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

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.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

More great news coming out of Iraq

From the International Herald Tribune:

After six years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, American soldiers are deserting their posts at the highest rate since 1980. The number of US Army deserters this year shows an 80 percent increase since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

The totals remain far lower than they were during the Vietnam War, when conscription was in effect, but they show a steady increase over the past four years and a 42 percent jump since last year.

"We're asking a lot of soldiers these days," said Roy Wallace, director of plans and resources for Army personnel. "They're humans. They have all sorts of issues back home and other places like that. So, I'm sure it has to do with the stress of being a soldier."

The Army defines a deserter as someone who has been absent without leave for longer than 30 days. The soldier is then discharged as a deserter.

According to the Army, about nine in every 1,000 soldiers deserted in fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, compared with nearly seven per 1,000 a year earlier. Overall, 4,698 soldiers deserted this year, compared with 3,301 last year.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wonderful news coming out of Iraq

Here is the wonderfrul news coming out of Iraq this month.
DateNamePlace of Death - ProvinceCause of Death
14-Nov-2007Specialist Derek R. BanksSan Antonio, Texas - BaghdadHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
14-Nov-2007 NAME NOT RELEASED YETDiyala ProvinceHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
14-Nov-2007 NAME NOT RELEASED YETBaghdadHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
13-Nov-2007Private 1st Class Casey P. MasonMosul (near) - NinawaHostile - hostile fire - small arms fire
13-Nov-2007Sergeant Christopher R. KruseMukhisa - DiyalaHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
13-Nov-2007Specialist Peter W. SchmidtMukhisa - DiyalaHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
12-Nov-2007Sergeant Joseph M. VanekBaghdadHostile - hostile fire - small arms fire
09-Nov-2007Specialist Jermaine D. FranklinJisr Naft - DiyalaHostile - hostile fire - IED, grenades
07-Nov-2007Captain Benjamin D. TiffnerBaghdadHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
07-Nov-2007Sergeant Lui TumanuvaoArab Jabour - BaghdadHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
06-Nov-2007Specialist Christine M. NdururiCamp ArifjanNot reported yet
05-Nov-2007Sergeant Daniel J. ShawTaji - BaghdadNon-hostile
05-Nov-2007Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin R. BewleySalah Ad Din ProvinceHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
05-Nov-2007Staff Sergeant Carletta S. DavisTal Al-Dahab - At-Ta'mimHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
05-Nov-2007Staff Sergeant John D. LindeTal Al-Dahab - At-Ta'mimHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
05-Nov-2007Sergeant Derek T. StenroosTal Al-Dahab - At-Ta'mimHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
05-Nov-2007Private 1st Class Adam J. MullerTal Al-Dahab - At-Ta'mimHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
03-Nov-2007Private 1st Class Dwane A. Covert Jr.Al Sahra - Salah ad DinNon-hostile - explosion
01-Nov-20072nd Lieutenant Tracy Lynn AlgerShubayshen - BaghdadHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
01-Nov-2007Master Sergent Thomas A. CrowellBalad (near Balad Air Base) - Salah ad DinHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
01-Nov-2007Staff Sergeant David A. WiegerBalad (near Balad Air Base) - Salah ad DinHostile - hostile fire - IED attack
01-Nov-2007Civilian Nathan J. SchuldheissBalad (near Balad Air Base) - Salah ad DinHostile - hostile fire - IED attack

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Taser this, or the art of the leading question.

In court trials, they are called leading questions and attorneys yell “leading” when their opponents pose one. The judge usually tells the offending attorney to rephrase the question.

When a journalist asks a leading question of a news source, there was a time when the reporter could expect a sharp, sarcastic answer or a long, qualifying one. But that was back in the days when a college education included a basic knowledge of what comprises legitimate rhetoric and what comprises cheap tricks and false propaganda.

When a news medium poses leading questions to its audience, it loses its status as the independent Fourth Estate and becomes a propaganda agency.

That’s what happened at the Rapid City Journal last week when it published an editorial questioning if Sen. Tim Johnson’s health qualifies him for another run for the Senate. The editorial carried the headline “Johnson’s bid raises health question.”

No. The Rapid City Journal’s editorial raises the health question.

Most people who are conscious and competent enough to go to the bathroom by themselves know that Tim Johnson had a brain hemorrhage last December and has been recovering from reparative surgery and the physical after effects.

Sen. Johnson’s family, doctors, and staff did something horrendous. They decided not to let the press intrude into his treatment and recovery. They did let Bob Woodruff of CBS News have periodic visits, which ended up as a report about the healing and recovery process on Nightline. They did so because Woodruff suffered a brain injury from an IED in Iraq. His resulting story was about facing debilitating injuries and recovering from those so that one’s life and work can be resumed.

The reason the press was avoided to keep the focus on Sen. Johnson’s recovery and reduce the kind of tabloid-level gossip and speculation that much of the media practices as journalism.

As Brendan Johnson, the Senator’s son, relates to anyone who will listen, Sen. Johnson did not give his family any advance information about his decision to run. The reason was simple. He had goals to reach in his physical therapy, and he wanted to be sure in his own mind when he decided, and he wanted to be able to demonstrate to his constituents that he was capable of running if he found that he could.

The kind of issues raised in the Rapid City Journal represent exactly the kind of superficial and superfluous speculation that the Senator did not want influencing his decision and the public’s perception of his abilities.

The editorial writers complained that the Senator did not grant telephone interviews or hold weekly teleconferences with reporters. The editorial did not mention that since he returned to the Senate, he has not missed a vote and that he has issued statements of his position and analysis of issues through his staff. The Senator openly acknowledges that his speech is not as fluent as it was prior to his AVM, and he communicates in the form that affords the most control and precision for him. The press may find it frustrating that he does not provide them opportunity to jump on halting speech patterns, but he has chosen the option of competent communications management.

The press suffers from the notion that it has mandatory access to political leaders. It doesn’t. I recall the master of selective press contacts in my home state, Sen. Everett Dirksen. He did not waste time and energy on reporters whose competence and motives were in doubt. No one practiced selective press contacts more than Bill Janklow did as Governor.

There has been a deplorably petulant aspect among the South Dakota media, especially the blogs, when it has not been fodder for its tabloid exploitations of the Senator’s illness. They have whined that the people have a right to know if they will have a full-time capable representative in the Senate. They have wailed fatuously that they need to know if their state will be represented by someone with his faculties intact. The fact is that they have been informed as soon as the Senator knew what plans could be pursued.

In all this, Sen. Johnson has demonstrated a dimension of leadership that lifts him above trite and banal carping that the blogosphere regards as political discourse. His wife Barbara is a breast cancer survivor who has traveled the world giving women the hope and information to surmount that illness. Sen. Johnson has had a bout with prostate cancer. And then last December, he was hit with the AVN. For anyone who has faced setbacks and adversity, the Johnson family has demonstrated an intelligence, a courage, and a determination that is a standard of hope and triumph. That’s real leadership.

We live in a digital age when the press thinks it has to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the way it approaches the news. Rather than diligent reporting and skillful writing, it depends upon Jerry Springer Show fights and conflicts to attract audiences. Newspapers are losing readers and advertising to the digital formats. But the print media is also showing a definite stratification on intellectual level. There are alternatives to blogs and daily media that cater to the mean, petty, and cheap.

The Rapid City Journal editorial was an extended leading question. It was written in such a way as to predispose readers to the notion that Sen. Johnson’s health is the major campaign issue. It prompts the readers to respond with doubt and concern that the editorial raised because of the Senator’s controlled contacts with the media. It did not cover his activities on the Senate floor or the statements he has issued.

The Rapid City Journal did not operate as part of the independent Fourth Estate, but as part of the tabloid industry whose main endeavor is the manufacture of doubt, conflict, and idle speculation.

The Rapid City Journal has some fine reporters on its staff. It may be that the Senator does not want this campaign to go off in the negative and hopeless direction that his campaign against John Thune took, and wishes to restrict occasions for speculation and the exchange of defamations. The state’s media have much to do with the tone and substance of that campaign. But good reporters do not serve to generate silly accusations and character assassination. Maybe the Rapid City Journal can rediscover the basic premise of journalism and the function of the Fourth Estate.

But then, maybe not.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bringing home the bacon, cooking the pork

The facts are not something you really want to bother nice people with, but South Dakota ranks at the absolute bottom, as it does for so many categories of human endeavor, for its programs and its support of scholarship and research at its universities. It took scientists from throughout the world to drag the powers that be into considering the abandoned Homestake Goldmine as a potential site for a world-class research laboratory. Even now, state leaders see the laboratory more as a Disneyland attraction where tourists can come and catch a glimpse of scientists in their wild state rather than as a place scholars and researchers investigate some questions about matter and the nature of the universe. Tourism is more comprehensible than science to many salt-of-the-earth South Dakotans.

The Congressional earmark of $1 million for the Tom Daschle Center for Public Service and Representative Democracy at SDSU has some media and many blogs breathing heavily and noisily and making indignant gasping sounds. To them, bringing up the Daschle Center is like opening a centerfold from Penthouse and holding a circle jerk. It provides the anti-intellectual, anti-real-education factions an occasion to get off on something.

The argument is that it is all a matter of pork barrel. Some people have pointed out that Daschle never returned to South Dakota after he was booted out of office and he wasn't anything like a president to deserve the honor. The brilliance of the the comments in circulation is blinding, so readers beware. Only a few commentators note that the Center is an intellectual and educational enterprise that would, as with the Homestake lab, give the state something it does not have. And apparently many people do not want.

Of the state's universities, SDSU has done many things right in the past decades. That Daschle would give his official papers to the university and help start a center for study and teaching is probably an affront to those factions that think that education, research, and scholarship threaten good, old South Dakota values and constitute a direct assault on their religious faith. Others see it as a resource that can at long last give the state some opportunities for study and research that can keep some of our brightest students within the state and create a chance to build the state intellectually similar to the way that the College of Agriculture at SDSU has contributed to building it agriculturally throughout the years. For many, bringing South Dakota out of the 19th century is too frightening and too offensive an idea to contemplate, especially if it would involve the name of Demon Daschle. It may not be a majority that rejects such an addition to the state, but there are times when the minority should have its way. And with our state universities having been turned into Orwellian Ministries of Truth where professors use their positions to generate brain-washing propaganda for particular political entities, any attempt to establish a legitimate educational enterprise would be doomed by the prevailing climate. Having a Tom Daschle Center on the campus from where Jon Lauck conducted his character assassination campaign against Daschle is a deadly irony that signals some severe intellectual incompatibilities.

There are matches that just are not meant to be. A center for the study and development of public service and representative democracy in South Dakota just might be one of them.

The idea of some kind of an intellectual enterprise to study and advocate programs for the development of South Dakota and the region of the northern plains has been kicking around for a long time, including when Tom Daschle was in the Senate. North Dakota launched a center for rural development, which I haven't heard about in some time. However, around the election of 2004, a number of people on the northern plains were talking about the need to have a coordinated effort deal with the issues peculiar to the region. When Daschle was defeated, those people immediately started suggesting to him that he could use his prominence and influence to promote and, perhaps, sponsor such a study center. I recall being at a farewell reception a few days after the election at the Harley Davidson dealer in Sioux Falls when the subject was broached.

Because Aberdeen is Daschle's hometown, a number of people thought it would be a likely place to have a study center. The proposals fell into two camps. One was for a school of public service such as the one proposed for SDSU. Some alumni from Northern State University were pushing that proposal very hard. However, NSU does not have the academic reputation, the resources, or the will for any high-powered research and learning programs needed to attract the funding and support for such a venture.

Aberdeen had a better chance at being the site for a think tank that would focus on the northern plains region. Its location is central, it is large enough to offer some amenities, and it had the interest of potential supporters. In its initial concept, the center would be affiliated with the state's university system but would have ties with other state systems. It would be largely supported by grants and subscribed donations. The idea was that Tom Daschle's influence could attract the needed subscriptions.

Some of the financial supporters of this idea apparently had the idea of compiling a comprehensive plan before presenting it to Tom Dasche. They knew that he was interested in conbributing to his alma mater, SDSU. They sent a study team to Aberdeen to develop a fairly detailed proposal. This all happened between November of 2004 and February 2005.

The team members came to Aberdeen in those early months of 2005 to formulate their report. At that time, I had access to office space they could use and work from while they were in town. My only role in their work was to coordinate their access to the office, but I was able to help them with some aspects of their community analysis. That is how I happened to be present one gloomy Sunday morning in February when they disqualified Aberdeen as the site for any kind of intellectual enterprise.

I have been involved in market studies of communities over the years, but I was surprised at what was considered in this community study and how the factors were analyzed. Aberdeen had many strong points, but transportation was a nagging problem for the study team. While the town is in a central point for the northern plains, it is isolated by time and distance from the major cultural centers, the Twin Cities and Denver. However, that isolation was also seen as an advantage for intensive study projects that require concentration and freedom from distractions. The checklist of factors was long and detailed, and Aberdeen did not fare too badly. Its detractions were shared by most communities on the northern plains, and it had some advantages.

But when the team started talking about community attitudes and intellectual and cultural environment, Aberdeen was quickly dismissed. Racial attitudes were a big factor. Open government and relationships between officials and constituents was an area of concern. The Aberdeen police department and the city were being rocked by controversy at the time. Cultural and intellectual climate were the major concern.

I was surprised at the extent the researchers went to assess intellectual attitudes. A main focal point of analysis was the local newspaper and its discussion boards. They were analyzed for how they reflect the intellectual and cultural activity in the community and how the community regards it. I noted that they had printouts from the newspaper discussion board which were lavishly marked with pink highlighter. Passages which showed intolerance, viciousness, and malicious tendencies were marked for special attention. Printouts from some blogs were similarly analyzed in this way.

I was curious as to how individual responses on discussion boards and blogs were regarded as representative of the community. One of the researchers explained that there are mean and vicious people everywhere. What is telling is how the community handles them and responds to them. She then pointed out how accusatory and defamatory statements dominated the discussion on the newspaper letters to the editor, its discussion boards, and some blogs. While editorial policy controls what appears in the various media, editorial policy also reflects what "sells" in a community.

She said asking intellectual workers to come to a community with bad attitudes about intellectual enterprises is like asking a string quartet to play in a biker bar.

And that may be the case with the proposed Tom Daschle Center for Public Service and Representaive Democracy.

Simutaneously posted at KELOLAND.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Perverted justice

The Ted Klaudt case is a cultural touchstone. It is significant for the moral attitudes it elicits from the people of the state. In their responses, the essential character of the people is revealed.

When I was relating the case to some colleagues in Iowa and Illinois, they said it sounded like a sketch from Saturday Night Live. The circumstances seem so preposterous. They said the scheme sounds like something that would be dreamed up by horny adolescents, not a grown presumably mature man. The betrayal of trust and abuse of authority is not lost on anyone, however, but beyond the ludicrous aspects of the case, the devastating humiliations of the victims and the Klaudt family are the salient residuals of the case.

In this, the recent postings at South Dakota War College on restitution are relevant. In a sexual abuse case, the person convicted of the abuse of a young woman was sentenced to pay for the counseling and therapy, paid an initial part of it, about $5,000, but after being discharged from parole, he was not held liable for the major part of the bill, which amounted to more than $190,000.

This posting brings up an aspect of justice that is almost totally missing from our system: reparations. Our system of justice is primitive. It is dedicated to vengeance on the convicted, not justice for victims and society at large. It is as if Jesus Christ had never lived and the New Testament had never been written. Most people cannot grasp why Christ confronted revenge and vengeance as a destructive force that damages people as much as the violent and criminal acts that may be committed against them. Vengeance, he taught, is the Lord's. Our job is to repair the damage and rise above our primal urges to inflict revenge and bask in moral superiority. There are few Christian churches that would tolerate a pastor who preached this aspect of the New Law. In fact, there are few churches that include the New Law as part of Christian doctrine. Ministers know better than to preach it. They do not last long in the ministry of the church if they do.

The reaction in South Dakota blogs gives evidence of how justice is conceived by many, probably a majority. Ted Klaudt is not an attractive looking man. In the rage to condemn him. a number of bloggers have made his physical appearance a part of their vilifications. Mature, perspicacious, classy acts.

Klaudt was also a taunting, obnoxious anti-choice advocate. The inconsistency of man who claims a right-to-life stance and then connives to damage young lives is a deadly irony. It reveals a failed human being who has presumed to speak as a responsible moral authority, but could not act with moral competence. The blogs have gloated a bit over the irony and found some pleasure in being able to exemplify the moral hypocrisy as part of the general anti-choice mentality. This really puts the controversy on a solvable plane of discourse. Every moral principle we need to know we learned from playground bully sessions. (The preceding statements are known as verbal irony.)

That brings up the matter of a fitting punishment. The plains Indians had a way of dealing with people who killed or damaged another person in some way. The offender was required to look after the welfare of those affected by his acts for the rest of their lives. The concept was to use the productive abilities of the offender to redeem himself as a responsible, contributor to the life of the tribe. It was directed at building society, not further destroying lives.

Personally, I am diffident about the death penalty. It really serves little purpose but to satisfy the lust for vengeance, but at times it is a mercy killing that offers a humane end to the hopeless, the unredeemable, and the dangerous. But it also makes collective killers out the society that takes satisfaction from retribution. When death is witnessed for the pleasure and thrill of seeing someone in their death throes, it is not justice. It is the most debased kind of perversion. The integrity of the death sentence has been too often found lacking, as in the case of the 18 men exonerated from death row in Illinois by DNA evidence. It is not an instrument of justice.

Jails and penitentiaries have become nothing more than graduate schools in criminality. They rehabilitate only those inmates who want to be rehabilitated. They do not succeed in requiring the convict to repair the damage done or to contribute to the welfare of society. They brand convicts in such a way that it is difficult for them to be productive citizens even if they want to.

When Bill Janklow was sentenced to jail, I thought it was a perversion of justice. He could better have used his talents and experience in helping people, rather than spending pointless hours and days behind bars. The time was wasted. As for Ted Klaudt, he has young women whose lives he can repair by working for their benefit and welfare. And he also has a family he should continue to support and provide for. Prisons are bureaucracies created for vengeance, not reparation of damaged and failed society. People in prison are not taking responsibility for what they have done.

Pat Powers at South Dakota War College notes that our laws are faulty and provide little reparative measures for victims and those who are harmed by criminal acts. There is so much work to be done.

But there is little will and even less knowledge for getting it done.

For more along this line of thought, see Dakota Today.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A nation of shams

I look up laws a couple times of week. I have held offices in organizations that require reference to laws on corporations, civil rights, and liabilities. It is necessary to reference laws in the correspondence we write and in supplying information to boards and committees. The Internet is a huge boon in looking up laws because most states have their codified laws available to call up. It saves trips to law libraries.

The other day I went to South Dakota's state website that I have bookmarked and wanted to look at the wording of a law. It used to be simple. You clicked on the Legislature and then clicked on Codified Laws and you had a menu where you could either call up the list of titles or enter a law number, if you know it. But the other day someone hid the damned laws. I was confronted with a new website that did not give the vaguest hint as to how to find the laws.

I spent some time browsing and found at the top of a page a little tab that says Know Your Government Agencies. I tried it and then found a link to the Legislative Research Council. They now have the laws tucked into their website niche.

But once you find the laws, you have another problem: finding a lawyer who can advise you on getting the rights and protections that the laws ostensibly provide you. Over the years I have had numerous occasions to ask for legal help for myself or organizations I worked for when civil rights were violated and when laws have been violated. In other states where I have worked , one could find lawyers who knew the laws and would aggressively pursue the legal processes to apply them. In South Dakota, I have had quite a different experience.

In a case where some money was wrongfully taken from me by a state agency, l had the laws and regulations and the evidence on my side. i went to a lawyer. He did not wish to pursue the matter, as he said no judge would put the case on the docket. The money amounted to only $54, but the petty bureaucrat who took it violated two state laws and the administrative regulations of her agency in taking the money. I thought the lawyer maybe did not want to handle a case that involved such a paltry sum of money, so I tried the legal process myself. The state's attorney dismissed the matter without any explanation of why the laws that were violated did not apply. In fact he cited some federal regulations that had no relevance to the situation. The legal system made a strong point to me. The laws may be on the books, but they are meaningless.

That's why when someone says we are a nation of laws, I tend to giggle and snicker and chuckle a lot. We are a nation of shams. Or at least a state of shams.

Recently, I have been involved in a case where defamations in the form of libel are involved. The state law says everyone has the obligation to refrain from defaming others It carefully defines slander and libel that make up the forms of defamation. The law also says that every person has the right to protection from personal injury by defamation. But just try to find a lawyer who will pursue a libel case. They are quick to point out that it is a difficult process and not very lucrative to pursue a libel case. One would think that at least the courts could tell slanderers and libelers to stop. But that is not the case. Those laws that appear to protect people from damaging falsehoods are shams.

Perhaps they are worse. The South Dakota code has laws against deceit. But that very code has laws that deceive people into thinking that they have protections against malicious insult and defamation and live in state where some concept of justice applies. The tort code on libel and defamation is in itself a fraud.

I have other examples of where what the law states is contradicted by how the law is practiced. When it comes to laws of personal responsibilities and rights, we are a state of frauds. And that says a great deal about the actual quality of democracy we claim to be. In open government and personal rights, we are state of systematic delusion.

Is that cynical? You bet. But if there are any judges or lawyers out there who would like to prove me wrong, I would be more than happy to hear from them.

Until then, I will lobby our legislators to purge the South Dakota Codified Laws of the sham and fraud. But in a state that lives in delusion, even suggesting that kind of honesty is futile.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Education is caught up in the numbers racket

I spent the last three weeks in Moline, Ill., one of the Quad-Cities, on medical duty. During that time various assessment testing results from the school districts in the region were being released and reported in the news media.

The school board in Rock Island was in turmoil. Its high school was listed in a study from John Hopkins U. as a "dropout factory." The study was made of statistics compiled by the federal department of education. However, the Rock Island School District had compiled its own statistics for submission to the state and the numbers they produced had no relationship with what was reported from the federal agency.

At this time, there is no explanation for the severe discrepancy, but the situation does send a message to the public. The numbers from the multitude of studies we are confronted with are often fraudulent. We cannot trust them or believe that they tell us anything truthful or significant.

I am not a statistician. As a journalist and educator, I have had to take courses in statistical procedure and statistical reasoning. These courses introduce one to the basic principles of statistics and probability, and one spends a great deal of time in studying when statistics are incompetently compiled and when they are falsely used. The fact is that numbers are constantly used incompetently and fraudulently. Too many people are too undereducated to question the basis and use of the statistics thrown at them.

Benjamin Disraelie is credited with noting that there are lies, damned lies, and statistics. We have known for a long time that we should be skeptical and careful about statistics. They often are generated by people who are totally ignorant of what comprises valid statistical assertions or people who deliberately use them for deceptive purposes.

The testing required by No Child Left Behind has resulted in an epidemic of false and pointless statistical assaults. The fraud has many reasons.

1. As in the case of the Rock Island situation, the data gathering is incompetent. This is largely a matter of what is counted and whether the people doing the counting know how to count. A data set has to have some scientific definition used with care by people of competence and integrity.

2. With educational testing, the first question to be asked is if the tests themselves are capable of measuring what they claim to measure. When kids are being tested by people who have no concept of how to write a test, the results are meaningless. Many of the tests used in NCLB assessments are equivalent of finger-painting. They are wildly "creative" but they represent no known intellectual phenomena.

3. The inferences made from a set of test scores are often the result of fallacious reasoning.

The NCLB tests are supposed to be diagnostic. They are supposed to tell teachers, schools, and school districts how well their children are doing in terms of a general, comparative tendency. For example, the education department may say that any school that doesn't have 55 percent of its students show as accomplished readers on a test will be put on a warning list. That kind of purpose in itself shifts the focus of the test from assessment of students to punishment of the schools.

If assessment is working, it will tell the schools how each student is doing and what factors can be identified as contributing to good performance and what is causing poor performance. And poor performance can be caused by a multitude of factors: genetics, personalities, economic factors, social conditions in homes, social conditions in classrooms and schools, size of classes, curriculum materials, teacher personalities, classroom design, parental and administrative support, and on and on.

Tests should give teachers and administrators feedback on what is working and why, and what is not working and why. And if 55 percent of the students are not proficient readers, for example, testing information should include a profile of the class to determine if that percentage requirement is even relevant to a given class. To make progress with students, educators have to know what variables they are working with.

One of the successes of the old one-room schools was that teachers had the children in class over a number of years and knew in great detail the individual backgrounds and performance capabilities of each student. Testing is meant to supply some of that information that would otherwise be gathered by close observation over a long period of time. It is not enough to tell schools if they aren't doing well; they have to know why. Otherwise, the testing is pointless.

As long as politicians and administrators with little or no experience in the educational process are designing the assessments of our schools, we will learn nothing and get nowhere. The assessments and reporting of them should be in the hands of people educated and experienced in the process of education. The job of administrators should be to implement their programs and explain them to the school boards, whose job it is to represent the public interest in the process.

NCLB has no relevance to education as it actually occurs. It could be an asset if it was designed and administered by teachers. As it is, it is just another obstacle in the way of education.

[Simultaneously posted at KELOLAND.]

Friday, November 2, 2007

History professors and that voodoo they do so well

A South Dakota blog that finds goblins and Democrats lurking under beds and behind college lecterns and invading newsrooms has helped uncover a whole gaggle of them in a complete takeover of the history department at the University of Iowa. It links to a newspaper column in the Duke University newspaper that claims that both Duke and the University of Iowa "made history" by having no Republicans on their history faculties. The column is an extended complaint about a well-credentialed scholar with right wing leanings whose job applications at the two institutions were rejected allegedly because he is a Republican.

The column states that there are 27 Democratic history professors at Iowa and no Republicans.

That statement hits a new mark in enterprise journalism. There should be something akin to a Pulitzer for coming up with statistics like that.

For more than 30 years I sat on faculty search committees and read through thousands and thousands of credential files. I sat on promotion and tenure committees and reviewed hundreds of credential files. These files contain details of applicants work histories, but there is no place in a credential file that shows an applicant's political affiliation. In fact, that is information that is considered inappropriate in a credential file. An applicant might choose to include political affiliation, but this is not information that would be included in a personnel file.

And as far as applications for jobs, even a college as small as NSU will at times receive a hundred or more applications for a single position. A job opening at a place such as the University of Iowa might well produce thousands for such a coveted position, and the credentials will be strenuously competitive. Out of hundreds or thousands who apply for a position, only one will land it. Rejection is a way of life in academe, and it is a matter of professional performance as a scholar and as a teacher, not a matter of personal preferences and affiliations.

As an alumnus of the University of Iowa, I would have grave concern if it required faculty to record their political affiliations on any official records. Professors are often asked to put curriculum vitae on file so that the public can know their professional histories and areas of work. But I have never seen one in which a scholar posted his or her political party. Neither is such information recorded in personnel files, which are confidential and not available for public scrutiny.

The only way I can think of that the political affiliation of the professors would be available would be to obtain a faculty roster and check the names with the county voter registration lists in the counties where they reside.

If the column writer at Duke did that, he deserves acknowledgment for his industry.

However, I wonder if he checks under his bed for Democrats at nights.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States