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Monday, December 31, 2007

My Advisor Goes to Hawaii...

...and all I get is a lousy syllabus!

Hey, that's my bosses! Dr. Amit Deokar, my academic advisor at DSU, and Dr. Omar El-Gayar, head of the graduate department, are off to Hawaii next week to present at the Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Yes, that's a big deal. They'll be presenting on decision support systems (don't ask -- I'm still learning about it myself!).

Ah, Honolulu in January -- the joys of professorship! Guess I'd better get back to studying. ;-) Have fun, Drs. El-Gayar and Deokar! And bring us back some fresh pineapple!

Sibby Catches KELO Flat Wrong -- Where Was Madville Times?

I still have fish to fry with Sibby and his fear of secular humanist one-worlders. But on local media, Sibby makes an observation that dumps a well-deserved bucket of cold water over my head.

Last week KELO ran a story saying the proposed cuts in the SD Highway Patrol budget were already impacting public safety, leading to fewer troopers on the roads during the Christmas snowstorm. Sibby wondered the same thing I did: "So how could next year's budget impact current year operations?"

A couple days later, KELO backtracked, with the HP chief himself, Colonel Dan Mosteller, coming on to say the trooper schedule for Christmas wasn't influenced by the proposed budget cuts but by the weather forecasts that didn't predict five inches of snow.

Sibby offers this conclusion:

So, Keloland got it wrong as they used factual incorrect reporting to give glory to Democrat Scott Hiedepriem. And I am the only blogger who has pointed that out. That is what happens when there is a blogger/mainstream media partnership. Accountability goes out the window. And Pat Powers uses the platform to attack conservatives, instead of pointing out their pro-Democrat bias [emphasis mine; quote from Steve Sibson, "Keloland Backtracks on Heidepriem Setup," Sibby Online, 2007.12.28].

The Heidepriem-setup charge doesn't hold water -- Republican Senator Abdallah was getting as much press as Heidepriem over the budget cuts. And I'm staying out of the Sibby-PP stuff.

But Sibson is right about one thing: KELO screwed up, blatantly, on an obvious and easy point, and the rest of us bloggers didn't call it. Why on earth not?

For what it's worth, I can say that the thought process running through my head was not, "Oh, I'd better not criticize KELO or I might lose my precious spot on their Political Bloggregator." (And for what it's worth, Steve, I got more hits from one mention in the KELO forums than I have from any of my posts on the KELO blog... and PP is still the champion SD referral site.) The Christmas story just slipped from my mind, and I didn't follow up with my KELO reading through the week.

But the accusation still stings: While I was pitching snowballs at Sibson and Ellis for empowering the wealthy elites by focusing on red herrings, I missed a story about the wealthy media elite getting a story flat wrong. Why KELO got it wrong -- political conniving? too much nog for Ben Dunsmoor? -- I leave open for debate. Why I didn't cover KELO's getting it wrong -- well, even if it was just laziness and distraction on my part, it doesn't look good.

Steve, this morning, you have my apologies and my props for keeping an eye on the media. I've already posted one story on KELO today, but I'll throw this one on tomorrow. (And we'll talk plutocracy and secular humanism a little later! Happy New Year!)

2007 in Review: What Did You Learn from the Madville Times?

I struggled with the format I wanted for my 2007 retrospective. How should newspeople and bloggers quantify the "Top Ten Stories of 2007"?
  1. I could rank stories by number of posts and length: the DQ Miracle Treat Day might come out on top, followed by the TransCanada Keystone pipeline, teacher pay, and health care would probably come out on top.
  2. I could rank posts by how many comments they drew: again, teacher pay was a big draw, as well as health care, abortion (even without David's persistent efforts), and local politics (remember the new gym?).
  3. I could rank posts by how often they drew Google searches: alas, the biggest non-story of the year, Shawn Cable, would win that one hands down, although lately the Lakota treaty withdrawal has been topping the searches.
Perhaps later -- heck, perhaps as a side project in my doctoral studies! -- I'll do a quantitative analysis of the 640 posts and hundreds more comments. But on this last morning of 2007, I revert, as is my habit, to the pedagogical paradigm and ask the question, "What have we learned here?" What are the most important things you've learned reading the Madville Times this year? ("Heidelberger's a raving idiot!" doesn't count.)

Here's my list of the most significant things I learned while blogging in 2007:

1. Teacher pay in South Dakota is worse than we thought.
We often rationalize our persistent low teacher pay by saying our low cost of living compensates for the difference. But when the difference in average teacher pay between South Dakota and the next lowest state, North Dakota, is $3000, that argument doesn't hold water. In July and December, I found stats that show the gap between South Dakota's cost of living and that in surrounding states doesn't come close to the teacher pay gap.

But hey, the social engineers on the radical right will shortly be able to use South Dakota for more experimentation: when all of our young teachers move to Minnesota and Wyoming for higher pay, South Dakotans will all have to be homeschooled (which actually might not be so bad).

2. The "Toyota lottery" doesn't work.
Madison's economic development efforts have focused on the big score, recruiting big manufacturers to bring a whole slew of jobs at once. manufacturers like Persona and Dakota Vinyl (or like Knight and Carver over in Howard) provide good jobs, and the folks who work in those plants are darn glad for the work.

But while these manufacturers have a big positive impact when they set up shop and operate, they also have a big impact when they leave. And they do leave: Guerdons in 1980, Rosco in 2003, May & Scofield in 2005, Arctic Cat and Pavement Services in 2007. The money we spend recruiting big employers from elsewhere naturally attracts the more mobile, less rooted companies who are willing to leave for the slightly better incentives that another community will offer. When we bid for big out-of-state manufacturers or other employers, we are bidding against other cities all around the world. There will always be someone who can outbid us with tax incentives, cheaper land, or a bigger available workforce (our already low unemployment rate is a conversation stopper with a lot of companies looking to relocate).

We would do better to look for small-scale, local solutions. If we have money sitting around for recruiting comanies, we should take the big offers to big outside companies and divide them up into lots more little offers to local entrepreneurs with a greater commitment to our community than a desire for higher profits.

3. Republicans aren't really committed to the free market. Whether we're talking Tax Increment Finance Districts, eminent domain for pipelines, or health insurance mandates, Republicans are not the champions of the free market their sound bites would have us believe. They cry socialism when the left proposes to correct failures of the free market that hurt the poor and middle class (like the shysterism of the health insurance industry that could be rectified by Kucinich's single-payer not-for-profit plan), but they have no problem with government interventions in the market that suit the business interests of their country club friends (right, Sibby?).

Not that Republicans (or Democrats, or Independents) should defend the free market at every turn. The free market is not ordained by the Bible or the Constitution as the proper order of things; it is just one means to the proper end of liberty, and when the free market infringes on liberty (as it often does), government must intervene. Republicans just need to be honest about their principles and quit fighting the Cold War in their economic rhetoric.

And while I'm thinking about it....

4. Tax Increment Finance Districts might not be so bad. My commentary on the Tax Increment Finance District approved by the Madison City Commission for Randy Schaefer's development out behind the Schaefer Plaza prompted a conversation with the developer himself, a conversation in which I learned the following:
  1. The developer doesn't stand to make out like a bandit; the tax increment financing should turn a losing project into maybe a break-even project.
  2. Schaefer sounds committed to making real affordable housing happen, right in line with the needs the LAIC and city have identified. The building values cited in the original application -- $110K to $150K, which didn't strike me as particularly low income values -- were spur-of-the-moment figures, not finalized plans. Schaefer is still brainstorming how to maximize affordability.
  3. The inclusion of the commercial property in the TIF District isn't some insidious plot; it actually makes sure that the school district doesn't lose out on as much tax revenue as it would if the district were strictly residential.
Schaefer, like the rest of us, is interested in seeing the TIF District benefit the whole community. In that spirit, the Madville Times is happy to offer recommendations for truly affordable housing and maybe even some green initiatives (how about a windmill to power those houses, and a shared geothermal unit for the whole development?).

5. Too many people are plagiarizing. I thought I was done catching plagiarists when I traded my English classroom in Montrose for doctoral studies at DSU. I was wrong. I found myself hip-deep in plagiarism from Dennis Wiese, Madison's own Chamber of Commerce and LAIC, fellow students at DSU, even the "real" journalists at the Rapid City Journal.

Let's review: contrary to the apologetics of some commenters, plagiarism is lying, cheating, and stealing. It wrecks our credibility and makes us look bad.

Speaking of lying...

6. The HUH crowd can't be trusted. Roger Hunt, Leslee Unruh, Gordon Howie -- the HUH crowd -- will say anything to promote their narrow ideological goals. Roger Hunt will twist the law to keep secrets. Leslee Unruh will co-opt any rhetorical strategy she can think of, even going so far as to say abortion isn't wrong (or not to say that abortion is wrong -- nice word games). And even though Unruh's own blog says "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," she vows to do the same thing over and over.

A note for the policy debaters: If the HUH crowd is the Affirmative, advocating a change in policy by banning abortion, they must show that the status quo isn't solving and cannot solve (Inherency, the black sheep of stock issues). Abortions continue to decline in South Dakota. South Dakota has perhaps the lowest abortion rate in the nation. The status quo is solving; there is no need for the Affirmative plan. Vote Negative.

7. Ethanol isn't the perfect solution.
Better farm income and bigger markets for South Dakota ag products -- I should be all over ethanol. But a year of reading has revealed as much bad as good about ethanol. Land values go up and drive out some small producers. Food prices go up. We don't really use less foreign oil; ethanol just helps keep up with increased consumption. Corn is an energy-intensive crop: it takes a lot of fertilizer (which is made from oil) and water (in the ground and at the ethanol plant). And ethanol still feels like a big-industry solution that enriches the giant agri-business corporations more than the independent farmer. Ethanol isn't bad, but we should keep an eye out for something better (like wind power and conservation).

8. Classroom laptops do a lot more good in Peru than South Dakota. Laptops in South Dakota classrooms are just one more expression of how politicians don't get education. Politicians like laptops because they are concrete objects. They're all techno-snazzy and trendy. They're easy to replace and don't talk back, unlike good teachers. But do laptops really help education in South Dakota? We don't see any evidence of that yet.

But on Christmas Eve, I read about the One Laptop program in Peru and couldn't help thinking that maybe technology can do some good in the world's classrooms, particularly in countries that haven't been connected to the Internet before. In South Dakota, a laptop in the classroom is a drop in the bucket. In Peru, a child and a teacher with a laptop take a century's leap forward.

Of course, I'll bet teacher pay in Peru is pretty low, too....

9. Big money and marketing don't own politics... yet. I came out of 2006 a little disillusioned, thinking that only big-money candidates and campaigns could win at the polls ($32,000 for one legislative seat, Russ?). But 2007 brought some counter-examples. Money and marketing, including a slick website and brochures all over town, could not win a new gym for Madison at the polls. Just a few months later, Madison saw a much lower-key campaign win approval for a new pool (oops, that aquatic center -- gotta sound upscale). Our friends in Yankton put the Internet to work to wage a relatively inexpensive war over recalling their mayor and a councilman. We'll probably see more money thrown away on posters and slogans and image management in 2008, but it's nice to know regular folks still have some chance of making their voices heard without relying on massive campaign finances.

10. Blogging really does promote conversation and community. I've had a number of great conversations this year -- with Republicans, even! -- thanks to the Madville Times. Sometimes they just leave a comment, sometimes we get together and talk face to face, the way God/nature/the flying spaghetti monster intended. I've learned things from commenters and other bloggers that I wouldn't have heard about otherwise. Elsewhere we've seen South Dakota bloggers who sound like they absolutely despise each other get together to shoot pheasants, the breeze, and not each other.

Building conversations, building community: that's what blogs do. That's why I write (that, and the sheer fun of it!).

So what did you learn this year? My list is surely incomplete; submit yours here... or maybe even start your own blog, see what conversations you can start.

Thanks for reading and commenting. Now get ready for 2008, the biggest blogging year yet!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

What Are We Doing Here? Blogging Explained...

The problem with my research for DSU: the readings lead me to so many interesting websites and diversions, I'll be lucky if I get my dissertation written before all the information technology I'm researching is obsolete.

One long, convoluted research stream leads me to the blog of Richard Dennison, who posts this fine little video from Commoncraft explaining blogs. Commoncraft does all sorts of clever little instuctional videos like this, fun low-tech productions explaining all this high-tech communication we're doing. If you're new to blogs, this video is great. Enjoy!

Special Bonus! Another video from Commoncraft, this one on social networking (all that Facebook/LinkedIn stuff). Snappy and fun -- every teacher's PowerPoint should be this good.

O.K., I'll admit it, I had to take a research break. here's one for SD Politics and my brother-in-law:

Who You Calling Shorty?

Dennis Kucinich is consistently on message, consistently liberal, consistently Democrat, consistently anti-war. You may not like his policies, but at least you can tell what those policies are. And yet the media -- the allegedly liberal media who ought to be falling all over themselves to make Kucinich king -- ignore the most Democratic Democrat in the presidential race... except to make jokes about his height. Evidently if you're 5'7", you can't be a world leader (evidently the Clinton people haven't passed that memo on to Hillary -- 5'6").

We thus read with interest Time's coverage of its Person of the Year, Russian President and soon-to-be Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin... all 5'6" of him, by reporter Adi Ignatius's reckoning. Funny -- no jokes about height there.

The Madville Times offers no more endorsement of capitalist autocracy and political oppression than does Time (contrary to Senator Thune's ill-read assessment and Mr. Heppler's exasperated grumbling, Time's Person of the Year designation "is not and never has been an honor"). This morning's message is simply this: Height doesn't matter: bringing your country a clear vision and a consistent message does. Dennis Kucinich's vision and message stand head, shoulders, knees and toes above the other cookie-cutter corporate apologists running for the American presidency.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Green for Green: Local Incentives Boost Sustainable Living

Love the Earth? Love lower energy usage and thus lower costs for everyone? Tree-huggers and money-grubbers alike should love this AP article on cities offering incentives for all sorts of environment-saving, energy-saving, and ultimately money-saving action. Call it Green for Green! Here's a list of the dang fine ideas some cities are doing as they get fed up with waiting for the federal government to get serious about conservation:
  1. Parkland, FL, will write residents checks for replacing old air conditioners with more energy-efficient models ($100), installing low-flow toilets and showerheads ($150), and buying hybrid cars ($200).
  2. San Francisco will rebate residents up to $5000 for installing solar panels and hiring local contractors to do the work (save the planet and your local economy!).
  3. Berkeley, CA, will finance solar panels for homeowners who agree to pay back the cost as part of a 20-year tax assessment (can you say TIF District for solar panels?).
  4. Baltimore covers up to $2000 in closing costs for folks who buy houses close to where they work (less gas, less traffic, more walking to work, more time for folks to participate in neighborhood activities).
  5. Scottsdale, AZ, pays up to $1500 for residents who replace grass with artificial turf or plants that don't need so much water [Brian Skoloff, AP writer, "Cities Enticing Residents to Go Green," printed in St. Paul Pioneer Press, 2007.12.27].

The many ways we can bring these ideas to Madison are obvious.

  1. Appliance replacement and solar panel installation would allow the city to reduce energy consumption and insulate residents from more electricity rate hikes.
  2. The city could build on the Tax Increment Finance district concept: turn the TIF into a WIF: Wind Increment Finance District! The city completely finances the construction of wind turbines like Craig Van Hove's for any interested business and homeowner; then the owners repay the expense with the taxes assessed on the increased value of their property.
  3. Give incentives for xeriscaping to reduce water usage and fertilizer run-off.

See? We don't have to be slaves to pipelines and every increasing energy production. There are lots of ways we can make conservation happen, with just a little push from our local governments.

Schlueter Lands New Job in Lake County

Looks like we've got a new smokey on our tail: it's Matthew Schlueter, subject of much controversy for apparently blowing the lid off Colman's speeding ticket trickery. Beginning January 7, Schlueter will become a Lake County deputy, filling the vacancy left by Emily Bruns, who resigned in November after being charged with her second DUI.

Good to know Lake County will give an honest cop a break after he's gotten what sounds like unfair treatment elsewhere. And good to know we have one more cop on our beat who will uphold the law, even if the powers that be ask him to do otherwise. Welcome to the force, Officer Schlueter.

TransCanada Willing to Play Nice with North Dakota...

...so what gives with the hardball condemnation games with South Dakotans?

The Mitchell Daily Republic runs an editorial from the Fargo Forum approving of TransCanada's dealings with the city of Fargo. When Fargo raised a ruckus about environmental and safety concerns, TransCanada apparently listened.

Fargo got the company to build features into the pipeline that further reduce the risk of an oil spill reaching the city’s water supply in the Sheyenne River and Lake Ashtabula.

In exchange, Fargo agreed to drop its intervener status with the North Dakota Public Service Commission, which means the permitting process and eventually construction can proceed on schedule [The Forum of Fargo, ND, editorial; reprinted in "City's Pipeline Deal Is Satisfactory," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2007.12.26].

This Jamestown Sun article further shows TransCanada is capable of cooperation. The company started negotiating with the North Dakota Forest Service in May 2006 and will protect the Pembina Gorge area by (1) siting its pipeline crossing at the narrowest point of the river and (2) using horizontal drilling, which costs five times as much as regular trench digging ($500/ft vs $100/ft).

Perhaps some of this "good corporate citizenship" will work its way down South Dakota way, and TransCanada will rethink taking landowners to court and instead negotiate better deals with South Dakota landowners.

The above examples show that TransCanada is willing to compromise. But they won't do it unless you stand up for what you want. South Dakotans facing condemnation hearings, take heart. Keep fighting, and TransCanada just might listen. Remember: they've got oil money. They can afford to compromise.

PUC TransCanada Hearing Audio Archive Available

Things have been quiet on the TransCanada front lately. That's o.k. -- Gary, Dusty, and Steve could use some peace and quiet so they can think really hard about what's really good for South Dakota. (Hint, fellas: it's not black and runny.)

I've been checking the PUC 2007 Minutes webpage for the transcript of the TransCanada Keystone pipeline hearings, which were held Dec. 3-11 in Pierre. No text yet, but I am pleased to see that the PUC has provided links to the audio recordings of every session of the hearings. If you missed anything or you're checking facts, that audio looks like your best option until they get the transcripts up. And don't forget, the pre-filed testimony is also available from the PUC.

One Rotten Oily Apple Doesn't Spoil the Canadian Barrel

I've been a little mean this year, calling names while raging against the "thievin' Canucks" at TransCanada (and some country-club Republicans) who think that the fact that their pipeline will produce more tax dollars than alfalfa or corn entitles them to take South Dakota land through eminent domain.

As penance, and in the spirit of the holidays, I present my list of Eleven Great Things About Canada!

Universal Health Care. Canadians aren't nearly as overtly religious or even as rich as their southern neighbors, but somehow they find it in their hearts and wallets to pay for each others' medical bills... and even those of foreign visitors. A number of our American friends have been visiting in Canada, had an owie, and gotten fixed up in the Canadian hospital, no paperwork, no bill. Mighty nice folks, those Canadians. Their health care system isn't perfect, but it beats the pants off ours.

Feist -- "1 2 3 4." Kid-tested, Mom- and Dad-approved: All three members of the Madville Times household love Feist -- born Amherst, Nova Scotia, has lived in Regina, Calgary, and Toronto -- her music, and the whimsy (I hope she won't mind that term) of her videos, especially this one. No hoochie-mama outfits, no crass sexualization, just a bunch of artists having a lot of fun with music and dance. That's what pop music is supposed to be. (And if I were directing one-act this year, we'd be staging some version of this video, guaranteed.)

Edmonton, Alberta. I lived in this fine city for a year and a half. I bicycled to class on snow-packed streets through two straight weeks of -40 (Celsius and Fahrenheit) temperatures. I loved every moment. Even in that cold weather, people still got out to cross-country ski and jog. The prevailing Edmontonian philosophy seemed to be, "Life's too short to sit inside all day." And with tree-lined neighborhoods, great bike trails, and the majestic North Saskatchewan River valley, who'd want to stay inside? And of course, even you don't like the outdoors, there's the biggest mall in the world, the West Edmonton Mall. (Canadians can beat us at health care and crass consumerism, when they set their minds to it.)

Barenaked Ladies. Show me an American band this fun. Every first day of school, watching the new freshmen amble anxiously down the hall, I would sing to myself, "This is me in grade 9, baby." And the classic "If I Had a Million Dollars" -- K-Cars and Dijon ketchup indeed... but not a real green dress, that's cruel! Oh! And that reminds me:

Kraft Dinner. Not mac and cheese -- it's dinner. And let's not forget the 2 kilo bags of pirogies at the grocery store. Mmmm.

Prince Edward Island. Not just for Anne of Green Gables (her house is there -- really!) should one visit this beautiful little island. Cross the huge (12.9 km) Confederation Bridge. Go on Canada Day: swim at the beaches, see fireworks in Summerside, and visit Charlottetown, the "Birthplace of Confederation." By the way, compare the difference in national origins: We American colonists got mad at King George and Parliament, picked up our guns, and started shooting people to gain independence. The Canadian colonists stuck with Britain, gave us a whoopin' in 1812 (they'll mention that if you visit), and waited until 1864, when they had a nice meeting with the Crown in Charlottetown and said, "Say, what would you think of us maybe becoming a separate country, eh?" All they had to do was ask politely.

Kids in the Hall. Funnier, sharper, and weirder than SNL in the good years.

The Québécois French Accent. After a few months of listening to Jean Chrétien on the news, my French accent morphed into that slightly growlier frontier French spoken by the rough-and-ready settlers of the New World. (And you know, I get the impression that in Canada, the people can keep their politicians a little closer to them.)

William Shatner. Another Quebecker! Captain Kirk, born in Iowa, embodiment of the space cowboy, central character in the mythos pillar of my worldview -- brought to life by a Shakespearean-trained Canadian (all great captains know Shakespeare). It takes a Canadian -- close neighbor, yet outsider -- to fully grasp the American swagger and write it large across the galaxy.

CKUA. South Dakota Public Radio is getting better. They can dream of being as good as CKUA, the finest radio station in the world. CKUA started broadcasting in 1927. Financial rapscallionery knocked the station off the air for five weeks in spring 1997, but a huge public outpouring of support put the station back on the air and raised one million dollars in two weeks to keep it alive. You want to broaden your musical horizons? You want to hear DJs who play music they know and care about?

My friend Megan, to whom I happily dedicate this ode to Canada. She gave me a splendid tour of Nova Scotia and PEI, including Lunenberg, Peggy's Cove (see photo), Cape Split, and the biggest personified blueberry in the world. She flew all the way to South Dakota just to be in charge of the guest book at Erin's and my wedding. She still sends me news, family photos, and e-Christmas cards from the Atlantic. And she loves her country as much as I love mine. Thank you, Megan!

Now, if we could just get Megan and her friends to arrange a domestic boycott of TransCanada... ;-)

Wealth and Power Threaten Christianity

Maybe Bob does get it:

[The wealthy] begin to focus their attention on their wealth and the accumulation of wealth. Why? What does wealth provide in this world? Power. And one can easily gain a sense of self-sufficiency and become so preoccupied not with the consumable goods that the wealth can purchase but with the power that goes with it, and then slipping into a kind of arrogance, a sense of independence, a sense of "I don't need to prostrate myself before Almighty God." So there's a sense in which prosperity can become a curse to a person [Dr. R.C. Sproul, "Wealth and Poverty," Renewing Your Mind (audio), 2007.12.27, timestamp 08:40-09:22; link courtesy of Bob Ellis].

Bob Ellis and Steve Sibson: Deluded Tools of the Plutocracy

Blog War II? No, just pointing out the Man Behind the Curtain.

Occasionally I agree with and even feel inklings of respect for Steve Sibson. A few days ago I teased Sibby for being "predictably paranoid." He had the courtesy to forego "starting another blog war" and focused instead on our common ground in opposing No Child Left Behind. Gee, Sibby almost sounds like a reasonable politician, amenable to compromise, willing to work in a bipartisan fashion toward practical, shared goals. Thank you, Steve, for your good sense...

Oh, but wait:

I also hope that Cory understands that I am not against education, but I am against indoctrination of the far-left's anti-American one-world socialism. I would hope that those in South Dakota promoting the far-left agenda will listen to the truth and then agree that America's sovereignty is more important than their special interests. Because the difference is freedom versus tyranny [Steve Sibson, "Paranoid or Informed, Freedom or Tyranny," SibbyOnline, 2007.12.26].

To quote the closest thing to the Second Coming for Sibby's readers, "Well, there you go again."

Bob Ellis subjects us to even heavier doses of such monsters-under-the-bed rhetoric. He can read a simple reminder to recycle extra Christmas garbage and compost the Yule tree and see sinister "environmental nonsense" perpetrated by secularists out to destroy Christmas, intelligent design, and Western civilization.

More often than not, Bob Ellis and Steve Sibson are the car wrecks of South Dakota blogging: so ugly and gruesome I can't help looking.

But as I read Senator R.F. Pettigrew's Triumphant Plutocracy this very white Christmas, the spirit of South Dakota's first US Senator and patron saint of prairie radicals compels me to write the following: Ellis and Sibson are deluded tools of the plutocracy.

Ellis and Sibson preach that the gravest danger to Christian civilization is scrawny secular humanists like me pottering about our classrooms and libraries. Hogwash. Grad students like me are too busy researching and writing abstruse malarkey that only 0.002% of the population will ever see. Those sinister secular humanist teachers and professors are too busy getting their grades in and serving on committees to have time to effectively corrupt the youth. University profs in particular are in a terrible position for fomenting the Second Bolshevik Revolution: the majority of their students are at university just to get a degree and a job and aren't really listening to the occasional bits of nonsense about global warming or economic justice that their profs might slip into their lectures.

And for all our alleged efforts to destroy all that Bob holds holy, we're doing a pretty crappy job: 85 percent of Americans call themselves Christians. Compare that to Israel, which is only 77% Jewish [Bill McKibben, "The Christian Paradox: How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong," Harper's Magazine, Aug 2005].

Bob and Sibby aren't completely wrong. There is a vast secular, globalist threat to Christianity and family values, perpetrated by amoral agents devoted only to increasing their own power. it's called global corporate capitalism. Corporations have no God, no morality. Corporations care by design and duty for nothing but increased profits. They don't care what god you worship or what country you live in: they just want your money, your labor, and your loyalty/slavery.

Quick reality check—show of hands, please:
  1. How many of you have ever been short-changed, ripped off, or outright screwed by a secular humanist?
  2. O.K., now how many of you have ever been short-changed, ripped off, or outright screwed by a wealthy corporation?
Thank you—now back to the egghead stuff:

Being a threat to Christian civilization takes a lot of power. Senator Pettigrew back in 1921 could see it was the big money capitalists, not the secular humanists or the Reds of his day, who had that sort of power:

The economic power of the United States has been concentrated in the hands of a very few, and they are the Government. They pass the laws that in their judgment will protect and defend the property upon which their power depends; they secure the appointment of judges who will interpret and who do interpret this legislation in the interest of the wealth-owning classes; control those who execute the laws, from the presidents down—indeed, for the most part, the presidents are lawyers, and either members of the plutocracy, or else paid retainers of the plutocracy; they control all of the channels of public opinion—the press, the schools, the church; they control the labor unions through the control of their leaders and of the policy that the leaders pursue; possessors of the land on which the farmer must work, of the mines and the machines with which the laborer must work, in order to live, the plutocracy—the wealth class—in the United States is supreme over the affairs of public life [R.F. Pettigrew, Triumphant Plutocracy, New York City: Academy, 1921, pp. 130-131].

Don't tell me any secular humanists have ever had such pervasive power in this country.

Pettigrew's description of who calls the shots sounds just like South Dakota today. Think about realpolitik in your hometown. Who runs the show? Here in Madison there are no professors or teachers on the city commission, the county commission, or even the Chamber of Commerce board (Dr. Knowlton and Steve Shirley are administrators, not profs... and I doubt they are card carrying-members of the secular humanist conspiracy). If your town is like mine, you follow the Golden Rule: he who has the gold makes the rules.

I labor under no delusions about my importance: we secular humanists have little power. We are simply a convenient scapegoat for the ills of society. When Bob and Sibby rail against the secular humanist plots to spread godless global socialism, the real powers-that-be laugh with gratitude at their wingnut nonsense for diverting people's attention from the Man Behind the Curtain.

Bob frets about one article in the Christmas Eve RC Journal recommending recycling, but he says nothing about the ads peppering every page and filling the corporate-controlled airwaves, exhorting anti-Christian materialism and overconsumption.

Bob erects and bashes straw-man babykillers who would use abortion to promote eugenics but never speaks a word of Christian truth against the corporations who exploit women and children for cheap labor and create an economic system that requires both parents to abandon their children every day to make a living wage.

Sibby at least recognizes some of the creeping corporatocracy; he hasn't made the connection yet between global capitalism and the destruction of family and community, but I think there's hope for Sibby. Really. I do.

So hey, Sibby and Bob, if you really want to fight secular humanists, then bring it on. Here I am: a secular humanist, spouting leftist liberal madness, living with an all-too-tolerant ELCA Lutheran theologian and raising a child in what is sure to be a moral morass (once she starts asking questions instead of just referring to everything as "Baa-baa!" and "Shoo!"). If you really, really, really think that secular humanism is the biggest threat to your world, well, I've got my snowballs, and I'm ready to fight.

But if you'd like to fight the real threats to Christianity, family, and community, maybe we could recognize our common cause against the money-changers, the law-school Pharisees, and the globalizing multinational corporations who will tolerate neither the laws of man or God standing in the way of their profits.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Close DSU? Check the Deed First

Rep. Mark Kirkeby (R-Dist. 35 House) got his Christmas wish for some conversation, at least in the blogosphere (e.g. here, here, and here), about maybe closing a state university campus. The conversation is far from serious policymaking yet, and closing a campus doesn't sound like the kind of happy topic legislators will want to tackle in an election year (of course, that could just be wishful thinking from this employee of the Board of Regents).

Nonetheless, if the conversation does rise from spitballing to serious legislative discourse, Madison's Dakota State university could be in trouble. In two online polls, DSU came out on top of the hit list. Folks seem inclined to think in terms of geography and figure it makes more sense to have campi serving different regions rather than this concentration in the Brookings-Madison-Sioux Falls metropolitan area.

The Legislature would make any decision about closing a campus, but one would think they would consult the Regents about which campus would create the least damage by its loss. Would the Regents put in a good word for DSU? The academic backgrounds of the Board don't offer Madison much comfort:

Regent Attended
Jewett USD
Baloun NSU
Krogman SDSU
Belatti USD
Hansen BHSU
Johnson BHSU & SDSMT
Morris BHSU
Pagones NSU
Venhuizen SDSU

Dr. Belatti's a Madison guy, but he's up against 3 BHSU alums and 2 with NSU connections.

Should this campus-closing conversation continue, we have to wonder what the state would do with a closed campus. In the case of DSU's $60M-worth of buildings [SDBOR Fact Book 2007, p. 49], the answer is, "Nothing." From the DSU historical archives:

1881: Mr. Charles B. Kennedy offered 20 acres of land on the north edge of Madison, at the end of Egan Avenue. This site was selected for the school. The deed stipulated that if the land were ever used for anything but for the original intent (a teachers preparation institution) or discontinued, the site would be returned to the Kennedy estate.

Why do you think DSU kept its teacher education program through the mission change in 1984? Close DSU, or even move the teacher ed program elsewhere, and the state loses 20 acres of valuable land and buildings.

A pseudonymous commenter at the Hog House says who cares? Close the campus, we'd still save money in the long run. Indeed we would, but we'll make money in the long run if we don't just close a campus but convert one into a money maker for the state and the community in which it sits. We can think of a number of Plans B for the DSU campus, but the state won't have the authority to implement any of them if the Kennedy heirs get the land. If the other candidates for possible closing don't have similar restrictions in their deeds, the state might see a better financial turnaround from closing and converting one of them.

I'm curious, though: what might the Kennedy heirs do with the campus if the state forfeited it back to them? If you're out there, oh honored descendants of one of Madison's founding fathers, let us know!

Killing and Thinking in the South Dakota Economy

All those folks pumping buckshot into critters also pump a lot of money in the South Dakota economy: a new report calculates that each year hunting and fishing add $350 million to the South Dakota economy (just shy of a million dollars a day), contributes $35 million to our state tax coffers, and supports 6,000 jobs [reported by Megan Myers at that Sioux Falls paper on Christmas Day, but maybe more likely to stay available here the following: Melinda Gable, news release, "South Dakota's Hunters and Anglers Have a Significant Impact on the Economy," National Shooting Sports Foundation, 2007.12.19].

The full report -- "Hunting and Fishing: Bright Stars of the American Economy" -- allows you to compare states and see nationwide data. The report comes from two lobbying groups, the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the latter of which gets plenty of gun-industry money. These advocates offer a cornucopia of fun party facts about the big money in chasing South Dakota's wily pheasant and carp:
  1. Sportsmen (no PC talk of sportspeople from these folks) support more jobs in South Dakota than Sanford Health Care (6000 vs. 5000).
  2. South Dakota sportsmen spend more annually than the cash receipts of South Dakota's dairy, hay, and turkey industries ($350M vs $347M).
  3. SD sportsmen outnumber the populations of Rapid City, Aberdeen, Watertown, and Brookings combined (136,000 vs. 125,000). [all 3 stats from Gable].

Those dollars and jobs are good for our economy, and we'll take every penny we can get.

But just for perspective, the very biased Lake Herman Institute for Advanced Studies cherry-picks some stats of its own, based on rigorous Googling, on the economic impact of some other key elements of the modern economy:
  1. 1,319 faculty just sitting around thinking were able to draw $87 million in research grants into the South Dakota economy [see SD Board of Regents Fact Book 2007, p. 24]. That's $66K per faculty member, just for research. It takes 136,000 resident sportspeople and 81,000 out-of-staters to generate $350M in revenue: that's $1.6K per sportsperson.
  2. Don't forget that those faculty also educate 31,000 students who are the core of our hopes for continued economic development.
  3. As the Legislature takes up Governor Rounds's proposal to spend $3.8M start-up and $868K/year ongoing on a new 25th-century Internet for the universities and economic development [see budget address, p. 15], consider that North Carolina invested $6M in a somewhat similar initiative to take advantage of grid computing. Estimated economic benefit: $10 billion over seven years = $1.4 billion per year.
  4. Texas estimates a similar grid-computing effort will generate 21,000 jobs.

Killing critters (especially those mountain lions) is all fine and good. But don't forget that the new economy is being built on brains, not bullets (and bobbers).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Four-Day Legislative Work Week -- Less Is More

The South Dakota Legislature will be working a tighter schedule this year: the Legislature's Executive Board has set a session calendar that includes six four-day work weeks (out of eight total) and no working Saturdays. (Slight discrepancy: the PDF-format calendar posted on the Legislature's website shows five four-day weeks -- perhaps just not updated yet?)

The Legislature is perhaps taking a cue from the Stanley County School District, just across the river, which was in the news in November for considering a four-day school week. Stanley County already has its rural schools on a four-day schedule, and kids, parents, and teachers apparently like it. Custer and Bon Homme schools also follow a four-day schedule. Says Stanley County school board member John Duffy, "Everybody that does it -- test scores go up, attendance goes way up and discipline problems go way down" [Rebecca Cruse, "SC Teachers to Learn Merits of Four-Day Week," Pierre Capitol Journal, 2007.11.26].

We anticipate similar improvements in performance among our legislators. No word yet, though, on how we'll arrange daycare for those guys on Fridays....

Seriously, the four-day work week sounds like a good idea. Less time in Pierre means less time for monkey business, like futile debates about abortion. Legislators will get to spend more time at home listening to their constituents, keeping up with their day jobs, and spending time with their families. They'll save a little money on lodging and enjoy a few more home-cooked meals. James Fry of the Legislative Research Council suggests the four-day schedule might even encourage more people to run for the Legislature [AP, "SD Legislature Goes to Mostly Four-Day Week," KELOLand.com, 2007.12.24]. Best of all, Lake Madison will be all the safer for boaters and ice-fishermen, as Representative Olson will be home more often to moonlight as vigilant protector of daters and dogs alike.

Four-day work weeks: good for kids, good for legislators, good for South Dakota.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Laptops Enliven Education in Rural Peru

As I work on the Madville Times year-in-review and wish list for 2008 (the 2007 list was way off, but hope springs eternal!), I find a great deal written on these pages and elsewhere about laptop computers in the classroom. A review of that topic will follow...

...but said review must acknowledge this heartening report from Peru, where the One Laptop program appears to be having some success. Peru -- poor, rural, ranked at the bottom of worldwide education stats -- bought 272,000 of the rugged XO laptops, the largest single order yet placed with One Laptop. Computers are going to remote villages, each loaded with (among other features) audio and video recording equipment, music software, drawing software, and 100 books.

Think about that: 100 books -- and that's before Peru gets the Internet to every village. How many little Abe Lincolns might these computers reach?

The kids are all over the machines (see the pictures in the article):

At breakfast, they're already powering up the combination library/videocam/audio recorder/music maker/drawing kits. At night, they're dozing off in front of them - if they've managed to keep older siblings from waylaying the coveted machines [Frank Bajak, AP technology writer, "Laptop Project Enlivens Peruvian Hamlet," TheState.Com, Columbia, SC, 2007.12.24].

The article doesn't offer any rigorous analysis of gains in academic achievement in the six months that the village of Arahuay has had the laptops. There will be time enough for that. But the quantum leap in educational opportunity seems clear. It's not like South Dakota, where we splurge on fancy swivel-top computers and software updates, and then create a system so firewalled that students and teachers alike find it easier to research and work on their home computers. The kids in Peru don't have home computers. They may not have home pencils. The One Laptop program brings a world of resources and possibilities that their parents couldn't have dreamed of even a decade ago.

One more comparison to chew on: Madison High School is spending $650,000 to cover 430 Tablet PCs for its students for three years. A similar amount of money would buy over 3200 XO laptops. Heck, under One Laptop's "Give One, Get One" program, we could get 430 XO's for our school and donate another 430 to kids in Botswana, Sri Lanka, wherever, for a mere $172,000.

Oh my -- I think I just found a way to save 70% on South Dakota's Classroom Connections program, transfer the money to teacher salaries, and do good for the rest of the world to boot.

Last-Minute Christmas Gift: Pretty Bird Woman House

Whether they're an independent nation or not, the folks building the Pretty Bird Woman House on the Standing Rock Reservation can still use some help. They're three-quarters of the way to their goal of $70,000 to build a new women's shelter to replace the one an arsonist burned down this year.

Prairie Roots and South Dakota Magazine have given the fund drive good coverage; we simply pass on the reminder this morning. If you're scrambling for those last-minute gift ideas, don't make that last dash over to Wal-Mart. Uncle Hjalmar already has socks. Skip the traffic, stay home, log on, and make contributions online.

Highway Patrol as Revenue Generator? Not the Best Argument

The Madville Times has commented earlier on Governor Rounds's proposed cuts to the Highway Patrol budget. Senator Abdallah, former chief man in tan himself, beats the drum loudly on KELO last night:

"In any state, especially with the recent years with all the things going on, we should be increasing the amount of troopers we've got," State Senator Gene Abdallah says. "Right now, there's only fourteen troopers on duty in the whole state. 77,000 square miles in this state and we've got fourteen troopers on duty, we're running on bare bones now" [Karla Ramaekers, "Proposed Cuts to 'Public Safety,'" KELOLand.com, 2007.12.23].

"Things going on" -- expect a clarification of that term in committee and on the floor fo the Senate next month.

Those fourteen troopers will perhaps be relieved their patrol territory has just been cut in half. That should help weather the budget cuts.

While Senator Abdallah appears to have a reasonable point about public safety, he ventures further into what we might refer to as the Rosco P. Coltrane Theory of Law Enforcement:

And Abdallah says the proposed cut will hurt more than just the highway patrol... he thinks it will cause a ripple effect to other areas of state funding as well. He says that's because the money made from tickets and arrests on South Dakota highways feeds directly into the school system.

"It's going to have a trickle down effect. They don't make the arrests they've been making, the schools get less, and we all know the schools need money," Abdallah says [Ramaekers].

Perhaps we need to grant Senator Abdallah some leave to argue his case from every pragmatic angle he can find. However, arguments in favor of spending on law enforcement ought to stick to public safety and justice. When we look at law enforcement as a money maker for schools and local governments, we end up in Colman, where speeding tickets became a cash cow and a replacement for fair and responsible taxation.

If the HP needs more money to catch bad guys and protect travelers, then let's find the two million dollars. If the schools need the money, let's raise the necessary taxes. Let's not base our school funding on how many folks we can charge with a crime.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Madville Times Prophetic? Or Sibby Predictably Paranoid?

A Christmas/Solstice offer from Cory Heidelberger to Steve Sibson...

Madville Times, 2007.12.23, 08:59 CST:

Sibby will see globalists under the bed here, but Aderhold and the district get it: foreign language training is good for brains and for bucks. When kids study a second language, they get better in their first language. They also have that many more people (in the case of Chinese, over a billion more people) to whom they can say "Let's make a deal."

Sibby Online, 2007.12.23, 16:57 CST:

The Argus Leader provides us with another example of public education promoting the religion of humanism....

The "international citizens" are verses [sic] "American Citizens" and [for] establishment of a one-world government. That is included among the 6 beliefs of humans [humanists?] spelled out by Howse... (Atheism, Moral Relativism, Evolution, Socialism, Autonomous self-centered man, one-world government).

Mr. Sibson, if you ever need a vacation, I humbly offer my services to ghost-blog for you. I think I've got the formula down: cite innocuous news story about seemingly sensible policy, connect to vast globalist conspiracy, mention evil secular humanists, keep faithful readers terrified of the ubiquitous threats to Christian America. Heck, it's so simple, I could write software that writes the posts for me!

I know, Sibby, I'm a member of the secular humanist evolutionist cabal, so you can't trust me any further than you can throw me. But I promise, I'll do a good job. Take a couple weeks off, leave me your password... no one will ever know the difference. Guaranteed.

Merry Christmas, Teachers: No Child Left Behind Closer to Dead

The New York Times confirms what experience was telling me: nobody in education likes No Child Left Behind, and politicians are getting the message:

“No Child Left Behind may be the most negative brand in America,” said Representative George Miller of California, the Democratic chairman of the House education committee....

Seven years later, policy makers debate whether the law has raised student achievement, but polls show that it is unpopular — especially among teachers, who vote in disproportionate numbers in Democratic primary elections, and their unions, which provide Democrats with critical campaign support.

“There’s a grass-roots backlash against this law,” said Tad Devine, a strategist who worked for the past two Democratic presidential nominees. “And attacking it is a convenient way to communicate that you’re attacking President Bush” [Sam Dillon, "Democrats Make Bush School Act an Election Issue," New York Times, 2007.12.23].

Conveniently forgotten by noisy Dems is the fact that NCLB is the baby of bipartisan cooperation between Bush and Senator Kennedy, now chair of the Senate education committee, on which Clinton, Obama, and Dodd now serve. Funny -- they can keep talking about reforming education if we elect them President, or they could just do it now and kill any NCLB reauthorization or overhaul in committee.

But let's stay positive, my friends in the trenches: politicians are hearing the grassroots opposition to No Child Left Behind, and they're keenly aware that teachers vote. They're also starting to understand that NCLB is just plain bad policy. As John Edwards said, playing to his Iowa audience, NCLB's emphasis on testing over teaching doesn't make sense: "You don’t make a hog fatter by weighing it" [Dillon].

Keep up the noise, and maybe we can get a candidate with the guts to get the federal government off our teachers' backs.

Pennington County Crowds Out Blind Businessman...

...but who's got the story right?

I was all ready to go crusading against Big Government this morning (go ahead, check the URL: you're not reading Dakota War College). KELO brings us this AP story about the Pennington County Commission booting blind businessman Wayne Sumner and his snack shop from the courthouse, just because they have crowded offices.

What?! Kick out a blind guy, just to make room for more file cabinets? And right at Christmas time? Those cruel, cold-hearted county commissioners! I oughta....

Hold on: read the news. I Google about and find that Scott Aust covered this story in better detail last Sunday in the Rapid City Journal. Where the AP story portrays Sumner as "surprised by the decision," Aust the 71-year-old shopkeeper "wasn't surprised his lease wasn't renewed":

“Sooner or later, either I was going to retire or they were going to fail to extend the lease,” he said. “It gave me something to occupy time. There are good business days and bad business days, but it wasn’t unexpected and it didn’t shock me or anything. Sooner or later, it was going to happen.”

Kind of tough to get surprised about something a week after it happened, don't you think? The AP story, in the sketchy form posted on KELO, leaves an impression of Christmas grinchery afoot. But the fuller original story suggests no such thing. Sumner actually sounds like the closing might suit him (and certainly his wife):

Sumner doesn’t begrudge the county. In fact, he said the shop hasn’t been making as much of a profit in recent years, primarily because of the impact of going smoke-free and installing a security system. [PP is right: the rampant nanny state does kill small business!]

“People used to stop by here and have coffee, smoke and visit with their clients or whatever,” he said.

Sumner said he’s getting long in years, so retirement is a possibility, though not a certainty.

“I’m so old, my wife would like me to retire. But if I find something else that interests me, I’d probably do it. Who knows? I may fade into obscurity and oblivion,” he said [Scott Aust, "County Commission Won't Renew Courthouse Coffee Shop Lease," Rapid City Journal, 2007.12.16].

Oh, but back up another couple days: the Rapid City Weekly News spins the story back the other direction [emphasis mine]:

The operator of the snack shop in the Pennington County Courthouse will lose his contract in 90 days after county commissioners decided the space could be better used for crowded county departments. Wayne Sumner, who has run the snack shop since 1988, was not aware that commissioners intended to take this step. He attended the Tuesday, Dec. 11, commission meeting with the understanding that his contract would be renewed for three years and left the meeting still under that impression [Vicky Wicks, "Commission Ends Contract with Blind Snack Shop Operator," Rapid City Weekly News, 2007.12.11].

So maybe Sumner was surprised that the decision came when it did. But after a couple days, Sumner was ready to say that in the grand scheme of things, the shop closing was no big deal. he spoke with calm resignation to KOTA-TV:

"Oh it was not unexpected. One of these days at my age I'm gonna either retire or die," says Sumner.

An optimistic attitude from a man who will be out of work in 90 days.

Commissioners and courthouse employees hate to see Wayne and the coffee shop go, but understand the need for more work space.

"I like Wayne. It's a service for the public and the county that he's providing. And we had testimony at our county commission meetings, for space we're really cramped," says Schmidt.

And though no plans are in the works for another coffee shop that's ok with Wayne. He's ready to move on.

"I don't know what I'm gonna do, probably be an essentially lazy, probably not a lot," says Sumner.

The contract for the coffee shop ended in 2004. Commissioners say it was only a matter of time before a decision would be made on whether to renew or cancel the contract [Lela French, "Courthouse Coffee Shop Closes in 90 Days," KOTA-TV, 2007.12.14].

So alas, no crusade this morning. No government cruelty in our midst. Just a few mixed messages from the media, and an old guy who can maybe spend more time with his wife.

За Капитализм, Демократию, и Мир -- Учите Иностранные Языки!

The Sioux Falls School District sees the global economy coming and wants its kids to be able to compete in it: In 2009, one Sioux Falls elementary school will offer 70 minutes a week foreign-language instruction to every student. In addition, parents will be able to sign their kids up for foreign-language immersion training starting in kindergarten.

Assistant Superintendent of Schools Fred Aderhold explains why this program is a good idea:

Our world is smaller. For the kids leaving school in the year 2020, there's going to be a more global market and global economy. Globalization has brought us closer together in the international community. We have to think about pandemic flu, global warming. We might think about terrorism. All of those are global issues that it's going to take an international community to solve. Another reason is simply for the cognitive growth. Students that study languages perform better on college entrance exams in verbal studies. There's some evidence kids that study languages think better creatively and have better skills in problem solving and analytical thinking. [Jon Walker, "Goals: Enhance Learning, Prepare for Global Market," that Sioux Falls paper, 2007.12.23]

Sibby will see globalists under the bed here, but Aderhold and the district get it: foreign language training is good for brains and for bucks. When kids study a second language, they get better in their first language. They also have that many more people (in the case of Chinese, over a billion more people) to whom they can say "Let's make a deal."

South Dakota isn't the only state lagging in foreign language education. The Education Commission of the States says that only Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia require foreign language training of all high school graduates. If more South Dakota school districts would follow Sioux Falls's lead, we might carve ourselves an extra competitive advantage in drawing international commerce (sorry, Mike: "no income tax" obviously isn't doing it).

Business and democracy (and -- dare I suggest it? -- peace) are built on communication.
The more people we can talk to -- and listen to -- in their own words, the better.

Dr. Thurman Says Rest Up During Christmas -- There's Work Ahead

The SD Blogosphere is lighting up like a Christmas tree -- quite lovely, that soothing glow from our screens on these long winter nights.

The Madville Times finds useful visions of Christmas everywhere, even from the somewhat pagan Reverend Billy. One fine faithful reader sends this poem by theologian and mentor to Martin Luther King Dr. Howard Thurman:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds
are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins --
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Christ to all
To make music in the heart.

--Howard Thurman, "The Work of Christmas"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Habitat for the Holidays -- New House in Madison

The East Central South Dakota chapter of Habitat for Humanity dedicated another house this morning. About 75 people crowded into this new, warm, sturdy little house on SE 3rd Street in Madison to say a couple prayers and watch local Habitat board president Scott Parsley and chapter executive director Barbara Johnson hand the keys to Susan Nordaune, who is officially moving into the house today with her son Brandon today. Pastors Terry Knudson and Daryl Schubert led the brief dedication service. Mrs. Madville Times made cider, coffee, and cookies; lots of folks brought groceries to help give the kitchen its first Christmas stocking.

Among those recognized for outstanding service during the building project was local contractor Shawn Miller, who by Parsley's estimate put in 350 hours on the house from the beginning of the project in July. Shawn showed great patience with the many volunteer laborers who joined him on the project, even when we managed to upend his big forklift. Also recognized was DSU's Tracy Fox, who coordinated the volunteers work teams, sent out calls and e-mails to round up workers, and arranged sustenance for workers.

Merry Christmas, Susan and Brandon. Shawn, put your feet up, take the holidays off to spend with Stephanie and the kids. Tracy, switch off the phone for a few days. And all you volunteers, from Madison and elsewhere, thanks for doing the real work of Christmas.

Voters Save Governor's Budget with Tax Increase

So where does Governor Rounds find the political genius to craft a state budget with a spending increase of $23.9 million but no new taxes?

Oh, this just in: the voters (that's us) already handed him the new taxes. The cigarette tax increase we voted into effect last year has generated a 136% increase in tax revenue, a $35 million dollar increase to a total of $61 million in eleven months. At the same time, the smokes tax has had its other promised effect, decreasing sales by 9 million packs and an estimated concomitant 20% reduction in smoking [see Perry Groten, "SD Tax Hike Lowers Smoking," KELOLand.com, 2007.12.22].

Raise taxes, raise revenue, and produce positive social effects? Heck of a deal. A little social engineering gives the governor more fiscal wiggle room to smile and say "No new taxes!" But Governor Rounds -- where'd the other $11.1 million (the difference between the raised revenue and your proposed budget increase) go?

Yankton Recall Recap

With David & David sworn in already and rsbailey putting aside his/her/their computer to enjoy the solstice and other co-opted pagan festivities, Kelly Hertz of the Yankton Press & Dakotan offers a good local recap of the recall. Of interest to campaigners and bloggers (and whatever strange combination of the two may evolve in 2008):

Recall organizers started newyankton.com when the petitions were being circulated, then mothballed it when the petitions were filed. I have to believe they may have second-guessed themselves on that decision during the campaign. That's a decision we probably won't see repeated [Kelly Hertz, "A Last Look at the Recall," Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2007.12.21].

The decision by Ben Hanten et al. to mothball the NewYankton.com blog was an unusual one. But it couldn't have been an accidental or casual decision. The recall organizers created the blog for a specific purpose, to get the word out, communicate with petition circulators and interested voters, and keep their petition-drive ducks in a row. They achieved that purpose, then decided not to push further with the blog. One interpretation of this move is that the recall organizers did not want to come across as shouting bullies. Rather than spend another six weeks possibly putting foot in mouth, they got what they wanted -- a public vote -- and simply put their faith in the majority to make up their own minds.

As for newyankton.info - a group that was both anonymous and "forthright" [sic] - it was an intriguing idea that turned into its own worst enemy. Claiming on a P&D blog that newyankton.info wielded a "flaming sword of justice" (and they damned me as self-righteous), one thing it didn't wield was what makes Web dialogue a democratic revelation: It didn't allow interaction and conversation. The only opinion it was interested in was its own. So, what seemed initially to be a new, smart idea turned out to rely on musty political methods that the interactive Web has rendered obsolete.

Indeed, rsbailey made the same mistake that some other bloggers are chided for: shutting out the readers. Among the keys to making blogs work are transparency and interaction. The margin of victory for the challengers suggests that Bernard and Rupiper were on the way out no matter what tactics their blog mouthpieces used. A good, interactive, transparent, authentic web presence isn't a sufficient condition for winning, but it will become increasingly necessary.

(Note to Russ -- if you're running in 2008, tell Darin to set you up a blog!)

Friday, December 21, 2007

MN Spares Bears, Sends Them to a Better Place...

GF&P and MN-DNR are clearly out to keep PP nervous...

Our friends in Minnesota have shown their caring, sensitive side again. They will not euthanize Solo, a one-eared bear who hunkered down with her cubs for the winter under someone's cabin in Eagles Nest Township. Governor Pawlenty was ready with his pardon pen, but the nice folks at Minnesota's Dept. of Natural Resources decided putting down Solo and moving her cubs just wasn't the right thing to do. So, in the Christmas spirit they've decided to turn all three bears into a Christmas present and relocate Mama and babies to an undisclosed location... in South Dakota.

Mrs. Madville Times looks up from her theological studies. "What? We don't have bears in South Dakota."

"We do now." Let's hope they eat mountain lions....

Lakota Withdraw from Treaties, Open New Country

Nothing like secession to liven up breakfast...Hat tip to South Dakota Politics!

Better take your passports on I-90: Our friends the Lakota people have served notice to the US State Department that they are withdrawing from treaties signed with the United Stated federal government. Expect the buffer zone around Bear Butte to expand to about 200 miles: Lakota country includes parts of South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Also expect an economic boom: following white South Dakota's "no taxes" lead, the Lakota have declared that citizens can live in their independent nation tax-free, as long as they renounce their US citizenship.

American Indian activist Russell Means points to the September 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples [PDF file] as support for his group's claim of sovereign authority. But don't get out your anti-black-helicopter missiles just yet: Article 46, paragraph 1 of the UN declaration reads as follows:

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, people, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act contrary to the Charter of the United Nations or construed as authorizing or encouraging any action which would dismember or impair, totally or in part, the territorial integrity or political unity of sovereign and independent States.

But President Bush proved you don't need UN support to do what you want. The Lakota people have the Bolivians on their side, and they're working on Venezuela, Chile, and South Africa. better bring the Guard back from Iraq -- we might have a little soft partitioning to deal with right in our backyard.

Additional reading (sorry, more PDFs -- does no one just make a nice HTML file anymore?):
  1. [PDF file] Lakota Treaty Withdrawal Letter, 2007.12.17
  2. [PDF file] First International Indian Treaty Council, "Declaration of Continuing Independence," June 1974.

Answer a Silly Question, Become the Next Unabomber

Note: The Madville Times herein spreads pure speculation about pure foolishness.

I must be a bad influence: another former student of mine is in trouble with the law -- not just the locals, but maybe the feds. Mark R. Walker, 25, is charged with making a false report to authorities, even though he didn't make any report to authorities, after a false bomb threat closed down Madison's Wells Fargo Bank and the post office Wednesday afternoon. Here are the going press accounts:

  1. "Madison Man Charged with False Reporting to Police," KJAMRadio, 2007.12.20
  2. "Bomb Threat Made at Wells Fargo Bank," KJAMRadio.com, 2007.12.20
  3. Chuck Clement, "Madison Man Accused of Making Bomb Threat," Madison Daily Leader, 2007.12.20.

KJAM says Walker told a Wells Fargo teller that the package he was carrying contained a bomb. The teller then saw Walker leave and walk toward the post office. Walker evidently did take the package to the post office and hand it over to be mailed. None of the press accounts suggest that he said the word "bomb" or made any other threatening moves at the post office: according to MDL, postal workers didn't know anything was up until Madison police came to the post office and asked if Walker had mailed a package.

That timeline could be important: if Walker didn't make any threat or comment at the post office itself, he might be able to evade federal charges, which postal inspector Adel Valdes says they are looking into.

Now the Madville Times didn't have the good fortune of being at the bank or post office to get evacuated, and we haven't had the pleasure of a chat with Mark recently. However, knowing Mark, and knowing bank tellers, we can easily imagine the following scenario:

  1. Mark walks into Wells Fargo to get some cash to pay for postage for the Playstation DCI eventually found with their x-ray machine in the package of concern.
  2. Cheerful teller, happily processing his request, makes the marketing small talk tellers are trained to make in order to make banking a cozy emotional experience and thus improve bank profits by 0.93%. (Their chitter-chatter can get a little out of hand: one day a bank teller, handling a deposit for me, asked what the folks who'd written the check were paying me for. I just smiled.) The teller asks, "Oh, so what's in the package?"
  3. Mark, intolerant of empty social gestures, thinks to himself that he doesn't want to be rude and say, "None of your damn business."
  4. Mark, unfortunately also a smart aleck, instead says, "Oh, it's a bomb."
  5. Madison enjoys a slight uptick in sales tax revenue as Sioux Falls Police, ATF, DCI, and probably a couple secret Homeland Security agents come to Madison for a quick x-ray and supper.

You know I think you're an o.k. guy, Mark, but I guess I should have made this clear in English class, too: No matter how silly the bank teller's question is, you don't say bomb. You don't say bombastic. You don't say bombardier jacket. There are better ways to boost Madison's publicity and tourism revenue. And one smart aleck comment is not worth jail.

Well, there our quixotic shout-out to the little guy for the day -- back to the news! (And I'll let you know if ATF, DCI, or DHS comes to chat with me about my association with such nefarious characters.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bush: States Rights When They Suit Our Purposes

Another note on the inadequacy of traditional political labels: our conservative Republican President has just signed an energy bill that, among other things, quashes states rights. The EPA announced yesterday that the new energy bill pre-empts the efforts of California and 16 other states to set their own CO2 emission standards for automobiles. Governor Schwarzenegger is torqued; the automakers are smirkingly pleased (you would be too if you didn't have to lobby 50 state legislatures to keep them from making you behave).

Key quote from EPA chief Stephen L. Johnson:

“The Bush administration is moving forward with a clear national solution, not a confusing patchwork of state rules,” he said. “I believe this is a better approach than if individual states were to act alone." [John M. Broder and Felicity Barringer, "E.P.A. Says 17 States Can't Set Emission Rules," New York Times, 2007.12.20]

Right. The GOP loves states rights when it gives ultra-conservative states the chance to play the wedge on issues that make the fundigelical voters happy. But when their corporate buddies stand to benefit, the states rights talk disappears in doublespeak.

DSU Alert -- Man the Barricades!

Boy, I'm never gonna be able to keep a job in Madison, am I? ;-)

Hey, fellow DSU students and staff, not to mention everyone else in Madison! Not to be an alarmist or anything, but two unscientific online polls should perhaps make us a bit nervous. Following Rep. Mark Kirkeby's suggestion that the state study closing one of our public university campi, the Rapid City Journal and SD Watch are both running polls asking, if a campus has to go, which one it should be. As of 15:19 CST today, DSU isn't faring too well:

Rapid City Journal poll results:

Black Hills State University(146 Votes, 9%)
Dakota State University(872 Votes, 56%)
Northern State University(318 Votes, 20%)
South Dakota School of Mines & Technology(81 Votes, 5%)
South Dakota State University(55 Votes, 4%)
University of South Dakota(89 Votes, 6%)
Total Votes: 1561

SD Watch poll results:

BHSU26 %
DSU30 %
NSU14 %
USD8 %
University Center16 %

Dang, we're catching heck from both sides of the river!

Mount Blogmore suggests there is no cause for alarm: politically, shutting down a university is about as doable as mounting our own South Dakota mission to Mars (which actually sounds like a heck of an idea!) But perhaps you'll understand if this grad student reacts more sensitively than others to even a hint that the institution currently providing his bread and butter is South Dakota's least loved university.

Help me out, folks -- I'd like to at least get through the doctoral program (think Spring 2010... please?) before we shut the doors. Like Todd Epp said, nobody wants to see me turned loose in the real world!