they immediately whined, "Mama, Timmy called us the Taliban." Amid the juvenile cacophony, the fact that the comment was an apt and timely and witful characterization of a mindset that lurks in those dark regressive precincts was missed. Sen. Johnson did not call the Republicans anything. He did compare some factions within the party to the Taliban, which is characterized by small-minded malice and the repression that it imposes on people when it gets the chance. A few of still smile at the incisive aptness of the comment.

Well, the Taliban wing of the conservative movement got more vocal this week as one of its advocates said that the war on Iraq is actually motivated by the west's destruction of the patriarchical family unit. The American left is responsible for the 9/11 attack on America.

First of all, the author of this premise writes a column for the Aberdeen American News, which automatically brings the man's powers of reasoning and his literacy into question. The American News is a loud and persistent advocate for stupidity and small-mindedness--when it can muster any tolerance for the presence of a mind at all.

I do not read this man's words. In fact, I do not subscribe to the American News or read anything in it unless it is thrust in my face by some friend with the announcement that "you aren't going to believe this!" And that is how I came to read a column by Perk Washenberger in the June 19 edition, page 4A, of the American News. Mr. Washenberger is not a man of great intellect. Neither is he a man of literary skill. His kind of thinking is found more often in the comments of blogs like South Dakota War College.

Well, last week the AAN was thrust in my face with outbursts of incredulity coming from the thruster, and I read the column. It is an experience like watching a constricting snake strangle and ingest a baby rabbit or something. It is has a kind of repulsive fascination that observations of the lower species can produce in one.

Washenberger cites as a source of his inspiration Dinesh D'Souza's book The Enemy at Home in which D'Souza makes the claim that American liberalism is responsible for the hatred and attacks on America from Islam: "...the cultural left and its allies in Congress, the media, Hollywood, the nonprofit sector, and the universities are the primary cause of the volcano of anger toward America that is erupting from the Islamic world."

Washenberger applies his own great intellect and powerful reasoning in amplifying and explicating D'Souza. He says, "The attempts in Europe and the U.S. to redefine what constitutes a family, all in the name of liberating women and homosexuals is unacceptable to most Muslim believers."

"The premise supporting this liberation during the 1960s," writes Washenberger in a flash of historical acumen, "was that the housewife was confined to a 'comfortable concentration camp of home' in the words of Betty Friedan, and they needed to be liberated." You are not going to get a more succinct and accurate characterization of the women's movement than what Washenberger will supply. I mean, this man has the gonadal reality well in hand.

The Muslims will point out to us, if we let them, according to Washenberger, "that in a relatively short time this movement has brought about the single mom-ism syndrome in the western world. A side effect was the necessity of government financial involvement to sustain what this liberation produced." This, according to the Washenberger mantra is totally unacceptable to Muslims.

"Unacceptable too is the very notion of a nation's sanctioning of abortion. To the patriarchical Muslim family the very thought of aborting, children---children who will sustain their parents in their old age, is stupid and detestable. The more recent thinking in the West: taking the old folks to the senior care center is not an option that is considered by most Muslim families." [By the way, the punctuation in these quotations is just like the American News edited it.]

We wonder if they take the old folks out and stone them to death along with the young women they dispatch through honor killings.

But Washenberger presses on with his command of fact and pyrotechnical reasoning: "The state and/or federal official authorization of homosexual marriage is especially revolting to most Muslims."

And then he winds up with a rhetorical flourish:

"So why do many in the Muslim faith call the U..S. and the European nations pagan atheistic nations--nations of idolators and devils? Why does Osama bin Laden call the west "regions of infidelity?"

"Could our attempts at secularism--our sidlining of any notion of God in our government affairs, the sanctioning of such things as abortion, euthanasia, homosexual marriage, stem cell research and more, be the answer?"

And Republicans whimper and whine and writhe in outrage when someone suggests that a wing of their party is like the Taliban?

When you drive through South Dakota and see piles of stones in some of the farm fields, it makes one paranoid. We know the Taliban is out there condemning the freedom, the equality, and quest for equal rights and justice that has been the American agenda. Could those piles of stones be an armory of god with which his minions are going to inflict some good, old Muslim justice on us?

D"Souza, Falwell, Robertson, and Washenberger: the Taliban has spoken.

9/11, to them, was the rapture.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Oh, how South Dakota loved the Kremlin

I don't write much about open government these days. What's the point? In a state that admires and cherishes secret deals and covert crimes against honesty and freedom and openness as much as South Dakota does, any discussion of open government is a verbal exercise that has no relationship to the intentions and purposes of the majority. If the people gave a rat's ass, a tinker's dam, or rusty dog turd about openness and honesty in government, they would not elect people to high office time and again who have such sterling records for keeping government closed, secret, and the exclusive province of those who model governance after costa nostra godfathers, not any reputable figure who ever operated in democratic government.

I speak, of course, of Bill Janklow and Mike Rounds. Janklow's regime had secret bank accounts planted throughout the state and refused to let the state treasurer know where they were and how much was in them. The state treasurer was a nice man, but he was not very assertive. He was a pussy in the old, military sense of the word.

When some state officials knew of investigations of what appeared to be shady dealings between state government and business corporations, Bill Janklow got Mike Rounds, then in the legislature, to lead the charge to implement a gag law that would put any state officer in jail who revealed to the public that investigations were going on or that there were reasons for such investigations.

The majority of people in South Dakota like and admire officials who are not afraid to screw over other officials and the people of the state. They think it is an attribute of leadership.

And so they elect people who run the state like Kremlin ran things--secret deals, threats of imprisonment, and nefarious doings in general.

We have secret government because the people like it and want it.

There is no question that in a democracy, people have the right to know every detail of what takes place in government. Some matters that might require secrecy for security reasons might be kept confidential for a time, but eventually the record of the proceedings must be released for public scrutiny.

In Aberdeen a few years back, there was an outcry because the names of people who were transported in the fire department ambulance were published. We are not sure why it is embarrassing to be given emergency transportation in an ambulance when required, but some folks thought it was an invasion of their privacy. So the mayor got the commission (that's what it was then) to pass a rule against publishing the names of people who got rides in the tax-paid ambulance service.

Let us put this in good South Dakotaese, if we can. We ain't got no openness or oversight of government in this state because people just don't like it. So, we get Bill Janklow and Mike Rounds.

You want to live in a real democracy?


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Great thinking, brilliant headlines

Sometimes you see headlines that arrest one's attention for their sheer magnitude of brilliance.

Like this one on a blog roll:

Does the Death Penalty Work?

Well, yeah, it leaves a lot of people dead.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rep. Herseth Sandlin commits offenses against South Dakota

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has committed many offenses against the South Dakota sensibility. Her trip to Greenland and other places to get a first-hand view of what global warming is all about is just one of them. After all, in South Dakota, at least to the blog Taliban, anything you accept must be accepted on faith, not by scientific, empirical means. By going off to Greenland with Nancy Pelosi, another offender of the South Dakota sensibility, Rep. Herseth Sandlin exhibited an act of faithlessness to her South Dakota constituency.

Here are the offenses Rep. Herseth Sandlin has committed:

  1. She, as is Rep. Pelosi, is a woman. A woman in a leadership role who presumes to go around getting information and making up her own mind instead of accepting what she is told on faith and not letting South Dakota War College decide for her what the real issues are is a major violation of those rock solid South Dakota virtues. Women are designed for burkas, at least intellectual ones. South Dakota men and some women do like a peek now and then at a fetching cleavage, a firm thigh, or a squeezable maximus, but this should always be done in the show ring when it's heifer time. Women simply do not understand their role in South Dakota when they have the temerity to use their own minds.
  2. Rep. Herseth Sandlin has brains. Among the South Dakota regressives, a woman caught with brains is like a driver being caught in possession of a dime bag of pot. If brains are considered suspect in men, just think what they must portend in women. They just ain't something the salt of the earth needs or wants. . When a woman reveals brains in South Dakota, it is regarded as indecent exposure. Gasp. And they make communication with fence posts difficult, at best.
  3. She was a product of a public school system. Groton, for Chrissakes. How are we going to close down the public school system, save on our property taxes, and get education in the hands of entrepreneurs if people from public schools go around being successful? People might begin to think that education is something useful and really works. That is a violation of South Dakota values.
  4. Rep. Herseth then had the gall to go to college out-of-state at a prestigious school where she obtained not one, but two degrees. In a state that is trying to lead the nation in closing down education, her degrees from Georgetown are not just showing off but are absolutely outrageous.
  5. Then she has the chutzpah, something she picked up in the East, to return to South Dakota and run for Congress.
  6. Rep. Herseth Sandlin also gets along successfully with people from other states. That is inexcusable.
  7. She married an outlander without submitting her spousal choice as a ballot issue in a state election. Well, by the time the maligners at South Dakota War College get done defaming and libeling that poor bastard, she'll learn something about how we do things in South Dakota.
  8. She keeps allying herself with Blue Dog Democrats, which confuses people who need their politics in black and white, with no shades of grey thrown in. Responding to the mood of the electorate is simply pandering for votes, and if we have panders in South Dakota, we want them in Deadwood, not Washington, D.C. People are needlessly confused by distinctions that don't carry black-and-white labels.
  9. She changes her mind on issues as facts and circumstances evolve. Just like a woman.
  10. Instead of hiking up her burka and grabbing a shovel and a sandbag, she went back to Washington after inspecting the flood damage in Aberdeen so she could arrange for emergency and rebuilding help. She seems to think she is a Congressperson or something.

We will track Rep. Herseth Sandlin's transgressions so that we can prove she is not of this state and has abandoned us here and belongs out in the East with all the other smart alecks.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Bury not my arse in wounded and mangled words

HBO takes indecent liberties by claiming that its video version of "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" is based upon Dee Brown's 1971 best selling book of that title. In fact, the production is a gross bowdlerization (a term I learned from a bronco-breaking uncle) that makes scant reference to the contents of the book and imposes a number of stories from popular and sloppy sources on it.

I did not know Dee Brown well, but I knew him well enough to say with great assurance that the kind of easy and glossy reprensentations made in the video production are just the kind of thing he objected to. I became acquainted with Dee Brown when, as a newspaper editor, the College of Agriculture at the University of Illinois was an important part of my coverage beat. Dee Brown was a librarian there. An important part of the job of agricultural journalists was to provide accurate and complete contexts for the information coming from the research and development there. The library was a ready and convenient resource, but most of the journalists who frequented the place admired Dee Brown as a writer of civil war and western history.

"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" is an account of the American frontier based upon documents from the history of the time: transcripts of treaty proceedings, newspapers, interviews with Native Americans, and oral histories. Up until the publication of this book, no comprehensive account of the western frontier included those perspectives. Brown included accounts of the Navahos, the Apache, and other western tribes, as well as the Sioux. However, the HBO video focuses on the Lakota.

The title of the book comes from the closing line of a poem by Stephen Vincent Benet.

The video weaves in the story of Charles Alexander Eastman as a narrative line in the story. Eastman, although an important presence in South Dakota reservation country during the events of Wounded Knee, is not mentioned by Brown. The rivalries between reservation agents and prominent Lakota are reduced to soap-opera simplicity. Valentine McGillicuddy at Pine Ridge was resentful and vindictive at times at the power and respect accorded Red Cloud and the leader's refusal to bend to the agent's will. Up at Standing Rock that same kind of resentful and seething dislike was extended to Sitting Bull by agent James McLaughlin. The way these attitudes produced the killings of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull is a huge part of the story of what led to Wounded Knee. Dee Brown understood these matters. The HBO writers did not.

Neither did they understand the full import of the Ghost Dance religion, although some passing references to the hope it held out to the Lakota people was made.

The best thing ab0ut the HBO production is that it should encourage people to read the real story written by Dee Brown. And Benet's poem, "American Names."

Friday, June 1, 2007

Interpreting scripture

Here is a headline appearing above a story about Mother Hillary.

Iowa a Sumbling Block for Clinton

A "sumbling block" is the same as a "stupid sumbitch."


Frere Bognus
Holy Scribe
Order of St. Ronny, parish of Welfare Queen Driving Pink Cadillac

Where have all the bees gone? The neo-cons ate them.

That's as good an explanation as any. Honey bees are paying with their lives because they of their pro-choice attitude.

But here in the Washington Post is as good a story as you will find on the matter. Neo-cons may find it offensive. It is full of information, and it is literate. Sinful. Absolutely sinful.

And them microbes just keep a-festering away

David Kranz has a column in the Argus Leader today about the radio and television ads that suggest that Rep. Herseth Sandlin was derelict in her obligations to her constituents when she did not immediately come to Brown County when Lake Dakota tried to reform itself in 70 percent of the basements in Aberdeen and Rep. Stephanie failed to distribute sump pumps and fix the sanitary sewer system and personally tell God to stop that shit. After her visit in Brown County, where she toured and gathered information about what kind of federal help was required, she went on a fact-finding mission regarding global warming and the use of alternative energy in eliminating green house gases.

As one might notice from some of the discussion on the Ouija boards, sometimes called blogs, the regressives think that the data indicating that human activity is contributing significantly to climate change is a vast left-wing conspiracy. They also think that the theory of evolution is a vast left-wing conspiracy, and that the God who rained that shit down upon us created geological strata and the progressive development of fossils in it to play a trick on the vast left-wing conspiracists and make them think that earth is more than 6,000 years old. Iktomi ensnared them bleeding-heart suckers but good.

David Kranz consulted the Ouija to get some explanations for what these ads mean. He asked political scientists. Now, this is real science. Well, in the hands and minds of some practitioners, like Bill Snyder of CNN, it smacks of science because they deal in surveys that are taken according to protocols that establish some empirical data and reliability and they offer interpretations of what these polls mean and what behaviors on the part of politicians produce what responses in the electorate organism. Or is it orgasm? Come to think of it, what's the difference? It's all a matter of those conditioned souls out there getting off on something. Eh, Big Brother?

However, the scientists at Podunk U. don't horse around with data. They interpret all those blots of written word in their best Rorschachian manner and they stick to their Ouija Boards. That's how they come up with the conclusion that the juvenescent crudity and dull-minded accusations in those so-called ads are witty and funny. And we can be damned glad them scientists ain't teaching Shakespeare.

So according to one scientist, ads like those deriding Rep. Herseth Sandlin are part of the political process and do little harm. Which is like saying farting in church is part of a natural process and that's why Father Bognus is standing up there waving the censer around. The censer drives away the greenhouse gases, and Rep. Herseth Sandlin ought to go to church more often to get a grasp on the real issues. That's what one of them scientists suggested, anyway. Whew.

The scientists promote the idea that appealing to small-mindedness and peevish resentments is good politics and wins elections, and when somebody is successful and can win the respect of people in important places and own a nice house, that person is betraying the South Dakota constituency. You know, those tattered churls who long for sod houses and poverty and the madness those things caused. When John Thune played up Tom Daschle's nice house as a betrayal of South Dakota and let his minions show Daschle pictured as a crony of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and said that he dumped his wife for a beauty queen, now that was real smart politics. It addressed the real issues of South Dakota. Brilliant. Classy. And according to the scientists, we can look forward to more of this relevant, astute, constructive, and incisive discussion of the human condition and all that stuff.

Recite with me:

Our Ouija Board, who art in the political science department, give us this day our daily voodoo, and lead us not into the humanities or real sciences, but deliver us from that liberal-assed evil, for thine is the Big Brother that we have been waiting for ever since George Orwell prophesized it. Supersize
it, dear Ouija. Dayamn.

We have seen those ads on the web, but have they actually played on any radio or television stations? We would like to know so that we can study them and become better versed in contemporary science. And get a better grasp on the objectives of democratic government. And strive for better churlishness. That, after all, is the objective of American politics, according to them scientists.

This may be a bit of back-sliding from the pinnacle of true Ouija science, but our lingering fascination with the humanities nags at us and we wonder about people who say things about other people anonymously and are too cowardly and sleazy to identify themselves so that we may know the true prophets of the new democracy, as taught by the Ouijists. It is real hard to let go of the notions accrued by thousands of years of thinking and writing, but we will try. It will take some time for us to adopt scurrility and the anonymous debasment of others as our redemption.

Forgive us, our Ouija, for we once knew what we were doing.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States