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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

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

You want WHO running your healthcare? Revisited.

After 14 years, the miserable experience we had in the emergency room still nags at me.  I now think I should have taken some action against the hospital personnel.  They were incompetent.  This incident occurred the day after Christmas in 2007.

The incident touches many of our current political issues: teen-age drivers, health care, especially healthcare, law enforcement records, and insurance laws. And dealing with bureaucracies.

We were less than a hundred miles from Denver, just passing Fort Morgan on I-76 a few minutes after 7 p.m. the day after Christmas. A long string of emergency vehicles was lined up on the right shoulder with yellow lights flashing and flood lights illuminating the scene. I slowed down and moved over to the left lane into the cautious line of traffic that was carefully obeying the laws about how to proceed around emergency crews.

As the procession of vehicles moved past the police cruisers, fire trucks, and ambulances, I saw no vehicles approaching us in the rear view mirrors. As we passed the emergency vehicles, I noted an unusual amount of smoke around one of the patrol cars, and just as we passed it is when I felt the jolt and heard the bang. I said to my wife, in the manner of the mayor of Hiroshima, “What the f*** was that?” I thought a vehicle at the side of the road had exploded. I was pushed onto the left shoulder of the Interstate, but could not slow the car or bring it to a stop, so I drove onto the median hoping the snow would help slow down our car, which it did and we came to a stop.

It was not an explosion. We were rear-ended by a 17-year-old girl in a car with three other kids. This I learned from a state trooper who came to the emergency room where we were being treated and gave us a report. We were hit from behind by a car going at a very high rate of speed and because we were in motion, the impact accelerated our speed. The line of traffic in the left lane was doing about 40; the young woman was doing about 80. Apparently, with the impact, my hand struck the cruise control lever and the car was resuming cruising speed and that is why it was difficult to bring the car to a stop. But that is a small part of the story,

Our car carried our rescued greyhound Ingrid in the back seat and a load of Christmas presents in the cargo area. We traveled quite some distance before I could bring it to a stop and it took some minutes for emergency personnel to reach us. They had witnessed the collision. I managed to get out of the car and saw that our rear end was totally mashed in. It was 7 degrees outside, so I put my coat on and in doing so felt twinges in my back and neck. A fireman named David was the first to reach our car and he, of course, asked if we were okay. Neither of us was sure. We were confused about what had happened.

An ambulance drove up and some EMTs thought that we should be checked over at the hospital. They asked us to get out of the car and take off our coats and back up to those hard, flat back boards that they strap you to and immobilize you with. We were strapped and taped down to the boards. However, Virginia had found our cell phones, had one arm free, and had our Aberdeen insurance agent on the phone while we were still in the ambulance. I was in the emergency room for about an hour strapped to the board, but any pain I felt was from an arthritic hip that was protesting at being immobilized on a hard board in a very uncomfortable position. All I needed to do was to be able to elevate my knee a bit to relieve the pressure, but the medical personnel said they could not loosen the straps and I must remain immobilized until I was checked over. After an hour or so, I was given a cat-scan and finally an MD came in. He said, “You’re neck is a mess.”

I have been dealing with arthritis problems in it for years, and I replied I was aware of that. My concern was that the impact may have aggravated those problems. The cat-scan showed that the impact probably knocked loose some bony tissue, but nothing of note seemed broken.

Except for the emergency and health care system in which I found myself an unwilling victim.

Virginia had made sure that Ingrid would be taken care of before we were transported to the hospital. If Ingrid gets off leash, she sometimes gives in to the urge to show off her speed. (She won or placed in 35 of her 84 career races.) We feared that she might take off down the Interstate. Emergency personnel assured us she would be taken care of.

These people were doing their best.

However, the emergency room was another story. The personnel were in no hurry to examine us, but once they did they were clearly very anxious to get rid of us. However, we were interviewed by a state policeman for his report. He is the one who told us we were rear-ended and the young driver was cited for a bunch of stuff. We were given some vials of Vicodon and 800-mg. Motrin, I was put in a cervical collar, and told we could wait for whatever rides we had arranged in the reception room. No one asked if we had arrangements to go anywhere or any way to get there.

Dr. Lang, the emergency room physician and the other medical personnel were clearly anxious to be rid of us—once they were sure they had all the billing information they needed. They ushered us to a waiting room and said we could wait there until our transportation arrived. That was the last we saw of any hospital personnel.. I was having muscle spasm that felt like I was being hit in the back with a sledge hammer. The Vicodin and Motrin were useless.

We had a hotel room reserved in Denver. Both my oldest daughter, my son, and a nephew live in Denver. We called them and told them what happened, and they immediately left their evening jobs and piled into two RAV4s to come get us and haul all the cargo to Denver. They arrived after an hour's wait in the waiting room, and we went about the business of collecting Ingrid and retrieving the items from our wrecked car, which included our coats, our eyeglasses—which we found missing while we were in the emergency room, and must have flown off from the impact—and our luggage and the gifts.

Getting Ingrid was no problem. A deputy sheriff had taken her to the local animal shelter. His dispatcher called him and he met us at the shelter, and Ingrid was happy to be reunited.

Getting the stuff out of our car was another matter. The tow-truck operator had locked our car in a compound, and he refused to come out and open it up because it was late and he had settled in for the evening. We had to return in the morning during business hours if we wanted our belongings.

So we headed to/Denver in zero-degree weather without coats, turning up the car heat, and drove the two hours to our hotel in Denver. Daughter Leslie stopped by her house and lent us some parkas and t-shirts we could use for pajamas. We were glad to get the hell out of Ft. Morgan.

The story goes on for seven months, involving surgery, and a car that was returned to us in July after $18,000 had been spent to repair it, and it had over 20 visible errors in the work done. There are some good parts of the story, involving health care in Aberdeen;, but also some not-so-good parts.

It all raises the question of who should be in charge of emergency treatment and healthcare? What we have now just ain’t working.

[To be continued.]

Something I recall that this original account did not include:  While lying strapped to a table in a way that was causing great pain to an arthritic hip (which was finally replaced this year, 2021) for an hour,  I could hear the emergency room doctor chatting and giggling in a flirty way with a young woman in another treatment alcove.  Over the years, I have felt guilty that I did not report the doctor somewhere, somehow.  I wonder how much suffering he has caused in other patients over the years.

Monday, April 26, 2021

The demise of college presidents. And colleges.

 My first close encounters with college presidents were as a journalist.  Part of my editorial duties were to cover higher education.  This put me in contact with the college presidents in my newspaper's coverage area.  At the time, little of the contact involved the financial and business aspects of their jobs.  They had vice presidents and directors to do most of that work.  What I reported on mostly was scholarly, research, and teaching projects in which they were involved.  At that time, the role of a college president was not to be a CEO, but to be the lead scholar in the enterprise of learning and teaching.  My experiences with such learned people led to my transition from journalist to professor.  Back then, most college presidents held their jobs because they were active, accomplished scholars.

Today, fund-raising and the public relations needed to attract funds is the dominant activity of a college president.  Whatever attention they pay to academics is related to increasing enrollments to maintain the tuition stream.  That is reflected in the resignation notice for Timothy Downs, the Northern State University president who left his job last week.  The notice stated that he was responsible for "new facilities...funded by donations that amounted to more than $110 million."  Then it added that he instituted "nearly 20" new programs and increased the number of graduate credits conferred by 30 percent.  He had also increased the freshman enrollments and the retention rate of freshmen going into their sophomore year.  These activities all had the emphasis of producing revenue, not scholarly accomplishment.  

Dr. Down's Ph.D. is in organizational communications.  I am certain he knows that his resignation announcement raises questions.  It certainly did for statehouse reporter Bob Mercer.  The announcement contains discordant elements.  When presidents leave for another opportunity, the new opportunity is usually specified.  And, the departure was immediate.  Usually, an announcement is made in advance of the departure so that a search for a replacement can be organized and the departing president can hand off his duties in an orderly way.  Bob Mercer hit a wall of obfuscation when he tried to get answers to the questions raised by Down's sudden departure. 

I retired from NSU 20 years ago, so I am not privy to the talk about why and under what circumstances Downs left.  I sorely miss my late colleague in history, Bob Thompson, who in retirement had coffee on campus everyday and could gather accurate information in a way that made the CIA look like amateurs.  Whatever facts are being covered up, the handling of the resignation announcement broadcast a loud and clear message that something was wrong,    Dr. Downs seems to have disappeared into the murk of misdirection.  That is not a healthy indication from an organization which is supposed to operate and support the handling of honest information with forthrightness and  integrity.  The Regents and legislators questioned about Downs' leaving have decided to play hide-the-reason. 

However, there are things going on with the legislature and the regents that have portentous implications.  Gov. Noem has appointed three people to the Board of Regents this month:  Tony Venhuizen, her former chief of staff;  Tim Rave, a former legislator, president and CEO of the South Dakota Association of Healthcare Organizations from Baltic; and Jeff Partridge, also a former legislator and currently  president of Partridge Financial Services in Rapid City. Of the nine members  on the board, only one has been involved with academics.  

This is happening at a time when the Regents are working to meet the demands of a law passed by the 2020 legislature to form a task force to look for ways to save money:

      Section 2. The task force examination shall include the following:

  1. (1)  The possible combining of administration at all levels of operation within an institution;

  2. (2)  The possible combining of operations and functions across multiple institutions;

  3. (3)  The possible combining of the administration of programs across multiple institutions;

  4. (4)  A review of the duplication of program offerings;

  5. (5)  A review of the academic majors with low enrollments and low numbers of graduates;

  6. (6)  A review of functions outside the core missions of teaching, learning, and research;

 (7) A review of the operations and functions provided  as an efficiency through the central office of the Board of Regents;

(8) A review of the viability of the university centers; and 

(9) Any other possible cost-effective measures the task force determines are worthy of examination.

Some of the legislators have said some menacing things in regard to their intentions:

Representative Steven Haugaard said the regents have the duty. “They just haven’t been doing it.” He asked whether each of the six universities needs a president and whether South Dakota needs all of the campuses. He acknowledged discussions are hard because they dramatically affect communities.

“The ultimate hammer is the allocation of funds from the Legislature. We can certainly cut off a hundred million dollars as an incentive if they don’t do their job,” Haugaard said. 

If a college president raises $110 million for his institution and the overseers are expressing the intention of hacking away at its budget, the president has cause for concern.  And so do people donating the money.  It is not hard to see where there might be a collision of intentions.  Looking at it from the president's perspective, one can understand where one there might be occasion for a president to tell the regents to take the job and shove it.

That may not be the case.  But what Haugaard's words do is send a strong message to potential applicants for the job of president.  No qualified, serious-minded person would consider the job.  And with that attitude in play, fund-raising may well be impossible.

President Downs and Northern Foundation president Todd Jordre announced their resignations in the same week.  Regents point out that they have no control over the Foundation and the two resignations were pure coincidence.  However, they and the legislature do have control over the funds.  

Gov. Noem is  a part of the GOP anti-academic force.  Her regents will carry out the anti-intellectual vendetta that has been mandated by law. And that legislators are excited about.  

As for Northern, is a campus with two new dorms and an unfinished athletic stadium for sale?  


  • **The members of the task force to look for ways to cut costs in state higher education.

    Brian L. Maher, regents’ executive director and CE

      Sen. Ryan Maher, Isabel; Sen. Reynold Nesiba, Sioux Falls; Rep. Hugh Bartels, Watertown;

  • and Rep. Chris Karr, Sioux Falls; representing the Legislature’s Joint Committee on


  •   Regent Jim Thares, Aberdeen; Regent Joan Wink, Howes; and Regent Barb Stork, Dakota


  •   USD President Sheila GestringBHSU President Laurie Nichols, and SDSU President Barry


  •   Jim Neiman, Hulett, Wyo., Neiman Enterprises CEO

  •   Tyler Tordsen, Sioux Falls, southeast regional director for U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds

  •   Paulette Davidson, Rapid City, Monument Health CEO

  •   Elsie Meeks, Pine Ridge, Lakota Funds board chair

  •   Nadifa Mahamed, Sioux Falls, South Dakota State University student

  •   Hal Clemensen, Aberdeen, Agtegra Cooperative Board of Directors

  •   Jon Veenis, Sioux Falls, ELM Resources CEO (retired)

  •   Jim Lochner, Dakota Dunes, Tyson Foods COO (retired)

  •   Doug Morrison, Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls School District director of research, innovation, and


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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Who was that unmasked idiot?

As a professor, I can attest that people except for a very few are not inherently stupid.  They work at it.  It's a matter of choice.  They choose to suspend intelligence and reasoning in large parts of their lives, but can be coerced into mindfulness if need be.  They tend to be intellectually lazy, but can muster great bursts of energy when it comes to defending their ignorance and their biases.  In most of those defenses, they display a commitment to stupidity.  

Human culture has evolved a system of education to teach people not to be stupid.  It is a process that faces tremendous inertia.  Many people avoid the state of sentience when possible.  They only submit to it when great disaster befalls them.  Of course, most great disasters are the result of people avoiding sentience.

The matter of wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic is a defining occasion for revealing stupidity at its most stunning.  Whether to wear a mask or not is not a matter of personal choice.  It's a matter of intelligence,  Only the irredeemably stupid make the choice not to wear a mask, no matter what reason they may supply.  A reason may be malice, but malice is a form of stupidity.  

We live in a time when most of us understand pathogens and ways to avoid them.  Wearing masks to limit the transmission of breathe-born pathogens has been a medical practice since the 1860s as scientists applied their knowledge of germs to  the prevention of disease.  Masks filter the air we breathe.  When we are in a pandemic with pathogens flowing through the air all around us, we can put on masks for the same reason we would put on masks in the military when someone shouts out the warning "gas!"  It's a matter of staying alive.   And so is wearing a mask when pathogens have invaded our breathing space.  .

Except for some people.  They are the special ones.  They are the ones who think being stupid is a display of character.  They are the ones who won't let anyone tell them what to do.  Rather than comply with a reasonable request for the sake of public health, they will regard the request to put on a mask as a violation of their freedom.  

The problem here for public disease is not so much avoiding the pathogens but the idiots who masklessly  spread them.  Stay away from the bare faces.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Watching a man die, and die, and die....

 I have watched the trial for murder of former Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin.  The coverage of the trial involves the playing and replaying of videos of the death of the man he was apprehending, George Floyd.  It took more than nine minutes for Floyd to expire with his neck under the knee of Officer Chauvin as he repeatedly gasped that he couldn't breathe.

The episode was captured on a cell phone by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier who was on her way to the store  with her 9-year-old cousin when she came upon the scene.  When she saw that George Floyd was in agony, she recorded his ordeal.  She posted her video on the social media later that night, and it circulated around the world.  

Concerns about how law enforcement officers do their jobs became a major issue when a man recorded the police beating Rodney King in 1991 after he was stopped for driving under the influence.  Since then, video recordings have become a major form of evidence for law enforcement and a check on how law enforcement officers are doing their jobs.

Ms. Frazier's video inspired protests throughout the nation and the world.  It captured a moment and an image of a black man desperately pleading for his life in the hands of men who demonstrate that they don't think it matters.  Videos of police killing people are a genre, in fact.  In addition to Ms. Frazier's video, the trial features more from police body cams and security surveillance cameras.  George Floyd's last moments are thoroughly captured on videos.

The agony and desperation of George Floyd is a grim spectacle, and it overshadows what Floyd is saying from the time he is approached in his car to his death.  The police intervention began with a rookie policeman coming up to Floyd as he sits in his car, points his gun at Floyd, and orders him to put his hands on the fucking steering wheel.  Immediately Floyd responds by putting his hands on the wheel and pleads not to be shot.  From that point during the time Floyd is removed from his car to the time he is taken down at the police car and is put to death, he is constantly pleading for his life.  Floyd, understood that as a black man, his death was imminent at the hands of the police.  He seemed convinced that this encounter would conclude with his execution.

Why would he be so convinced?  Because of precedents established in the Twin Cities.  One precedent that is impressed on the mind is the shooting of Philando Castile.  Here is the account of his murder from the Beacon:
 On a Wednesday evening, two days after the Fourth of July in 2016, Philando Castile and his girl friend were returning from grocery shopping.  Her four-year-old daughter was in the back seat.  
A police officer thought the occupants of the car looked like those described in a police bulletin after a bank robbery.  He stopped the car and asked Castile for his driver's license and proof of insurance.  Castile informed the officer that he was armed, and the officer told him not to pull it out.  He said he wasn't, but was reaching for his identification, at which point the officer pulled his gun and fired seven shots into the window of the car.  Five of them hit Castile.  The girlfriend, who was then  ordered to her knees and handcuffed, captured it all on her phone.
The videos of George Floyd's execution by knee record a man pleading for his life, calling out to his dead mother in recognition that he was being processed to join her.   With all the videos, his death can be played time and again.  You can watch him die and die and die.  Grab a beverage, sit back, and join the death watch.  Celebrate America.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Custerland? Give it back to the Indians


The Sioux Treaty of 1868 designates all of West River South Dakota as reservation.

There is talk of eliminating the Custer name from South Dakota geography.  Fellow bloggers Tom Lawrence and Cory Heidelberger have written about the issue.  To people who are acquainted with the facts of Custer's history, his name is a matter of shame, not honor.   While Custer acted with dash and daring during the Civil War, his record on the frontier was not  admirable.  

Some years ago I participated in historical reenactment of the Civil War and frontier period.  Some call it living history.  It was a way to recreate some of the realities of the past ways of life and get sense of life as people experienced it.  I joined a group that assumed the name of an infantry unit stationed for a time at Fort Sissseton (it was called Fort Wadsworth when the unit was there), the First U.S. Volunteers.  The actual unit was composed of Confederate soldiers taken prisoner by the Union Army.   They were men who were released from the prison camp in exchange for pledging allegiance to the Union and enlistIng in the U.S. Army.  They were called Galvanized Yankees and were sent to the frontier to serve so they wouldn't be involved in any skirmishes with their own people in the Civil War.  A point of the living history units was to get past superficial history and explore the full facts of what happened and what life was like in the past.

There were a number of re-enactment units that portrayed Custer's outfit, the Seventh Calvary.  While some portrayed a  glamorized version of Custer, others dug into the historical record and revealed that Custer was a bit of a jerk.  During Civil War years, Custer impressed his commanders. But then Custer sought a reputation as an Indian fighter, and the pursuit of that role finally did him in.  Historians and biographers are divided on  Custer's reputation, but they all record how vainglory took over the latter part of his life.  Custer donned swashbuckling clothing rather than his Army uniform and he perfumed his hair.  And he did some militarily stupid things.

When he was supposed to be on a supply mission, he ventured off to visit his wife.  He was court-martialed and suspended for a year from rank and pay.  However, the Army was not doing well on the frontier as far as Indian fighting was concerned, and some commanders wanted the brash and eager Custer back, so before his suspension was up, he was returned to duty.

One of his major actions was the Battle of the Washita, often known as the Washita Massacre.  He divided his force, surrounded a Cheyenne winter camp, and killed and took captive many women and children.  Custer inflated the number of Indian casualties and his figures far outnumbered an official count, but nevertheless, the Indian Bureau termed the event a massacre.  It demonstrated Custer's penchant for killing Indians.

Custer's name in western South Dakota commemorates atrocities committed against Indians, not the least of which is the outright theft of their land through the violation of the treaty that was supposed to guarantee their possession of it.

In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowleged that the land, particularly the Black Hills. was wrongfully taken.  The U.S. offered to compensate the Lakota people with more than $100 million, but they turned it down. 

 Custer was assigned in 1874 to make an assessment of the Black Hills, and in doing so he wrote accounts for newspapers that emphasized the lodes of gold.  They inspired a gold rush into the Hills, which were designated Indian territory and off-limits.  At first the government sent the Army to escort the invaders off of Indian land but soon gave up on the effort, and West River South Dakota was taken over by white settlers.  The offer of money to the Lakota in 1980 was  a recognition that the non-native residents were living on wrongfully occupied land. If the money were accepted, the government could claim it was purchased.  The Lakota rejected the offer, so they have a claim to land on which the people who occupy it are, in historical and legal terms, squatters.  The Lakota people have a valid claim to the land.

As indicated in the map, all of West River was designated as reservation.  As a practical matter, the Lakota people would not try to exercise a claim on West River, except to assert in legal terms that such a claim was designated to them.  The Black Hills are another matter.  They have a special significance in the spiritual life of the Indian people which defines them culturally and geographically.  And the non-native people who live in the Black Hills are the illegals.  The illegals tend to dismiss the possibility of returning Black Hills land, but serious proposals have been offered for consideration.  In the 1980s, a bill (called the Brady Bill) was put before Congress proposing to return 1.3 million acres of National Forest land to the Indians.  It was, of course, defeated, but it kept alive the fact that the native people have a valid claim to the land.  And it presented a way that the return of land could be negotiated.  

The removal of the names of those who committed atrocities from the geography of the Hills is in process.  Harney Peak in the Black Hills, named for Gen. William S. Harney who prided himself for killing Indians, in 2016 was renamed Black Elk Peak, an Oglala holy man whose dictated biography is a prime source in explaining the Lakota viewpoint regarding the land.  

The reacquirement of land for Indians was given a big step forward with the settlement of a 15-year-long law suit against the government for the mismanagement of tribal lands.  The Cobell Settlement in 2009 awarded Native Americans $3.4 billion.  $2 billion was provided for the restoration of lands which had been fragmented away back to the tribes, designated as the Cobell Land Buy-Back Program.  $100 million was sent to Pine Ridge to restore land to the reservation.  On the eastern side of South Dakota, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate have used funds from the program to reconsolidate land on the Lake Traverse Reservation.  

The Indians would like to keep their land and get significant portions of it back.  Their effort this time is through the courts by enforcing treaties and other legal agreements which have been violated.  

Places that bear Custer's name may soon have the names back the rightful possessors of the land gave them.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States