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News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The irritations and heartbreak of Facebook

My spouse put me on Facebook so I could keep updated on grandchildren.  I also found it a medium that kept me in touch with friends and acquaintances. But it often revealed things about some people that most people would rather not know.

I am dismayed at the exhibitionism of some people.  They are possessed by their own preciosity.  When I was in high school, the favored response to such displays was, "Well, smell me!"  They don't know the difference between letting others know what they are up to these days and putting themselves on display out of a conviction that the world needs something to admire.  They seem unaware that such displays are a regression to juvenile egotism.  I commented on this to a friend who agreed but said such self-displays were a symptom of dementia which can assail anyone.

It makes me think of the often-repeated ritual people go through when they receive some kind of an award.  With faux humility, they say, "I thank the people who made me what I am today,"  My internal response is, "You're thanking someone for creating a self-sucking twit?"

There really is no difference between people who post pictures of their genitalia and those who avariciously promote themselves with self-congratulatory posts of their latest activities.  Both are obscene.  And no one really wants to see them.  It would be more appropriate if they would simply post rectal portraits.  The imagery more accurately portrays the human characteristic involved.

Facebook is also a breeding ground for writing atrocities. It is a repository for mangled and abused language.  But it is a barometer for the state of literacy of the human species  of which Mark Twain said, "Can any plausible excuse be furnished for the crime of creating the human race?"  Facebook supports Twain's assessment.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

When mater ain't very alma

Teaching at Augustana College in Rock Island was like living through episodes of Mean Girls.  It demonstrated the one main thing I have in common with poet Sylvia Plath:  when you teach at the school which you once attended, you find your relationship with some faculty is quite different.  For some faculty, the change in relationship from mentor to colleague is an upsetting change in status.  Some faculty expect a permanent deference from students, and the expectation of equality by former students is regarded as a rather unforgivable impertinence.  

My eight years of teaching at Augustana had pleasant and productive aspects, and there was only one person on the faculty of my department that I had for a professor as a student. However, I found out eventually that there was a tradition instilled into the department that endured through many personnel changes.   While on the surface the department did its work delivering quality courses of study, it worked in a mire of petty treacheries and betrayals that defined the relationships of its members.  Some faculty asserted their sense of superiority with malice toward many.  It had its effects.

The Augustana experience made two of my young colleagues decide that college teaching was not for them. One of them returned to college teaching at a place he said was not possessed by a malicious competition for status.  I also found in 20 years of teaching at a public university that most faculty conduct themselves with measured good will and equality.  But I spent what I call one of the worst evenings of my life with English faculty from St. Olaf dominated by a woman who could not seem to utter a word that did not convey malice and disparagement.  As an officer in a faculty union which was involved in resolving charges of hostile work places, I saw the necessity for having contractual procedures for dealing with contumely as it creates irreconcilable divisions among faculty.  Malignant personalities can bring otherwise reputable organizations to moral, if not intellectual, dysfunction.  The Augustana department never reached that point because it had faculty of good will and good purpose who countered the Nazi-like intensity that possessed a few.  

I am a graduate of Augustana and regard my time as a student there with bright memories.  But as a faculty member, I came to recognize a lurking darkness of intention that resided in some.  It can be transmitted to students.  That's why adherence to a statement of ethical principle must be enforced to legitimize an institution of higher learning:

Professors, guided by a deep conviction of the worth and dignity of the advancement of knowledge, recognize the special responsibilities placed upon them. Their primary responsibility to their subject is to seek and to state the truth as they see it. To this end professors devote their energies to developing and improving their scholarly competence. They accept the obligation to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in using, extending, and transmitting knowledge.

Sometimes this means confronting the administration of college and the way academic business is done.


Saturday, February 12, 2022

They're not conservative; they're anti-democracy

 A militant anti-democracy movement is making gains in taking over the country.  One of their latest coups was in a large school district near Denver.  Four "conservatives" on a seven-member school board fired the superintendent in a power-play that broke the rules that govern how such decisions are supposed to be made.  Their motives appeared to be only to exercise power and had nothing to do with educational issues or serving the community.  Their sole purpose was to assert authority and assume control of the school district.

In another incident on another front, but driven by the same motive, Minneapolis police went into an apartment where the resident's cousin, 22-year-old Amir Locke,  was asleep with a gun nearby and blew him away with three shots as he woke up and grabbed for the gun.   Locke was not wanted for anything by law enforcement, and friends and family said he was, in fact, a mellow kind of guy.  But he did not survive an encounter in his sleep with an idiot with a gun.  

These incidents expose the big lie about America.  That lie is that the nation is about "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."  The superintendent did not have the liberty to explain the way he did his job.  Amir Locke did not have the right to life. And chasing after any happiness is beside the point.  If a person does not conform and subject himself to the notional commands of "conservatives," he can be terminated.  In their minds, anyone's rights but their own are alienable. 

These people call themselves conservatives, but they are, in fact, anti-democracy.  The thought of things like equality and the inalienable right-to-life makes them foam at the mouth and go into shooting rages.  They aren't about conserving the principles of American rights, but are devoted to finding ways to violate them.  A branch of American conservatism has lurched off into outright nazism. 

It raises the question of why meanness and stupidity occur together.  It may be that being called stupid makes people mean.  Or it could be that meanness numbs the brain cells.  Whatever the conditions of occurrence, ill will seems to concentrate in stupid people.  And much conservatism expresses itself in terms of ill will.  

This was apparent during the presidency of Donald Trump.  He exuded malice.  He and his supporters made it clear that they weren't offering a way to administer democracy.  They were against democracy.

Even though we are in a respite from an assault against democracy, we should not forget for a moment that the opponents of democracy are still out there, waiting for a chance to subvert it.  They will take over school boards.  Some will attack when they think  we're asleep.  To those who think their status is determined by how many people they can disparage and look down upon, democracy is an enemy--although they like it for themselves.  Just not for others.

Democracy is in constant peril from those conservatives who want a return to feudalism with them in the ruling class.

Friday, February 4, 2022

And then came Trump.

 For a long time, America basked in the reputation for being the world's greatest democracy.  And then came Donald Trump.  The country's reputation in the world took a steep dive.

Many political savants do not think the country can fully recover.  When a person does something incredibly stupid, people wisely assume he is likely to do it again.  The same goes for nations.  The election of Trump signified that the United States was in the grip of a  seizure of stupidity.  It has demonstrated its capability for stupidity and is likely to do it again.

The election of Trump to the presidency revealed a massive intellectual and moral failure in the American people.  A majority of voters put in office a man who violates every standard of competence and decency that Americans like to say they stand for.  The main thing Trump proved is that American democracy is a phony pretense.  The country does not live up to the benign aspirations that are popularly claimed as its goal,  and a good portion of Americans has no interest in things like honesty, integrity, intelligence, or good will.  They gauge success in life in terms of how many people can be fucked over.  America is being run like a business, and businesses are not run as democracies.  They have CEOs who are enthroned with the powers of kings.  When people say governments should be run like businesses, they are revealing their rejection of democracy and their preference for the rule of authority.  They got it with Donald Trump, and all the stupidity, pettiness, and meanness he musters.

America toppled from being a functioning democracy to being a bumbling autocracy.

Trump's antics get more press than the job being done by our current president.  Perhaps that is for the good if people realize that everything Trump says and does is a demonstration of what happens when a certified fool is in charge of something.   However, the foolery diverts attention away from the ultimate peril it puts democracy in, and that is that fools crave the power to impose their foolery on the world. 

After the election, the new administration announced that America is back, and our allies greeted then news with approval.  But there are reservations: America could always revert to a state of Trump.  That is an uncertainty that we and the rest of the world will need to learn how to live with.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States