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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, December 29, 2010

120 years: the anniversary South Dakota would like to forget

29 December 1890:  Wounded Knee

Tim Giago recalls:

On crystal clear nights when winter winds whistle through the hills and canyons around Wounded Knee Creek, the Lakota elders say it is so cold that you can hear the twigs snapping in the frigid air.

They called this time of the year, "The Moon of the Popping Trees." It was on such a winter morning on December 29, 1890 that the crack of a single rifle brought a day of infamy that still lives in the hearts and minds of the Lakota people.

After the rifle spoke there was a pause and then the rifles and Hotchkiss guns of the Seventh Cavalry opened up on the men, women and children camped at Wounded Knee. What followed was utter chaos and madness. The thirst for the blood of the Lakota took away all common sense from the soldiers.

The unarmed Lakota fought back with bare hands. The warriors shouted to their wives, their elders and their children, "run for cover," Iynkapo! Iyankapo!

Elderly men and women, unable to fight back, stood defiantly and sang their death songs before falling to the hail of bullets. The number of Lakota people murdered that day is still unknown. The mass grave at Wounded Knee holds the bodies of 150 men, women and children. Many other victims died from their wounds and from exposure over the next several days.

The Lakota people say that only 50 people out of the original 350 followers of Sitanka (Big Foot) survived the massacre.

Five days after the slaughter of the innocents an editorial in the Aberdeen (S.D.) Saturday Pioneer reflected the popular opinion of the wasicu (white people) of that day. It read, "The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth."

Ten years after he wrote that editorial calling for genocide against the Lakota people, L. Frank Baum wrote that wonderful children's book, "The Wizard of Oz."

The federal government tried to forever erase the memory of Wounded Knee. The village that sprang up on the site of the massacre was named Brennan after a Bureau of Indian Affairs official. But the Lakota people never forgot. Although the name "Brennan" appeared on the map, they still called it Wounded Knee.
Read the entire remembrance here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Have you ever seen minks f**, er ah, engaged in coitus?

Well, I haven't.

But I was referred to as someone who should have some expertise on the sexual proclivities of minks.

It happened at a holiday party.  A young couple who had  been invited and expected hadn't shown up.  Someone asked if anyone knew where they were.  Someone else answered that they would probably be late or not show up at all because they spent most of their time fucking like minks. 

A young man whose critical facilities had been enhanced by Christmas glogg said, why do people say that?  Just how do minks fuck?

Someone related to me said, ask Dr. Newquist.  I was referred to as an authority because I read, write, and speak Old English, Middle English, and contemporary English, along with some other earthy languages and, therefore, know lots of dirty words.  And their origins.  I also was a seasonal naturalist for Game, Fish, and Parks and interpreted wildlife for visitors to a couple of parks.  People presumed that I would know about minkdom and its linguistic emanations.  It was also known that as a naturalist, I was a student of scat to some degree.  You can tell a lot about wildlife from where they drop their droppings and what they contain.  Students often said Dr. Newquist knows shit. 

My only encounter with minks in the wild occurred late one afternoon when I was returning home from work at the parks and was traveling across the Richmond Lake causeway.  A mother mink and her babies were crossing the road.  I stopped and got out of my truck to watch them and hold up the other traffic.  Other cars stopped and their occupants got out and gathered to watch the procession.

At first the mother, a beautiful sable colored specimen, was in the lead.  But like young ones of all species, they found many distractions that attracted their curiosity and interest.  They tended to veer off to look at the spectators, remnants of things on the road, and to generally inspect their environment.  The mother had to drop back and, like a Border Collie with sheep, herd them in line and keep them moving.  The humans who had gathered around were oohing and aahing and wishing aloud that they had their cameras.  The mother eventually got the young across the road and into the water and they paddled away into the rushes, out of sight.

That is my one encounter with minks in the wild.  It consisted of no fucking, but provided fairly convincing evidence that minks do.
A minx. 
My experience as a naturalist provided no clue as to the origin of that saying.  So when I got home I began to peruse old textbooks on folklore and google around the Web.  I encountered a conundrum.  Mind you, not a condom.  A conundrum,  Originally, the  saying had nothing to do with those prize fur-bearers.  It applied to a  minx, which is an aggressively flirtatious and seductive woman.  Apparently it was assumed that a woman who worked her wiles on a  male with such enthusiasm would demonstrate the same enthusiasm, energy, and alacrity in the follow-through.  The saying was that "she fucks like a minx."  Through the same grammatical twist to which I had fallen victim all these years, "minx" had been heard as "minks," and most of us thought two creatures were involved, not just one minx.  So we said "they fuck like minks," not "she fucks like a minx."

I am glad that at my advanced age, I got that straightened out. It is worthy of a scholarly paper.  But I belong to no scholarly organizations who would want it.  The language would embarrass them and they'd say Newquist knows shit.

I do like the minks concept better than the minx, however.  In this cyber age, it is more interactive.  

Relinquishing educational leadership

The current fad in education is to assign blame to the teachers.  Rather than examining how the attitudes and issues that students bring into the classrooms are controlling factors in the failures and successes of education, the current efforts are focused on managing teachers.  To some, the key to improving education is to break the teachers' unions and to reduce teaching to the status of  bonded servitude.  The controlling idea is that teachers should be held totally accountable for the educational performance of their students, and when the students fall behind in the competitive measures, the answer is to fire the teachers and replace them with  more diligent servants.  Put more starkly, the emerging concept of a good teacher is guided by reality television.  Just as a bunch of striving survivors are put on a remote, isolated island and subjected to a process of getting voted off the island on the basis of their survival skills, teachers are put in classrooms to see how much pressure and stress they can withstand before being voted out of the classroom.  

The moral and intellectual standards of reality television may well define the emerging, dominant national culture.  As  far is it applies to education, the attitude has been building for a long time.  During the 1980s, the first in a series of dire reports on the state of American education was issued, called "A Nation at Risk."  It examined the failures of education.  However, it was most notable for what it omitted, not what it included.  In examining the ills of education, it consulted with everyone except teachers.  One would assume that any effort to examine the reasons for declining measures of educational success would include observations from the people who are on the front lines of the educational effort and have the most immediate perspective.  But the report, and subsequent ones, dismissed teachers as part of the problems to be examined; it did not  regard them as cognizant resources of information who could identify and solve any problems in the delivery of education.

Nor did the report examine the role of school boards.  In the past, school boards generally served as conduits of information between the taxpaying constituents and the professional staffs, the teachers.  Policies and procedures were worked out in consultation, with the public and the teachers acting as partners in the community.  When teachers were granted collective bargaining rights, the role of boards of education changed to that of corporate boards of directors charged with managing a bunch of employees, employees who they assume would shirk their duties and slough off if not placed under stringent work rules and constant monitoring.  Teachers were no longer part of the process of communication as the voice of the profession.  They became low-level employees who were told what to do, how to do it, and any voicing of their concerns was limited to the collective bargaining process.  In other words, they were stripped of their professional status.  And so, their observations and ideas were ignored in "A Nation at Risk."

This is not to say that teachers should not be accountable for their performance and that some, for numerous reasons, need to be removed from the classrooms.  But they should be held accountable only for those aspects of teaching over which they have control.  In the current fixation, they are the scapegoats for all the the ills--social, administrative, financial, political--that beset education.

After a series of reports and efforts to address the deficiencies of education, we are left with the idea that the key to improving education lies in the ability to fire teachers at will.  Find enough non-performing teachers and fire them, and our kids will return to the level of excellence in learning.  

As this attitude toward teachers has developed, one is left to wonder why anyone would choose teaching as a profession, why anyone would want to be put on an island and subjected to a weekly vote of who gets to keep their jobs and who doesn't.  The mastering and successful delivery of subject matter seems to count for less than the process of  being held accountable.  Accountability is no longer measured by acquiring knowledge and imparting it to children, but is a matter of how well one stands up under competitive stress tests.  It is difficult to find just where education and learning fits into this scheme of things. To hold a teaching job, one must learn how to suck up to the administrators and conform to the notions of education of whoever happens to be in charge.

During my last decade or so of teaching college, I and my colleagues noted a marked decline in the quality of students going in to education.  When I came to Northern State, education was its premier area of study.  The strongest students were the education majors.  One of the happier duties was to write letters of recommendation  for accomplished and capable students looking for teaching jobs.  Northern State supplied the highest percentage of teachers to the State of South Dakota, but we began to notice a trend.  The most promising young people in teaching were heavily recruited and were taking jobs out of state.  The reasons were obvious:  money and professional status.  Students who had been in my classes were going to places such as Oregon, Massachusetts, Nevada, Minnesota, Florida, and American schools in foreign countries. Those who took jobs in South Dakota often moved to better-paying locations after a few years. Another trend was that after a few years of successful teaching,  the young teachers were often lured into other kinds of work.

After "Nation at Risk" had been around for a time, another trend became evident.  The smartest and most ambitious college students were choosing other vocations.  The teacher education program began having problems with the quality of students seeking admission into the program.  Many of our faculty meetings became devoted to dealing with students whose level of scholarship was marginal.  In the past, students who did not measure up to the established standards were routinely dropped from the program or were put  on probation.  But as fewer strong students showed an interest in teaching, it also became more difficult to attract enough students into teaching education to maintain the program.  Consequently, more students who had weak areas in their preparation were admitted under special provisions.

It became a joke among the faculty that the graduation ceremony needed a provision contained in the marriage ceremony.  That provision was borrowed from the part in the marriage ceremony where the minister asks if any one in the audience knows of any reason why a couple should not marry; if so,  they should speak up then or forever hold their peace.  We thought that as each graduate crossed the stage to be handed a diploma, the college president should ask if anyone knew a reason why an education major should not be permitted to teach; they should  speak up then or forever be silent.  We said that in some cases the faculty would burst into a roar of disapproval.  Some students squeaked through the program; others simply did not have the personalities or motivations needed for teaching.  And some of the  young people headed for coaching careers were definitely not equipped to teach academic subject matter.  While there were still strong and able students going into teaching, there were also a growing number about whom the faculty had serious doubts.  We more frequently had to inform students that their performance was disqualifying them from the teaching program, but we also noted that among the capable students, a growing number decided not to take teaching jobs after their student teaching experience.  After the realities of being in a classroom, they decided on different careers.

For 20 years, I was co-director of a remarkably successful program devoted to honing teachers' skills in the teaching of writing, the Dakota Writing Project.  Initially, the program, which had co-directors from Black Hills State and Dakota State, was literally run out of the trunks of our cars.  We had some administrative support, but had to obtain grants from outside sources for funding.  What was successful about the program was that teachers taught each other.  People who had experienced success in teaching writing exchanged information and ideas about what worked with other teachers.  It was not limited to teachers of English, and it included teachers from kindergarten through graduate school.  The idea was to use writing as a learning tool in all disciplines, not just English classes, and to design ways to foster and measure student success.  Teachers ran the program on a volunteer basis, with the idea of having its methods and procedures incorporated into the institutions.  But when it was made part of institutions, it soon faltered and died.  The educational bureaucracies snuffed it out.

American education when it was in the hands of  teachers fostered a spirit of innovation and development geared toward succeeding with all students.  That spirit has been exterminated by the rigid prescriptions of the No Child Left Behind requirements.  Instead of improving education, NCLB has increased the drop out rate, chased competent teachers into other career choices, and while America has been teaching to the test, even developing countries, such as China and India, have surpassed America in educational achievement.  That is ironic, because the biggest worldwide movement to improve education was based upon the American model after World War II.  

For years, foreign students have come to American colleges and universities to have access to the best education, but now they are developing higher learning institutions in their own countries that rival, and in some cases, surpass ours.  America is so mired down in the muck of partisan politics that it cannot see that its obsession with trivial and inane bickering is allowing the nation's most conspicuous flower of success to wither away.  

There is much that is wrong with education in America, but there are also many solutions to its problems.  If education is to be saved, America might try something drastic in defining and solving its problems:  ask the  teachers. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anatomy of a piddling DUSEL

At Mt. Blogmore, there is a thread of discussion--actually, a lot of unraveling yarns--about the National Science Board's rejection of providing $29 million  for the continued operation and development of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory at the old Homestake Goldmine.  At this writing, I am in Denver which is near the site that was the main contender for being the site for the DUSEL, the Henderson Mine, in Empire, Colo.  When the competition to be designated the site was at its most intense, my Colorado connections, which I have occasion to visit at this time, were involved in creating support organizations, which included the Henderson Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory group, a consortium of university and science-related organizations which were interested in developing a laboratory for expanding research into small-particle physics.  No one outside the National Science Board knows the specific reasons and the nature of the discussion that led up to the rejection of further National Science Foundation funding, because the meeting was closed and minutes of the committee recommending the rejection will not be made public.  

What is puzzling some South Dakotans is that the NSB held its annual off-site meeting in September at Black Hills State and the DUSEL was a topic of discussion.  One must consider that the Board found something during their visit that underlies their decision not to provide funding.  The attitude in Colorado is, if the reason is left to speculation, why not ask those who are equipped to provide some informed reasons as to the problem?  NSB members have indicated that the management "model" that is guiding the development of the lab is what troubles them. 

The Mt. Blogmore post asks the question if the rejection is science or politics.  My Colorado colleagues and I would quickly answer, it is most likely from the way politics have intruded into science.  

I recall the establishment of Fermilab.  During my first year of college teaching in  1968, I received a call from the managing editor of the newspaper I had worked for asking if I would consider taking a free-lance assignment from them to cover the ground-breaking and development of the Fermilab, at the time called the National Accelerator Laboratory.  The person who had been assigned to cover it had taken another job, and I had been the higher education, science, and technology editor for the paper and had covered the background developments of university scientists' efforts to create a national accelerator laboratory.  The Fermilab assignment, as it turned out, would last more than ten years, from its ground-breaking in 1968 to 1979, when I left Illinois for South Dakota.  

For comparison purposes with the DUSEL development, it is important to know how the Fermilab came into being.  The idea for creating a national research laboratory was the logical extension of American work on nuclear technology and the exploration of space.  Most of that work became centered in California at Berkeley and Stanford, where some facilities had been built.   However, scientists in universities in the Midwest were in need of a facility in which to conduct their research and experiments.  The need for a laboratory to which scientists from throughout the U.S. could have access was required if the scientific community was to carry forward its  investigations and experiments in physics.  Scientists throughout the country were developing plans for the design and engineering of such a laboratory, and the need for such a facility was recognized as crucial to the advancement of science. 

 A group of Midwestern universities organized in 1952 to promote the development of a physics research laboratory.  In 1965, President Johnson's science advisory committee recommended the development of a laboratory and the creation of a group composed of the leading universities and scientists in the country to guide and oversee its development.  The original group of universities expanded into a consortium called the Universities Research Association.  From 1967 until 2006, the URA was the prime contractor for the construction and development of the Fermilab. The group currently  consists of 86 universities.  In 2006, it joined with the University of Chicago to form the organization that now oversees Fermilab.

The development of the Fermilab was attended by much political wrangling.  However, it was the politics of science and regional interests, not the politics of  partisan bigotry that engages so many commenters at the Mt. Blogmore site.  As with the DUSEL, there was much contention over where to situate a lab.  At the time the predecessor to the Department of Energy, the Atomic Energy Commission, was the major sponsor and promoter.  As developments reached the point of construction of the laboratory was imminent, the assumption was that the new lab would be built in California.  That assumption was challenged by scientists throughout the country, who thought a more central and convenient location was needed to provide them access--and to extend research opportunities throughout the country.  The AEC invited proposals for potential sites and received more than 200 applications.  It chose the site at Weston, Illinois, 27 miles northwest of Chicago.

There was politics involved in the choice of the site.  Lyndon Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen, R-Ill.,  played prominent roles in the site selection.  As my notes from my coverage of the site choice are 700 miles away, I am a bit hazy about the political maneuvers, but I recall Dirksen using his considerable power to bring the site to Illinois.  In essence, he met with academic leaders when they were squabbling over the choice of site and made clear that if they wanted a laboratory to work in, they had best quit the squabbling over personal preferences and get to work on the lab wherever it was located.  Another aspect of the site selection was disputed by the head of the AEC, but was widely circulated among those with knowledge of the site selection.  That point was that Sen. Dirksen made a deal with Pres. Johnson to support Johnson's civil rights legislation if the lab would be built in  Illinois.  At any event, the Illinois site was chosen.

This did not set well with some scientists.  One of the Berkeley scientists who was asked to head the development of the lab thought the Illinois site was unsuitable and turned down the offer.  The complaint of some scientists, as is now with the Homestake site, was that rural Illinois was not a place where top scientists would like to come and work.  The irony was, however, that the site is only 27 miles from Chicago, is central within a few hours drive to many of the Midwest's universities, and is, in fact, part of the suburban Chicago metropolitan area.

The 6,800-acre Fermilab
The man who was chosen to head the development of the lab, Robert Wilson, was a Cornell University physicist who provided some of the design concepts for the laboratory.  He determined to make the Fermilab a campus that would meet the needs of scientists throughout the nation and would be a model of good science and good neighbor.  

Over the years, the lab has had its problems with funding and setting up experiments.  I recall when the accelerator was nearing completion and undergoing test runs, it was plagued by magnets blowing up when water seeping through the underground roof dripped on them.  As with all science, there are always problems to overcome.

The notable contrast, however, between the development of the Fermilab and the efforts to create the DUSEL at the Sanford Lab in Lead is in the involvement of scientists.  Scientists saw the potential for the old Homestake Goldmine as a deep underground lab, and early in the proposal, they were almost unanimous in their support.  However, when the owners, Barrick Gold, could not get the degree of freedom from environmental liabilities they wanted in negotiations with the state, they turned off the water pumps and let the mine fill with water.  All but a few scientists withdrew their interest and support.  They saw that corporate petulance was a controlling factor and the political forces, both state and national, could not find a way to resolve the dispute.  Fermilab did not have corporate factors to deal with in its development.  The question posed by my Colorado colleagues is why scientists have not returned their support for the DUSEL and are so tentative and reserved.

The answer might well be the organization involved in the development of the DUSEL, the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority.  Its  leadership is composed of South Dakota business people with two out-of-state scientists sitting as sort of tokens on the board.  It does not reflect the kind of leadership that represents the knowledge and discipline of science, or much in the way of regional academic resources.  The Colorado scientists suggest that the contrast between the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority and the Universities Research Association, which was made prime contractor for the Fermilab, seems the obvious reason that the National Science Board will not invest further funding in the development of the DUSEL.  Science seems to play a subsidiary role.

As for politics, they are a consideration.  One commenter on Mt. Blogmore suggests that the NSB is withholding its funding in retaliation for the elections lost by Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.  To scientists, that is an offensive and hopelessly ignorant comment.  But it does express some of the attitudes that form the environment in which a laboratory would have to work.  

The people of South Dakota have spoken in their elections, and continue to speak on blogs and newspaper comments.  And the fact is that people are listening, particularly people who have to make choices about the future of science.  They must ask if the old Homestake mine is the kind of place where scientists want to invest their futures and the future of science.  The people of South Dakota are supplying the answer.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Kristi Noem shows them how it's done in D.C.

From Dana Milbank in the The Washington Post :

When the good people of South Dakota voted last month to send Republican Kristi Noem to Congress, they probably believed that she would give no quarter to the lobbyists and special interest groups who enjoyed, as she put it, "throwing money at the feet of a member of Congress."

But since she defeated Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (in part by making an issue of Herseth Sandlin's marriage to a lobbyist), Noem has hired as her new chief of staff . . . a lobbyist! And on Tuesday afternoon, she was the guest of honor at a "Meet & Greet" with Washington high-rollers at the powerhouse lobbying firm Barbour Griffiths Rogers. Once these boys start throwing money at Noem's feet, she'll soon be chin deep in lobbyist greenbacks.

It was probably inevitable that the Tea Party activists would be betrayed, but the speed with which congressional Republicans have reverted to business-as-usual has been impressive.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dorking at the DUSEL?

It seems that everyone connected with the development of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake in Lead, was blind-sided by a decision to withdraw some funding that had seemed certain.  The National Science Board, which oversees the work of the National Science Foundation, decided not to supply $29 million in a grant that would have funded operation and development of the laboratory from May 2011 until the National Science Foundation is scheduled to make a decision about whether it will give full approval and authorization for the operation of the DUSEL.

The Board's rejection of the funding has caused furious activity in the Governor's office to seek some resolution.  According to the Black Hills Pioneer, Senators Tim Johnson and John Thune wrote a letter to President Obama's  adviser on interagency affairs, Valerie Jarett, protesting the action and asking for a meeting with Jarrett and the principles involved in the laboratory project.  The reason for contacting the President's office is because the Board members are appointed by the President.  The letter reads:

NSF has informed the project that despite the agreements made, the National Science Board has declined any additional funding -- putting all of the existing and future jobs in jeopardy. This is the second time the project has been put at risk based on NSB delays and decisions. The process appears broken with critical milestones missed inside the federal government review process -- hindering the state and the project's ability to succeed as a partner. The NSB decision further undermines our confidence in the ability of the administration and especially NSF to manage large interagency facilities despite unprecedented cooperation among DOE and NSF to date.

It requests that Jarett, the Department of Energy, the NSF, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Gov. Mike Rounds be included in the meeting.

Confusion over the $29 million comes from what the lab proponents have said was a commitment made by the NSF.  Gov. Rounds had asked the South Dakota legislature to appropriate $5 million to continue work on the  lab until May 2011.  After voting the appropriation down twice, the legislature acceded when a meeting with the National Science Foundation produced what the state regarded as a commitment to provide development and operating funds in May.  The chair of the oversight board, Ray Bowen, however, has stated that the NSF was not authorized to make such a commitment.  It cannot authorize spending over $12.5 million, and Bowen said that no information was provided the Board for its Dec. 2 meeting that indicated such a commitment had been made.  He further remarked that the NSF was generally meticulous about its handling of such funding requests.

The exact role of the National Science Foundation is confusing.  When a site for the DUSEL was being proposed, the NSF was the agency in authority to make a selection and facilitate development.  Through an elimination process, the final sites considered by the NSF were the Homestake Mine and the Henderson Mine, in Empire, Colo.  It seemed clear that the NSF had the power and authority to pick  the site for the DUSEL and to oversee its development.  The competition between Colorado and South Dakota was intense.  From the standpoint of human talent and cultural and political support, Colorado had an advantage over South Dakota.  Professors from five state universities,  all of which are a few hours drive from the Henderson Mine, organized a support and advocacy group.  Personnel who would be employed in research at the DUSEL clearly preferred the site near Denver for cultural, social, and professional reasons.   The Denver area provided more activities and education for families.

South Dakota offered scant academic interest and support for the laboratory, and the social, cultural, and political climate of the Black Hills was regarded by many scientists as a serious drawback.  When negotiations over the mine stalled and Barrick Gold, the owner, shut off the water pumps and and let the shafts fill with water, many scientists withdrew their support and looked for alternatives.  That action seemed to forecast to many researchers the attitude and obstacles that would stand in the way of the mine ever becoming a first-class research facility.  

The mine itself was the deciding factor in making Homestake the top choice for a DUSEL.  Its depth, its geological features, and its configuration could not be matched or duplicated for deep, underground research. Even the scientists who had given up on it and were looking for different places to do their research and experiments admitted that it had physical and scientific advantages that would be extremely difficult to match.  

The criticisms of the National Science Board in explaining the rejection of the  funding are not clear and specific, but they fall into two major contentions:  they would like to see the Department of Energy, a partner in the enterprise, and other agencies,provide more of the funding; and they object to the form that the joint-effort has taken among those involved in the lab.  Chair of the NSB committee on programs and plans, Mark Abbott, said “The roles and risks, responsibilities and resources -- we didn't have the right mix between the NSF, DOE and its other partners,” he said. “We really have to look at the shared responsibilities and the risk during all phases of the project. We just found the model being pursued was unacceptable.”  He said further, "We don't like the stewardship model, and we are concerned with the cost and scope of the project." 

The Department of Energy is the main federal agency with whom the NSF partners.  The NSB board members do not mention the other agencies and their roles, but those involved with the lab and their financial contributions are:
  • The National Science Foundation, $80 million
  • The Department of Energy, $100 million
  • The State of South Dakota,$120 million
  • T. Denny Sanford donation, $70 million  [The Sanford donation is restricted to $35 million to prepare the mine at the 4,850-foot level, $15 million to re-open the mine at the 8,000-foot level, and $20 million to establish an education and outreach center at the mine.]

   If the state and Sanford participation are what the Board finds unacceptable, the Board has not said.  The meeting of the Committee on Programs and Plans was closed at its Dec. 2 session at which the DUSEL was discussed, and apparently the committee members will not specify what their objections are.  Abbott's comments sound like an interagency problem.  Abbott said the original plan was not well defined, and "As the proposals were fleshed out, it wasn't matching what we see for NSF...The current plan for the two agencies to share responsibility is unacceptable."  For the decision to not fund the DUSEL to be reversed, he said the NSF directors would have to come to the Board with a new plan. `He said, "The project needs to reflect the mission of NSF. We're a science agency, not a mission agency, or a facilities agency, or a big infrastructure agency. We didn't think that the model was right for NSF." 

Early in the struggles to turn the goldmine into a lab, the state sold the proposition on the basis of it being an economic development enterprise.  Members of the scientific and academic communities warned that scientific research purposes and economic development are often in  conflict.  Science is trying to examine unknown aspects of the universe, and economic development is looking for discoveries and inventions that can make money.  If the research becomes directed toward the purpose of finding new products, the scientific objectives will take a back seat.  Abbott's comments sound as if the NSB is not finding the scientific purpose in the lab partnership that the NSF was created to advance.

At this time, a meeting requested by Senators Johnson and Thune has not been scheduled, but the NSB holds out little opportunity for reversing its decision, but seems open to looking at a revised plan for the partnership and development of the lab.  

Members of the NSB Programs and Plans Committee are listed below, with short biographies linked to their names. 


Dr. Mark R. Abbott


Dr. José-Marie Griffiths   
Dr. Douglas D. Randall 
Mr. Arthur K. Reilly 
Dr. Diane L. Souvaine
Dr. Thomas N. Taylor 
Dr. Richard F. Thompson


Dr. Barry C. Barish
Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier
Dr. Louis J. Lanzerotti   

Dr. Alan I. Leshner 

Bob Mercer,  Madville Times, and Mt. Blogmore have carried items on this development. 

Robert Sanders, spokesman for the University of California-Berkeley, the sponsoring agent for the DUSEL proposal, said so far the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the state of South Dakota have collectively contributed $300 million to the project and its proposed science experiments. The NSF has given $80 million, the DOE has contributed $100 million (mostly for DUSEL science proposals), and South Dakota has given $120 million. That accounting does not include a donation of $70 million from Sioux Falls philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, which must be spent in stages. Specifically, $35 million of that money is for re-entering and preparing the former gold mine for science at the 4,850-foot level, $15 million is to re-open the mine to the 8,000-foot level, and $20 million is committed for an education and outreach facility at the lab.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The great, white hunter saves the country. And Haiti, too?

Some folks are making a lot of fun of Sarah Palin's television episode in which she bags a caribou.  Caribou are what we call reindeer in North America, you know, the beasts of burden that brings Santa and the toys.

Aaron Sorkin at Huffington Post calls the episode a "snuff film."   Maureen Dowd of The New York Times thinks the show should carry the claimer that “almost every living creature involved in this show was harmed.”  Britain's The Guardian has a headline which reads:  "Sarah Palin shoots caribou...after missing five times."  PETA, of course, sounded off.

I do not watch any TV reality shows, so I did not watch Palin's version of Alaska.  I did see a clip posted on a web site.  The clip showed Palin and her father trudging on the tundra until someone in the  crew spots a caribou loping along a ridge.  Palin's father tracks the critter with binoculars as it comes in range.  Then it stops, turns toward the party of hunters, and poses its chest right before them.  Then there is a camera shot that shows the scene through a scope sight with the cross hairs on the vital area.  Then the camera shows Sarah sighting and squeezing one off, and the caribou drops.

Except that is a highly edited clip.  The Guardian shows the full episode.  Sarah is there with a a rifle with a wood stock.  As the caribou strolls into view, the show goes on in the tradition of the worst television that humans can contrive, the tradition of the outdoor hunting show.  Such shows always have the hunters murmuring or whispering excitedly, oblivious that the microphones don't pick up whisperings and murmurings so that the audience can hear clearly what is said, but what snatches come through indicate that it wouldn't be worth hearing if you could. 

Anyway, as the caribou comes into range, it obligingly poses for Sarah to sight in on it.  She fires a  round.  The caribou looks in the direction of the hunter with that WTF-was-that? look, as Sarah's dad reaches over her shoulder and operates the bolt to chamber another round.  She fires again.  She fires five times, with daddy performing the part of a semi-automatic bolt operator.  

Finally, daddy  takes the wooden-stocked rifle from her and hands her a black composition-stocked rifle, and she sights on the caribou, who is still standing there looking at the hunters with that WTF-are-these-clowns-doing? look.  Sarah fires again, and the caribou dutifully crumples to the ground.  The hunting party carefully approaches the caribou to make sure it's dead, and then proceeds to field-butcher the critter.

As the show goes on, it makes the point that Sarah's problem with that wood-stocked rifle was that the scope had  not been sighted in.  Daddy's rifle, which he refers to as a varmint gun, was sighted in.  In some quarters, making sure one's weapon is ready to perform, is a matter of safety and hunter integrity. 

When I make the point on blogs that I do not think that idiots should have free access to firearms, the comments that I am anti-gun and anti-hunter start pouring in.  I have a rack of guns.  Rifles, shotguns, and a couple of those Japanese-made black powder Springfield replicas in which the rifling wears out so fast.  The black powder rifles were for Civil War reenactments and the shooting contests held in conjunction with them.  I won some trophies, when the rifling was still intact. And I have bought my son guns and, with participation in gun safety courses and 4-H programs, taught him to shoot. 

My attitude towards who should possess firearms and when and how they should be used derives from my family experience with hunting, with  my military service, and work as a seasonal naturalist for Game, Fish, and Parks.  The experience all makes the same point:  idiots should not bear arms.  And a lot of those armor-bearers are idiots.  I have spent too much time ducking for cover from straying projectiles and repairing the damage done by some stalwart sportsman as they relieved their compulsion to shoot at something--anything.  Idiots should not bear arms.

I was raised in a family which hunted on the family's farms.  Much of that hunting was done for food.  The hunting helped stretch the family budget.  I was raised with guns.  My grandmother lived with two bachelor uncles, where the guns were racked in the bath house.  The bath house was in a shed a short walk from the kitchen door.  The shed contained three separate rooms, each with its own door.  The room on one end contained the cream separator.  The middle room is where the wood and coal stoves that heated the rooms in the house were stored during the summer.  And the other end room was the wash house.  It had it's own stove for heating water and it contained the washing machine and the big galvanized tub that served as the bath tub.  The guns were racked high over a shelf in the wash house.  I can remember sitting in the tub and smelling a mixture of lye soap and gun powder, as I eyed the rifle and shotgun and contemplated when I would qualify to shoot them.  As a boy, I graduated from a wood replica of a Springfield bolt action army rifle to a Red Ryder BB gun to a 410 single shot.  In the Army I was the bearer and constant maintainer of a series of Garand M1s and an M2 carbine.  If firearms are to function reliably and safely, they have to be  kept under constant care.  And that includes sighting them in.  In the Army, the periodic qualification firings always begin with a 3-round test shot at the target for the purpose of adjusting the sights.  A weapon without calibrated sights (or with worn-out rifling) is dangerous and useless--unless the whole objective is to see how many projectiles you can launch into the air. 

Those guns in the wash house were placed where they were out of the way but easy to  grab in the night when racoons raided the chicken house or foxes showed up for some baby pork ribs.  Occasionally, the guns were used to put down livestock, and I remember a frightening day when my uncle had to track down a rabid dog before it bit humans or livestock.  The rules about handling firearms, whether play or real, were strictly enforced.  First of all, kids did not mess with guns, and handled them only with supervision, even if they owned them.  Secondly, safety rules were never relaxed.  And thirdly, if a kid pointed  a gun at another person, gun privileges were permanently revoked. These were the same rules that applied in the Army, except when under engagement orders.

The hunting ethic of the time was that you ate what you killed.  Unless it was predators, sick livestock or rabid dogs.  If you didn't eat it, you didn't kill it.  Our diets included  rabbits, quail, and waterfowl.  In the Illinois of my boyhood, deer were rare.   Living in the river country, duck hunting was a dominant hunting enterprise, and some of our fanciest meals centered on duck.  At the time, people who hunted just to kill something were regarded as perverse and wasteful.  Killing for the sake of killing was not considered either necessary or a sport.  In the age of video games, that cultural rule has died. 

Sarah Palin at least eats what she kills.  Maureen Dowd is dubious about her motives:

“My dad has taught me that if you want to have wild, organic, healthy food,” she pontificated, “you’re gonna go out there and hunt yourself and fish yourself and you’re gonna fill up your freezer.”

Does Palin really think the average housewife in Ohio who can’t pay her bills is going to load up on ammo, board two different planes, camp out for two nights with a film crew and shoot a caribou so she can feed her family organic food?
It is nice to load up your entourage onto a plane and hunt for food, particularly with daddy along as a gun bearer, bolt operator, and provider of a back-up weapon when one is rendered useless because it is not sighted in.  I wouldn't know.

Now Sarah plans to go to Haiti, the land of earthquakes, cholera, and violent elections.  I wonder if daddy will be there with his back-up varmint rifle. 



Thursday, December 9, 2010

Obama Agrees to Extend Republicans’ Custody of his Balls

From the Borowitz Report

Moments after the two-year transfer of Mr. Obama’s family jewels was announced, Vice President Joe Biden defended the President against critics from his own party: “I know he’s going to catch a lot of heat for this, but what he did took cojones.”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What fly over really means.

 Note The Washington Post cutline. 

Kristi Noem

Dubbed "the next Sarah Palin" by fans, Kristi Noem defeated popular Democrat Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin to win the South Carolina's lone House seat. Her name is now being floated for a position in the House Republicans' leadership.

[At some point after this was posted, the Post corrected the error.}

Monday, December 6, 2010

Can you say quisling? Oh. Then how about malicious hypocrisy?

Nothing has become more irrelevant to working Americans who are trying to keep their lives together than American politics.  It is a patriotic ritual to sing the praises of the right and responsibility to vote, and yet when anyone takes an honest, hard look at the individual's relationship to the political process,  it is a sham.  South Dakota Blogger Tramplingrose sums it up in an open letter to members of Congress, the Senate, and the President:  

Rather than addressing the issues of things like unemployment, the economy, the lack of morale in this country, you are basically playing a game of chicken with things that don’t matter. You care more about making sure your side is “right” and knocking down the other side, rather than taking whatever steps are necessary to start getting America back on track.You worry that Muslims might openly practice their religion in this country, or that illegal immigrants might steal janitorial jobs from Americans who don’t want them.  

What goes on in Washington and Pierre has become so unrelated to the lives of the vast, vast majority of Americans that paying attention to politics and doing one's "civic duty" is being recognized as sheer foolishness. Tramplingrose explains it:  

I’ve voted in almost every election I could since I turned 18. I voted in my last election a month ago. I can’t keep caring and trying to fight what is in essence, a losing battle. I don’t see the point in wasting 10 minutes of my time to go and vote for any candidate who will promise one thing while making the rounds and shaking the hands, but then be swayed by lobbyists and corporations with deep pockets, or political higher-ups who promise more fame and notoriety. No one cares about the people like me any more. And I can’t keep caring about my government. You have a lot to prove if you ever want to win me back.

But in reality, the core of the issue of an irrelevant government are the voters who play or are suckered in by the political games.  Tramplingrose may have the key to change.  Refuse to participate in an exercise which is all about gulling the fools.   Don't willingly play the fool.  The campaign between Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem is a case study in deceiving the suckers who play the game.

First of all, the two candidates spent over $2 million each on their campaigns.  This meant that the major efforts of their campaigns had to be in raising money.  At a time when the U.S. is in the deepest recession since the Great Depression, when unemployment is pushing millions of citizens into poverty, and America is mired down in wars that are bleeding life out of the nation, candidates are spending their energies on raising money and finding ways to appeal to the donors' special interests, rather than focusing on the issues which are threatening the people.

Secondly, and most insulting to the public, was the Noem campaign's allegation that Herseth Sandlin betrayed South Dakota values.  Her first betrayal was when she graduated from Groton High School and earned a scholarship to Georgetown University.  Her second betrayal was in succeeding at a highly competitive university and going on to law school.  In South Dakota, such shenanigans have become the unforgivable sin.  The Noem campaign poured on the charges of betrayal and stayed on message, like a hound dog tracking a refugee fleeing from the great places and great faces. 

But the Noem campaign had outside help in contriving the message that Herseth Sandlin was attached by an umbilical cord to Nancy Pelosi, that she had totally converted to Washington, D.C.-ism, and that her marriage to a former Texas congressman was akin to joining Osama bin Laden's harem.  Kristi Nome, as reported in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, had help that doubled her campaign budget with another $2 million poured into ads pounding on Herseth Sandlin's alleged betrayals.  Herseth Sandlin received a paltry $600,000 in outside help.  

The insulting sham in all of this is in accepting all this outside help to shout the message that Herseth Sandlin was beholden to outside influences and had betrayed the trust of South Dakotans.  

Word for the day:  can you say quislinq?  Or something of that order?  Maybe that's too strong.  But if the people are gullible to buy into the a message of betrayal to outside sources and funded and concocted by outside sources,  the only thing left to do is not play stupid and deceitful games.  Why vote when it has become an obscene act?  

If enough people refuse to be fools any longer, the patriots will come out and howl and moan about a country beset by indifference and apathy.  But if they want the people to come out and vote, they had better make the changes that will make voting an honorable act again.

Until then,  why vote?  Why care?  There are better options in this world.  

[I note that Madville Times has also noted the insulting hypocrisy of the campaign.]

Friday, December 3, 2010

Read any big news stories lately? Would you know it if you did?

How do you read a news story about the Federal Reserve handing out $3.3 trillion, yes, trilllion, in bail-out money?  If you take a look at the blogs, many of whom assign to Obama the social disease of bailouts, along with his Kenyan birth and personal distribution of AIDS to his Third World cohorts, you find that they probably don't read such stories at all.  That's probably because they are not a Sarah Palin Twitter and, therefore, have no relevance to the world they occupy.  And if they did note and understand the magnitude of the story, they probably chose to ignore it because it is such a huge piece of evidence of who is getting American's money, while the unemployment rate keeps rising and the middle class is systematically being transformed to a poverty class.

 And with all the criticism of the legacy media you seldom find a blogger with enough journalistic savvy to know what is journalism and what is Fox News efforts at mind control.  But the story of the $3.3 trillion came out a few days ago, and it appeared in only the major newspapers or their online editions.  Cable news couldn't handle it.  And the newspapers had their issues in the way they tried to present the importance of the story.  Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review took a look at the way the story was handled, and analyzed the news presentations of the story this way: 

The Federal Reserve is forced by Congress to reveal who it secretly bailed out with trillions of dollars in loans. Yesterday it releases the documents, which reveal that:
— Foreign banks were the biggest recipients of the Term Auction Facility and Term Securities Lending Facility bailout loans numbering in the trillions of dollars
— The Fed took on more than a trillion dollars of toxic assets as collateral
— Too-big-to-fail banks that insisted they were healthy and didn’t really need our money and who paid out massive bonuses a year later really did need our money
— The bailouts extended to big, non-financial companies like McDonald’s and Verizon
— Even with all this, the Fed refused to detail the collateral for nearly a trillion dollars in loans (something that Yves Smith shows seems to violate the law)
How do you play a story like that?
Below the fold on page one if you’re The New York Times. Lead page one story across five columns if you’re the Financial Times and lead story if you’re the Washington Post (yay!)
Stuffed inside on C1 if you’re The Wall Street Journal (and fifth in A1’s Business & Finance column items). There’s no excuse for not putting this on page one, but the WSJ does devote four pieces to the story, compared to two from the FT and Times and one from the WaPo. Only a couple of these—a Times piece about AIG and the WaPo one, mention the word collateral.
I understand that there’s a lot already in the public domain about the emergency loan programs, but it’s important to take a step back on this. We’ve become inured to stuff that was unthinkable a few years ago. Think about how awesome (in the old sense of the word) this bailout was, how stark the contrast between what the banks got and what struggling homeowners got (the shaft), and how much risk the Fed took in our name and in secret. It’s too easy to succumb to a sort of savvy complacency here, but the press has to fight that urge.
For my money (which is ironic, because these are the two outlets here which have never got a dime from me), some of the best coverage comes from Bloomberg and—dare I say it—The Huffington Post.

Read the rest of the story at the Columbia Journalism Review.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Be careful not to leak on anyone's wiki in South Dakota

The New York Times, disparaged as it is for being "main stream," is still the most constant news source in the country.  With the publication of State Department cables provided by WikiLeaks, it has once again published real news about how our government operates.  Britain's Guardian gave the Times an initial installment of 270 messages, and the Times staff went to work summarizing them and providing context (something that befuddles bloggers), and redacting names where the staff thought the risk was not worth the exposure.

The way The Times received the cables is hugely ironic.  WikiLeaks dealt directly with the newspaper for the release of the Pentagon series of documents.   Presumably, because The Times did a personality profile of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange which was not terribly complimentary about his ego and personality quirks, The Times was not included in the negotiations over the release of the State Department cache of messages.  He reacted to being subjected to such observations as world leaders might act when observations on their behavior are made public:  they won't deal with whoever made the observations. 

For some of us who have been around the track a few times, the documents confirm what we already knew and provide some specific instances of`how things work.  That includes an editorial practice in the American press as it tends more and more toward tabloid journalism.  The Times chose the cables that seem to promise the most conflict.  Out of the quarter of a million cables, how many, one must wonder, show people quietly and competently going about their diplomatic tasks?  How many quiet successes are buried in the avalanche of cables?  Who could possibly give a shit?  The New York Times, that's who.

A few people have noted that the cables show American diplomats diligently and competently doing their work for the country while many foreign diplomats are playing games  of deceit and deception.  But the American personnel can be seen as part of big government and an intellectually oriented staff and will be regarded as national detriments in today's political climate.  We might consider outsourcing our diplomatic service to North Korea and Iran,  as outsourcing seems to be an effective means of decimating the middle class, which is a goal among many American leaders,  existing and would-be ones.   
In all endeavors that require maintaining relationships and working with people from different places with different agendas, a necessary part of the work is assessing the character and personalities one must deal with.  Diplomacy is no different from much organizational work, except the stakes are often higher.   There are those one encounters who are straightforward, trustworthy, and not ruled by quirks of personality or character with whom relationships are respectful and productive and with whom negotiations, when needed, can be done with an honest give-and-take.  But such people are not the ones who dominate world affairs.  Those who keep the world on edge are those like the leaders of Iran, North Korea, old Iraq, perhaps reworked Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela--you get the picture--and they are certified dipshits.  They often rise to positions of leadership because they are not guided by the restraints of respect, courtesy intelligence, and coherent processes of negotiation, and they are dedicated flatterers.  They  become leaders precisely because they follow agendas, follow orders, and are not afraid to make foolery a guiding principle of behavior on the international stage.  World politics are not unlike American politics.  Stupidity is a highly regarded character trait, and it is much in vogue at the present time. 

One of the aspects that the cables demonstrate, but is not noticed to most in our current intellectual state, is that the writers of the reports know the difference between idle, derogatory gossip and careful reports.  For the most part, when they report a significant character or personality flaw that might reflect on  trustworthiness and competence, they back up the report with specifics of behavior and attitude. A good example is the report on some influential leaders in Russia and the activities they engage in.  This kind of information is essential in knowing the personal and cultural factors that are involved in international relationships and agreements. It is essential in determining whether diplomatic efforts can be  productive and trusted.  The American Indian is a living monument to what happens when treaties and other agreements are frauds.

The assessments made of leaders, nations, and circumstances are essential for the conduct of constructive business.  Most of what WikiLeaks has published is such necessary assessments.  The big question mark is what happens to diplomatic relationships when the people the nation has to work with know how they are being assessed.

A newspaper editor I worked for had an effective policy on this matter.  Among the staff, he would not tolerate any false, derogatory gossip.  If he heard a staff member saying negative and derogatory stuff about another, the staff member would be called in to his office to present the evidence.  Generally, these meetings in his office involved both the accuser and the accused.  The accuser would be asked to produce the factual information behind any negative assessments of another person.  If the accusation was factually true, the matter would be dealt with as a problem that had to be resolved.  If the accusation was not true, the accuser would be fired on the spot.  (A majority of bloggers would have ended up on the sidewalk with a final check, if they worked for this newspaper.)

The editor fully believed that false and disparaging accusations was a cancer that affected the competence and credibility of the newspaper in reporting news.  When staff members engaged in  false slanders against each other, the organization was put in danger.  And he could cite example after example of how this proved to be so.  On the other hand, valid criticisms were needed to correct and improve problems that the staff might have.  And so it is with State Department personnel.  To function competently, they have to identify the duds in international relationships, but to work with facts, not personal attitudes.

With the Freedom of  Information Act,  the WikiLeaks cables would eventually be made public through routine means.  The early and contemporary release may provide some strained relationships when world leaders and nations know how they are being assessed.  But the American people will know, if they care, that the State Department has standards of diligence and competence and emphasizes facts over attitudes.

Having spent years as a negotiator for college faculty (and occasionally some public school system faculty), I have been involved in the kind of character and situation appraisals that are reflected by the WikiLeaks deluge of documents.  Some of the toughest negotiations were with opposites at the bargaining table who were honest, but the most frustrating were with people whose character and personality traits made honest discussion and negotiation impossible.

A common procedure in any kind of negotiations is fact-checking the presentations of the opposite side to insure they are telling the truth and the whole truth.  The real problems with truth-telling show up, however, when some provision of a contract is being applied or has not been applied.  One university administrator felt strongly that having to adhere to a contract undercut his executive authority.  So he lied and deceived a lot.  People who had to deal with him wrote down exactly what he said and what he did.   He held his position because he flattered the power base that he served and because he carried out their policies.  But eventually, the people involved in living up to the contract simply avoided him entirely.  The faculty learned how to do their jobs by working around him and staying out of his way.  Once when he announced a faculty meeting to explain how he was going to administer the contract, only three people showed up.  He and those in whose behalf he served got the message. 

South Dakota, which does not have a Freedom of Information Act and gives state and local governments great latitude in keeping state business secret, needs a version of WikiLeaks.  That is a foolish statement, because no news media in the state  would have the courage to publish such documents if they were given them.  So, South Dakota operates like a third world autocracy.  While Bill Janklow was governor, the state had money squirreled away in secret bank accounts.  He and his cronies would not tell the state treasurer, a Democrat, how much or where it was being held.  And the state treasurer, who apparently had a good inkling, would not reveal the money because doing so could earn him a jail sentence under state law.

Locally, in Aberdeen, we have a history of conflicts within the police department which involve the firing of a chief of police, the firing of detectives, and murder investigations of dubious accuracy and competence.  There is no way citizens can find out how the people they hire to work for them are doing.  And so we live under a cloud of doubt and suspicion. 

The WikiLeaks founder has an international warrant out for his arrest and one of his accomplices in releasing the Pentagon cache of communications is being held for trial, but we the people can find out and know the kind of work being done in our behalf.  That is, for those who give a shit.  But we in South Dakota live in ignorance about state and local affairs.  And no one gives a...   well, you know..

Friday, November 26, 2010

The North and South Korea equation

North Korea makes the rest of the world sit up and take notice of it through a bellicose intractability and a violent belligerence that is beyond any effort to reason. It is the national version of the guy who is so threatening and violent that restraining orders are issued on him, but everyone knows that restraining orders do nothing to control a nitwit bent on mayhem and murder.  North Korea has a protective buddy in China, and China is kind of blackmailed by North Korea in that a collapse of a North Korean regime would result in hordes of North Koreans surging over the border into China looking for help and survival.  Bent on becoming a major economic player in the world, China fears anything that might hinder its economic development.

The recent shelling of the South Korean-held island off the Korean coast poses the problem.  South Korea has been trying for fifty years to create a situation where families split by the divide of the two Koreas can be reunited.  It also realizes that a decisive retaliation by the Republic of Korea might lead to the defeat of North Korea, but not before South Korea, and most likely Japan, are devastated in the process.  The Korea situation is a cold war circumstance with South Korea not having the bargaining chip of nuclear weapons, while North Korea has been rushing into the development of nuclear capabilities.  And this leaves the U.S., which is committed to the defense of South Korea by treaty, hanging on tenterhooks.

The restrained action by South Korea to the shelling incident has already forced the resignation of the defense minister because he did not take decisive action.  The South Koreans did return fire, but there is no appraisal of what retaliatory effect, if any, the return fire had.  The shelling  and killing of South Korean troops and civilians in the ordinary strategies of war would have resulted in a retaliatory strike that cost North Korea heavily.  In this case, we have just learned from a U.S. scientist that North Korea has a battery of centrifuges at work refining uranium, which gives it the capability of producing nuclear bombs.  The ideal counter-strike would have been to target that facility and other known nuclear sites with a missile blitz.  The problem is that South Korea does not have that capability.  The U.S. does.

There is no doubt that some of the missiles based in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana have those North Korean sites programmed into their guidance computers.  They also have key targets in Iran identified.  And there are other U.S. units stationed throughout the world, both nuclear and non-nuclear, that could reduce the nuclear facilities to rubble.  But such action taken by the U.S. puts the country at war and, as Colin Powell's pottery barn rule applies, it gives us ownership of such a war.  And after Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, most of us realize that such wars are not  winnable in the sense that World War II was winnable.  And furthermore, such action would most likely open up hostilities with China, who literally owns the U.S. right now.

Over the years, the U.S. has proposed and discussed setting up missile defense systems with Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea that would provide them with defense against attack as well as retaliatory capability.  South Korea has declined to participate in a Theatre Missile Defense system which would give it and its regional allies the power and capability to deal with the likes of North Korea.

Part of what most people in the U.S. do not grasp is that small nations such as North and South Korea want national autonomy.  We see that assertion in the belligerent acts of North Korea, but we do not often see that it is also operative in South Korea.  South Korea has persistently turned down offers to engage in a missile defense program, and has in fact attempt to develop an indigenous missile system.  At times it has explored buying its own system, considering competing bids from the U.S. and Russia. 

While we in the U.S. may regard North Korea as a swaggering little bully who we can one-punch, South Korea has considerations regarding its relationships within its region and its cultural interests that have kept it from assuming more aggressive and effective means of defense within its own control.  If North Korea decides to go on the full offensive, the U.S.will have to take the action.

That means that we will own one more war.  And the U.S. has not had the courage to face up to what our wars are doing to our economy and our morale.  It is easier to blame Obama for all the problems.  And if things work out, we can own another war.

Read more on what binds China and North Korea together at the Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving recognition from 150 years ago

Winslow Homer's 1860 view of Thanksgiving with harsh relevance today

From The New York Times:

But the double-page centerfold that he[Winslow Homer] prepared for Thanksgiving Day 1860 is about as subtle as the slash of a cavalry saber. “THANKSGIVING DAY, 1860 – THE TWO GREAT CLASSES OF SOCIETY,” Homer titled the engraving. The spread is divided into two halves: on the left, “Those who have more Dinners than appetite,” and on the right, “Those who have more appetite than Dinners.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kristi Noem gets cited in NY Times discussion about ending farm subsidies

 From The New York Times:

With a House full of newly elected Republicans who pledged to cut federal spending, will the next farm bill be different? Some new members of Congress, like Kristi Noem of South Dakota, campaigned as deficit hawks, but have defended subsidies as a national security issue: the decline of farms could mean more food imports, they say. (Ms. Noem had partial ownership in a ranch that received more than $3 million in subsidies over 15 years, before her family bought her out last year.)

Do payments to farms protect national security? Or, more broadly, how should the farm subsidy program be changed?

The growing consensus is that the farm programs were intended to stabilize agriculture by keeping smaller farms operative and spreading out the number of people sustained by farming.  Today the top ten percent of recipients get 74 percent of the subsidies.  To many, it is apparent that if the budget is to be trimmed, farm programs must be drastically cut.  Click the NY Times link for the full discussion. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Vino veritas

When Eldon Nygaard suddenly defected from the Democratic Party after winning his seat in the South Dakota Senate on the Democratic ticket and receiving $1,500 from his county party but losing in efforts within the caucus to gain a leadership post, many people felt betrayed and bilked.  And they said so.  But what also came out in the remarks was the matter of the wine he produces in Vermillion at his Valiant Vineyards. 

Democratic organizations patronized his winery out of a kind of partisan loyalty and while comments were made about the quality of the wine, they were muted.  Well, they ain't no more in sommelier land. 

I have attended events in Aberdeen, Rapid City, and Sioux Falls where the Valiant Vineyards wine was featured at dinner events.  I remember in particular one in Aberdeen, where the event emphasized the fact that the food and drink had South Dakota origins.  I was sitting at a table among friends who are unabashed wine snobs.  They take a first sip of their wine and say things like, it has a hint of raspberry with the delicate aroma of ocelot  urine, or the dryness is not as abrasive as an emery board but not as slick as  crankcase oil, or my god how much is this a bottle?  Sometimes they say genteel things like, get this fucking shit away from my nose.  But not very often.  I never once  heard them say anything like that about Valiant Vineyards wine.

On that night I remember in particular they said nothing as they took up their glass of Valiant Vineyards produce.  They didn't need to.  They would generally take a sip, then gently push their glass away to the center of the table.  Or they would sip and roll their eyes at someone across the table who had also sipped.  But I remember an exchange between a woman who owned and ran an upscale bed-and-breakfast with her husband.  She asked him to go to the cash bar and get something decent to cleanse her palate.  He said, what do you think is decent?  She said, Lysol.  

The social network Facebook was particularly rife with tasters' assessments of Valiant Vineyards.  Most of them were in the vein of thank god we don't have to fake gustatory orgasms over that locally aborted fermentation any more.  And the thought interjected an element of glee into the election drubbing and the defection.  

Democrats are uplifted and titillated at the idea of Republicans drinking that wine.

Life can be cruel. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States