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

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Should we celebrate Christ's offenses at Christmas?

The cradle of democracy?

Many people in our time have little knowledge and understanding of the larger significance of Christmas.  Their celebrations center on Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and gift shopping with particular attention to whether the amount of money spent will exceed or drop below the previous year's spending.  They forgot that the day is supposed to mark the birth of a personage who was eventually executed for what he preached to the world.

A problem with Christmas is its December 25 date.  The gospels which recount the birth of  Christ state that his birth occurred during a trip Joseph and Mary were taking to pay a tax bill. Caesar had decreed that the people of Judah were to report for a census and the payment of a tax.  Scholars point out that the tax season was in the fall right after crops were harvested when the people had the money and the time.  So, in the autumn with Mary burgeoning with child, the couple were trekking to make a rendering to Caesar, and the reason the inns were all booked was because a lot of other folks were traveling for the same purpose.   

How, then, did Christ's birthday celebration get set on December 25th?   The pagan world long before the advent of Christianity marked the winter solstice with a celebration that involved decorating with evergreens and other artifacts as reminders of the green and fruitful seasons.  On the darkest days of winter, people need reminders of warmth and light to buoy the spirit.  Officials connected the major events of  Christian history with the festivals that pagans derived from the natural calendar.  So, Christmas comes in the dead of winter and Easter comes during the bloom of spring.   The seasons become the platform for the messages of Christianity, and the people regard them as revelations from God, not merely the flux of the seasons.  The Christian story fits deftly into the narrative of the natural world, and its message is constantly before the people.  The leaders of the early church understood effective communication.

The church embraces the Christmas story as the story of redemption of humankind.  Presentation of that story celebrates the birth of Christ, with little reference to his death.  The church establishes Christmas as a season of joy and downplays the political and social implications of Christ's work on earth.  It is wary about broaching the reasons Christ was crucified.  The real reasons for Christ's execution was because he posed a threat to the power and authority structure.  He was a rebel who challenged the integrity and motives of the ruling class.  He was given the title of Prince of Peace, but he agitated the status quo of his time.  That babe in the manger became the scourge of Galilee.  He offered the promise of peace, but he made people uncomfortable in the process.

The message in Christ's ministry addressed the afterlife, but it also introduced and spread the principles that are the foundation of democracy in our contemporary world:  freedom, equality, and justice.

Freedom: "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

Equality: "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26)                "1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:1-4)

Justice: "Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute,” (Psalm 82:3).

We do not associate the premises of democracy with Christmas, but they are an important part of what Christ and his followers taught.   They are among the offenses for which Christ was sentenced to death. And they are essential to peace on earth and good will to all people.  

Friday, December 2, 2022

On Hating Joe Biden

While browsing through the social media, I noted some intensely hateful remarks against Joe Biden.  People may disagree with him, but he is an affable man who does not inspire vicious hatred among rational and civilized people.  But some of the remarks were of the kind of malicious intensity that drove an idiot to break into Nancy Pelosi's house and attack her 82-year-old husband with a hammer.  That comment, however, is unfair to idiots, because they are not generally driven by such degenerate violence. Nevertheless, such violence is to be expected in a country that cherishes and protects the Second Amendment so that 47,000 gun-owners can shoot down fellow Americans each year.

Our country's motto printed on currency, "In God we trust," should be revised to a more accurate "You can't fix stupid."

Some people will respond to my observations by citing the fact that a lot of people detest Donald Trump.  He is a prodigious liar.  He openly demeans and abuses people.  Before he entered politics, he established a reputation for stiffing contractors and other businesses and engaging in shady business practices.  There is a huge matter of well-documented bad character behind the dislike of Trump.  He is a moral and intellectual malignancy. In fact, to admire Trump is to call one's own character into question.  He embodies the malice that Lincoln worked to remove from our social and political transactions.

Unbridled hatefulness has changed the complexion of our politics.  The attitudes some Americans have toward their diverse fellow Americans is lethal. It is a cancer that spreads and threatens us all.  I used to be somewhat proud of having served my country in the military to help preserve freedom and the right to maintain diverse ideas and culture.  Now, when I think of that service,  I can only hum to myself the song "What a Fool Am I."

Friday, November 4, 2022

Where did all the patrol boys go?

I went to grade school at Garfield in Moline, Illinois, and for the sixth grade my family moved.   I transferred to Lincoln and automatically became a patrol boy.  Patrol boys served as crossing guards at the street intersections around the school.

At that time, kids went home for lunch, except those few who brought their lunch in a brown bag because no one was at home during the day to make lunch for them.   The elementary schools did not have food service facilities back then.  So kids made the trek to school and back twice a day.  The patrol boys' job was to see that the kids safely crossed the streets at designated crossings.  The patrol boys had to be on duty before school and when school let out to oversee the crossings.  They wore white canvas Sam Browne belts to designate their authority and responsibility.   There were so 

many crossings around Lincoln that it took all the boys in the sixth grade class to cover them.   I was elected lieutenant of the patrol, which may sound like an honor, but really wasn't.

There were two officers for the patrol, captain and lieutenant.   The captain was in charge of the morning shift and the lieutenant the afternoon.   Being in charge meant that you had to check the crossings before students started arriving to be sure each crossing had a guard.  If a guard didn't show up, you filled in for him.  If more than one guard was absent, you had to report it to the principal's office so that substitutes could be arranged.   Thus, the officers had to be the first students to come to school and, often, the last to leave.  No kids really wanted to be an officer.   It was considered a sucker's job.

Eventually, the crossing guard role was taken over by adults who are paid.  But back then, there were no organized activities for elementary students that interfered with crossing guard schedules.  And kids didn't resist or complain much about being crossing guards because every sixth-grade boy did it.

Likewise, there wasn't much problem with getting kids to follow the patrol boys' directions because they were taught it was all a matter of safety, and standing in line a bit and following directions was just something you did to make it through the day so that you could do what you wanted.  If some kid reacted with that no-one-tells-me-what-to-do attitude, he would be reported and his parents would be asked to make arrangements for him to get to and from school so that he wouldn't interfere with other children's safety.  Discipline had a totally different aspect then, because the elementary schools were neighborhood institutions.  School was a integral part of daily life in the neighborhood, and was not separated from the relationships and interactions that comprised neighborhood society.  If a kid acted like an asshole in school, he would be known as an asshole throughout the neighborhood.  School consolidation changed the social role played by the elementary school.

Girls were not at that time involved in the patrols, although I recall that one of the grade schools in town did not have enough boys to fill the roster and included girls.  My female classmates were content, however, to expend their time and energy on other pursuits.  They did not have any patrol boy envy.

By the time my children came along, patrol boys had gone extinct.  Those lines of children straggling along the sidewalks around the schools have largely been displaced by hordes of automobiles searching for places to drop off and pick up children.  

Folks generally accepted the custom that they would contribute to the tasks maintaining the safety and well-being of the community.  That attitude extended to the military draft when we were inducted into military service.  But I recall vividly when during a social occasion shortly after I was released from active duty in the Army, I asked a man if he had served and where.  He rather snottily replied that he knew what he wanted to do with his life and it didn't include floundering around in the military service.  It became a bit of a vogue of the time to regard those caught in the draft as feckless dupes who had no purpose in their lives.  We veterans learned to be very circumspect about talking about our military experience.  Among many people, it was not something to be proud of.  

Among a class of conservatives,  public service is regarded as designating an inferior servant class of people.  That class of people thinks the only use for terms such as equality, justice, and honor is to dupe the gullible into thinking they live in a democratic society.  Meanwhile, those conservatives set up a system of privilege and power to keep that servant class in its place.  In their authoritarian hierarchy of fools, even a bumbling moron like Donald Trump can rule.  A large segment within the GOP accepts the abrogation of democratic rule as a means to gain  and stay in power.  In their minds, the serving class doesn't count.  And that means the patrol boys and those who get conscripted into service, those whose service protects the ruling class.

The problems arise when the patrol boys and the enlistees realize they are protecting those who think the protectors don't count.  The protectors decline to protect those who discriminate against them, and democracy must deal with some harsh matters of inequality.  And the question is raised:  can democracy survive?  There are no patrol boys who have reason to protect it.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Reign of the Stupid

 A fact that gets lost in the angry rage of partisan politics is that Donald Trump is an astoundingly stupid man.  The press focuses on his malevolence and his lies, but tends to ignore that a person must be supremely stupid to do and say the things he does.  The most disturbing aspect of Trump's lack of probity and intelligence is that it appeals to at least 73 million voters.  The United States has abandoned its claim to be the world model for the decencies that comprise a functioning democracy.  While the  political parties wrangle over migrants trying to get into the United States, there is a group of the more astute who are seriously discussing that it has become a nation to consider leaving.  The press has run many articles recently about indications in America that democracy is trending toward failure.  

Maggie Haberman of The New York Times has covered Trump since he became a presidential candidate.   She just published a book on him:   Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breakings of America.  As the title indicates, her book sees the United  States as a severely wounded nation.  As with other books by reporters about Trump, it is filled with accounts of Trump saying and doing things that are stupidly foolish.

In an interview in The Guardian, Haberman was asked if there were any incidents in Trump's behavior that stood out or surprised her.  She said such an occasion  was at a news conference on Covid-19 in which disinfecting surfaces with laundry bleach to kill the virus was brought up,  Trump asked his pandemic advisor at the conference if anyone had thought of injecting bleach into patients to control the virus. Clearly stunned at the stupidity of the question, she muttered "not as a treatment."  That was a moment in which Trump revealed on camera to the world that he is mentally incompetent, and that in electing him president, America revealed that it is in a state of intellectual destitution.  

While some people are not quick-witted or in command of much knowledge, few people are inherently stupid.  They understand that a successful society is one based on sound thinking and relevant information and they a try to make their essential choices on that basis.  Stupidity is a matter of choice.  And that is the regrettable aspect.  Many Americans have chosen stupidity and its associated feeble-minded malice as the goals of their lives.  They see freedom as their right to live mean and hate-filled lives that permits them to castigate people for the color of their skins and possess a content of character teeming with malice.  They elected a president who could lead them in displays of  petty malevolence and pride in stupidity.  

Trump cannot be blamed for the demise of democracy, however.  His malice and incompetence fulfill the aspirations of about half of America.  For a time after World War II, the people in charge of things called that the era of America's greatest generation.  But whatever greatness the American people can claim is being smothered in the fog of conspiracy theories, a nice name for outright malicious lies, generated by people who take great pride in being deplorable.   

The most lethal enemy of America is not communism or totalitarianism, or any form of government that fosters  oppression and injustice.  It is the stupidity, a virulent mental disease which reduces those infected into a violent, rabid lunacy.  As the late comedian Ron White observed, you can't fix stupid.  It is a state in which communication and cognition are not possible.  Although the founders of America conceived of a public education system that might prevent utter stupidity, some people regard it as a human right to be protected.  Schools, in what minds they have left, are a threat to it.

On January 6, 2021, we saw the power of the stupid demonstrated.  Yesterday when Nancy Pelosi's 82-year-old husband had his skull fractured with a hammer by a devotee of  stupid, we were presented with an insight into what the stupid can do.

And if you resent hearing that America may be coming to an end, that's one of the symptoms.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

With malice toward all.

 It takes some massive deformities of mind and character to make a person as despicable as Alex Jones.  It is a serious mistake to attribute his malevolent dementia to a  matter of political choice.  There is a deeper, fundamental moral defect that drives him to do what he does.  As a nation, we mount extensive responses when the nation is physically threatened, as we are doing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  More than a million Americans have died from the disease and the fatalities are down to about 375 per day.  We haven't conquered the disease, but have adjusted to living with it, and progress is  being made in prevention and treatment.   We have still to confront the pathology that possesses people like Alex Jones.

We have laws that make the intentional spread of germs a crime:

SDCL 34-16-2Release of disease germs as felony. Any person who releases or spreads any disease germs intending thereby to accomplish the infection of one or more persons or domestic animals is guilty of a Class 2 felony.

We do not have laws regarding the spread of mental pathogens that make minds unsound.  And the intentional contagion of mental malignancies among the public is what Jones and his ilk do.

People like Alex Jones cite the First Amendment when what they say and do is challenged.  They insist that the right to free speech gives them the freedom to say anything they want.  There was once (and still is in some states) laws against criminal libel.  They largely have been suppressed because aspects of them seem in violation of the First Amendment.  Some legal scholars hold that the civil libel laws are sufficient to deal with destructive acts of libel, although that is demonstrably not true.  Among people like Jones, malicious libel flows like beer at a college fraternity kegger.  

When people tell malicious lies about people and events in our country, we have applied the misleading term "conspiracy theory" to what they are saying, putting them in the category of a superstition.  Denying that the Sandy Hook massacre of children and teachers did not happen, but was a stunt , is easy to refute from the testimony of those who experienced it.  The damage done by the deniers of the mass shooting is a crime as lethal as the shooting itself.  While Jones has been successfully sued for almost a billion dollars for the damage he has done to the lives of affected people, he still is free to spread malice and hatred.

The First Amendment permits freedom of speech, but people still are accountable for what they say.  Jones' spreading of lies should be seen as a crime, just as the intentional spreading of disease germs is.  And people who commit felonies have their freedom and rights suspended so that they cannot commit crimes on the public.  While juries have awarded a billion dollars to those affected by Jones' pathogens, those awards are more symbolic than real.  It is unlikely that anywhere near that amount of money will reach Jones' victims.  And Jones is still free to criminally assault innocent people with his verbal pathogens.

We live in a time when the country is bitterly divided.  Malice-inspired lies play a major role in that division.  Those lies are not  harmless.  They cripple and kill.  And we tolerate them as "conspiracy theories."  

A country that that can't tell the difference between inane babble and lethal crimes against humanity doesn't have much of a future.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

That gorgeous history of feudalism consumes us again

The United States are destined either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else prove the most tremendous failure of time.--Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas

The death and funeral arrangements of Queen Elizabeth II has dominated America's attention and news for the past weeks.    The United States have serious problems to confront, such as the overt criminality of Donald Trump and his deflation of the nation, but people are too absorbed in the British monarchy, whose rejection was the founding of our nation, to give much concern to the state of America.   Americans are generally not very savvy about what defines their republic, and raise the question, as Ben Franklin did, of whether we can keep it.

Americans are enamored of royalty.  Pomp and luxury define for many status and success.  Some prefer a monarch to an elected president, despite the fact that the British monarch wields little political power.   British royalty is a matter of feudal nostalgia, not functioning government.  Where democracy has taken root, homages to royalty are reminders of a rejected past.

Some members of my mother's family claimed to have royal blood.  My oldest brother and some cousins did a genealogy of the family and found it wasn't true.  When we asked my grandmother, who with her sisters emigrated to America from Sweden, about it, she said no: royalty was what they came to America to get away from. 

But the fascination with royalty lingers on in many who think it distinguishes them from the rest of the American hoi polloi.  This fondness for a higher status reveals a misunderstanding and sometimes an outright rejection of the concept of equality as the basis for our government and culture.   Many people, if not most, believe in social ranking as an organizing principle.  They believe in class stratification as an inherent force in society.  They accept class division and intensify it. They really don't like democracy.

No one understood the attraction and destructive effect of feudalism better than Mark Twain.  He portrays it in all its forms in his written works.  Slavery, he shows, is the extension of the feudal mentality.  And so is the mind and manner of Donald Trump.  His regime as president was a return to feudalism.

The point to understand is that it is what many Americans want.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The American lesion

  Prominent political observers have noted that the political divide in America could evolve into a civil war.  Anti-Trump Republicans, such as members of the Lincoln Project, have commented on the possibility in recent weeks.  The news media tends to treat the opposition to Donald Trump and his supporters as a matter of partisan politics, Democrats versus Republicans, liberals versus conservatives.  That is a grave mistake.

The contempt for Trump and his kind is far deeper and more fundamental than the political preferences that exist within a democracy.  America was founded on principles of equality, liberty, and justice.  Its history is one of a struggle to instill those qualities into the life of all its citizens.  There have been failures, but it has progressed through a civil war, world wars, and a civil rights movement to move the country toward those ideals.  The presidency of Donald Trump brought that movement to a halt and reversed the trend.  Trump represents the odious aspects of mind and character that America was designed not to be.   

Trump is a despicable person.  He is a prodigious liar.  He is petty and mean-minded.   He is vengeful. His history of bankruptcies and business failures show him to be incompetent.    We ask what there is about him that his supporters like, but it is more to the point to ask what kind of people admire  him.  The answer provides the reason some observers see the potential for a civil war.  And the answer identifies the lesion that festers and mars the American political  body.

Business executives do not make good public officials in a democracy.  A few try  to practice the concepts of a democracy in their business practices, but business corporations and democracies have opposing purposes.  Businesses are organized on hierarchical lines with ascending ranks of authority.  Executives measure their success according to how many people work under them, not how many people they serve.  Corporations are feudal in nature, and America's founders were committed to overturn feudalism on America's land.  Slave-holding plantations were an extension of the feudal system, and the Civil War was a battle between democracy and feudalism.  Walt Whitman stated the American agenda:

The United States are destined either to surmount the gorgeous history of feudalism, or else prove the most tremendous failure of time.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency signaled a failure of democracy among the American people, a return to feudalism.  While commentators keep stating that he has put democracy itself in danger, the public seems to regard those warnings as the usual partisan rhetoric.  They fail to recognize that there is a significant segment of fellow citizens who define liberty as a right to discriminate against other people.  The Trump mentality from which these people draw their inspiration is not one embraces human rights and equality.  It stands in direct opposition to government for, by, and of the people. As noted in a recent Washington Post story, America is in a state of decline and the rest of the world has noticed.

And Trump and his followers are leading the way.  They are a lesion on democracy.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

When kids go to school and no teacher is there

The shortage of teachers has causes that are deeply engrained in our culture.   A Washington Post article outlines the many causes:

...pandemic-induced teacher exhaustion, low pay and some educators’ sense that politicians and parents — and sometimes their own school board members — have little respect for their profession amid an escalating educational culture war that has seen many districts and states pass policies and laws restricting what teachers can say about U.S. history, race, racism, gender and sexual orientation, as well as LGBTQ issues.

As we near the beginning of a new school year, there are news stories of districts scrambling to fill teaching vacancies.  At the beginning of the month, South Dakota still had 300 positions to fill.  A number of internet sources that track teacher staffing are reporting shortages with no prospect in sight for relieving them.  Schools of education are not producing enough graduates to fill the vacancies, so panicky measures with no regard for training and qualifications are being taken to get someone in the classrooms when the students arrive.  The Florida governor is trying to supplant the teachers with military veterans who have no training in education, in some cases very little education.  That act is evidence of how education is a negligible priority in the exercise of political power. 

South Dakota's shortage of teachers has gotten the attention of national media

South Dakota has long faced a teacher shortage due in part to low salaries and large class sizes, but a new factor seems to be worsening the problem: politicization of education, South Dakota News Watch reports.

The politicization of education actually has been taking place for a long time.  We are feeling the effects of it now.  Some years ago experienced teachers who were friends of mine were advising their children not to go into education for the reasons listed in the sentence above.  The Governor, whose college degree is questionable, has commissioned Hillsdale College, a bastion of conservative anti-intellectualism, to write a set of standards for teaching social studies, as if social studies teachers or the colleges from which they obtained their degrees or the schools they work in have never considered how effective teaching is done or been exposed to what the subject matter entails.   The Daily Beast details the political intrusions into education in South Dakota:

State officials are taking a more hands-on approach to education—recently, lawmakers have tried to regulate the treatment of transgender students, the state DOE removed references to Native American culture in social studies guidelines, and the governor banned critical race theory, even though it is not taught in public schools. Parental presence is also increasing, and some educators have faced criticism about their classroom decorations. The state’s secretary of education said there are programs to help recruit and retain teachers, but some education experts fear that the K-12 system may begin to unravel due to the heightened micromanagement of teachers

The news makes clear that the political interference is eliminating education and replacing it with indoctrination in our schools.   There is a national shortage of teachers, as people who would become teachers realize that they will not be allowed to educate in many schools.  Politicization is displacing education as the dominant principle in the management of our schools.  People who value true education cannot and will not teach under political dictatorships.  That unraveling of the education system that is so feared is well on its way.  Competent teachers will go to where they can teach, and that is not the South Dakota of Kristi Noem.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

It's the politics, stupid.

American democracy is being dismantled.  The fundamental and essential act for a democracy, the vote, is being subverted. People who want to abolish basic American rights, for various reasons, are putting elections under siege by making false claims that they are fraudulent.  Donald Trump and his loony goons have adopted the mantra that the election in which he was defeated was stolen.  There is no evidence of serious voter fraud, but a unanimous documentation that it was conducted with efficient integrity.  However, true to the Trump tradition of lying dishonesty, he and his cronies hew to the Hitlerian principle that if you persistently repeat a lie, people will come to believe it.  Trump is on record for telling 30,573 lies during his presidency.  He is persistent, if not good, at lying.

The Trumpists scheme that their way to  power is to undermine elections.  To do so, election officials try to overturn elections won by Trump opponents by attacking the certifications.  Officials at various levels of governed sign certifications that votes have been properly cast and counted.  The insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021, was an attempt to interfere with the 2020 presidential election.  While there may be much talk about election fraud, the body of laws and rules governing the vote makes cheating very difficult to get away with.  The process of checks and balances is in place from when individuals cast their votes through the counting and announcement of the tally.  Incidents of incomplete or miscounting are rare.  After the 2020 election, more than 70 suits were entered into the courts charging election fraud.  All were dismissed because there was no evidence to support charges of fraud.

Honest elections are simple to determine.  You count the votes, and who gets the most wins the election.  But when you get a group of people who think democracy is just a contest to see who wins the power, you get false and absurd claims about fraud and sinister conspiracies and a government that doesn't function.  And you get demands for recounts of the vote and constant bickering over how to count. Politics has become just a form of incoherence.

When incoherence rules, democracy doesn't.  Then, chaos rules.  A good portion of the country is wallowing in chaos.  Our politics have devolved into such a demented state that they no longer sustain democracy.  They are the enemy of democracy.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Speaking of pissing in the punch bowl...

Joe Biden stutters.   During his election campaign and his election to president, there has been much media coverage on this fact.  (Put joe biden on stuttering  in your search engine to see all the references.)  He did a television special on how he overcame the problem.  He said, stuttering doesn't define you.  The BBC pointed out that he is the first person with a stammer to be elected to the American presidency.   King George VI had this speech impediment and in 2010 a movie, The King's Speech, was made about it.

That information somehow evaded the writer of a letter-to-the-editor in the Aberdeen American News.

  Joe Biden recently put his cards on the table. More precisely, he turned his instruction card around for everyone to witness his feeble-mindedness. The leader of the free world needs a cheat sheet to undertake basic tasks like entering a room, sitting down and departing.  After all, that's a lot juxtaposed together, and Joe

wouldn't want to get them out of order.   

   The most interesting directive from Joe's handlers was, "You take your seat." Apparently "be seated" or "sit down" weren't specific enough and confused Joe. Clarity on who's sitting and standing is vital as Joe once encouraged a wheelchair-bound paraplegic to stand and take a bow.

   I'm sure it's amusing to the millions of legitimate voters, who'd have gladly voted for a reeking sock puppet over Donald Trump, that Trump lost to someone so cognitively diminished. As you laugh about that, think back a year ago when Joe Biden met with Vladimir Putin in Geneva, Switzerland. How many note cards do you think Joe needed? Do you think Putin noticed Joe shuffling through his cards? Did somebody slip in a "Go ahead, invade Ukraine" card or did Putin just assume that?

   Out of respect for Joe's mental decline, everyone who cast a vote for Joe should seek to emulate him. Take a 3-by-5 card and write "you wasted your vote" on it. Take it along to the grocery store, gas station, airport and everywhere else as a reminder that you got what you voted for. You took Dr. Jill's advice, held your nose and voted for Joe, the sock puppet. 

   Dan Oliver, Aberdeen

The newspapers I've worked for would never have allowed that letter to be printed.  It is premised on no factual basis and is totally devoted to committing a libel. The writer seems to think puerile taunts are witty, but the incoherent references make one wonder why the newspaper did not return it for some intelligible revisions before being published.  Such writers will howl with wounded claims of censorship if their letters are rejected, but reputable newspapers will insist on some standards of probity to justify what they choose to publish.

The letter is of the same level of communication as taunting cripples.  It only contributes to the evidence of how degenerate humans can be.  And it contributes no perspective on a political circumstance, but only offers an example of the befuddled state in which some people live their lives.  And the writing provides disheartening evidence of the failures of our education system.

We would never take a swallow of punch into which some demented soul has pissed, but we live in a democracy that is shaped by votes of people whose political choice is malicious libel.  The person who wrote that letter was allowed to exercise his freedom of speech, so we'll exercise ours by pointing out that feebleminded shouts of malice contribute nothing to the political dialogue.  The letter is just another dribble of piss in the punch bowl.

Friday, July 29, 2022

We are very good at killing kids and other atrocities

Something went terribly wrong at Uvalde, Texas.  Most people would think that the killing of two teachers and seventeen kids in a school is wrong,  but such  shootings are so common in America that they are one of the things the country has become known for.  Wrong, certainly, but routine. 

Somebody released videos of the almost-400 law enforcement officers at the shooting site which inspired malicious criticism of the officers.  In one case, an officer is shown looking at texts on his mobile phone.  People were enraged that an officer would be diddling around on his cell phone when he was supposed to be dealing with an active shooter.  They flooded internet sites with their angry disparagement of the officer.

It turns out that the officer's wife was one of teachers shot, and he was responding to messages from her.  She later died from her wounds.

Another video shows an officer going up to a hand sanitizer dispenser in the school hallway and applying some to his hands.  That action also inspired a spate of angry derogatory remarks about the officer.

It turns out that the officer had been instructed to help medical attendants with aiding the shooting victims.  The medics wore sanitized gloves and the officer thought he should take some sanitary precautions when handling wounded children, too.

The people who jumped to disparaging conclusions about the policemen's actions are typical of that portion of the population that chooses to live in a state of small-minded malevolence.  Their main contribution to society is a hateful stupidity. They are the people who are always ready with some carping criticism about the events and people they observe, and some of these people have influence.  Over the years, I have noticed how such people are a pernicious force that, like a malignant tumor, contaminates and infects the life around them.  They are part of what went terribly wrong at Uvalde.  

One evening at a professional meeting in Dallas, I was seated at dinner with a woman professor from a fairly reputable college in Minnesota.  She launched into a denigrating harangue about  the personality traits of one of the presenters at the meeting, who was a well-known, acclaimed scholar, and she  spent the evening denigrating a host of other people, interlaced with accounts of her own importance.  She was accompanied by two young male professors from her college who seemed to be in a state of thralldom and nodded agreement with her malign pronouncements.  More than 20 years later, I regard her as one of the nastiest horrors I've encountered.  I was stunned that a professor would exhibit such a degree of petty but intense malice and get away with venting it in front of professional colleagues.  That episode that night, however, illustrates a factor that underlies the mass shootings and other gun violence that pervades the nation.  A toxic social environment emanates from people like her and poisons the atmosphere.

The police presence at the Uvalde school and the 77 minutes of their bumbling around before taking down the shooter are cause for intense and aggressive examination of what was going on.  The Texas legislature issued one of the first reports, which said:

“Other than the attacker, this report did not find any ‘villains’ in the course of its investigation. There is no one to whom we can attribute malice or ill motives.”

They had not, apparently, included all the comments elicited by the police performance as part of the total incident.  They focused on the flaws of the shooter, but not on the social malignancies with which he lived.

National Public Radio News summarized the boy's life:

By the time he reached fourth grade, investigators say he was clearly struggling academically as he was identified as "at-risk." A speech impediment that was not addressed or treated likely contributed to an overall lack of friends and bullying by other students, according to testimony from his family members.

Problems continued into middle school and high school, when the gunman "had declining attendance, with more than one hundred absences annually beginning in 2018 along with failing grades and increasingly dismal performance on standardized and end-of-course exams."

At age 17 he had only completely ninth grade and was then involuntarily withdrawn from Uvalde High School because of his lack of attendance and poor academic performance. After dropping out of high school, the gunman "turned down a dark path," becoming more isolated from those around him, according to the report.

This account details the failings of the shooter.  But it also details the failings of the people and agencies around him.  People will talk endlessly about what a horrible person he is and the awfulness of his background with no realization that their sanctimonious chatter is perpetuating and intensifying those toxic conditions so that other young people may get caught up in them.

A factor evident in mass shootings is that the shooters know their own lives will end.  They shoot themselves, as the Columbine shooters did, or commit suicide by cop.  Very few are captured alive.  In the aftermath of a shooting incident, mental illness is usually brought up, but that evades the real question:  What has brought the shooters to the point that they think no life, including their own, is worth living?  In all the analysis of shooters'  motives, this question never seems to be asked, and certainly not answered.  There is a lot of discussion of what constitutes psychopathology, but little about what influences in the shooters' environment make them give up on life.  Investigators seem to avoid trying to identify the ways that other people and influences contribute to a shooter's mentality.

The pissing in a punch bowl theory applies here.  That theory holds that a drop of piss ruins not just the punch but the whole party.  As teachers understand,  you can have a great class of interested and cooperative kids, and one resentful, complaining student will join the class and it turns into an unruly, clamoring mob.  One person can unsettle a group, a community, even a nation.  

When mass shootings occur, particularly of children, we suffer national heartbreak, and the media leads us in a ritual of commiseration.  We would be more to-the-point if we asked if our words and actions contribute to the infirmity that pervades our country.  The refrain that we have freedom of speech is what people invoke to justify what they say, but many seem to think that freedom absolves them from the effects of what they say or do.  Still, we know that accusing and slandering words contribute to the minds of those looking for reasons to  commit malefic acts.

We may despise and condemn mass shooters, but we first need to find out what made them that way.  Maleficence is contagious.  Have you pissed in the punch bowl lately?

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

What happened to Dr. Downs after he was let go at Northern State?

Timothy Downs and friend
In April 2021, Northern State University suddenly announced the resignation of its president, Dr. Timothy M. Downs.  The press release said he was pursuing another opportunity in higher education.

A news story by Jonathan Ellis of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader at the time reported that some state legislators were upset with programs that Dr. Downs was putting in place to meet the standards for diversity that are of concern throughout higher education institutions.  They were circulating the draft of a letter telling Dr. Downs to either curtail the measures he initiated or resign.  The report did not indicate if the letter had been received by him, but if news reporters knew of the letter, Dr. Downs would certainly be aware of it.  Attempts by reporters to obtain more information were met with the response by regents that the press release contained all the information that would be given out.  It was assumed that Dr. Downs accepted the invitation to resign.  In effect, he was fired.

The circumstances of his leaving are important because they indicate that the university system has been compromised politically.  Regents, like school boards, are supposed to mediate between the public and the professional staffs responsible for the operations of the universities.  When politicians intrude directly into the running of universities, academic integrity is compromised, and the degrees they confer lose their credibility as authentic badges of academic achievement.  

Informed members of the public are aware of the political status of universities.  They select colleges which offer reputations for academic freedom and honest scholarship.  The South Dakota system has experienced a significant decline in enrollments over the last decade.  Its headcount enrollment has slipped from 36,430 students to 33,445 for a decline of 8.1 percent.  In terms of full time equivalent enrollment it has gone from 26,468 to 23,964 for a decline of 9.6 percent.  The state system has received a national ranking as the worst in the nation.

Northern State has gone from a headcount of 3,622 to 3,340 for a drop of 7.7 percent.  Its full time equivalent registration has gone from 2,157 to 1,750 for an alarming decline of 18.8 percent in ten years. 

When the faculty has been approached about the administration of the college, its leaders have been defensive and resentful.  Whereas, the faculty for 40 years had been operating under a collective bargaining contract through which it could exert some influence on academic performance and scholarly reputation, the state legislature passed a law in 2020 banning faculty unions.  When approached about how the faculty regarded the dismissal of its president, a faculty senator complained that the questions amounted to "bagging" the faculty.  When the reputation of a college is tarnished by political interference, the faculty is damaged the most.  And potential students look elsewhere to advance their educations.

The firing of Dr. Downs occurred during the floundering of state higher education as it dealt with unabashed political intrusion.  His performance as president was notable for raising $110 million and the building of new facilities on campus.  No information has been offered about his academic leadership, but we do not live in a time when college presidents are appraised for their scholarship.  Nevertheless, the handling of personnel matters in Dr. Down's case indicates that higher education leadership had other things on its minds than the efficacy of instruction delivered to students in South Dakota.

Professional academic organizations require that professors who are fired be given reasons of just cause and that due process be followed.  Reputable universities abide by those rules as a matter of protecting academic freedom and the critical exchange of ideas through which knowledge is established. While college presidents generally work under a contract with a governing body, they should receive the same procedures of due process as their professors.  When institutions fail to observe basic standards of academic integrity in their personnel actions, they call into question their status as valid organizations of higher learning.  Often such violations of standards of personnel procedures result in censure by professional organizations. From 1962 through 1991, South Dakota was on the list of censured administrations by the American Association of University Professors.  It looks as if some legislators and officials are working to get the state on that list again.  Even if no formal censure is made, the action against Dr. Downs is known among prospective students and professors, who will not recommend South Dakota as a reputable place to study or work.

In took a year for Dr. Downs to find that opportunity he wished to pursue.  A few months ago, Cal Poly Humboldt, a state university in Arcata, California, made this announcement:  "On May 1, Timothy M. Downs became Interim Chief of Staff in the President’s Office. He steps in for Sherie C. Gordon, who is currently Interim Vice President for Administration & Finance."

The Cal Poly Humboldt president for whom Dr. Downs is working is Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr., who was president of Black Hills State University from 2014 to 2019.  It is tempting to wonder if those two former South Dakota university presidents are trading tales about what it was like to work for those idiots back in South Dakota.

Here is what the announcement said further about Dr. Downs:

Downs brings decades of higher education experience as a scholar, educator, and leader, and as an advocate for diversity and equity. Downs is also committed to creating and sustaining learning communities that prepare students for careers and rewarding lives.

His academic career began at Cal State LA, where he was a professor of Communication Studies and served as the assistant vice president for Academic Affairs. He has held the positions of dean for Emporia State University and Gannon University. Later, at Niagara University in New York, he served as provost and chief academic officer until 2016 when he was named president of Northern State University (NSU) in Aberdeen, South Dakota. During his tenure at NSU, the university developed over 20 new programs; increased student retention by 10%; increased graduation rates by 5%; stabilized undergraduate enrollment, and increased graduate enrollments by more than 25%, and improved campus facilities.  

Throughout Downs’ career, he has championed equitable treatment and professional growth of students, faculty, and staff. This perspective is confirmed by his development and support for student success centers and programs at three universities. He has advocated for education leading to professional development and worked diligently to provide career advancement opportunities for employees. As an ardent supporter for the liberal arts, he believes in all students developing outstanding critical thinking skills. As a result, he was the driving force behind NSU joining the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. Downs holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Communication Studies from Sacramento State and West Virginia University. He also earned a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from the University of Oklahoma. 

It is significant to note that the announcement stresses Down's academic efforts at Northern State, although it does not mention the $110 million raised during his tenure there. 

It raises a question about whether Northern is run by politicians or professional staff and if it is a reputable place to study and work. 

Monday, July 11, 2022

America aborted democracy

July 4, 2022:  America's landscape.  Highland Park, Ill.  Let freedom reign.

Under all the optimistic chatter about America's future as a democracy, there is an implicit recognition that it could fail. The more astute scholars of political history point out that it has, in fact, often failed, and has many current indicators of failure.  (Watergate, Trump, et al.)  America seldom realizes what it aspires to be in the minds of the benevolent.  Strides toward equality, liberty, and good will toward all are always blocked from actually being realized. There is a large contingent of the populace that want such things for themselves, but not for others.  They use democracy as a means of imposing prejudices, not surmounting them.  The fact is that most people like to exercise control over others. As Abigail Adams wrote to her husband: "Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could."  That lust for the power to oppress is the big unsettled question that underlies the failures of democracy.  As a professor of politics once said to me,  politics is not a matter of establishing personal freedoms, but a matter of establishing who gets to fuck over whom.  

Although America likes to think of itself as the bastion of freedom, it is in constant conflict over what freedoms are exercised and who gets to exercise them.  No subject defines the conflict more emphatically than abortion.  It devolves into an argument between self-determination and social control, between whether women have sovereignty over their bodies or must live in obeisance to those who would assert authority over them.  

Opponents of abortions may have moral pretenses regarding the preservation of life, but their arguments place a diminished value on the life of the mother.  The hopes and aspirations of the woman for her own life are irrelevant and must be sacrificed to the gestation and delivery of a living baby.  Once the baby is delivered, what happens to it and its mother is no longer a concern of the anti-abortionists.  Their commitment to pro-life seems to expire at birth, for the most part.  The obscene sham of their claim of right-to-life is revealed in the laws they concoct to criminalize abortion for the mother, the provider, and anyone who helps arrange it.  The crowning hypocrisy of those laws is that they call for imprisonment and even the death penalty for anyone involved in an abortion.  And the anti-abortionists have the supreme malice or the abject stupidity to call themselves pro-life.

As a professor, I have never been involved in advising women about pregnancies, but I have been witness to many  circumstances of unplanned pregnancies, which have been both carried to term and aborted.  My role has been to make it possible for students to complete work toward their degrees and make arrangements to achieve that end.  The instances are not numerous, but not really rare.  When I worked with some other professors to provide the means for some pregnant young women to complete their educations, we were accused of promoting promiscuity.  It became clear from the inane accusations that some people were much more interested in condemning and maligning young women than they were in helping them build their lives.  And the need some people have to demean and disparage others is the gravest threat to democracy. 

As far as I'm concerned, abortion is none of my business.  What is my business, as it is with every United States citizen, is the integrity with which we apply the three essential principles of our democracy:  freedom, equality, and justice.  When I was a young professor, I struggled with the matter of abortions.  They were a choice that affect college-aged women, and at the time a great many of them were back-alley affairs.  If young women wanted to have authority over their lives, an unplanned child could put an end to their personal aspirations.  The concern at the time was to make abortion a safe and efficient medical procedure.  A compelling reason for an abortion is to save the life of the mother, and that includes saving the life to which she aspires.  That was the context in which Roe vs. Wade was decided:  the right to save a life in progress.  To maintain that right to a life, a woman might have to choose an abortion. I, like many people of the time, saw it as a choice that needed to be considered in many cases.  

A concurrent matter that occupies America as much as abortion is mass shootings and gun violence overall.  Gun violence is so common that it defines America.  There is news of a mass shooting almost every week.  Sandy Hook with 20 six-and-seven-year-old students and six teachers is the image of America now.  Uvalde, Texas, with 19 young children and two teachers shot replicates that image.  The Highland Park Fourth of July parade presents to us what America has become in reality beneath the patriotic banners and the trite and untrue slogans.

There are no images of the bodies mutilated by bullets and the blood of victims smeared over the school room floors or on the route of the Highland Park Parade.    The images of children torn to shreds by gunfire are withheld in deference to their families. No one wants to see the remains of their kinfolk held up as an example of the realities of gunfire.  Consequently, Americans are spared having to face what their country has become.  Some Americans have said that the photos of Sandy Hook are posed and that the incident never happened.  They say it was staged as a pretext to take away firearms from the people.   Democracy and civil rights don't mean much when the right to slaughter seven-year-old kids in their classrooms takes precedence over their safety and their lives.

A woman runs with her children toward safety after the Sandy Hook shooting.  
This is what America has become.  Land of the free and home of the brave.

Few people have the courage or the integrity to take an honest look at what America has become.  

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

What do you do if you don't want to be an American anymore?

My grandparents emigrated to America because they did not want to be part of the social and political systems of their old world country.  It offered no promise to them.  So, they emigrated to America, the women to take house servant jobs and the men to join the farm and factory workforce.  The men and their descendants soon invested in farms.  Some became factory foremen while operating farms at the same time.  However, their guiding goal was to invest in the land.  They wanted to own a chunk of America.

Owning land had much to do with having sovereignty over one's own body and one's life.  Having dominion over a piece of land gave one the resources to assert independence and self-interest.  Willa Cather's Neighbor Rosicky stated the premise:  "In the country, if you had a mean neighbour, you could keep off his land and make him keep off yours." 

In today's urbanized America, it is extremely difficult to avoid mean neighbors.  They are part of the democratic process.  When the majority votes to make Donald Trump president,  the minority lives under the conditions of their values.  There are no refuges of self-sufficiency to retreat to.  Trump does not represent just a set of policies;  he represents an entire culture. That culture affects the country, and even if Trump is not in office, his followers impose the Trumpian culture where they can.  The song is over but the melody lingers on.

Trump sparked a discussion that is unusual among Americans, and has not been widely considered since the expatriate movement of the 1920s.  During his tenure as president, some people seriously talked about leaving the United States for a more amenable democracy.  Quite a number actually did it.

The significant aspect is that the talk about alternatives to living in America is not just speculative chatter. It reflects a deep dissatisfaction with American life by some people on both the left and right political wings. 

A source of discontent is the gun violence in America.  The frequent and constant shootings have become part of the American way of life to the point that they are a defining aspect of our culture.  Most people in other countries hold the United States in disdain because of the gun violence.  We are an outlier in the rate of deaths by guns.  It is cited by many U.S. citizens as a major detraction of the nation and something they'd like to move away from.  Seventy percent of Americans think our democracy is under assault.  Thirty-eight percent have indicated they have thought of leaving America.

Many people think America needs to change, but the divide among them has become too formidable to make that a possibility.  An increasing number of political scholars think a civil war is a likelihood.  Recent Supreme Court decisions concerning abortion, gun rights, and public religious practices have caused many to question if they should try to regain rights they have lost or try to find a more amenable way to live.  That process could involve moving or dissolving the union and staking out a new democracy in a different configuration of the states.   A song lyric by John Prine captures what many people are experiencing:  "I still love America, I just don't know how to get there anymore."

The divisions among Americans is not a matter of political disagreements.  Such differences have a chance to be moderated.  The divisions are between cultures that cannot stand each other, divisions for which reconciliation is not even a consideration.  The contending forces do not want to fight.  They simply do not want anything to do with each other.  They find the talk about common ground and unity an absurdity.  We cannot resort to the ballot box as a way of resolving differences because one side is insisting that the elections are fraudulent, although multiple investigations have found that is not true.

The conclusion of some political scholars is that the country will be experience massive acts of civil disobedience in which half of the people will refuse to participate with the other half.  The country will be deadlocked and will just disintegrate.  And perhaps different forms and different societies will emerge.

We may still love America, but in reality there is no such place to get to anymore.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States