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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cheer Up, Obama Campers -- We Still Can!

A little nighty-night Obama blast for the faithful: Talking Points Memo's Café Talk offers a firsthand account of Obama rocking the house -- the 18,000-strong house -- at UNC Monday night. The author reminds us what Obama's about and why he still inspires:

...every word he said resonated with the crowd. 18,000 people, not just "fired up and ready to go," but really recognizing the need to move beyond the current state of slash-and-burn politics. Really and truly hopeful about the possibility of transcending the "us versus them" divisions that have made Republican, Independent, Democrat more important than American for far too long. Ready to turn a corner, not just discursively, but practically. The crowd laughed when Obama discussed McCain's gas tax proposal, because those 18,000 got the difference between a convenient sounding political promise and the hard truth of a lifestyle change....

Right now, the last desperate attempts to quell this movement are being mobilized. The full force of an old style of politics is being brought down upon us. We don't have to play into it. Don't waste time trying to fight stupid fights. Don't worry about who said what about whom. Don't give up on our game to play a game we all hate. Not this time.

34 days to the king-making South Dakota primary... stay the course, true believers!

How Do You Respond When Your Pastor Goes Off the Rails?

Looks like I'm not the only one who found much to praise in the Moyers-Wright interview last Friday, only to be left cold by Wright's National Press Club performance. Clarence Page saw the same "thoughtful scholar" I saw last Friday night, explaining where black liberation theology and black church history "in a way that's not scary to reasonable white folks":

"The God of the people who are riding on the decks of the slave ship," Wright said, "is not the God of the people who are riding underneath the decks as slaves in chains."

Better late than never, Moyers' program offers viewers a chance to see that, whether you agree with him or not, Wright is not a nut case or "wackadoodle," as some have portrayed him. You can also see why, as many have wondered, Obama was impressed enough with the man to answer Wright's call to Christ.

Unfortunately, the good that Wright did for himself on Moyers' show was largely undone by Wright's excessive showboating at his heavily covered news conference in the National Press Club in Washington Monday [Clarence Page, "Wright Does Obama Wrong," Real Clear Politics, 2008.04.30].

A question for my faithful readers: How do you respond when your pastor gets it right on Friday, then muffs the message on Monday? At what point do your pastor's mistakes outweigh the good he does for your congregation and make you leave your church?

Or step away from church, pick anyone you care about: think about your disagreements, not the "Less Filling Tastes Great" stuff, but the real points of contention, like voting the other way on Referred Law 6, making comments about Indians that set your teeth on edge. How do you respond to that friend? Do you denounce and disown that friend? Call that friend on it publicly? Delete that friend from your Facebook account?

I wonder if the answer to those questions is anything like the answer to the question of how we respond to our country -- to ourselves -- when it does so much good, yet fails in so many ways.

Gas Tax Holiday -- Holiday from Good Fiscal Sense

Headline of the week for Dems still deciding between Obama and Clinton:

Clinton-McCain gas tax holiday slammed as bad idea.

Reuters reports this morning that economists (who don't have to pander for votes) pretty consistently say cutting the gas tax doesn't do any good beyond sound bites. Says Harvard's Greg Mankiw:

"Score one for Obama," wrote Greg Mankiw, a former chairman of President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers. "In light of the side effects associated with driving ... gasoline taxes should be higher than they are, not lower" [Alister Bull, Reuters, "Clinton-McCain gas tax holiday slammed as bad idea," Reuters via Yahoo News, 2008.04.30].

Says Eric Toder:

"You are just going to push up the price of gas by almost the size of the tax cut," said Eric Toder, a senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington [Reuters].

Says Tufts University's Gilbert Metcalf:

"I think it is a very bad idea," said Gilbert Metclaf, a economics professor at Tufts University currently working with the National Bureau of Economic Research."

If we want people to invest in energy-saving cars, we need some assurance that the higher price paid for these cars is going to pay off through fuel savings," he said. "It is a very short-sighted, counterproductive proposal" [Reuters].

Says Berkeley prof and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich:

Talk about a dumb idea. It will only encourage Americans to drive more, thereby increasing demand and causing gas prices to rise even higher. Driving more will also put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which fuels global warming. And this will cost taxpayers some $10 billion. It's a cheap political gimmick that does nothing to stem the rising price of oil [Robert Reich, "Gas Tax Holiday Is a Dumb Idea," Marketplace Morning Report, 2008.04.30].

So how many economists does it take to prove Hillary Clinton and like-minded Republicans wrong?

As Obama makes perfectly clear, a gas tax holiday is pure politics. Saving money on gas starts at home. You want to spend less? Buy less.

More Notes on Rev. Wright

So many interesting comments from Drs. Blanchard and Schaff on Reverend Wright -- where to begin?

I have to admit, Wright's latest inflammatory comments to the National Press Club have caught me off-guard, not to mention in the middle of the big semester-end homework push at DSU. I haven't gotten to review the whole transcript, let alone the video. From the sounds of it, he went farther than Obama could stomach without changing his relationship with the pastor. I honestly don't know: is Wright taking advantage of a teachable moment (and I still think the Obama candidacy is a spectacular teachable moment) to get people talking, or is he just grandstanding? I need to think about that.

In the meantime, permit me to dignify Drs. Blanchard and Schaff with some responses:

--Dr. Blanchard displays his really bad tendency to tilt against the really bad arguments he wishes his opponents would make rather than addressing the actual arguments that have been made. (Remember Blanchard's argument that the International Left ignores Tibet? Yeah -- all those Olympic torch relay protestors are Limbaugh listeners.)

First, Blanchard imagines how I would would respond to a hypothetical conservative pastor who would condemn homosexuals and declare AIDS their just desserts. Surely I'd condemn such a sermon... well, probably, but not because of my politics. I suspect such a pastor would be getting theology wrong and preaching an un-Christian message of exclusion and scapegoating. Condeming homosexuals is very different from critiquing the entire nation of which one is a citizen.

Blanchard proceeds to shift the discussion away from the theology that was placed on the table in the Moyers-Wright interview. Blanchard prefers to wallow in the more radical claims that the U.S. government invented AIDS and promotes drug addiction among blacks. I'm with Blanchard there -- I have no time for such fringe conspiracy theories. Wright's delvings in such nuttiness don't help his parishioners do practical good any more than Leslee Unruh's rantings. But those rantings do not call into question the validity of the theology and history presented on the Moyers program. Tolstoy wrote some dreck, but War and Peace is still a treasure. Wright gets some important things wrong, but his discussion with Moyers about where the black church comes from still deserves our attention and agreement.

Dr. Blanchard soundly rebuts the words he puts in his opponents' mouths with this conclusion:

Suppose for the moment that the United States had never existed. Would the world today be a better place or a much worse place? I would like to think that Cory would agree with me on this one. I am not sure what Barack Obama would say, if he were being honest, and that concerns me a lot more. I am pretty sure what Reverend Wright would say.

Dr. Blanchard imputes a lack of patriotism to Senator Obama and Rev. Wright that is not supported by either man's biography. I wouldn't even make that argument about Senator Clinton (and it's possible my distaste for her exceeds Blanchard's distaste for Obama).

But I don't think Obama would make any argument in response to Blanchard's question. The world better off without America? Great premise for a Harry Turtledove series, pointless question for politics. America's here: what do we do to make sure America continues to make the world a better place?

Finally, Dr. Schaff questions whether Rev. Wright's preaching deserves to be called prophetic.

We are called to love the Lord and love our enemies. I am not sure Rev. Wright's congregation gets much of either message.

Actually, I thought that was the whole point of the sermon in which Wright spoke of the chickens coming home to roost. He was speaking on the Sunday after 9/11, trying to address the urge for revenge that he had heard from many parishioners. Anyone standing up that weekend saying the U.S. shouldn't go to war stood a fair chance of starting a fist fight.

--------------------
I may swing the big debate stick at our Northern professors, but I enjoy our conversations, abbreviated as they may be by the many competing concerns in our lives. Dr. Blanchard, Dr. Schaff, I appreciate your occasional attention to my lakeside ramblings... even when you are flat wrong.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

One More Push -- Make Tjay and SD Magazine Winners!

While you're here, don't forget to click the blue button over to the right, and follow the links through South Dakota Magazine to the Smithsonian Photo Contest, where Bernie Hunhoff's photo of South Dakota's own Tjay Head is in the running for the People's Choice Award.

It looks like Tjay is in the lead, but a couple other photos may be making a push. So go there, click tonight, then go back and click one more time tomorrow night (gotta wait 24 hours!) before the voting closes. Let's go, Team South Dakota!

Dumb Luck Picks Delzer for Madison City Commission

KJAM gets the scoop: Scott Delzer won the cut of the cards this morning. As reported earlier, this weekend's recount resulted in one more ballot for Delzer, tying him with previously presumed second-place finisher Monica Campbell. City Finance Officer Jeff Heinemeyer thus carried out state law by breaking out the cards this morning at City Hall and having the candidates cut. The final election result:

  1. Scott Delzer: King of Hearts.
  2. Monica Campbell: Jack of Clubs.

Election by dumb luck -- it just doesn't feel good. The more I think about it, the more I'd like to see the law changed to allow a run-off caucus in case of a tie. If there are just two candidates on the ballot, maybe we can genuinely conclude that voters are fine with either choice and running a revote would cost more than it's worth. But a pick-two, four-candidate ballot creates a different calculus. A run-off between just 2nd and 3rd would have been a very different choice from the original ballot. I offer no prediction or preference for how such a vote would have gone, but it would have been a better read of the public will than a random draw.

Besides it's a shame to tell a thousand voters, "Thanks for voting, but it didn't really matter." Let's dump the random tie-breaker rule and give folks just that much more voice in local government.

Who's Afraid of High Gas Prices?

Wherein the Madville Times tries keep on the sunny side...

AP reports that gas prices top the list of Americans' economic worries. 44% call gas prices a "serious problem." 29% cited getting a good job or a raise, 28% cited health care costs, and 19% cited paying the rent or mortgage.

Truckers are protesting (although most can't afford the extra gas for a convoy to Pierre), candidates are pandering to the quick-fix urge for a gas tax holiday (Obama is still holding out) while Shell Oil enjoys a 25% increase in profits.

I hate seeing those numbers at BP spinning upward as you do, but are rising gas prices really that bad? Consider:
  1. A half-gallon of gas gets Mrs. Madville Times, the progeny, and me to town and back for groceries and such. Current cost: $1.75. Cost to make a similar family errand run around Sioux Falls on the bus: $2.00
  2. At our current consumption rates, our family spends maybe $100 a month on gas. We can probably cut down our use (especially now that better biking weather is here!). We spend $225 on a the highest-deductible plan we can get. We spend $650 a month on a mortgage payment that has no wiggle room.
  3. Cutting the gas tax for the summer would save the typical American a whopping $25-$30.
    And as Obama warns, the oil companies would likely absorb those savings.
  4. High gas prices may promote local economy. Where KOTA News says "Tough economic times hit small towns as hard as large cities," KELO tries to lemonadify those lemons by asking, "Can small towns benefit from tough times?" Instead of driving to Sioux Falls or Rapid City, maybe more small-towners will buy locally and keep their own downtowns alive. Of course, buying locally isn't enough: small towns are still dependent on long-distance trucking to get the goods to their shelves. To really beat high gas prices, we may have to start producing more locally as well: more locally grown food, more locally built furniture, locally made clothes, locally produced fuel (Dakota Ethanol: when will you be opening your own pumps for consumers?), more work by local contractors....
I know, I'm reaching. Energy prices are a problem, and I'm sure I'll be back with more posts griping about them. But high as they are, maybe gas prices still aren't as big a problem as other issues like health care and education whose actual prices aren't displayed on big Shell and BP signs all over town.

Just something to think about as we head for the polls in June and November... on our bicycles!

* * *
Great Mind Synchronicity Update, 10:40: Republic Insider muses similarly this morning on whether rising gas prices are over-hyped.

Darrow v. Bryan at DSU?

DSU is hosting a public forum tonight that could be as fun as putting biology teachers on trial. From the daily DSU newsletter:

"Where Does God Belong?"

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship of DSU and DSU's Secular Student Organization will be sponsoring a forum discussion event entitled "Where Does God Belong?" on Tuesday, April 29th at 7:00 PM.

Skyler Gallimore & Derek Henkels will be speaking on behalf of DSU's Secular Student Organization. Matthew Paulson and Jamie Erickson will be speaking on behalf of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

The first half of the discussion will focus on the separation of church and state. The second half of the discussion will focus on the origins of morality. Do our moral values come from a creator God or through millennia of evolution? Let's find out together!

After the two discussion topics, audience members will have a chance to ask questions of the panelists.
Secular Student Organization? Easy, Sibby -- don't come get all medieval on the kids. They haven't taken over the campus yet. They themselves say their goal is not conversion but conversation (nice!). Believe it or not, the SSO even conducts reulgar Bible study sessions. Even us non-believers have to understand the book 85% of our fellow Americans profess to follow. (Tell me again, Sibby, how an 85% Christian majority is a persecuted minority?)

So where does God belong at DSU? Perhaps the panelists and audience can discuss this DSU webpage, where Prof. Dan Mortensen uses public resources to offer a number of useful Christian resources for finding churches and confronting a secular worldview. The prof also includes an icthys at the top of his homepage. Interesting... I'll have to look around to see if any of our Muslim professors post professions of their faith on their webpages. Enlightened thinkers that we are, our culture will surely embrace such diversity.

Separation of church and state, foundations of morality -- sounds like good fun! Read your Bible, read your Darwin, and come chat with your neighbors, believers and doubters alike, at tonight's forum!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Back to Basics: Abstract Math Practice Better!

I'm a traditionalist in the classroom: ask me the best way to learn math, and I'll tell you, "Do problems. Do lots of problems." If you want to learn how to divide fractions or work the quadratic equations, you sit down with 10 or 20 problems a night, night after night, and work them out:
And you keep going. No fancy pictures, no marbles or blocks, no sidebars about careers in math, just practice, practice, practice.

Divide:
2/3 ÷ 4/3
7/8 ÷ 2/5
11/4 ÷ 33/8

Solve for x:
x2 + 3x – 1 = 0
2x2 – 5x + 2 = 0
4x2 + 8x = 5

Now I'd catch regular heck from the scholarly literature (and occasionally from kids sharp enough to get a whiff of the education trends) that would say, "Oh, you've got to get away from boring old problems. Kids need hands-on, real-world examples to really learn math.

Maybe... or maybe not. A new study by Jennifer Kaminski of Ohio State University finds kids learn math better when they are given abstract problems rather than real-world examples like story problems.

I love math, but story problems still throw me for a loop, whether I'm teaching them or doing them (that's why my graduate stats class is kicking my can -- it's all story problems, no formulas!).

Back to the expert:

"We're really making it difficult for students because we are distracting them from the underlying math," said Jennifer Kaminski, a research scientist at Ohio State University, whose study appears in the journal Science.

The findings cast doubt on the widely used practice among elementary and middle schools in the United States and elsewhere of using friendly, concrete examples to teach abstract math concepts.

For example, a teacher might use a bag of colored marbles to explain probability, or teach a formula about distance with the classic example of two trains departing from different cities and traveling at different speeds.

"The danger with teaching using this example is that many students only learn how to solve the problem with the trains," Kaminski said [Julie Steenhuysen, "Hold the Marbles: Abstract Approach Best for Math," Reuters via Yahoo News, 2008.04.28].

I remember one of my happiest math experiences was learning trigonometry on my own when I had the mumps in 10th grade. I opened my textbook to one assignment and found a list of 100 problems. The only instructions, the only words on the page: "Solve." Glorious!

Answers: 1/2, 35/16, 2/3, (–3 ± √13)/2, 2 or 1/2, 1/2 or – 5/2.

Stimulus Gobbled up by Inflation?

The first economic stimulus payments start going out today, a week ahead of schedule. (See the original schedule and subtract one week to find out when yours should come.) But here's a scary economics question: how much will this $160 billion loan from our grandkids stimulate the economy if most of it is gobbled up by inflation? Gas costs 53 cents more per gallon than last year at this time (that was two weeks ago -- probably 60-70 cents more now). Bread is up 14.7%, milk 13.3% from last year...

It's conceivable we could spend every penny of our stimulus checks on the same amount of gas and groceries we were buying last year and not have any left for the splurging that Bush and Congress are counting on. And if I understand the stimulus package correctly, the only way it does any recession-fighting good is if we spend that money like drunken sailors on big expensive items we didn't plan to buy before.

Uh oh -- we may have just sunk ourselves another $160 billion in debt (during wartime, no less) just to tread water. Oops. We should've done like Joel said and sunk the money into mass transit projects.

----------
Of course, Mrs. Madville Times isn't helping. As stewardship chair, she's encouraging her fellow Lutherans at St. John here in Madison to tithe a portion of their stimulus checks or donate to other organizations. Come on, we're supposed to buy appliances, not help the poor! ;-) Then again, maybe charitable giving is good for the soul and the economy. Seems I recall folks making the argument that lower-income folks will pump that money into the economy faster than higher-income folks. Time for some Lutheran income redistribution?

And in Sports... Obama Shoots, Obama Scores

Clinton did shots earlier this month with Indiana voters. Now Obama's doing the same... but these shots might play even better with the Hoosiers:



Another Crown Royal, Mrs. Clinton?

The 3-on-3 game Friday night in Kokomo, Indiana, was a campaign event to reward students who helped out on a voter registration drive. Obama's crew won 15-5. Of course, John McCain could win 15-5, if he had 6'-7" Alison Bales of the Indiana Fever on his team.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

KJAM's Matt Hendrickson -- Best Radio Sports Guy in SD!

I've been waiting for the official release on this, and now I've got it. Yahoo!

Matt Hendrickson, KJAM Radio Sports Director and Voice of the Madison Bulldogs, has won first place in the South Dakota Associated Press 2007 Contest in the Commercial Radio-Sports Story category. His October 10 report on Harrisburg joining the Big 8 Conference beat out stories by KWSN's Craig Mattick and Bob Laskowski and WNAX's Jerry Oster and Steve Imming. Talk about beating the big dogs! Those venerable duos each received honorable mention for their stories... and those stories each took two guys to write! Our Matt beat 'em single-handedly!

We don't know if making the top of the heap gets Matt a raise (Lorin, are you listening? :-) ). But Matt gets our kudos... and another boost for his blog, The Jackrabbit's Den! Keep up the good work, Matt!

(Speaking of good work, now let's get to work on winning that AP website award. WNAX took first there, with honorable mention to KGFX and KORN. Let's amp up that KJAM website... or just add the Madville Times Posts and Comments RSS feeds: that'll win you hits and awards for sure! ;-) )

--------------------
Update 2008.05.12:
KJAM provides photos -- and hey! Dylon Steen and Jim Otis got Honorable Mention for Talk and Public Affairs. Good work, men!

Photos courtesy KJAM.

Madison Recount: Campbell and Delzer Tie

Get out your lucky rabbit's feet, Monica and Scott: The Madison City Commission election recount has resulted in a tie. You may recall that Monica Campbell beat Scott Delzer by one vote for second place in the city commission election April 8. Delzer called for a recount Monday; the recount committee met yesterday to go back through the ballots. Evidently, the ballot-counting machines were off by one, and in this case, one is all it takes.

So Madison City Government will now be cast to the winds of fate. No revote, no arm-wreslting match: per SDCL 9-13-27.2, Campbell and Delzer will get together at a time and place of City Finance Officer Jeff Heinemeyer's choosing to draw lots. Draw the right straw, win the coin toss, whatever Heinemeyer chooses, and the law says you're the commissioner.

I've seen this method used at debate tournaments, when there's an unbreakable tie between speakers on ranks and ratings, and it always makes me cringe. Simply flipping a coin gets us home sooner from debate contests, but I'd rather see a final round.

Same with elections: Drawing lots is the cheapest way to resolve a tie, but I'd prefer a run-off. Heck, even if printing ballots and revving up the ballot machines is too expensive, I'd prefer a good caucus. Open the doors of the armory Tuesday night, let everyone come who wants to come, and at 7 p.m., take a show of hands. Whoever can fire up enough supporters to come to the meeting wins. It's not perfect, but it beats government by random chance.

If I were Scott or Monica, I'd also much rather face a run-off election where I could do something to affect the outcome -- go knock on more doors, run another ad, blog like crazy -- rather than sitting and waiting for Jeff to find a fair coin to flip. But the law is the law. Cross your fingers, everyone, and get ready for your next randomly selected city commissioner!

Spice Up Your Musical Life

KJAM sticks a thermometer in the collective culture to determine the state of our local musical tastes. "What kind of music do you listen to?" they ask in their latest online fun poll, and then provide these choices:

50's Rock & Roll
60's & 70's Pop
Disco
80's Pop
90's Pop
Country

What? Not even an "other"? Is this all the richer our culture is?

Pshaw! Music did not start in 1950, and it certainly consists of more than these pale commercial genres... not that you'd know it listening to the radio in South Dakota. South Dakota Public Radio does what it can to bust the genres, with classical and jazz through the week and then the weekend potpourri of blues, folk, Big Band, Celtic, and space music. In Sioux Falls you can get some eclectic blasts from those whacky college radio kids at Augie and USF. But that's about it.

Here in Madison, Jay Pifer at Skippers betrays the local media but enriches our dining experience by tuning his satellite radio to jazz. Here at the Madville Times world headquarters, we frequently crank up the Internet, which brings us the joyful sounds of CKUA, the Alberta public radio powerhouse that broadcasts almost everything but the meager list of options KJAM lists in its poll (and even some of that sneaks in the mix).

So what do I listen to? I like my 80s pop. I like country -- good, real, old-school Johnny Cash country. (Motongator Joe, what can you bring? My heart swells to my CD of Vladimir Horowitz's return-to-Moscow concert in 1986 and Franz Biebl's "Ave Maria" as much as it does to U2 and Peter Gabriel. We put Madville Times Jr. to bed with everything from Phil Keaggy and Norah Jones to Ladysmith Black Mumbazo.

I don't like to tout diversity as a value in itself, but when it comes to music, we love to hear songs we've never heard before. And diversity is exactly what corporate media mitigate against, seeking the lowest common denominator of bland cultural products to maximize listenership. Corporate media rarely if ever dare to give us the best and boldest our culture has to offer. Instead, corporate media offer the songs and shows that are sufficiently tolerable to keep us from changing channels before the next commercial. (Read Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks for an example of how this works in TV land.)

KJAM does all sorts of good service for our community. Maybe they could do us just one more and convert one of their signals, AM or FM, to a broader music format that would break the corporate radio mold and enrich Madison's musical culture. Now that would be Unexpected.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Moyers Interview with Wright -- A Bibliography

Now that you're all digging out from our last (really, it's gotta be!) April snow, here are some thoughtful articles discussing Bill Moyers's interview with Rev. Jeremiah Wright on PBS last night, from people who appear to have watched the whole interview:

  1. Manya Brachear, religion writer, "Did the Wright Interview Make a Difference?" ChicagoTribune.com, 2008.04.25.
  2. Dave Winer, "Why Is It So Quiet After the Moyers-Wright Interview?" HuffingtonPost.com, 2008.04.26.
  3. James Brett, "Moyers on Wright," OpEdNews.com, 2008.04.26.
  4. Pastor Daniel Schultz, "Jeremiah Wright on Bill Moyers' Journal," StreetProphets.com, 2008.04.26.
Choice quote from Pastor Dan on Wright's theology and the "stunning" level of discourse presented on PBS last night:

It's certainly deeper and more relevant than anything James Dobson or the 'values voters' advocates could put forward.

Hacking: Putting Our Mouth Where Our Money Is?

Consider the different reactions to two recent incidents of computer hacking:

--Fishback Financial sends out letters to customers indicating someone got unauthorized access to customer's private financial information. Chuck Clement at the Madison Daily Leader and Shawn Niestadt at KELO post some generic advice from the bank and the attorney general. No outcry, no public meetings. The MDL headline -- "Consumers Told: Obtain, Review Credit Reports" -- avoids even mentioning the bank and its failure of security.

--Madison High School students use a password to allow them to install games on their school-issued computers. 14 kids are suspended. The school administration and board are grilled by the press, the blogs, and parents.

Numerous conclusions are possible. Sloppy security at Fishback Financial put thousands of account holders and millions of dollars at risk. Sloppy security at MHS meant kids played with video games and maybe checked Facebook during class. Yet while the school board catches rightful heck from the public (and more for its draconian and unequal response than for allowing the hacking in the first place), Fishback Financial gets minimal scrutiny from a sleepy press.

Tell me again, who has more power in America: government or corporations?

TransCanada Already Planning More Pipelines

Think 590,000 barrels of oil a day is a lot? Get ready for... what's the right word? Black flood? Sludge avalanche? Crude crush? A faithful reader of the Canadian press finds, before even getting court approval to steal South Dakota land for the Keystone pipeline, TransCanada is planning an even bigger pipeline project:

Previously, TransCanada has said that it wants to reach markets even farther away by connecting Keystone's Oklahoma leg, once it is built, to refineries on the Gulf Coast, either by building a new pipeline or by acquiring and converting existing infrastructure.

That expansion was expected to be relatively modest in size. However, TransCanada now sees Keystone Stage 2 as incorporating both the Gulf Coast expansion and a massive new 36-inch pipeline that would transport another 750,000 barrels a day of crude – over half the current production from the oil sands – from Alberta directly to Nebraska, where it would join Keystone Stage 1.

While exact costs and details aren't yet available, the huge new pipeline would cost more than the original Keystone pipeline itself and be in service by around 2012, Mr. Kvisle said. TransCanada expects to launch an open season for the pipeline to gauge shipper interest later this year.

“The construction [of Keystone 2] would roll right into the construction of the other,” Mr. Kvisle said. “It's advantageous to us in terms of procuring pipe … and in terms of securing contractors" [Norval Scott and Shawn McCarthy, "TransCanada Ramps up U.S. Pipeline Ambitions," Globe and Mail, 2008.04.25]


Yup: once TransCanada starts digging, they don't plan to stop. Looks like we can expect bulldozers and pipe-layers tearing up our eminent-domained farm fields and wetlands for years to come...

...or at least until the oil runs out and kills suburbia, Wal-mart, and Disney World. Changelujah! Preach it, Brother Kunstler!

Wright and Moyers Defy Sound Bites, Do Good Exegesis

Ken Blanchard is flat wrong. He and the GOP (and Hillary Clinton) want to prooftext Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The good Reverend and Bill Moyers went on the air last night to do exegesis. And exegesis always beats prooftexting... if people will listen.

I want to respond in full to Blanchard's comments, but I can't reduce the response to blog-bites. Even the following post, which is far too long for blog standards, only provides talking points, not the full argument. Wright provided the real response last night. If you want the full argument, watch the PBS video, read the transcript.

So for those of you with short attention spans, let me say this: Mrs. Madville Times and I watched the full interview last night. (It was worth cheating on TV Turnoff Week.) We listened closely. Neither one of us heard Wright say anything that disagreed with our political beliefs, our patriotism, or with Christianity. One of his profs was the great Martin Marty (a Lutheran, for Pete's sake!). Reverend Wright knows his theology and his history. He embodies the finest tradition of speaking in the Christian prophetic voice -- no, not predicting the future, but speaking truth to power. The Bible was written by oppressed peoples, Reverend Wright reminds us. The faith so many Americans conflate with their patriotism was born of opposition to worldly powers of all sorts, from Pharaoh and Caesar right on down to the military-industrial complex. His words deserve our attention and our agreement.

By the way, Barack Obama was a professed religious skeptic when he met Reverend Jeremiah Wright. That preacher's counsel turned Obama into a dedicated Christian. Wright saved Obama's soul, some would say. I'm surprised more Christians don't acknowledge the great service Reverend has done for his community, his church, and his country. But when people put gotcha politics over understanding, sympathy, and truth, all sorts of foolishness ensues.

* * *

And now, as a study guide, here are Blanchard's mistakes (but be sure to read Blanchard's entire post, make sure I'm not prooftexting, either):

...Moyers and Wright missed a great opportunity, for it seems to me that all the material was there, right in front of the viewer, out of which Reverend Wright might have constructed a reasonable explanation for his rhetorical excesses [Ken Blanchard, "Wright Wash," South Dakota Politics, 2008.04.25].

The rhetorical excess is Blanchard's. Moyers and Wright spent a full hour offering the most complete, resonable explanation they could of the words Blanchard, Clinton, and the North Carolina GOP have taken out of context. I can't recite the whole argument, because it takes a full hour, probably more, to understand the full history of blacks, Christianity, slavery, and all the other personal and public history that lead to every one of Reverend Wright's sermons. Watch the video, read the transcript.

All Wright had to say was something like this: as someone who loves America, I hold her to a very high standard; as a preacher of the gospel, I am duty bound to remind her of her sins. For both reasons I sometimes get carried away and say things that I do not mean and do not really believe [Blanchard].

*Wright chose not to make that simple statement, because it's not true. Like Obama, Wright means what he says. He explained to Moyers very clearly and deeply the full meaning of his words. Watch the video, read the transcript.

The defense of Wright that emerges from the interview was based on two sophisms. The first goes like this: Reverend Wright criticized America and he said "Goddamn America." Therefore, anyone who objects to the latter is really intolerant of the former [Blanchard].

Blanchard starts breaking out the rhetorical terminology; he should have included the term non sequitur for his own statement here. How therefore appeared between the two clauses Blanchard wishes he could join here is beyond me. Wright did indeed express intolerance in the Moyers interview: for slavery, oppression, the conflation of Christianity with European culture, the separation of church from daily life, corporate-owned media, the killing of innocents, all sorts of evils that do indeed deserve condemnation, not tolerance.

When Wright said, quite rightly, that no government is God and that all governments fail, Moyers chimed in to say that you [Wright] could be crucified for saying that. That, of course, is utter krap. [Blanchard].

Try some context:

REVEREND WRIGHT: ...And when we start talking about my government right or wrong, I don't think that goes. That is consistent with what the will of God says or the word of God says that governments don't say right or wrong. That governments that wanna kill innocents are not consistent with the will of God. And that you are made in the image of God, you're not made in the image of any particular government. We have the freedom here in this country to talk about that publicly, whereas some other places, you're dead if say the wrong thing about your government.

BILL MOYERS:
Well, you can be almost crucified for saying what you've said here in this country.

REVEREND WRIGHT: That's true. That's true. But you can be crucified, you can be crucified publicly, you can be crucified by corporate-owned media. But I mean, what I just meant was, you can be killed in other countries by the government for saying that. Dr. King, of course, was vilified. And most of us forget that after he was assassinated, but the year before he was assassinated, April 4th, 1967 at the Riverside Church, he talked about racism, militarism and capitalism. He became vilified. He got ostracized not only by the majority of Americans in the press; he got vilified by his own community. They thought he had overstepped his bounds. He was no longer talking about civil rights and being able to sit down at lunch counters that he should not talk about things like the war in Vietnam... [Bill Moyers interview with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, transcript, Bill Moyers Journal, PBS, 2008.04.25].

Wright made very clear what he meant by crucified, and, again, he is right.

No one prays to George W. or confuses the U.S. Government with the Divine Power. This was a straw man made of rather transparent straw.

No, actually, a lot of people confuse the U.S. Government with the Divine Power. And praying to George W.? See Jesus Camp, where children are directed to pray to a cardboard cutout of the President. But Wright makes the bigger point above: "my country right or wrong" essentially does confuse government with God.

The second sophism, for which Reverend Wright was solely responsible, was that in saying "Not God Bless America, but Goddamn America" he was simply saying that God disapproves of many of America's actions. But that is a silly argument. A blessing does not imply approval, else no human being would warrant God's blessing. When someone says "God Bless America," this is a simple, informal prayer for God's help, on behalf of one's country. It is the equivalent of "God Save the Queen." If Reverend Wright was saying that God condemns many of America's past deeds, he would surely be correct, or so it seems to me. But condemnation is something we can respond to by atonement, and a will to be a better people. Damnation is final judgment. Reverend Wright is a smart enough man to know that he is playing the sophist with language here.

The sophism is Blanchard's. Blanchard tries to perform the exact reverse of the verbal chicanery he falsely ascribes to Wright. Blanchard tries to drain "God Bless America" of the meaning it is used to convey in the public arena. And Wright himself addresses condemnation and damnation, noting their shared etymology. Watch the video, read the transcript.

It is one thing to say that America's misdeeds have created the conditions that were partially responsible for the terrorist attack on the world trade center. It was reasonable and altogether appropriate for a preacher to warn us against the excesses of revenge at that moment, days after the September attack. It is something else to say that we deserved the 9/11 attack, which is what the phrase "chickens coming home to roost" means.

Violence begets violence. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Where's the un-Christian or unjustifiable statement there? Wright wasn't justifying the killing of innocents in the World Trade Center. He was putting the killing of innocent Americans in the historical context of the killing of innocents worldwide and warning his congregation (bravely, the Sunday after 9/11, when such sentiments might have started a fistfight) not to give in to the urge for bloody revenge that motivated the terrorists themselves. Watch the video, read the transcript.

Reverend Wright's real trouble, I think, is the same as Obama's: they never talk to anyone who doesn't believe the same things they do. Wright's interview with Moyers was more of the same. He efforts at hagiography did Wright no favors.

Madville Times cheap shot: "Never talk to anyone who doesn't believe the same things they do" -- and that differs from millions of conservative talk radio listeners how?

Madville Times real shot: Baloney, Ken. Wright is a pastor. Do you really think every person Wright ministered to over 40 years agreed with every hard truth he had to tell them? The real trouble is that people who should believe the same things as Wright respond to honest criticism of our society with prooftexting, name-calling, harassment (of sick and elederly parishioners), and bomb and death threats. And the interview was no hagiography. It was history. It was context. And it was a discussion the beliefs, words, and actions that come from a consistent Christian theology.

Blanchard follows up with "Wright Wash 2," an exercise in the wishful thinking of Republicans who would much rather fight Clinton than Obama in the fall. Moyers and Wright are almost certain to hurt Obama. Why do the interview? Ego trip for Wright? Sabotaging Obama's campaign? Winning a mandate for "their view of America"?

Why not try the simplest explanation: Wright is a minister. His job is to speak the truth. With all the attention on a handful of his words, now is the perfect time to try turning that attention into a real discussion of how to follow God's will. Any preacher would be remiss to pass up an opportunity like this.

------
Update 10:25: Back from breakfast, I realize (thanks to proofing from my wife) that I misread Blanchard's original comment. My apologies, Ken and readers, for the misunderstanding; I have edited my comment to respond to what Blanchard was really saying.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Gassman: Forget Politics; Let's Play Ball!

So that's why he didn't file for re-election: District 8 Representative Dave Gassman (D-Canova) is making a run at pro baseball!

O.K., so KELO is just messing with us. Gassman did sign a contract with the Sioux Falls Canaries today, but he's slated to be one of the Birds for just one night. The Canaries travel to Mitchell's Caldwell Park to face DWU in an exhibition game. SD Amateur Hall of Famer Gassman is scheduled to face just one batter.

Gassman says he's doing it just for love of the game and the Canaries:

"It means an opportunity I never had for one thing. And I've always enjoyed the Canaries and coming down here and watching ballgames. And to be a part of that for a day is a great thrill for me" [reported by Tony Burns, "Gassman Signs with Canaries," KELOLand.com, 2008.04.25].

Asked to predict his performance, Gassman plays the primary expectiations game: he sees he'll be lucky if his fastball clocks in higher than the game-time temperature. Current weather forecast: 52 degrees; Dave's fastball forecast: "I'll be lucky to get her to 60 or 65."

But hey, a spring evening, baseball,... the snow might even be gone by then. What could be better? Give 'em heck, Dave, right up the middle!

Want to Have Pull in SD Politics? Join Debate!

I've participated in high school debate for 20 years, as a competitor, a coach, and a judge. Yet I've actually had people come up to me and talk about debate as if it were a bad thing, as if it made a person less respectable, as if it were a waste of time.

Well... read on:

Seth Tupper at the Mitchell Daily Republic reports that the Clinton campaign is finally creaking to life in South Dakota. Yesterday the Clinton campaign announced it has hired Beresford native Geoff Wetrosky to direct Clinton's South Dakota campaign. Wetrosky has over a month of catch-up to do on the Obama SD director, fellow Beresford native Nathan Peterson.

The battle of campaign directors could be as interesting as the Obama-Clinton battle itself. Not only are Wetrosky and Peterson both Beresford HS Watchdogs -- Wetrosky, Class of '98; Peterson, Class of '99 -- but they are both alumni of Ann Tornberg's legendary Beresford Debate Team. If you check their National Forensic League records for speech contest points earned, you'll find that once again, the Obama team has the advantage:

  1. Nathan Peterson, Beresford '99: 1376 points.
  2. Geoff Wetrosky, Beresford '98: 935 points.

Another old debater, Madison native Jon Lauck, takes a coffee break from his work as senior advisor to Senator Thune to opine about Clinton's prospects in South Dakota:

Jon Lauck, a veteran political observer, author and current aide to Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune, said analyses of Tuesday’s Pennsylvania returns bode well for Clinton’s South Dakota effort. She fared well there, for example, among older people, working women and lower-income people, all of whom are significantly represented in South Dakota. Blacks, who voted mostly for Obama in Pennsylvania, are few in South Dakota.

Lauck added that, because Obama is the presumed favorite in South Dakota, a victory here could be a major coup for Clinton [Seth Tupper, "Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Step up Their Efforts in S.D.," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2008.04.25].


Of course, Clinton also started off with a 20+ point lead in Pennsylvania and saw it whittled down to 9. Obama's people are already working the state, and I'll bet he gets here before Clinton (at least he'd better, Nate!).

But the point for this afternoon: You want to be a player in South Dakota politics? Improve your chances: join debate. It's not just that debate helps students argue and research better -- that's the obvious benefit. A lesser known but very important aspect of high school debate is that it brings students into contact with all these other bright, motivated students who are interested in public affairs. There are a lot of opportunities at debate tournaments between rounds for these go-getters to get to know each other and build connections that last and serve them well, in college and beyond.

Wetrosky and Peterson are both in their 20s, they're from a town of 2000, and they are the go-to guys in South Dakota for two people who combined stand an 80% chance of becoming the next President of the United States. (I'm giving McCain 4-to-1 odds for now.) And Jon is right-hand man for the Senator who could become the GOP Vice-Presidential nominee (I'm still giving that long odds, too). Don't forget Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, a contemporary of Lauck's who was a national tournament qualifier in oratory for Groton. And that's just the start of the list....

Good work, Geoff and Nate! Now earn your pay: let's have a good clean fight and lots of candidate visits!


---------
Update 18:15: Mr. Woster gets me curious and induces this note to Geoff: Bring the fight to South Dakota, but keep it honest, double check your voting registration, and if you have a beef with my signs, call me first.

Pass the Hat -- Governor Sets Unfair Terms in School Funding Fight

Outgoing (and outgoing!) Madison Central School Board member Rod Goeman has a bone to pick with the state.

The South Dakota Coalition of Schools argues that state government is shorting K-12 education between $133 million and $400 million a year.The coalition thus brought the funding lawsuit against the state, a legal action that has the support of 84 school districts. Among his responses, Governor Rounds sicced Attorney General Larry Long to audit the coalition to make sure that the schools don't spend any public dollars on the lawsuit. Of course, Governor Rounds and AG Long have lots of tax dollars at their disposal to spend fighting the lawsuit.

Goeman's beef: The state has lots of money, and gets to deny its opponents money on threat of audit and whatever other torture AG Long can come up with. Sounds like an unfair advantage in the courts, where the state can simply keep fighting and appealing until its opponents run out of money.

So what are we going to do about it? Well, Goeman says it's time to pass the hat. He is challenging every school board member in the state to donate their paycheck from one meeting to help fund the legal expenses for the school funding lawsuit. He says he dropped off his check (Madison Central meeting fees: $35) at the MHS business office yesterday. Teachers, well, you're already in a tight spot because of Pierre's stinginess, so it's hard to ask you to cough up more money, but if you've got some spare cash (like, oh, say, your stimulus check coming next month), maybe a little bit can be an investment in winning a more just salary, not to mention more resources to teach your kids.

It's sad that Pierre is so obstinate that we have to take the state to court to try getting what we want. but that's what thirty years of stick-in-the-mud (or is it stick-in-the-eye?) GOP politics have led us to. The Governor will use every tool at his disposal to beat his own teachers and administrators -- Goeman is trying to round up the money we need to fight back.

Trimesters Not So Bad, Say Students

My trip to Camp Lakodia Wednesday brought me an unexpected conversation with two Madison students, Ethan and Scott. ("Mom! Dad! Some crazy guy in waders and an Army hat came up to us and started talking!" Don't worry -- that was me.) They were there for the choral contest. Having finished their performance (as evidenced by their untucked shirts -- keeping a shirt tucked in seems to be as great a discomfort for teenage boys as wearing a necktie), they were out hanging out on the swings and enjoying the lake view.

We got to talking about chorus, and I asked the big trimester question: does Madison High School's trimester schedule interfere with their musical education, or with education in general?

Scott and Ethan say no, not really. There is turnover in the choir: if I understood them correctly, it sounds like kids generally take only two trimesters of choir, meaning the choir director doesn't get to work with the same kids for the full school year. The boys also find themselves at a disadvantage at the spring music contests: they get to start working on the music for the March small-group contest at Augie when third trimester starts at the end of February -- that's tight rehearsal schedule! Their friends at West Central start working on their contest music at the beginning of second semester after Christmas.

On the whole, though, Ethan and Scott say they like the trimester system. They feel a little rushed in some classes, but they like having just five classes at a time instead of seven. They feel the trimester system gives them more room to try out different electives and figure out what they want to do in college.

Scott came from a semester system in Mobridge, and he particularly likes the more drastic change in schedule. Under the semester system, says Scott, you have your core classes (English, math, science, etc.) that usually run two semesters, meaning you're in the same classroom with the same teacher the same class period all year long. Under the trimester system, you may still have brain-busting algebra for two trimesters at 8:30, but you get a change the third trimester. At both trimester breaks, students usually get a nice shake-up in their schedules. That variety, say Ethan and Scott, is nice.

So Trimester Study Committee, if you're listening, don't forget to talk to Ethan and Scott. I'm still not convinced the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but the kids have to live with whatever schedule we come up with, so we need their input as well.

Thanks, Ethan and Scott, for your ideas!

Secret Gem Indeed -- Camp Lakodia!

I went out in my waders Wednesday and collected another set of water samples for the East Dakota Water Development District bacteria monitoring project. On my stop at Camp Lakodia, I found the facility busy with buses and well-dressed high school kids from Madison, Howard, Harrisburg, West Central, and elsewhere. Turns out they were here for a large-group choral contest.

What a great location for a music contest! Usually these contests take place at high schools or college campuses, where there are all sorts of distractions, like students going to classes and bells going off (you'd be surprised how hard it is to shut off the computerized bells in some schools). Out at Camp Lakodia, there's only one distraction: spectacular natural beauty. The choirs performed in the big dining hall (the boys I talked to said the acoustics are quite good), then stroll around the grounds and out to the gazebo on the peninsula. Gorgeous!

My wife and I have speculated that Madison should resurrect the Lake Park Hotel as a downtown convention center that could host contests and conventions (there's something the city could do with the Rosebud building! bulldoze it and build Madison Square Garden II!). But if we really want to showcase good reasons to move to Madison, we could simply promote Camp Lakodia more. The facility could host school music and speech contests, conferences, and small conventions. It could host old-style Chatauqua events, complete with lodging for the speakers and performers, much like the Colorado Chautauqua in Boulder. And it would be a great site for an Obama-SD campaign rally (complete with wireless Internet, so I could live-blog the event!).

Bring more young people and business visitors here, have them meet and perform and relax at Camp Lakodia, and they'll say, "Wow! This place is great! We're coming back!"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Conservation -- There's Hope!

Have we reached the magic psychological threshold yet where gas prices cause real change in our driving habits? Last year experts occasionally mentioned $3 per gallon as the point where Americans would say "Enough's enough." So what happens when gas hits $5 per gallon by Labor Day?

Maybe conservation will keep us from finding out. BusinessWeek Online reports various indicators that we are actually cutting back our gasoline consumption... a little:

  1. Palm Beach County, Florida, reports a decline in traffic: where the county normally sees an annual increase of 2% on its roads, the county saw an slight dip in traffic in 2007. So far this year, car counts for the county are down 7.5%.
  2. The Federal Highway Administration shows a 1.4% decrease in traffic nationwide last year.
  3. Auto sales fell 8% in Quarter 1 this year. Sales of SUVs and pickups (vital for automaker profits) dropped 27% and 14%.
  4. The American Public Transportation Association reports that public transit ridership hit a 50-year high in 2007, increasing 2.1% in 2007 to 10.3 billion trips.

    [see Christopher Palmeri, "Not Guzzling Quite So Much Gas," BusinessWeek Online via Yahoo News, 2008.04.23].
Problem is, America is still consuming a third of the world's gasoline (reminder: we are one twentieth of the world's people). And a report from the Energy Information Administration (PDF alert!) contends that any current decrease in consumption is not simply a reaction to higher gas prices but also a simple product of demographic trends that have been operating since the 1950s. Population growth is slowing, and as baby boomers retire, they'll move out of the peak driving years. We've also bought about all the cars we can buy (EIA finds "the number of vehicles per capita nearing the saturation point" -- EIA, "Short Term Energy Outlook Supplement," April 2008, p. 12). There's almost no place for consumption to go but down...

...at least in America. China and India are catching up... which means even if we cut back, gas prices will keep going up. Looks like those "don't buy gas!" e-mails really are full of hooey.

I'd like to think conservation would make those numbers at BP spin back down. But the point of conservation isn't to drive prices down so we can go back to consuming more. The point of conservation is to make a real change in our habits so that there's more everything available for the people after us (kids, grandkids, historians who will judge our generation) to use.

The best solution to high gas prices is to quit paying them. Buy a scooter, buy a bike, buy a good pair of shoes, and use less gas.

Real People Power -- Get on Your Bike and Ride!

As gas prices charge toward $4 a gallon here in South Dakota ($3.45 in Madison yesterday), I direct you toward two blogs that deserve much more attention... and company on the road!

Biking Brady of Vermillion continues his regular bike commuting: today will be the 287th consecutive day that he has ridden his bike to work. Cold, rain, wind, whatever -- he takes two wheels to work. As Biking Brady says, "The less I pay in gas, the better I feel both mentally and physically." Ride a quiet machine that requires no fuel but your breakfast -- definitely good for the soul... and the pocketbook... and your legs!

Michael Christensen of MinusCar in Sioux Falls notes that thanks to his bicycle, he purchased just seven tanks of gas in 2007. This year, he has bought gas twice -- tough winter, he says. In a Tuesday post, he makes the point that fewer stops at the gas station mean fewer impulse buys: fewer donuts, Cheetos, convenience store hot dogs, etc. (No cup holders on the bike for that latte... maybe that's a good thing!)

In that post, Christensen also lambastes this KSFY article on saving money at the pumps. The featured "financial expert" Aaron Maguire talks about saving a whopping 17 cents per gallon with gas station credit cards, using synthetic oil to make the engine run more efficiently, buying hybrid SUVs. The most telling comment from newsreader Valerie Gutierrez: "I guess it beats riding around on a bicycle."

Let's suppose Valerie fills up her tank 30 times a year. Valerie, dear, please explain how saving 5% on gas 30 times a year beats saving 100% on gas 23 times a year?

More galling than KSFY's inability to do math is the blatant anti-bicycle sentiment. News reporters are trained not to say anything controversial in their broadcast banter. That Valerie (who says she likes to exercise!) would let slip that comment about bicycles (and that Aaron would chime in by saying he had considered riding his bicycle... "unfortunately") indicates that the sentiment is a perfectly mainstream, mundane position: there's something wrong with bicycles. There's something wrong with using your own power to get around town. There's something wrong with sweating a little bit to save money. There's soemthing wrong with integrating exercise into your daily routine rather than restricting it to a status-symbol activity at a spendy health club. There's something wrong with cruising around with a vehicle that costs less than a thousand dollars and weighs less than you do.

KSFY's approach to gas prices reflects a society-wide myopia that even Bill O'Reilly recognizes (hat tip to MinusCar!):

The most important problem facing the USA right now is oil prices, and none of the candidates can do a thing about them. They say they can, but that's complete bull. The oil cartel is going to charge as much as it can. The Arabs, Chavez and the others are going to gouge the world and we can't stop them. The American oil companies are not going to build more refineries and the candidates can't make them. Big oil sees the inevitable shift to alternative energy as going for the big dollars right now.

...So the next time you hear politicians say he or she will bring down oil prices, understand it's complete BS. If Americans want lower gas prices, cut back. Sell those SUVs, ride a bike when you can. If every one of us bought 10 percent less gasoline, prices would fall fast. [Bill O'My-Goodness-I-Can't-Believe-I'm-Citing-Him-Reilly, "Talking Points: Showdown in Pennsylvania," Fox News, 2008.04.22].

A simple solution to gas prices is sitting right in front of us... or hanging from the rafters in our garages. You don't have to follow Biking Brady on the Gut Check 212 Bicycle Race Across South Dakota (412 miles in 48 hours -- wow!). You just have to follow his and MinusCar's daily example:
  1. Ride your bike to work.
  2. Ride your bike to the grocery store, get groceries in your backpack (you'll learn to buy just the essentials!).
  3. Ride your bike to visit friends across town.
  4. Ride, ride, ride!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vote Early, Vote Often -- Make South Dakota a Winner!

I try to live up to Kucinich-style idealism, but I'm not above stuffing the ballot box to help a South Dakotan win -- and neither should you be!

No, no, I'm not talking about orchestrating a campaign to get McCain to pick Thune for VP (though maybe Jon Lauck's old pals at SD Politics could pick up that ball and run with it? ;-) ). I'm talking about South Dakota's chance to win the People's Choice Award in the Smithsonian Photo Contest! South Dakota Magazine's Bernie Hunhoff grabbed a lovely shot of South Dakota boy Tjay Head playing ball outside his family's ceremonial tipis. That ball is a metaphor, I'm sure: rising up into the clear sky as the sun sets, catching the light above the shadows...

But you don't need to be an art critic to be a proud South Dakotan. Just get over to the Smithsonian photo contest website and vote. Tjay is in Photo #13, slide 3054*. Ballot stuffing is perfectly legal: Smithsonian says you can vote once a day every day until April 30.

What are you waiting for? Do it! Make Tjay and South Dakota #1!

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*Update: oops! see twu's comment below!

Negative Campaigning Clinton's Fault

Obama tries to stick to the high ground, but Clinton is determined to drag him down into the mud. Think that's just the biased old Madville Times spinning for his second choice (after Kucinich)? Actually, it's The New York Times:

It is past time for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to acknowledge that the negativity, for which she is mostly responsible, does nothing but harm to her, her opponent, her party and the 2008 election.

If nothing else, self interest should push her in that direction. Mrs. Clinton did not get the big win in Pennsylvania that she needed to challenge the calculus of the Democratic race. It is true that Senator Barack Obama outspent her 2-to-1. But Mrs. Clinton and her advisers should mainly blame themselves, because, as the political operatives say, they went heavily negative and ended up squandering a good part of what was once a 20-point lead.

On the eve of this crucial primary, Mrs. Clinton became the first Democratic candidate to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11. A Clinton television ad — torn right from Karl Rove’s playbook — evoked the 1929 stock market crash, Pearl Harbor, the Cuban missile crisis, the cold war and the 9/11 attacks, complete with video of Osama bin Laden. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,” the narrator intoned [editorial, "The Low Road to Victory," New York Times, 2008.04.23].

Contrary to the perception that Obama owns the media, The New York Times endorsed Clinton in January. But even the Grey Lady can see that its fellow grey lady is playing negative politics as usual. And they see that it has to stop:

Mrs. Clinton once had a big lead among the party elders, but has been steadily losing it, in large part because of her negative campaign. If she is ever to have a hope of persuading these most loyal of Democrats to come back to her side, let alone win over the larger body of voters, she has to call off the dogs [NYTimes].

Oh, that darn liberal media, calling for decency and civil discourse....

Hyperion Requests Federal Assistance

Speaking of the free market...

Hyperion exploring federal financing
Johnson, Thune confirm they've met with company

WASHINGTON -- Representatives from Dallas-based Hyperion Resources approached both South Dakota senators in recent weeks in an effort to secure federally backed loans to finance the proposed oil refinery and power plant in Union County.

U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said he met recently with representatives from the company, which is proposing to build a $10 billion oil refinery near Elk Point, S.D., about its plans.

"They came to me a couple weeks ago and I balked at the $10 billion," Johnson said, referring to the energy center's estimated price tag. "Then they went to see Sen. (John) Thune"... [Dave Dreeszen, business editor, "Hyperion Exploring Federal Funding," Sioux City Journal, 2008.04.23].

Now if Hyperion's planned refinery really can pass the environmental muster to qualify for federal loans intended to support green projects, then great. But remember: even Big Oil admits it can't get by without the government (i.e., us, and our tax dollars) helping it along. What a strange free market we have.

Seal the Deal, Obama... in South Dakota!

Can't seal the deal? That's the line the Clinton camp wants to ingrain in our consciousness about Obama. But she's no comeback-again kid; she's a barely-hang-on, scare-'em-with-Osama warhorse. In state after state, Clinton starts with a big lead, then sees it shrink when she shows up and starts campaigning (Clinton, please, come to South Dakota!). For more evidence of this phenomenon, see the charts at Real Clear Politics for the polls in South Carolina, California, Wisconsin, Ohio, Texas, Pennsylvania... hmm... I thought campaigning was supposed to win you more voters (but what do I know about successful campaigning?).

But enough spin: Obama lost Pennsylvania. He didn't seal the deal. He and Clinton have to keep working hard... and that's o.k. with me. Every day Clinton and Obama campaign is another day that more people can compare the two and decide who offers the best chance for change. And it just means Obama (and all of his supporters!) need to keep hustling for every vote they can get... and come to South Dakota to seal the deal!

Environmentalism and Capitalism -- Let's Try Both!

Mr. Rasmussen of Mt. Blogmore offers the verbal flatulence of the month: a brief, stinky blast of insubstantial noise branding environmentalism a vast one-world communist conspiracy. Whack post, indeed! Mr. Epp, Mr. Wiken, Mr. Fleming, even Mr. Newland jump in on the comments to appropriately pound this simple re-bleating of right-wing hit-counter padding.

Mr. Ellis predictably comes to Mr. Rasmussen's defense, blasting the "nuthouse enviro-hysteria that comprises the modern environmental lobby."

For those of you who need to rationalize your unsustainable economic choices by imagining a massive, evil global conspiracy that's out to destroy all you hold dear, read Paul Hawken on natural capitalism. Far from a Marxist critique, Hawken builds his environmental philosophy very much in the context of capitalism -- real, consistent capitalism, not our current corporate socialism that Rasmussen, Ellis, et al. are all too willing to facilitate with their rhetorical distraction. Hawken suggests that industry and our tax structure need to include in their calculations the real value of things like, oh, forests, rivers, air, and people:

Meanwhile, people whose jobs have been downsized, re-engineered, or restructured out of existence are being told -- as are millions of youths around the world -- that we have created an economic system so ingenious that it doesn't need them, except perhaps to do menial service jobs.

In parts of the industrialized world, unemployment and underemployment have risen faster than employment for more than 25 years. Nearly one-third of the world's workers sense that they have no value in the present economic scheme.

Clearly, when 1 billion willing workers can't find a decent job or any employment at all, we need to make fundamental changes. We can't -- whether through monetary means, government programs, or charity -- create a sense of value and dignity in people's lives when we're simultaneously developing a society that doesn't need them. If people don't feel valued, they will act out society's verdict in sometimes shocking ways. William Strickland, a pioneer in working with inner-city children, once said that "you can't teach algebra to someone who doesn't want to be here." He meant that urban kids don't want to be here at all, alive, anywhere on earth. They try to tell us, but we don't listen. So they engage in increasingly risky behavior -- unprotected sex, drugs, violence -- until we notice. By that time, their conduct has usually reached criminal proportions -- and then we blame the victims, build more jails, and lump the costs into the GDP.

The theologian Matthew Fox has pointed out that we are the only species without full employment. Yet we doggedly pursue technologies that will make that ever more so. Today we fire people, perfectly capable people, to wring out one more wave of profits. Some of the restructuring is necessary and overdue. But, as physicists Amory Lovins and Ernst von WeizsScker have repeatedly advised, what we should do is fire the unproductive kilowatts, barrels of oil, tons of material, and pulp from old-growth forests -- and hire more people to do so [Paul Hawken, "Natural Capitalism," Mother Jones, March/April 1997].

Marxism? Globalism? Where? Sounds more like a pro-life, family-values position to me.

It also sounds like a hard-core capitalist position. Capitalism tells us there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. So why should corporations -- why should anyone -- get to consume resources without paying the full cost of that consumption? As Hawken argues that for every dollar oil companies spend to produce a barrel of oil, they get government (i.e., us, our tax dollars... and Chinese buyers of Treasury bonds) to cover three dollars in military costs of keeping the shipping lanes open. (Oh, those oil companies: real paragons of individualism and self-reliance.)

The accounting does get trickier when we turn from oil to rivers:

While there may be no "right" way to value a forest or a river, there is a wrong way, which is to give it no value at all. How do we decide the value of a 700-year-old tree? We need only ask how much it would cost to make a new one. Or a new river, or even a new atmosphere.

Despite the shrill divisiveness of media and politics, Americans remain remarkably consistent in what kind of country they envision for their children and grandchildren. The benefits of resource productivity align almost perfectly with what American voters say they want: better schools, a better environment, safer communities, more economic security, stronger families and family support, freer markets, less regulation, fewer taxes, smaller government, and more local control.

The future belongs to those who understand that doing more with less is compassionate, prosperous, and enduring, and thus more intelligent, even competitive [Hawken, 1997].

This environmentalist sounds like the biggest capitalist in the room. The difference is that Hawken sees the big picture and the true value of everything involved in sustaining our way of life. We don't need global government, but we do need a global -- i.e., holistic, complete -- perspective.

Read Hawken's article. Read Hawken's book. It'll take you more time and brain power than Rasmussen's blurb, but they're worth it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Teacher Takes Stand Against No Child Left Behind

While a professed conservative Republican and school board member lauds federal control of education and begs for money from D.C., a Washington State science teacher simply leaves No Child Left Behind behind. Carl Chew, 60-year-old science teacher at Eckstein Middle School in Seattle, refused to administer his school's NCLB tests to his sixth graders. "I did it because I think it's bad for kids," Mr. Chew told the Seattle Times. No grandstanding, no encouraging the kids to walk out with him (he actually told the kids to mind the substitute teacher and do well on the test). He just said he wouldn't be a part of what he sees as a harmful educational practice. The school district gave him a two-week suspension, without pay.

Chew issued a two-page statement explaining why the standardized tests required by No Child Left Behind are bad for everyone -- kids, teachers, schools, and families. He summarizes for the Seattle Times:

"I think it's good for students to have basic skills in reading, writing and math," he said. "But also to have good skills in P.E. and art and music and public speaking."

The WASL [Washington State's NCLB test], he said, needs to be scrapped and replaced with a "gentler, kinder way of finding out what our students know and helping teachers educate them better."

Chew's action is "reflective of a general sense of frustration and dismay that our members feel about the WASL," said Mary Lindquist, president of the WEA [Linda Shaw, "Seattle Teacher, Suspended for Refusing to Give WASL, Calls Test 'Bad for Kids," Seattle Times, 2008.04.22].

Carl Chew is typical of the teachers I know, who it seems without exception dismiss the wisdom of high-stakes testing dictated from on high. When's the last time you heard your local teacher talking about how much No Child Left Behind helps them teach your kids better?

Mr. Chew is atypical, though, in his willingness to take a stand against the standardized tests. Teachers know full well how little real good the standardized tests do, but most of them feel there's nothing they can do -- or dare do -- to stand up against the bureaucrats and politicians who don't trust the local schools to do their jobs.

If only we could get every teacher (and every student!) to follow Mr. Chew's example... what would happen if the federal government gave a test and nobody took it?

Kephart Versus Corporate America

I'm not changing party registration any time soon, but as I continue to peruse GOP Senate candidate Sam Kephart's online Q&A, I find this gem that does my Steinbeckian heart good:

I used to be a globalist, and I'm cured. I have seen corporate America and what it's doing and we are gutting this country's job base and technology base. Our highest and best manufacturing equipment is now in China which is still a Communist/godless-operated country....

That's Republican Sam Kephart telling you that the vast corporate plutocracy is selling out America's principles and long-term economic security for easy profits on the backs of cheap Chinese labor and lax environmental practices.

Bonus: Kephart also talks about South Dakota's brain drain and the need for an economic development strategy that looks beyond tourism and casinos:

You can't offer these kids just hospitality jobs. What's the best hospitality job around here? You're a key operator at the casino, maybe you make 12 or 13, 14 bucks an hour. Two people working in casinos generally can't afford to live around here. So we've got to find a different economic base.

Again, straight from Kephart: South Dakota doesn't pay living wages. Maybe that appeals to the fatcat corporate bosses who already have their fortunes and are looking for cheap non-Chinese labor, but it's not going to attract young workers looking to build their family fortunes from scratch.

Madison Goes Florida: Delzer Calls for Recount!

Scott Delzer, who missed out on a seat on the Madison City Commission by one vote April 8, has called for a recount. Hooray for electoral fun! Delzer and winners Dick Ericsson and Monica Campbell each get to send one representative to constitute a recount board, which will meet this Saturday at the city commission room to go through the ballots. (Curious -- why doesn't fourth-place Kelli Brown get to be part of the show?). KJAM reports that the recount board can choose to set a date to run the ballots through the counting machine again, but I say nuts to that. if I had lost by one vote, I would want to put my hands and eyes on every ballot. The machine had its chance and came up with 507-506 the first time. Let's recount by a different method: put the eyeballs to it and get it done Saturday.

GOP Online Video Duel -- Kephart Peddles Nuclear Fear

PP turns our attention to GOP Senate candidate Sam Kephart's new online whizbangery. Kephart has posted a fun interactive video and slideshow. I say kudos -- it beats the pants off the noisy video clip Joel Dykstra had jumping out at me from his campaign home page before I could hit the mute button. (I check this morning and find a less in-my-face rotating series of slide links -- thank you!).

Kephart's slideshow is less polished than Dykstra's produced videos. Dykstra hit the studio and made a series of short videos against a clean white backdrop. Kephart has posted video straight from a public appearance next to a potted plant. The video may not look as sharp, but it does show Kephart in a slightly more natural setting. He's talking to a real audience. He pauses to interact and listen to audience comments. The speech runs about 35 minutes, but Kephart has bookmarked it and provided an outline, so viewers can click straight to topics of interest...

...like the "Day of Islam," the purported plot by bin Laden and friends to nuke seven American cities on one day. Maybe Kephart was watching too much Jericho, but he says he knows "through my security connections" that "two of those nuclear devices were purchased by the Russians and are already in this county." Kephart acknowledges that al-Qaeda probably won't waste a nuclear bomb on the Corn Palace (it does look a bit like a mosque -- maybe that'll keep us safe), but he worries (and wants us to worry enough to vote for him) that South Dakota is woefully unprepared for a "lifeboat situation" in which hordes of refugees from nuked metropolises would finally realize that South Dakota is a great place to raise a family. (Hmm... maybe the LAIC should include that line in its Forward Madison marketing materials: "Madison: Low Risk of Nuclear Attack!")

But let's not leave without a gem from Dykstra. His video about why the 2008 election is so important doesn't try to worry us with the prospect of fighting off mutants from Chicago (o.k., that's my line, not Kephart's). But it does ratchet up the rhetoric, treating this election as a critical -- critical! -- juncture in American history where we face a choice between unprecendented prosperity and security or "disastrous policies and erosion of our heritage that will result in a country we might not recognize if we were able to come back here in fifty or a hundred years."

Dykstra doesn't speak of internal migration caused by terrorist attacks, but he does address immigration. He's not going for the anti-Gonyo immigrant vote. Dykstra speaks of "the need to develop a sensible 21st-century solution for a system of legal immigration to provide the labor source our country needs to support the economic growth our entrepreneurs and innovators are creating." Rather awkward sentence -- clearly the product of someone writing a speech rather than talking to an audience... but at least an acknolwedgment that we rely on foreign labor for our economic well-being.

Still no sign of a video website from darkhorse candidate Charles Gonyo. Running for Senate is just like door prizes, Chuck -- must be present to win!