Sunday, December 28, 2003

I find this sort of thing commonly on the web, and it troubles me. The ignorance and arrogance in the blogging world about "real journalism," whatever that is, strikes me as one of the least attractive aspects of this new medium. You can find my comments somewhere near the bottom of the linked post.
Ed Kemmick makes a good case for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but I have to admit -- dare I? -- that the argument is lost on me. I waded through "The Hobbit" in high school because I was dating a girl who thought I should, and what she thought I should do meant a lot in those days. I then bravely started the trilogy but abandoned it about the time the girl abandoned me. That fantasy world was not a place I wanted to inhabit.

I've never been sure why. I don't read much genre fiction, but I enjoy a good science fiction story and like detective stories boiled so hard they break your teeth. The surrealists stimulate me, and the magical realists delight me. I even read a romance novel once just to say I did. I would willingly read another, if public execution was the only alternative. But sentence me to read a fantasy novel, and I would ask for the hemlock. After what seemed like the 150th time Gandalf miraculously bailed out the hapless Hobbits, I realized that I had absolutely no desire to read about the 151st.

Same with the movies. I went to see the first of the trilogy at the buck theater, found it gorgeous and fully realized, and then I fell fast asleep somewhere in the first hour. Later, when I saw chunks of the film on HBO, I realized that I had totally missed long sequences, including the climactic fall of Gandalf near the end. I must have slept a long time. Since I tend to snore, I'm sure it was an enlightening experience for my fellow moviegoers, like having an orc in the next seat.

I waited for HBO to see the second film. Again, it was visually dazzling, grand in scope and brilliantly executed. I was engrossed. Then, about an hour into it, I realized that I had totally lost track of what was going on, cared nothing about any of the characters -- and was getting very, very sleepy. I went to bed.

I've rejected whole bodies of popular culture without a twinge of conscience, from Britney Spears to James Bond. That isn't always fair, but the sheer volume of popular entertainment is so massive that one has no choice but to make arbitrary decisions about what to see and what to avoid.

But I've always felt a bit guilty, even at fault, for failing to enjoy Tolkien. No doubt the trilogy is an important contribution to world literature. No doubt I will never figure out why.

Maybe it was the girl.
Former Billings resident Robert Struckman, writing in the Missoula Independent for Writers on the Range (but apparently not available on the web) has mixed feelings about Starbucks' "assault on Montana." He also ventures into other aspects of chain ownership: "Some corporate chains can bring a net gain to a community. You can crucify me for saying so, but Barnes & Noble Booksellers was a tremendous addition to Billings. The city had no large bookstores. It probably increased by a factor of 10 the number of titles on sale there."

There's truth, of course, that Billings had no large independent bookstores. What bothers me about Barnes & Noble is that now I suspect Billings never will.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

This new report by the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman argues that the way to salvage the salmon fishery in the Northwest is to adopt practices used by Northwest Indian tribes.
Here's why we need labor unions. (Thanks to Jackie Corr for the link.)
Montana MUsIngs has a link to this interesting article in the New York Times. It appears that the easy standing ovation is no provincial aberration after all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Jim Larson of the Outpost staff has started his own blog. Check out what Dick Cheney is saying.

Monday, December 22, 2003

John Clayton has thoughts on the bad-check discussion that went on somewhere down below on this blog. He also gives well deserved praise to a recent Harper's article by Bill McKibben on small businesses surviving in a big bad Wal-Mart world.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Brown just announced a plan to use the Permanent Coal Tax Trust that might actually work: He proposes using coal tax revenues to match federal dollars for highways, water systems and other projects. Obtaining federal matches would bring $600 million to Montana over the next 10 years, compared to $65 million the money would otherwise earn in interest, he says.

The $688 million already in the fund would not be touched, Brown said.

A two-thirds vote of the Legislature would be required to put the plan up for public vote, he said. If the Legislature turns the idea down, he said he would work for a voter initiative to get the plan on the ballot.

UPDATE: Here's the response from Laurel Republican Ken Miller: “The best thing we can do to grow the economy in Montana is to allow Montanans to keep more of their hard earned dollars. If the coal severance revenues were used to lower taxes to employers and employees directly, then I would consider that a better use of the dollars. If they are diverted just to grow government spending, that would be a very unfortunate mistake.

"Many proposals to spend the coal trust have come and gone with little success. It seems to me we would be better served by a Governor that put the time and effort into finding and implementing 5 or 10 percent efficiencies in Government programs, without eliminating critical services. Inventing new ways to spend tax money is short sighted. We need leadership that thinks generational.”
U.S. News has released a detailed story following a five-month investigation of the Bush administration's extraordinary penchant for secrecy. Nut graph: "For the past three years, the Bush administration has quietly but efficiently dropped a shroud of secrecy across many critical operations of the federal government--cloaking its own affairs from scrutiny and removing from the public domain important information on health, safety, and environmental matters. The result has been a reversal of a decades-long trend of openness in government while making increasing amounts of information unavailable to the taxpayers who pay for its collection and analysis."

Not only has the Bush administration classifed as many documents in two years as Clinton did in his last four, Bush also has made it easier to reclassify documents so that information once public has gone behind the shroud again.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Just wondering: "Shattered Glass," the movie about Stephen Glass' journalistic fabrications at The New Republic, has been out for seven weeks now and still no sign of it in Billings. True, it's done lousy at the box office, but critics raved about it. Shouldn't us journalist types get at least one week to revel in Schadenfreude over a colleague gone wrong?

I don't usually think of Billings as a cultural backwater (how could a guy who has lived in College Station, Texas, ever think that?) but it is discouraging to look at the critical ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. At least nine other current movies that have gotten favorable ratings of 80 percent or better have never played in Billings, and most of them never will (although some have played elsewhere in Montana). It isn't that there aren't good movies out there, dear reader, it's just that we don't get to see them.

UPDATE: "Shattered Glass" has made it to Missoula, but the Independent hated it.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Wolfgang von Eitzen, the German citizen and former Billings resident whom immigration authorities were busy separating from his American family while foreign terrorists were learning to steer airplanes, sent along a packet of stories from the German press about the United States and the war in Iraq.

I'm about halfway through the packet, and it is fascinating stuff. If nothing else, it redefines concepts of what constitutes liberal bias in the media. As others have noted, what passes for liberal in this country would be firmly in the conservative camp in much of Europe. In general, the German press appears to view Bush and Iraq this way: He was a pampered child, fond of "Cowboy-terminologie," who never had a serious idea and never gave a flip about Iraq until he was "gekidnappt" by neoconservatives. Now he's gone from being a big talker to a supplicant for help from the United Nations to bail out a failed effort in nation building. As the editor of Stern, a popular German news magazine, put it, Germans should give Bush no money and no soldiers but rather some advice: Listen to your allies and don't view the Security Council as a self-service store.

In a withering critique of Bush, Stern asks, "How could it have come about that a politician who after the attacks of Sept. 11 had won the support of the entire world has become only two years later the most hated man on the planet?"

If there's a bright side, it may be that Stern doesn't seem to blame Americans themselves for the nation's sorry relations ("worst in history," Stern maintains) with the rest of the world. It blames Bush.

It all reminded me of the chuckle I got the other day when a caller to Sean Hannity's radio show announced, as if it were a fresh discovery he wished to share with the world, that people in other countries don't think like we do. It was a shocker, but he had an explanation: "They don't use reason." If only it were so simple.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the most interesting quote, which I have not seen anywhere in the American media. According to Stern, Bush told three senators during a meeting in the White House in March 2002, "Fuck Saddam. Wir stuerzen ihn." The last part means, "We'll destroy him" or, "We'll take him down." The first part means the president was really annoyed at Mr. Hussein.

Outpost staffer Jim Larson sends a link to this story, which poses the question: "How much of what left and right think about each other is real, and to what extent are they railing against, and defending, Platonic ideals -- ideals so far removed from reality that they have ceased to be useful?"
His answer is a bit too reasonable for my tastes: He argues that the red and blue states aren't as different as politicos would have us believe. I prefer an iffier proposition: That conservatives and liberals have long since met in the middle and are now charging past each other in opposite directions. Thus we have conservatives who favor increased spending (as long as its for the military, energy companies and timber interests), huge budget deficits, preemptive wars and social engineering, which liberals rail about deficits, federal overreaching into private and state concerns and keeping the troops at home.
Clark Johnson, now the Bozeman city manager, will take over as Sen. Conrad Burns' chief of staff on Jan. 1. He will replace Will Brooke, who is leaving to manage the Bush-Cheney campaign in Montana and to return to his Bozeman law practice.
Johnson was born in Butte and raised in Billings. He is a Montana State University graduate and has been Bozeman city manager since 1997.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Yellowstone County Commissioner Jim Reno wants to discuss turning over the county's troubled Public Defender's Office to state jurisdiction. He writes: "From my vantage point, I see many reasons to transfer the obligation to the State of Montana: 1. There may be a savings to Yellowstone County taxpayers. As we have come to know only so well, the state chooses not to reimburse Yellowstone County for all costs associated with running the department. 2. Most counties no longer provide this service. To my knowledge there are less than 6 counties (and the number is decreasing) that still have PDO as a county responsibility. 3. State assumption of the PDO will help insure a more uniform indigent defendants system across the state. 4. More involvement with the private attorneys. In most parts of the state, private attorneys provide indigent defense via contracts with the State."

While Conrad Burns fulminates about new snowmobile rules (see below), the state's Travel Montana division is putting the best possible face on the situation.
Now it's Brian Schweitzer firing off cannons. In a news release, he admonishes the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad to "start acting like a partner not a lord."
"The cozy relations between Montana political leaders and the railroad have led BNSF to think they can gouge Montana farmers," the release says. "Recent news reports state that former Governor Marc Racicot has been paid huge payments and received 4,400 shares in BNSF stock options as a board member of BNSF and Governor Martz received a $50,000 boost from BNSF when they paid for political ads attacking her opponent in her gubernatorial bid."
Calling BNSF one of the worst examples of consumer gouging he has encountered, Schweitzer says, "Montana is not a colony to be exploited by the puppet masters at BNSF headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas."
Wanna bet?
Lie of the Day: A billboard on Montana Avenue reads "Montana gets tough on DUI."
This in the Too Late for the Outpost category: Elks Lodge 394 in Billings will host a reception to honor soldiers returning from Iraq at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 22, at 934 Lewis Ave. Special guests are Adam Olivias and Alex Leonard. Music is by Marc Anthony Roman.
The invaluable Jackie Corr sends along this delicious link to a Drudge Report item saying that Bill O'Reilly's sales figures on his new book are vastly overstated. O'Reilly's response: "You can't believe a word that Matt Drudge says." Which actually is true, but it reminds me of a call that O'Reilly took one day from a woman who said that his book ranked No. 15 on the best-seller list rather than No. 1, as he had been claiming. O'Reilly called her a liar and hung up. I guess you can't believe a word that radio talk-show callers say either, but she sure didn't sound like a liar.
No big surprise here, but Brian Schweitzer just got the endorsement for governor of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.
Sen. Conrad Burns has fired full-bore at the federal judge who vacated a decision allowing snowmobiles into Yellowstone Park this winter. Among other things, the senator says in a letter to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton that Judge Emmet Sullivan's decision is "completely insupportable," "cruel," "outrageous and offensive," "does not follow the law, is not balanced, and is gratuitously unfair," and "does not offer a balanced assessment of the facts." Of the judge himself, the senator says he "completely overstepped his bounds," is guilty of "judicial arrogance masquerading as law," and "shares the values of the environmentalist plaintiffs who despise the recreational choices of average Americans and who look to the courts, rather than the political branches, for their legislation."

No word on what the senator really thought.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

South Dakota Politics notes that The New Republic has called for at least threatening to strip Democratic renegade Max Baucus of his Finance Committee seat.
I happened to be halfway through a story in Harper's magazine about the Slobodan Milosevic trial when news broke that Saddam Hussein had been captured. Milosevic's trial at The Hague started in February and is expected to last for a couple of more years. His is one of about 100 cases before the International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Terrory of the Former Yugoslavia. Altogether, the cases are expected to keep the Tribunal busy until 2012.

Thoughts from the author, Guy Lesser, about bringing Saddam before a similar tribunal: "The several years of both direct and indirect preparation involved in, for example, marshaling adequate admissible evidence and finding witnesses is but one issue. Others include whose notion of a 'fair' trial will prevail, and whether the trial is to deal with almost twenty-five years of International Humanitarian Law and human-rights abuses or ought to be a brief proceeding limited in its scope. If the latter, victims' families are certain to raise passionate objections. A trial of broad scope, on the other hand, would undoubtedly drag on for several years. And it is quite easy to imagine that much would be made of active U.S. support of Hussein's regime during the conflict with Iran, that the 'legality' of the United States invasion would be vigorously contested by the defendant(s), and that every effort possible would be made to play to the region's anti-American audience, portraying Hussein as both a martyr struggling to defend Islam from the West and something of a pawn, turned upon and betrayed by his former ally, the United States. Doubtless, too, some attempt would be made not only to portray the current Bush agenda for the Middle East in a sinister light but also to implicate the United States during the period prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, perhaps even in the role of an accomplice that supplied and trained Hussein's armed forces while turning a blind eye to IHL crimes they were fully aware of and might have done something to prevent."
Just got offered a chance to teach a German class this spring. That will mean even less blogging than usual, except for the occasional beer-drinking song.

UPDATE: In München steht ein Hofbräu Haus …
Time to move to Klein: Just got official word that Starbucks is opening two Billings stores in February: one in Rimrock Mall and one in a "retail space neighboring the mall."
Bridget Barrett, regional marketing manager, says, "We are incredibly exited to bring the Starbucks Experience [her italics] to Billings.” Maybe she meant "excited." But up here in Klein, we take these things literally.
An incredibly exiting discussion is going on at City Lights about Bill O'Reilly's bizarre use of "secular" to describe major American newspapers. I weigh in, for what it's worth, somewhere down around comment 12.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

This new website, U.S. Politics Today, which bills itself as a nonpartisan news service for political professionals, includes a roundup of Montana political news.

Friday, December 12, 2003

A former Bozeman resident has put together an entire calendar of items culled from Bozeman Daily Chronicle police reports.
Sample entry: "Aug. 22: A man in a chicken suit and a man in a cow suit were reportedly wandering around a parking lot on South 11th Avenue at 12:45 a.m. The man in the cow suit was allegedly wearing an Afro wig."

OK, and one more: "Aug. 26: A caller said he took a TV to a repair shop in August. When he went to pick it up on Tuesday, the shop was gone."

Romanesko has a roundup of lame story ideas editors have pitched to reporters. For the laugh of the day, scroll down three or four items to the one that begins "Perfect answer to toilet paper inquiry."
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., is taking a trip to Iraq with five other House members.

According to a news release: "The delegation will visit with American troops presently deployed overseas, and also meet with government leaders in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Defense has recommended that, due to security considerations, the delegation avoid disclosing specific details of the trip.

"However, Rehberg was able to disclose that the delegation will assess the progress being made in the rebuilding and stabilization efforts, including agriculture operations, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"'This trip will provide us with a good opportunity to see first-hand the great progress our troops are making toward protecting America from terrorism by stabilizing and rebuilding these countries,' Rehberg said. 'And I especially look forward to visiting with our own soldiers deployed from Montana.'”

From the tone of the news release, it sounds like he's already completed the assessment. Here's hoping no facts get in the way of his conclusions.

For what it's worth, people who have responded to the Outpost online poll favor the Democrats' energy plan over the Republican plan.
Interesting discussion going on below about bad check writers. But bad checks are just a tiny fraction of the whole bad debt problem. Debtors who simply refuse to pay their bills rather than write bad checks to cover them are protected from public exposure by a raft of laws that don't protect bad check writers.

Until I went into business for myself, I never imagined how many people there are who just flat refuse to pay -- from a $5 classified ad to a $500 full page. They ignore letters, won't return phone calls, avoid process servers and skip court dates. And there's very little businesses can do to expose them. Obviously, it isn't just an Outpost problem: Just look at court dockets. Bad debt is what keeps the court system at work.

It's especially tough on businesses like ours that have to give credit and can't repossess advertising once it has appeared in the paper. I've been tempted to run anti-ads for deadbeats, something along the lines of "Previous claims of superior quality and service by Thus & So Inc. are hereby retracted. The Outpost regrets any inconvenience to customers who may have been misled by these claims."

Obviously, some people intend to pay their bills and just get in over their heads. Others, clearly, never intend to pay. The mystery to me is what goes on inside their heads. Morally, I have trouble seeing much distinction between someone who breaks into my store and steals cash from the till and someone who reneges on a promise to pay for services. Yet there are far more deadbeats than burglars. I wonder what accounts for the difference? Cowardice? Laziness? Or is there a moral distinction that I'm not getting?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I keep more and more "bad check writer" signs around town, with a list of offenders underneath. Why so specialized? How about a "bad person" list? My list would start with a few choice names, for reasons that are none of your business. But I guess that undercuts the whole project.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Wanna find out what MSU-Bozeman will be like in five years? Just go here.
Gary Marbut, political activist and head of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, has written a book called "Gun Laws of Montana." Advance praise comes from Secretary of State Bob Brown and University of Montana law professor Rob Natelson, among others. "On the whole, Montana's gun laws are the freest in the United States, and they thus set an example for freedom-loving people everywhere in the world," David Kopel says in the foreward.

Amazing stat: Marbut says, "We estimate that between 90% and 95% of Montana homes contain firearms, and that the average number of guns in each Montana gun-owning household is 27 (yes, you read that correctly)."

And I have only one. Does that mean somebody else out there has 53 to balance me out?

George Ochenski, over at the Missoula Independent, says that "George W. Bush broke new low ground for a president of the United States by intentionally lying to the national press about spending Thanksgiving at his Texas ranch." Pare away Ochenski's corrosive rhetoric and there's still a good question left: Does the president have a right to lie? We all sort of take it for granted that presidents do lie -- my favorite may have been the senior Bush's assertion that his nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court had nothing to do with race. It was an almost obligatory lie, and we all understood that he was lying, and no particular repercussions followed. Bush the Younger's Thanksgiving lie would seem to be even more defensible since it was for security rather than political reasons.

But can a good Christian lie with honor even under these circumstances? I doubt it. It's a bit like cursing: Sean Hannity took John Kerry to task yesterday for saying "fucked" in Rolling Stone, but Hannity was merely amused when Bush called a New York Times reporter an "asshole" back during the campaign. In my realm of Christian orthodoxy, the words carry roughly the same weight, and the onus on Bush to be behave would appear to be greater because he is so public a believer.

By the way (for Ed's benefit, all use of BTW has been suspended) Kerry was featured on "Unfinished Symphony," a superb documentary about Vietnam Veterans Against the War that aired on one of the independent film channels last night. Too bad that younger Kerry isn't running for president: He was eloquent, thoughtful, sincere. The compromises of political life must have worn him down, just as they wear down the president.

Ken Miller, the Republican gubernatorial candidate from Laurel, says in a news release that one of his first acts of Governor would be an executive order requiring that no further roads on state public lands will be closed without a review by the governor's office.

"In addition Ken Miller said that he would request from Federal Land managers that the Governor be given the opportunity to review all planned road closures on Federal Lands and notification when a road is closed. 'Faceless Bureaucrats in D.C. may want to close our roads, but as Governor I'll fight to keep them open,' Miller said."

Saturday, December 06, 2003

A fellow Democratic senator says "shame, shame, shame" on Max Baucus for caving in to demands by pharmaceutical companies that the government be prohibited from negotiating lower drug prices for senior citizens. Thanks to Jackie Corr for the link.
This is a couple of days late, but I haven't seen it elsewhere: Gubernatorial candidate Pat Davison has written a letter to opponent and Secretary of State Bob Brown criticizing him for running TV ads that he says blur the line between political ads and public service announcements.

"I am requesting that you immediately terminate the use of taxpayer dollars for advertising promoting you and your candidacy for Governor and that you reimburse the taxpayers from your campaign for the funds that have already been spent on this advertising campaign," Davison wrote.

Anybody seen the ads? I haven't, but apparently they are about provisions of the Help America Vote Act. A similar ad ran in newspapers statewide, including the Outpost. According to Davison, Brown is spending $24,000 in state money on the ads, including $10,000 at KTVQ in Billings.

Provisions of the new act include a requirement that voters identify themselves at the polls. That's probably all Brown intended to do in the ads: Show us his I.D.
The Montana GOP E-brief is remarkably candid about the true purpose of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act: "The legislation is a step in the right direction toward increasing the timber industry’s ability to harvest off of federal land by limiting legal abuse from environmental groups."

Friday, December 05, 2003

When President Bush signed the Healthy Forests Restoration Act into law on Wednesday, a news release said that Rep. Denny Rehberg called the "landmark legislation a 'literal breath of fresh air.'" That may be the only fresh air this bill generates.

My brother the English teacher collects what he call "literallies" from student papers and newspapers and occasionally sends them along to me. My two favorites, of those I recall, were one about the battleship gun crew that "literally stuck to its guns" and one about two track stars who raced down the homestretch "literally joined at the hip." Naturally, I sent my brother a personal favorite from the Gazette by a letter writer who said a public official who had "literally been caught with his proverbial pants down."

Shouldn't proverbs wear suspenders?
This Helena letter writer accuses Hillary Clinton of treason for comments she made during her visit to Iraq.

If I were still a soldier, I can't imagine a circumstance under which I would want my elected representatives to express anything other than their honest opinions about the situation troops were in. Those folks overseas aren't children, and they aren't just soldiers. They also are citizens and voters. They not only should be up on the public debate, they should be helping to shape it.

Besides, as one TV commentator pointed out, soldiers in Iraq aren't exactly marching across the Russian steppes with Napoleon. They are watching cable news and reading newspapers. A senator who told the troops one thing and the folks back home something else would be quickly exposed as a fraud.

By the way, I couldn't find any other source for the quote the letter writer used that claimed the U.S. would lose the war. Even Hillary's harshest web critics didn't fire off that particular piece of ammunition. Probably, it's a dud.
Sorry to have been out of touch. Nothing has been holding me back but a typical, life-altering, small-business crisis at The Outpost. But I can't let Joseph Perkins' column, which ran in today's Gazette, pass without comment. Once again, Perkins has provided clear and convincing evidence that he is the dumbest nationally syndicated columnist in the business today.

He starts this way:

'War," wrote John Stuart Mill, one of the 19th century's greatest thinkers, "is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.
"The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight," Mill continued, "is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
That brings to mind the anti-war crowd – those stumping for the Democratic presidential nomination, those opining on the nation's liberal editorial pages, and those protesting on the streets of the nation's capital and other cities throughout the fair land.
They are, in Mill's words, miserable creatures. They think nothing is worth war, not even the mass murder of nearly 3,000 of their fellow countrymen (and women and children) on Sept. 11, 2001.

But what those in the "anti-war" crowd, including Democratic presidential candidates, who supported the war in Afghanistan but opposed the war in Iraq? Can they have fallen so rapidly into a "decayed and degraded state"?

They have nothing for which they are willing to fight, not even to prevent a madman like Saddam Hussein from developing or acquiring chemical, biological or nuclear weapons with which he could one day threaten the United States or her allies.

Notice how rapidly the threat recedes into the future. By this standard of waging war, we could invade Switzerland.

Those in the anti-war crowd perfunctorily profess their support for American military personnel fighting on their unworthy behalf in Iraq. Yet, they derive a certain perverse satisfaction, it seems, with every fresh news report of a truck bombing, a helicopter crash, a suicide attack.

Just this morning driving to work I heard a report of another American soldier dead. I am a card-carrying member of this anti-war crowd, but I felt no satisfaction, perverse or otherwise. Just sad, and a bit angry.

The United States suffered more than 58,000 fatalities in Vietnam, some 47,369 of which were combat-related. That's nearly 1,500 percent more fatalities than the United States has suffered in Iraq.

And it took only 10 years! Let's see, 81 American soldiers died in Iraq in November. At that rate, it'll take 59 years to catch up.

The reality is, more Americans have been killed in Los Angeles alone this year than have been killed in Iraq.

Of course, millions of people live in Los Angeles. We have about 130,000 troops in Iraq. A more useful comparison would be to imagine that 441 murders had taken place in Yellowstone County since last spring. That would be considered a nightmarish disaster -- and those are the odds our troops are up against. Casualties are remarkably low by combat standards, but Iraq ain't LA.

The opposition to the war in Iraq is less about principle – on the parts of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, the liberal opinion page writers, the anti-war street protesters – than it is about politics. For the politicos and journalistas and activists who were bitter about the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, who have never stopped hating George W. Bush, are the same miserable creatures who are so loudly decrying the postwar campaign in Iraq.

It's always helpful when a guy like Perkins lets us know what we really think. I would have sworn it was about principle. What about those of us who think the 2000 election was just the luck of the draw and who have never gotten around to even starting to hate George Bush? How miserable are we?

They almost don't care if the postwar reconstruction in Iraq fails, if Saddam returns to power, if the Iraqi people are once again subject to his genocidal rule, so long as they can play the Iraq card against Bush.

They almost don't care? Translation: They do care.

Indeed, just last week, a secret strategy memo, prepared by Democratic staff on the supposedly nonpartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, suggested that Democrats ought to launch an investigation of the White House next year to have maximum impact on the presidential election.

The memo is here. Judge for yourself.

Then there are the Bush-hating opinion writers – and they know who they are – who insinuate that the commander in chief has somehow lost the peace in Iraq because he supposedly neglected to consider an "exit strategy."

Notice that Perkins doesn't suggest that there actually was, or is, an exit strategy. He just objects to the notion that there might not have been one. Our nation's stumbles in the early days of the post-World War II occupation are often cited in defense of what's happening now in Iraq. But the situations are wildly different. Nobody on Dec. 6, 1941, was thinking about an exit strategy in Berlin. On March 18, 2003, with the war on Iraq imminent -- and discretionary -- and with military victory a foregone conclusion, post-war strategy should have been the top priority.

The opponents of the Iraq war, the knee-jerk critics of the postwar reconstruction, reveal the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling of which Mill wrote nearly two centuries ago.
Their opposition, their criticism is fueled not so much by reason, but by hatred – toward their president or toward their country.

And what fuels Perkins? It sure ain't reason.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Subject line on the e-mail I will have the most difficulty not reading this week: "European girls really know how to f"
Secretary of State Bob Brown has responded to rumors that Rob Natelson may be planning to run for governor again, getting into lobbying or launching a policy institute. (For more on Natelson's plans, see Brad Molnar's column in the Dec. 4 Outpost -- not yet available in stores).

Brown said he welcomed Natelson's participation in any capacity. "What would a race for governor be like without Rob Natelson?" Brown said in a news release. Natelson ran against Marc Racicot in 1996 and against Judy Martz in 2000.

Brown disputed a recent claim attributed to Natelson that Brown "has already called for tax increases." Brown said he declined to take a no-new-taxes pledge, which is a different animal. But Brown did say here that he would support a small tax increase to raise teachers' pay.

For what it's worth, Natelson's and Martz's appearances on Yellowstone Public Radio's "Home Ground" before the 2000 primary constituted one of the most lopsided political exchanges I've ever heard. He smoked her on the issues, but, of course couldn't get elected. I still don't think he can, although I have a lot of respect for Natelson. He's the real deal, a genuine conservative who probably isn't well enough plugged into the political machinery to get past a primary.

Molnar, another real-deal conservative, raises an interesting question: If Natelson doesn't run, who will get his base? Beats me. I can't see it going to Brown or Davison, and it's not clear yet whether Miller or Keating can raise enough money to make a serious run. It didn't seem outlandish to me that some of Natelson's base could go to Schweitzer, if Schweitzer can dodge the big-spender label that follows Democrats around.