We've moved!

Social Icons

twitterfacebooklinkedinrss feed

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

South Dakota to Pay for HPV Vaccine

The South Dakota Senate voted yesterday 33-2 in favor of funding human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines for all girls age 11-18 who want it. The House passed a slightly different form of the bill last week 61-9; now off to conference committee and quite likely the governor's desk. The bill is blessedly straightforward: no intrusion in the doctor-patient relationship, no requirements for certain official statements to be read about promiscuity or abstinence, not even any income guidelines, just a straight-up commitment from the state to protect public health. The bill also does not mandate the vaccine; it leaves the choice to parents. Imagine that: the Legislature respects both the wisdom of medical professionals and the freedom of choice of parents and their daughters.

Of course, Roger Hunt voted against this measure. Surely he expects that with the passage of this bill, all those teenagers who've been terrified of getting cancer from fooling around will all race to the nearest backseats and get busy fornicating. Fortunately, the vast majority of our lawmakers -- even Hunt's puritan pal Rep. Howie -- recognize the absurdity of the argument that the fear of cancer has been keeping kids abstinent. Now if we could just get the legislature to find funding to provide more health care to all of its citizens. Hey, Governor Rounds! How about funding the maternity costs for every South Dakota woman?

Gutless Wonders -- SD House on Minimum Wage

The good news: after a couple failed attempts, a bill increasing the minimum wage is making its way through the South Dakota Legislature. Even smiley Governor Rounds took time out from touting his buddy Governor Huckabee for President to testify before the House State Affairs Committee today in support of SB 207. Ah, it's good to see that our Republican-dominated legislature can show some real progressive leadership...

Oh, wait -- sorry, I must have been dreaming. The bad news: In a display of legislative spinelessness, the House State Affairs Committee unanimously passed an amendment to make the bill's enactment entirely contingent upon federal passage of comparable legislation. As South Dakota Retailers lobbyist Shawn Lyons said, "We'll go lock and [sic] step with what's happening on the federal level but we don't need to be out in front of the train."

Right. South Dakota sure wouldn't want to get out in front of an issue and show any leadership. We'd rather wait for the federal government to take action and, in the meantime, pass gutless legislation that Rounds et al will happily take credit for, even though it by itself does nothing but waste space in South Dakota Codified Law.

Snowstorm Shuts Down Schools; Teacher Gets Family Time

No journalistic objectivity here -- it's snowing! Hooray! The Madville Times loves snow! Winter has procrastinated and piddled around this year. November and December were mostly brown. I didn't wear my longjohns to work until January (hmmm... there are times when journalistic full disclosure maybe isn't necessary). We didn't really get enough snow on the ground for snowmobiling until the middle of this month. Even the somewhat worrisome snowstorm that came through last weekend wasn't all that bad -- I had some slip-and-slide on my way across Sioux Falls, but driving home from judging the Rushmore District National Qualifying Tournament in the wee hours Sunday morning, the visibility was fine, and the roads weren't too drifty.

Not so this fine day. Winter is finally doing its job, bringing the sort of disruption and adventure that snow days are all about. Montrose let the kids out shortly after lunch, and I followed themclosely out the door, driving home in full white-out conditions. After making into my driveway on the second pass (I scooted right by on the first), I couldn't see my house until I was within a hundred yards. Days like these make me a happy Jeep owner.

Snowfall has fluctuated since I got home. Nice fat flakes continue to pile up. The east wind has subsided, but I suspect that only means its getting ready to switch around to the north and really whip up trouble.

Some people hate the snow. But given my choice of weather events, I'll take the disruption of a good blizzard over any other kind of storm. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods -- they're no fun! I can fight a blizzard with my shovel and my four-wheel drive... but I don't have to, not right now. I can sit on my couch, play with the baby, and watch the land and lake and sky disappear in the great soft white.

Oh yeah, and if this keeps up (and KELO's Scot Mundt just said today's snow is a precursor to the major storm coming tomorrow!), I'll have some more blogging time. Katarzyna and I both say "Hooray for snow!"

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Local Ideas, Local Arts -- Gotta Have 'Em!

I note with great pleasure Madison Daily Leader owner and publisher Jon Hunter's return to his own editorial page. After months of ceding the editorial slot to reprints from other newspapers, Mr. Hunter has reclaimed his rightful place as the regular editorial voice of Lake County's only daily newspaper. I apply "Be a yokel, buy local!" to my news and opinion as well. When I open the Leader, I want local content, especially on the opinion page. Mr. Hunter may tread more carefully than I in his prose -- I don't expect any calls for revolution from South Egan Avenue -- but I'll take his measured comments on life in Madison and South Dakota over borrowed out-of-town editorials any day.

And in tonight's editorial, Mr. Hunter strikes a similar tone in support of local fine arts. Given all our fancy electronic media, he notes that "relying entirely on entertainment from far away causes us to miss some great opportunities at home." School bands and other local musicians, painters, sculptors, and dancers -- like Jon Hunter, we may not produce the flashiest or most famous work (not yet, at least!), but what we produce is unique, and it is ours, part of a tradition of fine arts one might not expect from our little bump on the prairie.

But Mr. Hunter points out that this tradition is jeopardized by declining support from the fiscal powers. He argues that such budget cuts are not the result but the cause of declining participation in arts programs. In fine Hunterian form, without pointing his pen at any specific entity that should take action, he calls for everyone to promote local fine arts to encourage children and adults alike to get interested.

I'll take Mr. Hunter's well-timed suggestion to a level of specificity he perhaps feels ill-suited to offer: Let's turn the proposed new gym into a genuine events center, with dedicated spaces for the performing arts as well as sports. Or better yet, with sports moving to the new facility, let's convert the old gym (old here meaning about a dozen years old) into a theater complex (to replace the current theater, which is forty years old). No, not just rig up some curtains and a platform, but totally renovate the space. Install a permanent stage, curtains and fly system, state-of-the-art light and sound system, set shop with big loading doors, and new acoustic walls to change the gym from an echo chamber to a genuine theater. Create new storage areas for props, costumes, lights, and musical instruments. Dedicate some permanent display space (if not an entire gallery, then some bright display cases in the lobby) for exhibits of local art. Wall off a portion of the gym, break it into a couple dozen soundproof practice rooms for our musicians.

$5.83 million dollars is the gym's current price tag. The bond promoters tell me that's $89 a year more in taxes for my family; multiplied over 25 years, that's $2200. Before I "donate" my $2200, I'd like to see how we might make that money serve the broadest range of activities. Before the April 10 election, let's turn some artistic minds loose on the plans and see how we could put some of that money toward promoting the arts alongside athletics in Madison.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Call Me Orwellian... Please!

From Russell Baker's Preface to Animal Farm (which my freshmen are studying right now):

...Orwell, of course, was seldom happier than when he was attacking fraud and hypocrisy and hearing the squeals of the injured.

Despite his insistence on being "political" in his work, Orwell's career suggests his politics were the sort that real politicans detest. Why, for example, was Orwell so determined to make the case against Soviet communism at precisely the moment all proper people preferred not to hear it? Devoted socialist he may have been, but he had none of the politician's instinct for trimming sails to the wind when it is expedient to tell people what they want to hear. Worse, he insisted on telling people precisely what they did not want to hear.

He was that political figure all politicians fear: the moralist who cannot bear to let any wrong deed go undenounced. As a politician he had the fatal defect of the totally honest man: He insisted on the truth even when the truth was most inconvenient.

District 8 Reps Join Majority, Respect Property over Religion

The House Local Government Committee today killed HB 1227, which would have banned alcoholic beverage licenses within four miles of Bear Butte State Park. Our local reps, Republican Russ Olson and Democrat Dave Gassman (say, how'd we end up with both of our reps on the same committee, anyway?) both voted with the majority to defer the bill to the 41st (i.e. non-existent) day of the legislative session.

Opponents of the bill say the no-booze-sales zone would infringe unjustly on private property rights. Others seem to be hiding behind the local control issue (which is an increasingly popular albeit wimpy and inconsistent way for our legislators to avoid expressing their outright opposition to an issue).

While I appreciate property rights arguments, this issue seems to revolve more around the right to make big money on the rally than around the sanctity of property. Frankly, this teetotalling atheist would have been more than happy to see this ban imposed out of respect for religious rights. Bear Butte is sacred to a major portion of the population of this state, sacred in a much deeper, more fundamental way than any church is to the typical South Dakotan. The alcohol our ancestors brought over has caused all sorts of problems for the Lakota et al; why insult them doubly by permitting more establishments selling this destructive substance near one of their holy places? The good people of Sturgis have plenty of places to buy alcohol throughout the year, and the fatality reports from the Sturgis rally each year have yet to list lack of access to alcohol as a cause of death.

Of course, the insult to worshippers at Bear Butte goes beyond mere alcohol. The booze licenses only facilitate the plans of entrepreneurs like Arizona businessman Jay Allen, who started building his "Sturgis County Line" establishment at the base of Bear Butte last March with the intent of providing 30,000 guests at a time with "hundreds of acres to party… in a safe haven, free from a policed environment, that’s what I’m talking about! … over 150,000 s.f. of asphalt for semi-tractor trailors… 22,500 s.f. of… ice cold beer… kick-butt music & oh yea, hot hot women!" (quoted at Bear Butte Int'l Alliance; Allen's own website seems to have adopted tamer language). How many towns on this side of the state would tolerate a biker bar, promoting not just intoxication but violent behavior and exploitation of women, operating within sight/earshot of the local Lutheran or Catholic church?

I'm willing to stay out of the way of people engaged in their holy rites; I wish the whiskey-profiteers (and our legislature) held religious rights in similar regard.

HB 1293 Trumps Trigger Law

KELO-TV notes that HB 1293 (version 2.0, the Larry Long Hoghouse Mix) supersedes SDCL 22-17-5.1, the existing statute that triggers a nearly total abortion ban the moment the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. See HB 1293 Section 9 for the relevant amendment.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Health Insurance for Everyone? HB 1169/SB 132

More hoghousing (remind me to teach the kids this word when we do Student Congress in March and April): The State Affairs Committee last Friday tabled a couple of measures (HB 1166 and HB 1170 intended to make it easier to get and keep health insurance in South Dakota. They then hoghoused HB 1169, a "carcass" bill with no specific provisions but an enactment statement calling for a version of the Massachusetts plan to require everyone to have insurance, penalize those who don't buy it, and help the poor get it. State Affairs didn't create any requirement to buy insurance (which still strikes me as the wrong approach, like passing a law to solve hunger by requiring everyone to buy food), but instead rewrote the bill to authorize the creation of the "Zaniya Project Task Force" (Denise Ross at Hog House Blog informs me that zaniya means "good health" in Lakota) charged with creating a plan, complete with timelines, cost estimates, and funding sources, providing health insurance to South Dakota's uninsured. If this measure passes (and the Senate has its own version in SB 132), the task force will have until September 30 to compose and present its report.

I'm for less talk and more action, but on a complicated issue like this, we need to do some serious study and consider how to help all South Dakotans. The bill mandates at least two lay people be named to this task force, so hey! Governor Rounds! Pick me! You're going to need an advocate for a single-payer plan on the panel, and I'd be honored to serve.

HB 1293 -- The Hoghouse Remix

"Scream real loud!"...that's what Pee-Wee told us to do whenever we heard the Word of the Day. Today's Word of the Day: hoghouse: (v.t.) a procedure occasionally used in the legislature whereby a committee or a member from the floor will move to strike everything after the enacting clause of a bill and insert in lieu thereof the substance of an entirely new bill.

HB 1293 has been hoghoused, so commentators beware; we have a somewhat different battleground. Compare the original version with the version that emerged from the State Affairs Committee today, and you will find a number of significant differences, courtesy of Attorney General Larry Long, who was enlisted to rewrite the bill into more legally defensible language. My wife listened to the hearing online (archived at SD Public Broadcasting) and found fascinating. I find just reading the differences between the bills illuminating:
  1. The opening "findings" have been cut from 13 to 5.
  2. All talk of mothers' rights to a relationship with the unborn child and the benefits of pregnancy (hypocrisy from the original bill's authors, who were euphemizing their real intent, codifying the obligation to carry a pregnancy to term, if not laying the groundwork for an obligation to get pregnant) has disappeared.
  3. The second-opinion requirement is gone.
  4. Rape victims are not required to report their rape to the police.
  5. Before performing an abortion on a victim of rape or aggravated incest, the doctor must report the crime to the state's attorney or other law enforcement in the county where the crime occurred or, if that information is not known, the county where the patient makes the report to the physician.
  6. The bill's name is changed from the "the Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act" to the "Prevention of Abortion as Birth Control Act." (Well, at least we're being a little more honest.)
  7. If passed, the bill goes straight to a public vote in the 2008 general election.
While I appreciate seeing some of the Newspeak removed from the bill, I'm still bothered at how AG Long doesn't hand out the new bill text until today's committee meeting, before opponents have a chance to research and prepare arguments.

And there's still plenty to oppose. The state continues to presume to judge the nature of the doctor-patient relationship. The state maintains the paternalistic assertion that women risk their health by undergoing abortions, when good science has failed to demonstrate any increased risk of psychological trauma, and when childbirth, according to a physician who testified at today's hearing, poses to the mother 12 times the mortality risk of having an abortion in the first trimester. The state suggests it knows better than doctors how to take care of women than trained medical professionals and intrudes on the doctor-patient relationship.

Finally, the state continues to expend great amounts of energy crafting and debating abortion legislation when it could do much more tangible, quantifiable good by working education, health care, energy, and a host of other issues that could make life better for every living person in the state. (And we commentators are just as guilty of directing so much hot air toward this one piece of legislation.)

If HB 1293 -- The Hoghouse Remix ("Aaaaaaaahhh!" Remember, kids, I told you scream real loud!) -- passes, maybe the only silver lining will be that it won't go into effect until the voters get a swing at it for 21 months, meaning that next year's legislature will have cleared its plate of the abortion issue and will be able to concentrate on bigger policy issues affecting the pocketbooks of all South Dakotans.

But obviously, we need to keep an eye on the legislature -- who knows how many other short-notice amendments they may try to sneak onto HB 1293?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Taxpayers Foot Bill for Inattentive Parents

KELO-TV reports on the overnight search yesterday for two Sioux Falls girls lost in Lake County. The teenagers, 15 and 16, headed home from Madison around midnight but got lost before finding I-29. They got lost, went into a ditch, and ran out of gas. They called 911 around 1 a.m., which set off a search of Lake, Moody, and Minnehaha counties involving law enforcement, fire and search and rescue crews, and even the Civil Air Patrol.

Ultimately, the girls found themselves. As dawn broke, one of the girls saw a house to the north. She ran there and thankfully found at home a surely startled family, who drove down to rescue the other girl. Given that the girls had no gas to run the heater and weren't dressed for a night of subzero temperatures, they were lucky to escape with just minor frostbite.

I spend my workweek scolding silly kids, so I don't care to spend much Sunday blogging time doing the same. One scary night probably taught those girls more than my words could. But parents, think about this: It's a Friday night, it's below zero, and you live in Sioux Falls, rich with bowling alleys, movies, coffee shops, live music, and other wholesome entertainment. (I know the kids are rolling their eyes at that description, but trust me: you won't find more to do in Madison.) Why do you hand the van keys to two teenage girls, only one of whom is even barely old enough to drive after hours, to drive an hour away to a college town where the girls don't know the roads well enough to find their way home on a clear night? Instead of avoiding this danger and worry with a simple "No" that might have cost no more than five bucks for a DVD rental and some microwave popcorn to keep the kids safe, warm, and entertained at home, three counties have now spent manpower and tax dollars to respond to your neglect of your parental responsibilities.

Now I won't demand that the parents refund the cost of the overnight search, though I would hope they'd drop by the courthouse to buy our boys in brown a hot cup of coffee. I do hope, however, that the parents of these unfortunate and direction-challenged girls (look for the double meaning) will think next time about why two teenage girls need to be on the road, on their own, with no adults to tell them how to get home. Don't worry about saving me tax money on this one; worry about saving your childrens' lives.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Athletic Supporter Gets My Vote?

Yesterday's Madison Daily Leader's lead story is the $5.83 million bond issue to build a new gym (excuse me: "event center"). The Madison Central School Board appears ready to vote at its upcoming meeting Monday to put the issue before the district's voters on April 10. Gym booster Darin Namken, a member of the gym (excuse me: competition complex) feasibility committee, issued a press release Thursday to promote the project. The article (not published online -- sorry, linkophiles!) quotes Namken as closing his press release with the following enthusiastic assurance:

The new events center will meet the needs of ALL [sic] the district's school activities for years to come and will 'Give Madison Pride a Home' [get ready for the campaign slogan] for the first time in the district's history.

All the district's activities? Does that mean this "event center" includes a new theater for Doc Miller's outstanding plays to replace the current stage, which hasn't been upgraded since the school was built over 40 years ago? Do the band, chorus, and show choir get expanded practice and storage facilities? Does the debate team get a practice and research room to replace the debate room that was turned into a computer lab a decade ago? If this "event center" really will serve "ALL" (remember, those are Namken's caps) of the district's school activities, then I'll be voting yes.

However, if the pending resolution's text is accurate, the "event center" plans include "gym, restrooms, locker rooms, lobby, press area, concessions, training rooms, laundry room, offices, storage area, and mechanical room." Hmmm... I don't see "theater" in there, and I've got a feeling there won't be flutes or briefcases in the training rooms or storage area. But maybe the board will amend that oversight Monday night. There's always hope!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Tablet PCs for Madison HS -- $650,000

MDL reports the Madison Central School Board will consider joining the Classroom Connections program at its upcoming meeting Monday, 2/12.

Madison High School would need to lease about 430 Tablets and use the computers throughout its curriculum. The cost for a three-year computer lease and other related expenses was estimated at $650,000.

$216,000 a year... hmm, laptops for every kid, or six full-time instructors (one of which could be the music position the district wants to cut)? Maybe twenty after-school tutors? Improvements to the theater? Down payment on the new gym? Hmm... we have some interesting decisions ahead of us.

Laptops -- The Best Investment?

The Madison Daily Leader reports this evening on the Chester school district's positive experience thus far wih the governor's "Classroom Connections" program, the pilot program that helped 20 South Dakota high schools provide laptop computers to every one of their students. Chester principal Mike Reinhiller says the kids have taken good care of the computers thus far -- in Reinhiller's words, "It's amazing, when you have a $1,300 computer in your hands, how well they take care of it." He also talks about the necessary filtering and monitoring software and extra teacher training time involved. Noting that the Madison school district is considering investing in $1300 Tablet PCs for its high school students, the article quotes Reinhiller's advice to Madison's teachers: "[H]ave an open mind and get ready to teach in the 21st Century because I think these laptops are here to stay."

But why are they here to stay? Tellingly absent from the report is any comment on the laptops producing any improved academic outcomes at Chester. How important is a $1300 computer to helping kids learn to analyze and communicate about vital issues of the day? Are they important enough to justify, as is being discussed up in Groton, switching to a four-day school week so teachers can spend some of their Fridays learning how to use those laptops? South Dakota Politics' redoubtable Professor Schaaf (who directed me to the aforelinked Aberdeen American News article, thank you!) urges school districts not to jump on the technology bandwagon and instead "devote more money to teacher pay rather than technological gimmicks."

My experience in the classroom inclines me to agree. Computers facilitate some really cool tricks (like my homemade auto-grading 100-question Mega Vocab Quiz that I give to my students as part of semester exams), but they also lock a district into all sorts of extra costs, measurable in money and man-hours.* Sometimes all computers do is help us make mistakes faster and on a much grander scale. If money's tight, let's focus on immediate needs first. Get good teachers and pay them what they deserve. Good teachers can inspire kids with pencil and paper or even a walk down the street. Give me newer, sleeker tools to use in the classroom, and I'll happily use them, but not if the school has to cut staff and other programs (or raise taxes again) to afford them.

*I should say "person-hour," but oh! the alliteration!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Discover the Unexpected... in North Dakota's Hemp Fields!

Tonight's Madison Daily Leader runs an AP story about North Dakota issuing its first hemp production licenses. The assistant majority leader of the North Dakota House, Republican farmer Dave Monson, is one of the first licensees wishing to follow in the plow-tracks of famous hemp growers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. North Dakota's ag commissioner, Roger Johnson, is working to get the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to ease the tight federal restrictions on hemp production, which include a $2,293 registration fee, which is nonrefundable even if the DEA comes back and says, "Thanks for registering, but now we're not going to approve your application."

Now you might think I'm about to make wisecracks about the strangely calming effect we South Dakotans will enjoy from the next stiff north wind, but there's no joke here. Our neighbors to the north are onto a really good idea. They're not growing pot; they want to grow industrial hemp, which was an important cash crop in the United States until the early 20th century. You can't smoke it -- well, you can, but you'll probably get no more buzz than you will from lighting up and inhaling a page of the Daily Leader. However, you can use industrial hemp to make all sorts of useful products: furniture, clothing, board sheathing (stronger than wood products, thanks to longer fibers), paper (Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper), carpet, rope (o.k., so maybe you don't have a lot of rope around the house), even paint and biodiesel (something you'll want more of around the house when oil heads back toward $80 a barrel). North Dakota recognizes that industrial hemp could allow farmers to diversify with a crop that, according to Canada's federal ag agency, "thrives without herbicide... reinvigorates the soil... and requires less water than cotton" (quoted by Jean M. Rawson, specialist in agricultural policy, "Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity," Congressional Research Service, updated 7/8/2005). Hemp also can produce four times as much paper per acre as trees, and unlike trees, hemp is an annual crop. Wow -- has North Dakota found a way to save family farms, expand its exports, protect local soil and water quality, and fight deforestation all in one shot?

A quick text search of the bills proposed in the current session of the South Dakota legislature finds no measures to legalize industrial hemp. Sigh. Maybe the next stiff north wind will bring an infectious whiff of North Dakota creativity.

Abortion Ban Already SD Law

Theron McChesney reports at South Dakota Progressive that all this brouhaha over abortion is utterly unnecessary. South Dakota already has a 2005 statute on the books, SDCL 22-17-5.1, that makes performing an abortion a Class 6 felony except for the purpose of saving the life of the mother. Written into the law is a trigger statement bringing it into effect the moment the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade. Apparently, Hunt, Howie, Unruh, et al are now committed to creating the legislation that will bring on the legal challenge that will give them the chance to go to the Supreme Court and try to trigger the ban lurking n the law books. Alas, there goes another five (ten, fifteen...) million dollars to out-of-state lawyers and advertisers. Arrgh! South Dakota's already done its bit for th pro-life movement; how about North Dakota or Utah pick up the slack and let us concentrate on other more pressing issues (school funding and consolidation, minimum wage, health coverage, job creation, agriculture, pollution, alternative energy... all those things that will make life livable for all these precious children once they come out of the womb)?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Tuition Up, But Used Laptops at the Bookstore

While our Representatives Olson and Gassman push HB 1241, their bill to expressly allow the Board of Regents to sell back to students the computers they've been leasing for the last three years, their colleagues on the House Education Committee voted 13-1 last Friday to kill HB 1230, which would have frozen tuition for four years for continuously enrolled full-time undergraduates at South Dakota's state universities. Dang -- if I were attending DSU, I think I'd happily trade my used laptop for a tuition freeze. Priorities, anyone?

Monday, February 5, 2007

Russ Olson, True to His Words? Let's Hope So!

In his January 29 "State Capitol Update" in the Madison Daily Leader, District 8 Representative Russell Olson made the following statement:

I didn't seek this position to make laws. Quite honestly, I feel that we have enough laws on the books the way it is. However, I am for cleaning up existing legislation that makes practical sense. I am a proponent of maximizing efficiencies in our government and watching out for your bottom line.

Some of my friends on hearing that quote have asked what the point of becoming a legislator is if not to legislate, to create the new policies that ever-changing times and circumstances require. I, however, am just curious to see if our Republican friend will apply this principle when the latest abortion ban come to the House floor. Will he defend the idea that we have enough laws on the books and vote against HB 1293? Oh, the suspense....

Prayer Can't Hurt, But....

The Madison Daily Leader reports on the first annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast held in Madison last week Thursday. According to the article, Mark Weismantel, president of sponsoring group Vital Link (and -- full dislosure! -- dad of one of my good friends), explained at the beginning of the program that his organization is "interested in promoting prayer to assist with prosperity and positive changes in the community" (Leader's words, not Weismantel's).

Heaven knows (ahem) we can always use more prosperity and positive changes. But when I hear prayer invoked as a useful way to get prosperity, I can't help harkening to Ben Franklin's words about God helping those who help themselves. Plus, hearing the words prayer and prosperity in the same sentence always makes me a little uneasy. Of all the things we might pray for, economic development isn't near the top of that list. When Mayor Hexom quoted James 5:16 at the breakfast -- "The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and wonderful results" -- I hope the gathered faithful thought of spiritual, not material, results. Pastor Daryl Schubert (more full disclosure -- my wife's new pastor) appears to have closed the event on the right note, praying for "justice, truth, and peace." Justice, truth, peace, and prosperity -- which of these things is not like the other?

HB1293 -- Preface to The Handmaid's Tale

The latest abortion measure from the South Dakota legislature deserves to be voted down. It's more bad legislation that won't save lives. The courts could overturn it purely on privacy issues, citing the provision that forces women to report crimes to the police.

But the big problem with this law is the continued dishonesty of the proponents, who sound ever more like an American Taliban, seeking to strip women of their rights. Check out Section 1 of the bill, the statement of legislative findings:

[1.1]...a pregnant mother possesses certain inherent rights, that these are natural intrinsic rights which enjoy affirmative protection under the Constitution of the United States, and under the Constitution and laws of the State of South Dakota, and that among these rights are the fundamental right of the pregnant mother to her relationship with her child, her fundamental right to make decisions that advance the well-being and welfare of her child, and her interest in her own health

The bill begins with outright Newspeak. Where the bill authors speak of "rights," read "obligation." Why won't Roger Hunt and Marlboro Man Gordon Howie be honest and say they aren't protecting rights but enforcing obligations?

[1.2] ...the pregnant mother's relationship with her child is inherently beneficial to the mother; that a mother's unique relationship with her child during pregnancy is one of the most intimate and important relationships, and one most worthy of legal protection; that the history and tradition of our nation has recognized this relationship as one that has intrinsic beauty and benefit to both the mother and the child; and that this relationship is recognized as one of the touchstones, and at the core, of all civilized society

Now we take a dangerous step toward codifying an obligation for women to bear children. Does a woman who chooses not to bear a child somehow forever suffer from not experiencing that inherently beneficial relationship? Is she somehow less civilized? Does a rejection of motherhood somehow make her less of a citizen? If the legislature is so worried about providing "legal protection" of the "right" of motherhood, when will the legislature decide that women abstaining from child-bearing are not receiving sufficient counseling and must be informed (by force) of the importance of bearing children? (Those of you familiar with Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale should be able to see where this law leads.)

[1.8] ...an abortion places most women at greater risk for psychological distress, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide than carrying her child to full term and giving birth

Just to top it off, Hunt, Howie, et al lie with bogus science. There is no scientific basis for claims of post-abortion syndrome. Emily Bazelon offers a spectacular report on the issue in the January 21 New York Times ("Is There a Post-Abortion Syndrome?"). She notes that Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, a well-known abortion opponent, refused to comply with a request from president Reagan to issue a report on the health effects of abortion:

Koop was against abortion, but he refused to issue the report and called the psychological harm caused by abortion “minuscule from a public-health perspective.” Nor did Koop believe that the anti-abortion cause would be served by shifting its focus to the suffering of women. “As soon as you contaminate the morality of your stand by getting worried about the health effects of abortion on women, you have weakened the whole thing,” he said at the time in an interview with the Rutherford Institute, a conservative law center.

That was in 1987. Science has advanced since then... but no thanks to abortion opponents like "researcher" David Reardon, who is making a career of cherry-picking studies to cobble together a case for post-abortion syndrome. As Bazelon points out, Reardon even admits in his 1996 Making Abortion Rare that he is using rhetoric, not rigorous science, to sow doubt: "Even if pro-abortionists got five paragraphs explaining that abortion is safe and we got only one line saying it’s dangerous, the seed of doubt is planted."

Fortunately, real scientists like Arizona State University's Nancy Russo are busy refuting such abuse of science for political purposes. The real science finds no link between abortion and depression, suicide, or any other such harm. Yet our legislature continues to purvey these lies to further its goals.

I'll admit that I'm uneasy about abortion, and I'm open to a discussion about restrictions on it. However, I can't have a discussion with people who are willing to lie about their motives and their science. Laws should be based on truth. I will not support HB 1293 or any abortion ban in South Dakota until the anti-abortion forces can prove to me they really want to protect the rights and health of women, not patronize and subjugate them.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Pro-Life Road Show?

I've already had a couple people suggest taking "The Pro-Life Handbook" on the road. Now that one-act season is officially over, I'm looking forward to concentrating on finishing hard through the debate season and returning my attention to broader blogging articles. However, I would love to see "The Pro-Life Handbook" hit a few more stages, perhaps through the spring and summer. (And the legislature is doing everything it can to keep the show relevant by ignoring big issues and instead wallowing in Dan Sutton's foibles and offering a retread abortion ban.) If anybody has a performance venue in mind, and if anyone out there would like to sign up to be part of a new traveling cast and come to Madison for some rehearsals, let me know! Maybe we can rouse some more rabble!

State One-Act Festival -- A Director's Perspective

And now for a little local boosterism: here's the text of my commentary on the State One-Act Play Festival, submitted for publication to the Montrose Herald...

The Montrose High School Theater Company won big at the 51st Annual State One-Act Festival last weekend in Brandon, claiming its fifth State Superior Play trophy and winning its second full-cast Outstanding Ensemble Acting Award. As many of you saw first hand, our actors (senior Demetria Waba; juniors Emily Miller, Katie Lebeda, Chelsey Katzer, and Holly Coldman; sophomores Abbie Schaefer, Dathan Rappana, Katie Kappenman, Betsy Johnston, Jenna Cleveland, and Erin Binder; freshman Mary Schaefer; and special guest star Katarzyna Lachlan) and our technical crew (sophomore stage manager and construction assistant Lauren Ollerich and junior sound technician Andrew Townsend) gave their best performance of the season on the spectacular Brandon stage.

As the director of this year's one-act play, "The Pro-Life Handbook," and as a veteran of nine State One-Act Festivals (three as a performer, one as a technical assistant, five as a director), I get to view the significance of the students' achievements and the State Festival itself from a perspective different from that of actors performing in their first or second show, parents cheering on their kids, or even casual observers who've never seen South Dakota's biggest drama contest and wonder what all the fuss is about.

First, let's look at what the students have achieved. (Understand, of course, that while I have my directorly biases, I will attempt to assess Montrose's show as objectively as possible.) The Montrose cast this year had a tough show. From the beginning of the one-act program, students have taken challenging original scripts to State. Good theater (and, in the case of the State One-Act Festival, winning theater) is not just a matter of remembering one's lines. "The Pro-Life Handbook," like every script Montrose has tackled since the program began in 2001, is an unusual, challenging show, demanding fast scene changes, coordinated choral speaking and movement, and an understanding of complicated social issues. Instead of an easy family drama, where students could easily drag up pretend emotions about stress at school or a disease or death in the family, Montrose's cast had to find the drama and urgency in political, economic, and social issues like campaign spending, health insurance premiums, the industrialization of agriculture, and Scriptural analysis. Even that list sounds like dry reading. The script for "The Pro-Life Handbook" could very easily sound more like an academic lecture or political address. The students were able to infuse that very academic, political text with emotion and genuine caring that turned the discussion of those issues into a genuinely moving, memorable, and important theatrical experience.

Producing such theatrical experiences has made the Montrose thespians one of the most successful high school theater companies in the state. Since the 2002 festival, Montrose's first year of one-act competition, the Irish have never missed a State Festival, and they have won five Superior Play awards. During that time, in all of Class B, only one school, traditional fine arts power James Valley Christian, has surpassed Montrose, winning superiors all six years. The next best Class B schools, Arlington, and Timber Lake, have won just three State Superior Play awards in the last six seasons. During that time, another 15 B schools have managed to win one or two superior play ratings. Montrose and James Valley Christian comprise just one tenth of the 20 B schools that have staged superior-winning plays at State since 2002, but those two schools have won over a quarter of the B State Superior Play trophies given out in that time.

I cite those numbers because our competitive society (this math major turned director included) likes to keep score. In so many endeavors, rightly or wrongly, we measure success by numbers: win-loss records, standardized test scores, percentage increase in Gross Domestic Product. But Montrose's success at the State One-Act Festival goes well beyond numbers. Ask anyone who has seen Montrose's performances at State the last couple years how full the audience was. Schools from all three classes perform at the State Festival, and for years I've seen the house clear out when it comes time for a B school to take the stage. This year, in a house that holds 800 people, I saw a couple B schools perform to audiences of 50 or less, consisting of the three judges, loyal parents, and a handful of curious students from other schools. Last year, Montrose packed the small 450-seat Vermillion theater; we drew at least 600 to this year's State performance.

The big turnout we get from the community is tribute to Montrose's support for the arts. Our parents and other community members have turned in ever greater numbers to fill the audience and even the critique room, creating an impressive spectacle for the judges as well, who often ee a cast and director file in alone for critiques. For such support, the Montrose cast and I are immensely grateful. But we get even more spectators from other schools. By setting high expectations for themselves, the Montrose actors have built a statewide reputation for great performances. While many Class A and AA schools look through the Class B program, say "Who's that?" and leave the theater to take their lunch breaks during the Class B shows, many of them see Montrose on the program and say, "That'll be good! We need to stay for that show!" Our friends at O'Gorman and Yankton, who put on shows that leave us in awe each year, fill the theater to see our shows, expecting entertaining and challenging productions. Rising to those expectations puts additional pressure on us to deliver an outstanding show, but that's a healthy pressure that our students handle with great professionalism. In return for their State performances, our students receive something more valuable than any numbers or trophies: they receive applause, compliments, and genuine goodwill and respect throughout the festival from actors and directors from programs much bigger than we can ever dream of being.

Aside from the awards and acclaim our students can win, the State One-Act Festival is a unique and profoundly entertaining and educational experience for actors, directors, and spectators. Consider the sheer magnitude of the festival: 46 shows in three days. The mere technical skill required to cycle 46 casts and crews through the loading bay, dressing rooms, control booth, and stage is a wonder of planning and efficiency. 46 schools put on a kaleidoscope of shows, from bare-stage monologues to elaborate 30-person plays with elaborate sets, each transforming the same canvas, the same stage, into a different vision, a different fleeting world. Students see all different genres of theater: dramas, comedies, and musicals, from Greek mythology to modern rock opera (and this year, rock opera based on Greek mythology -- picture Greek gods and electric guitar on the same stage). Seeing the wide range of productions and ability on display at the State One-Act Festival helps our students (and their director) learn more about what makes a good competitive show and gives them good ideas for future productions.

Academically, the State One-Act Festival is worth a full-year course in theater and literature. In my literature classes, I teach six major works of literature in one semester. Even if we read a script a week, it would take us an extended school year to read as many scripts as we can see performed at the State One-Act Festival. Instead of just reading the words on the page, students can see dozens of plays performed (not to mention stage one themselves!). They exercise their critical-thinking skills, evaluating every show, asking themselves, "Was that show better than ours? How can we compare these shows? What worked, and what didn't? What are the judges looking for? What could we do better?" Instead of learning theater, acting, and literary analysis in a classroom for a grade, our students go to State to learn about those subjects from our college-level judges, veteran directors, and, best of all, from hundreds of students just like them who all think theater is cool. The State One-Act Festival may mean a couple days away from school, but it meets academic standards that would take weeks to meet in the classroom.

Besides all that, the State One-Act Festival is just plain fun. Our kids get to take their best shot at making an audience cheer. They get to laugh and cry and cheer for the efforts of other actors. They laugh as they see Canton's onstage couch collapse under the weight of two overexuberant actors, then join in the crowd's genuinely admiring applause as the lead actress holds back her laughter, grabs a book, and uses it to prop up the low corner of the couch. They stare in wide-eyed amazement at the sumptuous, dazzling costumes of Yankton's production of "Arabian Nights" and the flowing, magical outfits of the fairies in Brandon Valley's rendition of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." And after all the shows, before awards are announced, they put all competition aside and join students from every school at the festival in commandeering the stage for a sprawling dance. (Compare -- how many times have you seen the teams and fans from O'Gorman and Roosevelt get together with the Dell Rapids and Iroquois crowd for a dance after the big games at the Dome?) The State One-Act Festival produces the very spirit of fun and fellowship that all school programs should be about.

The cast and I thank everyone who supported our one-act efforts this year. Through the one-act program, the Montrose School District gives its students a chance to develop valuable skills and enjoy opportunities that would never come about in the regular classroom. As a director, I am honored to have this opportunity to educate in a different way, provide entertainment for the community, and even, as was the case this year, stage a show that could spark conversations about our state and what we can do to make it better. Theater at its best entertains, educates, and inspires its audience, and this year's one-act did all three.