January 2, 2012

Adding up at year's end

by Lorraine Collins

Since this is the time of year when we start summing up things, writing Christmas letters, reflecting on how fast the year has gone by, I thought I'd get out the notebook in which I keep the stack of columns I've written in 2011 to see what they amount to.  There are fewer to review this year because in July I reduced my output to one column a month, inching toward retirement. There are just 16 columns instead of a couple of dozen but it still took a while to read through them as I tried to remember what I'd written about, and why. There were some lines I was quite pleased with when I read them again.

For instance, there's this one from the first column last January. In discussing expiration dates, I said, "How long is too long? That's the question, isn't it? Not only in food safety, but in life, love, professional football careers, reality TV shows, Royal Dynasties, and living in a hospital bed attached to tubes and a respirator." I think that covered quite a few issues, right there, but several months later I'd add Republican primary debates.

In an April column I started out discussing socks and ended up writing about the fact that the gap between rich and poor is getting wider and that "the top one percent of the people have seen their income more than double in recent years while the bottom 90 percent have seen their share shrink." I don't suppose this was the first mention in the media of the infamous one percent, but I did suggest we should be paying attention to the situation. I suggested that again in October when I mentioned that there has been a big increase in needy families coming to our food banks and many people were beginning to gather in America's streets the way they had in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab Spring. You can't say I didn't warn you.

I think I was pretty early in recognizing Texas Governor Rick Perry as being a possible candidate in the Republican Primary as I mentioned him last June before his band wagon really got rolling. I pointed out that one difficulty with the governor was that he has said he wants to amend the Constitution to take away from the people the right to directly elect their U.S. Senators. He wants state Legislators to do this as they did in the old days before the 17th Amendment in 1913. I don't know why Governor Perry trusts state Legislators over the public, but I did point out that the first three words of our Constitution are "We the people," not "We the states."

From time to time I've enjoyed writing about adventures I've had, including spelunking in Jewel Cave and trying to get to Pierre in a small plane and landing on a highway, then hitchhiking to get to the Legislature. I wouldn't want to do either of those things today, but 30 or more years ago they didn't seem unreasonable or hazardous activities. I don't think it's caution so much as exhaustion that makes us think about not doing stuff as we get older.

I do tend to talk about issues that we should be thinking about, including how we treat, or fail to treat, the mentally ill and the number of South Dakota children whose fathers are failing to support them. And again this year, as every year, I have more than once pointed out that South Dakota ranks at or near the bottom in state support for public education.

 Just now, thinking about this, I looked in the collection of my columns I published last spring and found this, published in January 2007: "At a forum during the campaign for Legislature last fall, I asked the candidates whether South Dakota was always going to be so far behind in supporting education, in having the lowest paid teachers in the nation. Was there any hope? Amid laughter, I was assured that of course there was." That was five years ago. I hope nobody is still laughing.

Well, Happy New Year, everybody. Enjoy it while you can. The Legislature doesn't convene until January 10th.

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be reached at collins1@rushmore.com

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