A million things are happening, yet I am sad to distraction over the death of one actor. Quite human, Mr. Spock would say, and quite illogical.

Star TrekThe man who brought Spock to life, Leonard Nimoy, died today. He played one famous role, enjoyed a variety of other artistic passions, and got four memorial posts in the New York Times and a statement on his passing from the President of the United States. Much poorer lives have been lived.

As far as I know, Leonard Nimoy never visited South Dakota*, never influenced the direction of our fair state. But he influenced me.

Star Trek was the most influential text of my youth. Nimoy's Spock was the most influential character in that text. Nimoy's Spock represented the person whose logic and intellect made him an outsider. He insisted there must be a logical explanation for everything, some machine or mischief behind every pretend god. Spock helped me make sense of who I was and who I wanted to be. (If I were more given to introspection, I might nail down more accurately to what extent Spock and Star Trek shaped me and to what extent Nimoy's and Gene Roddenberry's art resonated with a character already formed.)

Leonard Nimoy gave depth and soul to his Vulcan. Subsequent portrayals of Vulcans on television seemed merely cross. Zachary Quinto gets his big-screen alternate-timeline Spock better. Maybe Nimoy had and Quinto has an advantage over other Vulcan portrayers: Spock is half Vulcan, half human, an ideally conflicted character for actors, viewers, and readers alike. Along with Nimoy, we got to explore an alien soul struggling with his own profound internal conflict, yet subordinating that personal conflict to devote his strength to helping sometimes resentful, xenophobic others survive and resolve great external battles.

Nimoy brought out that conflict. Nimoy made Spock more than interesting; he made Spock a literary character worth talking about. He used Spock to help explain to a biracial teenage girl how she could deal with not fitting in with white or black society. He made Spock a character who spoke to real-world problems (that's a big part of why literature matters). He made Spock an icon of humanity who was not human.

Leonard Nimoy made good art. Leonard Nimoy is no longer with us to make that art. Nimoy's performances made our culture richer; Nimoy's passing leaves us poorer. To praise the former and mourn the latter is logical.

* * *

p.s.: Leonard Nimoy was not so serious about his art that he could not make fun of it. His 2013 tag-team Audi ad with Zachary Quinto nicely spoofed their movie stardom (and Nimoy's singing):

pp.s: Within his Star Trek oeuvre, Leonard Nimoy was perhaps proudest of his work directing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home—you know, the one with the whales. In NPR's report on his passing, Neda Ulaby notes "Nimoy was proud of the film's environmental message and that this was the only Star Trek movie that did not involve weapons or even villains." The director's favorite Star Trek movie solved problems of our own making with brains and courage, not phasers set to kill bad guys and bogeymen. Think about that, gun-crazy South Dakota legislators.

*Update 09:25 CST: Nimoy was here! Owen Reitzel comment-links KELO's obituary, which includes a clip of a TV interview with Nimoy in Sioux Falls in 1981.

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BBC Pop Up, the British broadcaster's new "mobile bureau," spent December in South Dakota. BBC's Benjamin Zand spends a few days on Rosebud and Pine Ridge talking to young people (42% of South Dakota's tribal population is younger than 25) about their identity and aspirations.

Among those appearing in this video snapshot:

  • "America is a stolen country," says Justin Rowland, guide at the Wounded Knee Massacre site and descendant of Lakota people killed by the U.S. Army at the site 114 years ago.
  • Sicangu Lakota Shane Red Hawk has participated in Cowboy and Indian Allians protests against the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Willi White and Indigene Studios co-founder Angela White Eyes are working on their first major project, The People, a futuristic dystopian short shot entirely on Pine Ridge.
  • Scatter Their Own duo Scotti Clifford and Julia Brown Eyes-Clifford says their music "pays tribute to the concepts and philosophy of their Lakota culture while fusing Alternative Rock and Blues into what they would like to call Alter-Native Rock and Roll. They believe that their music celebrates Grandmother Earth." (Calm down, Sibby. It's just rock and roll.)
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Judge Karen Schreier is taking some time to compose her ruling on South Dakota's same-sex marriage ban.

While we wait for Judge Schreier to overturn the narrow 2006 majority who wrote that discrimination into our state constitution, how about a movie? The SDSU Gay Straight Alliance and the SDSU Office of Diversity, Equity, and Community are sponsoring a Brookings showing of The Case Against 8, a documentary about the fight against California's same-sex marriage ban.

After the movie, Nancy and Jennie Rosenbrahn, the happily married ladies leading the court challenge to South Dakota's ban on their legal relationship, will participate in a discussion of the film and their efforts for equality, along with two Sioux Falls couples participating in the lawsuit.

The Case Against 8 plays Tuesday, October 21, at 6:30 p.m. as part of the Common Good Film series at the Brookings Public Library, Brookings, South Dakota.

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..and the problem with that is... what?

Pat Powers practices his Olympic logic triple jump to accuse the Oglala Sioux Tribe of (gasp!) exercising its First Amendment rights to educate and defend South Dakotans. Here are the leaps of logic the corporate-fascist spin machine uses to blow smoke about the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Keystone XL pipeline:

  1. Powers notes that the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council paid Debra White Plume $90,400. According to the minutes of the council's February 5, 2013, meeting, the council issued White Plume a contract to "continue her efforts in protecting natural resources such as Crow Butte against infringement such as mining, promoting the involvement of tribal youth in documenting these activities by training them how to make documentary films and continue work on the women’s reproductive health projects."
  2. Powers then goes Googling and finds Debra White Plume opposes the Keystone XL pipeline.
  3. Powers then concludes that the Oglala Sioux Tribe is paying White Plume $90,400 to protest the pipeline (a conclusion for which he punctuates with a question mark, a classic rhetorical trick of putting an accusation into the public square without having to take full responsibility—"I was only asking a question!").
  4. From this conclusion, he leaps to accusing the Oglala Sioux Tribe of fiscal irresponsibility: "Because I would imagine $90,000 could do a lot of good elsewhere besides paying for a personal agenda."

White Plume's contract with the Oglala Sioux Tribe doesn't appear to be about Keystone XL. She has been involved with producing the documentaries Crying Earth Rise Up, on the dangers of uranium mining, and Young Lakota, on abortion, politics, and youth activism on Pine Ridge. Both OST Resolution 13-24 clearly acknowledges both of those filmmaking projects, not Keystone XL. The text of the resolution could be interpreted to include anti-pipeline activities, but the items explicitly mentioned point to activities beyond the one link Powers produces in his lazy Googling and meme manufacturing.

Debra White Plume has been involved in activism against the Keystone XL pipeline. The Oglala Sioux Tribe is organizing opposition to Keystone XL. Even if last year's contract included funding for White Plume's anti-Keystone XL activism, the tribe is not throwing money away on what Powers dismisses as a mere personal agenda. In opposing Keystone XL, White Plume is fighting a political battle to protect the environment and the property rights of all South Dakotans. South Dakotans should thank her for standing up for their land rights more than Big Business Republican TransCanada capitulators like Pat Powers, who have consistently, since TransCanada's first invasion of our state, taken the side of this foreign corporation over local landowners.

And let's allow the extreme. Let's remove the question mark from Powers's accusation. Let's suppose OST Resolution 13-24 is lying, and the tribe is really spending every penny of that $90,400 to fight TransCanada's second pipeline across South Dakota. Why would it be wrong for one entity to spend money to oppose a project but not for another entity to spend money to support it? Powers has never complained about the millions TransCanada has spent on television ads to convince us that Keystone XL is all jobs and puppies and flowers.

In short, in the Powers-TransCanada world, the rich can do what they want, but the common man dare not speak up against our corporate overlords.

Related: Investing in vital public infrastructure would create more jobs than the Keystone XL pipeline. In opposing Keystone XL, the Oglala Sioux Tribe is pointing us to better economic priorities than the GOP.

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I haven't rewatched It's a Wonderful Life yet this year, but I get a little verklempt just thinking about it.

I wonder if maybe we ought to show Frank Capra's masterpiece on July 4 as well as Christmas.

Robert Reich gets that Frank Capra was telling us much more than "Merry Christmas":

...we are still in danger of the “Pottersville” Capra saw as the consequence of what happens when Americans fail to join together and forget the meaning of the public good.

If Lionel Barrymore’s “Mr. Potter” were alive today he’d call himself a “job creator” and condemn George Bailey as a socialist. He’d be financing a fleet of lobbyists to get lower taxes on multi-millionaires like himself, overturn environmental laws, trample on workers’ rights, and shred social safety nets. He’d fight any form of gun control. He’d want the citizens of Pottersville to be economically insecure – living paycheck to paycheck and worried about losing their jobs – so they’d be dependent on his good graces.

The Mr. Potters are still alive and well in America, threatening our democracy with their money and our common morality with their greed.

Call me naive or sentimental but I still believe the George Baileys will continue to win this contest. They know we’re all in it together, and that if we succumb to the bullying selfishness of the Potters we lose America and relinquish the future [Robert Reich, "Where Are We Heading—Bedford Falls or Pottersville?" blog, 2012.12.22].

As you watch tonight, think about two of the most jarring parts of George Bailey's otherworld experience. In Pottersville, fear withers and overwhelms Mary. Fear makes her timid and nearly unrecognizable.

And then Bert, the man who in Bedford Falls serenades George and Mary on their honeymoon, opens fire on the friend he does not know. In Pottersville, when a man needs help, bullets fly in a public square.

It's a Wonderful Life addresses faith in God, but it's more about faith in our fellow Americans. It's a call to stand against fear and greed. It's a call to live the Christmas spirit in all of our business and civic affairs.

Watch tonight, 7 p.m. Central on KDLT, 7 p.m. Mountain on KNBN,

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South Dakota has the same crime rate as surrounding states but a higher incarceration rate. Betty Olson and Scott Craig probably think the solution is to hand out more guns.

The American Civil Liberties Union and South Dakota Families First want you to think about South Dakota's burgeoning prison population, the drug war, and how we might change public policy for the better. They are thus hosting a screening of The House I Live In at the downtown Public Library in Sioux Falls Thursday night:

SDFF board member and retired cop Tony Ryan explains why South Dakotans should pay attention to this film:

Last year alone, drug and alcohol offenses comprised more than half of the admissions to prison.

Ryan explains, “The criminalization of drug users is counterproductive. The increasing trend to lock up drug users has led to the crisis we’re dealing with today. Families are divided, addicts are left untreated, and taxpayers are burdened with hefty bills that have little to no return on public safety. We’re falling far below the national average of solving rape and robbery cases, so we’re concerned about the quality of law-enforcement after two decades of primarily going after low level drug offenders. Police and jailers are not addiction experts and shouldn’t be using a majority of their resources to lock up people simply for drug possession.”

Ryan believes many other states are moving to embrace a health-centered approach to drug policy, which will leave police free to focus on violent and serious crimes [press release, ACLU/SDFF, 2012.12.18].

The House I Live In won the Grand Jury documentary prize at Sundance 2012, the same film festival where The Invisible War, the documentary Rep. Stace Nelson helped make, won the Audience prize, so the film must be quality stuff!

If you want to see it and talk it over with interested neighbors, get to the downtown Sioux Falls public library Thursday evening, December 20. Meet and greet with film sponsors starts at 5:30 p.m.; film rolls at 6 p.m.; panel discussion happens at 7 p.m.

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Tiffany Campbell wants to get Americans talking about abortion. Not fighting, but talking. She wants your help.

Campbell played a key role in the campaign to stop the last major abortion ban to face a statewide vote in South Dakota. Back in 2008, she sacrificed her medical privacy and spoke out about her 2006 pregnancy. Her doctors told her that the twins she was carrying shared one heart and could not both survive. To ensure one child could live, Campbell chose to abort the other. Her son Brady is alive and well. Children like Brady would not be if South Dakota enacted an abortion ban like that Campbell helped defeat in 2008.

Campbell is deeply concerned about the encroachment on women's rights that we thought Roe v. Wade established in 1973. She is also concerned about the polarization of the issue that keeps fellow citizens from finding common understanding and practical solutions. To perhaps restore some sens eof common purpose in the national discussion of abortion, Campbell is now working with director Juan Reinoso to put together a documentary on abortion battles nationwide:

...this film will branch out into the national debate, discussing legislation for and against abortion and how the greatest court in the land made a decision for women that is somehow continually undermined on local levels. By delving into the reasoning and belief of crusaders on BOTH sides of the issue, this film will ultimately attempt to bridge the gap between hatred and understanding so that both sides may learn how to TALK about the issue instead of ATTACK it [publicity material, abortion documentary proposal, downloaded 2012.05.15].

Campbell is raising money for the development phase of this project. With her proposed fundraising goal of $10,000, Campbell will be able to line up a line producer and research assistant and get the ball rolling.

If you think this project has merit, Campbell welcomes your contributions. Click on the documentary website to find out how you can help.

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If you're looking for a good time, you're on your own tonight. But Monday, November 28, I can recommend a showing of Inside Job at the Elks Theatre in Rapid City at 6:30 p.m. (Doug Wiken and Greg Olson recommend it as well!)

Inside Job is Charles Ferguson's Oscar-winning exposé of the 2008 financial meltdown that did not have to happen and all the unprosecuted, unpunished crony capitalism that let it happen. Laying bare the true ills of corporate dominance of our economic and political system, the film shows where Tea Partiers and Occupiers could find common ground... a prospect that terrifies Wall Street.

Monday's screening is brought to you by your neighbors in Occupy Rapid City and the Heartland Film Society. This film event fits nicely with the Occupy Rapid City vision statement:

Occupy Rapid City is a grassroots movement formed in solidarity with the Occupy Together movement worldwide. Activists from Rapid City and the Black Hills area converged on October 15th, 2011 in support of the global movement, and they continue to demonstrate their support for addressing economic and political issues.

Occupy Rapid City is a working group in which local activists discuss and enact solutions for addressing issues that affect us all. Group activities include activism on and off the street including free speech and assembly, promoting education and ideas for social change, and teach-ins in which participants share and discuss topics of relevant interest.

We are a movement coordinated by general consensus among participants. The group meets weekly to discuss the progress of the wider Occupy movement, and to plan for upcoming activities and activism.

Our concerns include the excess influence corporate entities have over governments and the political process, the moral and economic consequences of war, and the decline of economic equality and prosperity due to failed or corrupt political and economic policies.

Occupy Rapid City's focus is on increasing public awareness of these issues in addition to promoting feasible actions for social change. Current efforts include strengthening the local economy by promoting credit unions, community banks, and small businesses, and boycotting the exploitative and damaging practices used among Wall Street corporations.

This is an evolving, open group that will continue to emerge with new ideas and goals for the general promotion of positive social change... [Greg Olson, "Occupy Rapid City Vision Statement," sdgopolitics, 2011.11.22].

Related: Robert Reich tells us the Occupiers are making a desperately needed stand for the First Amendment and democracy itself.

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