South Dakota Top Blogs

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Get That Worthless Nigger Out Of The White House"

The sentiments of some Americans became apparent when Barack Obama was in Denver in 2008 for a huge rally at Invesco stadium.  Three men were arrested for plotting to shoot him.  One of the perpetrators was quoted as saying, "He don't belong in political office. Blacks don't belong in political office. He ought to be shot."

 The racist sentiments became more strident as Obama advanced his plan for affordable health care.  Those of us who were alarmed at the growing racist demonstrations and attitudes among the Tea Party were exchanging links to such Internet sites as this one


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Get That Worthless Nigger Out Of The White House

With each passing day I become more and more enraged that such a stupid, worthless coon is in the White House for God's sake! He's a global embarrassment and a very high security risk for the nation itself.
Seldom have I run across such an arrogant, conceited, yet utterly stupid ghetto buck masquerading as a human. He's the perfect definition of "uppity nigger." It's like when blacks shave their heads to look more human. If they went around with their natural nappy head of nigger hair, white women would be much less likely to look upon them as human, and they'd get a lot less white women. Blacks do their level best to hide who they really are, even to the point of wearing western Caucasian suits. But it's like putting a dog turd in a hotdog bun. One bite tells it all.

Using language a bit more sanitized, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell announced to the nation that his and his party's main mission would be to carry out the agenda set in this crude blog:  to get Obama out of the White House.  

People who tracked the racist revival in America decided not to spread word of these incidents, thinking that they were most likely the angered expressions of a few extremists and nothing positive could be served by amplifying their voices.

Then Mitt Romney began his  bid for the presidency, and his main point of attack was exactly those points announced in the bold face first paragraph of that blog above.  He harped on allegations  and insistences that Obama was incompetent, clueless, obsequious, and unable to understand the business of creating jobs and representing the nation.  His criticisms followed all the racist dogma held so dearly by white supremacists.

When it was pointed out to his minions that their criticism of Obama was following the old patterns of racism, they responded that they were criticizing his policies, not his person, and contended that charges that their exercises in free speech were racist was unfair.  But when pressed on what they found wrong with Obama's policies, they responded what was wrong was that they were Obama's policies. 

While Romney has not attributed the faults he alleges of Obama directly to race, his lead surrogate John Sununu has.  He has said that Obama doesn't know how to be an American , a flaw in his essential makeup.  He openly contended that Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama was a matter of race.  It's that old racist contention that if you give blacks an inch, they'll take over the world.  

In 2008, those expressing racist attitudes were a very large minority.  Those attitudes are now held by a majority, according to an Associated Press survey reported in the Washington Post:
  In all, 51 percent of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48 percent in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56 percent, up from 49 percent during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.
 Mitt Romney has displayed what he regards as leadership.  If he is elected president, we now know exactly what he means as he helps Americans take their country back and re-establish its place in the world. They've taken it back to Jim Crow and are now in the majority.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Romney doctors debate clips to put into ads

Mitt Romney was caught making false statements during the third debate which fact checkers jumped on.  That did not stop him from taking the video clips from the debates and making ads of them.

Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post writes:  

Mitt Romney has taken two moments from the third presidential debate — both of which were faulted by fact checkers — and turned them into television ads.

In both cases, Romney also misspoke, making his statements even less accurate. The campaign commercial for the “apology tour” selectively snips out Romney’s errors, but apparently it was impossible to clean up Romney’s error on the size of the Navy.
 Kessler's full analysis can be read here

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Anything you can do I can do worse

'Wretched Debate With Almost No Redeeming Qualities'

"...if there is one thing the 2008 campaign should have permanently taught, it is that campaign rhetoric often bears little relationship to what a person will do once empowered."

"Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Macbeth  (Act V, Scene V).

First of all, I'll be candid in the interest of full disclosure.  Or whatever you wish to call it.  I think Mitt Romney is a proctologist's dream.  I am not sure whether that would be a nightmare or a wet dream, but he is centered in that area of medical specialty.

The three so-called debates between the presidential candidates have informed us of only one thing.  1984 has come.  America is now a populace of mindless automatons whose lives are monitored and ruled by what is emitted from computer monitors,  television screens, and phones that have the only smarts in their lives.  Their minds have been conditioned  over the years by corporate messaging to the point that they have no notion of what  comprises a fact, an act of reasoning, or a moment of informed, coherent thought.

Dana Milbank says, "Not too long ago, the wire services, broadcast networks and newspapers covered major political events differently. Each outlet had its own take and tidbits. But now everybody is operating off the same script and, except for a few ideological outliers, the product is homogenous."  That's a nice way of saying that we have all become a bunch of idiots whose only mental  capabiiity is to repeat phrases sent into our brains through the electronic media.  

In 1984, the government is what devised and administered the brain washing.  For us, it is corporate capitalism, the one percent, whose only human motive is greed.  They aren't any smarter than the rest of us.  They are just greedier.  But the instrument of control that monitors and controls the minds of the populace is the same one depicted by Orwell in 1984, with exactly the same process.  

How else do you think we've reached the point where a Sarah Palin could run for vice president and Mitt Romney could run for president?  Her foreign policy expertise was spying on Russia from her house and Romney's was mapping a route through Syria for Iran to get to the sea.  

The first debate was one that showed a befuddled Obama.  He prepared for a debate, not a belligerence display borrowed from Jerry Springer.  If anyone actually listened to what he said, he had some cogent, fact-based things to say.  But that is not what America wanted.  Led by the MSNBC pompom squad, America chanted that it wanted a real fight, a shouting brawl full of menace and insults with a few funny lines thrown in.  Obama's advisers told him that to win elections, you have to give the people what they want.  So then, for the next few debates Obama came with a menacing glare and some Don Rickles put-down lines, and he performed.  And the moderators acted like referees and they did not intrude when the brawl really got going.  Turns out Barack Obama is a really good brawler and jive mouth.  But he has an edge.  He is half African and half American, and that makes him an African-American who knows how to slice up a honkey ass.  

MSNBC and the American people got what they wanted.  The problem is that Obama could not let go of facts and serious stuff like that and really mix it up with Mittens.  

These spectacles of verbal brawling are not debates.  They are Jerry Springer shows.  They allow the contestants to avoid any real questions that a legitimate format for discussing policy would present.  A moderator could ask Obama things like:

  • Why haven't you closed Guantanamo and what do you plan to do about it?
  •  Why are you allowing the government to  spy on its own citizens under the guise of the Patriot Act.
  • You have any thoughts about global warming?
Those are just for starters.

According to the polls, Romney has been creeping up and has a chance to be elected president.  He is a CEO, and brain-washed, behavior-conditioned people actually like the bluff and bluster of a CEO.  Or anyone else as brainless as they are.   They may get what they deserve.

The rest of us, we outliers, may have to follow Obama back to Kenya.  America is no country for brain cells.

George McGovern, an exceptional American

The last sentence of George McGovern's last book, What It Means To Be A Democrat published late in 2011, reads:

"It is not for nothing that I will go to my grave believing that ours is the greatest country on earth."
Early Sunday morning, he departed and is on his way to his grave.  What is significant is that a man who unashamedly called himself a liberal and was vilified by many as not representative of American values would insist upon the greatness of America to his death. He did not, however, define that greatness in terms of power and influence, but by its force in confronting poverty and hunger, and in actualizing equality and justice for all people.

News that McGovern was in hospice care stunned people who kept track of him, because a few weeks ago he was attending social and cultural functions, granting interviews to high school journalists, and maintaining the active and thoughtfully engaged life that he led throughout his 90 years.

George McGovern expressed a love and devotion for his home state of  South Dakota.  He emphasized the decency he found in it.  A common attack by Republicans against Democratic politicians in the state (and sometimes against their own) is to construe their achievements and successes in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere as betrayals of  South Dakota and its people.  George McGovern and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin are unique among those incumbents who have lost elections in the state in that they have returned to the state and made it their home.  Most have not.  A campaign manager for one of the Democratic losers explained that his candidate would not return to South Dakota, not because he lost the election, but because the voters expressed in the casting of their ballots that they regarded his out-of-state political alliances as philandering, he was not one of them, and they did not want him around.  The continuing negative and hostile comments about the deposed politicians express and affirm that attitude.  It has been on display against George McGovern, but he has never accepted it as a defining characteristic of South Dakota.  Even on the day of his death, one newspaper columnist chose to remember McGovern from that peevish cast of mind.  A colleague commented on the column, "Well, this is South Dakota."  George McGovern would not have agreed.  

 Criticism of South Dakota is generally met with the advice that if  one doesn't like it here, they should leave.  Among conservative Americans, that sentiment is often expressed on the national level.  In his 1972 acceptance speech for the Democratic candidacy for president, McGovern stated his response to that invitation to leave:
“We reject the view of those who say, ‘America, love it or leave it.’ We reply, ‘Let us change it so we can love it more.’ ”
George McGovern was a stalwart and effective opponent of ignorant slanders against those in the lower economic ranks, characterizations intended to discredit and inspire hatred of those who  experience need.  He strenuously refuted the notion that there are hordes of people who don't want to work.  McGovern covers this in his last book.  His comments anticipated Mitt Romney's contention that 47 percent of the people feel they are victims and sit around waiting for handouts and Paul Ryans assertion that 30 percent of Americans are takers and not makers.

A job puts food on a family's table and puts shoes on their feet, pays mortgages and medical bills, and engages the mind and/or body.  It builds  a sense of self-worth that is essential to  one's well-being.

...No good Democrat wants our neighbors sitting at home, unable to earn an income by their own sweat or ingenuity.  This is such a basic tenet that I would challenge anyone to disagree.  The opportunity to make a living is the very foundation of America no matter what political party one affiliates with.
But I worry about my grandchildren's and greatgrandchildrens's generations.  They have every reason to question the old adages.  Pop culture delivers the message that getting ahead and  work are unrelated.  It is possible to be famous for being famous.  Corporations let them know the big guys always win. Parents can work hard for decades and be dropped with no severance, while the CEO takes home multi-million-dollar bonuses.  It is hard to climb the ladder when the rungs are missing.  It is easy to believe that the key to success is ruthless selfishness.

When people believe that the deck is irredeemably stacked, they lose hope.  When you decide that the rule is every man for himself,   you stop caring.  You lose community,  You undermine your family.  And you are angry. 
I was not a close friend of George McGovern's, but over a period of 50 years I encountered him frequently in the course of my work.  After serving two terms in the U.S. House, he ran for the Senate and lost.  President Kennedy appointed him to run the Food for Peace program.  Then he ran for Senate again and won, earning a seat on the agriculture committee because of his experience in the House and as Food for Peace director.  This is when I first met him.  I was the farm and business editor for a newspaper, and belonged to an organization of farm editors that arranged for a press pool reporter to be in Washington when important legislation on agriculture was being  forged. I was on pool duty.   A pool reporter sends reports back to member newspapers, but also chases down information and answers requested by member editors for their particular newspapers.

I was trying to get some information on a proposed farm bill that some editors had asked for and was being given the run-around by staff members in the Dept. of Agriculture.  I was in the lobby of the Senate  chambers participating in a bitch session with some other reporters about the matter when I spotted Sen. McGovern walking through.  I approached him, told him who I was, and asked if he knew how we might get the information.  He gave me the name of a staff member in his office and told me to check with that person a bit later after the Senator had a chance to alert him to what we wanted.

The background of the situation was that Orville Freeman, Secretary of Agriculture, and George McGovern, who was in strong favor with farmers,  were in disagreement about matters of farm subsidies.  If I recall correctly, the disagreement was over Freeman proposing policies that would reduce the surpluses in farm production, and McGovern thought the first priority in handling the surpluses should be to get them to the hungry throughout the world who needed them. When we went to McGovern's office, his staff member said he had called the Dept. of Agriculture and there was a person there who would supply us the information.  We reporters went over there and were given information and answers for anything we asked for by an assistant secretary of agriculture.

That night we reporters conjectured that Sen. McGovern's help might have been a political move, as well as him being approachable, nice, and helpful. Sending some reporters representing the national press to the department may have put some pressure on it to accept a version of the farm bill favored by McGovern.

When I moved to South Dakota, George McGovern was still in the Senate and although I was now a professor, not a journalist, I still did some reporting and analysis of farm issues for some publications.   Throughout his life George McGovern was involved with issues of agriculture, nutrition, and hunger.  He served as ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Committee, and with Sen. Bob Dole, started and  ran a program for getting nutritious meals to school children throughout the world.  I encountered him frequently when he served those capacities and, of course, in political work after I retired.

The obituaries cite George McGovern's candidacy for president and the trouncing he took from Richard Nixon.  Throughout his life, he was on friendly, amiable terms with his political opponents.  But while he lost his presidential bid, his influence in dealing with the Viet Nam Ward was inestimable.  His influence is cited when the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan are cited.  Until his last hours, he spoke out for food and peace in the world and for those things which would produce them.

His character has lifted the way people throughout the nation regard the home state that he returned to.  He raised the way people throughout the world perceive America. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

When the First Amendment doesn't work, try the Second.

When the First  Amendment of the Constitution leads to  animosities that can't be resolved, go  to the Second Amendment.   Get a gun.  Use it.   

Malala Yousafzai
The Taliban in Pakistan have put on a demonstration so that we can see how this principle works.  In 2009, they issued an edict, or whatever you call it when some power faction decides to dictate its terms to people, that all girls' schools must close, and no girls could go to school.  Some folks didn't obey.  Malala Yousafzai, who was 11 then, was disobedient.  She not only went to school, she wrote and spoke out  for girls going to school.  This went on for three years.  Last week, the Taliban got fed up with this exercise in free speech and shot her in the head.  She is 14 now.  She has been flown to the United Kingdom for specialized treatment.  

Malala was shot in the head, and two of her  classmates with whom she was walking home from school were wounded.  Some folks may feel revulsion and outrage at the shooting of school children, but the shooters were exercising their right to profess their faith.  When their words did not sufficiently intimidate these children and their parents, they sought the Second Amendment solution.  They certainly got the world's attention.  For a minute or two.

You might call the shooters a militia.  The proponents of their particular brand of faith would consider it well regulated one.  Other countries have militias, too.  In the absence of any other security forces, Libya has a number of militias.  One of them was well regulated enough to take out the consulate in Benghazi and kill the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomatic employees. That incident, too, demonstrates the efficacy of bearing and using arms.  

The main concern of the Second Amendment when it was proposed was to provide an equipped militia to call into service if the security of the country was threatened.  That objective was evident in the first draft of the Second Amendment as written by James Madison:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.
 As finally finally approved, it reads:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
There are two major approaches to interpreting the Constitution.  One is called originalism and is based upon studying the context in which the articles were written and applying the Constitution according to what the framers intended.  Using this approach, the Second Amendment was clearly about ways to raise an army to defend the nation, if need be.  Wikipedia outlines the history of the right to bear arms, and maintaining the capability of raising a defense force was the main intent in defining that right.  

The second major approach to Constitutional interpretation is literalism.  It bases its interpretation on the language of the Constitution, not its historical context.  Literalism contends that whatever the framers intended, the Constitution was ratified through votes in Congress and by people in the states, and one must take into account what the people thought and still think the words meant.  That is how the Second Amendment has been interpreted to allow citizens to possess and carry any kind of armor they wish, based upon the idea that to do so is an ihherent right which stems from the right to defend oneself.  

The problem with the literalist approach is that the Second Amendment is flawed by some bad writing.  At the time it was written, the grammar rules in existence were vague and arbitrary.  Grammar at the time was based upon Latin grammar.  The problem is that Latin is a highly declined and inflected language in which the way words relate to and define each other are established by the way they are declined.  English is a syntactic language in which the placement of words in the sentence defined their relationship to each other and the way they modify each other.   Grammars based upon the syntactic structure of English did not come into general use until the 1830s, some 50 years after the Constitution was written.

The Second Amendment is a notoriously bad sentence.  It would never get by any certified English teacher of the 20th century and since.   It is a classic example of a dangling modifier.  It is not clear how the clause A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, modifies the imperative clause the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. A contemporary editor or English teacher would send the sentence back to the writer with the question "Just how is the right to bear arms to be related to the maintaining of a militia and the security of the  free state?  Rewrite!"

Currently, retreating to a tradition from the Latin, the first clause is termed preparatory, which means it merely suggests a general context, sort of like a clearing of the throat before one gets to the important part.  In the current interpretation, the second clause is all that matters and one need not be bothered about how a militia or the security of the state relates to it.

Jefferson wanted the first comma eliminated, so that "being necessary for a free state" was not mistaken as an appositive that could be omitted in reading to the heart of the sentence.  Other interpreters have fussed over those commas as the confusing culprits in making it difficult to clearly determine the intent of the sentence.  Others have suggested the first clause is intended to be a restrictive modifier on the right to bear arms and the amendment should be read in terms of maintaining a well regulated militia for the defense of the country, and that is not what cannot be infringed.  Other laws governing the bearing of arms should be left to the states and local governments. 

Of course, the boys who tried to blow Malala's brains out or those who killed Ambassador Stevens did hot have to worry about any Second Amendments.  They just bore arms and used them.  

Politically, the U.S. is experiencing a divide among its people to a degree that has not been experienced since the Civil War.  The right and left wings hate each other with the intensity that abolitionists and slaveholders did.  And some of the racial attitudes involved in that episode of American history have resurfaced.  In addition, it is clear now that there is a class war shaping up.  We just haven't got to the shooting part yet.  We saw some of it 40 years ago when some dissenters tried some Marxist tactics, but this time it is more like the violent years of the labor movement.  It isn't just that the middle and lower classes are realizing that they are systemically having a gross inequality of wealth and earnings imposed on them, but that they are being designated a subservient class whose destiny is governed by the wealthy,  a full-fledged plutocracy.

When the laborers revolted, their instrument of violence was lead pipes.  This time around we have assault rifles.  The First Amendment is not working because those who hold the wealth and power don't hear those who feel systematically cheated and designated as serfs dependent upon the largesse of the wealthy, not the honest earnings of their own efforts and labor.  So, the Second Amendment is there as currently interpreted.  And Islamic militants have demonstrated how it may be applied.

Here we go again. And it won't be an argument about commas and dangling clauses. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

VP debate declared a draw.


Biden almost declares the class war

Obama stood impassive at the first campaign debate and was declared guilty of looking down at his notes on the lectern and failing to challenge Romney's contentions.  Therefore, he lost the debate.  Miserably.  Joe Biden responded to every remark Ryan made with his grin, his incredulous looks, and interruptions. He was declared condescending and supercilious.  Therefore, he lost the debate.   Noisily.  Biden was faulted for doing what Obama was faulted for not doing. 

 The script for American politics

The movie Mean Girls  with Lindsay Lohan   defines what American political culture has become.  Like the contending factions for dominance in a super-bourgeois high school, Americans choose up sides over who won the debates based upon whatever inclinations their hormones and social ambitions tell them.  The dismaying aspect of the debate is to see the citizens of the most powerful country in the world reduced to a bunch of excitable, vengeful juveniles declaring war against each other.  

The symptom of this puerile small-mindedness is put on display in the tweets and comments sections of the social media forums.  These forums give people an easy means to express their opinions.  What people are too ignorant to understand is that their comments do not contribute to any significant dialogue; they reveal the pettiness petulance of their mentalities.  The are not opinions based upon a careful collection and examination of facts.  They are pure emotive expressions.  much of America has never graduated from its high school factions and cliques that operate on such superficial mentalities that are trained only to gain status among the pack.    

The political dialogue registered on our electronic media flies in the face of every concept between a successful free society and necessity of an educated populace.  Jefferson laid out the relationship at our nation's outset:

  •  "Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree." 
  •  "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."
  • "If a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was & never will be."
  • "The qualifications for self-government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training."

What effuses from the comments is not informed and intelligent opinions, but the adolescent notions of what attitudes will make their authors popular with their chosen peer groups.  As a consequence, we get such intelligent, incisive, and uplifting exchanges of the kind that produce this gem: "Lies are politics Jerry, get over it."

Even a blog operated by a couple of professors immerses itself in girly-boy quibbling, abandoning even the pretense of their pseudo-scientific profession, political science.   But we look for the failures of education in the massive application of standardized tests after which we engage in rituals of blame-placing on the teachers.  You want to look at educational failures?  Look at the blog comments, twitters, and social media.  

So far, Joe Biden is the only one who has consciously confronted the fact that we are not really in an election campaign.  We're in the midst of an open, raging class war.  He commented that Romney-Ryan operate a campaign to malign America.  Romney's declaration that 47 percent of the people only want government handouts and Ryan's statement that 30 percent of the people are takers, not makers is a slanderous misrepresentation of a huge portion of the American people.  Romney-Ryan have  declared open war on the unemployed, those who are needy but work hard not to be, those who have been beset by misfortune, some of which comes from serving their country.

Hell, yes, we are in a class war, but it is one of the GOP's making.  

That is the most significant observation to come out of the debate.  That and the fact that Romney-Ryan will not own up to what they really think and what they tell their inside supporters and loyalists.  They want a class war.

One must ponder how happy it will make them when they fully get one.  That is what the Biden-Ryan debate left as its most salient thought.  


Alex Karras, Mad Duck, and Mongo

Alex Karras with the Hawkeyes in 1956
Alex Karras did not like coach  Forest Evashevski.  It is probably not too strong to say he hated him. Around the University of Iowa, where he was the head football coach, Evashevski was known as "Evy."  He was a legendary coach.   He was also an asshole.  At times.  

Alex Karras died this week.  He was 77.  I am a year older.  I think of him because he was part of one the more interesting episodes of my life.   Old people tend to think of those things. 

It was 1956.  I worked on the sports desk at the Davenport, Iowa, Morning Democrat.   Morning newspapers covered a lot of sports, because sports nuts bought morning papers so they could talk about sports at work.  I did not know Alex Karras personally, but I met him when I was sent to help cover the football press day at the University of Iowa.   The sports editor got to  talk to the team members.  I went along to help a photographer lug around his 4x5 Speed Graphic camera and all the film plates for taking lots of pictures.  Actually I went along to drive because the sports editor had spent too much time at the country club bar holding forth about how he was going to go out and make the definitive assessment of the Iowa football team.  It was part of my job to go out to the country club and drive him to work when he held forth at the bar too diligently.  Which was almost every day.  He spent most of his time at work downstairs at the Ringside Tap over which the newspaper offices were located.  He could climb up the stairs to get to work from there.

It was a banner year for Iowa football, as in sport page headline banner. Iowa was the Big Ten champion, won a trip to the Rose Bowl, and won the game.  Alex Karras was a lineman who loved playing defense.  His specialty was slipping through the offenses' line and taking out quarter backs.  In1956, he certified Iowa's Big Ten championship and trip to the Rose Bow by sacking an Ohio State quarterback during the last play of the game.   He went on to use that talent for 13 years with the Detroit Lions.  

The newspaper loved Alex Karras because he made so much sports news copy.  He was always messing with Evy.  When Evy reneged on a promise to put Karras in the 1956 season's first game, he got so pissed that he threw a shoe at the coach and quit the team.  Other coaches and team members lured him back, but Karras put a condition on his return that Evashevski would not talk to him.  Other team members, at the time and since, told me Evashevski was a bully.  That was my experience, too.  Bullies tend to be decent and courteous only to people they want to suck up to.  Others they dismiss.

I had that experience on that press day.  Our sports editor was famous.  During World War II, he started a page in which he invited letters from servicemen serving throughout the world.  He gained fame, which made him a golfing buddy with people like Bing Crosby.  He was also a well known boxing referee.  By the time I worked for him. he was celebrating his fame on a daily basis at a bar.  He liked to hold forth downstairs at the Ringside Tap where former, punch-drunk boxers would come and live over old fights with him.  They all insisted that they were contenders.  

On that press day, Evy sought out the sports editor, posed for some photos, and looked at me as if I was a stray dog that wandered on to the field.  At that time, I weighed less than 130 pounds and looked like I should be practicing a violin and writing lovely poems in my diary, not reporting on sports.  It was while I was going around with my notebook taking down information for photo cutlines that I talked to Alex Karras. As I checked the spelling of his name, he asked, for some reason, if I was a college student.  I explained that yes, but I was not attending during that semester because I had to drop out and work to earn some tuition money.  He gave me a pleasant look and said something about having to attend college to do the job he wanted.  He indicated that he was not particularly interested in school but understood those who were and were trying to find ways to attend.  I also remember that he was a very funny guy and I hung out around him and his friends to pick up on the banter.

He never received a degree at Iowa.  Years later, he quipped,"I never graduated from Iowa, but I was only there for two terms -- Truman's and Eisenhower's."

Despite the fact that there was about a hundred pounds difference in weight and a half a foot difference in height between me and Karras, I always felt a kinship with him and an interest in what he did.  We shared a sense of the absurd aspects of college.  But he also made me feel for a time, unlike what Evashevski did, that I was worthy of some notice and respect.  There was a decency in Karras that was often absent in those who sought athletic fame.  

 I know little about Karras at Iowa after that winning season.  Because I dropped out of  college to work, I lost my draft deferment, and in early 1957 was on my way to Germany with the U.S. Army.  I did take note of  Karras over the years, but paid no special attention to his years with the Lions.  I had lost respect and interest in professional sports, and have often seen the professionalization of university sports program as counterproductive to educational purposes.  But during that time as a sports writer, I was turned off by an aspect of sports.

That turn-off came from those times when the sports editor held forth at the Ringside Tap with old friends from boxing.  Those punch-drunk men who suffered brain damage to entertain others with what was the epitome of macho play weighed heavy on my conscience.  Minds are terrible things to waste, and they had wasted theirs in an endeavor that destroyed their real chances to rise to full manhood.  A few years back, Alex Karras was the lead complainant in a lawsuit against the NFL for not protecting against the concussions and resulting brain injuries.  In his later years, Karras suffered from dementia.  Accounts of friends who visited him and said he could not remember much and was clearly declining were depressing. He realized that those hard tackles were costing him his full mental powers.   But like the man who sacked the Ohio State quarterback in the last play of a game, Karras was making an effort to contribute something to the better of humanity.  For all his roughness, Karras always evinced a sense of humor and a sense of decency that made him stand out.

In 2008, when Forest Evashevski was 90 and in failing health, Alex Karras called him up and apologized for his behavior  during those football years at Iowa.  That was essential Karras.  

I prefer to remember him as Mongo, who punched out a horse, in Blazing Saddles, a movie that changed the way Americans think about race.  And his funny, funny role in Victor Victoria, which challenged some notions about sexual preferences and equality.  

There was something about Alex Karras that never really left Gary, Indiania, and demonstrated on the side of real people.  He was a consequential person.

Alex Karras as Mongo.

Alex Karras and Robert Preston in Victor Victoria

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

They ain't dumb. They are just undereducated.

Bob Mercer has an article in Tuesday's paper sharing the front page top line with "Dog shot by police" on the increase of remedial classes at state universities.  He points out the percentage of incoming freshmen that require developmental instruction for each institution:

  • 47 percent, Black Hills State
  • 45 percent, Northern State
  • 38 percent, Dakota State
  • 26percent, South Dakota State
  • 23 percent, University of South Dakota 
  • 7 percent, School of Mines and Technology 
The subject areas in which remedial classes are offered is English and mathematics.  There is no breakdown in the article or on the Regents' website of what percentages need more preparatory work in each subject area.  

The increased need for developmental classes prompts recommendations from Regents offices for students to take more college preparatory classes in high school, but that approach tends to gloss over a factor which is producing the need for more developmental classes.  

During the 1960s, colleges experienced a surge in applications.  A good part of that was because of the Viet Nam War and students going to college for draft deferments more than for education.  This surge caused an expansion of campuses and the start of colleges to meet the demand.  When the draft ended, higher education experienced a declines in enrollments and has taken measures to maintain and increase enrollments to help cover the costs of running large campuses and programs without cutting back.  One approach to boosting enrollments is "open enrollment,"  which means accepting almost every student who applies no matter what their high school transcripts and entry scores look like.  

Higher education divided itself between selective schools, which set and adhered to admission standards, and non-selective schools, which accepted nearly all applicants.  A positive argument for open enrollment is that it provides students who did not perform well in high school or on the ACT or College Board tests the opportunity to pursue a college degree.  The idea was that if the students worked hard, they could earn a degree.  But it became apparent that poor preparation in high school simply did not equip many students to handle college work.  Professors began to struggle with the decisions about whether to accommodate the poorly prepared students by lowering the level of instruction and standards for passing courses or to offer remedial instruction.  In effect, many colleges did both.  

In my field, "bonehead" English was an established feature at many colleges.  When after World War II, veterans flocked to campuses under the G.I. Bill, many of them did not have the writing skills needed for college work, so most colleges created courses intended to bring them up to the level of proficiency needed.  At the first college I taught at, there was a 3-hour a week freshman composition course and a 4-hour freshman composition course for those who needed the catch-up instruction.  For the veterans this arrangement worked, and they appreciated the opportunity to catch up.  However, by the time I began college teaching, it was considered a stigma for students to be assigned to "bonehead" English, and they resented the designation and  were contentious about the classes.  At places such as the University of Iowa, students who needed to catch up were assigned to writing laboratories where they received individual help and instruction with writing assignments.  In some cases, the students were not permitted to enroll in freshman English until they could pass a proficiency test after working in the writing lab.  In other cases, they would enroll in regular classes and received help with the assignments.  Generally, the writing labs produced better results.

NSU was an open enrollment institution, and dealing with underprepared students caused some bitter friction between the administration and faculty.  The administration put a limit on how many students were referred for remedial instruction, so that only those in the most dire need were given the attention.  This left a number of poorly prepared students to enroll in the regular courses, so that the matter of whether to dummy down the course work still confronted the faculty.  I recall at one point that 54 percent of an incoming freshman class scored low enough on their English ACT scores to be considered as remedial.  The faculty thought that if the college admitted unqualified students, it was obligated to provide them with the means to succeed, rather than flounder and fail.  It became apparent to faculty that the low-performing students were admitted for economic reasons.  They were admitted to bolster the budget with their tuition, which has had huge increases in recent years.  Raking tuition off of students destined to fail was considered a scam by most faculty.  

In South Dakota, the problem has not really been solved.  It is reflected in the retention rates of how many students return for a second year of college.  Below is a chart that shows the retention rates at each institution for recent years.
      FY04    05    06    07    08    09    10    11    12    13
BHSU  54    52    53    50    58    56    58    59    59    65
DSU    63    60    67    63    69    74    61    62    67    60
NSU    63    60    61    56    61    68    65    64    68    67
SDSMT70    63    72    74    76    76    83    78    79    80
SDSU  74    74    73    76    75    75    75    75    73    75
USD    66    67    67    69    70    72    70    72    78    75
Avg     67    66    67    69    70    71    71    71    72    72

 The average retention rate for South Dakota is 72 percent.  The national rate is 79 percent, according to press reports.  However, retention rates among the institutions vary by 20 points.  The only institution to be at the national average is the School of Mines and Technology.  

Last year, the Regents held a conference with national speakers aimed at increasing the retention rate, but changes made for that purpose have not seemed to have much effect.  An axiom in higher education is that admissions set the stage for academic success.  There is a correlation between the number of students who need remedial instruction and retention and graduation rates. That pattern seems reflected in the fact that only 7 percent of the students admitted to the School of Mines and Technology require remedial work and its retention rate is 80 percent for this year.  

There are other, cultural factors that affect retention rates, but the effectiveness of developmental instruction is a clear factor.  At my former institution, NSU, 41 percent of the incoming students need catch up work but 33 percent do not return for their second year.  

These numbers make all the testing and schemes to designated and reward superior teachers superfluous.   At some point, those who teach will have to be allowed to do their jobs of assessing student needs and devising ways to meet them, rather being maligned and burdened with competitive and morale-breaking schemes such as Referred Law 16 on this year's election ballot. 

If those who presume to oversee education consulted with those who do the actual work in the classrooms about what can make students perform better, they might find some solutions that actually work.  Many students regard school as a repressive burden.  Current policies and administrative practices make many teachers think so, too. 


Monday, October 8, 2012

Let us now celebrate really stupid people

Back when I  lived in Illinois, the University of Illinois led in the world development of supercomputers.  It raised the prospect of using computers to create a new level of knowledge and communication and provide humankind with advances that would increase the overall intelligence of the species.  Then in the early 1990s, it produced the precursor, Mosaic, to the search engines  that we tend to take for granted, and its scientists and engineers created new prospects for human intelligence.  Professors throughout the nation and the world grew excited in anticipation of realizing prospects that  up to that time had been presented  in works of science fiction.  In our anticipatory excitement,  it never occurred to us that computers could create new dimensions of stupidity that could take us  back to the 19th century and beyond.

We like to celebrate the human capacity for creativity and invention, and assert America's claim to be preeminent in those endeavors, but we turn our backs on the great human capacity for stupidity and perverse meanness. When we browse through the internet, there is more evidence of stupidity and meanness than there is of humanity transcending its propensity for intellectual failure.  

This past weekend it was hard to miss the triumph of the stupid and the mean.  And it was hard to miss that stupid and mean have become the standard of  our political culture.  When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its monthly report on employment which indicated that the unemployment rate finally fell below 8 percent, the immediate response by America's right wing, that great preserver of the great tradition of stupid and mean, was to accuse the BLS of cooking the numbers at the behest of the White House.  Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch led the charge.  

This example is one of the reasons I distrust CEOs.  For some years, I covered business for a newspaper.  There are some CEOs who are smart, industrious, and knowledgeable about what it takes to lead a company.  Most CEOs I found, however, were poseurs whose main talent was bluster, bluff, and bullying.  There was no reason other than the gullibility of the sucks who groveled before them to hold the status and jobs they did.  That is one of the reasons I do not like Mitt Romney.  He is not even good at blustering because he does little but deny, lie, and alibi. But that is part of  his appeal, because he is  kindred to so many  people who have found a comfort zone among the stupid and mean.  Jack Welch's outburst about the labor statistics reveals a person who cannot take facts that run counter to the agenda of discrediting Barack Obama.  In that, he represents the failure of integrity and intelligence in which so many people find justification and comfort.

This kind of mindless rage is a staple of the Internet.  I permit few comments on my blog because so many are utterly mean and stupid.  Occasionally, I leave some comments stand as warning flags.   The post before this one is an example. A commenter who posts as John put up a post that he thinks  both Romney and Obama are liars because they are stooges for the corporate world.  His post is:

I refuse to watch the staged theater of two mandarins beholden to the corporations. Obama brilliantly lied to us in 2008, and governed with about as much gusto in 2009-2012 as he exhibited in Denver. Now it's Romney's turn to lie - 1 every 84 seconds that he spoke.
Following that post is one by Seamus, who must have been let out of his cage on top of the Romney car.  Actually Seamus must be a South Dakotan because he resorts to the good old state line that if you don't like what is going on here, get out of the country.  His post:  
John, your assertions are offensive. Get the hell out of this country if you believe you are so useless here.
The harsh fact is that  influencing the citizenry through deception has become the convention and accepted standard of contemporary political discourse,  George Orwell be damned.  The real deterioration in our school system is the corporate-driven insistence to run schools like a business and create an obedient unquestioning work force.  There was a time when a very significant portion of the electorate would criticize and ridicule glib falsehoods from candidates and influence their fellow citizens to take a closer look at what passed for rhetoric.  But now we have an entire profession of campaign consultants who measure and feed the ignorance of the electorate, and the successful politician is likely to be the one whose bluff and bluster fools the most  people.  

Obama has been caught making unqualified generalities, but his transgressions against truth and accuracy have been much less than Romney's.  And part of what is thought of as lies is his failure to do the things he vowed to such as rescind the most onerous portions of the patriot act and switch priorities in the matter of Guantanamo.  Other things he has not accomplished are those that the GOP has obstructed.  The GOP would rather destroy the country than allow Obama to put some of his  reforms in place. 

The real issue taking shape in our country is a regrettably dismissed portion of the electorate who, like John, are just fed up with politics as they are currently practiced and who see nothing positive in any of the alternatives being offered.   Most Americans take comfort that the Occupy Wall Street movement seems silent, mostly because the press is not tracking their activities.  They are in operation, not in noisy street demonstrations, but in quiet examinations of what corporations have done and intend to do to our country.  They have been muzzled by concerted policy action against their demonstrations, but, unlike the trolling fools who haunt the Internet, they are using the new media to exchange information and inform those who care to listen.

On this Native American Day, a friend named William put up this post:  "Columbus was a genocidal maniac who raped and enslaved the people he encountered in an effort to steal gold and other valuable goods. I'm glad South Dakota celebrates Native American Day today. Mitakuye oyasin."

Many folks will probably tell William to leave the country, but William has it right.  As the 500th anniversary of Columbus' "discovery" of America approached, I spent a summer with colleagues from throughout the nation studying Columbus' ventures at the Newberry Library.  When I returned, NSU sponsored a summer institute for teachers on that episode.  They were a bit chagrined when they covered the information that Columbus was not a brave and gallant explorer.  HIs major search was for gold, he took Native Americans to be sold into slavery, and the logs of discovery do not reflect a savory character.  Our Native American population already knew this, and it was a hypocritical embarrassment to celebrate Columbus Day in South Dakota.  Rather than dismiss our indigenous people with "if you don't like it here, leave," the emphasis 9f the day was changed to reflect the facts.

Many of my professional colleagues use the Internet only to locate information.  Once they find it, they are careful to verify its authenticity.  There are people out there like John and William who eschew the popular falsehoods and send those occasional signals that they aren't buying into the false information manufactured and disseminated under the auspices of corporations.

The American right fights against big government and its intrusions into the lives of people.  They ignore the intrusions of big corporations who are doing more tracking and identifying of people to target than the government.  They ignore the fact that the private health insurance that  has a lists of approved  health care providers, and the insured gets penalized for going to practitioners not on their list.  

The world of electronic communications is one of falsehoods, deceit, and avaricious control.  A growing number of people like John and William will not play its games.  And therein lies the real American dream. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Did Obama play Romney for a raging bull?

Everybody, with very few exceptions, is castigating Barack Obama for his performance at the first debate.  Blacks, such as Bob Herbert, go so far as to feel betrayed by him.  

On the theatrical level, there can be no quibbling that Romney outperformed Obama. On the strategic level, some questions have been raised.   

I, among many other people, have been bothered by the stream of deliberate falsehoods that have formed the major thrust of Romney's campaign.  That plus his relentless characterization of Obama as ignorant, feckless, and clueless about being a lord of the manor.  Romney's personal characterizations of Obama have incorporated all the racist cliches associated with the word "nigger."  What has been troubling is that neither the media or the people expect a respectful truthfulness in the campaign.  While all candidates tend to get caught up in a degree of exaggeration and inflated claims, and sometimes get some things wrong, and the fact-checkers register these matters,  the Romney campaign has gone way over the boundaries of credibility with his constant reversals of position, his deliberate misconstruals, and his outright falsehoods.  It was very disappointing when Obama did not confront him and address these points.  Commentators such as Chris Matthews on MSNBC have really tore into Obama for not repeating the 47 percent remarks and countering Romney by stating the positive things the Obama administration has brought about.

Commentators have generally dismissed the contentions of Obama's campaign advisers David Axelrod and David Plouffe, who said that the 47 percent comment has been worked into the ground and that Obama deliberately did not want to get reduced to the level of denying untruths and looking defensive about false statements.  However, as things have evolved, Romney's statements have undergone a more thorough examination in the media and his duplicity and falseness have become the major focus of the post-debate commentary.  Obama himself kicked off the post-debate analysis the next day by noting the reversals of positions and mistatement of facts.  A few commentators have said the debate was the CEO pitted against the professor, and the professor knew better than to offer his critiques during the heat of the moment.  A calmer, more considered review would have more effect.

There were some factors in Obama's performance that inspired agitation and criticism among his supporters.  There were some places in the debate during which Obama said there were situations on which he and Romney agree.   Sen. Bernie Sanders thought it was disastrous for Obama to ally himself with Romney on some basic issue points.  Still, in doing so he was countering Romney's claim that he could produce the bipartisan cooperation that Obama has not.  Obama laid down some basic points of agreement on the high corporate tax rate, on the need for more U.S. energy independence, and on Social Security.  To more thoughtful debate watchers, Obama was laying down some basic points of concern that the two had in common and indicating they were points on which an exploration of differences and possible agreements could be made.  But Romney rebuffed any such  opportunity, while at the same time claiming that he had operated with bipartisan agreements as governor of Massachusetts, his rebuff demonstrating the contradiction in engaging in a exchange of ideas with Obama. The press has examined Romney's claims of bipartisanship and found them dubious. 

A pase de la muerte
As the debate went on, it suggested to me that Obama was deliberately holding back.  In politics when staff members deal with unreasoning and enraged constituents, they are instructed not "to engage."  Doing so is pointless.  Similarly, in the field of rhetoric, it is considered unproductive and pointless to engage an opponent who is spewing forth scurrilous and unsupported representations and accusations. It is better to let the raging opponent voice all his propositions and prove his own errors and false charges and not to waste effort and energy by debating them. The tactic is one metaphorically borrowed from bullfighting.  A tactic for getting the better of an ultra-aggressive bull is to offer a wave of the cape and let the rage of the bull guide his charge while matador stands perfectly still and allows the blind rage to attack the cape and carry it past into an ineffectual charge.  It is called a "pase de la muerte,"  a "pass of death," referring to the deathly silence of the matador as the bull charges past to his own demise.  

A moment of truth

  This may or may not have been Obama's strategy, although his campaign advisers say it was.  And commentators have not given much notice to Romney's own missteps, such as his rather absurd making Big Bird the target for defunding PBS and patronizing Obama by calling him a childish liar. Nevertheless, Romney finds himself now fighting in an arena of his own making.  Ultimately, he will face his moment of truth. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The night Mitt Romney called his five sons liars

There is a huge industry that has sprung up to analyze and make assertions about presidential debates.  Every four years the the rocks are turned over and all the psychic mediums and clairvoyants and others of their kind are called out to tell us who won presidential debates and interpret what was said, but particularly what wasn't said that they heard but we ordinary folks cannot.  

One branch of clairvoyance is body language.  Its practitioners claim they can divine when people are  lying, know what is really in their minds, and construct entire speeches from a lick of the lips or the blink of an eye.  And so, after Obama and Romney finished their first debate, the diviners gathered around the cauldrons provided by cable news networks, talk radio, and the Internet and summoned their dark powers.  

Mitt Romney did outperform President Obama in histrionics. And that is what our contemporary culture has been media-conditioned to respond to.  The corpus linguists erupt in citing gestures and expressions as signs of what is acually being said. Their grammar of body language, however, is mostly a matter of stating what the gestures, postures, and facial expressions look like to the audience and retreat into the rule that in debates perception is reality.  To them, words don't really matter.

To  some of us who are logo-centric and. think words are of controlling importance in any communication, body language and histrionic performance are elements that call for extreme critical wariness.   Some general semanticists state that the first error is in calling expressions, postures, and gestures body language.   It should not be called language because it does not have a lexicon of meanings or a grammar that governs the way it conveys its meanings.  Body "language" is like a Rorschach blot:  people impose their own notions and prejudices on it. It conveys no transactional meaning and reflects the mentality of the perceiver, not the intentions of the person who is under examination.  In plain words, there is really no such thing as body language that can be profitably interpreted.  There are such things as body signals which convey attitudes and, to some degree, mental states.   But they can easily be misinterpreted.

So, after one has registered the histrionics, the real importance of a debate is what the words said.  The wordsmiths and fact-checkers were busy last night.  Both the The New York Times and the Washington Post had their word analysts busy last night examining where the language departed from the facts, where it got a bit sloppy and imprecise, and where it was intended to mislead.  [ The New Republic has a pertinent article title "What the presidential candidates could learn from high school debaters."]

At one point in the debate, I could hear the real students of rhetoric take in a collective, cautionary breath and people of color, particularly blacks, exhaling in exasperation.    Only a few reporters and commentators noted the significance of the moment.  It is where the men are arguing about the specifics of Romney's tax plan, which Obama calls a $5 trillion tax cut and Romney insists will be deficit reduction measure.  Both the fact-checking links provided above analyze the basis for this dispute.  

Romney was careful last night not to depart from his script and make one of his noted  blunders, except for this moment.  Few people who lived through the civil rights movement and recall the language and its imagery probably caught the serious and, for minority people, fatal, blunder Romney made at this point.  It is where he said, "I know that you and your running mate keep saying that and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it." 

One of Romney's main messages last night was that the  President is a  liar.  He was  cagey enough not to be aggressively confrontive in making this accusation, but he was either super cagey in knowing how his statement could play to his base or totally obtuse to how it would play among African-Americans.  In effect, Romney was saying, "Look, boy, I know when you and your people are lying."  No insult is as serious as patronization, and this comment wherein Romney likened a president to a boy was demeaning and patronizing in the greatest magnitude.  Then add the racist overtones, and the remark becomes indefensible.   It was typical Romney and was expressive of the deep attitudes that he harbors.  Romney's strategy throughout his entire campaign has been to claim that there is someone in the White House who should be waiting on the tables, not presiding at them.  

Romney and sons after the debate.
The remark registered on few people in the media.  But it registered acutely on those who gave careful attention to the words, and it will have grave consequences for Romney.  As people let the actual words exchanged in the so-called debate register for their significance, that comment will mark the essential point revealed by the occasion.  It will grow in signficance when people realize what was said.

And one can't but wonder how Romney's sons feel about being publicly labeled as liars.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States