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

Thursday, December 7, 2023

YMCA: Where some go to get fit and others go to get shot, in the town where democracy goes to die.

A clown-car spectacular!

Several law enforcement agencies were outside the Aberdeen Family YMCA responding to a shooting in the parking lot Wednesday, Nov. 15. Aberdeen Insider photo by Troy McQuillen

A man was shot dead in the parking lot of the YMCA.  Law enforcement and the news media treated the matter with the comportment as if someone passed gas during high mass at church.  They wrinkled their collective noses, exhaled, and went about their business as if nothing happened.

This report from the Aberdeen Insider:  "At this point,  [Police Capt. Tanner] Jondahl said, officers have determined two vehicles pulled into the parking lot and one person shot the other in the north entrance of the YMCA parking lot."  (That's a nasty part of the body to get shot in.)

The problem is that the victim was shot dead.  The victim was not named.  Neither was the shooter.

And for the most part, the entire incident remans factless.  So, the local newspaper, the Aberdeen American News, did not bother to report  what actually happened..  It published this statement:  "The name of the person who was shot has not yet been released pending notification of family."  And that appears to be the final word on a fatal shooting in this fine, upstanding community, as far as that newspaper is concerned. That's probably because the paper no longer has any reporters in town.  The staff of the Aberdeen Insider is comprised of two former reporters from the Aberdeen American News.

That brings up the matter of withholding names of people involved in law enforcement and other public incidents.  There are no laws or rules regarding the disclosure of identities of people involved in government proceedings.  There are laws requiring that accurate records be kept and that those records are open to the public because they are the property of the people in a democracy.  Records may be withheld if the information would impair an investigation or a business negotiation in process, but they are supposed to be available once the work is completed.

South Dakota has what purports to be a sunshine law which requires that government records be maintained and open to the public.  However, the law provides discretion to public officials which in effect nullifies the open record requirement.  Generally in the case of a death, the deceased person will be named in reports, but news media withhold the name of the deceased until the family is informed, which is usually  a matter of a few hours.  The police may either inform the media if the family has not been notified or embargo the name until the notification is made.  But the police do not have the authority to withhold names because they want to.  

In this case the name of the man killed, Donald Michael Heinz, was withheld for four days.  The name of the shooter was never revealed, nor were the circumstances of the shooting.  And that is a violation of democratic principle that the people have a right to know and an obligation to keep informed about how their government is performing.

The reports published the names of all the agencies involved in the shooting of Mr. Heinz as they patted themselves on the back for doing such a great job, but not a word was uttered about what actually happened.  And that is a failure of the agencies and the news media.  

It is not clear what is behind the refusal to inform the public in Aberdeen.  It could be the officious, bumbling ignorance and incompetence of some public employees or it could be the nefarious collusion of those who think they are the rulers of the public.  But crimes and disasters do not happen anonymously.  They happen to real people with names, ages, and addresses, and real people respond to them.  Sometimes incompetently.

The Washington Post has a motto on its masthead that says, "Democracy Dies in Darkness."  It seems to have taken its last gasp in Aberdeen.

Below is the coverage of the homicide, and no one is informed about what kind of homicide it is.



 [Aberdeen Insider 11-17-23]  A shooting incident on Wednesday, Nov. 15, where one person shot another in the parking lot of the Aberdeen Family YMCA  still remains under investigation as the Aberdeen Police Department continues to look into what led to the incident.

According to a news release from the Aberdeen Police Department, law enforcement received a report of a man with a gunshot wound who was in the YMCA parking area around 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday. Life-saving measures were attempted and the man was taken to the hospital, but he died from his injuries.

“The individual who is believed to have fired the gunshot was on scene when law enforcement arrived,” per the release.

Police Capt. Tanner Jondahl said the person believed to have shot the gun was initially detained, but released on Thursday. No charges had yet been filed as of Friday but, the case remains an active investigation. Any charges, he said, will be under discussion with the Brown County State’s Attorney’s Office.

As of Friday, State’s Attorney Karly Winter said the case remains an ongoing investigation and the case is still pending.

“We want to have all the evidence before making a charging decision,” Winter said.

Officers had determined by Wednesday that two vehicles pulled into the north entrance of the Aberdeen Family YMCA parking lot and one person shot the other, Johndahl said.

YMCA staff assisted with life-saving measures, he said.

According to a statement from YMCA Executive Director Mike Quast members and staff immediately called 911 after the shooting occurred.

“We are thankful for their quick response and are keeping those who responded as well as the victim and their family in our thoughts and prayers,” Quast said in a statement.

According to the release, Avera St. Lukes made the determination to go on lockdown out of an abundance of caution. No security measures were taken at the YMCA or at Roncalli’s elementary school. Jondahl said officers were able to discern very quickly there wasn’t a security risk to people at the YMCA or the school that would necessitate a lockdown. According to the release, the incident appears to be isolated and unrelated to the YMCA.

“The safety and wellbeing of everyone who enters our doors is a top priority of the Aberdeen Family YMCA, and we will continue to work with Aberdeen Police Department to ensure our safety policies align with best-in-class practices. We are also providing mental health counseling to the staff who responded to the situation,” Quast said.

In addition to the Aberdeen Police Department, other agencies responding are The Brown County Sheriff’s Office, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Brown County Emergency Management and Aberdeen Fire & Rescue.


[Aberdeen Insider 11-21-23]  A 70-year-old Aberdeen man who died as the result of a Nov. 15 shooting has been identified.

The incident remains under investigation, but Brown County State’s Attorney Karly Winter confirmed the man who died was Donald Heinz.

The shooting was in the parking lot of the Aberdeen Family YMCA.

According to police reports at the time, Heinz and the man who is believed to be the shooter both pulled into the parking lot where Heinz was shot. The identity of the person who shot Heinz has not been released, though he was immediately detained by law enforcement and later released. No charges have been filed.

“We want to have all the evidence before making a charging decision,” Winter said.

The shooting was around 12:15 p.m. on Nov. 15. Life-saving measures were attempted, and Heinz was taken to the hospital, but he died from his injuries.

Avera St. Luke’s Hospital went on lockdown out of an abundance of caution, according to the initial news release from the Aberdeen Police Department. No security measures were taken at the YMCA or Roncalli’s elementary school as law enforcement determined there wasn’t a security risk.

OBITUARY: Donald Michael Heinz

In addition to the Aberdeen Police Department, other agencies responding included the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, the South Dakota Highway Patrol, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, Brown County Emergency Management and Aberdeen Fire & Rescue.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

The day we blew the school up


The old Moline High School, now an apartment building
The science classrooms and labs were on the top floor where I went to high school.  Some of the labs had sky lights in addition to the windows.  In chemistry lab on this particular day, we were generating oxygen through some chemical reaction.  We were instructed in setting up the glass ware over a bunsen burner, letting the chemicals work, and then lighting the gas that emanated from the  pipette to produce a clear blue flame.  There were nice blue flames aglow throughout the lab, and my lab partner Dan and I were carefully assembling our experiment, measuring the chemicals, getting them to cook for a time to produce the oxygen, held the match to it, and lucky for us, the explosion sent the entire experiment straight up into the sky light, and then rained down chemicals and glass into the laboratory sink.  In trying to determine what went wrong, Mr. Swanson said we probably had an obstruction in our pipette.  

Our obstructed pipette became a feature of the After Dinner Club-Maroon Fellowship annual review show which did a sketch of why the school held a fire drill if Newquist and Holland were ever seen in the chemistry lab together.  The sketch capitalized on the known fact that I smoked cigarettes and portrayed me as trying to light the oxygen gas experiment with a lit cigarette.

The chemistry lab was the source of many interruptions of the school day.  A favorite prank was to create a rotten egg smell that would pervade the building and cause an evacuation until it was cleared of the odor.  At a school board meeting a citizen asked why they bothered to clear the building;  why not let the nasty little asses sit there and breathe the foul air they had created?  The young speech teacher asked who would want to sit in a room and breathe air that smells like a particularly egregious fart.  The young speech teacher received a letter of reprimand from the school board for saying the word fart in public, suggesting it was permissible to fart in public, but never to use the word.  And where does that smart aleck get off using a word like egregious The school board passed a resolution that the chemicals used in creating that odor be kept under lock and key.  That was proven absurd as the odor became more frequent as its ingredients were smuggled in from the outside  and placed in the ventilator shafts. 

Times have changed.  My spouse works at the high school.  I have never heard her mention the school being emptied to clear it of a rotten egg smell.  Nor for any chemistry experiments that went awry.

However, schools are alert for possible shootings, and long for the day when rotten egg smells were the biggest threat.  


Sunday, October 29, 2023

Aberdeen, a great place to be from


Aberdeen was once a shopping center for northeastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota.  It had national brand stores such as Walmart, Target, Kmart, Shopko, Sears, Herbergers, among others, and a functioning downtown area as well as a couple of strip malls.  For a time, it supported a good-sized mall, but the tenant stores come and go.  Many went.  When Northern  State U. students from the area wrote essays about growing up, they often included memories about coming to Aberdeen to shop, dine, attend movies, sport events, and special entertainment events. For the most part, the places of those memories don't exist anymore.  When I first moved to Aberdeen, there were, for example, four mens clothing stores on Main Street downtown.  No such enterprises exist in town now.  

Aberdeen still has a Target and a Walmart and two locally owned supermarkets.   In the retail sector, Kohl's and Marshall's are recent additions.   But the chamber of commerce and other promotional organizations say little about the town's advantages because most of their efforts are devoted to denying that the town is shrinking commercially.  People in Aberdeen tend to drive the four-lane highways to Sioux Falls or Fargo or cross-country to the Twin Cities for their serious shopping.

The buying habits within a community change with the times, the fashions, and the shifts of populations.  Aberdeen's changes are trending downward.  It has lost stores such as Kmart and Shopko recently.

This summer marked the closing of Presentation College.  The college leaders said the remoteness of the town was one of the factors in their decision to close the college.  It is somewhat difficult for students to get to Aberdeen.  It's not on the way to anywhere, and is not much of a destination in its own right, a fact that community leaders are loathe to admit.  Aberdeen's most important asset at this juncture is Northern State University.

The city is purchasing the Presentation athletic facilities, including an inflatable dome, to add to its parks and recreation program.  The academic and residential facilities remain vacant at this juncture, reminders of a lost educational enterprise.

 The town has a history of being abandoned by enterprises.  Control Data closed its operation in Aberdeen which had 1,340 employees at one time.  Some employers have merged with or been acquired by large companies, and seem to follow a pattern of shipping the operations performed in Aberdeen to other locations.  Such is the case with Hub City, Inc., a manufacturer of transmission parts which had operated in Aberdeen for 125 years before its corporate owner, Regal Beloit Corp., which is now Regal Rexnord, closed it down.  Molded Fiberglass for which a special building was put up for manufacturing blades for wind-powered electricity generators left town in 2021.

Businesses have noted the difficulty in finding and keeping competent employees, and some have closed because of it.  This was cited as the closing of a Max and Irma's restaurant.  A personnel manager who was a neighbor of mine complained that as soon as people established good credentials at his firm, they would use them to obtain jobs in other places.  He eventually followed suit.  Employable people are aware of the fickleness with which corporations have treated Aberdeen, and choose to invest their energies where companies offer a more stable work environment.

Public transportation to and from Aberdeen is scarce.  The town gets its nickname, Hub City, from the fact that five railroads once converged here. There are no passenger trains now, but a couple of BNSF freight trains rumble through a few times a day.   A bus service is listed as having a stop at an automotive repair shop, but I haven't seen one traveling through town recently.  Through federal subsidies, Sky West has airplane flights to and from Minneapolis a couple times a day at some inconvenient times.  If you google for the flight schedule, however, you won't find  one.  Aberdeen does have a 4-lane expressway east for 75 miles to I-29, and 2-lane highways in other directions. An automobile is essential for getting in and out of Aberdeen.  And many people have chosen to drive the heck out of here.

The current population of Aberdeen is listed as 28,500, up from 26,100 in 2010.  While Aberdeen, along with the rest of the state, has shown growth, there has been some fluctuation in the town's expansion.   The population took some hits ten years ago when a meat packing venture failed as part of a scandal involving the government EB-5 program.  But Aberdeen is affected by a situation that is statewide.  It was brought up at a meeting of the governor's economic advisers:  “Trying to keep our talent in the state, rather than going elsewhere, is the continual challenge we’ll all have.”

The outmigration of educated and talented people is shifting the population in ways that are indicated in the political make up of the state by voter registration:  Republican, 302,066; Democratic, 148,136; Libertarian, 2,943; independent, 89,180.  Republicans are more than double the number of Democrats.  Just a few years ago, Democrats held all three federal offices, the one House of Representative seat and both Senate seats.  With today's political makeup, it doesn't look possible to elect a Democrat to anything.  That applies to Aberdeen and Brown County.

Political "scientists" castigate the Democratic Party for the Republican domination of state's political offices.  They accuse it of slovenliness.  They fail to acknowledge that the outmigration from the state is led by people of the liberal bent who wish to escape the mean-minded stodginess of which the so-called political scientists are a part.  The governor's advisers, at least, note the problem.   The dominance of South Dakota governance by Republicans is a reflection of the outmigration.   Liberals tend to flee from the state for political and cultural reasons.  And that is true for Aberdeen.  Many of the younger people I encounter are focused on getting out of town and living their lives elsewhere. They tend to be of a liberal mentality.

With two colleges in town and their associated activities of sports and cultural activities, Aberdeen was an educational center.  It boasted both a public and a private Catholic higher education facilities.  The closing of Presentation College removes a basis for that claim.  Northern State University has stepped up to take over some of the programs Presentation offered, such as nursing.  Northern has almost  a 7 percent enrollment increase over last year, some of which is likely the absorption of local Presentation students. 

For those who find the politics and culture oppressive, there is some comfort in knowing there are other places and other cultures to go to.  Higher education offers a passport to those places.  The talent is here, looking for some place to go.  Aberdeen is a great place to be from.  That seems to be its future.

Monday, October 16, 2023

How to show children that democracy doesn't work

It's a South Dakota story.  A woman and her children returned to their Aberdeen apartment from a family vacation in the mountains and found an eviction notice on their door.  The issuer of the notice claimed the woman hadn't paid her rent.  She went to the building manager with her bank account statement to show that her rent check for the month had cleared, and to make preparations to move. However, upon checking her records the manager found that the rent was in fact paid up.  Just a mistake, she said.

The children did not accept that easy dismissal.  They regarded the eviction notice as an attempt to put them out on the street.  No dismissal or apology or cajoling from their mother could change the malice and menace that it represented to them.  So now they live in a place they hate because, they think, its managers intended to get rid of them. To the children, it signifies the kind of world they live in, a world that poses constant obstacles for them.  Children see the world as it treats them, not through the prisms of justification that we adults do.  

The single mother of the children says she will probably move to settle down the children, but to do so will be expensive and disruptive to their lives.  The kids have developed an adverse attitude toward the place; they don't want to live in a place that has indicated it doesn't want them.  Teachers note the perspicacity of children.  Kids see the realities and motives of the world,  and they don't believe or trust adult efforts to brush them aside or placate the children. They say many of their students confront realities and see through the artifices we erect to disguise the malevolent  attitudes and cerebral incompetence of adults.

To be lawful, evictions must be processed through a court, but South Dakota is notably partial to landlords in applying rules governing rental property.  The execution of an eviction is supposed to be done through an order of the court.  While the rules mention guaranteeing due process for renters, they don't specify how to implement that process.  Obtaining the court sanction to evict seems to be a routine, mechanical process.  The mother said in this case the landlord did not seem to have followed the procedure.  She simply asserted her authority, and in this state, no one challenges it.

I do not know the family involved personally. I know of the situation through a civil rights organization I have worked with and supported over the years.  It is monitoring the case.  The children's teachers observed how disturbed the children were and the school informed social workers about them, as they were so distracted that they couldn't concentrate on their school work.  

Civil rights leaders' concern about incidents like this eviction notice are based on the effects they have on children.  For kids to acquire respect and appreciation for American liberty, equality, justice, and equal opportunity, they have to be shown in their daily lives how those qualities of life work.  They have to have the principles of democratic beneficence applied to them.  The children in this family feel menaced by a legal procedure, although it was withdrawn.  They are wary about a threat that seems to lie in wait for an opportunity to strike again.

To those children, the adult world is not something that can be trusted.  That kind of distrust does not portend well for the future of our republic.  What they believe in the future will depend on how carefully the principles of our democracy are applied to them now.  Even evictions must be carried out in a spirit of good will.  Taping an eviction notice on a door expresses ill will.  And that is an expression of our society.


Saturday, October 14, 2023

Where are the Democrats?

Those who monitor and comment on politics in South Dakota tend to ignore one factor that significantly affects the political climate.  That is the outmigration:  who leaves the state, how many, and why.

As a South Dakota professor, I was aware that a goal of many, perhaps most,  students was to find work and life in other places.  At one point, the college president recognized this and sought to use it as an appeal for attracting students.  He started using a slogan for the university as being "a gateway institution,"  a college that prepares one to find and make a living in other places.   The suggestion that a state college would encourage its students to study as preparation for life in other states enraged politicians, and the regents severely reprimanded  the college president for making that appeal.  He quickly ended its usage.

But the shifts of population out of the state are a fact of life.   The opportunities to apply a college education in a job within the state of South Dakota are very limited.  That college president was concerned about where college students could find positions where they could utilize their educations.  He was troubled about the "brain drain" in South Dakota, but to use their educations, many students had to go to other states, and the state lost their knowledge and talents.

Political strategists recognize the implication of the brain drain for the state.   People with  intellectual tendencies gravitate toward liberalism.  And when they seek out places where they can work with their brains, they take their talents with them.  South Dakota identifies itself as a conservative state, but to many "conservative" means "backward," resistance to liberating influences. There is an outmigration of intellectual talent when students graduate from high school and go to college in other states.  There is another when college students in the state graduate and move to other places to utilize their degrees.  What political operatives fail to realize is the reason that there are so many more Republicans than Democrats in South Dakota is that young liberals leave the state for better opportunities and more progressive cultures.  And the more conservative the state gets in its politics, the more determined young liberals are to leave it.   Staid residents often say to critics of the state that if they don't like it here, they should leave.   And that's precisely what they do.

For many years, as an officer in a political party I maintained a mailing list for the Democrats in my area.  I noted a steady decrease in members as their names were removed for reasons of attrition.  When people left, they weren't replaced.  People looked for work out of state.    They chose other places for retirement.  Many just chose to move.  Whatever the motives, the decline in membership was striking, and when we officers reviewed the membership roll, we determined that the decline did not come from a loss of interest, as we had feared, but from a general loss of people in those categories that comprised the active membership.  When we consulted population studies, we found that our region of the country--the upper midwest-- had one of the nation's largest losses of population in the productive age group.  We also noted that some communities have lost facilities run by organizations which were important parts of the of communities.  Aberdeen has lost facilities run by groups like the American Legion and VFW, the Elks and Eagles lodges, and has lost retail outlets such as Shopko, Kmart, and Herbergers.  The population numbers seem fairly stable, but a closer analysis  shows that those leaving are the creative, ambitious, more intellectual people; those left behind are those who tend to avoid stimulation, venture, and change.

Current news in Aberdeen includes reports of further decline.  The school system has 59 fewer students this term.  The Burger King, a national franchise in every community of any size, has closed.  

The Republican Party has almost a total lock on government.  But that's not because its policies and messages are most appealing.  Or because it is more deft at organizing.  It's because the Democrats are leaving.  The party has trouble finding candidates and people who can martial an effective campaign.   That's because the people who could fill those roles are off  somewhere physically or mentally working on creating more vital and relevant lives

Monday, August 28, 2023

Democratic Doomsday: they slog around in wet shoes.

For many years, I was active and held county offices in the  South Dakota Democratic Party.  During that time, Democrats held both the U.S. Senate seats and the House of Representatives seat, and my county had Democrats in the state legislature. Today, Democrats holding those same offices doesn't seem like a possibility.  The current number of registered Democrats in the state is vastly outnumbered by Republicans and independents, and the latter seem to heavily support Republicans in the voting booths.

I began to note the decline in party membership during the time I was active.  Among the local party members, there was a significant outmigration.  Their children were leaving the state for higher education and to find jobs commensurate with their educations and abilities, and they seldom returned to live in South Dakota.  Many members moved out of state for better jobs or retirement.  As people left the party through  attrition, there were no younger people taking their places.

But there were other factors that affected the party.  One year the state party convention was held in Aberdeen, and local members were much involved in facilitating the work sessions.  We noted that factions were very aggressive about obtaining and holding on to power.  The delegates from the larger metropolitan communities, Sioux Falls and Rapid City,  often exhibited a patronizing attitude toward delegates from the rural areas.  On some matters, the internal politics were ruthless, approaching hostility.  At one point, a few people were offended and decided to leave and go home.  I recall that federal office holders had staff members go after the disaffected ones and try to conciliate with them.

A long-time staff member remarked that he wished the party members would show that kind of intensity during the election campaigns, rather than "pissing on their shoes" during our organizational meetings. At this time, there are no South Dakota Democrats holding national offices, so there are no current Democratic staff members at work in the state who possess contacts and political knowledge.  Staff members work directly with their constituencies, understand the concerns of the people, and provide the political intelligence that informs their bosses.  As a matter of full disclosure, I note that my spouse has staffed members of both the Senate and the House.

Staff members are acutely aware of how the public perceives the party, because they deal with the public daily.  They are aware of the dedicated opposition, of which people focus  on competence, integrity, and effectiveness, and which people are mindless partisan hacks.  When the elected officials asked their staff members to try to make amends with the people who were leaving that meeting, they were concerned about the way the party was presenting itself to the members and the general public.

The dwindling of registered members cannot be totally attributed to an outmigration.  The way the party conducts itself and the way it deals with problems determines to a large degree whether people want to associate with the party.  As Democrats are a minority in the state, they don't receive much press coverage.  They have received a lot of late, but it is of the pissing-on-shoes variety that makes experienced and savvy politicians cringe.  

The party has voted to recall the state party chair who had been in office for only four months.  Leaders say she violated the party constitution by taking actions without getting required approval from the central committee and that she created a hostile workplace, which caused a newly appointed executive director to resign.  The central committee vote to recall her was unanimous with a couple of abstentions.  This removal received extensive reporting by the press, which has the effect of telling the public that the party is in disarray.  It's a message that Republicans love to circulate.

When the recalled chair took office, she said, according to a report in the South Dakota Standard:

“I was honored to be elected as the leader of the Democratic Party here in South Dakota,” she said in a statement provided by the SDDP. “Democratic politics in this state is a challenging job. I know many of us feel ignored and looked down upon. Our voices are valuable and deserve to be heard. I intend to make that happen.”

That statement does not correlate at all with the reasons stated for her removal.  Her stated intentions appear to be in direct contrast with her relationships with party workers.  Her removal from the chair was angry and noisy.   And the result will be something political strategists fear most:  heavy collateral damage within and outside the party.  Once again, party members put on a spectacle of pissing on their shoes.

I have heard some of my colleagues in the communication arts groan and say, this is so South Dakota!  That raises the matter of the outmigration of people from South Dakota and the reason it reflects the dwindling numbers of Democrats in the state.  South Dakota, while it claims a superior work ethic and more freedom, has earned a reputation among many people for meanness. pettiness, and deficits of intelligence.  People of liberal values tend to leave, while certain brands of conservatism find it comfortable.  The brands I speak of are those which  cling to racism, sexism, class divisions, and which dislike programs that help the disadvantaged.  The rather boisterous removal of the Democratic chair demonstrated that the party is more motivated to respond to personnel issues than it is to formulate and promote measures that improve democracy.  

While the recall of the chair may be justified, it adds to the image of a bumbling organization in the minds of many.  That is a major obstacle that Democratic candidates for office have to deal with.  The party certainly has the right and responsibility to take necessary actions to insure that it is properly run. But it also needs to acutely be aware of the messages its actions send to party members and the general public.  The message sent with the firing of the chair came across as a good, old South Dakota pissing contest, not a demonstration of responsible, honest, effective governance.

There is huge irony in this situation.  The kind of things party leaders accused the Democratic chair of are the kinds of things the press reports that the current Republic governor does.  

She won re-election, is very popular, but legislative leaders admit they don't talk to her.  There is much about her administration that is an offense against decency.  She provides young liberals with reasons for leaving the state.  If the Democrats can get their act together, there  is quite a story to tell the people.  If any are left in the state to tell it.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The gate keepers of the concentration camps


"[the] tired, [the] poor, [the] huddled masses yearning to breathe free"
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who aspires to the presidency of the United States, and Gov Greg Abbott of Texas put on an unusual display of emulating the Holocaust.  It involved immigrants.

What to do about the migrants piling up at our southern border has been a conundrum for decades.  We used to call it the wetback problem for the people who swam the Rio Grand to get across the border and then labored in the fields in sweat-soaked shirts harvesting America's produce.  Those people were driven over the border to find work and survival.  Today they are more driven to escape oppressive regimes.  There is a constant supply of them crossing the border.

Gov. DeSantis' solution was to put the migrants on a plane and send them to Martha's Vineyard, a favorite gathering point for wealthy liberals.  Abbott chartered buses and sent migrants to New York City.  People at the destination had to figure out ways to accommodate the migrants.

The governors said they took this action to give those northern liberals a taste for what it was like to have to deal with the influx of migrants. They were using human lives to make a mean and resentful point.

This was the same tactic that the Nazis used on people they didn't want.  They loaded Jews, Roma, and others onto trains, but they had preparations at the destinations:  concentration camps equipped with gas ovens.  DeSantis and Abbott did not send the migrants to death camps, but their trivialization of migrant lives was carried out in the same spirit.

And so, they sent "[the] tired, [the] poor, [the] huddled masses yearning to breathe free" to oblivion.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Can nurses keep NSU healthy?

One April day in 2021, the president of Northern State University suddenly left the campus.  He was obviously fired, but by whom and for what was never revealed publicly.    This summer he will take over the presidency of Minnesota State University Moorhead.  His hiring to be president of a larger university in the region serves as a rebuke to whatever took place at Northern.

The general public has no idea of what took place at Northern.  The South Dakota press doesn't get much involved in anything but processing press releases.   And local news coverage in Aberdeen is sporadic, at best.  Actually, there are no media left in the area that actually practice journalism. No one is asking from the perspective of public interest if Northern State is operating as a university of free and open inquiry or if it is under political control.  It is doubtful that anyone really cares.

Shortly before that day the president left, legislators had circulated the draft of a letter to him threatening to fire him if he put a plan for diversity at the university into effect.  Apparently, someone found reason to carry out the threat.  Which raises issues about what kind of place NSU is.

With the ditzy governor issuing directives to the Board of Regents defining for them what  universities are  and what they can do, one can assume that Northern is being managed as a political department of state government, rather than an independent academic institution.  Noem wrote to the regents  that liberal ideologies have compromised universities throughout the land and she orders them to do something about it.  That is a nakedly political charge and brands the state system as being reduced to an indoctrination center for small-minded and fallacy-driven conservatism.  As a retired professor who once headed the faculty union in the state, I could not recommend sending a student to a college system presided over by a peevish and ignorant shrew.  There has been some mild whimpering from the faculty about the Noem nonsense, but a competent, functioning faculty would quickly and emphatically make clear that the governor in no way represents the competence and integrity with which they carry out their work.  To not do so raises issues about the academic competence and integrity of the system.

In the past, the South Dakota faculty had a union through which they could address their professional concerns.  That is no longer the case.  The governor and legislature passed a law banning college faculty unions.  And that raises questions for prospective students and their parents  about education delivered by a faculty  cowed into a state of subservience by domineering and ignorant political bullies.  The ban violates a basic premise of authentic scholarship in that it limits freedom of inquiry.  It cancels academic freedom.  What is most significant is that no one seems to have objected to having a fundamental academic right and procedure taken away.

For students and their parents who are interested in educations that employ critical inquiry, Northern has a questionable history.  In the past, it was once censured by the American Association of University Professors and  had to correct its  administrative practices to get off the censure list.  Building and maintaining a sound academic reputation has been a struggle at Northern, but it has had faculty members that strove for a competitive reputation for the college.  However, it also has operated with a portion of the faculty willing to concede their academic freedom and collegial privileges in order to keep in the good graces of authoritarian administrations. When a faculty union was established, Northern professors were in the leadership in gaining and utilizing collective bargaining to improve the professional status of the faculty in the state.  The faculty has since abandoned collective bargaining as a means of exercising shared authority in the work of the universities. And the fact is that NSU is under pressure to be a political indoctrination center and not an institution of academic freedom.  

 With the closing of Presentation College this summer, Aberdeen lost a facility for training nurses. Up to this time, Northern was not involved in educating nurses.  Within the state higher education system, SDSU was the primary campus for training nurses. The Regents have now authorized NSU to start a nursing program.  The closing of Presentation College is a blow to the community, but Northern's expansion to include degrees in nursing restores an important medical education resource to the region.  But this expansion of Northern's mission comes at  the same time that its scholarly authority is being diminished by a governor and elements in her political party.  The college will have an arduous task in establishing cooperative programs in nursing education with local hospitals and clinics, but there is a public demand for developing such resources.  The nursing program at NSU will start in the fall 2024.  

If educators establish and run the nursing program, it should be a credit to the University.  The problem is if University leaders and the Regents can protect the system from the governor.  She is a threat to education.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Take cover! The Governor got out!

The South Dakota Governor's Mansion

The spike-tipped fence around the South Dakota governor's mansion cost $462,000.  (It was never made clear exactly who paid for it--tax-payers or donators or both.)  But wily as a coyote, good ol' Ditzy Kristi Noem still gets out.  A half million dollar fence ain't going to corral this gal.

Of late, she has decided to stalk the state universities.  Nose to the ground, she is sniffing out poisonous liberal ideologies she claims are lurking on the campuses.  She is really torqued that the graduation rate in the state universities is only 47 percent whereas nationally it is 63 percent.  We wonder if the universities have figures on how many students transfer out and obtain their degrees in other states.  

A lot of kids may take their fundamental courses at South Dakota schools, but go elsewhere to get their diplomas.  South Dakota universities have a bit of a reputation for being diploma mills run by political hacks rather than being full-fledged academic institutions, and good students like to hold degrees from more respected institutions.   Nobody contributes to a negative reputation more than the ditz herself.  She finally obtained her own degree when she held office as a U.S. congresswoman.  She said she took courses that she worked on while flying back and forth between her constituents and her office in Washington, D.C.  Professors and students alike question how it was possible to take senior college courses, do the study and research, write papers, and take examinations, while doing the full-time job of a U.S. congress person.  It would take heck of a lot of flying hours along with a much help from some servile faculty and some zesty amphetamines to pull that off.  However, that may well be how she came up the state slogan "Meth.  We're on it."

A good thing about South Dakota is that it has tuition reciprocity agreements with other states so that students can attend colleges in other states without paying out-of-state tuition. A degree earned in a place where some dippy governor does not intrude into setting academic standards and policy has more value and credibility. 

She did struggle to get through college.  She claims she  had to drop out of college when her father was killed in a grain bin accident and she had to take over management of the farm.  She also struggles with the truth.  She withdrew from Northern State University in 1992 and got married that year in Watertown.   Her father died in March 1994.

Apparently her surveillance of the campuses has revealed more crime, corruption, and extra-curricular diddling in the library stacks than she can deal with on her own.  She dealt with this crisis by establishing a whistleblowers' hotline.  The ringing telephone has kept her up at nights.  Apparently academic terrorists  have targeted the universities at Vermillion and Black Hills State for particularly insidious attacks. During the covid crisis, a  professor  told a student who refused to wear a mask that any deaths caused from spreading the disease were on him, her, it, whatever pronoun you choose.  Ditzy believes that any death by covid is the will of God and anything that interferes with his, her, its or their will is a desecration.  By God.

If there is one thing Ditzy can't stand, it's people interfering with open inquiry and expression of ideas.  Some years back, the faculty in state universities were organized into a union, which collectively negotiated the terms of the contracts under which faculty work.  In a letter to the Regents, she complained that professors have abandoned logic and reason and the search and the open exchange of ideas in the search for truth.  She put a stop to that nonsense.  In 2020, she signed a law banning faculty unions on college campuses.  

There was a governor named Noem

About whom was made this poem.

She hated liberals and the Chinese

and other things that made her sneeze.

She vowed to keep the state free of speech and gluten,

and run it just like Vladimir Putin.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The man in the purple suit

 I don't remember exactly what his name was, but it began with a K.  Koraba possibly.   I did not have much contact with him because our assigned duties were in different sections of the guided missile base, and our work schedules rarely coincided.   He was a mild and naive soul who never adjusted to the crudities of Army life.  He did and said things that drew ridicule from the troops.  In Germany, we were often visited by a sales representative from a custom tailoring company who we called Hong Kong Charlie,  named for  where the clothes were sewn.  K. ordered a suit from him with an iridescent fabric that flashed from purple to maroon when the light struck it.  He thought it was nifty.  It was actually ugly. The troops shouted out warnings to put on sun glasses when K. wore it.  He often remonstrated with his fellow soldiers about their carousing and their pursuit of loose women.  He prayed before eating his food in the mess hall and before going to sleep.  He meekly protested when treated with unkindness or cruelty, which was often.  His meekness seemed to attract the attention of bullies.  The ridicule was constant, but some of the men sternly told the ridiculers to leave him alone.

One morning when we fell out for reveille, we were unable to wake K. up.  We reported this to the duty sergeant who tried to arouse him, then summoned the medics.  The last time I saw K. was on a stretcher as he was being carried to an ambulance.  We heard that he was taken to the Army hospital in Heidelberg, then to an Air Force hospital that had a psychiatric ward and staff trained to deal with mental issues.  Our post medic told us that K. had regressed into an infantile state in which he sought refuge from his problems through lapsing into  unconsciousness.  We never heard if he was ever awakened again.

For some of us, it was a hard experience.  It was like losing a fellow soldier in combat, except his own side inflicted the wounds.  We talked among ourselves about the insane depravity that a person could be drafted to serve his country and end up like K.  We talked about whether the military needed to be more attentive in dealing with cases like K.'s, and the irony of the fact that the Army which had liberated Germany from the concentration camps had created just such a place for K.  For many of us, it was a sad tragedy.  It still haunts me.

I didn't know him well enough to remember his exact name, but I never forgot him and the forlorn life he lived.  Some of us had tried to be kind and friendly to him, but he did not fit into the lives we lived as soldiers.  He wasn't the kind of guy who would join you for a friendly beer or go on pass with.  After he was gone from the barracks, one of the men asked if there was anyone in our outfit that K. could call a friend.  Another man asked if there was anyone in the world he could call a friend.  K. projected a desolate and pain-filled life.  No one knew his background or the kind of life he led as a civilian.  However, his departure left most of his fellow soldiers in a deeply saddened state.

This all happened more than 60 years ago, but the case of K. still comes to mind.  He was a peculiar sort of fellow, which made him the object of ridicule and cruelty by some people.  The man who bunked next to me suggested that a group of us pay a visit to K. at the hospital where he ended up to wish him well.  We thought that even if he had not regained consciousness, a visit from fellow soldiers would register on him.  But we learned that he had been moved again, presumably back to the U.S., and we were unable to get anymore information on his status.  

What happened to K. was a failure of our battery in basic humanity.  Its treatment of K. was a refutation of what our schools and churches try to teach us.  Most of the men realized this, and there was a very noticeable drop in morale.  One man expressed it:  we'll never forget the man in the purple suit.

He was right.

Friday, June 9, 2023

How "woke" identifies the mean and stupid

 I cringe when white people bandy the term "woke" about as if they know what they are saying.  It is a term that has a special meaning and a special history.  It comes out of the American black community where one might hear a person say, "He be woke."

To white people, it sounds like an ungrammatical term for being awake.  Most white people don't realize that much of black language that sounds ungrammatical to them is code language that means something quite specific to an American black.  There is a vocabulary and a body of songs and stories that fool the honkeys but sustain the blacks.   We refer  to Negro Spirituals and assume they are songs about going home to Jesus, such as "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."  It is actually a song about the UnderGround Railroad and escaping slavery.

When a black says "he be woke,"  it means a person who understands the oppression that black people have been subjected to and is willing and able to provide a way out of it.   The term woke comes directly out of the Underground Railroad.

William Still, a black man in Philadelphia, who had family held in slavery, operated an Underground Railroad station.  He compiled a book of letters exchanged in conducting the business of helping people escape slavery.    One of the letters he received announcing that some fugitive slaves were being sent to him was from Petersburg,  Va., in 1860 signed by an agent who called himself Ham and Eggs.  In part, the letter says,

I want you to know, that I feel as much determined to work in this glorious cause, as ever I did in all of my life, and I have some very good hams on hand that I would like very much for you to have.  I have nothing of interest write about just now, only that the politics of the day is in a high rage, and I don"t know of the result, therefore, I want you to be one of those wide-a-wakes  as is mentioned from your section of country now-a-days, &c.  Also, if you wish to write to me, Mr. J. Brown will inform you how to direct a letter to me.

No more at present, until I hear from you; but I want you to be a wide-a-wake.

                                                    Yours in haste,

                                                    HAM & EGGS*

To be aware of the failures of our democracy and endeavor to correct them is what t means to be woke, in the jargon of abolitionists. A woke person will understand that slavery and segregation have vestiges that still operate in our institutions.  Critical Race Theory posits that remnants of discrimination and oppression linger in some of our laws and institutions and can be identified and rooted out, as part of making democracy more perfect.  Some people who rail against anything woke are simply too ignorant and stupid to understand the origins of the term. And some actually long for the good old days of racial oppression. Critical Race Theory is not a subject matter that can be taught in schools.  It is a process of being aware that racial discrimination still exists and is practiced in parts of our culture.

It really gets tiring to hear the term woke because it is so misunderstood and misused.  At one time it referenced the efforts to make democracy more perfect.  Its contemptuous use identifies those who would repeal the Thirteenth Amendment and re-establish racial oppression as the American way.  Rather than call oneself woke, it is better to simply advocate for the principles of American democracy--liberty, equality, and justice.

But if you want to know who the opponents of democracy are, note who rants and raves against woke.  Then you have to decide if they are simply incredibly stupid or if they are among those who would like to end democracy.  

 *William Still, The Underground Railroad Collection:  Real Life Stories of the Former Slaves and Abolitionists



Wednesday, June 7, 2023

A pall descends

A pall fell over the Memorial Day weekend.  A woman who was a close friend of my daughter's committed suicide.  Suicides produce a darkness of spirit in people who are touched by them.  Surviving friends and acquaintances are devastated.  They question if there was some way they could have helped the victim deal with the agony and misery that drove the person to take one's own life.  

I had met the woman, but did not actually know her.  But I saw the effect her death has had on my daughter and her friends.  My daughter became friends with her in middle school.  Her friends have said she had a rough life in which she endured maltreatment.  She also had a substance addiction, probably as a way of dealing with the distress in her life.  As is the custom in public obituaries, no mention is made of the manner of death or suffering that drove her to it.  It emphasizes the "positive" aspects of her life.  Obituaries customarily avoid the truth.

Suicides are the canaries in our social coal mines.  They signal that poison is in the atmosphere.  People die from the toxins in our society, but our society is too stupid or too brazen to pay attention, to take notice that there is something lethal in our environment.  When bad things happen, we make mutterings about mental health, even though we have no idea about what constitutes good mental health.  So, we have mass shootings regularly which provide opportunities to recite our rituals about thoughts and prayers and mental health and then wait a week or less for the next shooting so we can make our recitation again.  But we don't even know about suicides, because our news media doesn't mention that manner of death in order to keep from adding more anguish to the survivors.  

My acquaintance with suicides occurred when I was working on a newspaper and the reporter who covered county government wrote a story that reported that in a vey short time in the community, the coroners' office had recorded 29 suicides.  Only a few had been reported as such in news reports and published obituaries.  The chief editor of the paper decided that we needed to do an accounting of this many suicides, not by revealing their identities, but by finding out their causes and effects. A team of reporters and editors was assembled to develop the project which turned out to be lengthy and complex.  I was assigned to the team.  We were to see what we could find out about each individual case and try to determine what factors compelled the person to act.  I eventually left the newspaper to go to graduate school, but the editor asked if I would still participate in the project until it was published.  I worked on it when I had time over the years, but it was never published because it was never completed.

We interviewed law enforcement and mental health authorities to obtain a comprehensive background.  Then we searched out relatives, friends, workmates, and any acquaintances of each of the victims who might provide insight into why they chose to die.  We emphasized that no identities would be revealed, but wanted to get details as to causes and effects.  That is where the project bogged down.  Most people did not want to talk about the suicides initially.  Some changed their minds and consented to be interviewed because our project might help them come to terms with the deaths that were a lingering disturbance in their lives.  We consulted with psychologists, lawyers, and clergy about how to conduct the interviews and keep them on an empathetic level.  We were accumulating a tremendous amount of information, but had not reached the point where we could make a coherent summary of it.  A problem was that it was taking so long that there was a turnover of personnel.  Still, the editor and people who worked on the project thought it was important and unique enough that it should be completed in some way.  Somewhere there are boxes of copy files and notes from a project that was too big to ever reach completion.

It took a toll on the people who worked on it.  One of our copy editors who assisted with some interviews ask to be excused from the project because dealing with the ongoing suffering of people was affecting her own emotional health.  Other team members said they also needed a break from the desolation they encountered.  We could feel the despair that the suicides passed on to their survivors, and while we believed that the project would be a significant work of journalism, we recognized that it weighed heavily on our own minds and had many imponderable aspects.  The news of the woman's death over the Memorial weekend cast that same bleakness of spirit that suicides produce among the people who knew of her.

A suicide is the ultimate rejection.  In some cases it results from an illness and the prospect of an agonizing death and is an act of euthanasia.  But in many cases it is a way to put an end to a life that is torturous.  And the survivors are left with the assumption that they were part of the torture or did not offer any relief from it.  It makes them feel that they are the referents in Sarte's line that "hell is other people."  Most suicides  involve a harmful relationship with some people.  We prefer to think we are not those people who do things that influence people to give up their lives.  Still, we feel the sting of rejection when we learn of  a suicide, and it is something that signals to us that something is wrong.

The interviews from that failed journalism project indicated how suicides were deeply unsettling to most people who hear about them.  The sense of rejection, especially in a democracy, projects a failure of society.  A pastor said that when it came to suicide, there really was no comfort that could be offered to the survivors.  Death by suicide is not part of the natural life cycle, but is a conscious and deliberate rejection of it.  Survivors of it have a question branded deep in their very souls:  why?   Even though I did not know the women who died over Memorial Day weekend well, I knew that she was troubled and had some bitter relationships.  She left behind two teenage children.  They will live with a wound that will never heal.

As a society, we have never approached the causes and effects of suicides with the kind of comprehensive effort that we apply to biological pathogens.  It's one of our nation's failures.  As I write this, the news reports that seven people were shot at a high school graduation in Richmond, VA, with two being killed.  Such shootings are so common that many media are not publishing a story about it.  America has some spectacular successes as a country, but it also has some spectacular failures which nullify those successes.  When it comes to keeping people safe from gunfire, our country is at the bottom of the list.  Guns are a common instrument of death in suicides.  They are the highest-ranking cause of death for children.  They are the badge of our nation's moral bankruptcy.  And suicide is a major cause of death.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued this report:

Suicide rates increased approximately 36% between 2000–2021. Suicide was responsible for 48,183 deaths in 2021, which is about one death every 11 minutes. The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher. In 2021, an estimated 12.3 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.7 million attempted suicide
While it is important to acknowledge America's successes, its refusal to acknowledge its failures nullifies its successes.  Until America confronts its failures, it will live under the pall of violence.  We have millions of people wishing to get into America, but we also have millions who are thinking about leaving it through death. 

Folks will blithely ignore suicides and say life goes on.  But that's the point. It doesn't.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States