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, July 30, 2017

You can't take a wiz in South Dakota

Over the years since I moved to Aberdeen, I have traveled between there and Sioux Falls hundreds of times.  I often made the trip on family business in Illinois.  Then I made the trip quite frequently on professional and family business in Sioux Falls.  Currently,  we have numerous relatives living in Sioux Falls and many family gatherings to attend.

At first, I-29 did not go north beyond Watertown.  The completion of the Interstate was welcome.  Then U.S. 12 between Aberdeen and I-29 was made a 4-lane highway, which made the trip much easier and safer.  

In traveling, there is always the matter of having to relieve oneself.   Many of those trips between Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, particularly the ones involving professional business, were fueled by coffee early in the morning and late at night.  And when copious amounts of coffee are ingested to maintain alertness, there is the frequent need to eliminate it.  And when traveling with children, there are multiple needs.  

On lonelier by ways,  those needs can be attended to by simply pulling to the side of the road when there is no traffic and testing the drainage efficiency of a ditch or stepping into  a cornfield to help irrigate the crop.  Yes,  I know that's easy for males to say.  And I have taught young males, however, not to face into the wind.  But that brings up the need for convenient, safe, and sanitary places for conducting the necessary business of life.

South Dakota had rest areas on U.S. 12.  They were wooded strips where you

Not even these anymore.
could pull off the highway that featured a few picnic tables and a couple of vault toilets.  Vault toilets are a concrete building over a concrete septic tank over which there is, usually, a steel commode.  They are not very inviting.  They reek.  They are not very clean.  People, especially women, are very cautious about putting their posteriors in contact with the seats.  And the walls were decorated with graffiti that made one nervous about the kind of people you might encounter there.

One of these areas was at Bath and another at Webster.  There was also a public  vault toilet at an access area to Enemy Swim Lake at Waubay.  Late one October evening when returning from a meeting in Sioux Falls with a teacher from the School for the Visually Handicapped,  I needed to stop at the Bath rest area.  When I opened the latrine door, I jumped back about 20 feet.  Someone had rigged a dummy on the toilet seat for Halloween.  The Webster rest area became infamous when an old farmer stopped at it one night on his way home from a restaurant.  Someone shot him through the closed door while he was on the commode.  The murder was never solved.  Both rest areas were demolished when U.S. 12 was widened into a four-lane.

Now if you have to go while east bound during the 75 miles between Aberdeen and I-29 you have to hold it until you get to Summit at the junction,  unless you want to try a business or a ditch.  At Summit is what has grown into an unusually busy travel and truck stop which features big restrooms, a big convenience store, and even a food court, which includes a Caribou Coffee station so you can load up for your next stop.  

And that gets to the point of this post.  Between Summit and Sioux Falls were built two rest areas.  One, Hidewood,  is 15 miles south of Watertown.  The other south pf Brookings.   This spring the South Dakota Department of Transportation announced it was closing them.  They did.  But they also have closed the one south of Brookings, but have made no explanations for that.  I nearly always stopped at the Hidewood rest areas.  I have even been involved in meetings at the picnic shelters, when it was necessary to have face-to-face meetings and an exchange of documents for professional business.  The rest areas made convenient places for people in eastern South Dakota to organize quick meetings.  

But now as one travels I-29, there are no rest areas open between U.S. 12 and Sioux Falls, no public places to pee or simply pause to stretch the legs.  Apparently, some other people have noticed.   Reporter Bob Mercer has received comments from readers and a hearing is scheduled for the people who recommended and enacted the closings to explain them.  

Contrast South Dakota with neighboring states.  When I travel to Illinois, I am always happy to reach Iowa as  I drive I-29 and then onto I-80.  Rest areas are about 30 miles apart, offer wi fi, and are well-maintained.  Many rest areas have been upgraded to be almost luxurious.  South Dakota does not seem to understand the principle of hospitality.  The officials  talk about the money they save rather than the comfort and convenience of the travelers.  That is why travel in South Dakota is an arduous  task in which you are on your own in carrying out the necessary tasks,  while in other states  you are made to feel welcome and provided for.  

Frugality rules over hospitality as the prevailing value.  And that is clearly stated as you travel through the state.  Another way of telling travelers they aren't welcome and are a bit of a nuisance.  Message received.  


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Don't worry about ticks; the Internet is much more likely to infect you

Of late, scientific researchers have found that ticks carry many more diseases than Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease.  In today's local trivia paper,  there is a rather lengthy article on ticks and how to avoid them.  Such articles usually appear in April, when it's wet and cool and ticks are hungry from the long winter.  Newspapers yearly print an article warning you about the dangers of ticks and giving the advice that if you venture outside into tickland,  tuck your pants into your socks.  A bunch of adults roaming the woods with their pants tucked into their socks makes the owls hoot in broad daylight.  But today's article appears in late July, when it's too damned hot for ticks.  They generally have returned to the soil where they will escape the heat until rain and cool brings them out in September to lurk and wait for some warm-blooded creature to brush up against them.  

People really hate ticks because they are creepy crawlers who hunt for places to stick their heads into you and suck blood.  Mosquitos do the same, but they don't crawl and creep on you, but come in and dance around like sugar-plum fairies to extract your blood.  We hate mosquitoes and they carry lots of pathogens, too, but they aren't as repulsive to us as creepy crawlers.  We are fond of sugar-plum fairies.  I've never met one I didn't like.  Well, actually  I've never met one.

There are things much more dangerous and deadly to humankind than ticks and mosquitoes.  The Internet is one.  A big one.  

Some folks have noticed that I do not blog much anymore.  That is not because I am not thinking about the state of human affairs and writing about it.  But just as ticks and mosquitoes are vectors of deadly diseases, so is the Internet and the social media it enables.  I still believe that the Internet is a tremendous boon to human communication, but it is also a great proliferator of the mental pestilence that infects so much of human society and consumes so much of our attention.  It is a major medium of recruitment for ISIS.  In their attempt to disrupt democracies,  the Russians have used it to invade America and spread the degenerative pathogens that have put U.S. democracy on the critically ill list.  The people who support and defend Donald Trump have the same mental infirmity as those who are lured to support and fight for ISIS.  And the Internet is the main vector of the pathogens.  To write on the Internet is to willingly expose ideas and words to the carriers of pestilence.  It is absurd to try to communicate with people who have been reduced to a malevolent idiocy,  or to include them in  dialogue which they quickly reduce to moronic howling.  That is what Trump's daily tweets amount to, and no one around him can get him to stop.  The solution is to isolate him in the loony ward, which is what the Oval Office has become.  Save your intelligence for people who have the capacity to respect it.  

Writing on the Internet is much like going naked into the woods on a cool, moist day and communing with the ticks, the mosquitoes, and perhaps a plague-carrying flea or two.  It is to feed the vectors of plagues for which there are no cures, only strategies for prevention.  Donald Trump is just a symptom of a plague that is rampant among the American people.  The political divide which has been characterized by people avoiding contact with each other is actually the healthy population trying to avoid infectious contact with those afflicted by lethal pathogens.  The healthy need to gather in mental enclaves and explore ways to save democracy and decency as a way of life.  We are reduced to the kind of desperate divisions of people fleeing for their lives from the medieval plagues.  

My contact with the Internet is limited to protected discussions which the unhealthy, we hope, cannot find to infect with their degenerative motives.  Dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy, but when the dialogue is infected with malice, it is death to democracy.  You don't  believe it?  Take a peek in the Oval Office.  

The Internet is a valuable resource.  We are working to find ways to use it in developing an immunity to the malice that rages through the land.  So far, ISIS, Donald Trump, and the Russians use it more effectively than do the forces of liberty and good will.  And so,  I tuck my pants in my socks,  douse myself in DEET, and trudge on,  being very selective about what  i come into contact with.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Surviving a blow job

Bill Clinton  among the Bushes.  
The Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal was blazing in the media in 1998. I was not much involved in partisan politics at the time,  but I was very much engaged in issues that had political consequences.  As a professor,  there were a number of matters I was tracking and supporting through Congress , and work on them slowed down severely as the nation obsessed over  blow jobs in the  Oval Office.

I was a frequent visitor to the Aberdeen offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson.  My spouse was a staff member in the  Daschle office,  but my visits were mostly to keep abreast of and stay engaged with the issues  which I and some colleagues had interests in advancing.  John Thune was the U.S Representative, but the nonpartisan group I worked with had little trust in him and little to do with him.  He was referred to as that "feckless f*cker."   Staff members of the two senators kept us updated on our interests and helped us with various agencies and departments of government with which we had business.  Our interests involved copyright and academic freedom issues,  access to records, civil rights, the environment,  and the many things that professors and other professionals work with.  There were some local projects we thought were important for the community, too, such as making U.S. 12 a four-lane highway to connect with I-29.

But as the Clinton-Lewinsky affair moved toward impeachment,  government was at a standstill at times.  It was difficult to carry on the routine work, and members of Congress and their staffs reflected the frustration.  Like many of my colleagues,  I was frustrated that Clinton, who was under investigation almost continuously, would do something that would give his opponents further cause to attack him and create more obstructions.  Our exasperation reached a point where we were going to circulate a letter asking for his resignation.  Such a letter was drafted, and we were making plans for obtaining signatures of influential people.  Then one day, a staff member for Sen. Daschle asked to speak with us.

He was a specialist on agricultural issues, and he came from Washington along with a staff member from a North Dakota senator to meet with us. They weren't coming to town just to speak to us, but were on a mission on which our letter might have some effect.   There was a new farm bill in place, but 1998 saw a sharp downturn in the agricultural economy for the northern plains.  Senators and staff members from the upper plains were working hard on measures that would provide relief for farmers and ranchers in the region.  They had worked out a plan with President Clinton and needed his cooperation and leadership to pass it successfully through Congress.  Their message to us was that we should register our concerns with the President, but that any additional controversy and pressure could further obstruct important business that needed to get done.  They said there was an effort to impeach the President under way along with investigations into the affair,  and we should let those efforts work their course rather than take actions that could bring government to a halt.  

Clinton was impeached late that year and later acquitted of the charges against him.  But in the meantime  $500 million was appropriated to bolster farmers, provisions were made to enhance the trade of farm products, and adjustments were made in the existing farm program,  all of which took prodigious work on the part of senators and the President.  

In the end, we decided not to circulate the letter, and the Lewinsky affair did not bring down government,  but its leader arduously and deftly worked to address serious issues among the people.  We survived a blow job.  But can we survive a blow hard who has nothing in place to actually help the people?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Voting with feet, billfolds, and guns

A question raised about the Holocaust is why the Jews did not fight back against the Nazi pogrom against them.  Actually, many did.  But many others thought that violent resistance would only escalate the violence rather than counter the persecution against the Jewish people.  They thought a reasonable, civil approach had more opportunity to save lives and reduce the acts of hate.  As the Holocaust progressed in Germany, Jews did try to leave the country.  But they faced the same issues that Muslim refugees face today. Countries to which they could flee worried about the number of refugees they could accept and denied entrance into their countries.  There was also anti-semitic opposition to accepting them throughout the world, including the U.S.

After the end of World War II,  it took fifty years before the discussion about the Holocaust confronted the fact that many people in the Nazi-occuped countries willingly and aggressively collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews.  The popular notion was that the Nazis took over and intimidated and coerced good people to ignore their prosecution of the Holocaust.  The fact was that "good people" zealously supported the Nazis and participated in the atrocities.  

The election of Donald Trump as president has exposed the real political divide in America.  Many "good Americans"  wish ill on many others.  The resentment over having a black president powered a resurgence of racism in the country.  Then Donald Trump put on an exhibition during the election campaign of lying, malicious defamations, and hate of Muslims and others that was once the epitome of what America is against.  After his election, the early days of his administration have revealed that those odious malignancies of character are exactly what many Americans are for--a constituency large enough to affect the electoral college.  Other Americans are loathe to admit that so many of their countrymen and women do not, in fact, support the foundations of American democracy--freedom, equality, and justice--except for themselves.  The country is falling away from those characteristics that defined the greatest generation.  

Trump has defined the people  who support him.  He is the culmination of America's slide into an anti-intellectualism and ignorance that scholars and journalists have noted, but which sentient Americans have chose to ignore.  That America which once led the world in scientific, technological, and social advancement has fallen behind, and leadership has been taken over by countries  it once inspired.  

The national attention also ignores the fact that the deterioration of the political climate in the U.S. has caused significant numbers of people to abandon American democracy as having possibilities for them.  While the Trump-inspired rage about immigrants from Mexico consumes our attention,  we ignore the fact that a million Americans have expatriated to Mexico.  And while we joke about moving to Canada to avoid life under Trump,  another million or more Americans have, in fact, moved there.  People are voting with their feet.

Those that find relocating is not a possibility are making the way they spend their money a political issue.  In some cases there are boycott lists.  A number of lists of sponsors of Rush Limbaugh are in circulation.  However, politics operates at the grass roots level.  I know quite a significant number of people who avoid patronizing local merchants because of their political affiliations.  Online buying has created optional sources for purchasing goods. In South Dakota, declining sales tax revenues are a result of people buying online.  People often make their purchases online to avoid patronizing local merchants for political reasons.  This attitude reaches into the church.  People cannot reconcile political beliefs and practices of some worshippers with the teachings of their religion.  They no longer regard church as a source of spiritual strength, but see it as just another ploy to justify bigotry and discrimination.  So, they don't go to church or participate in any religious activity or otherwise support churches.  Whether as customers or patrons, they don't spend time or money on entities that counter their values.

A problem for the Jewish resistance to the Holocaust was to determine at what point force was justified.  If violence is resorted to by people who are the targets of extermination, the government is provided a reason to intensify its efforts against the target group.  Blacks in America are facing just such a circumstance.  The shooting of blacks, many unarmed, by the police resulted in the Black Lives Matter movement, which enraged many white Americans.  Whites responded with the retort that all lives matter,  totally dismissing the many instances of black people being gunned down and otherwise exterminated by law enforcement officers.  There were some cases of targeting police officers in retaliation, but no acknowledgment that black communities have good reason to believe that they are under assault by law enforcement.  Rather the the response is to decry that the guardians of our public safety might be under attack.  

In a number of cases where police officers have been brought to trial for the gratuitous shootings of blacks,  the juries have acquitted them.  These acquittals carry an ominous message to the black communities that in the minds of white America,  black lives are negligible.  And that message is a loud declaration of war.  

Many of the episodes of black men being shot down have been captured on video.  Videos entered the picture with the beating of Rodney King in the early 1990s, which led to the Los Angeles riots when his police assailants were acquitted.  There is a recent set of videos in circulation which has produced some protests,  but is building a strong justification for violent resistance.  

Philando Castile in his seat belt after bring hit by seven police bullets.

The first video is from the phone of Philando Castile's girlfriend, taken immediately after a policeman pumped seven shots into his body while his friend sat next to him with her daughter in the back seat of his car.  The second is from the dash cam on the policeman's squad car, which was played at the policeman's trial at which he was acquitted. Together, the videos signify a state of war in which the rules of engagement are that black men can be killed under any pretext and the justice system will endorse those rules.  It does not take much imagination to perceive what is like to be a member of a group that is declared an enemy and is targeted for extermination.  The consistent message in the shootings is that black people are exempted from the protections of liberty, equality, and justice, and people can fire at them at will, as in the Trayvon Martin case.  Black people in America are facing the question that Jews in Germany did in the 1930s:  at what point are you justified in taking pre-emptive action against the genocide against your people?  

It is not only African Americans who are facing that question.  People on the left have been under a decades-long assault of defamations and accusations that underlies what has become the intransigent political divide in America that has brought it to a state of paralysis.  While political disagreement has always been a source of friction,  the malicious defamations against the left led by Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts have agitated the right into a state of fuming hatred of the kind that Goebbels inspired in Germans against the Jews. The right's enmity toward the left is an extension of the racial hatred that some of its adherents once reserved for the blacks.    It has escalated into an incivil war.  The decades of constant insult, abuse, and false accusations has turned contenders of differing political views into bitter, dangerous enemies.  So, to some we've reached that point where violent resistance seems like the only option for survival.

The case of James Hodgkinson,  who opened fire on Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game, illustrates the point.   As with many people who engage in mass shootings,  he had anger issues which seem to have got the better of him.  But as the media reported on his political activity,  it turned up his anti-Trump positions,  but none of them were of an unreasoned radical, nature.  They were, in fact, rather ordinary fact-based complaints on Trump and Republican policies.  And that is the point where information about Hodgkinson stopped being released.  The case dropped out of the news,  as some journalist colleagues pointed out, when there was no evidence that Hodgkinson had been radicalized.  In the atmosphere of enmity and persecution and hopelessness of our political climate, there is the strong possibility that he made an assessment with evidence to support it that the time for violent resistance had come.  If a rather ordinary man reached that conclusion, how many others might also?  The political climate is volatile.

Some Republican congressmen have spoken out in support of discriminating against people, such as one suggesting that diabetics should not deserve health insurance benefits because the disease is their own fault.  Administration officials have instituted policies to refute proven facts and hard science.  Such  political atmosphere puts rational people on alert.  And then the NRA unleashes a recruiting ad which identifies "the left" as an enemy against which people need to take up arms.  
The ad may motivate people to arm against the left,   but it may convince the left to arm against the right.

People in America of differing politics, creeds, and ethnic groups don't like each other very much.  Their dislike is sparked by defamations in the social media and confirmed by reports of behavior of fellow humans in the traditional press.  Violence by mass shooters,  shootings of unarmed people by the police, shootings of the police by ambush,  and menacing insults spewed out by the president all contribute to a sense that people have to make a decision.  And that decision is whether it is time to walk away from America,  make economic decisions on the basis of politics,  or stand their ground and resist with violence.   Or choose all three, so that history will not need to ask why they didn't resist.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States