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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

Monday, July 30, 2007

Dull spoons* and sharp wits take on Bloggersgate

[See *South Dakota Watch]
The case of Chad Schuldt and the purloined income tax withholdings has produced a beneficial fallout on the blogs. Many of them have commented on the coverage of this case. And many commenters have come forth from perspectives of experience and intelligence on the case. Among the commenters I recognize a former broadcast reporter from this northeast area of South Dakota who did a story some time ago about the many embezzlements she had covered and how some were apparent cases of greed but most were cases of desperation by people who got lured into the gambling convenience stores.

A strange part of the story is that the Sioux Falls Argus Leader has elected not to do any follow-up, although it broke the initial story on the missing money from the Hildebrand Tewes organization. The failure to follow up with specific information as it broke is journalistically incomprehensible. Subsequent news makes up what is called second-cycle stories, and the journalistic aim is to supply as many facts as possible so that readers are not left to conjecture on the basis of gossip. Some do not think the story has enough news value to merit much more than the barest mention. They suggest that this is a case where the gossip-mongering on the blogs and the delight taken from blogging opponents at the demise of Chad Schuldt are all that drives the story. I am among those who are dismayed at the cultivation of malice as a defining aspect of the blog culture, especially in South Dakota.

But there is another aspect to the story on which a good journalist can make a case for a detailed follow-up. The story fits a number of the traditional criteria for judging news value: audience, impact, proximity, prominence, and conflict. Kevin Woster of the Rapid City Journal did a follow-up that puts the story in perspective and utilized all of those criteria in crafting his story. The Hildebrand Tewes organization is a player in national politics and Chad Schuldt's blog got frequent notice, so that there is an aspect of prominence to be dealt with. And, of course, there is an audience out there that wants to know, like it or not. The fact that all this occured in South Dakota fulfills the proximity aspect. But the criterion that stands out is impact.

As a number of posts and comments have pointed out, with Doug Wiken's Dakota Today prominent among them, video gambling is a problem in South Dakota. Even though it is an old and sometimes tiresome problem, concern and confusion about it is a constant in South Dakota life. Our erstwhile radio reporter noted in a comment how many times she covered cases where people stole to cover their gambling debts, although the stories probably did not merit much more than mention from the police blotter or court records. In this case, the prominence of the players in this story gets coupled with a perennial problem and the story revives an old concern.

In the news business there is a type of story that follows what is called the Wall Street Journal formula. This is when there is a general trend occuring and the reporters find a specific individual or instance that demonstrates that trend at work. Stories of this formula give particular illustrations of the impact that trend has on particular people and lives. Kevin Woster's piece in the Rapid City Journal incorporates some of that concept in writing about how a constant problem produces a crisis in a particular lives of people who are well known.

Probably the most significant part of the discussion is that blogs have engaged in thoughtful, informed, and benign discussions of the true function of the journalism and the values that guide that function. That is encouraging progress. It leaves one feeling that, after spending time browsing through all the commentary, one has not frittered away part of one's life.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Oh, lordy, lordy, the cleavage watch has begun

[Photo from ABC News: Cleavage: The Owner's Manual]

The Washington Post has plunged to new depths with an article about Hillary bringing a small portion of her cleavage to the Senate floor. Personally, I found it a great relief from the old men with comb-overs and power ties.

In case anyone hasn't noticed, women's fashions in the last year or so have gravitated around cleavage displays of various magnitudes--so I've been told. It is all very Biblical. It resonates with the passage that what God has wrought, let no man uncleave, or something to that effect.

Now that the die has been cast, or the first volley fired, or whatever the opening gambit for a cleavage shot is, you must consider something if Hillary becomes president: there is going to be an awful lot of cleavage bandied about, even if it isn't there.

I mean, folks are still speculating about the unique quirks that make Bill's whankledoodle stand out in a crowd. Or in the memory of those who claim to have seen it.

Oh, politics.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Where lynching and character assassination are the favorite sports

The blogs are reacting to the news that Chad Schuldt of Clean Cut Kid is named as the person charged with embezzling $100,000 or more from the Hildebrand Tewes consulting firm. There are those with whom Chad has taken issue who feel a sense of elation that a rhetorical opponent is alleged to have shown some failures of character. That is the normal reaction of the people who frequent blogs, town cafes, and mean little taverns. It is part of the cultural repertoire for some. For others, it is cause to become heartsick. Some people, as Willa Cather has shown us, celebrate any human triumphs and successes and mourn human failures. Others feel equal or sometimes superior only when they can point to something to condemn or deride in others. The character and intellectual stature of people can be defined by which mode of expression they choose, and remember that Ralph Waldo Emerson said that character is higher than intellect.

For the unraveling of this story, however, much is said about the kind of community that South Dakota is by observing how it broke. The confirming story was not published in the local news media that serves the area where Chad Schuldt worked and lived. It broke in the D.C. Capitol newspaper Roll Call with Steve Hildebrand cited as the confirming source.

First of all, we assume that Roll Call had established a rapport with the Hildebrand Tewes organization so that the firm would know that the story would be handled journalistically with the facts as the basis for the story, and not all the malicious delights that could be contrived from them. In other words, with the atmosphere created by blogs and their commenters and some inept journalism, only an idiot would release this kind of story where its bare facts would immediately be ground up as fodder for the defamation cannons.

I did not know Chad other than over the Internet, and that involved some work on generating and refining mailing lists for political campaigns. I did look at his blog fairly regularly. He made some incisive posts, but he also allowed himself to get involved in the ad hominem game, which is the standard currency for many political blogs. The imputation of character, intellect, and personality, and the false representations of people are the mode of "discussion" utilized most by many political blogs. And one can easily demonstrate that the right-wing-ding blogs do it with much more frequency than other blogs. Unfortunately, Chad allowed himself to get pulled into exchanges of personal defamations at times, but he also did some solid posts that focused on what people did or said without resorting to using such criticisms as the basis for defamations of character and personality. And for folks like Doug Wiken who think I generalize too much about blogs, I will point as examples the constant accusations of moral deficiency posted by Sibson and some of the dreadful lapses into peevish defamation at South Dakota Politics. (Note: This will link you to a prime example of the latter's work.)

A case is made that if Chad is guilty of what he is accused of, it undercuts all the political commentary he has made. The credibility and reliability of a person has a great deal to do with how people read what they say. Aristotle observed that we believe good men more fully and readily than others. That is not to say, however, that people with blemished reputations do not make pertinent and valuable observations at times.

Who knows what circumstances drive men at times?

I recall a case when I was on the board of directors of a foundation that was set up to protect and preserve a state park that had been the site of what was probably the largest historical Indian village in North America. The affairs of the foundation got busy enough and big enough that we needed to have a treasurer with professional accounting experience to administer our funds, and two of us directors were designated to find such a person. Well, we found one. He was also the treasurer of a very large Baptist church in the community and had glowing recommendations of character and competence. The night we were to introduce him to the board, he failed to show up.

He could not make the meeting because he had been arrested and jailed. He was charged with embezzling from the church.

It turns out that the man had developed a consuming interest in playing poker. He had gotten himself into some poker games with professional gamblers and was losing his shirt on a regular basis. He embezzled to cover his debts. There was an implied menace against him and his family if he did not pay up. And, of course, he kept playing poker in the belief that he could eventually recoup his losses and pay back the money he embezzled.

The tragedy was not only that what once had been a very good man stumbled and fell, but that he had a family that suffered all the consequences financially and socially.

There will be those who take great pleasure and delight in seeing Chad immersed in ignominy. Others will find the matter grievous and will even see what they can do to restore a man to a productive and responsible life and see that his family gets the respect and compassion it deserves. And so it goes.

It is terrible not to be a profit in your own place and time

As Todd Epp pointed out, recent earnings reports of newspapers show a decline in revenues and this news has sent the right-wing-ding-a-lings into spasms of orgasmic glee. They somehow think their perpetual petulance and excursions into scurrility (I speak and read Old English, so I really do the alliteration thing well) are driving newspapers and what they regard as other main stream media out of the market. Todd also points out that visits to newspaper web sites have increased.

The hits taken by print journals are not a matter of the content of blogs, but of the changing technology and forms of media. We have been there before. I was working for newspapers when television was regarded as a threat that would close newspapers throughout the land. They had some tough years, and many of them turned to concentrating on intensifying their coverage and reporting, and the result was surprising. People went to television for entertainment. They went to newspapers for news, stories that went beyond the 30-second gloss. And as a result, their advertising revenues increased. They f0und that when people wanted well-developed, substantiated stories, they turned to the print.

Our editors made us work all the harder on our stories to serve this preference. So, people who were careful consumers also wanted advertising that gave them comparative information, and the print ads flourished. Frankly, many people in the news business were surprised when the print media started making money again.

The newspaper industry is undergoing a shaking out. Many newspapers in places like South Dakota are pathetic examples of journalism. Their concept of making money is to see how cheaply they can fill the news hole. Just as we newswriters had to change our writing habits to meet the challenge of television, they may have to find ways to compete effectively with the web. What newspapers did in the early television-print competitions was to use television as the teaser so that people would go out and get a newspaper to get the complete story.

Just at a time when newspapers are underpaying talent and cutting back on coverage efforts, they should be seeing how they can raise the journalistic ante. Some may fail. And there may be some breakthroughs in technology that make the cyberword as portable and thorough as the printed word.

But if newspapers are losing readers and money, it's their own damned fault for foolishly trying to compete with the semi-literacy of blogs. There is a literate and information-hungry public out there that wants and needs carefully checked facts presented through graceful and readable writing.

Don't write newspapers off until the vast majority in the audience have lost the ability to read and write. For those who want to control minds rather than inform them, that is the goal.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A good soldier passes

Robert J. Snyder, September 1, 1914 - July 13, 2007

My father-in-law, Bob Snyder, died in Huron Friday, July 13, and was buried on Tuesday, July 17, at Woodlawn Cemetery in Sioux Falls.

Here is Bob in August 1942 after landing in Australia. When the American troops first landed in the war zone, they were supplied with uniforms and personal weapons by the Australians.

When I think of the quintessential South Dakotan, at least of his generation, Bob fulfills the image. He was born in Kadoka on Sept. 1, 1914, graduated from White River High School in 1932, and became a linotype operator. His father was a banker and had to close his West River banks during the depression. The family moved to Sioux Falls where Bob's father opened a business and Bob continued his career in linotyping.

In 1939, Bob joined the 147th Artillery National Guard Unit. In 1941, the unit was activated after the attack on Pearl Harbor and was sent to the South Pacific. Bob was stationed in Australia for the duration of the war.
He was discharged in 1945 and graduated from Augustana College in 1950. He married Elizabeth Girton, who survives him, on January 20, 1954.
His four children are Dr. Lee Richmond Snyder, deceased, Polly Beth of Helena, Montana, Virginia of Aberdeen, and Jaime of Sioux Falls.

Among Bob's pursuits was music. He had a beautiful baritone voice and studied opera. He used his talent as a lay minister and lector in the Episcopal church. He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge and the Shriners.

He worked as a counselor for the South Dakota Vocational Rehabilitation department and after his retirement taught and worked at the Northwestern College of Commerce, which was owned and operated by his wife, Bette.

Bob had been treated for colon cancer. About two weeks before his death, Bob was taken to the hospital where it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs. His children and grandchildren came to see him. My own children, Leslie and David, and their cousin Shaun came from Denver and joined their little sister, Andrian, to say goodbye to their grandfather and be present for the last rites, administered by Father George Parmeter. Bob was weary of the physical oppressions of age and was ready to go.

Bob and I were very close friends. We listened to his extensive music collection, classical, jazz, and pop, together, went to concerts and other events together, and traveled to family gatherings together. Bob had knee replacements which did not work out too well, so for the last decade or so, he used a wheelchair for mobility. We spent a great deal of time together as I drove Bob and Bette to medical and other appointments during which time Bob regaled us with stories of growing up in South Dakota as the son of a pioneer and settler.

Bob was a lifelong Republican. However, in recent years he became an active supporter of Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson. His allegiance to the Republican Party was challenged by the attitudes and tactics of national and state elected officials. While we identified with different parties, our experiences ran parallel. I left the Republican party in Illinois when the Lincoln Republicans were displaced by those who were more interested in corporate totalitarianism than in providing fair and equal opportunities to all citizens. Bob felt the same way about what happened in South Dakota.

Since the invasion of Iraq, we had many discussions about that war and shared a sense of shame over the betrayal and waste of our troops in a war that has no moral or intellectual justification. Our soldiering was done under a different kind of command.

Bob was a man without rancor who possessed a dry wit that caused smiles and good feelings among all those he met. His death at age 92 was merciful, but his legacy of good will, good humour, and devotion to his country and his church live on as standards of what it is to be a good citizen. He was a damned fine soldier. I am grateful for having known him.

Here is a recent picture of Bob at Grace Episocopal Church in Huron when he gave a reading of the humorous poetry he has written over the years.

Below is a picture of an emplacement of Bob's Army unit during World War II. Bob was a radio operator, and the revetment covered with with camouflage was a combination radio shack and gun emplacement.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

DUSEL Dorks strike again

For a couple of years, people in South Dakota who promote real science have held their breaths. The Homestake Goldmine was, after its closing, a near-unanimous choice for the national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. Prominent scientists throughout the country endorsed and supported its conversion to a laboratory. But first Barrick Gold, its owner, became entangled in its web of corporate petulance, and then the state stepped in with people who saw the conversion only as an economic development scheme. Scientists defected with their support to other sites and despaired that science could ever be done in a place that was looked at only for the tourist and pork barrel dollars it could raise.

Homestake was chosen. People who have followed the actual criteria that will make a promising and efficient DUSEL have hoped that Homestake could become the site because its depth and features hold the best opportunity for scientists to make some important breakthroughs in knowledge, including the origin of the universe. Ironically, this work will be done in a state where many think that such research is superfluous because they know the earth is only 6,000 years, the basic elements are earth, water, wind, and fire, and alchemy is the only science that has any promise for humankind.

The battle with ignorance and silliness has just begun. Most politicians who commented, including those with progressive leanings, could only note the potential economic benefits. Gov. Rounds, as quoted by the AP, wins the award for the silliest comment: "This is an opportunity for South Dakota children to meet and participate and to learn with some of the greatest minds throughout the world." The Governor still seems to think of science in terms of a science fair for youth at which the world's greatest minds will devote themselves to daycare projects.

But there is an opportunity that is missed. A rival for the project, the Henderon Mine in Colorado, put together the strongest human resource when scientists from the state's university system organized the academic-scientific community in preparation for work to be done. South Dakota still does not have institutions of higher learning that support any world class scientific projects. In fact, as the DUSEL forms itself, the creation of a real scientific community that can support the researchers and their families is a task they will have to take on for themselves. South Dakota does not like smart-aleck outsiders and unless its universities become regarded as something other than training grounds for bonded workers, the outsiders will have to build their own enclave--with its intellectual, cultural, and social ties centered in Denver.

We wonder how that proposed highway link from Rapid City to Denver is coming along.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Land of the free, and home of the flatulent

I could not look at any blogs on the Fourth of July. The patriotism of some bloggers takes the form of bad gas. Not like there is really any good gas. But when bloggers assume a sanctimonious fatuity about the Declaration of Independence, the gas gets insidious and intellectually lethal. It doesn't just anesthetize minds; it destroys brain cells, and instead of filling the air with the aroma of exploding firecracker and streaking rockets, it blankets the land with lethal and presumptious banalities. And so, I chose to avoid the hazards of the Internet and hoped that the kids next door would light the night with their sparklers and see how many firecrackers it takes to launch a garbage can, even if it happens to be mine.

But today I peeked at the Internet and found redemption. Now, I do not address other blogs or cite specific people very often in my posts. The reason is one I have explained before and is readily apparent and clear to those people who have made it through the first few chapters of a real book on rhetoric. But when someone does something original and remarkable, I acknowledge their work. Such is the case for the postings on the Fourth of July.

The first notable post was on the Madville Times by Cory Allen Heidelberger. He takes up what the rightwing ding-a-lings call prooftesting. It is a concept of interpreting written language that caused my profession, the teaching of language and literature, to fail to the point that it was reduced to diminished status on many university campuses. It was the literary theory of deconstruction which held that words and language have no independent meaning outside of the minds of people who hear and read the words. Language and literature was just a huge verbal Rorschach blot onto which people could impose their own interpretations and be perfectly correct in doing so. Of course, the basic theory of language is that it names phenemona that people experience in common and can recall and talk about with the words that name those things. But deconstruction seemed like an ultra-intellectual theory, like rocket science and field force physics, and it became a huge academic fad, despite the fact that it was contrary to the fundamental concept of language. In psychology, the concept of deconstruction and prooftexting is called schizophrenia. It is characterized by an inability to apprehend common realities and displaces them with hallucinations, usually of the demonic variety.

Cory Allen Heidelberger takes on how deconstruction gets a sectarian version in prooftexting, and the ding-a-ling bells are tolling out their interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. This is something that is important for educated people to note, and not be so distracted by Al Qaeda and the Taliban that we overlook the sectarian fruitloops winding themselves up in our own culture.

Then the second fortuitous post on the Fourth was by the Left Reverend Todd D. Epp in South Dakota Watch. He posted the entire text of the Declaration of Independence right down to the signatories, including
Samuel Adams of Massachusetts whose brewing legacy received many a salute yesterday. And we are reminded that all those signatories realized that in the eyes of the Crown, they were committing an act of treason in signing their names and could be tried and condemned for so doing.

The Declaration is a literary work. Thomas Jefferson, as good writers do, incorporated the thinking, the stylistics, and the critical ideas that expressed the aspirations of a people. It is literary in the genre of rhetoric. It presents the philosophic objectives of the revolutionaries and then details the reasons for declaring independence from Britain. We don't teach rhetorical works as literature very much any more. We have emphasized imaginative literature--fiction, poetry, and drama-- to the exclusion of literary forms that express our purposes and aspirations. So, it was truly good to look at Todd Epp's posting.

The Fourth of July might well have been the First of July except for one matter in the Declaration. It took many days for the signers to agree on what it should contain, and they ended up excising all mentions of slavery and language which militated against it. It was important to declare our freedom and independence from Great Britain and leave the slavery issue to be resolved 80-some years later. But in that literary history of how the Declaration was finally signed is an important fact of our democracy. Just because we defer some matters to attain agreement and move our country forward does not mean we give up on them. That is an important matter in the history and context of the Declaration that prooftexters can't change.

They, too, like slavery, can be surmounted. That is a fitting and encouraging thought to have in mind on July 5. It is also an antidote to the gas attacks from ding-a-ling school.

Now let's get down to business on Iraq.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Scooter Libby? Shirley, you jest.

First of all, I don't believe there is anyone called Scooter Libby. I mean, like if I came across that name on the roster during the first day of a class, I would not call it. I would instead say, "Now who is the smart-assed Mother-F***er who put this name on the class roll? Could that have been you, Mr. Cheney?" Whatever, President Bush commuted the sentence of someone named Scooter Libby who got convicted of perjury on questions of who told the world that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent.

So, just what the hell did you expect? Reason, and truth, and integrity? Just where the hell have you been living for the last four years or so? Tehran? Wyoming? Pierre, South Dakota?

The regressives are making their "moral authority" felt throughout the land, and you'd better learn, as they like to say, to get over it and live with it. This is America in the 21st century.

As for me, I don't what purpose would be served in sending Figment Scooter Libby to jail. American prisons, which are run by the prisoners, are just graduate schools in criminality. Mr. Libby probably got all the instruction he needs in the subject from Mr. Cheney, who is the czar of connivery and shysterism. And shooting old men in the face with bird shot and saying that his position between the executive and legislative branches of tom-foolery protects him from revealing anything he has done in his Constitutional office. We the people, you know. Dick Cheney considers himself really big folks. You gotta have heart, and lots of stints.

People like Scooter (you've got to be kidding) Libby, do have abilities or they wouldn't end up sucking the Cheney ass. So, what good does it do to send them to prison, when they could be doing things like answering questions about why the f**k it was more important to conduct a vindictive campaign against Valerie Plame than to find out what the real shit is about yellow cake, or why the cake came out like a stream of yellow shit, or something.

Oh well, the yellow cake strategy got us into Iraq and we have managed to have more than 3,500 of our best and bravest and most loyal killed, and you can't scoff at an achievement like that. Hell, even Al Qaeda says that is quite an accomplishment, praise be to Allah.

I find it pleasing that Scooter (No Shit?) Libby is not going to jail. Prisons and the death penalty are not constructed around justice. They are constructed around the debased enjoyment that some people get from seeing other people held in a state of humiliation or killed. Prisons and the death penalty have nothing to do with justice and the restoration of moral principle. They have a lot to do with a people who feel like they are of any consequence only when they witness someone gasping for a last breathe or two at the end of a rope. It makes their day. And their life.

What good would it do anyone if Scooter (like in dogs rubbing their asses across the grass?) Libby did some bad time? Would it rectify the yellow cake lies and the defamations made against Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson? You know better.

Good Ol' Boy George W. finally got something right in commuting the sentence of Scooter (Is that what you call him, Dubya?) Libby. He probably did not intend to. He was probably feeling the knots being tied in his scrotum by Dickie Cheney. But he saved a bunch of dolts from their elation at seeing Scooter being shuttled off to jail. And that is a cultural moment. And saving a bunch of dupes from utter debasement is an act of leadership. Even if it isn't.

I do not think that any purpose was served when Bill Janklow was sent to jail. He should have spent his time reviewing all the lives he ruined, besides the guy's on the Harley. But that is not in our concept of justice. Reparation is not a word the American people can pronounce, let alone understand.

At least we are going to be spared a Paris Hilton jail-leaving.

Maybe we'll see Scooter (moving right along there) serving people at the soup kitchen. But once you've served Dick Cheney, how can you relegate yourself to humanity?

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States