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

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Indian Wars invade an intensive care unit

Some fine work at the Rapid City Regional Hospital:  Vern Traversie's torso.
One of the latest episodes in South Dakota's relentless war against the Native Americans occurred in the Rapid City Regional Hospital surgery and intensive care rooms, according to reports in online American Indian media.  

The battle objective and casualty was Vernon Traversie of Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation.  Vern is 69,  diabetic, and blind.  

In August, Vern suffered a heart attack while in the offices of the Regional Heart Doctors in Rapid City.  He was dispatched to the emergency room at the Rapid City Regional Hospital.  None of the online accounts specify how this transfer was made.  

Vern ended up having double by-pass surgery.  According to his story as reported by the online source Last Real Indians, the surgery was delayed a number of times for unspecified reasons.  Vernon is reported saying, “I was supposed to have emergency surgery on my heart, but they (hospital) had scheduling problems.  Every night they would prep me for surgery which went on for four or five days.  Every night they would shave my chest and stomach and wouldn’t feed me.”

Vern Traversie tells his story on YouTube
However, the real story begins when Vernon prepared to leave the hospital. He says a hospital worker "came into his room and advised him to have pictures taken of his chest and abdomen as soon as he got home.  He says she told him that she could not testify for him, but that her conscience got the better of her and she didn’t agree with what they did to him."

The day after he came home, a home care nurse looked at his torso and saw signs of mutilation, including three K's carved or burned into his skin.  She took pictures and took them to a tribal health facility which called in the tribal police who informed the FBI.

Traversie consulted with a lawyer, who did some cursory checking on the incident but took no action.  The police have not taken any action, either.  Tribal officers are attempting to get some investigation on the case.  The hospital has not supplied any information.  The Rapid City Journal elicited the usual bureaucratic evasion on the grounds that no one has permission to to anything:  

When asked for comment about Traversie’s claims, a Rapid City Regional Hospital spokeswoman released a statement from Tim Sughrue, chief executive officer of the hospital.

“Rapid City Regional Hospital is committed to providing all patients, regardless of race or culture, with compassionate and exceptional care,” Sughrue said in the written statement. “We are unable to comment on a patient’s treatment without consent. In the absence of permission, it is not possible to respond to specific questions.”

The question is just who has to give permission for the hospital to comment on the case.  Vern Traversie has made requests for information, which means he has given permission to release information on his treatment.

The Indian online media, including the Indian Country Today Media Network, have treated the incident as a hate crime, which it may be.  But as significant is the malfunctioning of the hospital and the investigative agencies that have authority over the delivery of healthcare and justice.  

The hospital's stance is a glaring violation of the standards performance and ethics that define the healthcare professions, as specified in the typical Declaration for New Doctors which 98 percent of American doctors take in some form.  It includes these pledges: 

  • I will practise medicine with integrity, humility, honesty, and compassion—working with my fellow doctors and other colleagues to meet the needs of my patients.
  • I shall never intentionally do or administer anything to the overall harm of my patients.
  • I will not permit considerations of gender, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, nationality, or social standing to influence my duty of care.
  • I will oppose policies in breach of human rights and will not participate in them. I will strive to change laws that are contrary to my profession's ethics and will work towards a fairer distribution of health resources.
According to Vern Traversie, those basic conditions of medical treatment were denied him.  There are hospitals that pay little heed to their medical and soial responsibilities and seem not to offer much in the way of education and supervision to insure that the care being delivered is competent and responsible.

I can attest that the personnel in a hospital can perform more like characters in horror movies from an experience I had in Ft. Morgan, Colorado.   While traveling to Denver, we were rear-ended on Interstate-76 that passes through Ft. Morgan.  I now realize that I, who was driving, was stunned and disoriented because I did not realize what happened and had difficulty bringing the car to a stop.  We got out of our car and were strapped by emergency personnel to immobilization boards, which began some of the worst hours I have endured.  You can read the details at the above link, but I will forever remember the emergency room physician and nurse.  I nominate them for the World Class Colorectal Prize for their stupendous achievement as assholes.  However, the only person we encountered during that experience in Ft. Morgan who performed with efficiency and integrity was the deputy sheriff who took charge of our greyhound while we were undergoing mistreatment.   So, I know how bad hospitals can be.

One would assume that if a hospital received a complaint about mistreatment, its first concern would be to investigate the matter and resolve any issues it found.  Rapid City Regional instead invokes the bureaucratic oath to do nothing that might cause embarrassment and discomfort to the administrative staff.  For anyone who has a  choice about where to seek some medical treatment, this performance on the Traversie incident should be a big factor.  The hospital recently expanded its emergency treatment facility, which suggests that it is going after more involuntary patients.  

There are basic procedures and requirements in the medical treatment of patients involved that, if followed, would made the resolution of Vern Traversie's complaint routine.  It involves all the personnel who treated him.  The symptoms of mutilation that show in the picture should be annotated on his medical chart.  And the doctors who are in charge of his treatment should have recorded their observations, explanations, and recommended treatment.  

However, RCRH is by no means the only agency in this story that fails to live up to any professional standards of conduct and performance in discharging its function.  The fecklessness of the lawyer is, however, what is expected among the legal profession.  The health service and law enforcement agencies have also have responsibilities and the means to discharge them.  

The claims made by Vern Traversie and those who have witnessed his injuries are law enforcement matters.  There is evidence that laws have been broken.  That means that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed.  As one who has reported on court proceedings in such matters, I can outline the resources available to law enforcement and legal personnel in investigating them.  Law enforcement agencies can use the probable cause to have a search warrant issued for all the medical records in the Vern Traversie incident.  Law enforcement agents can also question the hospital and medical personnel, and if Mr. Traversie has given full permission to conduct an investigation that involves his personal records, the hospital and medical personnel cannot hide behind that contention that they are restrained from releasing information.  

If a lawyer pursues the incident as a civil matter, he/she may obtain information and testimony through court order.  However, because a felony may be involved, the courts can require expeditious disclosures of information. 

The primary issue involved is Vern Traversie's rights.  Not the hospital's or the investigative agencies'.

If Vern Traversie has no rights to observe in this matter, none of us have any rights in obtaining competent and dutiful treatment, whether a matter of medicine or justice.   

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.

That's the headline in The Washington Post for an essay that summarizes a forthcoming book by two think tank scholars.  They see the GOP as bringing down American democracy:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

The writers are Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The essay is adapted from their book  It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. The book will be available Tuesday.

Friday, April 27, 2012

What's not to like about Willard Romney?

"Grrrrrr, I can't stand that boy."
The fact that Mitt Romney is a dedicated liar is well established by the fact checkers. The Washington Post Fact-Checker keeps track of his falsehoods.  Post columnist Richard Cohen summarizes them up to this point.  The Annenberg FactCheck monitors both party's handling of the truth and provides some correctives to Romney's wrong statements.  Others have commented at length and in detail about Romney's inability to handle true facts.   However, his misrepresentations of facts is just one ingredient in a campaign that is based upon a tactic that the GOP takes directly out of the George Orwell playbook of totalitarian rule.

The GOP has discovered that many people develop mush-brain syndrome from the constant hammering of messaging through the media.  They discovered that constant repetition of the most blatant lie can establish it as fact in the minds of many.  They discovered further that many people have become dependent upon media and have let it replace their native cognitive abilities.  In effect their brains are like tape recorders and each morning they record what they are going to say for the day--no cognition required.  They never check their own bodies, their own environment, their communities for the facts.   If they wake up after a blizzard in the night and see a landscape covered in snow, they will believe it is not there if their media source of the day denies its existence.  These thoroughly brain-flushed media minds are the constituents that the GOP calls its base.  They aren't stupid.  They are simply mindless.  They live in a world of fabrications and denials. 

The GOP keeps contriving massive insults to knowledge and intelligence.  There are policies and actions of Obama's administration that can be legitimately questioned and criticized.  But Mitt Romney and the GOP have decided not to go that route.  They never criticize Obama's policies with specific and detailed evidence of where they are wrong.  Instead, they choose the ad hominem ploy of denouncing his policies, in Mitt Romney's words, as  "a campaign of diversions and distractions and distortions.”  Their only ploy in dealing with what successes Obama has had is to deny them, hoping that their media-pummeling has created enough dolts out there too mindless to confront the actual facts, so that they have to rely upon the talking points of denial as their only contact with reality.  

There is no doubt that the recovery from the Bush-corporate induced recession is disappointing.  And there are many people on the left who think that it would have been better to let the financial companies and the auto corporations die and to be rid of their noxious economic hold on America.  According to that wing of the left,  it would have meant deep pain and unrest, but it is better to endure a quick and sudden purging of the enforcers of exploitation and inequality  than to accommodate the vectors of a malignant moral and social disease.  Obama chose to keep the economic foundations in place and  try to rebuild on them.  It is his attempts to work with those forces that are the focus of the GOP denial.

The GOP's furious obstruction of absolutely anything Obama proposes because Obama is the one proposing is a reptilian appeal to a lingering and persistent racism.  Nobody has embraced this tack with the fervor of Willard Mitt Romney.

Romney portrayal of dat Obama boy.
The ploy is to deny that Obama can do anything competently or effectively.  It is embodied in Romney's patronizing acknowledgment that Obama is a good family man and a likable person to a degree, but he is in over his head.  The underlying message is that that n***er is an amiable houseboy, but see what happens when you put him in charge?  And to prove Obama's n***erhood, they follow with that litany of denials that anything Obama has done is incompetent.  The latest version of that ploy is to focus on his "coolness," his ability to sing without causing dogs to howl, his easy rapport with college students, his articulateness and verbal facility.  You know, that boy can sing and dance and entertain--perform in the minstrel show--but he can't do anything serious.  

Romney and the GOP portrayal and obstinate denials of Obama's ability to engage in higher order thinking is a diversion from the displays of ignorance and near-retarded obtuseness of the Republican presidential primary campaign roster that provided so much entertainment of the bumbling sort.  Romney's doltish performances, such as his paean to the height of trees, were a large part of the ludicrous ineptitude that dominated the "national dialogue."  Romney's hope is that his denigration of Obama as a person will make public forget his constant ventures into gaffe land.  The press is trying to be charitable with the insistence that Romney is a fairly intelligent man who just happens to lapse into verbal foolery at times.  But  a person who is not a fool does not say clumsy and foolish things day after day.  Or depend upon personal denigrations as a platform for a campaign.

This attack on personhood is also designed to fend off examinations of Romney's personal history.  In his obsequious courting of the medieval conservatives, he has put himself in the position of denying some accomplishments he participated in, such as the health care law in Massachusetts.  And he obviously wants to avoid explaining the degree of exploitation and destruction on which the alleged successes of Bain Capital were based.  He has much he wants to deny in his own past,and his greatest hope is to build that constituency of the brain-flushed media minds who are willing to let his denials be their acts of cognition.  

Romney's clumsy affability and verbal crudity might be parlayed into a contention that he is at heart a regular guy who just happens to be rich.   So, what is there not to like about him?

For that segment of the population that hasn't let its brain cells be flushed through the GOP sewer of denials, Romney poses a huge challenge with his personal history as recorded over the years.  

Just what is there to like?  Do you really want a man of this petty, mean, and bumbling disposition to run the country? 

He will say much about the country.  How many people will be diverted and duped by that false affability and that inane litany of denial?


Thursday, April 26, 2012

We're creating monsters--the perils of agribusiness

Tomato field killed from 2,4-D drift

Cow dying
Mad cow disease has struck again.  So has some monster weeds that have been created by genetically modified crops.  

Mad cow disease is a horror because there is no known cure for it.   In fact, the cause is not exactly known either. as the Center for Disease Control explains. What we do know is that the disease is caused and is spread by feeding cattle on food that is made from dead animals and animal waste.  The best cure seems to be prevention, which means not feeding animals on food manufactured from carrion and shit, to put it in blog-blunt language.  

The problems created by genetically modified crops (GMOs) are not quite so horrifying, except to farmers affected by their consequences.  The problem is in a genetic chain-reaction.  Crops, such as corn and cotton and soybeans, have been genetically engineered to resist a herbicide called glyphosate.  It is patented under the brand Round Up by the Monsanto company.  It is a weed control.  When applied to a field, Round Up will kill all the vegetation in that field.  Then the field is planted with crop seeds that have been engineered to resist the effects of Round Up.  They grow but the weeds don't, which is a nice and neat production scheme.

There are two problems, however.  The first is that we don't know what effects genetically modified crops have on humans and animals when they enter the food chain.  Some evidence has been produced that GM crops cause nutritional safety and allergy problems.  In some countries, genetically modified food sources are banned.  Environmental problems are also emerging as an effect of this kind of crop management. 

The second problem is that nature also has ways to modify plants so that they resist death by Round Up.  An example is in a plant we call pigweed.  It has evolved a strain that is not not only resistant to Round Up, but is so robust that it takes over cotton fields which planted with genetically modified cotton.  Cotton farmers have had to hire labor to go into their fields to weed out the pigweed by hand, a return to mechanical agriculture.

Now seed companies are producing crops that have been engineered to be resistant to an old standby weed killer, 2, 4-D, which is the stuff you can buy in garden departments to kill the dandelions in your lawn.  Some farmers planted crops modified to withstand 2, 4-D, sprayed the hell out of the fields, and produced some nice, weed free crops.  However, 2, 4-D has a tendency to get into the air as a gas, especially in hot and humid weather, and drift around the neighborhood.  Some farmers who had planted fields of tomatoes found their fields withering away under drift from their neighbors, and their crop was killed.

This is an old story.  I recall one example from many years ago down near Muscatine, Iowa.  That area has a very rich soil called Muscatine Silt Loam, which grows luxuriant crops of cantalope and tomatoes, as well as corn, beans, and forage.  A friend from Wisconsin said the soil was so rich it was vulgar.  Some farmers grow tomatoes down there for use in making ketchup.  One day their neighbors sprayed the roadsides and the borders of their fields with 2, 4-D to kill the weeds and the next day the tomato growers found their crops wilting, turning yellow, and dying from the herbicide drift.  They sued their neighbors and won, which did not exactly enhance neighborly relations.

A Kansas farmer surveys big-ass weeds. 
There are more than 20 weed species listed as herbicide resistant super weeds, and the list is rapidly growing.  Some farmers are looking to returning to old, conventional means of weed control, such as plowing and cultivating, but they cite the matter of soil erosion, which low-tillage methods have alleviated to a large degree.  

The integration and consolidation of farming to create an industrial agriculture has made farms so big that that the return to older methods of farming is not possible, much less likely.  Still, the environmental hazards created by large-scale livestock confinement units and the growing concern about the nutritional  quality of food produced by industrialized food production methods is also a rapidly growing factor facing farmers.  Another farm crisis is looming, one that might make the crisis of the 1980s look like a bump in the road.  It might create a situation much like the collapse of the housing market that was a large factor in the recession we are trying to fight our way out of.  Large, debt-ridden farms are vulnerable to crop failures and market rejection of their products.  Foreclosures could result in the down-sized resale of croplands to those who will utilize more labor intensive, traditional methods of agriculture.  

What agriculture  might become in 10 years is conjecture.  What has made farming profitable currently is the use of crops to make renewable fuels.  At the same time, scientists and engineers are working on the development of alternative sources of energy that could totally change the market for crops.  This, added to the growing concern about food quality and nutrition, is a clearly visible possibility as a determiner of the future of farming. 

Colleges of agriculture, too, have been co-opted by industrial agribusiness. The close tie, for example, of SDSU with Monsanto through its president serving on the Monsanto board of directors is indicative of how colleges of agriculture have switched the focus of their research and support from individual farmers to corporations.  A further indication exemplified by South Dakota is the drastic downsizing of the cooperative extension service.

In its industrialization, agriculture has drifted further into the economics that triggered the crisis of the 1980s through its wide adoption of industrial methods of production and management.  For the consumer, this means questions about the quality of food, amid rising prices.  

For the farmers, it means questions about whether what once was the most successful agriculture that was the model for the world will survive.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why our colleges are failing

The criticism focused on our educational institutions is expanding to include our colleges and universities.  The criticism of higher education is following the same pattern that has been directed at public schools:  significant factors that have been introduced to higher education are not even mentioned in the studies.   

David Brooks in the New York Times cites some recent studies of higher education that list the evidence of its failures:  

  • Students experienced a pathetic seven percentile point gain in skills during their first two years in college and a marginal gain in the two years after that. 
  •  Nearly half the students showed no significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills during their first two years in college.   
  •  Student motivation actually declines over the first year in college.
  •  Only a quarter of college graduates have the writing and thinking skills necessary to do their jobs.  
  • Colleges today are certainly less demanding. In 1961, students spent an average of 24 hours a week studying. Today’s students spend a little more than half that time.  
 These points have been discussed and dealt with for many years by people in higher education.  There has been a change in student attitude and achievement that is noticeable to anyone who has taught or worked with college students.    However, the studies that David Brooks cites pose questions about whether they provide accurate measurements and information on on the underlying problems.  Brooks' solution is for higher education to engage in administering value-added testing to evaluate the instruction.  Many colleges and universities do just that, which Brooks seems unaware of.  The South Dakota system has administered such assessment tests for years.  The Board of Regents has required a series of proficiency examinations,  senior exit exams, and other forms of university-wide assessment.   The individual campuses explain these assessment requirements on their websites.  

David Brooks draws conclusions from the studies he cites about factors that the studies do not purport to measure.  

One of the studies is the Wabash Study which is  currently being made by 29 institutions.  Its purpose  is for the institutions to use evidence to identify an area of student learning or experience that they wish to improve, and then to create, implement, and assess changes designed to improve those areas.  Therefore, the study is an effort to identify where the institutions want to make improvements and to devise ways to do so.  It is not an overall assessment of outcomes of the students.  

Another of Brooks' sources is the book Academically Adrift.  It "cites data from student surveys and transcript analysis to show that many college students have minimal classwork expectations -- and then it tracks the academic gains (or stagnation) of 2,300 students of traditional college age enrolled at a range of four-year colleges and universities. The students took the Collegiate Learning Assessment (which is designed to measure gains in critical thinking, analytic reasoning and other "higher level" skills taught at college) at various points before and during their college educations, and the results are not encouraging."  (Inside Higher Ed)

Brooks also cites We're Losing Our Minds, which makes the case "that too little of what happens in institutions of "higher education" deserves to be called "higher learning" -- "learning that prepares students to think creatively and critically, communicate effectively, and excel in responding to the challenges of life, work and citizenship."  (Inside Higher Ed)

The gist of these studies is that college students as a whole aren't reaching the levels of knowledge and communication skills expected of them and a lack of rigor in the institutions is the common assumption as the cause.  

These studies reiterate the same complaints I heard in department and college meetings, in faculty lounges, and in professional meetings for the last 20 years of my teaching.  In the ten years since I retired, I still hear them.  But as with the many studies finding fault with higher education, no one is listening to the faculty or asking them what they think of the state of higher education and what is responsible for that state.  Instead, college administrations and governing boards have done what David Brooks says we need more of--testing, accountability schemes, and other ways of managing and diminishing the role of faculty in collegial operation.  

At one time, the measure of student achievement and accomplishment was the grade point average and the college transcript.  Grade points were considered a reliable and telling indicator of student performance, and they were considered to have a consistent significance throughout the higher education system.  There have always been colleges that were regarded as diploma mills, and the system in general took the reputations of the institutions into account when assessing a transcript or grade point average.  Now colleges and universities have assessment offices which administer an extensive array of tests to determine how students are doing.  The grades from their coursework mean little.  I hear faculty questioning whether, given all the assessments to which students are subjected, if grading their work is worth the bother.  It has such little significance.

Some of us can remember when grades begin to lose their values as indicators of student achievement.   The college president under whom I began my academic career said that the introduction of student "evaluations of instruction" marked the beginning of the decline in higher education.  When students set the standards, he said, there will be no standards.  This college president also was adamant that all administrators who held professorial rank should teach classes.  He, as college president, taught at least one course a year and participated in the teaching of senior seminars.  His argument was that college presidents, deans, and department chairs were academic leaders who worked with their colleagues, not over them.  As leaders, it was part of their jobs to establish and maintain the academic standards that were applied to students and to insure that the faculty they led understood and worked to those standards.  

As administrators began to consider themselves managers more than leaders, they relied upon evaluative devices such as student opinion surveys as the basis for their relationship with faculty.  It has always been important for faculty to assess how their performance as professors was regarded and how effective it was for students.  But student opinions, as faculty know, are not based upon a command of knowledge and communicative skills.  They are based upon student attitudes and feelings, which often are resentment at people who  presume to know more than they do.

During the first round of student opinion surveys that I was involved in, the faculty had meetings about how to interpret them.  A common plaint that students made on them was that their opinions were just a valid as their professors', so  why did they have to report back  what they regarded as the professors' opinions.  Of  course, in that very complaint was evidence of a misperception of classwork that rendered them unqualified to assess it.  The basic knowledge of any college course is the assembly of facts known about the subject.  The course papers and tests are assessments of how well the students know the facts, reason with them, and communicate their reasoning.  It is not a matter of professors imposing their opinions on the students.  The task of a course is to lead students to an understanding of that process.  The perceptions they bring to a set of facts may well, indeed, be of equal value to those of the professor, but the professor is to grade them on their knowledge of the facts and the validity of their reasoning. 

As a negotiator for the faculty union, I dealt with student opinion surveys.  One of the first things we did was establish that the term "student opinion of instruction" be used instead of "student evaluation of instruction."  We did prevail in showing the administrators that student opinions often had no correlation with the facts.

Nevertheless, student attitudes and opinions have had a dramatic influence on higher education.  If colleges and universities are operating on low standards, it is because students are getting what they want.

Another factor is that colleges and universities are competing for student and tuition to operate.  Many state institutions have an open enrollment policy which admits almost all students who apply.  A shock I had when I moved from a private college to a public one was that the former college at which I taught had freshman classes with an ACT composite average of 26 while the composite average at the public college was 17.  A harsh fact of life is that colleges that admit low performing students put pressure on the faculty to dummy down the  course work so that large numbers of students don't flunk out and leave the college short on tuition and fee money.  Another harsh fact is that few low-performing students have the will or ability to be brought up to a competitive level.  

A result of this mix of the prevalence of student attitudes and competition for students is things like grade inflation, low performance on assessment tests and studies, and a growing realization that college is not worth very much anymore.

A telling point listed above is that in 1961 students spent 24 hours a week studying and now about half that.   First of all, I quibble with those numbers.  The old college rule was that to be successful in a course, you needed to spend two hours studying outside of class for every hour in class.  To excel in class, you had to study more.  In 1961, I had been released from active duty in the Army and was finishing my undergraduate degree.  A full-time course load was 12 to 15 hours, and those of us who made B's and A's put in a lot more than 24 hours a week.  To keep up with the daily work and the papers and  tests, one had to put in at least twice that.  Most evenings and weekends were spent in the library or over the typewriter. In graduate school, one had to be prepared to put in 60 to 80 hours a week.

Most professors know what is going on.  Students resent the kind of workload that will restore a college diploma as a badge of knowledge and skill in reasoning and communication.  Most professors know that to keep their jobs, they have to please the students and the administrators who judge their performance on the basis of pleased students.  

Americans may be dissatisfied with what colleges are turning out.  But they have had a big voice in shaping the colleges and universities, and they have got what they asked for.  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Happy Pink Sky Day

In the 1980s, I had what appeared to be an annual siege of illness.  During the month of April, I developed what I  thought were colds that were so severe that I was unable to hold classes.  The peculiar aspect was that I would seem to be getting over the cold, would return to work, and then the cold, or whatever, became severe again.

During one of these sieges, I was scheduled to travel to Michigan to deliver a paper at an academic conference.  I went to the doctor and explained that I needed to be able to drive.  In examining me, he looked puzzled and concerned, wrote some prescriptions, and said I had to take precautions to keep the respiratory problem from turning into pneumonia.  He told me that if I felt worse along the way to stop and be checked over.

The drive to Michigan from Aberdeen is about 1,000 miles, so I broke the trip up into two days.  I drove south to I-80 and then east so that I could spend the night at my brother's in Illinois.  When I hit Des Moines, I was feeling lousy.  As I had attended the University of Iowa for graduate school, I was acquainted with the University clinic, so I called and arranged to stop there to be checked over.

That is where I hit it lucky.  The doctor I saw at the clinic said there was a pulmonary specialist at the clinic who was on leave from his practice to be part of a research program  on agricultural medicine.  She called the man in.  He spent a great deal of time taking notes on this annual medical problem I had and asking me questions.  He then explained that the symptoms I had probably were not caused by disease organisms, but from toxins in the air that the spring winds blew up from the farm soils before vegetation grew over them to reduce the wind erosion.  At that time, the minimum tillage-no till agriculture was in its beginnings.  Every spring, the wind whipped up the soil into the air.  I recall news stories about how many tons of top soil the Dakotas lost each spring.  

And I recall the most frightening experience I had.   When driving down by Pierre I was caught in a  black blizzard of soil from fallow fields.  I could no longer see the road or have any sense of orientation and had to simply stop the car where I was at.  When the wind relented enough so that I could see, I saw some tractor-trailers in front of me that also had to stop and pray that no other vehicles would crash into them.

The doctor told me that the the residues from pesticides and herbicides were being carried aloft in the blowing soil.  He said that those days when the  sky had a particularly pink cast to it, it was caused by dust and chemicals.   Pink indicates pollution, he said.  And he explained that, at that time, medical science did not know just what chemicals and toxins were in the air or just how the human body reacts to them, but the reason he was on a research sabbatical was because of the increase in respiratory problems he noted among his patients from the country.  He said he had some farmers who had to wear air tanks to breathe.  He checked the medicines my doctor prescribed and gave me some respiratory masks.  He said I might have to get used to wearing them when the winds were high and the sky was pink.  I continued on my way, and as I neared Michigan, where the sky was grey with clouds blowing in from Lake Michigan, my symptoms went away.  

Since that time, agricultural practices have changed to minimum and no tillage practices which leave organic covers on open fields that hold down the dirt and residues during the windy spring weather.  Over the years, my annual bout with respiratory problems ended, for the most part.  I haven't thought about trudging about my business with a dust mask on my face for a long time.  

But I have thought about the anti-environmental movement and its mission to abolish the EPA, to permit full scale extraction of things from the earth with practices such as fracking,  to encourage industrialized agriculture, and to reduce the public lands that are held for conservation purposes.  There are many people out there who dismiss any concern or interest in conserving and improving the environment.

Today is Earth Day, which produces more anti-environmental propaganda from the conservative caucus than it does any conservation actions from those who think a healthy environment is important.  At this point in the political schemes of things, all I can say is Happy Pink Sky Day.  If you really want to live on a healthy earth, you may have to find it on another planet. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

"she absolutely has the attitude"


The human race needs some relief from the petty malice that Willard Romney practices and promises to pour on us in abundance until November, and then for at least four years if the American people decide that it is the American Way.  This time of year as we near the Kentucky Derby, we get stories about how horses carry their heavy load of nobility and keep the human race from the total degradation that politics has become.   Here is a story about a filly that was rescued from starvation and shows the spirit of her breed. 

She is going to try her hooves on the competitive track.  The story points out, "Sometimes horses don’t have to be runners to be winners."  Horses can lift us out of, at least for a moment or two, the morass of human meanness in which our current politics have us mired. 

The whore from Cartagena

Cartagena advertises its nightlife
 Update:  The Hate Squad found its voice. 

A whore from Cartagena damned near brought down the American government.  The GOP is trying to figure out a way to make that happen.  The story goes that when a U.S. Secret Service agent balked at paying a prostitute for her services, she refused to leave his hotel room until paid.  She stayed past the 7 a.m. curfew in the hotel, which sent security officers to the room to see why she was still there.  This led to a report to the U.S. embassy, which led to the story about the secret service people and some military personnel whoring around while they were supposed to be attending to Pres. Obama's security detail.  

Hillary shakes her booty in Cartagena
 The GOP in its fervor to discredit and defame Pres. Obama has not yet managed to make him a direct part of the scandal, but they will.  Ted Nugent and Rush Limbaugh are on the job, and neither has ever been restrained by intelligence, a sense of decency, or any compunction about bearing false witness.  The New York Post ran a picture of Hillary Clinton drinking a beer at Cafe Havana in Cartagena and captioned it "Swillary."  The defamation crew is hard at work. 

Dana Milbank in the Washington Post has perhaps the most incisive perspective on the whole event.  He writes:
It is precisely when federal workers go abroad that they should hold themselves to the lowest standards. We are, after all, the land of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Snooki. Debauchery is an American specialty. The president should be promoting the export of our culture.
...Maybe we should stop blaming the feds for being like the rest of us — it’s hardly surprising that bad actors and buffoons find their way into the public sector as well as the private — and think of other lessons to draw from the scandal, such as possible recruitment tools: Work for the government and get a complimentary upgrade to a hot-tub suite?
 I have little tolerance for people who are in positions of trust with matters of security who slough off.  But the organizational culture, whether corporate or governmental, has developed the notion that a perquisite of  service is the debauchery of which Milbank writes. Our corporations reward their performers with trips to Las Vegas, where they can perform in the way that the boys in Cartagena did and be assured that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. We have cultivated the notion that the best recognition of hard work is booze, drugs, and pussy.  The perpetrators of merit pay for teachers who claim to be borrowing an incentive from corporate life are ignoring what the de facto incentives are:  reward your top performers by encouraging them to debauche.

When it comes to gorgeous and irresistible ladies of the evening and noontime beaches, South America has developed a reputation for an aesthetic standard of debauchery that has no global rival.  Many years ago, a county agricultural extension agent escorted a bunch of farmers to Brazil to exchange ideas with South American farmers on food production.  Then they discovered the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. The farmers were hooked up with some corporate executives on the tour, who assumed that they should avail themselves of all the pleasures Rio had to offer, especially the gorgeous women they found surrounding them on the beaches.  The county agent confided to me that he would never again act as guide on a tour of South America because the combination of women and corporate executives posed too much peril in regard to the actual purpose of the tour.

The problem was that the corporate executives were telling the farmers that they, too, were businessmen and should act as such, which meant rewarding themselves with debauched behavior.  The county agent said the biggest threat to American agriculture as the province of families was the intrusion of the corporate value system.  In that value system, women and booze and bad behavior were flaunted as badges of success.

The whore of Cartagena has confronted Americans, as Dana Milbank suggests, with the realities of the value system of its ruling class.  The pretenses of moral superiority and democratic integrity have been stripped away and Americans have been given a glimpse of what foreigners see when Americans come to their lands.  

Of course, the GOP, led by people like George Romney, will stand up and condemn any attempts for apologizing for bad behavior as a betrayal of national pride.  Apologies aren't required.  It is Americans themselves who must confront with honesty what values and behavior Americans have put on display.  It is that behavior that the Islamic extremists have used against us, even though the Islamic suicide bombers and assassins have often availed themselves of the very debauchery they condemn.

And a whore shall teach us.
To many people both within and outside of America, it is not the land of the free and home of the brave.  It is land of George Romney, Bain Capital, Enron, Goldman Sachs, Paris Hilton, Snooki, and all the inspirations of reality television.  American exceptionalism is its capacity for the schizophrenic insistence that America has become something that it is not--as demonstrated by our secret service, our military, and our corporations.  

The whore from Cartagena offers us an opportunity for redemption. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Campaign 2012

The occupy movement will try to speak truth to power.  Willard Mitt Romney and his cohorts will speak lies to the feeble.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

We're not hung up on stupid. We're buried in it.

The Internet was created to be a boon to human communication.  As it turned out, however, it has become prominently a medium of degradation.  It has reduced a huge portion of the population to the mentality of middle schoolers, many of whom seem to strive for mental retardation as a badge of identity.  It has scuttled standards of thought and expression that the culture of humankind developed over its history and established as the signal achievements of human civilization.  

Perhaps, the Internet's most deleterious effects have been on the news medial.  In efforts to compete with the Internet, news organizations have tried to be "interactive,"  which means they invite comments on the news stories and opinion pieces they publish.  Or they have discussion boards, which have  rapidly gone by the wayside. Newspapers found out that the comments on their news stories become the defining attitudes and characteristics through which readers perceive the medium.  The comments obliterate the work of the editing and writing professionals.  Discussion boards were largely abandoned for this reason, and many on-line news organizations take efforts to restrict and moderate the comments.  

However, the biggest influence on the news media is that interaction with the audience has changed what is regarded as news, what is presented and how it is  presented.  News web pages emphasize whatever its editors think will titillate and agitate its readers into responses, which the news organizations don't really want because the responses drag down the overall quality of the medium.  So, news organizations are caught up in serving their perceived audience, not the standards of what comprises accurate, reliable, and useful journalism. They are geared to satisfying the notions, prejudices, and fixations of their audience, not supplying information that is accurate and verfied.

The opinions most people express in forums and comment sections are not expressions of cognitive processes, of conscious thought; they are reflex reactions that are a matter of conditioning.  They are the verbal equivalents of a snake striking out in a mindless furor at anything that penetrates its space.  The comment opportunities on the Internet have legitimized ignorance, small-mindedness, and fraudulence as the currency of discussion.   The acceptance of the stupid and idiotic was apparent in the field of candidates that raged in the Republican primary for president.  Palin, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Santorum all spouted things that simply would not be tolerated in any forum where a minimal factual accuracy and competence of thought were observed. 

Stupid people, unite!
Mitt Romney has made the fact-checking organizations work overtime with his prodigious production of falsehoods.  The news media have been so cowed in fear of being accused of bias that it has treated Romney's constant verbal foolery as the occasional inanity of an otherwise intelligent.  Truly intelligent people do not  constantly utter insentient, obtuse, stupid remarks.  Stupid people do.   But the press is afraid to state the facts, even though it has made them apparent.  Mitt Romney is a posturing, witless, bumbling fool.  

But Mitt Romney is evidence of what has happened to the American people.  An example of how the people have been conditioned by the electronic media, cable television news and the Internet is the response to the Hilary Rosen business.  Rosen made a thoughtlessly stupid  comment about Ann Romney in saying that Mrs. Romney had not worked a day in her life.  What she failed to do in her ill-chosen words was what she intended to point out:  Ann Romney has never, out of necessity, had to work at a job outside the home and work as a housewife in the home at the same time.  She has never had to  face the economic and social  realities that the majority of women face in this country at this time.  Therefore,  she hardly represents experience that make her a consultant about American womanhood.  

Educated people and those in possession of a modicum of verbal competence know that Ms. Rosen made a thoughtless, careless comment.  They also know that the Romneys have in no way experienced the economic realities in which most people live.  But they listen to the incessant commentators in the media who try to inflate a stupid moment into a major national issue.  And some people flock to their keyboards to add their snake-reflexes to the verbal mix.  If people were not conditioned to accept the stupid and inane as the business of America, they would shut off their TVs and play Spider Solitaire on their computers, an activity far more productive than enduring the contrived and phony spewing of fools.

The ironies of what has happened to the American people are horrific and obscene.  A recent New York Times column warned about the dangers of nations taking action on the basis of faulty intelligence.  The ironies are that the American people are fed a constant diet of faulty and false information,  and they have become too fucking stupid to recognize it or do anything about it.  

Madville Times has done a post on how the great tradition of vacuous stupidity and ignorant presumption has invaded our educational system.  

I for one am ready to declare myself a confirmed elitist.  Like all people, I have had my stupid moments, but I reject stupidity as a constant mental diet.  We  are not going to improve education until we put competent teachers back in charge of it.  Let the fool caucus prattle on and make itself feel superior with its constant denigration and derogation of people who are actually educated, but teachers will have to stop accommodating ignorance and stupidity and addressing it as such.  People can be stupid, but we don't have to make it a national virtue.

In that regard, I am a raging elitist. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

More obstacles for Northern Beef Packers

The date for the opening of Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen is being pushed back some more awaiting final sales of Tax Increment Financing bonds and the disposal of more mechanics' liens on the property filed this year.

According to a trade newspaper article,   almost a half million dollars in additional mechanics' liens have been filed with the Recorder of Deeds office:

 By Jensen Rock and Sand of Aberdeen for $176,125 on March 25  for ready mix, concrete, fuel, rebar, pea rock, grout mix and other items.
 By Webster Scale Inc. of Webster for $29,695 on March 15 for installing a scale, labor and materials.    
By SBI General and Mechanical Inc. of Waterbury, Neb., for $143,639   for construction, labor and materials.    
By Frazier Industrial Co. of Long Valley, N.J., for $126,718 on Jan. 30 for services, materials.
Northern Beef Packers officials have said they will settle the mechanics' liens with the proceeds from the sale of the TIF bonds, which can be used for construction purposes.  The county has authorized $8.5 million in TIF bonds.  The county auditor's office reports that $2.85 million have been sold as of this week.  A company spokesperson says that all the bonds have been sold but paper work needs to completed to finalize the sales. 

 In other developments, a law suit by Chinese investors against the person and organization that managed the EB-5 arramgements for foreign investors was dismissed by the U.S. District Court, as was a counter suit. 


    Wednesday, April 11, 2012

    Obama has his teleprompter; Romney has his golden plates

    Hark!  Do you hear that? 
    In Wisconsin, and other places,  people have heard a strange humming soundGeologists claim it is the layers of the earth resonating from friction, like when you wet a finger and rub it on the rim of a wine glass. But just as the government is accused of covering up that extra-terrestials have invaded the earth and taken up residence here,  it is not being forthcoming about what that humming sound really is.

    It is explained in Genesis 2:25:

    25.  And then the Lord God surveyed all that he had created and said, Oh Lordy, Lordy, Lordy,  I think I just screwed up.  I created this beautiful earth and then I placed humans upon it, some of whom are  destined to be Republicans in a great nation I have planned as exceptional.

    26.  Surely they will fornicate and be stupid and despoileth all that I have so intelligently designed, and, being humans, they will defile and ruin everything.

    27.  Deep in the bowels of the earth I herewith decree that human bullshit shall causeth a gastric disturbance and rumble and ring out in protests when humans pollute the air, the earth, and the sun that shineth with stupid lies and accusations against each other and against Him who created them.  

    28.  This disturbance of protest shall ring in their ears and be inescapable and drive them fucking nuts until they relent in their perversity.
     That humming sound is the earth's bullshit detector erupting in protest because a political campaign is going on, and Mitt Romney and his minions are really stirring it up like a witch's cauldron, and it has reached the point where the earth is in danger of exploding into the great black hole of politics.  

    Dana Milbank in the Washington Post quotes from the Book of Mirlande in detailing Willard Romney's transgressions that so unsettle the earth.  He writes of a speech Romney gave in Washington, D.C.:  

    “Good morning,” he began, though it was already afternoon. The accuracy of his statements went downhill from there.

    He blamed President Obama for the “weakest economic recovery since the Great Depression.”

    He said he would save “about $100 billion a year” eliminating Obamacare.

    He accused the president of “taking a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it.” And he claimed Obama had created an “unaccountable panel, with the power to prevent Medicare from providing certain treatments.”

    Incorrect, wrong, false and fictitious. And that was just a sample from one Romney speech on one day.

    Fortunately, fact-checkers in the press, such as The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler and the Tampa Bay Times’ PolitiFact, have been diligently pointing out Romney’s whoppers. Unfortunately, this has had little, if any, effect on his prodigious output.

    Other people involved in the Republican presidential primary have set the earth's bullshit detector arumbling, but more in a bemused chuckle than an outraged protest, with the likes of Sarah Palin,  Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and the redoubtable Newton Gingrich.  Rick Santorum at times seemed to be reading the golden  plates over Romney's shoulder.

    Romney promises to give America the Bain Capital treatment, and cure it of all its ills and most of its people. 

    With Mitt Romney peddling his golden wares over the airwaves,  it is no wonder that Ozzie Guillen was inspired to a moment  of praise for Fidel Castro.   Hugo Chavez goes to Cuba to  treat his cancer.  Guillen was willing to give Cuba a try to settle down those Romney-caused rumblings in the bowels of the earth.  

    I wonder if there is any room on a Russian space capsule to the International Space Station where one could go to wait out the campaign season until November.  The environment on the the earth is about to get intolerable.  


    Thursday, April 5, 2012

    Those Jesus Christ moments and phony data

    I had a couple of those moments Tuesday.  Not of the "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam" type, however.  They were of the "Jesus Christ, WTF!" variety.

    What inspired these invocations was some data presented by Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times.  Cory has been challenging the false information and denigrations used in the assault on teachers.  Tuesday he presented some information from an outfit called Teachers Unions Exposed to illustrate how the anti-teacher corps is damaging brain cells by huffing its own petards.  Pursuing the links he supplied is what prompted me to call out for a deity.  

    As an old news editor and professor of English, I habitually check the sources of factual information I encounter.  One of the most difficult but essential tasks faced by teachers of composition courses is guiding students through the research papers.  It is difficult because students find the matters of documentation and producing valid conclusions from reasoning with facts onerous.  It is essential because it demonstrates to students the necessity of verifying the integrity and reliability of sources of information and of incorporating the standards of integrity and reliability into their own thinking and work.  Both news editors and teachers of composition spend a great deal of time and energy verifying the integrity and reliability of information sources as a routine part of their work.  `

    What motivated me to go to the Teachers Union Exposed website was a chart that Cory presented from its data.  Teachers Union Exposed purported to demonstrate how teachers unions protect and promote bad teaches by comparing firing rates with the number of teachers in the various states.  There are, apparent to anyone familiar with personnel matters in education, a number of fallacious assumptions in that notion.  There is public data compiled by the U.S Dept. of Education's National Center for Education Statistics in a yearly report called the Schools and Staffing Survey.  From that report is derived a Staffing and Mobility Survey which tracks the rate of attrition of teachers from the profession.

    There are problems with such statistics.  Not the least of which is that the firing rate is used by the uninformed as an indicator of the quality of teaching in the systems.  Most teachers who are fired outright are done so because of gross misconduct, such as having sex with students.  In many, many cases the teachers who like to get naked and otherwise chummy with students are rated as very effective at teaching.  There is no correlation between effective teaching and fucking students, so that the firing rate is a false indicator of whether young minds or young genitalia are being stimulated.  

    However, school boards are under great restraint about releasing data on dismissals, other than those when teachers are arrested and tried for diddling students.  The Staffing and Mobility Survey lumps all dismissals under the heading of "contract was not renewed."  There are many reasons for not renewing contracts, including program cuts, budget shortfalls, misconduct, incompetence, and disability.  

    Most teachers who are considered for dismissal because of ineffectiveness resign voluntarily.  So, their leaving teaching is voluntary and is registered under the general category of resignation, not firing.  Most systems subject teachers who are determined to have deficiencies to a constructive plan to work out the problems.  Many improve and eliminate their deficiencies.  Those who don't are advised by mentors and administrators and generally choose to voluntarily make a career change when they realize their contracts will not be renewed.  A voluntary transition benefits both the teacher the school system.  It gives the teacher opportunity to prepare and find other employment.  And school systems do not want to suddenly fire a person during the school year and disrupt the students and staff by suddenly having to find a replacement.  Plus, teachers do work under contracts, and the school system has to honor the terms of the contract, which usually provides for procedures to be followed when contracts are not renewed.  So, the idea that the rate of firings in any way is an indicator of the standard of instruction is absurd.  

    Beyond that false premise advanced by Teachers Union Exposed is the false information and errors on its website.  For some of the information, it listed a Students and Staffing Survey as the source.  There is no such survey, so we assumed that there was an error in the title, and they meant the Schools and Staffing Survey.  However, for South Dakota, for example, the data they presented differs drastically with the data reported by the Schools and Staffing Survey.  Teachers Union Exposed either made a grossly incompetent report of the data or they made it up.  

    Then there is the matter of the rate of firings they purported.  For that, the site cited as the source IRS tables.  But the IRS has no tables which cover teachers being fired.  The citation is a fraud.

    When teaching students the research paper, the major objective is to coach them in the necessity for accurate citations of information, accurate reporting of data, and the requirement that any information they present be verifiable.  Teachers Union Exposed violated all those principles of academic honesty.  Students fear plagiarism as the cause for being failed on a research paper, but mishandling and falsifying information is actually a much more prevalent cause for failure.  

    An organization which purports to attack and defame teachers in the name of academic excellence violates the most basic principles of honesty and competence in its attacks.  

    This says much about who and what is motivating the war on teachers.   And it is profane. 

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    Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States