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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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Al Franken gets caught with his skits down

Al Franken revived a boob routine and it fell flat

Those of us ancient enough to remember Minsky's recognized burlesque routine in the photo of Al Franken about to make an adjustment with Leeann Tweeden's knobs.  Hooters,  boobs, knockers, the human female mammaries referred to in some way were the focus of many comedy routines in the old burlesque houses of which Minsky's was a chain..  The lines that would be said with the routine recreated by Franken could be any such as,
  • "Stand by.  I'm about to turn it on."
  • "I'll keep tuning; I think I'm getting Hong Kong."
  • "Let's see if we can get the news."
  • "How much do you have to turn 'em to get the eyes open?"
  • And on and on.
Burlesque houses featured strip-tease acts, but also vaudeville and comedy routines.  Many famous comedians honed their comic skills in burlesque theaters.  The kinds of shows that were featured in burlesque houses found a lucrative home in  Las Vegas in later years.  

Burlesque is a form of parody that often descends into crudeness.    It strips away the pretenses of humankind and puts on display the things that motivate it.  Satire is a mode of exposing the phony and the oppressive, and it often leads to a higher sensibility.  An example is illustrated through the career of Richard Pryor.  One of his best known and best selling routines was recorded in an album called  "That Nigger's Crazy."  Black comedians used the N-word as a parodic way of reflecting the minds of white bigots.  But as Pryor realized how much blacks were hurt by use of the word,  he vowed to stop using it in his later years.

I don't know about the kissing part of the accusations against Al Franken, but I recognize an old routine whose time is gone.  A woman's body is not a stage prop and the time when anyone can get by using it that way is gone.  We are dealing with the process of extending equal rights and respect.  In his apology to Ms. Tweeden, Franken acknowledged that.  But maybe too late.  There seems to be more interest in banishing Franken than in the working on a just society.

The Rialto in Chicago, long gone, was a Minsky burlesque theater.  While it featured striptease, it also featured elaborate costumes and dances and classic comedy routines.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why you may not have noticed that America ended

We tend to forget and ignore those voices that have thought democracy cannot work.  But after the election of Donald Trump as president, those voices have taken on a new relevance.  Whereas the  U.S. was once held up as the living proof that democracy, although messy and cumbersome, can work,  since the reign of Donald Trump it is held up as evidence that it doesn't.

While thinkers have probed the weakness of the democratic ideal since Plato, one of the most commanding voices to express doubt about the efficacy of democracy was Thomas Carlyle's.  He said:

I do not believe in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.
Democracy will prevail when men believe the vote of Judas as good as that of Jesus Christ.
Published 2016
A book published last year by a Georgetown professor is one of the latest examinations of why democracy is not the blessing we like to think it is.   Jason Brennan contends:

But democracy is the rule of the ignorant and the irrational, and it all too often falls short. Furthermore, no one has a fundamental right to any share of political power, and exercising political power does most of us little good. On the contrary, a wide range of social science research shows that political participation and democratic deliberation actually tend to make people worse—more irrational, biased, and mean.
The election of Donald Trump, after a campaign of displaying all the traits that are the opposite of the values our country once professed, proved Brennan's point.  Irrational rejection of science,  lying, defamation, and most expressions of debased character became the operating principles of the nation.   After Trump's constant exposure, the people who voted for him were either knowingly voting for his degenerate values or were too stupid to know what they were doing. That has caused a split in the American people which cannot be reconciled because it is not a political divide:   it is a split over basic values of decency.

After winning some elections Tuesday throughout the nation,  Democrats are claiming a resurgence and a reunification.  They do so with a foolish disregard of their own turmoil.  The contest between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has produced a strain of hatred for Hillary Clinton that parallels the malice and mindless rage of Trump's defamations against her.   Many Democrats are repulsed and dismayed by this fall into degradation and choose to disassociate themselves from those who indulge in it.

And that leads to the status of Democrats in South Dakota.   I have written many times about the diminishing number of Democrats I noted when  I was the keeper of the list of most active party members.  While attrition, including moving out of state, accounted for much of the loss, there was a significant number of people who simply dropped out of active participation.  In some cases, people told me that the social experiences and treatment they received at Democratic functions was not something they wanted to put up with.  These experiences were connected with the tactics and internal manipulations by people within the party.  When people within a party display conniving and mean-girl behavior,  they call into question the integrity of the party as a whole.  And this not only drives people away from the party, but it calls into question all political activity.  People give up on politics as a degrading experience.

South Dakota's voter registration figures illustrate the trend.  In the chart below the Republicans comprise 46 percent of the voters, the Democrats 30 percent, and independent-non-affiliated 22 percent.  While the Republicans have added voters,  as the Democratic rolls have diminished, the largest surge is in the independent registrations.  

Current Statewide Voter Registration Totals
DemocratRepublicanConstitutionLibertarianNPA/IND*Other**Total Active VotersTotal Inactive Voters
Tuesday's elections were considered referendums on Trump.  The Democrats should not be so foolish as to consider a rejection of Trump as a success of their party, when they often display the same kind of behavior as Trump and the GOP does.  

Increasing numbers of voters are repulsed by the entire political enterprise as it has been conducted of late, and the Democrats have contributed to the growing perception that democracy as it is practiced is not working.  People who do politics are perceived as not very nice people--ignorant, irrational, biased, and mean.  

There are alternatives to Democrats and Republicans, and informed people are exploring them.  Brennan suggests "epistocracy" which means governing by the knowledgeable.  American democracy has lost the belief and trust it once had.  The election of Trump has proven that Americans are as susceptible to moral and intellectual failure as the Germans of the 1930s.  American democracy, as we have come to understand it, is going out of business.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The general doubt

It's an old joke from the era of the draft, but it has particular relevance in this time of generals in the president's cabinet.

The recently drafted slick-sleeve walks by his  post commander, a general,  and does not salute.  The general calls him to a halt and stands him at attention for a dressing down.       
"Do you know who I am, soldier?" the general bellows.        
"Nope," the draftee replies.      
 "Do you see all these buildings, these weapons, and all the troops on this   post?           
"Well, none of them do anything unless I say that they do it. And they do  everything I tell them to.  I control everything on this post. That's my job."        
"You've got a good deal, man," said the recruit.  "Don't fuck it up."
Some generals have shown major talents for fucking up.  Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn who was trusted to be made director of the Defense Intelligence Agency  under President Obama and then Security Adviser to Trump turned out to be an intelligence double-dealer.  It is widely anticipated that the Special Counsel will prosecute him for his betrayals.

But then comes along John Kelly, a Lt. General of the Marines, who Trump appointed to director of Homeland Security and after six months to his Chief of Staff.  A Gold Star father, whose son was killed when he stepped on a land mine, Kelly was expected to bring some order and discipline to the White House.  However, when Trump got into a tiff with a U.S. Representive over how he handled a phone call to the wife of a special operations soldier killed on a mission, Kelly said some derogatory things about the representative.  He said she made a speech in Miami during the dedication of a new FBI facility in which she claimed credit for the building.  A Florida TV station had a video tape of her speech which shows that she said none of the things of which Kelly accused her.  

After the news media played the video on news shows,  Kelly refused to admit his error.  He said he would not apologize and would stand by his words.  That changed him from a chief of staff and ex=general who might have been mistaken into a liar.  And the lie was maintained against proof and with malice,  which makes Kelly a libeler.  Libel is the major tool in the GOP bag of trips.  But when generals who make the decisions about the lives of the troops and the welfare of the nation are proven to be betrayers, liars, and libelers,  we have serious reason to question if they capable of protecting the nation,  as they have become the kind of people we wish to protect the nation against.  

The one thing Flynn and Kelly have taught is that there is no honor in being a general.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States