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

Friday, July 26, 2013

Out of work? Strap on your wittle gunny-poo and have a parade.

More than 400 people lost their jobs at Northern Beef Packers during the past week.  Not to worry.  A bunch of patriots are having an Open Carry Walk in Sioux Falls this Saturday.  The title refers to people openly parading up and down the street with firearms.  It does not refer to carrying open beer cans or bottles of single malt, which act might get you arrested.  It is promoted as a demonstration of First and Second Amendment rights.

 It is an occasion for grown ups to forget their troubles and live out their juvenile fantasies, which were honed on Saturday afternoon movies and television reruns.  When you carry a weapon in  public, it is a sign.  The sign says:

 "Me big man.  Me have big gun.  Me can shoot the shit out of you any time me want."
 One strongly suspects that great patriot and humanitarian, George Zimmerman, is the inspiration for the event.  

We don't know if the  unemployed are invited to participate.  Their weapons, if they have any, might be in hock.  But we assume that anyone so inclined can carry dolls or wheel doll buggies and join in the festival of things juvenile.
Men and women who have attained the status of maturity and conscious citizenship don't have to play at being men and women.  Their attitudes and lives attest that they have attained constructively adult status.

We wonder if the patriots who attend might pause a moment or two to read the names of the victims at the Aurora movie theater or the Sandy Hook elementary school.  Or maybe pause and consider the 19,184 souls who, according to Center for Disease Control estimates, died at the muzzle of a gun since Sandy Hook.  Sixty percent of those were suicides, which is a great comfort.  But the Open Carry Walk sponsors say the event is to demonstrate responsible citizens carrying firearms.

That should bring great comfort to everyone.  It might even suggest a solution to those despairing of finding work in this great land. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jim Crow woke up from his nap

To us old veterans of the civil rights movement,  current American times project a familiar attitude.  But it has been evident for some time.  Barack Obama is connected to it.  He is not the cause, but he has elicited the symptoms of the racial divisions that once reigned over most of the nation.

In 2008, I was convinced that a black man could not be elected president.  The reason was that I heard many people from both major parties disparage Obama because of his race.  After he won the election, I realized that my perception was affected by the state I live in.  There are many Democrats who, like their GOP counterparts, think people of color do not qualify for equality, freedom, and justice.  South Dakota is committed to racial exclusions, and contains nine monuments, called reservations, to that end.  Its history of subjugation is relentless and continues to be a political force in the present.  The nation moves forward in eliminating discrimination of people who come from differing cultures and choose differing lifestyles, but South Dakota is one of the  refuges for those who demean and oppress those who are different.   

The election of Barack Obama inspired a renewed wave of racism. Many people who resent those of  other races abandoned reticence and renewed their denunciations of black people now that they had a target. The GOP leader in the Senate announced shortly after his election  that the main agenda of his party in Washington would be to see that Obama did not get elected to another term.  The obstruction of anything Obama wanted to do became the major business of the GOP congress people.  The tactic was to attach his name to things he proposed, such as Obamacare,

and to proclaim that it had to be a bad idea because that N-word person proposed it.  The criticisms were directed not  at the plan, but were personal assaults on the character and personality of Obama.  In the South until the civil rights movement, drinking fountains contained the sign "Whites Only," presupposing that use by a black person would contaminate the water.  The term Obamacare was used to designate contamination, bolstered with accusations of socialism, government takeovers  of personal rights.

A favorite accusation is that Obama has designs on confiscating all firearms in the U.S. so that if the ex-slaves do revolt, the population will not have the fire power to stop them.  Of course, Obama has never proposed the registration of all firearms that could lead to  identifying gun owners so that Big Govmint would know where to go for confiscation.  

After the Sandy Hook massacre of children, Obama and Joe Biden did propose some regulations to keep guns out of the possession of criminals and the mentally unfit.  But, of course, you know the rule associated with the  N-word.  Give them an inch and they will take the whole yard.  So, it's better to  keep the U.S. a killing field than let it be subverted by a black man and his minions, who may be Muslims, Marxists, and who knows what other villainy.  

The election of Barack Obama, then, reignited some old racial hatreds and resentments, and excited some into an overt racial rage.  Most bloggers and commenters who are anti-Obama avoid the N-word, but lavishly use all the stereotypes associated with it in writing about him.

The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case has intensified the racial divide,  and exposed the tactic used to enforce what might be called the new racism.  Racism is old.  But the current tactic is to deny the presence and influence of racial hatred as a force, while intensifying it.  That is the recent development in its application.   Jim Crow now does his act in white face. The most prominent of those faces are Rush Limbaugh and the anchors on Fox News.  

The new racism is also evident on the blogosphere, as many good Americans forthrightly tell blacks and other minorities where their place is and not to step out of it.  Many seem to think that Trayvon Martin got what he deserved because he stepped out of his place.  They portray George Zimmerman has a dedicated, zealous patriot who volunteered to keep his neighborhood safe from thieves by patrolling with a loaded weapon to search out likely-looking suspects.  They ignore the fact that Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old boy returning to the house he was staying at from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles and a can of juice.  Boy, did he look suspicious.  But in coming within the vigilance of George Zimmerman, he stepped out of place.  And here is a lecture from the SD blogosphere for all 17-year-old black kids with hoodies to heed:

... Trayvon Martin was a fool as well.  Despite the efforts of some to paint Martin as St. Trayvon, he was clearly a young man with a record of  bad judgement and offensive opinions.  Throwing the media narrative on its head, its seems far more likely that Trayvon Martin held both racist and homophobic opinions than George Zimmerman, who seems to be a basically decent, if foolish, man.  And, not to put too fine a point on it, when you are smashing a man's head into the sidewalk, you are asking for trouble.  There are no "good guys" in this story. 

 It is not clear where the "homophobic opinions" were expressed, but what is significant is the absence of any possibility that Trayvon Martin was, perhaps, standing his ground against being stalked by a menacing person looking for prey.  But in the Jim Crow tradition, black people have no ground to stand on and are totally out of place if they think they have a right to  defend themselves against menacing aggression.  

Another post seems to thinks that all people of differing status should be exempted from racial viewpoints:  "And, Zimmerman is as much Hispanic as he is "white"."  The writer seems unaware that Hispanics, too, hold anti-black racial attitudes.  There is, for example, no faster way to lose one's honey cajones that to go to Mexico and mistake one of its citizens for a black.  The writer must also be unaware of the wars between black and Hispanic gangs.  

Bloggers  make much of the fact that black kids kill other black kids in great numbers, so why shouldn't some honkeys get their share of kills?

White American cannot come to terms with the fact that it is its much-vaunted culture is what created the violence that boils in minority neighborhoods, causes massacres at Sandy Hook, made reservations places of hopelessness and despair, and motivates stalkers to gun down 17-year-olds sauntering along with Skittles and cans of fruit juice.  Moral equality and justice is not part of the white culture, as many conceive it.

The stand-your-ground laws and the voter ID laws are part of the re-energized Jim Crow.  Proclaim the hatred throughout the land and take America back to what it once was.  

Or renew the battle for equality and civil rights. 




Sunday, July 14, 2013

George Zimmerman got his trophy.

We shoot them now. 

The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found innocent: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty.   [Jelani Cobb  ,The New Yorker.]

On a rainy night in February,  George Zimmerman loaded his pistol, tucked it into his butt holster, got in his truck and drove to a place where he set up his stand.  Stand, as in "deer stand."  He got lucky that night.  He was on a "coon" hunt and here one came.

It was a young buck, 17 years old, sauntering along with a can of iced tea and a package of Skittles, hood on his sweat shirt over his head against the rain.  A prime specimen.  Zimmerman called him a punk.  Punks always get away, he said when he called the police dispatcher.  Not this one, however.  Zimmerman was there with his loaded weapon to stalk him.  

Zimmerman was volunteering for a neighborhood watch.  A nice pastime, because there is always a chance that you can shoot a buck.   When he saw him, in a sportsman-like gesture, Zummerman called the police dispatcher, reported the sighting, and offered to stalk it.  The dispatcher said we don't need you to do that.  But always the sportsman,  Zimmerman did it anyway.   

Somehow a fight ensued.  No one, except Zimmerman, knows how it started.  It is clear that Zimmerman got beat up a bit.  He ended up reaching into his butt holster, pulling his weapon, and blowing Trayvon's heart out.  You see, Trayvon pulled out his sidewalk and slammed it against Zimmerman's head.  Zimmerman was found not guilty of the second-degree murder charge.  Or manslaughter.

It is a lesson for us all.  Brooks Johnson says, "I guess the lesson is pack a gun for the times your body can't cash the checks your mouth wrote."

Zimmerman was standing his ground.  So was Trayvon, but he really has no ground to stand on.  Don't you idiots out there understand? Trayvon is the prey.  He is  not supposed to fight back.  That's the law.  There is a court precedent in Florida that says so.  
So, all you liberals and others out there who bought guns and ammunition to defend against the Zimmermans had just as well   get rid of them.  You don't count.  You're the designated prey.  The ground is not yours to stand on . 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Those Democrats just keep going and going

[Ed. Note:  The writer referred to below as an "erstwhile member of the press"  wrote to correct that designation.  He states that he is "editing a newspaper in Wyoming, writing a column that is published in several newspapers in five states, working on magazine articles, producing blog posts and planning [his] next book."  We noted that he was a staff member of the Mitchell Daily Republic who contributed to the paper's blog, and there was an announcement that that association had ended.  We should have noted that his "erstwhile" designation was in that particular capacity, not a leaving of the journalistic profession.  There were other corrections he suggested, but they were matters of perception and opinion, not facts.  We regret and apologize for the factual error. ]

When I first moved to South Dakota, I was thrown into a state of culture shock from which I never fully recovered.  It was caused by the way people talked about other people.  I was not the only one among new professors at NSU who noticed.  It was a topic of concern among those of us who came from other parts of the U.S., and it was a major factor in the social relationships we formed.

I first noticed it in personal conversations with some of my  colleagues during which they made disparaging and somewhat  slanderous comments about other people behind their backs.  There are people who malign other people everywhere, but the maligners are quickly noted and avoided.  The reason is obvious.  If someone is talking in negative and damaging ways to you about other people behind their backs, you know that person is most likely talking about you that way also.  Until I came to South Dakota,  such people were kept at a distance because in any situation that requires some social tact and cooperation, these people are a destructive impediment to any human enterprise.  Back-biters and  slanderers were held in ill repute and were shunned and avoided. And considered to be grossly deficient in intelligence.  One did not want to be associated with them.

They do occur everywhere, but the difference that caused the culture shock is that in South Dakota malicious gossip about others seemed to be the rule.  That is not to say that justified criticism is not made in other  places when people misbehave or are incompetent, but the way it is handled is paramount.  I worked for an editor who refused to tolerate malicious gossip.  Ambitious young reporters who were looking for plum assignments would often malign other reporters to him in hopes of gaining some kind of favored status.  If they made a negative allegation about another person's work, he would call the person being criticized into his office and asked the complainer to present the criticism to that person's face.  The person who made the criticism would have to explain the basis for his criticism and justify it, or be exposed as having malicious intent.  

If a reporter or editor did show incompetence or  slovenliness in the discharge of professional duties,  the fact would be duly noted in the daily, early morning editorial conferences in which mistakes were noted and resolved and plans for the day and upcoming editions were covered.  Competitive motives among staff members were kept in check by a cooperative attitude fostered by the management.  The newspaper had developed a highly competent and smart staff and the staff members regarded each other with a knowledge of and a respect for the work they did.  

The attitude at the newspaper was representative of the culture of the region.  People who gossiped maliciously about other people were despised.  Children who made false tattles about other children were quickly challenged about their motives by parents and teachers.  Back biting was simply not socially acceptable.  Complaints about other people were quickly challenged for their legitimacy,  and if a child was making a vindictive accusation, the child would be held to account for it.  Genuine grievances against bullying or violating activity were carefully separated from vindictive and resentful allegations.  

I was shocked when I came to South Dakota and witnessed adults engaging in middle school accusations and disparagement against others, especially in a circumstance which requires professional respect and courtesy for productive work to get done.  

However, with the Internet, media comment sections, and television, those middle school modes of conduct have become a significant and deleterious part of the national culture.  We have an abundance of humanity at its meanest, lowest, and stupidest in reality television, comment sections, and the halls of Congress.  

While I was shocked to find adults engaging in this kind of behavior toward each other in South Dakota,  I found reason for great hope and expectation from my writing students, most of whom came from rural and small town South Dakota.  One of the assignments in expository writing was to profile their hometowns, correlating the objective facts about their towns with what they observed.  For students from the smaller communities, a common feature they described was the town cafe.  Some regarded town cafes  as a joke, some were a bit disapproving of the daily coffee-and-gossip, and some detested the town cafes as sources of malignancy.  Whatever attitudes the students regarded the custom of malicious gossip with, their consensus was that the town and human race would be better off without it.  

At one time, I was involved in placing foreign exchange students in homes in the rural communities.  There were a couple of times when the students were so alarmed at the rancor they found among the factions in the towns that we had to remove them to other communities.  In our exit interviews and evaluations with the host families and students, the malicious gossipers were often mentioned as a factor that detracted from the exchange experience.  A number of school administrators and teachers commented that the students experienced all aspects of America, and some of it was not pleasant, inspiring, or favorable to the image of America.  Host families for the foreign students were carefully vetted, but we were advised by the placement organization to note which communities had engaged in destructive behavior and not place foreign students in them.

Twinges of that old culture shock returned last week with the announcement that chair and executive director of the South Dakota Democratic Party, Ben Nessulhuf, was stepping down to manage a Congressional campaign in Iowa.  His departure is the most recent of five prominent Democratic candidates and party officials to leave the state.  The reactions to his announcement  raised twinges of that old culture shock. Comments from some members of the press and comments on blogs tended toward that hateful, stupid, meanness that so often characterizes South Dakota.

In referring to Ben Nesselhuf's dual role as chair and executive director,  one erstwhile member of the press said, "It was a big job, and he failed big time. His departure is the proof of that."  The bitter condemnation in that statement resonates with the resentment of a jilted lover, and it refuses to acknowledge the job that Ben took on.  It assumes that Ben is leaving because he failed. 

Recent campaigns to gain state offices have cost the South Dakota Democratic Party a lot of money.  It incurred a stifling debt load.  One of Ben Nesselhuf's accomplishments  was to free the party of that oppressive debt.  The removal of that large obstacle is ignored in that presumption of failure.  So is Nesselhuf's fifteen years of political work as a state legislator, a candidate for secretary of state, and the work he has contributed to the party over that time. 

In good, old South Dakota tradition, the soul seems soothed by pronouncing him a big time failure.  However, nothing seems to incite South Dakotans into a big time rage like someone else's success.  And so, the convention is to pronounce a person with some accomplishment a total failure.  

There are hordes of commenters on the Internet and presumably in the town cafes who remark with great authority on anything and everything.  Very few have ever been a candidate for public office, run or been very active in the actual work of a campaign, or done any of the drudgery, which can be very unpleasant, of a partisan campaign.  They flood the comment sections with all the cliches about organization and personalities, and they bicker back and forth and posture as knowledgeable, competent strategists.  Their utterances are loaded with accusations and condemnations.  And one realizes that their only pathway to self-esteem is to diminish other people through resentful, petty slanders.  But one who has actually campaigned also realizes that their words come from big egos with small minds, and not from carefully analyzed experience.  

Criticism of South Dakota touches a very tender spot in the state psyche.  If one is critical or suggests matters that might need improvement,  the inevitable response is that if you don't like it here, leave.  What is referred to as the brain drain, the mass migration of young people to other places, is largely because talented people have found things they don't like here and have left. One of the major things people don't like is the constant back-biting and denigration of what other people are and do.  Fair, open, and honest criticism is useful, but constant, petty carping tires the mind and weighs heavily on the human spirit.  People who aspire to productive and constructive lives conclude they will have to build them elsewhere where the social and cultural climate permits.

The comments that followed Nesselhuf's departure announcement say nothing really about his performance in the work he did here.  But they are quite explicit in mapping out the predominant mindset that prevails in South Dakota.  They portray an endemic small-mindedness and a resentment toward those who rise to service.  People support and give lip service to public service, but only for those who fecklessly serve the platitudes and carefully refrain from doing anything that rises above mediocrity.  

It is that desire to rise above mediocrity that moves younger talent to leave.  As the above mentioned blogger wrote about Ben Nesselhuf,  "... he may need to wait for the crowd to thin to make it out the door. A lot of young Democrats had the same idea.And a lot of young Democrats are leaving a lot of people feeling jilted.  And left behind.  Those young Democrats all mentioned improvements in their personal and professional lives as motives for their moves.

Those left behind, no matter which party, cannot conceive of the idea that they might be what is driving young people to move to other places--places where they will find criticism and opposition, but also find an acknowledgment and respect for honest effort and hard work.  And perhaps some recognition for achievement that gains national attention.  As it is now, that kind of achievement is held against them.

In South Dakota, resentment is a way of life.  And most young people want to leave the culture of the town cafe and rise above the small-minded platitudes and petty resentment. In a sinking culture, people wait for a leadership to descend and redeem them.  A number of people with impressive credentials and work histories have stepped up in recent years.  But, as Christ advised his disciples when a place rejected them, they have shook the dust of this place off their heels and left.  Those left behind are enraged because a leader has not led them.  It never seems to occur to them that they have to redeem themselves. 

The decline of the Democratic party in South Dakota is not from a lack of leaders.  In a democracy, the will of the people ultimately determines the kind of place a community is.  The people get what they want, what they vote for.  South Dakota likes a monolithic, single-party system.  The state is not determined by its leaders.  It is determined by its people and those they prefer to act as leaders.  People with a different vision of the state shake the dust from their feet and move on.

They leave behind a culture that will busy itself with carping, back-biting, and petty slander.  And more people will leave. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States