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

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sorry, John, but WE understand.

First, let's dispense with the absurdity of who "won" the debate. A political debate is a huge ink blot. It is not a verbal combat to determine a winner--unless one of the debaters screws up in some colossal way. It is a forum in which the dominant purpose is for the candidates to define and support their stances. People project their own prejudices and pathologies onto the debate. When we hear assessments of such a debate, we hear nothing substantive about the candidates or the issues. We receive only a map of the minds of the people who presume to make such assessments. And those maps are seldom pretty. For the most part they are reflective of a culture that no longer can distinguish between self-absorption and applied intelligence.

Second, the debate was overshadowed by the financial crisis, which provided an occasion for the regressives to put on a display of the political game that so totally defines them: distraction, obstruction, and hate-based propaganda. Begin with the fact that no one wants a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street. The administration, as has people like Warren Buffet, have warned that a potential credit freeze could shut down the nation. (In fact, word circulating on the Internet is that the Bank of England told the Kremlin that Pres. Bush will declare an economic catastrophe the week of Oct. 5 and the election will be postponed indefinitely.) McCain and neo-fascists in the House are trying to make the bailout look like a Democrat scheme, rather than a bi-partisan effort to head off the total collapse of the country. Their first ploy was to refuse to send a representative to the House-Senate talks and then to disrupt the Thursday meeting for reviewing the progress of the plan by raising their objections with a shouting match--at a time when sound information and cool deliberation was essential. Although Obama had made the initial effort to organize a cooperative approach between the campaigns, McCain saw a chance to posture. He parachuted in to Washington, but contributed nothing that anyone could see. What we could see was him rushing around, cell phone to ear, in a flurry of staff claims that he was involved in the negotiations. No one, Democrat, Republican, Administration, or staff have been able to report anything that McCain contributed.

One thing did come through clearly at the debate. John McCain stood sullenly refusing to even look at Obama, repeating the phrase "Sen. Obama doesn't understand." Sorry, John, but WE understand.

After the Republican convention, McCain's campaign went from any pretense to addressing issues to a media propaganda offensive styled after propaganda blitzes of the old Soviet Union, Red China, and most totalitarian states who believe a repetition of lies and slanders are the essence of gaining and maintaining political power. The press has done its job of revealing the actuality of Sarah Palin and the deliberate misrepresentations the McCain-Palin campaign has made of Obama. McCain has become a devotee of the Karl Rove tactics used against him in the primary campaign of 2000. He must have become convinced of their efficacy. And coupled with the I-can-see-Russia-from-here statements as evidence of qualification, there aren't many brain cells that do not feel indignant about the insults to them.

The scheme being put forward by the intransigent regressives which McCain claims to have made possible is for Wall Street to buy insurance on the mortgages that it can purchase. Who would be the insurer? The government. The regressives say it would preserve the free market. The fact is that the market has not been free. The corporate fascists managed to evade any attempts at regulation that would have prevented the crisis. They managed to keep the market a closed entity from which the forces of a truly free market were systematically shut out. To make a market truly free, it must be regulated by rules that keep it open and free. The insurance scheme would merely provide a way for the people who caused the financial crisis to maintain control of the market. And John McCain jumped in to lead the charge to make a provision in the bailout scheme that would preserve the privileges of the corporate fascists, not open up and set the market free.

When McCain fully embraced the propaganda tactics of anti-democratic regimes, he defined himself quite clearly. His decisions during and since the Republican convention have made clear what factions and ideologies he represents. Sorry, John, but we do understand.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bad days at Standing Rock, and other reservations

[This photograph is from the movie "Rez Bomb" shown at the South Dakota Film Festival in Aberdeen last weekend. It was shot at the Pine Ridge Reservation]

The much derided member of the main stream media, The Argus Leader, has run a series of articles on the suicide epidemic among young people on the Rosebud Reservation. In the last 3 1/4 years, 28 young people have taken their own lives.

While so much of the electronic media and the parasitic blogs that feed on it distort and quibble about what politicians and political commentators are saying, there are issues being covered by real journalists that do something other than heap insult and abuse on other people. In fact, the mentality that generates the insult and abuse is a menacing presence on the reservations that scourges the mind much as the the buffalo slaughterers of a century ago scourged the land and the culture.

Suicide bombers in Iraq and other countries beset by Islamic terrorists are chronicled by the press on a daily basis, but the alarming rate of suicides on the Indian reservations is all but ignored except for occasional articles such as the series running in the Argus Leader. A factor in that story may be the involvement of the Center for Disease Control, which has been consulted to help the tribe deal with the suicide rate on the Rosebud.

I have had occasion to spend time on Standing Rock in recent weeks. While I was there to attend the opening of some new facilities of Sitting Bull College and some meetings dealing with crime, I was made aware that Standing Rock has, also, been dealing with an alarming suicide rate among the young. One web log states that between 1998 and 2002, there were more than 600 suicide attempts on Standing Rock. The article states that 224 were successful.

An article series in the political newsletter Counterpunch focuses on Standing Rock and its historoy of suicides, but also places some emphasis on suicides among all young people.

Indian Country Today carries a story of a Senate committee hearing at Standing Rock to explore what can be done about the suicide epidemic there and on other reservations. The rate on the reservations is 2.5 times the rate for young people in the U.S. as a whole.

At the hearing, it was pointed out that alcohol and drugs were involved. But the underlying cause--and that behind the problems with drugs and alcohol--is a sense of pointlessness and hopelessness. Racial discrimination and denigration is a constant ingredient mentioned by those who study the problem.

When the native peoples were forced onto reservations, their culture was taken away and the young were punished for speaking in their native languages. An economy based on an integration with nature and subsistence was destroyed and they were expected to replace it with the consumerism that drives our economy. To native peoples, the English language was regarded as a weapon used against them. Its words were missiles of destruction used to deny, denigrate, and deceived them. The language carried deadly germs in the form of words, which would kill you once they invaded you. They were used only to betray.

The thought is stated in a line from a well-known short story, "Lullaby" by Leslie Marmon Silko: " was like the old ones always told her about learning their [while people's] language or any of their ways: it endangered you."

History says the American Indians were subjugated by the destruction of their culture. On the Plains, the bison were killed off to take away the primary food source and the culture built around it, and the people were made dependent on their subjugators. It is like having petroleum taken away from a culture built around it--something we are beginning to experience.

But the issue is more the use of language as weapons and instruments of denial and destruction. While many online sources of news and comment are created for constructive purposes, many others expressions of a culture that deceives, insults, abuses, and generally confines its language to intended malice. Typically some blogs and their hordes of commenters can only accuse people of opposing viewpoints of bad character, mental failures, and incompetence in their chosen fields of endeavor. It is, ironically, people of low character, deprived intellect, and floundering levels of competence who persistently accuse others of them.

They think insult, abuse, and misstatement are the stuff of political discourse and are clever devices for quelling their opponents. But they debase the language and create a verbal environment that corrodes away any chance at cultural regeneration.

In their environment, dropping out and suicide seems the best future for young people who face the culture of malignancy. Education is, probably, the best antidote--but not education delivered by the malignant, whose language and words promise only a pointless and hopeless future.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thou shalt lie. And lie. And lie, lie, lie.

Not too long ago, a politician caught in a lie was sure to lose an election. And politicians were very reluctant to accuse others of lying. A lie was considered the ultimate depth of human betrayal.

After eight years of assault on credibility by the Bush administration, with the war on Iraq being the big jewel in its imperial crown of deceits and deceptions, it is clear that lying is no longer considered an offense. The political faction that rails the loudest against Marxism and accuses the left of flirting, if not embracing, despotic communism, now practices one of the fundamental devices for obtaining control and exercising complete authority over people. It is the process by which people are conditioned to accept and be controlled by lies.

We constantly refer to George Orwell's writing, particularly 1984. as containing a warning which is being made true. At this point, we know that we do, indeed, live in a time when state-created lies are what rule us and a majority of citizens have decided that accepting those lies is a patriotic duty.

Many people think Marxist government is a matter of a state-determined economy. That is, in fact, only a superficial aspect of what Marxist theory is about. The basic philosophic premise of Marxism is called dialectical materialism. In theory the philosophy states that the material world is the only reality. All ideas and thoughts originate in material things; the material world is not shaped by ideas and thoughts. The dialectic is described as when a thesis is met with an antithesis, or opposing force, which produces a synthesis. As translated into political theory, dialectical materiaism is about controlling and reshaping people to do as the state dictates and to eliminate any opposition and words or thoughts might lead to opposition. This is the thesis that Orwell demonstrated in 1984. By controlling the physical environment in which people live, one can control the factors that determine their behavior and, thereby, control their behavior. Such obedience according to Marxist doctrine is achieved by conditioning.

Behaviorism is the official psychological theory of dialectical materialism. Most people who have had a high school or college psychology course will remember Pavlov's dog. Pavlov rang a bell every time he fed the dog. After a time, the dog associated the bell with food, and Pavlov could make the dog salivate simply by ringing the bell. This idea that organisms could be conditioned to do what one wanted extended into the physical sciences also. A Soviet scientist name Lysenko was assigned to find a way to grow wheat in Siberia. Operating under the conditioning principle in dialectical materialism, he kept planting wheat in the cold soils of Siberia under the assumption that as wheat tried to grow in that climate, it would eventually be conditioned to withstand the climate and produce a strain which could thrive. In the meantime, American scientists, including some at South Dakota State University in Brookings, were using genetics to select wheat strains that did well in cold climates and produced a species of wheat that thrived in our northern growing zones. Lysenko's effort was a dismal failure.

However, Marxist behaviorism had somewhat more success with human beings. Conditioning contains factors of fear and intimidation,as well as rewards for behavior that does what the controllers want. Humans respond to what is called negative reinforcement. If their fears are appealed to as what will happen to them if they do not obey but will be rewarded by being allowed to llive if they do, the less skeptical and analytic people will conform and accept the dictates of those who would control them as their duty to follow. This is the premise developed in Orwell's 1984.

It is the principle by which Marxists tried to control people in the Soviet Union. The problem was that many people were like Lysenko's wheat seeds. They developed doubts that the propaganda they were fed each day to condition them were true. They saw evidence that it was not true when they saw what was happening in Europe, America, and parts of Asia. Those doubts and a resistance to being conditioned brought about the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

And so in the election campaign of 2008, we have what columnist Paul Krugman has termed "a blizzard of lies." Numerous stories in The New York Times, The Columbia Journalism Review, and other newspapers and magazines have noted that despite the many stories from fact checkers that assertions by the McCain campaign are proven to be untrue, the campaign just keeps making them. It is done so as the same kind of tactic with which George W. Bush kept repeating that we had invaded Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda which were proven not to exist. If you repeat the falsehoods persistently and play to people's fears and prejudices, a good many people will accept them and behave accordingly. So John McCain's campaign has adopted the same kind of brainwashing that he was subjected to in the Hanoi Hilton. It works. As it did in the election of 2004. On some people. And for some time.

The question is whether a majority will recognize the lies and resent being lied to. Or are the American people so conditioned by the operant conditioning through the media that they are content to live the falsehoods?

We'll see.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Where do all the children go?

As soon as No Child Left Behind was implemented, it became apparent that the law needed to be revised to ALOKLO--A Lot of Kids Left Out. One of the first places where it became noticed that kids were being left out was the Houston School District. During its first year of testing, it reported that 5,500 students had left the system. It failed to note that half of them were drop outs.

Most teachers supported NCLB when it was initiated. They assumed it would provide the needed resources to improve education. Instead of getting the instructional support that would help them keep up with the evolving situations that educators face, NCLB was a scheme borrowed from business to "motivate" employees and school districts by putting them in competition with each other with punishments for those who ended up in the bottom ranks. Almost immediately the instances of teachers and entire systems cheating came to light. Teachers further recognized that the scheme required them to teach to tests in a one-approach-fits-all format. One Houston school told teachers to circumvent the tests and coached them in how to do it.

Most educators realized that the NCLB was shifting teaching effort to "teaching to the test." Instruction became a matter of preparing students for the tests rather than engaging them in approaches to learning that recognize the individual mentalities and the need for various approaches. Test score averages can be kept high if students who do not perform well are eliminated. And that means a system can keep its scores at an acceptable level by dropping children who get the lower test scores.

At the same time, some states are finding that the idea of having all students reach acceptable scores is being frustrated. In South Dakota, the 11th grade reading scores have been declining. That is true in other states, also, such as neighboring Minnesota. Teachers suspect the problem may well be in teaching to the test. Reading comprehension in the upper grades improves when students have to write in response to what they have been reading. Multiple choice reading tests, such as those used in NCLB, do not measure the finer points of comprehension and accurate interpretation; they measure only basic and obvious points of declarative statements. It is a akin to a music student who has mastered the scales but cannot play a song.

The drop out problem in public education has intensified with NCLB. Poorly motivated students find teaching to the test a deadly bore. And educators find that the assessment test scores go up when they are not dragged down by poorly motivated students. And so the educational underclass is growing in population as more students drop out.

Engaging drop outs is not easy nor understood. Much of the criticism of our public schools, their methods, and their curricula stem from the measures taken to address the drop out problem which became an urgent matter in the 1960s. Social passing and grade inflation stem from attempts to engage student interest, and learning was not a primary interest. The charges that students can't read, spell, write, or do basic arithmetic arise from well-intentioned programs to keep kids in school. In other words, many of the failures noted in education grew out of programs that made it more attractive for students to stay in school, but those programs did not address how to deal with their lack of interest, their lack of motivation, and the multitude of distractions that shape their attitudes toward school and learning.

The studies and programs directed at improving education are striking for the absence of one group of people in their formulation: the teachers. No place is that more evident than in No Child Left Behind.

Testing has two functions in education:

  1. to measure the progress and achievement of students, and
  2. to provide diagnostic information about their strengths and weaknesses.
As implemented the NCLB tests are barrier tests, tests designed only to gauge whether students have met goals set for them. For students who do not meet the goals, there is no information coming back to them and their teachers as to why. And for students who do meet the goals, there is no information as to what is working with them and why.

The biggest error in these tests is that they are administered under the assumption that in assessing student achievement, they are also measuring the competence of the teachers. No doubt, student success has much to do with the ability and skill of teachers, but the lack of success is more often because of factors far outside the control of the teacher and the school.

To demonstrate a high level of success through student testing, the most expeditious route is for the poor performers to drop out.

Most school boards today do not consider their function as a conduit and mediator between the professional staffs and the citizens whose taxes pay for the schools and whose children populate them. They think more that they are like a corporate board of directors whose job it is to tell the professional staffs what their jobs are and how to do them.

As No Child Left Behind comes up for re-authorization, it is time that real educators be involved in planning how to improve education and defining what it will take to achieve improvement.

And that means keeping kids in school and actually educating them, not dumping children who drag down the test scores by the wayside.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The worst night of my life

Todd Epp on South Dakota Watch commented on my previous post on small towns and how they have been portrayed in American literature. I personally have a preference for smaller communities and note that sometimes young people have a chance to explore their talents in smaller communities, whereas they get lost and caught up by urban routine in the big metro areas.

I have always thought college was a liberating experience for most students, but that is not to say that there are not some colleges that are as oppressive as provincial communities.

I have been through most of the bad times that a person of my age, 74, could go through and found that even in the worst of times there are acts of thoughtfulness and grace that buoy up the spirit. But I spent an evening in Dallas that still makes me want to take a shower and purge myself of its memory and any associations that recall it.

I was in Dallas with some NSU colleagues for a gathering for a number of English Departments that had been awarded grants to examine and revise their programs. It was a pleasant and productive occasion, and the hosts arranged a visit one afternoon to the Book Repository at Dealey Plaza where President Kennedy was shot. The memory and reliving of that assassination is a somber experience, so the professors decided to go to a famous Tex-Mex restaurant and warm up the innards with some spicy food.

When we got there, we had to split up in tables of four, and most people mixed in with people from different institutions. I ended up at a table occupied by three professors all from the same college. It was a college I knew because a number of colleagues and friends of mine graduated from it. The other professors were a woman, who was like the boss cow in a cattle herd, and two young men who acted as doting steers . I sensed immediately that I was considered an intruder but all the other tables of professors were filled and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The woman started the conversation--which she never relinquished--by declaring that one of the distinguished professors who had addressed us earlier in the day was "a walking geek." He was from the graduate school that all the professors at my table had attended. When the woman had finished her disquisition on the worthlessness and faults of the man, she moved on to other people not known to me with one abusive and malicious comment after another. The two young male professors nodded at her slanders and sometimes uttered verbal agreement, and all I could think of was how to escape. Attempts to enter the conversation and change the subject matter were met with curt rudeness by the woman and glares from the young professors that I was out of my place. I have never been in a situation where I felt so sickened of spirit and defiled as I did at that table. I still wonder just what students at that college are exposed to and why this horrible woman was allowed to spread her vileness . She did have some positive things to say about herself, of course, to which the young men either nodded or feigned adulation.

I realize that the deep revulsion that evening inspired in me--and still does-- is because I came from a community where talking about people behind their backs and tearing away at their characters was not something you could get by with. It was one thing to make a factual comment about a person, like boy, did Sam get in his cups last night, or Sarah never says anything nice about anybody. But if someone set about tearing down a person's character, people would try to change the subject or often walked away. We knew that if someone talked to us about another person that way, that someone probably talked about us that way to others.

That is not to say that community was free of malicious gossips, but they were avoided and earned reputations as people to stay away from.

Sometimes northern Midwesterners are thought of as cold and aloof, and I think their reluctance to talk about other people is a large part of that reputation. The community I was raised in had developed under five flags--Native American, Spanish, English, French, and American. And it was a terminus of the Underground Railroad.

In such a mix of cultures, people had to learn to be respectful and circumspect in talking about others.

But if there is something that ruins communities, it is malicious people who constantly talk ill of others. It takes only a few of such types to make communities unbearable places to live. And I cannot but wonder about life at the college where that woman held forth.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What are the values in small towns?

Sarah Palin has presented herself as an advocate of small town values. The question is, just what comprises small town values?

It is not as if the question has not been answered. The problem is that the answers are contained in a huge strain of American literature. And that literature, as with most literature, does not get read. Shortly after the Civil War writers, including Mark Twain, began examining the attitudes and cultures of small towns. During the early 20th century, most of America's major writers contributed to a literary movement known as the "revolt from the village." They chronicled the small-mindedness, social oppression, and social pathologies that drove young people out of small towns. Sociology corroborated the revolt by recording a constant migration of young people from small towns to large urban communities during 20th century. The outmigration is not as pronounced today because there simply are not that many people left in small towns to make up a social movement.

Today the attitude of young people toward their small towns is hardly one of revolt. They simply accept the idea that they will follow the century-long pattern and leave when they graduate from high school. I have read thousands of papers by college students who wrote about small towns they came from. The had fond memories of family and sometimes of school, but none of them considered living in their hometowns. They saw no way to make a living or use their talents and education. Many, many students loathed their small towns. To them small town life was characterized by mean and small minded people who gathered at the town cafe each day and immersed themselves in malicious gossip.

NSU had a president a few years back who devoted much time to things like slogans and images. He came up with a slogan that called NSU "the gateway institution." The regents and a number of business people did not like the slogan because they assumed it was appealing to the desire of many to use education as the ticket out of small towns and out of the state. They assumed right, of course.

In paper after paper students wrote about the cloud of meanness and resentment that formed the social climate in their hometowns. Their motivation in school and college was to leave that atmosphere of withering oppressive parochialism behind. I recall quite a few students who would not even return to their hometowns for holidays.

My own experience with small town nastiness came when my spouse and I placed foreign exchange students in homes. Late one night we received a call from the parents of a girl from Japan telling us we had to rescue the child from this "insane" little town where she was placed. Factions in this little town were at each others' throats constantly and she thought all Americans, if like this, were vicious and evil. Fortunately, we were able to relocate the girl in a larger community where civility lasted more than a few minutes.

The fighting and parochial hatreds in small towns has been well recorded in American letters. Their values are do not represent the best of America. Our writers have been telling us that for 150 years. If people in South Dakota want to understand why people leave South Dakota, Hamlin Garland tells some very fine tales about those reasons.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stories on the planned demise of America

While Americans are being distracted with patently false claims about Sarah Palin and patently false charges against Barack Obama, the story about the real demise of America is unfolding in the Washington Post.

In a series of stories about Vice President Cheney's role in the against-the-law spying on American citizens, it is revealed that the legal papers which set the boundaries for such surveillance were kept in the Vice President's office. President Bush was not even informed of the issues and actions involved. Not until lawyers in the Justice Department began to insist that they had a legal obligation to be involved in assuring the legality of the program did its gross violation of Constitutional principles and of the law become apparent. A police state was being administered from the Vice President's office.

Another story tells of the orchestrated decline of NASA and America's role in space. When NASA Director Michael Griffin was to appear before Congress, he intended to tell members that China was poised to surpass the U.S. in space. If China lands on the moon before the U.S. makes another landing it will shift the international balance considerably. He had to submit his statement to the White House before delivering, and he was required to take that warning out.

Griffin is also concerned that after 2010, the space shuttles will be taken out of service and the U.S. will have no way to transport personnel and supplies to the International Space Station. That will all be relinquished to Russia.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New York Times does extensive report on Palin's "management style"

The New York Times headline reads:

Once Elected, Palin Hired Friends and Lashed Foes

The story says:

But an examination of her swift rise and record as mayor of Wasilla and then governor finds that her visceral style and penchant for attacking critics — she sometimes calls local opponents “haters” — contrasts with her carefully crafted public image.

Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials.

Read the long, detailed story HERE.

And read more in the Washington Post:

As Mayor of Wasilla, Palin Cut Own Duties, Left Trail of Bad Blood

We need a good laugh, and Sarah provides it

This came in on a listserv, but it is too entertaining not to pass along.

Subject: comic relief, best medicine for Sarah Palin

If you're a minority and you're selected for a job over more qualified candidates you're a "token hire."
If you're a conservative and you're selected for a job over more qualified candidates you're a "game changer."

Black teen pregnancies? A "crisis" in black America.
White teen pregnancies? A "blessed event."

If you grow up in Hawaii you're "exotic."
Grow up in Alaska eating mooseburgers, you're the quintessential "American story."

Similarly, if you name you kid Barack you're "unpatriotic."
Name your kid Track, you're "colorful."

If you're a Democrat and you make a VP pick without fully vetting the individual you're "reckless."
A Republican who doesn't fully vet is a "maverick."

If you spend 3 years as a community organizer growing your organization from a staff of 1 to 13 and your budget from $70,000 to $400,000,then become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new African American voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, then spend nearly 8 more years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, becoming chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, then spend nearly 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of nearly 13 million people, sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you are woefully inexperienced.

I f you spend 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, then spend 20 months as the governor of a state with 650,000 people, then you've got the most executive experience of anyone on either ticket, are the Commander in
Chief of the Alaska military and are well qualified to lead the nation should you be called upon to do so because your state is the closest state to Russia.

If you are a Democratic male candidate who is popular with millions of people you are an "arrogant celebrity."
If you are a popular Republican female candidate you are "energizing the base".

If you are a younger male candidate who thinks for himself and makes his own decisions you are "presumptuous".
If you are an older male candidate who makes last minute decisions you refuse to explain, you are a "shoot from the hip" maverick.

If you are a candidate with a Harvard law degree you are "an elitist-out of touch" with the real America.
If you are a legacy (dad and granddad were admirals) graduate of Annapolis, with multiple disciplinary infractions you are a hero.

If you manage a multi-million dollar nationwide campaign, you are an "empty suit".
If you are a part time mayor of a town of 7,000 people, you are an "experienced executive".

If you go to a south side Chicago church, your beliefs are "extremist".
If you believe in creationism and don't believe global warming is man made, you are "strongly principled".

If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.
If you have been married to the same woman with whom you've been wed to for 19 years and are raising 2 beautiful daughters, you're "risky".

If you're a black single mother of 4 who waits for 22 hours after her water breaks to seek medical attention, you're an irresponsible parent, endangering the life of your unborn child.

But if you're a white married mother who waits 22 hours, you're spunky.

If you're a 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton, the right-wing press calls you "First dog."
If you're a 17-year old pregnant unwed daughter of a Republican, the right-wing press calls you "beautiful" and "courageous."

If you teach abstinence only in sex education, you get teen parents.
If you teach responsible age, appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.

Subject: Funny and real commentaries on Gov. Palin

"Are you kidding me, the mayor of Wasilla , Alaska ? Yeah, that's who you want in the White House during a time of crisis. When she got a phone call at 3 in the morning, it was because a moose had gotten in the garbage can." -Bill Maher

"I think this is pertinent because McCain has been running this campaign based on 'we're at war, it's a dangerous world out there. The democratsdon't get that. I, John McCain, am the only one standing between the blood-thirsty Al Qaedas and you. But if I die, this stewardess can handle it.'" -Bill Maher

"Five kids? Does anyone in that party understand the concept of pulling out?" -Bill Maher

"When they we re vetting her for this job, like three seconds ago, she said, quote, I'm not making this up, 'What is it exactly that the VP does every day?' Let me field that for you, Sarah. They start wars, they enrich their friends, they subvert the Constitution, and they shoot people in the face. That's what the vice president does." -Bill Maher

"Today President Bush called Gov. Palin and congratulated her. Bush told Palin the job of vice president is very important because as vice president, you get to tell the president what to do." -Jay Leno

"John McCain's VP pick is the governor of Alaska , a unknown hockey mom named Sarah Palin that no one ever heard of. The only other job she had in politics was the mayor of a small town known as Wasilla, Alaska , and now she has the opportunity to be on a ticket opposite of Barack Obama, the first black man she's ever seen." -Bill Maher

"This isn't a presidential ticket, this is a sitcom. The maverick and the MILF." -Bill Maher

"There was some breaking news out of Dayton , Ohio today, where Republican presidential candidate John McCain introduced the world to his third wife." -Jon Stewart

"She's not bad looking. She looks like one of those women in the Van Halen videos who takes off her glasses, shakes out her hair, and then all of a sudden, she's in high heels and a bikini. All of a sudden, I am FOR drilling in Alaska ." --Jimmy Kimmel

"Not only is she young, they're saying she's the prettiest candidate for Vice President since John Edwards." --Jimmy Kimmel

"Alaska Gov. Sarah Pallin is John McCain's choice. Here's what we know about her: her name is Sarah Palin." --Jay Leno

"Actually, it was kind of a smart choice. McCain went with a woman because he didn't want to have to be in a position to have to get CPR from Mitt Romney." -Jay Leno

"Palin and McCain are a good pair. She's pro-life and he's clinging to life." -Jay Leno

"The McCain people believe that Americans will disregard her inexperience because they will fall in love with her story. She was a runner up in the 1984 Miss Alaska pageant., which may sound trite, but you try walking in high-heeled snow shoes." -Bill Maher

Friday, September 12, 2008

When imbeciles rule

A number of columnists, including Paul Krugman, have noted that the McCain-Palin campaign became a blizzard of lies after the Republican Convention. Krugman also remarks that it has striking similarities to the Bush-Cheney campaign of 2000 with the exception that one needed some familiarity with the rudiments of arithmetic to catch the Bush-Cheney lies, while the McCain-Palin lies are evident to all but the most mentally challenged of those out there in dupeland. Palin has supplied most of the lies with her claims to rejecting the bridge to nowhere (and took the money anyway), her opposition to lobbyists and earmarks even though she hired lobbyists to obtain earmarks. And, of course, there are the absurd lies made up about Barack Obama.

Conventional wisdom is that the American people will ultimately discern and do the right thing. We can't forget, however, that they re-elected Bush-Cheney in 2004 with full information available that the war on Iraq was a phony contrivance and was killing off honorable American soldiers at an alarming rate. The people have to bear equal responsibility for the deaths of more than 4,100 Americans in an act that is the moral equivalent of genocide. And even though George Bush has admitted that Iraq was in no way involved in the 9/11 attacks, Sarah Palin still believes so. Her popularity is an indicator of a mentality that has grasped control of America.

A symptom of the mental condition of a significant portion of Americans is the reaction to Joe Biden's self-effacing remark at a campaign event that Hillary Clinton might have been a better choice for a vice presidential candidate than he is. The comment has been inflated by bloggers into the prediction that Joe Biden will resign his candidacy and Hillary Clinton will step in. This contention was also advanced by a nationwide radio talk show that specializes in appealing to the ignorant and superstitious by dwelling on ghosts, shadow people, UFO abductions, psychotic psychics, and all manner of those things which go bumping throughout the night. Host George Noory of Coast-to-Coast AM raised the prediction that Biden would resign and Hillary take over last night with the concurrence of a numerologist who was doing her political-expert number.

The great elevation of ignorance, superstition, and general mental deficiency does define a huge block of voters.

The Biden quip about Hillary's qualifications for vice president came after a person in a campaign audience made some disparaging remarks about Hillary Clinton. Joe Biden responded vigorously in what was a gracious affirmation of Hillary's stature as a political figure, He said:

"Hillary Clinton is as qualified or more qualified than I am to be vice president of the United States of America," Biden replied, standing before a crowd at a Nashua rally. "Let's get that straight. She's a truly close personal friend; she is qualified to be president of the United States of America. She's easily qualified to be vice president of the United States of America and, quite frankly, it might have been a better pick than me, but she is first-rate."

A symptom of imbecility is the ability to pronounce words, but not understand complete sentences. To borrow a line from "Mr. Roberts," politics has become a game devised by imbeciles to be played by idiots.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pigs have grown wings

The McCain-Palin campaign has made history for its level of verbal deterioration and, possibly, stupidity. It is not clear, as of now, if the campaign is so stupid as to think that Sen. Obama's "lipstick on a pig" remark was directed at Sarah Palin, or whether they are so stupid as to think that many people will fall for their corrupt attempt to portray Obama as someone as mean and bereft of decency as they are. Anyone who has listenedto the remark knows it was made in reference to putting a cosmetic gloss on an old idea, and was used in the way that McCain himself has used the quip.

No mention was made or implied to Sarah Palin. While some Republican women operatives were trotted to put on a display of phony indignation on the basis that Obama's lipstick remark was a deliberate allusion to Palin on the basis of her lipstick punchline, there is simply no grammatical or logical way that case can be made. The effort does call into question the intellectual and moral fitness of those who try to make the claim that Obama's remark was directed at Palin.

Megan Carter in the Columbia Journalism Review makes the case that the charge was made against Obama as a crass ploy to lure the press into a dog-pack-like frenzy to do what Obama said the whole business was intended to do. The press did, indeed, act like a cat going bonkers on catnip and thrown the campaign into a distracted attack on personality rather than deal with issues.

Up to this time, McCain has been a credible candidate. But it is clear now that his campaign is based on the exploitation of Palin's personality and the phenomenon she is as the hockey mama from Alaska. Nothing is more dangerous to their campaign than to deal with her actual history and the issues that confront the nation. The constant repeating of the disproven claim that she said no thanks to the bridge to nowhere and has been against lobbyists and earmarks calls into question the mental and moral qualities needed to serve our democracy. They portend more the further erosion of our freedoms and Constitutional rights.

The process the McCain-Palin campaign has adopted is described in this passage from Orwell's 1984:

'We're getting the language into its final shape -- the shape it's going to have when nobody speaks anything else. When we've finished with it, people like you will have to learn it all over again. You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We're destroying words -- scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We're cutting the language down to the bone.

... it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connexion with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connexion that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Sarah Palin works against Alaska natives

Following is a summary of actions taken by Sarah Palin as relates to the native people of Alaska. It was written by Heather Kendall Miller, attorney for Native American Rights Fund -NARF, in the Alaska office.

Sarah Palin’s Record on Alaska Native and Tribal Issues
1. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Fishing

Perhaps no issue is of greater importance to Alaska Native peoples as the right to hunt and fish according to ancient customary and traditional practices, and to carry on the subsistence way of life for future generations.Governor Sarah Palin has consistently opposed those rights.

Once in office, Governor Palin decided to continue litigation that seeks to overturn everysubsistence fishing determination the federal government has ever made in Alaska. (State of Alaska v. Norton, 3:05-cv-0158-HRH (D. Ak).) In pressing this case, Palin decided against using the Attorney General (which usually handles State litigation) and instead continued contracting with Senator Ted Stevens’ brother-in-law’s law firm.(Birch, Horton, Bittner & Cherot).

The goal of Palin’s law suit is to invalidate all the subsistence fishing regulations thefederal government has issued to date to protect Native fishing, and to force the courts instead to take over the roll of setting subsistence regulations. Palin’s law suit seeks to diminish subsistence fishing rights in order to expand sport and commercial fishing.

In May 2007, the federal court rejected the State’s main challenge, holding that Congressin 1980 had expressly granted the U.S. Interior and Agriculture Departments the authority to regulate and protect Native and rural subsistence fishing activities in Alaska. (Decision entered May 15, 2007 (Dkt. No. 110).) Notwithstanding this ruling, Palin continues to argue in the litigation that the federal subsistence protections are too broad, and should be narrowed to exclude vast areas from subsistence fishing, in favor of sport and commercial fishing.
Palin opposes subsistence protections in marine waters, on many of the lands that Natives selected under their 1971 land
claims settlement with the state and federal governments, and in many of the rivers where Alaska Natives customarily fish. (Alaska Complaint at 15-18.) Palin also opposes subsistence
fishing protections on Alaska Native federal allotments that were deeded to individuals purposely to foster Native subsistence activities. All these issues are now pending before the federal district court.

2. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Subsistence Hunting

Palin has also sought to invalidate critical determinations the Federal Subsistence Board has made regarding customary and traditional uses of game, specifically to take hunting opportunities away from Native subsistence villagers and thereby enhance sport hunting.

Palin’s attack here on subsistence has focused on the Ahtna Indian people in Chistochina. Although the federal district court has rejected Palin’s challenge, she has carried on an appealthat was argued in August 2008. (State of Alaska v. Fleagle, No. 07-35723 (9th Cir.).)

In both hunting and fishing matters, Palin has continued uninterrupted the policies initiated by the former Governor Frank Murkowski Administration, challenging hunting and fishing protections that Native people depend upon for their subsistence way of life in order to enhance sport fishing and
hunting opportunities. Palin’s lawsuits are a direct attack on the core way of life of Native Tribes in rural Alaska.

3. Palin has attacked Alaska Tribal Sovereignty

Governor Palin opposes Alaska tribal sovereignty. Given past
court rulings affirming the federally recognized tribal status of Alaska Native villages, Palin does not technically challenge that status. But Palin argues that Alaska Tribes have no authority to act as sovereigns, despite their recognition.

So extreme is Palin on tribal sovereignty issues that she has sought to block tribes from exercising any authority whatsoever even over the welfare of Native children, adhering to a 2004
legal opinion issued by the former Murkowski Administration that no such jurisdiction exists (except when a state court transfers a matter to a tribal court). Both the state courts and the federal courts have struck down Palin’s policy of refusing to recognize the sovereign authority of Alaska Tribes to address issues involving Alaska Native children. Native Village of Tanana v. State of Alaska, 3AN-04-12194 CI (judgment entered
Aug. 26, 2008) (Ak. Super. Ct.); Native Kaltag Tribal Council v. DHHS, No. 3:06-cv-00211-MB (D. Ak.), pending on appeal No 08-35343 (9th Cir.)). Nonetheless, Palin’s policy of refusing to recognize Alaska tribal sovereignty remains unchanged.

4. Palin has attacked Alaska Native Languages

Palin has refused to accord proper respect to Alaska Native languages and voters by refusing to provide language assistance to Yup'ik speaking Alaska Native voters. As a result, Palin was just ordered by a special three-judge panel of federal judges to provide various forms of voter assistance to Yup'ik voters residing in southwest Alaska. Nick v. Bethel, No. 3:07-cv-
0098-TMB (D. Ak.) (Order entered July 30, 2008).

Citing years of State neglect, Palin wasordered to provide trained poll workers who are bilingual in English and Yup'ik; sample ballots in written Yup'ik; a written Yup'ik glossary of election terms; consultation with local Tribes to ensure the accuracy of Yup'ik translations; a Yup'ik language coordinator; and pre-election and post-election reports to the court to track
the State's efforts.

In sum, measured against some the rights that are most fundamental to Alaska Native Tribes –the subsistence way of life, tribal sovereignty and voting rights – Palin’s record is a failure.

Remember America? It got lost in the blogosphere.

You think America hasn't given itself over to Orwellian brainwashing? Read this story from the Washington Post, and try thinking again.

As Campaign Heats Up, Untruths Can Become Facts Before They're Undone

By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008; A01

From the moment Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin declared that she had opposed the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," critics, the news media and nonpartisan fact checkers have called it a fabrication or, at best, a half-truth. But yesterday in Lebanon, Ohio, and again in Lancaster, Pa., she crossed that bridge again.

"I told Congress: 'Thanks but no thanks for that Bridge to Nowhere up in Alaska,' " Palin told the crowds at the "McCain Street USA" rallies. "If we wanted a bridge, we'll build it ourselves."

Palin's position on the bridge that would have linked Ketchikan to Gravina Island is one example of a candidate staying on message even when that message has been publicly discredited. Palin has continued to say she opposed a project she once campaigned for -- then killed later, only after support for it had collapsed in Congress.

As the presidential campaign moves into a final, heated stretch, untrue accusations and rumors have started to swirl at a pace so quick that they become regarded as fact before they can be disproved. A number of fabrications about Palin's policies and personal life, for instance, have circulated on the Internet since she joined the Republican ticket.

Palin and John McCain, the GOP presidential nominee, have been more aggressive in recent days in repeating what their opponents say are outright lies. Almost every day, for instance, McCain says rival Barack Obama would raise everyone's taxes, even though the Democrat's tax plan exempts families that earn less than $250,000.

Fed up, the Obama campaign broke a taboo on Monday and used the "L-word" of politics to say that the McCain campaign was lying about the Bridge to Nowhere.

Nevertheless, with McCain's standing in the polls surging, aides say he is not about to back down from statements he believes are fundamentally true, such as the anecdote about the bridge.

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers noted an Obama advertisement released yesterday that says, with no citation, that McCain's economic plan would take money away from public schools. "Absolutely, it's a lie," Rogers said.

Quoting the National Education Association, Obama aides said McCain's plan to freeze discretionary spending would cut funding for local education agencies, Head Start, teacher quality grants and special education.

John Feehery, a Republican strategist, said the campaign is entering a stage in which skirmishes over the facts are less important than the dominant themes that are forming voters' opinions of the candidates.

"The more the New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there's a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she's new, she's popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent," Feehery said. "As long as those are out there, these little facts don't really matter."

For now, there appears to be little political reason to back down. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken Sept. 5 to Sept. 7 found that 51 percent of voters think Obama would raise their taxes, even though his plan would actually cut taxes for the overwhelming majority of Americans. Obama has proposed eliminating income taxes on seniors making less than $50,000 a year, but 41 percent of those seniors say their income taxes would go up in an Obama administration.

McCain's pitch as a reformer -- especially as an opponent of pork-barrel spending -- does not seem to have been damaged by media reports of his running mate's pursuit of earmarks, first for her home town of Wasilla and then for Alaska. Obama's once-sizable 32-point advantage on which candidate would do more to change government is down to 12 points.

"We have created a system where there is not a lot of shame in stretching the truth," said Charlie Cook, editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

A slew of distortions that have spread through e-mail and on the Internet has also put Palin on the receiving end of some of that truth-stretching -- so much so that the campaign dispatched a group of supporters yesterday to act as a "truth-squadding team." The unfounded charges include that Palin cut special-needs funding in Alaska and that she was a member of the Alaska Independence Party.

Palin actually increased special-needs funding and has never been a member of the Alaska Independence Party, according to, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Aside from the dispute over the Bridge to Nowhere, the Obama campaign has also complained about a McCain advertisement that says the Democrat called Iran a "tiny" threat, even though a chorus of media critics noted that Obama had listed Iran with Cuba and Venezuela as countries whose menace was tiny compared with that of the former Soviet Union. On Friday, in Cedarburg, Wis., McCain repeated that Palin had sold Alaska's state jet on eBay, although Palin herself was careful during her vice presidential acceptance speech to say she merely "put it on eBay." It did not sell on the online auction site.

McCain aides said yesterday that nothing they have said about the bridge is untrue.

Palin did at one time support the Bridge to Nowhere, and the $223 million earmarked for the project was sent to Alaska. Some of it was used for other state projects, about $40 million was used to build an access road to the now-scrapped bridge project and $73 million is sitting in an account, awaiting some other proposal to link the tiny towns of Ketchikan and Gravina, according to the Alaska Department of Transportation.

But, McCain aides said, Palin indisputably turned on a project championed by two of her state's Republican legends, Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young. Even Alaska Democrats gave her credit for finally ending it.

"We're not relitigating the 2006 gubernatorial campaign and everything that was said," Rogers said. "We're not talking about that campaign. Were talking about when she got into office and what she did."

The claim that Obama will raise taxes is based on his support this year of a Democratic budget resolution that envisions all of President Bush's cuts expiring on schedule in 2011, a move that would indeed raise rates for everyone who pays income taxes. Such resolutions are nonbinding and irrelevant in future years, such as 2011, because budgets are passed annually. Moreover, this year's budget runs counter to Obama's tax plan, which would extend all of Bush's tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 and provide new tax breaks for low-income workers.

Obama and the Democratic National Committee asserted for months that McCain wanted to keep U.S. troops fighting in Iraq for 100 years, when, in fact, the context of McCain's 100-year statement was a comparison to U.S. bases in Japan and Germany. McCain explicitly said the troops would be there only if the country was at peace and there were no casualties associated with their presence.

A McCain quote Obama has often used -- that the economy is fundamentally sound -- is months old. Since he said that, McCain has said almost daily that the economy is struggling. As for exaggerations, Obama said yesterday that he had supported a measure in the Illinois Senate to double the number of charter schools in Chicago. In fact, he was one of 14 state senators co-sponsoring a non-controversial measure that passed unanimously.

Staff writer Michael D. Shear, traveling with the McCain campaign, contributed to this report.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

An anthology of McCain-Palin falsehoods

The Republican Ministry of Truth had its fabrication machinery running in high gear for the convention. has compiled a list of the falsehoods uttered in convention speeches.

Here is their summary on Sarah Palin:

Sarah Palin’s much-awaited speech at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night may have shown she could play the role of attack dog, but it also showed her to be short on facts when it came to touting her own record and going after Obama’s.

We found Rudy Giuliani, who introduced her, to be as factually challenged as he sometimes was back when he was in the race. But Mike Huckabee may have laid the biggest egg of all.

  • Palin may have said “Thanks, but no thanks” on the Bridge to Nowhere, though not until Congress had pretty much killed it already. But that was a sharp turnaround from the position she took during her gubernatorial campaign, and the town where she was mayor received lots of earmarks during her tenure.
  • Palin’s accusation that Obama hasn’t authored “a single major law or even a reform” in the U.S. Senate or the Illinois Senate is simply not a fair assessment. Obama has helped push through major ethics reforms in both bodies, for example.
  • The Alaska governor avoided some of McCain’s false claims about Obama’s tax program – but her attacks still failed to give the whole story.
  • Giuliani distorted the time line and substance of Obama’s statements about the conflict between Russia and Georgia. InR fact, there was much less difference between his statements and those of McCain than Giuliani would have had us believe.
  • Giuliani also said McCain had been a fighter pilot. Actually, McCain’s plane was the A-4 Skyhawk, a small bomber. It was the only plane he trained in or flew in combat, according to McCain’s own memoir.
  • Finally, Huckabee told conventioneers and TV viewers that Palin got more votes when she ran for mayor of Wasilla than Biden did running for president. Not even close. The tally: Biden, 79,754, despite withdrawing from the race after the Iowa caucuses. Palin, 909 in her 1999 race, 651 in 1996.

Read the full analysis here.

Here is their summary on John McCain.

We checked the accuracy of McCain’s speech accepting the Republican nomination and noted the following:

  • McCain claimed that Obama’s health care plan would "force small businesses to cut jobs" and would put "a bureaucrat ... between you and your doctor." In fact, the plan exempts small businesses, and those who have insurance now could keep the coverage they have.
  • McCain attacked Obama for voting for "corporate welfare" for oil companies. In fact, the bill Obama voted for raised taxes on oil companies by $300 million over 11 years while providing $5.8 billion in subsidies for renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative fuels.
  • McCain said oil imports send "$700 billion a year to countries that don't like us very much." But the U.S. is on track to import a total of only $536 billion worth of oil at current prices, and close to a third of that comes from Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
  • He promised to increase use of "wind, tide [and] solar" energy, though his actual energy plan contains no new money for renewable energy. He has said elsewhere that renewable sources won’t produce as much as people think.
  • He called for "reducing government spending and getting rid of failed programs," but as in the past failed to cite a single program that he would eliminate or reduce.
  • He said Obama would "close" markets to trade. In fact, Obama, though he once said he wanted to "renegotiate" the North American Free Trade Agreement, now says he simply wants to try to strengthen environmental and labor provisions in it.

Read the full analysis here.

Other accounts of fact checking the speeches are at:

Friday, September 5, 2008

The war on culture seems to be going well

South Dakota War College was miffed and confused when an editor from the Argus Leader chided PP for posting a video from the newspaper's web site on his blog. The video was of the Argus Leader's editorial board interviewing Sen. Tim Johnson. A note from the editor said, "During election years, we ask that our election-related materials not be repurposed." And he asked that the video be removed, which it was. PP asks, "Repurposed?" Which well he might, because every time I type the word here, the red dictionary-check line appears under it. It is not listed as a legitimate verb in many dictionaries (it is in my stand-by, the big American Heritage Dictionary, because it is a descriptive, not a prescriptive, dictionary). But it is a piece of specialized jargon that has gained wide currency with the advent of blogs.

PP's attitude is that by linking the video on his blog, he is giving it wider circulation, and that is what the newspaper wants, isn't it? His headline asks if the traditional media will ever reconcile with the new media, meaning largely blogs. And the answer of people who value the essentials of literacy is, "My god, I hope not."

As blogs keep pointing out, newspapers are in a period of decline. Young people tend to go to the Internet for news, if they seek news at all. Newspaper revenues and circulation are declining. I am so damned old, I have been through this before. The last time was when television began to eat away at the newspaper audience. Newspapers rebounded, when readers and advertisers realized that the television format was not suited to in-depth reporting, community reporting, and advertising that benefited local businesses.

When I was a newspaper editor many years ago, the editorial management instructed us to go for the fully verified, comprehensive story, rather that the fastest story. While we still went for the scoop, our guiding principle was thoroughness and accuracy. We realized that television news was providing "teasers" for the complete news stories, and we capitalized on that. People learned to turn to the newspapers for comprehensive accounts of what was taking place. However, to accomplish that goal of comprehensive and finely written news, the newspapers had to recruit the most accomplished reporters, writers, and editors, and the payroll costs went up significantly for those newspapers that followed this line of development. Of course, there was an audience for thorough and reliable reporting at the time.

It also meant that newspapers maintained a very stringent line between news reporting and editorial opinions. People might not agree with or like the editorial stance expressed on the editorial pages, but they trusted that the news reports stuck to the facts and that news coverage and presentation reflected facts, not the mindsets of reporters and writers. It worked.

No doubt that some newspapers will be shaken out in the competition for news. The problem is that many are cutting expenses by cutting news staffs. Newspapers are making the mistake of trying to compete with the popular media--the incessant chatter on cable news, radio talk shows, and "reality" television. They think that conflict, contention, and human debasement is what their "audience" wants.

Cable news has destroyed the distinction between news and the degraded forms of entertainment. The pattern on 24-hour news media is to report on a snippet and then have panels of "experts" from various viewpoints chatter and bicker incessantly over their viewpoints. The facts that are supposed to be elucidated are buried in a swamp of partisan rancor and contending egos. The expository function of news presentation is all but forgotten.

The decline of the news business in general has taken examples of good, competent reporting out of the picture for much of the public. People do not value well documented and well written news accounts because so few of them have not experienced them in a context in which accuracy and thoroughness have any value. People tend to go to sources of information that confirm their prejudices, not present facts without processing them through a partisan spin cycle. Some blogs make a careful delineation between the facts and the viewpoint through which they perceive them. but the vast majority of blogs shape the facts to fit their partisan, often malicious purpose.

When the Tim Johnson interview was posted on the South Dakota War College, it was, indeed, repurposed. Four factors govern the interpretation of a news communication:
  • Pretext
  • Text
  • Context
  • Subtext

The pretext of the Argus Leader interview was to provide information on a matter of current concerns. The purpose of the text of that interview dealt with Sen. Johnson's campaign decisions. A written text of the interview was supplied if the video was not clear to viewers. The context was the reporting of news. There was no subtext or ulterior motive apparent.

The pretext of the War College posting was clear from its many postings which persistently suggested that Sen. Johnson's declining to debate is evidence of an unfitness to serve another term in the Senate. The text of the video seen in this context--and without the written transcript of the interview--was clearly to focus on any difficulties of speech that might be apparent. The context on the War College is a very negative and disparaging purpose to discredit Sen. Johnson's abilities. The mean and nasty comments posted by War College partisans further define the context and the pretext The subtext is the same as the pretext: to use any hesitation and difficulty with pronunciation to call into question the Senator's ability to perform Senatorial duties. War College clearly posted the video with the intention that its gaggle and a few hapless viewers would fix on the Senator's speech patterns and come to the conclusion directed by the pretext, the context, and the subtext. In so posting, an honest piece of journalism was repurposed into a partisan agenda.

Sen. Johnson has a clear command of information and the words to convey it, as demonstrated by his public appearances. His difficulty at this point is a muscular one. When a person is regaining muscular control, he must think about what he wants his muscles to do before acting. When the muscles of speech are involved, the person must think of how to position the muscles to articulate words. Eventually instantaneous control returns. The video showed some slowness in forming words. And given the previous performance of War College, it would be evident to a fully literate person that the posting was suspect. However, in our time the literacy of many people has been stunted by the false practices of cable news and Internet blogs. Our education system is reducing reading to a matter of word recognition, not the comprehensive act of decoding and interpreting language.

War College has joined Sibson Online, South Dakota Politics, Dakota Voice, to name a few, in the monomanical purpose of discrediting those who hold opposing views. The Republican Party and its allies conceive of political debate as the demolishment of personhood and personality, not the delineation of contending viewpoints.

Ultimately, it is a cultural matter: a traditional culture which believes that viewpoints should be formed upon a thorough examination of the facts versus a culture which believes that facts should be shaped to fit prejudices and purposes shaped by those prejudices.

Increasingly, it is apparent that an Orwellian distortion and repurposing of language to gain political power is at war with a concept of literacy developed over the centuries. Blogs are not news organizations. The best ones present a clearly formulated viewpoint. The worst are devoted to the discrediting, diminishing, and libeling of opponents without regard to accurate facts or good purpose.

We are at war--not just in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The pit bull wears lipstick. But not Prada. Yet.

The culture war got a bit angrier and more clearly defined Wednesday night. The Republicans apparently decided that the only way to counter the extravaganza of political theatrics put on by the Democrats in Denver was with an angry exercise in gracelessness. How do you counter a rock-star-like gathering? Try another popular genre. Soap opera. So Sarah Palin was cast in the lead role of a once-hot woman who trotted up and down the runways of the Alaska halter-and-gown shows and now faces adversity in her quest for the second-highest office in the land.

She quipped, "How do you tell a hockey mom from a pit bull?' "Lipstick." Rather than merely throw it out as a gag, she took it as a thesis she spent the night proving. She demonstrated why the members of her high school basketball team called her Sarah Barracuda.

To learn her role, she went into two days of seclusion with speech writers and oral interpretation coaches, presumably from the Karl Rove School of Elocution. She was a good learner, as she performed for the three act melodrama-soap-opera.

Act I was Family Values and Other Myths. It introduces the audience to the adversity: a husband who is a member of the steel workers union, which makes Republicans generally gnash their teeth and wail in anguish over the evidence that they haven't stamped out labor unions yet; a knocked-up 17-year-old daughter; and a five-month old infant son with Down Syndrome. Whereas the Obamas left the familly background to Michelle and a brief encounter of the two daughters and their daddy, the Palin story did a full production. It began showing Levi, the young man who impregnated the daughter, disembarking at the airport with his face washed, the stubble shaven, and wearing preppy clothes. Then came Trig the Down Syndrome prop who was passed around from the family to Cindy McCain and back again. At one point another Palin child held the baby and slicked down his hair with spittle even thought his hair didn't need slicking down. Good schtick, Rovie. It was great drama, except to snotty elitists who might find making a spectacle of a Down Syndrome child offensive. There was Trig being passed from person to person with a backdrop of waving signs proclaiming "Country First." But it's all a matter of taste, you know.

Act II was Oh, You Big Inflatable Doll, You. From Soccer Mom to Vice Presidential candidate. Here is where the story began to generate fodder for the fact checkers. It all began with the PTA and efforts to insure that children would get the best educations possible. Except for sex education. Then to the mayor's office. The soap kind of glossed over the disputes and how many city workers got fired. They weren't producing--enough support for Mama Palin, one assumes. But then the scene moved to the Governor's office where the fight against pork barrel and incompetence was initiated. The soap did not include how Ms. Palin looked after the interests of her sister whose state trooper husband abused her, it is said, and the Governor is now under investigation for violation of the ethics law for trying to get him fired. And then there is the Governor's airplane, which she listed on E-Bay. No one on E-Bay was interested, so the thing has been turned over to an aircraft broker. And she told of how she rejected the bridge to nowhere. She skipped over how she supported the bridge during her campaign, then rejected the bridge but took the money anyway. Or that she did not turn aside the $18 million approach to the bridge. An approach to the bridge to nowhere which did not get built. Country first.

Alaska is a state whose major sources of revenues are oil drilling assessments and money from the federal government. Good old frontier self-sufficiency, you know. Oh, and the part of how she allied herself with lobbyists to get those federal funds was also conveniently skipped over. Story line, you know.

In Act III the heroine takes on the great black axis of evil. The devil did not wear Prada, but he graduated from Columbia and Harvard Law School, the black, skulking elitist sombitch. What's worse is that he was a community organizer with no responsibilities, even though he started up an organization to work with the human blight in the south side of Chicago when the steel plants were shut down. He was a civil rights lawyer, served in the Illinois Legislature for 8 years, but he never did anything. Like be elected editor of the Harvard Law Review or teach constitutional law at the University of Chicago. No worthy experience whatever. He is one uppity phony who has to be vanquished and the pit bull is just the the paragon of virtue and family values to do it.

The soap opera story won't end until Nov. 4. But the ending is written. It further develops how an uppity do-nothng gets exposed for the closet Muslim he is who can't even produce a valid birth certificate but has the gift of brains and a tongue for golden oratory. And there is Sarah struggling and slashing and snarling to reach an alpha position in the dog pack.

The final scene shows a full moon rising behind the dome of the nation's capitol and Sarah leads the pack in a unified baying at the moon. The country is saved once again from the liberal horde.

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