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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, September 25, 2020

Resident expatriates

A  hundred years ago, after World War I ended, a number of young people, including the writers Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, fled America to become expatriates in Europe.  They centered their lives around Paris, although they ventured into many parts of Europe.  They were called the Lost Generation.  Their movement was not political as much as a cultural and social rejection of what their home country was becoming. They felt that the values they inherited were no longer relevant and they felt alienated within their country.   So, many left.  That left many other people in the country who felt disaffected, but did not have the means or opportunity  to leave.  They were resident expatriates, who felt culturally and socially alien in their homeland.  

We have a number of resident expatriates in our current population.  They don't receive much notice.  They are people who have given up on the nation's political process and do not  participate.  I realize that, more and more, I am drifting into that category.   This is not the country I once served to defend. In many ways, it has become what we were defending against.  When the people chose Donald Trump as president, it made many people question if the USA was the kind of country they want to be a part of.  They realize that something is wrong in America that can't be corrected by an election.  It is an infirmity that is too deep and beyond the reach of any political process to make right. After years of making progress in matters of civil rights and equality, the nation has taken a severe lurch backward.  Trump is the symptom of a deeper malaise that possesses the nation.  

For people who truly want freedom, equality, and justice rather the petty advantage and corruption that seems to be the ideals that so many seek, it seems a time to pull back citizenship and see what the country wants to  be.  It seems better to escape the inane political dialogue than to be part of it.  It is not a matter of leaving the country.  Sometimes it's a matter of the country leaving us.

Friday, September 18, 2020

On the matter of the CEO of the United States

I was the business editor for a newspaper, a job I did not particularly like because dealing with some businesses was disagreeable.  Those were the businesses that tried to get things published that were not true, things that created a favorable image that did not correspond to the reality of the business.  Because businesses buy advertising and have promotional organizations such as chambers of commerce working in their behalf, it can be hazardous for a local newspaper to publish accurate reports on how some businesses conduct themselves.  Newspapers are careful not to offend the business communities that support them.   So, often they print pieces that give businesses good but false images.

The editor of the newspaper wanted to keep an amiable relationship with the business community but said we should never print anything that was not true.  When we received glowing press releases from businesses, our task was to boil them down to the hard, verifiable facts.  That often led to contentious calls with public relations personnel.  Such press releases often contained quotations from high corporate officers, and our attempts to verify and clarify facts often led to confrontations with those officers.

CEOs do not like to have their pronouncements challenged for clarification or evidence on which they are based.  Within their companies, anything the CEO says is gospel and no one who wants to keep their job dares refute it.  Thus, when a CEO must defend a statement before the press, they get enraged that their words are not accepted with the same obsequiousness as they are within the company.

That is the problem Donald Trump is having in trying to be president of the U.S.  He thought he could run the country like a business, but he finds that he is called out when he lies, his bumbling is criticized, and his vanities are not tolerated.  He reacts by insulting and abusing those who challenge him.  And he throws juvenile tantrums in public, which erode any inclination to  work with him.

On the other hand, those who support him and carry out his orders are regarded as degraded sucks.  Being a suck does not reap the same rewards in a democratic  nation as it does within a company.  

Trump is demonstrating for the world why a democratic organization can't be run like a business.  A  leader who tries to dictate in a democracy  is constantly challenged by people with better information and better minds.  A leader has to respond to the people and has to find ways to reconcile differing ideas and ways of doing things.  That is beyond anything in Trump's experience and abilities.  And his absurd lies degrade the entire nation.  Here is an example of one of his tweets today:


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Report on the decline of America

 The Social Progress Index indicates that America is one of the few countries in the world that is rapidly sinking to a lower state. The Index measures 50 factors of national development, such as nutrition, safety, freedom, the environment, health, education, and the like.  The U.S. has sunk to 28 in national rankings.

U.S. citizens have been so indoctrinated into believing America is the citadel of freedom and progress  and the greatest country in the world that they cannot perceive what is actually going on in America.  Any criticism about the nation is considered unAmerican.  They are totally ignorant of the critical edge that elevated America into world prominence.  They are blinded by jingoism to what America has become.

To people who have studied the development of America, its decline is obvious.  One of the glaring symptoms is the election of Donald Trump as president and the fact that so many hang onto every inane word he says and act that he does.  The rest of the world sees and understands America's decline.  A huge segment of Americans doesn't.

I was recently witness to a discussion in which a man said that if Trump were re-elected president, America will have become a country in which he could no longer be a citizen.  A women said she could not see how he could say something like that.  And he said that is precisely the problem over which he would have to leave.  Trump is what voters chose, and many people realize those voters have degraded America.  They are what the nation has become.  Trump embodies the nation's moral and intellectual failure.

 The New York Times reports:

The decline of the United States over the last decade in this index — more than any country in the world — is a reminder that we Americans face structural problems that predate President Trump and that festered under leaders of both parties. Trump is a symptom of this larger malaise, and also a cause of its acceleration

Monday, September 7, 2020

The eternal battle against stupidity

At times, when I was in elementary school, the walk to school was ominous.  Houses along the way would be posted with orange quarantine signs.  Some schoolmates would reside in those houses. I was warned to stay away from those houses.

The diseases that were the occasion for posting such signs were measles, scarlet fever, maybe small pox, diphtheria, and some I don't remember.  But those diseases have been controlled, some eliminated, by vaccines.  Having one of those signs on a house was a great embarrassment.  While intended to designate a germ source for the purpose of limiting contact and disease transmission, it also stigmatized the occupants of the house.  Children who lived in a designated quarantine house were avoided by other children at the instruction of their parents long after the sign was removed.  Humans have a boundless capacity for stupidity and cruelty, and a quarantine was a fine excuse to unleash it all.  

I was reminded of this when I heard some elementary kids in the neighborhood taunt some other kids by calling them covids. Children reflect adult society.  Those neighborhood children reflect the absurdity of adults dividing  themselves over wearing masks.  People are showing up at local government meetings that deal with rules for trying to control Covid-19 and expressing their opposition. They say they aren't afraid of the coronavirus, as they deride those who wear masks, as if disease  can be avoided or combatted with defiance.  

The pandemic has exposed a deeper failing in American life.  In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln prompted the nation toward a life "with malice toward none with charity for all," at which the country has failed spectacularly.   Perhaps fail is not the right word.  It is more that a great number of Americans simply choose otherwise.  They choose malice as a way of life.  And malice is the product of stupidity.  Before a nation can successfully conquer a pandemic, it must first deal with the malice that accepts 190,000 deaths among 6.2 million cases of coronavirus as a normal course of life. It is a matter of malice when people do not take care to possibly spread  a disease to other people.  It is the same kind of behavior as drunk driving.  That means a confrontation with obstinate stupidity, which for many people is a matter of choice, not necessarily a condition at birth.  

Civilization has always had a battle with stupidity.  It has not yet determined which side will win.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Defining idiot

I've seen a number of videos in which people entering a store are told they must wear a mask and go ballistic and rant about their rights and no one has the right to tell them what to do.  When it comes to the spread of a communicable disease, the states by law have the right to take measures to prevent the spread of disease.  Even South Dakota has such a law:

34-22-9State-wide system for prevention, control, and treatment of communicable disease--Promulgation of rules.The department shall establish and direct the operations of a state-wide system for communicable disease prevention, control, and treatment. The department may promulgate rules, pursuant to chapter 1-26, to:(1)    Conduct communicable disease surveillance which includes detection, assessment, and analysis;(2)    Prescribe criteria for communicable disease case definitions;(3)    Prescribe procedures for communicable disease case and contact notification, referral, and management;(4)    Prescribe methods and procedures for the prevention and control of communicable disease;(5)    Prescribe methods and procedures for the control of communicable disease patients and carriers, including the monitoring, quarantine, and isolation of any patient or carrier;(6)    Prescribe medical and posttreatment supervision measures for communicable disease patients and carriers;(7)    Prescribe methods and procedures for the prevention and control of occupationally-related communicable diseases; and(8)    Prescribe procedures for infection prevention measures for communicable disease control and prevention.

What these ranters seem to be contending is that they have the right to spread disease if they want to.  At this time, we have only two measures that are known to help contain the Covid-19 virus:  wearing masks and keeping a social distance from others.  Other people's right to life and to be protected from a lethal disease is the real issue.  But that seems to be more than the intellects of some people can deal with.  They can only grasp that someone who might be a libtard is trying to tell them what to do.

When one encounters these confrontations, whether in person at a business entrance or in the comment sections of the media, social and otherwise, there is a striking aspect of their communication.  They usually have literacy problems.  They show a lack of ability in the use of language, and they show an incredible ignorance of the democratic culture in which they live.  They cannot seem to understand that other people have unalienable rights, too, such as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  One is tempted to call them idiots.

But that is an overused epithet that has lost its effect.  At one time idiot had a scientific meaning.  It referred to the lowest grade of a person with a mental deficiency, an IQ of 25 or below.  Scientists have abandoned the use of the term because of its everyday use as an insult.  Those obnoxious people we encounter who rave under the pretext of asserting their rights to be stupid and to rave give good reason to apply  the term to them, but such labeling dismisses a more insidious aspect that makes up the characters of such people.  And that is that those who choose to be stupid are usually mean.  Viciously mean.  They have a need to have human objects to hate and abuse.

A fact denied by many is that malice is a part of human life.  Human beings simply are not the nicest critters on the planet.   When people cling to an attitude of malice, the brain cells become malignant.  And people become stupid.  And mean. We now have a president who appeals to malice and encourages its spread.  Consequently, we have people who exhibit idiotic behavior about the spread of Covid-19.  

And we have a pandemic that shows no sign of relenting.  That's because, ultimately, you can't fix stupid.  And stupid malice can kill us all.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States