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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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How many times do you have to kick this rock over?

Although The New York Times says that Scott McClellan's book that details the Orwellian deception and mangling of information by George W. Bush and his bully buddies is the first by an "insider," there is, in fact, quite a library by former cabinet and staff members on the subject. But it doesn't take inside information from White House workers to understand the neo-fascism which Bush and his "conservative" faction have imposed on the U.S.

About one-third of the peple knew that the information disseminated by the Bush regime leading up to the invasion of Iraq was phony. They knew that it was called into question, if not contradicted, by the reports of weapons inspectors and assessments by the governments of allies. They realized the war was a device of mass black mail to use patriotism and fear to garner support for a regime with totalitarian designs. And anyone familiar with the propaganda techniques of the Third Reich, the Soviet Union, and Red China--and other totalitarian states--recognized what the Bush 43 regime was doing, even if some members of the regime were too dull to understand it themselves. A distinguishing feature of the propaganda technique is to slander and libel individuals who pose a threat to the regime--just as Bush allies Swiftboated John Kerry and the John Thune campaign used character assassination on Tom Daschle. Neo-fascists consider such demented destruction as shrewd politics. Dominating other people is their purpose in life.

The Scott McClellan book is no surprise to anyone but the Bush leaguers. Members of the White House press corps noted a growing tentativeness in McClellan in regard to the Bush talking points before he was forced out as press secretary. Cable and network news do not pick up on such matters, but members of the print media commented on McClellan's obvious discomfiture, especially in regard to the war on Iraq.

Put the McClellan book along side those by former state department officers, former cabinet members, national security officials. and journalists such as Bob Woodward, and you have quite a history of an intellectually and morally bankrupt regime. The saddest part is the number of people who defend and support it. At this point, just over 25 percent of the people approve of Bush's performance, but the question is how many who disapprove do so on the substantive exploits the administration has taken against democracy and our Constitutional protections. By 2004, a huge portion of the electorate was cowed or duped intoperceiving Bush as their protective Big Brother, and Orwell's 1984 was a reality in America.

How many times does the neo-con rock have to be turned over before we see the things writhing beneath it as America's most imminent threat. Scott McClellan has exposed them once again. We can only hope no more books need to be written on the matter.

Monday, May 26, 2008

All the gas about gas

Dennis Jones over in Bath who hosted Hillary Clinton and is one of the owners of Tacoma Park Place is vigorously promoting the return to the 55 mph national speed limit as a way to address the spiraling cost of gasoline.

When the national speed limit was put into effect in 1974 in response to the Arab oil embargo, I was commuting more than 100 miles a day round trip. I did it in a manual shift American Motors Gremlin, mostly driving on I-80 between the Quad-Cities and Iowa City. When the 55 mph limit went into force, the difference in mileage on a gallon of gas was immediately apparent. Where I made three round trips on a tank of gas before the speed limit, I was making four round trips at 55 mph.

At the time I was also working part time with a news organization that operated a fleet of staff cars. After the speed limit was imposed, the fleet manager recorded a significant drop in the amount of gasoline he purchased each month for vehicles that were driven outside the city.

On the national level, the government recorded that the demand for motor fuel stopped increasing and actually declined in some months.

However, the conservative think tanks went right to work producing "studies " to show that the 55 mph speed limit did not save gas nor increase safety on the highways. The government and the insurance industry found the speed restriction effective. But those who chafe at any government intervention on behalf of the people were moved to inventing arguments against it.

Had we learned anything from that episode 32 years ago, we would have power grids for transmitting power from the sun and wind and an array of affordable and dependable energy alternatives. But we let the oil companies and other corporate entities keep charge of managing our energy future.

We were warned about our dependency on oil three decades ago, but we chose the conservative option of letting the corporate world determine our future.

If we people take our country back, perhaps we can declare our inpendence from oil companies.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Big Brown and the great black axishole of evil

The election of 2004 marked a sinking of U.S. society into a fearful submission to fascist-modeled totalitarianism. Like the people of Oceania in George Orwell's 1984 , a majority of the U.S. voters believed the blatant libels contrived by Republican operatives against the likes of John Kerry and Tom Daschle. They were held in trembling fear by a war contrived as a blackmail device to instill in the people a cowardly fear that their only salvation from Al Qaeda was to cower and tremble in submission to the likes of George W. Bush, Old Shoot-in-the-face-Cheney, and the Shoot-Everybody-in-the-Foot crowd led by
Donny Rumsfeld (remember him?). The first eight years of the 21st century were not proud ones for America. For many of us who have served our country with pride and diligence, they were a time of betrayal and disgrace. The willful deceit, the subversion of fundamental rights and freedoms, and the insanity of mindless, arrogant incompetence and failure in every aspect of maintaining our democracy remind us once again of the level of intelligence and diligence it takes to keep the promise of Americas. But the atrocity of sending more than 5,000 of our young troops to their deaths on a mission which has the intimidation of U.S. citizens into fearful submission as its sole discernible objective has still to be called into full account.

It seemed as the country could suffer no more insult and humiliation. George Bush is approved of by only 27 percent of the citizens, so it seems he cannot inflict any more damage on the country. But the sulking malevolence which seems to be the official posture of the Republican party took on new, perverted twists of nastiness. George Bush was invited to appear before the Knesset to mark Israel's 60th anniversary as an independent, democratic state. He used the occasion to liken the call of people, especially Barack Obama, to deal with our most obstinate enemies openly and forthrightly face-to-face as appeasement of the kind which ceded part of Czechoslovakia to Hitler. It would be hard to surpass that moment for malevolent dishonesty and degradation. But Mike Huckabee tried. When something fell backstage during a speech he gave to the NRA, he said it was Barack Obama hitting the floor whe someone pointed a gun at him. Dementia has become a party platform. Let's hope it will be covered in our healthcare reforms. While these people need treatment, the country needs respite from insane degradations they impose on it.

In all this, the most admirable and inspiring thing we can find is a horse named Big Brown. He has the easy moves of a Michael Jordan, and his win at the Preakness lifts hearts and spirits at the display of a creature of accomplishment and honest nobility. I hope his easy sprint to the finish line foreshadows Obama's finish in November.

If we aren't all sucked into the great black axishole of evil before then.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Your mama is so ugly....

A colleague of mine and I were at an open house yesterday and discussed the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's performance at the National Press Club. Neither of us thought it was as outrageous as the media has portrayed it. In many respects Wright was theologically on the mark.

A point that confused some people was when Wright said the black church has the tradition of "playing the dozens." Actually, the term is usually "counting the dozens."

It is a term that covers an instance where the slaves used language to satisfy the ears of the white folks while giving succor to the hearts of the black people. It comes from the attempt to use Christianity as a mandate for the institution of slavery.

Slaves were forbidden to read or write. They were drilled to memorize passages from the Bible that seem to endorse slavery and were steered away from those passages which called it into question, or said things like "let my people go." To the slave owners the safest passages were the genealogy "begat" section from Genesis which go on and on about who begat whom and how long they lived. The slaves dutifully memorized and recited the dozens of genealogy accounts of who begat whom and called it counting the dozens. However for their own edification and amusement, they turned it into a parodic game, as in "yo mama begat something so ugly it scares the mules." The point was to retort with a better insult such as "yo mama so ugly, she press her face in dough to make gorilla cookies." Which might lead to "Well, yo mama's ass so big, it.....[supply your hyperbole of choice]."

Often the genealogy cited referred to old master and old mistress. But the main point was to ridicule the notion that the counting of the dozens fooled anybody from knowing that the scripture also held out the promise of freedom and equality in the eyes of God. The liturgy of the African-American Christian church is probably the most explicit in expressing the actual teaching of Christ. Playing the dozens was a means of making fun of the perverted foolery imposed on the slaves by their oppressors.

It became a ritual for jazz musicians to put themselves and their audiences in a good humor by playing the dozens on the bandstand. However, as the custom moved away from its satirical origins, the insults were taken as personal and resulted in offense being taken and fighting.

The circumstances of counting the dozens are more complicated than what this short explanation covers. but the idea was, as with spirituals, to satisfy the ears of the white mzn while speaking to the soul of the black.

It might be dangerous to count the dozens in your own home. Especially this close to Mama's Day.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Brown County Dems: Donate to campaign offices

The Aberdeen Barack Obama campaign office held its open house this afternoon and introduced four young but seasoned campaigners who will coordinate the effort in this part of the state. They are signing up volunteers to man the telephone banks, canvass the precincts, and provide general help in restoring America to what it can and should be. The office also needs equipment such as tables, chairs, office equipment, and food preparation appliances to fuel the campaign.

The office is right next door to Rep. Herseth Sandlin's Aberdeen field office.

The campaign is sponsoring a primary watch Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Ward Hotel.

Later this month a coordinated campaign office and aTim Johnson campaign office will open in Aberseen. There will be no lack of opportunity to help rebuild the country this year.

What I know about Obama

I am from Illinois. I was raised, schooled, and worked there 45 years before I moved west for a professorship. I have family in Illinois, I have an interest in many enterprises in Illinois, including politics, and so I keep up with goings on in that state.

While I lived n Chicago at various times. I was for the most part a downstate resident, living on the western border on the Mississippi River. Chicago is a political behemoth in Illinois because of the huge concentration of population around the shores of Lake Michigan. To get any kind of political equity in Illinois, no matter which party one identifies with, politicians have to learn the art of creating working relationships with people with whom they do not agree on many issues. Developing this kind of working rapport to get things done has been essential since the time of Lincoln.

One of Illinois' most successful politicians at working with people from all affiliations was the late Sen. Paul Simon. He first made his mark as a journalist who formed a group of downstate weekly newspapers into a force for investigative journalism and reform. He was a fiscal conservative and social liberal whose focus on government was for the welfare of the people and the success of the communities. During a campaign for the presidency in 1988, he said "Government is not the enemy; Government is simply a tool that can be used wisely or unwisely. We can do better, my friends." Doing better was his guiding standard.

After deciding not to run for re-election in 1996, Paul Simon returned to Illinois to establish a school of public affairs and service at Southern Illinois University. He continued to be a force for reasoned politics and reaching across party lines and ideologies to work for the good of the people and the country.

Paul Simon called attention to Barack Obama, at that time a member of the Illinois Senate who had accrued an admirable record as a community organizer in Chicago. He urged Obama to run for the U.S Senate. Paul Simon died following heart surgery in 2003 but his endorsement of Obama was used posthumously and Simon's daughter actively supported Obama in the campaign.

Once in the U.S. Senate, Obama's incisive intelligence, his work to rise above the petty partisanship, peevish bickering, and insane personal attacks as the stuff of politics quickly showed him to be presidential material. A huge segment of Americans realizes that one of the biggest threats to the nation is the stupidly partisan deadlocks, the peurile bickering, and the low-life nastiness that so many people think is the stuff of ,political discourse.

As Paul Simon pointed out, Obama may represent our last best hope at pulling our nation out of the demented morass in which it is mired.

Barack Obama has appealed to those who recognize the cheap, malicious, and partisan-bound discourse that is purveyed by the media and its emulators as the biggest impediment to decent, intelligent government. He is the only candidate who has shown that he wants to lead America into the enlightened state so many of us want to be.

Somewhere there's democracy; how high the moon

Dizzy Gillespie

Ken Blanchard offered some welcoming words at my return to blogging, and I appreciate them. He noted our shared love of jazz, and noted that he has instituted a web log on jazz, for which I heartily commend him and hope to enjoy the exchange of information on America's original art form.

Ken notes my fondness for the Prez, Lester Young, one of the great innovators on tenor sax, and mentions him as a special favorite of mine. Actually, there are few jazz musicians who aren't special favorites. He also mentions Miles Davis.

If I hold special favor toward any jazz musicians, it is trumpet players. I was/am one. If my fingers were working, I might still put on a CD and play a few choruses with one of the masters--for my ears only, however.

Miles Davis was a lyric minimalist whose renditions are still the most listened to classics among jazz lovers. But I guess the figure for whom I have special reverence is Dizzy Gillespie. As a young man, I decided not to pursue the trumpet as a career because he made me realize there was talent out there I could never approach. As an aspiring trumpet player, I realized there existed virtuosity and talent I could not approach. Dizzy was by no means the only musician to inspire some intense self-assessment of my own prospects, but he broke the limits that the instrument was presumed to possess. He did things with the trumpet that had b een considered musically impossible. He was also an exceptionally witty and funny man, an entertainment genius, and he composed some of most enduring jazz classics.

He was the epitome of what I learned was a fundamental of playing jazz. That fundamental was explained at a college jazz club meeting when I was an undergraduate which featured a former member of a band led by the legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke . A student said he had heard of a musical confrontation between Bix and Louis Armstrong. The old banjo player said if the two ever appeared together, it wouldn't be for the purpose of trying to cut each other down; it would be to see how good they could play together to make music. They might challenge each other to higher levels of creativity, but they wouldn't try to compete for superiority. If you think jazz is a contest, you don't understand it, he said. Jazz is a matter of musical contribution, not seeing who is better than someone else.

Over the years, I have seen and heard Dizzy with many groups, and while his solos were always spectacular, so was his effort to support the ensemble and other soloists to reach for musical heights. The last time I saw him he was touring with the Northern Illinois University jazz band. He set the standard, he joined the ensemble in a way that moved it to swinging discipline, he prodded the young musicians to devote themselves to the creation of music, not the display of their egos. Musicians of talent do have a struggle with not letting their egos get in the way of the music. Dizzy was constantly busy nudging the brass section with his trumpet, spurring the reeds with his voice, amplifying the rhythm section with a multitude of percussion instruments he found in Africa and South America. He worked constantly to intensify the jazz experience.

A story that demonstrates the "jazz ethic" concerns a concert that Dizzy and other masters of hard Bop organized to help a beleaguered Charlie Parker. Parker had been institutionalized for his addictions. He had hocked his alto sax. Gillespie and others got his instrument out of pawn and organized and promoted a huge concert in Canada that drew fans from all of North America.
Parker played some of his most brilliant music that night. But there was Dizzy behind it all giving Parker all the support and musical challenge possible, and prodding the other musicians to do likewise. It was a legendary moment in music and re-established Parker as one of the most formidable players of jazz.

Behind that concert was the element not well understood about jazz and the black experience which is part of the art form. It has to do with working in concert to achieve those things that benefit everybody. It is a music of freedom and democracy. No one played it better than Dizzy.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States