Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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South Dakota gets bad press everyday. That's mostly because the press hires children as writers who should have been left behind. South Dakota, and North Dakota, too, are in the business of taking down rest area facilities along its highways without any thought about the fact that they are removing outlets of expression for natural-born hacks. Back when concrete vault facilities held places of prominence at rest areas along U.S. 12 near Webster, Bath, and Bowdle, the creative urges, among others, could be relieved with a stroke or two of graffiti on the walls. Now these budding anti-artists have no place to work except in the South Dakota media. The local newspaper hires more than its share.
After a few days of travel throughout the Dakotas, it was nice to be home on Sunday morning and sit down in a chair that is not moving to sip coffee and catch up on the news--until I opened up the Sunday paper. It gave me pangs of nostalgia for the illiteracies painted on the walls of those now-demolished vault toilets. At least the stupidity of those outhouse texts had some redeeming value in that they supplied reading matter at places where The New York Times was not usually available. And one knew that the inanities and nasties were permanently affixed to walls that would never invade the sanctity of one's automobile or home. I mean, one knew that until one opened the Aberdeen American News one Sunday morning.
For more than fifty years, I have worked as a "writing coach." For some reason, editors and managing editors sought me out when some writer turned in some problematic copy. At first, I took it as a compliment when a managing editor stopped by my desk and said, "David, would you have a few minutes to go over some copy with Anna Marie Snarltooth here?" Then I realized that they were shoving off on me one of the more odious jobs of being an editor. I discovered one of the facts of literate life: Incredibly stupid people have an identifying trait. They all think they know all about writing.
As an editor I learned that the best antidote for bad writing is to fire its authors. I moved on to teaching in college, and found myself immersed even more in attempts to provide corrective influences on bad writing. Even then, sometimes the only way to correct bad writing is to flunk bad writers--unless they have uncles on the Board of Regents.
That brings us back to the morning paper and the winners of the Anna Marie Snarltooth Awards for the day.
We have made posts in recent days about the anti-union attitude that faces workers in South Dakota. Today's paper had an otherwise decent story about the members of the stagehand's union that come up to the Brown County Fair and work the stages for the entertainment acts. Now, most people know that most unions are also trade guilds that transmit knowledge of their crafts through apprenticeships and grant full membership into the union only when the workers reach journeyman level and can be relied upon to perform with great competence and responsibility. Most people, except in South Dakota.
So in extolling the virtues of the stagehands who work the Brown County Fair, the writer wrote: "It doesn't matter to Gerlach [the fair manager] that they are union members."
We do applaud Mr. Gerlach's efforts at affirmative action, despite the fact that union members are known to stink when they sweat, and steal and cheat, and take unauthorized naps, and make sexual comments to other men's wives.
The next Anna Marie Snarltooth citation goes to the writer of today's editorial. It is on the No Child Left Behind Act. One remarkable aspect of the editorial is that it avoids mentioning any of the real problems involved in applying the provisions of NCLB, such as the massive fabrication of test scores and the soaring dropout rate in some school districts. The piece is a model for showing how to avoid anything cogent in 1,200 words or more. But this sentence says it all:
"In fact, the importance of raising these students to these uniform levels should be striven for at almost any cost."
And then there is a column about the columnist and her husband going to a movie at a time when no one else is in the theater. The couple takes advantage of the empty theater to occupy the choice seats smack-dab in the middle in front of the screen to get the full effects of sound and sight. Then, the author relates that three teen-agers came in and had the audacity to sit down right behind the couple. Said author then describes the histrionics she went through, such as glaring at the teens and shifting her stare to the many empty seats in the theater. Author says the teens did not get the hint. [May we humbly suggest that the teens may have thought she was having some kind of seizure?] Said author did say that the three teens caused no disruptions or distractions from the movie.
We have not, and will not, check the facts to determine if the teens paid for their tickets and, perhaps, thought it would be nice to sit smack-dab in front of the screen, too, as the occasion allowed? We have not, and will not, check to see if buying a movie ticket gives one the right to sit anywhere one damn pleases in a theater and there is no rule of decorum that says in an empty theater one shall not sit near anyone else. When tomcats don't want other cats invading their territory, they spray musk to mark it. However, theater owners may consider it an act of vandalism should movie-goers come early to the theater and spray their offenses about so that no one will sit near them. We won't check on that, either.
As Anna Marie Snarltooth said as we gave her the final paycheck and escorted her to the door: "You have to really work at it to write like I do."
Reading the newspaper on some Sunday mornings is like breathing the air when the rinktums* are in full bloom.
* See William Faulkner