Northern Valley Beacon

Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains----- E-Mail: Enter 'Beacon' in subject box. Send to:

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Reading the streets. Well, the parking lots.

We're in Colorado. While there is a large and vocal regressive element here, their cant is muted compared to other viewpoints. Some of the most popular bumper stickers to be noted are:




However, our daughter's 1987 Toyota, which is a bumper sticker gallery, did elicit a note on the windshield that sounded like the cant from some South Dakota blogs.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


Merry Christmas, sort of.

Peace on earth, good will toward men?

Yeah. Right.

We proved the speciousness of wishes of peace when we contrived a war on falsehoods and blithely sent people to their deaths in an Orwellian war and a Big Brother campaign of terror by character assassination against any who dared cast doubt about that war.

The election campaign of 2004 dispatched any pretenses of a culture operating on good will.

Actually, the mastery of mass operant conditioning, of which the war on Iraq is an Orwellian tool, emerged in the campaign of 2000. The cliche directed at us whose moral and intellectual values have been dismissed by the election of 2004 is: you lost the election; get over it.

That cliche misses the point. We did not lose an election. We lost the integrity of our democracy in a campaign based upon character assassination, contrived falsehoods, and an agenda that attacks people who hold progressive political beliefs. The agenda is carried out through tactics and propaganda strategies that are compatible only with the most vicious and oppressive political movements, not with our democracy. Anyone who passed a course in college freshmen rhetoric understands the implications of the politcal campaigns of the 21st century.

We live at a time when ill will has displaced good will. This year "Merry Christmas" is more ominous and insidious than it is cheering and hopeful.

When people defame, insult, and abuse on a daily basis, their utterances pretending to good will are just more insult. Instead of practicing two minutes of hate as in Orwell's 1984, the ultra-regressives seem to think that shamming a few moments of good will expiate the moral destruction they have brought to American politics.

Many people in the U.S. think the cure for the malignancy that possesses America is to examine it and lay it out for what it is. Perhaps something positive and constructive can be done.

A major project in gathering and analyzing what kind of rhetoric and communications the political campaign of 2004 brought to the upper Midwest is ending its first phase. The gathering, organizing, and classification of materials is complete, and the data will now be made available to other researchers and scholars for examination and critical study.

The Press Project has issued a summary of what it has assembled. It examines what a generally bad job the electronic media does in covering politics. While the national media concentrates on material freighted with conflict and scandal in the belief that is what attracts viewers and listeners, the regional broadcast media are often hobbled by incompetence and openly partisan editing.

Newspapers are in a similar state. The Project report makes the point that the newspaper business is not really much different from the partisan newspapers that conducted vicious, libelous attacks during the early days of our republic. A few nationally circulated newspapers, so detested as the MSM by the ultra-regressives, do present balanced and verified coverage. The Orwellian ministry of propaganda and secrecy of the Bush administration has been exposed, and Bush and friends have vilified them for it. But on the local and regional levels, there are plenty of newspapers that fall into line with the regressive rationalizations for the war on Iraq, the continuing devastation of Katrina, the paring away of civil rights and Constitutional liberties, and the utter subservience to the corporate lust for money, power, and sometimes blood. And they are absolutely silent about the industrial and technological jobs lost in the U.S. and replaced by low-paying service jobs and about people accepting stiff wage cuts to remain employed. Employment statistics look good on the surface but under analysis, they show a declining economy. And the newspapers say little about the number of people who have lost their pensions.

We are indeed in a culture war. Ultimately, all wars are culture wars. In the current war, ill will and suppression have had unusual successes.

The Press Project took a look at discussion boards and web logs for what they signify. Most respectable newspapers have quietly abandoned discussion boards. They are the antithesis of what journalism is about. They purvey false information and are dominated by the malevolent gibberish of trolls.

Web logs have been a puzzle for the Press Project. Some are consistently well researched and well written. Others are devoted to constant personal attack and the propagation of malice. The main problem with web logs is that they are so terribly time-consuming. The Press Project researchers see a puzzle in the fact that newspapers are in decline, but what they do is something serious people want more of: the careful and comprehensive presentation of news and incisive analysis and commentary.

Actually, it is the progressives who, according to some Press Project polling, want more information and better written analysis. They want more of what the Main Stream Media does well. The regressives want party-line cant. This is one of the battles in the culture war.

It has been a bleak time for progressives, as their most dire speculations about where the country is headed have come true. So, how does one say Merry Christmas without sounding like a smarmy idiot?

One says it in the context of the hope that Christmas expresses. When one wishes a Merry Christmas, one is not proselytizing for Christianity, but wishing on others the peace and good will to which the well-wishers aspire. And then one works to make it happen.

We stop contributing to enterprises without integrity and moral competence and expend our energies and talents on the uplifting, not the down-tearing. We have stopped writing columns for the dreadful local newspaper and are contributing to publications with loftier aims. We support educational institutions that conduct themselves as befits higher academic purpose. Often mediocre and uninspired students need the atmosphere of the Grinnell College, the University of Iowa, and Augustana College to be brought to a full realization of what higher education means. We find ways for those institutions to expand their embrace and we look for opportunities for students to experience that embrace.

As for blogging, we are becoming convinced, once again, that more uplifting enterprises are needed and we should support them. We'll see.

It is very difficult to put on a merry facade when peace recedes further and further away as a human aspiration. It is hard to celebrate Christmas when the devotees and apologists of ill will appropriate it for their propaganda schemes. But one can celebrate the light that Christ brought to the world even if the world is trying its damndest to extinguish it. Keeping that light shining is the biggest battle in the culture war.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2005


FEMA destroyed by bureaucratic infighting

Today's Washington Post has a lengthy story detailing the infighting that took place when FEMA was merged into the Department of Homeland Security.

To people who have worked in bureaucracies, whether governmental or corporate, it is an old, old story. Most people work on agendas of control and domination with token gestures at cooperative effort to meet the goals of their bureacracy. Bureaucracies in which such people and agendas are allowed to dominate become devoted to insidious, vicious back-biting and infighting and become incompetent and dysfunctional in the process. That is the story of FEMA.

It is also the story of the values and brand of leadership of George W. Bush and his cronies. Bureaucracies take on the aspect of dog packs and chicken flocks in which individuals fight for dominance.

Reading the whole story may dampen or even extinguish your Christmas spirit, but it is a narrative of the times in which we live.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Aberdeen American News is not included

The Newspaper Guild is making an offer to Knight Ridder to buy eight of its newspapers, including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Duluth News Tribune, and the Grand Forks Herald in the upper Midwest.

Corporate stockholders have been dissatisfied with the performance of Knight Ridder stocks and have pressured the management to seek a buyer for the company. In all, Knight Ridder operates 32 newspapers in the U.S.

The Guild said it is also interested in the San Jose Mercury News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News, Akron Beacon Journal, Lexington Herald-Leader, and the Monterey-Herald.

The Aberdeen American News is the only news medium, except for a number of weeklies, covering northeastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota. Its coverage of the region is slipshod and sporadic, and its journalistic performance often falls below basic levels of competence. Many readers have been hopeful that a Knight Ridder sale would result in an upgrade of news coverage through a more competent and comprehensive coverage of the region.

The News Guild offer is directed at important papers in the upper Midwest, leaving the Aberdeen paper out of any regional plans the Guild may have.

Radio and television stations do not attempt to cover the area, and the omission of Aberdeen from a potential purchase indicates that it may be too weak a market area to attract buyers for the paper.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Rep. Conyers is asking for Select Committee investigation of Bush administration

If you are among those who think that the Bush administration and its supporters have turned America into an Orwellian nightmare, sign Rep. John Conyers' report to demand an investigation into all the dishonesty. Below is his letter to Americans and a place to require a Congressional investigation into administration activities in Iraq.

Demand Censure and Accountability for Misconduct by Bush and Cheney in Iraq War

Dear Friend:

Today I released a staff Report entitled, “The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Coverups in the Iraq War.”

In response to the Report – which finds substantial evidence of federal legal violations by numerous members of the Bush Administration --
I have introduced a resolution creating a Select Committee with subpoena authority to investigate the misconduct of the Bush Administration with regard to the Iraq war and report on possible impeachable offenses; as well as Resolutions proposing both President Bush and Vice-President Cheney should be censured by Congress based on the uncontroverted evidence of their abuse of power.

To read the Report, sign up as a citizen cosponsor of these efforts, or make a contribution and obtain a signed copy of a book version of the report to be published in the coming months, please go to the Iraq Report Action Center on my web site.

Iraq Report Action Center

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Daschle says Bush dissembled in briefing on citizen spy plan

Tom Daschle said he was briefed on the Bush measure to permit government spying on U.S. citizens without going through necessary just cause procedures. However, he said that details about the plan revealed in the past few days were not revealed to him. He stated that he did not approve of the plan but that in the briefing given him he was clearly not asked for his input or opinion.

Read the detailed story in the Argus Leader.


More surveillance of activist groups by government is revealed

Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show.

The whole story is in The New York Times.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Big Brother Bush strikes another blow against democracy

In a press conference today, Ge0rge W. Bush defended the secret spying on American citizens by their own government. In fact, he assailed those who revealed the secret spying as doing a disservice to their country.

Read that again. Those people who revealed that the Bill of Rights was being violated against some people by presidential order were said by the president to be doing a disservice against their country.

There is one book we know George W. must have read or Laura must have read to him: Orwell's 1984. He has faithfully followed almost every feature of Oceania and applied it to America. He manipulated the country into war by the artful use of misinformation. He claims that the entire country and its allies were operating on the same information, but last week it was revealed that he and his closest henchmen saw much more detailed and critical information. Whoever released that information must be a real enemy of the country.

But now he openly admits that he ordered the secret spying on American citizens. This fits in with his defense of detentions, secret prisons, and torture.

The person who revealed the secret spying did a disservice to America? Only if America is Oceania. In the America we had before George W. Bush, such tactics were considered odious and impossible in our country. They are violation of the most basic civil rights .

Read a full account of the Bush press conference by clicking the headline above this post.

Do we really have to move to Canada to get out of Oceania? Will America ever be America again? It might prove fatal to wait around and find out.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


NVB person of the year

Lynndie England

We cite her as person of the year because she best represents what America has become. Disadvantaged from a lack of oxygen to her brain iat birth, she struggled through school, joined the U.S. Army, and was assigned to duty in Iraq at the Abu Ghraib prison. The photo (top) of her holding an Iraqi prisoner on a dog leash gave her woldwide fame.

Pvt. England was a file clerk at the prison. How she ended up in the prison holding area to be photographed abusing prisoners has never been explained. Sgt. Silas and Lt. Col. Mac, who frequently comment on this web log, say the primary responsibility falls on the shoulders of officers and non-commissioned officers who were not doing their jobs. Pvt. England was performing at the behest of a boyfriend, now serving stockade time, who also got her pregnant and left her with a child. This is all seamy and salacious, but the main questions are: Where was the leadership? Where were the people in the command structure who are responsible for seeing that military operations are properly done?

Lynndie England was court-martialed, dishonorably discharged, and sentenced to a military prison for her role in the Abu Ghraib humiliations of prisoners.

Lynndie England is person of the year because she reflects the deadly malaise that has stricken America. She has become the icon of those whose lives have been labeled expendable in Iraq and Louisiana and whose freedoms and rights were wiped away by presidential order.

We went into Iraq on false information. The president and like thinkers insist that Congress which authorized the invasion of Iraq saw the same intelligence as he did. A memo during the past week requested by a U..S. Senator from intelligence officials states that the president and his inner circle saw intelligence much more detailed and dubious than any members of Congress were shown.

The president begs us not to be defeatists about Iraq. America was defeated when the president went into Iraq on false pretexts and when he ordered that American citizens could be spied upon in violation of their Constitutional rights at his command. It was not the terrorists who destroyed America.

America was defeated when Lynndie England was made the scapegoat and was sacrificed to cover up the dishonesty, incompetence, and repressions of a totalitarian regime.

We have given more than 2,000 lives of soldiers to "democratize" Iraq. Who will restore freedom, equality, and equal justice for them and the Lynndie Englands?

Lynndie England is shown in shackles (bottom right photo). That is the freedom, equality, and equal justice of America. She stands for what is happening to us all.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Please don't yank on the pucker-string, Mama,

they're uptight enough as it is.

When The New York Times broke the story this morning that Pres. Bush had overruled previous prohibitions and allowed intelligence agencies to spy on U.S. citizens, it sparked a wave of bipartisan concern that threw up an obstacle to renewal of the Patriot Act.

A bipartisan group of senators voted against closing debate on renewal of the patriot act. After the vote, many senators of both parties said that they need to conduct an investigation into depradations against basic American civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The Patriot Act has made most people wary. They have thought about whether they must give up their basic rights to be secure against terrorists. And most have decided that rights do not have to be relinquished in the name of security. They have registered their doubts to their senators, and some senators who voted against cloture on the debate said that constituents are what determined their votes.

The people have spoken and politicians have noted the restiveness in America about what they have been told about terrorism. The news that Bush suspended their Constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure weighed heavily against renewal of the Patriot Act.

America seems to have regained its ability to think critically about what it is told by its would-be leaders.

We will most likely have some provisions of the Patriot Act renewed, but we will also have hearings on the suspension of Constitutional freedoms.


McCain Held All the Cards, So Bush Folded

An apt headline in the Lost Angeles Times. Click the headline to read the story.


Bush ordered prohibited spying on citizens

With extension of the Patriot Act scheduled for debate today in the U.S. Senate, this story has pertinent implications:

President Bush signed a secret order in 2002 authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in the United States, despite previous legal prohibitions against such domestic spying, sources with knowledge of the program said last night.

The full story is The Washington Post.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Did Congress see the same intelligence as Pres. Bush on Iraq?

President Bush claims so.

Sen. Feinstein asked intelligence officers to check that question out. Here is the reply.


Activist judge cancels Christmas

Read the full story in The Onion.


Killing killers and other mythologies

The newspaper I worked for got into trouble with a number of readers when the feature editor went to the Illinois State Penitentiary in Joliet and interviewed men convicted of burglary about how their victims unwittingly helped them commit their crimes. The stories were interesting reading because they detailed just how the crimes were committed and the ways people made it easy for the burglars. Some readers were incensed because the stories told exactly how one goes about setting up and committing a burglary. The outraged readers thought they were textbooks for burglary.

In order to redeem the paper, the editor decided that some of we editors should interview other convicts and emphasize information that would discourage the impressionable from even thinking about committing a crime. I was one of the editors selected to do some interviews, and I drew a man who was a chronic substance abuser and, after a number of thefts, had been convicted with a life sentence as a habitual offender. He had become a chaplain's assistant and was in charge of the chapel. In addition, he had become a monk and ministered to his fellow prisoners in any way he could.

He was a thoughtful but laconic man. When he did speak, he spoke in parables. One question I asked him was who were the most dangerous people in prison. His reply was immediate: "The innocent ones," he said. He explained that unless they are men of unusual forgiveness, they can never forget that acts of injustice put them in prison. If they get out of prison, they tend to think they owe nothing but revenge to the society that put them there. "They frighten me," he said, "because you have no idea of what damage has been done to them and what actions they have been dreaming of committing when they get out."

At the time of the interview, I assumed that very few people were wrongly convicted and sentenced to prison or death. Three decades after that interview, the very prison where it was conducted released 13 men from death row because they had been wrongfully convicted.

In the past week, two executions made the news. Tookie Williams was killed in California for murders he was convicted of committing. John B. Williams, Sr., 77, was killed in Mississippi for a paid killing for which he was convicted. Both men protested their innocence to their deaths.

Their protests do not necessarily indicate innocence. But they raise questions about the death penalty. Their guilt is uncertain; their deaths are not.

Executions may give the families of crime victims a sense of vengeance, but they do little to actually repair the damage and demoralization caused by the crimes. They certainly aggravate those instances where guilt is called into question.

And according to the convict-monk, you can do worse things to people than kill them. He remarked that prison probably created more diehard criminals than it cures. Our theory of criminal justice does not work. It does not deter crime or make repairs for the ones committed. It merely feeds on itself and drags society down to its level.

It is not just the death penalty that needs to be put under rigorous examination.


The land of infinite bad faith

It has not been a good week for democracy in South Dakota.

On a state level, members of an abortion review panel walked out when it was apparent that the panel was stacked, a report of questionable substance was being imposed on the minority, and their presence on the panel was an exercise in futility. A legislator said that the people walked out because they were not accustomed to the legislative process.

This probably is the legislative process in South Dakota. That is why the state is ranked absolutely last in openness and responsiveness in government. The majority suppresses minority contributions to state government. No honest argument is permitted. It is not excessive to state that South Dakota is ruled by tyranny of the majority, and that is what passes for legislative process in South Dakota.

On the local front, there was a confrontation between city officials and members of the police union in Aberdeen on Monday night. Members of the police union have been complaining for the last six months or so that negotiations between them and the city have not been proceeding with good faith efforts. The city hired a lawyer to be its chief negotiator. On Monday night, members of the police union tried to read a letter to the city council that reviewed the points that they do not think receive adequate attention and effort at the bargaining table.

This letter produced two reactions notable for their lack of integrity. The attorney who is the city's labor negotiator said that in coming to the city council with their concerns about negotiations, instead of confining them to the negotiating table, the union members were probably violating the law by engaging in an unfair labor practice. As an old hand at negotiating, we know that there is no law that prohibits public employees from directly approaching the agency with whom they are negotiating.

The law does say it is an unfair labor practice to refuse to negotiate in good faith with the official representative of the government body with whom the union is negotiating. But when the union does not think it is getting an adequate good faith effort from such a representative to come to agreement at the bargaining table, there is nothing that prevents them from informing the agency when they do not think a good faith effort is being put forth and of specifying the issues they think are being dismissed.

The mayor told the police union representatives that collective bargaining is not part of his job. That is true only because he and the city council designated a lawyer to be their negotiator. Ultimately, the mayor and city council must approve any contract negotiated by their representative. And ultimately, they are the parties to any collective bargaining agreement. Attending to the contract and the way it is produced is, in fact, the job of the mayor and the city council. In many cities, the mayors and a committee of councilpersons do the collective bargaining with the unions involved.

South Dakota law is full of loopholes and badly phrased articles that permit public officials to evade their democratic responsibilities. Rather than sit down to legitimate debates and negotiations, they find ways to block open discussion and open government. Rather than come to agreements, they impose statements and impose contracts because the law permits it.

South Dakota will not rise above its Third World level of government until it revises its laws regarding meetings and negotiations to meet the standards of true democratic process. Until that happens, tyranny will rule.


South Dakota ranks 20th as healthy place to live

South Dakota ranks 20th among the states as a healthy place to live, according to an annual ranking by the United Health Foundation.

Minnesota is first on the list and North Dakota is sixth.

One of the most disturbing statistics in the report is that children living in poverty in South Dakota increased by 33 percent during the past year. Twelve percent of South Dakotans do not have health insurance.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


What's the matter with blogs?

The NVB took down its original web log when it became convinced that, whatever informing discussions take place on occasion, blogs generally serve the malevolent, the dishonest, the scurrilous, and the irrational. They are far too time-consuming for what little benefit they produce. We continue to wonder if blogging is worth the time and energy, and if we are not just providing the malignant forces the stuff on which they feed.

As much as the media have failings, they also have a system of editorial review that eliminates bad information, bad writing, and the interminable exhibitions of self-service. Despite the problems the newspaper industry is facing with declining readership and advertising revenues, we find that its system of editorial checks and balances, when actually enforced, produces a far superior, reliable, and useful source of information and commentary than blogs and much of the electronic media. Maintaining this web log and reading others are not activities we are convinced, as of yet, are worthwhile. We review these matters every day.

Terry Neal who has presided over the political commentary on WashingtonPost.Com is relinquishing his post to return to the print desk of his newspaper. His comments about blogging are illuminating and pertinent:

I've also learned that there are a lot of nasty, intemperate, judgmental people out there seeking to co-opt cyberspace for partisan and ideological purposes. There are some great, whip-smart and entertaining bloggers out there. And then there are a lot of hacks claiming to be independent, who have turned out to be nothing more than extensions of the public relations arms of the two major political parties.

The most joyous -- and nerve-wracking -- part of this job was probably the e-mail. I received more than 10,000 emails from readers during my time at the Web site. Most of the messages were intelligent, kind, generous in praise and spirit. Even much of the criticism was constructive and given in a spirit of mature collegiality.

But many were from hyperventilating, overcaffeinated, often hysterical people, who cursed, tossed epithets and threw hissy fits about anything that deviated from their world view. My intention when I began writing this column was to share with you some of the gems. But who wants to spend a whole day trolling through years of old e-mails for that stuff! (I did write a column about my e-mails on Aug. 21, 2001, a few months
after I started the job. Not much changed.) Suffice it to say, these e-mails reinforced to me how deeply ingrained thevictimization complex is on both ends of the ideological spectrum.

If I wrote a column critical of the war in Iraq or raising questions about the Bush administration's handling of the war, I'd get mounds of e-mails from vast-left wing conspiracy theorists ranting about the Post's liberal bias. Many people on the right have co-opted the tone of '60s and '70s-era liberals they so despise. They see themselves at the helm of an ideological war aimed at vanquishing said liberal baddies. The truly believe they are oppressed by Sean Penn, the French, and the New York Times editorial page. And they view disagreement not for what it is -- disagreement -- but as a personal attack.

One common theme from some conservative critics would be to complain that I was being unfair to Bush or the GOP in one breath while taking note of my race in the other and complaining that black people don't vote Republican. Many of these e-mailers wrote to tell me that I was stupid and only had my job because I was black or because of affirmative action. These e-mails where not a majority of those I received from conservatives -- the vast majority of which were thoughtful and intelligent. But it did come in often enough, and with enough ferocity, that it reinforced my understanding of how deep and complicated the racial divide is in this country and how much of politics is still really about race, just shrouded in code words. [Emphasis added.]

On the other hand, many on the ideological left are working hard to regain the upper hand in the victimization wars. They feel betrayed that the MSM, which they believe "let" George W. Bush be elected and reelected and "allowed" the war in Iraq to happen.

Anything I wrote smacking of criticism of a Democrat -- particularly if that Democrat was Howard Dean -- would lead to a torrent of nasty e-mails, usually promoted by some blogger's
exhortation to blast me. And some of the fiercest e-mails I ever received were from liberals complaining about a column I wrote earlier this year that refused to endorse the theory that Ohio -- and thus the presidency -- was stolen from John Kerry in a GOP conspiracy



The economy is just booming along

A person working full time at minimum wage cannnot afford a one-bedroom apartment at prevailing rates anywhere in the U.S.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition released a study showing the disparity between incomes and the rising costs of housing, energy, and health care yesterday.


Katrina came to Pine Ridge and she's on her way to your house

Frank Luther North, his troops, and his Pawnee scouts got caught on the Nebraska plains as a blizzard swept in. The scouts went into action. They put up a double-walled tepee, gathered up prairie hay and made an insulated bed for the men to sit and lie on. As the blizzard winds roared in the men, according to North's account, lolled about in their shirt sleeves in great comfort as the wind and snow whipped the tepee. They did not need a fire, because the structure retained their body heat.

Kevin Woster had a story in the Rapid City Journal last week about a family in Wanblee. As the below-zero winds found their way into their drafty cabin, the woman turned up the thermostat but received only more cold air. The propane tank was empty. The family spent the night huddled around a small electric heater.

Congress held hearings last week on the federal response to the damage done by Katrina. A New Orleans woman likened her situation as she waited for rescue on a highway overpass to a concentration camp. A congressman got irked and asked her not to refer to the rescue operation as a concentration camp. She replied, "If it looks like a pig, I'll call it a pig."

A majority of Americans see the problems as a matter of poverty. Well, perhaps they are. But it is the moral and political poverty of the majority. Some people don't mind being poor. Their lives are built around things other than luxuries and conveniences, which get in the way of higher laws. The majority tends to look at them as ne'er-do-wells without the intelligence and gumption to raise their material lot in life. Jesus Christ told his followers to divest themselves of the material possessions that bound their lives up in avarice. That part of the Gospel is ignored and deplored. People who follow that Christian admonition are vilified by the majority as socialists, communists, and other forms of anti-American vermin.

The disaster wrought by Katrina and in evidence on Pine Ridge and other enclaves of American minorities is that old racial and cultural attitudes still possess the minds of the majority. Our history is one of trying to surmount the class divisions and bigotries of feudalism and to transcend the fascist-based philosophies that drive our economy and our notion of status. As a black writer friend of mine put it some years ago, the American dream is to keep niggers. In America and much of the western world, everyone needs someone to feel superior to. We have not, in fact, surmounted feudalism and its rankings and privileges and schemes for parceling out human respect .

I dread the coming of Christmas. And yes, I call it Christmas because, although the holiday has incorporated all the pagan trappings for the season of the winter solstice, it is still the message of peace on earth and good will to all people. Nothing makes one feel more hypocritical and degraded than to gather in houses of worship with those who sanctimoniously mouth the slogans of the season while harboring ill will, hatred, contempt, and malevolent designs against other people in the world. The American dream is caught up in righteous self-delusion.

What Katrina revealed and what is taking place on Pine Ridge and other reservations and ghettos and barrios is the direction America is headed. At times in our history, such as during the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement, we have moved closer to the ideals of America, which are inarguably deeply rooted in Christianity and its message of equality, good will, and neighborly generosity toward those in need. During the first years of the 21st century, however, that message and the values upon which it is based have been subverted by a movement to establish a corporate aristocracy to which the workers of the world are subservient and to use those workers as instruments of force in bending the working people to the will of that self-appointed aristocracy.

There are simply more people who think their fortunes lie in ingratiating themselves to the shackles of wealth and power of the aristocracy, not to the liberating renunciations of venality of Jesus Christ. The earth is in a precarious time. It offers no peace. It offers no good will. It vilifies those who speak for peace and good will and respect for the earth and all the people on it.

Our eyes our clouded by figures huddled over mangers housed in lavish churches and illuminated by garish light displays. America cannot see the people from New Orleans looking for a place to spend the night, wondering if they will ever see a home again. It cannot see the children huddled around an electric heater on Pine Ridge waiting for some act of human generosity.

Katrina revealed that America has lost its vision and that Christ has been buried and sealed in a tomb composed of avarice and venality. There can be no happy holiday for those to whom the winter solstice is a time of coldness and darkness that they might not survive. There can be no Merry Christmas where the message of Christ is gauged by whether this year's sales figures are better than last year's.

The bleakness of the season is not caused by poverty. It is caused by a people who hold avarice and venality as the motive force of their culture. People who could live in comfort in a double-walled tepee find themselves freezing when they have not enough money to keep their propane tank filled this year because of the cost of fuel. People who survived for generations by having to filch food from Ol' Master now find themselves being asked to grovel before FEMA. They have the cultural ability to surmount the diasters that befell them. We don't have the good will to do more than require them to expiate their cultural heritages by bending down before ours.

Rather than wish anyone a Merry Christmas, go fill a propane tank on Pine Ridge.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Another great emancipator from Illinois

Richard Pryor 1940-2005

We hesitate to acknowledge the truly magnificent on a blog because it subjects them to the cloying, self-sucking puerility through which people on blogs treat matters of intellect and taste. Most bloggers operate under the delusion that their endorsements or condemnations of a work of art or an artist matter. Nothing records the decline of American culture into infantile egocentrism and gratification and the failure of education to teach the art of genuine discernment like blogs. We risk exposing Richard Pryor to stupidity and disrespect by writing about him on a web log, but he dealt with those aspects of humankind all his life and transcended them.

Two people who made lasting contributions to America died over the weekend. Richard Pryor and Eugene McCarthy. Both were writers who scripted their own public performances, Richard Pryor's in entertainment and Eugene McCarthy's in politics. Both were men of genius and genuine wit.

Richard Pryor was born and raised in Peoria. He was brought up in a whorehouse run by his grandmother. His mother was an erstwhile prostitute and his father an erstwhile pimp. This circumstance may be acknowledged in honkeyland by a great clattering of clucking tongues, but it demonstrates the etymology of the word motherfucker.

Peoria was a squalid town. Illinois of the 1940s and 1950s was full of squalid industrial towns where factory workers lived under a film of grime and soot as they led lives from factory, to cottage, to gin mill. Companies like Caterpillar, which regards its employees as brute sources of labor without rights, dominated the town. Few black people found employment in the factories. The employers preferred white niggers on their production lines. Black people had to find ways to survive and support families, and prostitution was one of them.

The term motherfucker applies to this situation. It comes out of a ritualized insult contest known to blacks at "counting the dozens." It refers to the patrons of women who supported their families in part by prostitution. It has nothing to do with incest. It imparts a certain diffident aspect of a fact of black life. A child may not appreciate those men who are fucking his or her mother, but they put food on the table. Frank McCourt gives another take on this circumstance in Angela's Ashes. The word motherfucker at once acknowledges a great indignity imposed by poverty and the determination to survive in circumstances of degradation and denial. It is at once tragic and funny as self-parody when used by black people.

Richard Pryor knew profoundly what the word means and the weight of history that it carries. The word informs the comic routines and comic characters that he created. Motherfucker and nigger are terms for the situations that formed the boundaries of life for people like Richard Pryor as he grew up. He used those terms in satiric humor which broke through those boundaries.

One of most powerful works in popular culture to lend some shattering blows to America's racism is Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor was a co-writer of the film. In the original proposal for the film submitted to prospective investors, Pryor was slated for the role played by Cleavon Little. Investors thought he was too black and raw to risk putting in that part. Although he did not get the part, Pryor's writing pervades the film. The blunt language in satiric context that characterizes his comedic art is abundantly apparent in the film.

A classic moment of Pryor's repertoire came when he and Chevy Chase were doing a word association routine on Saturday Night Live:

Chase: Tell me your first reaction to these words. Ok. "Porch Monkey."

Pryor: "Honkey."

Chase: "Junglebunny."

Pryor: "Honkey Honkey."

Chase: "Nigger."

Pryor: "Dead Honkey."

Pryor was a force in emancipating many people from the chains of ignorance and racism that reached past slavery to hold people in social and cultural bondage. He gave blacks a way to appreciate their culture and he disabused many honkeys of theirs.

His work, after being sidelined by Multiple Sclerosis for the last 20s, underscores what the Katrina aftermath is all about. And Pine Ridge. His death produces retrospectives of his work, which causes alarm at the kind of things that America has become.

When can America become what America can become? In word or two: dead honkey.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Al Franken to move to Minneapolis

A story in the Star Tribune reports that Al Franken plans to move to Minneapolis from where he will also orginate his radio show, and possibly run for U.S. Senate.

That will make both major liberal talk radio shows originate from the northern Midwest. Eddie Schultz broadcasts his national show from Fargo.


FAA asked to review Governor's use of state aircraft

From the Argus Leader:

"Sen. Garry Moore, D-Yankton, expects a reply within a week or so to his freedom-of-information request for results of a federal review of how Gov. Mike Rounds uses state aircraft and repays the state for personal trips.

"Moore, who submitted several questions about Rounds’ use of aircraft to the Federal Aviation Administration last month, said he later was told by an FAA official that he would need to use the freedom-of-information process to get his answers.“I submitted that request, and I anticipate I’ll hear something back within the next week or 10 days,” Moore said Friday. “They have 20 business days to reply.”

"Moore, the Senate minority leader, and House Democratic leader Dale Hargens of Miller signed a letter last month that posed five questions to the FAA about aircraft use and repayment to the state for personal trips taken by Rounds."

Click the headline for the complete story.


Oh, where is the academic freedom of yesteryear?

Caution: Tedious terrrain ahead.

Blogs in general suck. They provide an outlet for those of twittish dispositions to flog away at their erectile little egos with at least a hint of audience, which makes it exciting for them, but they do not, for the most part, provide much in the way of good information or incisive opinions. And they are beginning to raise problems about exercising the right to freedom of speech.

Actually, the problem is not with the principle of free speech and the rules that apply to its application; the problem is that many people get so absorbed in their own egos or get so whipped into malicious furies that they cannot or will not consider the rules.

I have been asked numerous times to provide an account of how academic freedom and freedom of speech is treated by the governing documents for state faculty in South Dakota. The reason I am asked is because I was a faculty member on the negotiating team that put the statements regarding those subjects into the collective bargaining agreement. At the time, I was asked to prepare the drafts for the statements. The statements are not original. We looked at the statements used by professional academic organizations and universities throughout the country, and found that they all incorporated the language and concepts of a statement formulated by the American Association of University Professors. We used this as our base language, and while being advised by AAUP staff members, we met and discussed for hours on end certain phrases and language.

At the time negotiations on this subject began, NSU was under censure by AAUP for firing a political science professor whose exercise of free speech had offended students and colleagues. After the university president and some of we professors worked to get the censure removed from Northern, it was transferred to the Board of Regents along with a censure against SDSU. Our aim in shaping the language was to prevent any such incidents from occuring again.

As the statement stands, it guarantees professors' right to study, discuss, investigate, teach, and publish. It guarantees the right to perform professional duties and to present controversial points of view free from reprisal. It is important to note that these guarantees of academic freedom are tied to professors' professional duties.

When professors give personal opinions as private citizens, a set of cautionary statements applies. The statement acknowledges their right to speak as citizens free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their positions as professors impose special obligations. It specifies that they must be accurate, exercise restraint, show respect for the opinions of others, and make clear that they are speaking only for themselves. The statement does not specify when statements are considered to be made in disregard of those special obligations and what action can ensue.

The statement carefully protects professors in their professional capacities. That does not mean that they are totally exempt from censure and discipline. If a professor in a professional capacity uses the right of free speech to defame a person, he is fully liable for damages and disciplinary action they may ensue. Professors can be as petty, peevish, and treacherous as other people at times. When they regard colleagues as competitive rivals, they are often tempted to disparage the work, the character, and motives of their perceived rivals. The generation, refinement, and transmission of knowledge requires that professors engage in critical debates and professional judgments of each other's work, and critical debates must follow rigorous protocols that keep the focus on information and reasoning. When professors engage in personal back-stabbing, slandering, and the fabricating professional charges against other professors, the academic process breaks down and the institution and the profession fails.

Recently in a neighboring institution, a professor was hired to be chair of a department. He found a totally dysfunctional department, and found that it was bogged down by a faction that engaged in malicious gossip against other members of the department. Jealousy, rancor, and vicious back-biting were rampant. The new chair had been given orders by his university president to find out what the difficulty was and to correct it. One professor came into the new chair's office and gave what purported to be a account of the incompetence and misdeeds of the professor's colleagues. The new chair stunned her. He asked her to prepare documentation of these charges against others so that he could proceed with a plan to upgrade the department. The charges she wrote up turned out to be specious, but some were provably false and professionally slanderous. This professor, although tenured, was subjected to discipline under just cause. A hearing board found that she violated the law-enforced right of colleagues not to be defamed and that she had fabricated accusations that were disproven. In her endeavors to promote her own status by undermining others, her work was found to be incompetent, slovenly, and dishonest. She was given the opportunity to resign or face formal termination proceedings. She resigned.

Two other members of that department were found to have participated with her in maligning other faculty members. They, too, chose to leave rather than be dismissed. With three new professors, the department regained a reputation for diligence and good work that it had lost when the back-biting was taking place.

Institutions are charged with managing themselves in ways that meet professional standards and their missions. Professors who bring discredit to universities or disrupt their academic programs can be disciplined. Free speech cannot be used to cover gross negligence of duty, gross incompetence, dishonesty, or misuse of university resources.

Professors are not exempt from the standards of competence and integrity when they speak as citizens. The statement that protects their freedom of speech reminds them of the special obligations they have and the responsibilities entailed. The public judges their profession and their institutions by what they say and the way they say it. When professors use their positions to indulge pesonal agendas or conduct vendettas against individuals, they severely damage the credibility of their professions and institutions as instruments of learning and benign purpose.

When Prof. Jon Lauck of the History Dept. at SDSU blogged during 2004 primarily against Tom Daschle, his activities raised many questions about whether he compromised the integrity of his office and whether he misused his position and the resources provided him. Campaign finance reports showed that he was paid by the John Thune campaign and that his activities were in conflict with his faculty duties. In his blogging activities, he was acting as a paid character assassin. Questions were raised about whether his paid job conflicted with his assigned faculty duties and were in violation of his contractual obligations and whether he was using state facilities to carry out his campaign activities. In addition, the nature of his personal attacks against Tom Daschle showed little regard for the accuracy of information, the appropriate levels of restraint, and the respect for opinions of others required of faculty members. Jon Lauck resigned his university position and became a member of John Thune's senate staff.

Two professors from NSU have continued blogging on the web log that Jon Lauck started. They cause much discussion among rival blogs. There is no question that they have a right to air their opinions without restraint or retaliation. The question raised is whether they use university resources in their activities and whether their posts meet the standards of accuracy, moral restraint, and honesty that professors are obligated to meet. Their propaganda relies heavily upon personal insult, abuse and defamation of people they regard as enemies. Two studies have included examples of statements from this blog which academic colleagues and officers could challenge for academic review if they were made as professional statements by the bloggers in their roles of professors.

The rules of academic freedom give strenuous protection to professors, but they also require that professors use freedom of speech in the quest and examination of knowledge, not for political and personal vendettas, especially when statements are uttered with a large presence of malice. Institutions may not restrain or retaliate against professors for the exercise of free speech, but they take corrective measures when that speech reflects upon the integrity of the institution and when it violates the rights of other people not to be defamed.

Public figures like Tom Daschle cannot seek redress for defamatory statements made against them. A law suit is out of the question. But professors who operate under the privilege of academic freedom have the obligation not to use that privilege to violate rights and damage other people. Institutions and systems have the obligation and right to protect their reputations for probity and honest exercise of free speech in the context of academic purpose.

As for using state property for personal purpose, there are many rules against it. The NSU faculty handbook stresses that property may not be used for the production of private income or for private benefit. However, faculty have great latitude in the use of campus resources in order to enable them to do research and service for their communities within the following policy:

"Professional employees may not use for any purpose unrelated to the discharge of official duties supplies, equipment or staff provided by virtue of or in the course of their employment by the Board [of Regents]."

The Board of Regents have very specific policies limiting the use of computer networks in their rules for the use of Information Technology.

"IT systems may be used only for their authorized purposes--that is to support the regents, education, administrative and other functions of the BOR."

The policies contain a section on specific proscription of IT use: "Use that is inconsistent with the BOR mission."

Blogging by professors raises many questions. It is the job of their department heads, their deans, and their campus officers to assure the public that they are following the rules and are operating within the limits of valid academic practice.

Friday, December 09, 2005




Katrina makes Tulane hunker down

New Orleans' Tulane University, facing significant financial shortfalls since Hurricane Katrina, announced a plan yesterday to reduce its annual operating budget by laying off 230 faculty members, cutting seven NCAA Division I programs and eliminating underperforming academic programs.

Read the story in the Washington Post.


Any buyers for the Aberdeen American News?

Knight Ridder, the owner of the Aberdeen American News, among the 32 papers it owns is up for sale. However, the sale is not prompted by journalistic reasons or even severe financial troubles. It is being forced by large institutional investors who are not happy with the returns of the company's stock. It is a case where financial interests are in direct conflict with journalistic goals.

In northeast South Dakota, the proposed sale offers a faint hope that a region which is not served by any legitimate news media might get access to comprehensive and competent news coverage with a change in management. That is a very faint hope. Acquisitions and mergers of big corporations tend to eliminate and reduce enterprises, not improve them.

Some exchanges in the Columbia Journalism Review raise some alternatives, which is for Knight Ridder to offer up its newspapers for sale to local buyers, rather than look for a huge corporate seller. Corporate-run media has not the slightest interest in its role as the Fourth Estate. Here is an appraisal of the situation.

"It's come to this: A single wealthy investor [Bruce Sherman of Private Capital Management, which first urged a Knight Ridder sale] is able to threaten the civic vitality of 32 American metropolitan areas by forcing the sale of their newspapers to new owners in order to satisfy his demand for larger profits. Because those higher returns almost certainly will come at the expense of investigative reporting, independence from advertisers and adequately staffed and skilled newsrooms, the readers of Knight Ridder newspapers ought to rise up in opposition to the planned sale or dismemberment of the company.

"After a decade of shrinking its news staffs, the nation's second-largest newspaper company no longer commands the respect it earned winning 84 Pulitzer Prizes in 79 years. But papers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, Miami Herald, Charlotte Observer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Kansas City Star, St. Paul Pioneer Press and San Jose Mercury News are still too essential to the civic life of their cities to be auctioned off like so many pork bellies."

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Blogs raise new issues about free speech

Here is a story from the Chicago Tribune about the dimensions of free speech issues versus false and defamatory information posted on blog sites. Sleep well, my countrymen.

Blog gets school kids into trouble
By Tracy Dell'Angela
Tribune staff reporterPublished December 8, 2005, 9:12 PM CST

A Chicago teacher's photo appeared on an adult Web site, advertising his "student/teacher" fantasies.Another city teacher used her blog this fall to write about the chaos in her elementary music classes, including details about students wetting their pants, writing suicide notes, pulling out classmates' "fake hair" and passing around marijuana.

While these two cases drew the scrutiny of Chicago Public Schools, they failed for different reasons to meet the district's threshold for taking action--unlike the blogs posted by three boys at Taft High School. The students were suspended this week for posting obscene and threatening remarks about their teachers.

Chicago Public Schools leaders walk a fine line when determining which online postings are protected by free speech rights and which should be punished as a threat to students or staff.This debate is now taking place at Taft, where the principal at the Edison Park school has called a meeting next week of parents and students to discuss the "legal and moral issues involved with blogging.""These on-line postings... are accessible to the entire Internet community," Principal Arthur Tarvardian wrote in a letter sent home to parents Thursday.

"It is this very access which brings to the forefront issues of students' on-line safety and security as well as cyber-citizenship." Such decisions often weigh on the specificity of the objectionable content: Do the authors identify themselves, either with a name or photo? Is the writing a general rant or a screed directed at a particular person?Both legal precedent and district policy make it clear that both students and staff can be disciplined for off-campus actions, including any "offensive language" that affects "the safety, environment and learning" at a school, said district spokesman Mike Vaughn.

The discipline code also prohibits students and staff from using a computer to "stalk, harass or otherwise intimidate others."Vaughn said the district's legal staff determined that the Taft postings clearly met this definition."It was vulgar, threatening, disturbing and disgusting," Vaughn said of the blogs, which were posted on the site by two 8th graders and a 7th grader. The blogs contained sexually explicit references to teachers and one reference to slitting a teacher's throat "like a chicken."

"Oh yes, there will be blood... and no, I won't kill her... yet," wrote one student in the blog, which has since been removed.One of the named teachers discovered the material over the weekend and reported it to her principal, Vaughn said. After researching the issue, the principal called in the students, some of whom included their names in the blog, and their parents to discuss the discipline. The students were enrolled at Taft as part of an academically advanced program for bright middle-schoolers called International Baccalaureate.

Student Web postings also become an issue when online trash-talking spills over into on-campus fistfights. District legal officials have recently dealt with a handful of cases related to student-to-student postings on the Web site, Vaughn said.Teachers face scrutiny for online material they, too, might assume is private. A teacher at a Southwest Side high school was questioned by his principal late last year after his photo was found on a Web site described as "the world's largest sex and swinger personals site."

The listing, under the name "HotFreakyCpl," gave explicit sexual preferences and fantasies, including role-playing as "student/teacher." It was this reference that prompted school officials to investigate.

However, the teacher said the material was posted without his permission by a girlfriend. He removed the posting and was not disciplined, Vaughn said.

Another Chicago teacher's blog--which she describes as "an extension of a larger piece of work, detailing, analyzing, and releasing my frustrations with the public school system of Chicago"--recently drew the ire of a parent furious about the classroom details. The parent, who wrote to the Tribune that she has no idea where the teacher works but knew the teacher's name from unrelated Web postings, also forwarded a copy of the teacher's blog to district officials.

"Flute player removed for not practicing, arguing with classmates, writing a suicide note, eventually transferred out of the school because her mother didn't believe her daughter wrote it," the teacher wrote in her account. "Piano class. Kid blows nose in music book, throws it on the floor. Caught 2 girls passing marijuana around the classroom in a balled up newspaper. Both students were escorted out and taken by police."

In this case, the teacher will not face discipline because she does not identify the name of her school or her students in the blog. The teacher uses a screen name and not her real name, although she does include a link to a picture of herself on vacation."If there is no way to pin it down to a specific school, there is no issue with privacy," Vaughn said.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Gannett newspaper chain to explore purchase of Knight Ridder

The CEO of the Gannett company announced today that the firm will explore the purchase of Knight Ridder, according to a story in today's Star Tribune.

Knight Ridder is under pressure by its major stockholders, investment firms dissatisfied with the performance of its stock, to sell the company. Declining subscriptions and falling advertising revenues have crimped the profitability of the newspaper business in general.

Knight Ridder is the parent company of the Aberdeen American News, the Grand Forks Herald, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press in this region. Gannett is parent company for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, the St. Cloud Times, the Des Moines Register, the Iowa City Press Citizen, and KARE-TV, channel 11, in Minneapolis in the region.

While the proposed sale is regarded as a possibility that news coverage could be improved for areas such as Aberdeen and northeast South Dakota, such sales usually end up with new owners cutting costs by cutting staffs and operations. Profit margins and bottom lines are the focus of contemporary media, not comprehensive and accurate news coverage. The Aberdeen American News is the only medium fielding a reporting staff in its area, and the newspaper shows a dedication to a regressive political agenda with little regard for aggressive and accurate reporting.

No routine radio or television reporting is done for northeast South Dakota. Some weeklies attempt more comprehensive coverage of some small towns, but no comprehensive coverage of the region is available.

Concerned citizens are looking for ways to use the Internet to supply more reliable and incisive coverage.


Fact: South Dakota does not value education

South Dakota has enjoyed the status of being 51st in the nation in teachers' pay. For years it scrambled hard with other states like Mississippi for the distinction, but for the last ten years or so, it has had a lock on the position. It is a distinction conferred by at least three organizations that keep track of such matters: the U.S. Dept. of Education, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. Other organizations also rank South Dakota last, but all of the organizations get their data from the same public records.

The South Dakota state higher education system also ranks last in what it pays professors. That statistic does not get as much publicity, but it contributes to a consistent pattern.

What does it signify to pay teachers the least in the nation? It signifies what the people value. Money is not everything, but where people put their money expresss the things they value. Few people will outwardly say that they could not give a rusty dog turd for education other than it keeps the kids out of their hair during the day. Part of the national charade is to support education as the great democratizer and an essential component of informed self-governance. South Dakota's perennial bottom-ranking for what it pays teachers speaks louder than 700,000 flapping lips chanting odes to education. The fact is that South Dakotans do not like teachers and could not care much less about education.

Whenever the bottom ranking comes up, the cliche choir assembles and begins its chant justifying the low teacher pay in South Dakota

While South Dakota loves to cite that it is a place that has few of the problems that urban areas do, it does have many of the problems that backward rural areas do. One of those problems is that a significant majority of people do not in fact support education. They regard education only as tax burden imposed on them by "liberals."

For good teachers who want better pay and better working conditions, the solution is obvious: find a job in a place where education is actually valued.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


The Grandma Platoon reports for duty

Forty-eight grandmothers marched into a recruiting station at the University of Minnesota today and insisted that they be allowed to fill out enlistment papers. It was their way of protesting the war on Iraq, according to a story in the Star Tribune.

We think at this juncture, with elistments in the all-volunteer services lagging way behind their quotas, the Grandma Platoon will have no shortage of volunteers.


The Brown Shirts are patrolling Kansas

There is more to the story about Professor Paul Mirecki, chair of the University of Kansas Religious Studies Department, and the uproar his e-mails about religious fundamentalists caused. The Rightwingnut storm troopers appropriated the incident and turned the matter into one of their hate pogroms.

Dr. Mirecki issued a written apology for e-mails and went along with the University of Kansas change of the name of a course he was scheduled to teach on inelligent design during the spring semester. Then more uproar ensued and Dr. Mireckie requested that the course be cancelled. However, the full story involves the National Review finding more e-mails in which Dr. Mirecki expressed his distaste for religious fundamentalism. Dr. Mirecki was followed by two men in a pickup truck Monday morning in an incident that resulted in the men beating him and him being taken to a hospital.

Furthermore, legislators in Kansas have vowed to extract more accountability from Prof. Mirecki. The National Review engaged in a tactic common to Sibby and South Dakota Politics, which is to take partial quotations and put them into contrived contexts in order to portray their author as a rabid hate-mongerer. The question of free speech and academic freedom discussed of late in South Dakota blogs is not really the issue. Academic honesty and accuracy in making representations about what other people say is the issue.

With thanks to Dr. Silas, we reprint below a story about the proposed course and the violence-prompting rhetoric that it inspired. The story is by Frank Tankard of the University Daily Kansan sent to us from The Daily Colonial of George Washington University.

(U-WIRE) LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Paul Mirecki's "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design and Creationism" class will not be taught next semester, University of Kansas officials announced Thursday.

Mirecki, chairman of the department of religious studies, said in a statement that he withdrew the course because of public controversy about e-mails he had posted on a list server since 2003. The list server was a discussion board for the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics, the 121-person student group for which Mirecki serves as faculty adviser.

"My concern is that students with a serious interest in this important subject matter would not be well served by the learning environment my e-mails and the public distribution of them have created," he said in the statement. "It would not be fair to the students."

The class made national news when a Nov. 19 e-mail Mirecki wrote was disseminated to politicians and news organizations in which he referred to religious fundamentalists as "fundies" and said his class would serve as "a nice slap in their big fat face."

Older e-mails came to light when National Review, a conservative political magazine, published excerpts from Mirecki's past e-mails on Wednesday.
National Review printed one e-mail excerpt that was Mirecki's detailed description of starting to vomit after swallowing the Eucharist at a Catholic church service as a child because of the idea that he had swallowed the flesh of Jesus.

Chancellor Robert Hemenway issued a statement in which he said Mirecki made the right decision in withdrawing the course and called Mirecki's e-mail comments "repugnant and vile."

"He has a right to free speech, but he has to realize the revelation of his past e-mails has tainted the environment for his course," he said. "He insulted both our students and the University's public, and he misrepresented beliefs of KU's faculty and staff."

Hemenway said the subject matter of Mirecki's class had no bearing on the withdrawal of the course.

"This unfortunate episode does not in any way diminish our belief that the course should be taught," he said. "It is the role of the University to take on such topics and to provide the civil, academic environment in which they can be honestly examined and discussed."

Andrew Stangl, president of SOMA, said the remarks that appeared in National Review were taken out of context by people searching through Mirecki's past posts with the intent of showing that he was biased against Christianity and unfit to teach a class on intelligent design.

"This shows the dedication they're going to, to ruin or discredit Dr. Mirecki," he said. "We had assumed the comments were between the list serve."

State Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), vice chairwoman of the Kansas House of Representatives appropriations committee, said the incident called into question the integrity of the University. She said legislators would likely discuss the class when they return to session Jan. 9.

"I still think the University should be accountable, both the chancellor and the professor, to respond to legislators during the session about this course or any other courses there are issues with," she said.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Where are the boys?

Boys have become an endangered species at colleges, and are setting themselves up to fail socially and economically as a result. That is the summary of an article in the Sunday Washington Post by Michael Gurian. The article hit hard because I have been fussing and fretting about what i s happening to our young men for some time.

Michael Gurian recounts teaching college classes in which women predominated both in numbers and in the attention they paid to the classes. The boys present, he said, tended to sit dazedly through the classes without registering interest or purpose in being there.

During my last years of active teaching, I noted the same phenomenon. In addition, for a time I was faculty adviser to the student publications and often commented that there would be no publications if we had to depend upon male staff members. We had a few, but the large majority of editorial jobs were filled by women. Few men saw any inherent value in a campus newspaper or yearbook or saw any opportunity to pick up and develop skills that could be of use. This puzzled me. In one course I taught on publications production, the class did hands-on work in editing and laying out the student newspaper. Of the 15 students, two were men. However, every one of those students ended up with a job that was media related. That fact still did not entice young men interested in the communications field to participate on campus publications.

I thought it was a matter of regional culture. The brightest young men left the state to go to college for the most part. There were more women than men enrolled at NSU in general. The young men attending NSU, as is true of much of the student body, had heavy work schedules to finance their educations. I assumed that they found little time or energy to particpate in extra-curricular activities and did not regard campus activities as an important part of a college education.

However, over the years as I talked with professors from other campuses, I found them also puzzling over the declining numbers of young men in their classes and in the tepid interest shown by men who were atttending college. As I have a son who will graduate from high school this May, I am concerned about the diffidence he and his friends show toward education. Something is missing.

But that something is also missing among my daughter's friends. I am dismayed at how many young women are being treated for depression and other mental problems that interfere with their studies. I also note a huge and often bitter and angry division among groups of young women. There are hostilities in the social situation that kids show but do not articulate. I strongly suspect that our school system is unwittingly applying labels of rank and class to kids and that the currents of alienation and rebellion are running strong and deep.

But it is the young men who are most noticeably choosing not to participate in the opportunities afforded by education. For higher education systems facing declines in enrollments because there are fewer students in grade and secondary schools, the lack of interest is an additional cloud on the future of education. Education used to be the gateway to life. Many young people, particularly young men, don't see it that way. We have notions why, but it is time to obtain some real answers.

I am providing the full link to Michael Gurian's article for those who want to pursue this matter:


The dog ate my Habeas Corpus

My son came home from high school Friday before heading off for his station by the deep fryer at Scotty's and said there had been an "adminstrative lockdown." I said, you better get right back to school and let those administrators loose or you kids might end up at Guantanamo. My son gave me that same look his mother does and then looked to the heavens as if asking the head Intelligent Designer if there was not some relief from such prattle on earth. I am very nice to my son because he towers over me by more than half a foot and lifts weights.

But anyway, I found out that an administrative lockdown is when all the students are confined to classrooms while the police come in with drug dogs and sniff out stashes. So how was the hunting today? I asked. He said he heard that they caught two teachers with stashes in their cars, and a couple of students. As I know that high schools are major sources of inane rumors and urban legends without a grain of truth, I grilled him about names and witnesses and such until he gave me that look again and I reappraised his stature and musculature. I decided to wait for the news accounts.

I waited, and waited, and waited, and here it is Monday and no medium has even mentioned that the pot pointers and their handlers were holding maneuvers at the high school.

Back when I was a member of the working press, this would never happen. For one thing, it is the job of the press in its role as the Fourth Estate to report to the people anything and everything that government agencies who work for the people do in their behalf. We did not intrude upon investigations that need to be kept confidential, but locking up kids in the high school while stash hounds and their handlers prowl the hallways and parking lots is not exactly a confidential investigation. We took very seriously the principle that we had a responsibility to inform the people what their servants were doing.

However, in law enforcement actions there is the principle of Habeas Corpus, and it has special implications for the press. In short, the right of Habeas Corpus means that if anyone is arrested or taken into custody, the officials have to reveal that they have detained somebody, reveal who that person is, and start due process of law by charging them before a judge. If officials do not have a case against a person that will justify arrest and detention, the person must be released. If a person is held without being officially charged, he/she may apply for a Write of Habeas Corpus which requires a judge to determine if the person is being lawfully detained. Habeas Corpus as a right is specified in Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution: "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

The press often obtains a Writ of Habeas Corpus when it is apparent that a person is being detained without a valid charge. It is one of the ways that press helps insure that people are not detained in violation of their Constitutional rights and that due process of law is followed.

At the minimum, a large-scale action should be reported by the press so that people can separate fact from rumor. And to fulfill its obligations under the First Amendment, the press must inform the people of just what the people they pay to enforce the laws are doing.

But there is no press in Aberdeen that serves the Fourth Estate function. And so if someone was actually arrested or if someone is being held unlawfully, who is to know?

Sunday, December 04, 2005


It can't get much worse than this

The Aberdeen American News published an editorial today with the intended purpose of advocating that Northern State Univeristy join the rest of the state's univerisities in scientific research. The world, especially its scientific, literary, educational, and economic components, would be a better place if the editorial had never seen print.

The writer must have made a list of all the current cliches to be found in the most banal media and determined to use them all in one editorial.* Besides trotting out mindless cliches, the piece evinces bad reporting, profound ignorance, and utter cognitive failure. As an editorial that ostensibly encourages intellectual activity, it reflects a mental environment that is the last place where genuine scholarship and intellectual creativity could occur.

It berates NSU for not proposing an area of scientific research in which to engage with other universities that are embarking on a program to obtain some attention for the state in scientific research. South Dakota has studiously refused to support research as a mission of its universities. It ranks 50th among the states in research and development in the private sector, 50th in federally funded research and 50th in the number of patents and copyrights issued, and 50th in the number of Ph.D programs it has. South Dakota ranks last in per capita research spending - lower than even Puerto Rico, Guam or the Virgin Islands.

The Governor and Board of Regents are putting $2.8 million into four new research centers intended to put the universities on the map of research institutions. This expenditure is ironic because the Board of Regents has carefully tended the system so that it has remained the most backward university system in terms of research in the nation. The problem is that in the last quarter century, governors have not appointed people to the Board of Regents who have academic backgrounds. Rather, it has appoinetd lawyers, accountants, and a few other professionals who toe the political line and have the patronizing attitude that professors are dangers to conservative politics if they are allowed to do too much research and scholarship. Ironically, these are the people who are now promoting research, not out of any real interest or knowledge of areas in which the state can participate in research, but out of embarrassment at the state's perennial ranking as dead last in areas of intellectual activity.

The Regents have never paid any attention to the research possibilities at NSU. While some notable research has been done at NSU, none of it has had the support of the state higher education agencies. Rather, professors have sought outside funding for their projects and have spent their own money on them.

The Aberdeen American News misreports the situation at NSU in regard to research. Its editorial staff clearly has not the vaguest notion of what it takes to do research in terms of faculty workloads and facilities support. It berates NSU for not applying to be part of research funded by the state, but it is not even aware of program cuts, faculty reductions, and the impediments put in the way of faculty and staff for any significant research in any of the arts and sciences at NSU.

For the Governor and Board of Regents, we suggest that if they want to help NSU and the rest of the system grow, they should start listening to their faculty, not the political hacks on the Board. And for the Aberdeen American News, we suggest that it just shut up or send its staff to NSU's Writing Center for remediation. Its bad information and bad writing can do more to harm any intellectual effort put forth at NSU than help it.

*Oh, here is a partial list of the cliches in that one editorial:

Saturday, December 03, 2005


O, Big Brother, what a big pen you have

The U. S. military admitted today that it paid to have advertisements and opinion pieces in Iraqi newspapers, but it also indicated that it paid to have news stories run in the news columns. Here is the pertinent paragraph from the Washington Post story:

In a statement, the command said the program included efforts, "customary in Iraq," to purchase advertising and place clearly labeled opinion pieces in Iraqi newspapers. But the statement suggested that the "information operations" program may have veered into a gray area where government contractors paid to have articles placed in Iraqi newspapers without explaining that the material came from the U.S. military and that Iraqi journalists were paid to write positive accounts.

When government agencies control the news, whether through payment or coercion, the press is not free, but is merely an instrument of government. The Bush administration ventures further and further into state-controlled media in every effort it makes to force its agenda at home and abroad.


Academic freedom ain't what it used to be

The matter of professors participating on web logs has resulted in many bloggish pronouncements in South Dakota about what academic freedom is. On one hand, the comments indicate what a lousy job academics have done in defining just how the First Amendment applies to the academic setting. On the other hand, they indicate the infinite reservoir of pompous presumption that characterizes what passes for the substance of academic life in the lower echelons of post-secondary education. The ego is an erectile organ of personality, and the frictive self-stroking of it in public is not gratifying to those who are exposed to it in the name of discourse.

Brand new Ph.D.s tend to think that in the conferment of their degrees, God extended his work week and revised the universe to make the new Ph.D. the center of it. In better institutions of higher learning, this nonsense is knocked out of the young faculty in the first semester or two, and they learn that other people have educations as current and as extensive as theirs, that other people have powers of knowledge and discernment equal to theirs, and that other people often know more and think better than they do. The lower echelon institutions fail in the mission of instilling collegial perceptions in their faculty, and rather than grow more professorial, the faculty tends to regress into adolescent egotism rather than progress in the collegial attributes of equality, respect, and shared authority.

Self-absorption blinds professors to their essential responsibilities. There are two academic "crimes" for which professors can be terminated or receive other discipline: plagiarism and fabrication. Plagiarism, the using of other people's words or ideas without appropriation attribution, gets the most attention in the classrooms. Fabrication is often the more serious because it involves either making up data that has no basis in fact, or misrepresenting data, or drawing a false conclusion in a way that falsely represents what someone has said or done. It was an instance of fabrication that produced the current spate of commentary on academic freedom.

A professor who was attempting to defend the war on Iraq wrote in a blog "the idea that we are winning in Iraq will make much of the left angry." This effort to define the character and motives of "much of the left" irked the holy hell out of Clean Cut Kid. He wondered if the professor's president knew that he said such things and suggested that readers call it to the university president's attention. This immediately provoked the charges that CCK was advocating Big Brother suppressions of free speech and free inquiry.

The statement by this professor is one of the lesser instances in which the contributors to the South Dakota Politics blog draw conclusions based totally upon their need to malign or refabricate what other people say into false representations of the context and text of their remarks. The campaigns against John Kerry and Tom Daschle were totally devoid of an address of their positions and were devoted to ad hominem attacks aimed at besmirching their character, their motives, and past accomplishments. This is the standard rhetorical practice of South Dakota Politics. The question raised is whether professors, whose profession and institutions are judged by their public comments, have an obligation to conduct themselves in such a way that they do not reflect negatively on their colleagues and institution. At times these professors, who constantly invoke their status as academic officers, descend into the monomaniacal regressions of that poor wretch of South Dakota blogging Sibby. The question is whether their blogs compromise their status as professors.

For 65 years, involving thousands of cases, a statement of principles regarding academic freedom has been used to adjudicate instances where professors' exercise of freedom of speech has damaged their own credibility as professors and the credibility of their institutions.

In the early part of the 20th century, American professors became convinced that the academic profession needed to protect the freedom to inquire, learn, and speak as the essential tools in the process of generating, refining, and transmitting knowledge. Following World War I, a considerable degree of political debate was taking place. Incidents of rioting and violence and vandalism in the name of political causes were common, and professors realized that freedom of speech and its derivative academic freedoms needed to be made a formalized process. Led by the philosopher and writer William James, the academic community began working out statements of principle and protocols for insuring vigorous and unrestrained debate. The result was the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure published by the Association of American University Professors. That statement is endorsed by more than 180 professional organizations of professors, and most higher education systems and institutions incorporate the statement into their policies and faculty handbooks as the defining principle.

The statement is included in the collective bargaining agreement under South Dakota faculty operate and in the Board of Regents Policy Manual.

The core statement on academic freedom is:


A. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the
authorities of the institution.
B. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.[2] Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.[3]

C. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.[4]

Paragraph C. is the one that deals with such extra-curricular activities such as blogging. It states that the position of college faculty members in their communities "imposes special obligations." It cautions that their profession and institutions will be judged by their utterances, but it does not prescribe any further instructions. The AAUP appended this clarifying statement regarding the provisions of paragraph C:

So Chad of CCK is not off-base in suggesting that the public may ask a university administration to monitor the appropriateness of comments and activities of professors. Administrations have to both insure the academic freedom of faculty and students but also to insure the academic integrity of the institution. The question raised by the statements from South Dakota Politics is not a matter of exercising free speech, but whether that free speech violates the standards of accuracy, truth, and benign purpose in a way that violates other people's rights to be free from defamation and oppression.

AAUP has a code of ethics that sets standards as to what obligations professors have in exercising their rights of free speech:

1. 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. They practice intellectual honesty. Although professors may follow subsidiary interests, these interests must never seriously hamper or compromise their freedom of inquiry.

2. As teachers, professors encourage the free pursuit of learning in their students. They hold before them the best scholarly and ethical standards of their discipline. Professors demonstrate respect for students as individuals and adhere to their proper roles as intellectual guides and counselors. Professors make every reasonable effort to foster honest academic conduct and to ensure that their evaluations of students reflect each student’s true merit. They respect the confidential nature of the relationship between professor and student. They avoid any exploitation, harassment, or discriminatory treatment of students. They acknowledge significant academic or scholarly assistance from them. They protect their academic freedom.

3. As colleagues, professors have obligations that derive from common membership in the community of scholars. Professors do not discriminate against or harass colleagues. They respect and defend the free inquiry of associates. In the exchange of criticism and ideas professors show due respect for the opinions of others. Professors acknowledge academic debt and strive to be objective in their professional judgment of colleagues. Professors accept their share of faculty responsibilities for the governance of their institution.

4. As members of an academic institution, professors seek above all to be effective teachers and scholars. Although professors observe the stated regulations of the institution, provided the regulations do not contravene academic freedom, they maintain their right to criticize and seek revision. Professors give due regard to their paramount responsibilities within their institution in determining the amount and character of work done outside it. When considering the interruption or termination of their service, professors recognize the effect of their decision upon the program of the institution and give due notice of their intentions.

5. As members of their community, professors have the rights and obligations of other citizens. Professors measure the urgency of these obligations in the light of their responsibilities to their subject, to their students, to their profession, and to their institution. When they speak or act as private persons, they avoid creating the impression of speaking or acting for their college or university. As citizens engaged in a profession that depends upon freedom for its health and integrity, professors have a particular obligation to promote conditions of free inquiry and to further public understanding of academic freedom.

These statements define the obligations under which professors operate. Here endeth the readings for the day.


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