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

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.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States