Friday, December 30, 2005

Tussing vs. Volek

Attorney Tom Singer's 11-page report to the Billings City Council about potential litigation with Mayor-elect Ron Tussing was on my fax machine this morning. You can find the Gazette story, with a link to the full report, here.

The report agrees in essential points with my own analysis here (skeptics who said I didn't know what I was talking about can ease their guilty consciences by donating to PayPal on the Outpost site). And the Gazette didn't have to take legal action to see my analysis. Key points:

1. Tussing probably is a city employee for purposes of the agreement.

2. Pursuing litigation probably isn't such a hot idea.

3. The city's key concern is acting City Administrator Tina Volek, who might reasonably have expected the agreement to protect her from working with Tussing again. Money quote: "The Mayor, as presiding officer of the Council, generally participates in the annual performance review of the City Administrator. ... Were Mr. Tussing to participate in such a review and disparage Ms. Volek's performance in any way, she might allege his disparagement of her was related 'to matters at issue that led to' the settlement agreement, or in retaliation for her role in those matters. Based on such an allegation, she could assert a claim for breach of the agreement against Mr. Tussing, the City, or both."

Bottom line: "Whether it is possible or practical to exclude the Mayor from supervising and interacting closely with the Acting City Administrator is a question I cannot answer. I have no way of predicting whether Ms. Volek will ask that a barrier be erected, or if she would assert claims against the City or Mr. Tussing. The answers depend on what issues arise, and how people handle themselves over the next four years. It is possible to imagine may things that could go wrong, and our imaginations are never as wild as what reality dishes out. A year ago, no one foresaw the situation that exists today."

UPDATE: Matt Singer agrees with me.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Morrison, Tester and who?

Paul Richards, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, says in a news release that he is staging an informational picket this afternoon at the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. Richards is unhappy about this poll, which he says left him out altogether.

“My hat is in the ring despite what you might read in some newspapers,” Richards says. “It is the voters’ job, not the reporter’s job to decide which candidates are favored and which are not.”

I think he's got a legitimate gripe. Richards isn't going to win this thing, but he certainly has a chance to focus the discussion in places where the big party candidates may not want to go. But he may never get a chance.

Too bad for all of us. The political insiders only want to hear about the horse race; the voters want to hear what the choices are.

UPDATE: Lee's response is here, with Mike Dennison cashing in on the rare opportunity to interview Chuck Johnson.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

No child gets ahead

This Washington Post op-ed indicates that my biggest fear about the No Child Left Behind Act is coming true. When this phrase used to just show up in teachers' professional journals, I snickered at it. As I argued then, in a world where no child is left behind, no child gets ahead.

Then NCLB became official government policy -- in every state, no matter what. Leave it to the federal government to take public schools that already are struggling and find a way to make them worse. (Thanks to Kevin Drum for the link.)

UPDATE: Intelligent Discontent disagrees.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Iraq solution

The Rolling Stone is running with Gov. Brian Schweitzer's plan for Iraq.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Wal-Mart in review

I went to see the screening of "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" and reviewed it here. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart appears to have its sights on Laurel.

Why worry?

On the other hand, I was disappointed to hear Dave Berg repeat this tired argument Thursday about warrantless wiretapping: If you're not doing anything wrong, why worry about it?

Wulfgar deals with that question here. To which I add only: I think I remember Stalin making the exact same argument in about 1947.

Nothing intelligent about this design

Judge Andrew Napolitano was the guest host on Bill O'Reilly's "Radio Factor" Thursday, and he was a delight to hear. He is unfailingly courteous, but he also is no-nonsense and direct on point. In this case, he was blasting the Bush administration over misuse of the National Security Agency, but he was, if anything, even more critical of Congress for failing to reject the Patriot Act. Fun stuff.

He also was critical of the judge who ruled against intelligent design. He kept asking callers, Why aren't evolutionists willing to argue about competing theories? I didn't hear anyone make the obvious point: Because intelligent design doesn't provide anything to argue about.

Intelligent design is the Sherlock Holmes of scientific theories. Holmes said: When all other possibilities have been eliminated, then the possibility that remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.

Intelligent design says that all theories that attempt to explain the origins of life by examining what we can see, taste, touch, hear and see must inevitably fail. Life is too complex and improbable to have come about without intervention by some higher intelligence. So as long as intelligent design advocates can shoot holes in other theories, their theory remains the one possibility that hasn't been eliminated.

But shooting holes in existing theories does not amount to offering an alternative theory. And figuring out life is far more complicated than narrowing a short list of suspects or possible points of entry. When Copernicus shot down the Ptolemaic system, he didn't just point out the defects in the system, he offered an alternative that explained the facts better. And his theory has held up under testing thousands of times in hundreds of different ways.

When intelligent design is able to do what Copernicus did, then it deserves a place in science class.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

King Kong vs. King Kong

Two movies on my all-time Top 10 list were made in 1933: "Duck Soup" and "King Kong." We'll probably never have another "Duck Soup" ("Dr. Strangelove" may be as close as we will get, but not even Peter Sellers could play Harpo Marx); however, Peter Jackson has taken a heck of a crack at bringing Kong to a modern audience.

The new version is in part an homage and in part an attempt to improve upon and resolve some of the weaknesses of the original. The original's special effects hold up amazingly well after all of these years, but Jackson has topped them, especially with Kong's lifelike facial expressions. The movie's added length doesn't make the story drag, but it does undercut the elegance of the original's three-act structure, cleanly broken into segments before the island, the nightmare of the island, and the cruelty of the New York sequence.

The movie also pushes the relationship betweeen the ape and the girl to another level, both gaining and losing something in the process. What's lost is some of Kong's purity, which makes him such a potent symbol of everything that seemed to be going wrong in 1933. As Plenty Coups said of grizzly bears, Kong is always "in his right mind," never too tired or too lazy or too timid or too indecisive to do exactly what the occasion requires.

He does battle against a world that neither he nor many of the people living in it could quite understand: a nation of rich resources but mired in depression; a newly coined world power but reluctant to assume the role; a nation founded on free enterprise but increasingly drawn to socialism and communism; an economy built on agriculture in which farmers were abandoning farms by the thousands.

Kong's death is not merely spectacle but public sacrifice. He is brought down by airpower and machine guns, potent symbols for people living just 15 years after World War I had shown how those weapons could overturn everything they thought they knew about the glory of war.

None of that would have worked if the characters or filmmakers had ever shown the slightest indication that they knew what they were up to. They play it for thrills and even throw out a false clue in the "beauty and the beast" motif, relying on Fay Wray's endless fear and repulsion for the beast to show how lost Kong's world really was to contemporary Americans.

For Jackson, playing the story that naively wasn't an option. He lays on the thrills in triplicate but essentially contorts the primitive power of the original into a story about interpersonal relationships. His Kong is noble but too accessible. The ape as mensch just doesn't play.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Time to impeach?

Over at Spun and Spinning, Tony is calling on The Outpost to editorialize in favor of impeaching Bush for illegally spying on Americans. It's a topic well worthy of opinionating, but I'm not ready to lead the charge for impeachment. Here's why:

1. What Bush did probably was illegal, but it isn't yet 100 percent clear. The Volokh Conspiracy has the best discussion I've seen so far about that question. I don't favor impeachment when even marginally defensible legal stances are available.

2. I'm generally against impeachment and recall votes. Nixon is the only exception I can think of and that only because his offenses were so clear and pervasive and cut so close to the heart of what this country ought to be about. As a rule, I think voters have a right to the candidate they elected, even if most of them eventually conclude they made a poor choice.

3. The Outpost doesn't take many stands on national issues. That isn't because those issues aren't important, but because we have no special access to information or knowledge about what happens at the national level. Our opinions are no more useful than those of anyone else who follows the national news in a half-assed sort of way.

Having said all that, I still find what the president did inexcusable. If he wanted expanded authorization for domestic spying, he should have asked Congress to give it to him. He shouldn't have just taken it.

Police vs. animal shelter

This interesting piece by Evelyn Pyburn appeared both on the Big Sky Business Journal's website and in the Yellowstone County News. I can't quite decide what to make of it, but it deserves a close look.

UPDATE: Via e-mail, Sarah Grau sends along some pertinent thoughts:

The most important point I want to make is: the Billings Police Foundation is NOT the Billings Police Department, nor is it the City of Billings.

The BPF is a 501c3 public charity established in 1999, recieved its IRS
ruling in 2001 (I think) You could check at

In my opinion, a small group of city employees (present and former)
started their own little company a few years ago and operated it on city
time, with city employees, at a city address and with city
publications. Their mission was to "provide assistance for programs and
equipment not included in the city budget." But they did so, by the
examples provided in the article:

1. Depositing checks that were not made payable to them

2. Telling donors the Shelter could not take their
donations, please reissue the check payable to the BPF

I would go further and opine: any revenues they've ever received belong
to the city, since they were sought after...on city time, by city
employees, at a city address and via city publications.

I would hope our State's Attorney General is interested in practices 1
and 2 listed above.

I understand that Deanna Anthony admitted the BPF only has 2 Board
members. On the last form 990 they filed, they listed 10, I believe.
This fact speaks volumes: did the other 8 bail? If so, why? With only
2 board members is the BPF in violation of its own bylaws? If so, the
state's SOS should be interested, as would the IRS.

Finally, why care? Because it was taxpayer money. They were an
unnecessary vehicle as operated. The city gets money, why would we give
it away to someone we would then have to ask for it back from?

Governmental bodies can accept donations.

The BPF is not accountable to taxpayers, it is not the city.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Gone with the Wendy's

I guess this is good news. But then I read this (courtesy of Jackie Corr) and wonder, once again, what sort of monuments we are creating for ourselves.

Reader's paradise

The most compelling part of this story was the last paragraph:

During his suspension, Granger has been reading six to eight hours a day, absorbing books that will enrich his knowledge of his specialty areas of classical music and public affairs. He recently finished a 1,200-page biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt and has been reading reviews of recent classical music releases.

Man alive. Where does a fellow apply to get suspended?

Gone to war

Some people found this speech remarkable for the president's admission that a thing or two might have gone wrong in Iraq. I found it remarkable, and depressing, because of this quote: "As President, I'm responsible for the decision to go into Iraq."

Why remarkable? Because no one else seems to be even a little bit concerned that the president so blithely confounds the express intention of the Founding Fathers, who labored to craft a Constitution that would deny to any single person the power to take this nation into war.

The founders' intentions could not have been more express. Their logic could not have been sounder. Yet to even suggest that we should now follow their wishes is to step into tinfoil hat land. Some argue that Congress authorized the war when it passed a resolution deferring to the president. It authorized no such thing. It simply abdicated its constitutional responsbility.

Under the founders' scheme of government, no president, and no human being, could ever stand before Americans and claim responsibility for starting a war. That the founders' wishes have been so ignored and neglected over the last 50 years has been the greatest challenge to democratic rule this country has ever faced.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Give me liberty

We watched most of "King Arthur" on TV the other night and were once again struck by the universal tendency to recast heroes of the ancient past as forerunners of Patrick Henry. I got the feeling that Arthur would have been less comfortable at the Round Table than sitting around with the Founding Fathers drafting the Bill of Rights. Even the abysmal "Alexander" recast the conquering general as another civil libertarian yearning to breathe free.

I don't pretend that I know what Arthur was really like, but I suspect that Monty Python got closer to the truth than this movie: a rousing combination of duty to God, divine right, chivalry, ego, valor and superstition. Arthur, I suspect, would have been as dumbfounded by the Magna Carta as by a jumbo jet. Every time a peasant showed up in the movie, I was tempted to shout, "Come and see the violence inherent in the system."

Modern movies do a great job of capturing the feel and look of the old days, but they don't even try to get inside the heads of those characters. They just recast them all with a powderhorn and musket, spouting good old American values.

I can't help but wonder whether our inability to imagine people who truly don't think the way we do hasn't led us into an ill-considered war or two.

Winding down

Just about done with school. I got my Rocky grades in on Tuesday, after having to spend a few hours tracking down a plagiarism case. It was a good reminder why I would have been a lousy detective. Once the thrill of the chase is over, I just felt dragged down by it all. I already know too many things I don't want to know. Why learn one more?

Now I just have to grade my German finals and get those grades in by Wednesday. Then in the spring, I'll be teaching two German courses at MSU-Billings, and I have a whole month to get ready for it. Maybe I'll get it done right this time.

In the meantime, I'm compiling a list of the most common errors students make in writing (English, not German). I'll add to it as they come to me, but here are a few, in no particular order:

1. Comma splices. Not quite universal but very, very common.

2. Leaving out the comma after the year in a complete date. Almost every student will write, "I was born Jan. 1, 1980 in Billings" instead of "I was born Jan. 1, 1980, in Billings." It's so universal an error that obviously their high school and junior high teachers didn't know the rule either.

3. Pronoun agreement. Nearly universal. "Their" has become the default pronoun for all purposes, regardless of gender and number.

4. Use of "then" for "than." Odd, but quite common.

5. "Affect" vs. "effect." Wrong more often than not.

6. Punctuation outside quotation marks. Students put commas and periods outside quotation marks far more often than they would if they were just guessing. Somewhere along the line, they’re being taught to do it the wrong way.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Doctors have again found acute leukemia in Bette Bohlinger, a Billings resident and wife of Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger. The disease had been in remission. A news release today that a bone marrow donor is being sought.

For information, contact Eileen Damone, Montana's contact for the National Marrow Donor Program at

Bauer vs. Tussing

I don't have much to add to this wacky situation, other than to note that it came just as I was concluding that Mayor Ron Tussing really will be a city employee. That's a point I had decided earlier to leave to the lawyers, but I can play lawyer, too.

I came to the conclusion by the process of elimination. I can think of only four reasons why the city would write a check to anyone:

1. The person has a claim against the city, due to some tort or contractual obligation. Not the case here.

2. The person is a vendor who sells a product to the city. Not the case here.

3. The person is an independent contractor who is paid to provide a specific service to the city. Don't jump on this train too fast. Independent contractor status is governed by state and federal law. The requirements are strict, and I don't think there is any way an elected official could qualify.

4. The person is an employee. Sounds right to me. The fact that Tussing didn't go through the normal application process strikes me as irrelevant in terms of his employee status (although it may be relevant to the question of whether he breached his agreement). But I would argue that he did go through a standard application process, called a primary and an election, before becoming an employee entitled to receive paychecks and other benefits from the city.

Does this mean that he should have to quit or pay back the money? Not necessarily. I still think that the key questions don't concern what would hold up in court. Rather, they are:

1. What did both parties think they were agreeing to? Good faith is more important in this case than legal precision.

2. Has the city honored its obligation to protect Tina Volek from having to work with Tussing again? I still think that question outweighs the sentiments of voters. In my mind, the whole dispute evaporates if she is adequately protected.

3. Does the city has a fiduciary obligation to pursue the recovery of taxpayers' money if an agreement has been breached? Generally, yes. But this is strictly a dollar and cents question. This case is unlikely to set a meaningful precedent; I mean, what are the odds? And the cost of recovery could easily equal or exceed the dollars at stake.

Wal-Mart on the big screen

In response to my earlier question about a Billings showing of "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," I am reliably informed that a public showing will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, 2032 Central Ave.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Now in print

The issue of Montana Quarterly with my Brian Schweitzer story is now out (sorry, not available on the web). And the check is in the bank.

And this week's Outpost has my thoughts on the 12th anniversary of the menorah incident. It turned into one of those 5 a.m. stories, so I'm not sure how well it captures what I really wanted to say (and I don't have the courage yet to look). But I do recommend reading the comments on the topic below from Roxanne Kent, who was the lyricist for "Paper Candles." She expresses what a lot of people seemed to be trying to say at the play, and she may have put it better than I did. At any rate, it's a good counterpoint to some of the more cynical comments on that thread.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Thomas vs. Hitchens

While Cal Thomas thinks planting propaganda in Iraqi newspapers is just peachy (most penetrating insight: "Lippmann was possibly being sarcastic"), Christopher Hitchens thinks heads should roll.

My opinion? Start sharpening the ax.

Side note: Why has the report, cited by Hitchens, that Bush wanted to bomb Al Jazeera drawn so little attention? If true, wouldn't that be an impeachable offense? And if it's not impeachable, why not?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Burns me up

U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns places great value on my advice and opinions. Or so he says in a letter that showed up at my house last week.

He values my opinions so much that he asked me to fill out a three-page survey detailing my views to help him verify that he shares the majority view in Montana on key issues. Among the questions, none of which I'm making up:

"Did you support the President's decision to oust the murderous regime of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq?"

"Are you angry with how the United Nations and so-called 'allies' like France and Germany have undermined our efforts in Iraq and the war on terror?"

"Does it anger you that the courts are more and more ruling against our religious liberties and traditional values and institutions?"

"Has the time come to ease unneeded and counter-productive government regulations and restrictions on agriculture?"

OK, so the senator really isn't interested in my opinion. He's interested in my wallet. As the four-page accompanying letter notes, he hopes to use the survey to "contrast the Democrats' liberal 'values' with our own commonsense Montana values."

Whatever Democrat opposes him, he said, will espouse "the same leftist values of Harry Reid, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Ted Kennedy." Indeed, the letter uses the phrase "liberal Democrat" at least 10 times. And it tells stretchers: John Morrison, Burns says, "is a trial attorney whose industry, and the medical malpractice suits it champions, have had more to do with the rising cost of health care than any other one factor!" Jon Tester, Burns says, "has consistently aligned himself with the far left during his tenure in the State Senate." The far left? Who could that possibly be? Possibly the "Hollywood and New York elite who have always resented the western values and traditions" that Burns upholds.

He sums up, "And the cold, hard fact of the matter is, unless I have your maximum political AND financial support right-here-and-now in the fall of 2005 ... I may not be ready for the firestorm we fully expect the liberal Democrats to soon unleash against me across all of Big Sky Country."

A scary thought indeed.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Still not in our town

I spent a fair part of Saturday seeing "Paper Candles," the new play about the Billings menorah incident of 1993; then sitting through a discussion about it; then watching "Not in Our Town," the documentary that aired on PBS about the whole thing; then viewing excerpts from related documentaries; then a second discussion about all of that.

I'm assembling my thoughts for next week's Outpost, and I don't know how it will turn out. But I was especially struck by something Venture Theatre's artistic director, Mace Archer, said after the play. He said that the menorah story functions as a metaphor, and people have trouble dealing with the metaphors in their own lives. I can't recall specifically whether he said this next bit, but it seemed to follow from what he did say: Art is a way of helping people incorporate metaphor into their lives, and helps build the mythology that makes up the fundamental truths about who we are and how we live. Anyway, that's how my thoughts were running, and, as usual, Mace said it much more eloquently, and he's smarter and better looking, too, which is why I hate and despise him.

And all that about metaphor and mythology is a bit high flown, and I will try to bring it closer to earth for the paper. As I watched the play, I did find myself wishing, somehow, that the facts were further in the past, so that they would stop intruding on what really was a parable. In some ways, it may be that the people who have the most trouble grasping the significance of the parable are the people right here who lived through it all.

In the meantime, I'd be interested in hearing any metaphors, or myths, any reader here might have to add.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Bill Higham, 55, a good friend of The Outpost and a good citizen, has died. Services will be Dec. 17.

He had a fatal illness, apparently, for some time. I didn't know that because I had neither seen nor heard from him since he left First Citizens Bank a year or so ago. Others who knew him said they had tried to reach him and he hadn't responded.

He had served on the MetraPark board, was a member of the Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Committee and was active in NILE and in some Republican political campaigns. On Fridays in the early days of The Outpost, we used to meet at Pauly's (earlier Vinnie's, later a couple of Mexican food restaurants, the Eleven: 11 and Creole's) for drinks with Bill and Denny Rehberg.

First Citizens Bank was on my delivery route in those days, and Bill always subscribed, even though he could have picked one up by walking a few yards. I delivered his paper personally to his desk -- the only publisher-to-subscriber, one-on-one service we offered -- and we would talk about the paper and the news. Every year or so, I would hit him up to renew his subscription.

The paper was, of course, too liberal for his tastes, but he read it faithfully. I promised him once that if The Outpost ever became a huge success, I would become a rich Republican, too. Another failed promise, so far at least.

He was a heck of a guy, loyal, reliable and concerned, at least when I knew him. I don't know exactly what wrong, and I guess I never will.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Serious stuff

The post below may have been trivial, but this is serious stuff. This BYU prof argues that the way the buildings collapsed on 9-11 is much more explicable in terms of physics if one presumes that the collapse was caused by explosives, not by crashing airplanes.

I know, it sounds crazy to me, too, and I've dismissed most of this kind of stuff out of hand. But while I don't have the physics to evaluate the merits of this guy's position, his fundamental point seems hard to argue with: The theory that explosives caused the collapses is testable and falsifiable, so why not test it? He calls for the release of 6,899 photographs and more than 300 hours of video footage for review by an international, cross-disciplinary research team that would consider all options.

To his credit, he avoids speculation about who would have planted any such explosives or why.

UPDATE: Here's one pretty thorough argument against his theory. Other responses I read fell predictably into liberal and conservative camps. Why a purely scientific question should become a political football illustrates pretty well how poisonous the national climate for debate is.

Raving loonies, revisited

I've been a good boy lately about staying out of discussions on blogs run by people who buy their hats a size too small. But this one sucked me in.

Warning: You have to wade through a long, self-congratulatory post about bloggers doing journalism (Look! I have e-mail! Look! I can use a telephone!) before getting to the nub, which appears to be the writer's belief that exercising news judgment is in itself a violation of the journalist's obligation to be neutral and objective. I couldn't quite believe what I seemed to be reading and said so in the comments.

In his response, the writer pointed out, quite sensibly, that I am a dipwit, snotty, lame-assed, whining, wussy, loudmouthed pustule, lying, agenda-driven, pathethic loser of a jackass who operates a socialist cesspool of a blog.

True enough, as far as it goes, but is he serious when he links news judgment to Nazi propaganda? Apparently he's trying to be. Pretty sad.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

What was I thinking?

For a day or two, I have been mulling over comments to my "Newspapers today and tomorrow" post asking what goals I had for The Outpost when I started. I don't think I can answer that in 30 words.

For starters, I anticipated that by now we would be a much more vigorous and stronger independent voice. I've always thought that a weekly with just a couple of reporters could drum a daily on a regular basis. So much energy at a daily is dissipated in the sheer dailiness of it -- the endless meetings to cover, cops and courts, sports agate, photos to take, pages to lay out, the holidays and vacations -- that it seemed reasonable to believe that while we could never be as comprehensive as the daily, we could break stories, anticipate stories and write stories that hit closer to home just about every week.

I thought we would be able to link up with other weeklies in the state to create a truly independent statewide source of news. For example, we might have been able to share a Capitol reporter, go in together on investigative projects of statewide dimensions, and so on. We might even have a built a statewide advertising network to give customers powerful alternatives to the behemoths.

Instead, we're all struggling. Even the Missoula Independent, the gold standard among Montana alternatives, has managed to survive only because it has found buyers at crucial times who could cover the ongoing losses of its early years.

The rest of us, undercapitalized and understaffed, fight a Catch-22: We can't attract advertisers without readers, we can't attract readers without stories, we can't pay for stories without advertisers. We tried to break out of that trap in 2003 with the insertion of a shopper inside the Outpost, but while the experiment temporarily greatly boosted revenues, it was not a money maker and it alienated many readers who just wanted a newspaper.

So now I still can't afford two reporters; I can't even afford me. So I'm holding down three part-time jobs while also trying to publish a weekly with editorial expenses as close to zero as possible. And it shows. It's a trap from which we have been unable to devise an escape.

Why hasn't it worked better? I would need 30,000 words to empty my mind on that topic. Obviously, newspapers are hurting as an industry; our timing may have just been bad. Obviously, I've made my share of mistakes. Obviously, this is a tough town; I've never believed that a conventional alternative could make it here, but finding the right niche has been a difficult challenge. Obviously, Lee Enterprises has taken some hard shots at us at crucial points.

We have had a great deal of vital support from loyal readers and that has kept us going. But getting the larger public to see that their interests are ultimately best served when they have access to thriving Montana-based alternatives to the corporate behemoths has been the most difficult part of this venture.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Got Wal-Mart?

I've seen references to showings of the new documentary "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices" in Great Falls and in Helena (scroll to penultimate item). But I haven't heard of any showings here. Has anyone?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Newspapers today and tomorrow

If you read this, then read this, you'll have a pretty good overview of the state of Montana journalism today (thanks, as usual, to Jackie Corr).

Sunday, November 20, 2005


We got to talking yesterday about dictionaries, and I speculated that most of my writing students never look into a hardcover dictionary. If they can't get it through spell check or an online dictionary, I guessed, they look at most in a portable paperback. An unabridged Webster's Third sits on its own table in the writing lab, but I can't recall having ever seen a student peek into it.

Of course, it's the first place I look when I'm even mildly uncertain about a word. It isn't just that I consider it authoritative but that nearly every journey produces a happy accident or two. Just the other day, I ran across "knapsack problem" and "floccinaucinihilipilification" (a word, the dictionary informs us, used primarily as an example of one of the longest words in the language).

The web has its happy accidents, too, and maybe the students aren't missing much. But when I get papers, as I have recently, that use "threw out" for "throughout" or "per trade" for "portrayed," then I think that a few hours poring over the unabridged might not be a bad investment.

UPDATE: In the comments below, Larry Kralj mentions a letter to the Oupost that appeared in the Aug. 14, 2003, issue. Those interested can find it here.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Election update update

A few posts down, under Election Update, I said that a story Ron Selden and I wrote about alleged police wrongdoing was too old to be on the web. I was wrong. I just found it on Google while looking for something else. That means Tussing's response is probably floating out there somewhere in cyberspace, too, but I couldn't reel it in.

Early and often

The deadline is nigh for voting on Wulfar's Montana web awards.

Of course, I'm boycotting because he had no category for best weekly-sponsored site by a blogger of Texas extraction with at least three part-time jobs.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Good enough

From the Montana GOP E-Brief: "Today, the Montana Democratic Party is attacking Senator Conrad Burns on his vote to support Montana’s Law Enforcement through half-truths and omissions."

If half-truths and omissions are good enough for Burns, they ought to be good enough for Democrats!

Tina vs. Tussing

Newly elected Billings City Council member Joy Stevens is catching a lot of heat here for her Outpost column suggesting that Tussing's employment contract go before a judge. Some of the criticism is misplaced.

One thing some critics overlook is that the police chief's severance agreement was designed in part to protect Kristoff Bauer and Tina Volek from retaliation. Bauer's a dead issue now, but Volek isn't, and if the contract does in fact provide her some legal protection, then the council is obliged to demand that the contract be honored. That's true, I think, no matter what the public wants. You can't sign off on a deal to protect an employee's interests, then ignore it because you decide you don't want to be bothered.

The larger issue of whether Tussing is an employee I will leave to the lawyers. But as I understand it, Tussing has said that he agreed to the deal only because he understood that he could still run for office. If he's telling the truth -- and I have no reason to suspect that he isn't -- then why didn't the city understand that? It's not like Tussing was going to come back and apply to be landfill supervisor. Why wouldn't it have occurred to the city's lawyers to include the one provision most likely to blunt any threat to Bauer's and Volek's future employment?

On the other hand, I don't think much of a deal that would pay an employee a clearly merited severance only if he promised to sacrifice his right to seek public office. That has a definite odor. Could that be why the contract didn't specifically address that issue? Maybe the city hoped to dodge a bullet. Hello, bullet.


Evelyn Pyburn has a good piece on her efforts to get the Big Sky Economic Development Corp. to hold its meetings in public. The EDC is a branch of the Big Sky Economic Development Authority, which is taxpayer supported.

Attorney Tom Towe gave the EDC an opinion holding that it was a private organization required to meet in public only when matters involving public funds are discussed. Helena attorney Mike Malloy gave this succinct appraisal of Towe's position: "Hogwash."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Give til it hurts

You can now support The Outpost (and this blog) through Paypal over at the Outpost website. Just scroll down the right-hand side. Not that we're poor or anything, but it would be nice to be able to afford to give up a job or two.

Cobb Field

The new (and slow-loading) Cobb Field Feasibility Study is up here. Comments can be sent to park planner Mark Jarvis at

Saturday, November 12, 2005

End times

Before the election I meant to post a contest asking for predictions on the headline that the Montana News Association would use to describe the result if Tussing won. What a letdown: The headine was "Final election results."

I was going to bet on "Satan rules city."

Election update

Mary Jo Fox gets a few things wrong in comments below.

For one, she suggests that my decision to play the City Council results on Page 3 indicated pro-Garver bias. Nonsense. Regular readers know that we typically play election results on Page 2 or 3. There's a simple explanation: Tuesday is Outpost production night, so I don't have time during elections to do more than gather bare results. By the time the paper comes out on Thursday, I figure that everybody who is even a little interested knows the bare results. So I play them inside. It's utterly unrelated to who wins or loses.

For another, she still seems to be under the illusion that my early pick of Al Garver to win the mayor's race indicated a pro-Garver bias. This is just weird. I picked George Bush to win the Montana vote for president in both 2000 and 2004. Does that mean I wanted him to win? Uh, no.

Third, she still can't figure out why I objected to a question she posed at a mayoral forum I moderated. I swore I wouldn't write about this anymore, but let me add just this bit of perspective: To me the question resembled the flier attacking Garver in the final days of the campaign. It wasn't that the issues raised in the flier were illegitimate; it was that they were late, inflammatory and likely to backfire. I think that kind of stuff undermines democracy, and it irritates me.

Finally, she suggests that Ron Tussing's problems with The Outpost relate only to my woefully inaccurate prediction. Actually, his problems with us go back a good deal further, at least to an October 1999 story that detailed allegations of improper police conduct (sorry, too far back for a link, but I'll send you a copy for 50 cents plus $1 shipping and handling). The allegations were aired at two public meetings about police behavior, and we reported them at length. If memory serves, no one else covered the meetings.

The chief and I had a heated discussion about the story, and he wrote a detailed response, which we printed in full the following week. I didn't really blame him for being angry for several reasons:

1. I wish we had done more reporting to try to nail down the allegations better. But when people are alleging that authorities are acting improperly, to what authority can one turn to validate their claims? Still, if I could edit the story again, I would do it differently.

2. I like it when a boss stands up for his people. I wish I knew a few more who did.

3. His written response gave me a strange epiphany. It began, "The Outpost has apparently digressed from its efforts to become an alternate news source to becoming an alternate reality source." It was a good line, which I have often quoted. He went on to say many less kind things. That week was a lousy one in terms of revenue for The Outpost, and on publication day, it occurred to me that there I was, out delivering papers for 10 or 12 hours, all for no money, just so I could let the police chief tell the citizens of Billings what an irresponsible jerk I was. I can't imagine that any business but a newspaper would do such a thing, except under court order.

While the specific allegations we reported may have gone nowhere, allegations that the police department doesn't handle complaints adquately were recently reiterated by Montana People's Action and sustained in the Reiter report.

Still, we've never questioned Tussing's competence or intelligence, and we were seriously considering endorsing him this year until he talked us out of it. The man can hold a grudge. Which is why I've wondered whether he was the right guy to be mayor, a position that demands diplomacy, tact and a long fuse. Maybe he will do fine. Until I know for sure, I'll stay out of shoving distance.

Veterans Day 2005

I almost took Friday off. Classes at MSU-Billings were out for Veterans Day, and I've always wanted a Veterans Day off sometime before I died. It's been 32 years, so I thought I'd better grab one while I could. Until now, it's always seemed like the real reason I served my country was so bankers and post office workers could get another day off in November.

It wasn't quite a full day off. I graded some papers, washed dishes and straightened the house. But I didn't go the office or check e-mail, and I did watch a Marx Brothers movie, play some bridge, stretch out in the hot tub and cook a rice casserole with Andouille sausage. Mighty tasty.

Mike Royko was the first pundit I knew of who argued that veterans should always get Veterans Day off, and I have taken up the call from time to time. Consider my own case, not because I'm especially deserving but because I am about as undeserving as veterans come. Few people had easier duty than I did: Fifty-six weeks learning German in lovely Monterey, Calif., short stints in Missouri and Texas, then a year and change working four day shifts and drinking beer and Jaegermeister on the East German border. I had it made.

Still, it was three years of my misspent life, mostly in an atmosphere uncongenial to a guy who hates wearing uniforms and taking orders. If I live to be 80, and were to get every Veterans Day off, I would still get back less than two months of my 36-month enlistment. Is that too much to ask? And if it's not too much for me to ask, then why not for the millions of guys who actually paid a heavy price in service of their country? Aren't they as worthy as bankers?

Thursday, November 10, 2005


So here I am, acting as Al Garver's apologist again.

As I've said before, I had no horse in this race, and I doubt that it will much matter in the long run who won. But the worst thing about this troubling election was that so many people let Garver's religion influence their thinking. I heard from an amazing number of people who thought Garver was out to lead the city down the road to conservative Christianity.

Trouble is, I heard the guy speak on a number of occasions, interviewed him at some length and talked to him quite a few other times. I never once heard even the slightest hint that theocracy was anywhere in his political ideology. It was a slur, pure and simple, as far as I could tell.

Someone told me that a lot of people were saying they would leave town if Garver were elected. "Good," I said. "Good riddance."

Fitness for office should not be judged on the basis of religious affiliation. It isn't constitutional, and it isn't right.

I never heard Tussing suggest anything about Garver's religion, by the way, so I'm not blaming him. And while I'm not terribly happy about having a mayor who dislikes my newspaper, I can live with that. All things considered, it's better to have a feud with a mayor than with a police chief.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

An election worth having

Wulfgar is conducting a poll on Montana websites.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Trashing Garver

The GOP E-brief, put out by the Republican Central Committee, traces the anti-Garver hit piece to the Big Sky Democrats. The E-brief says, "We're still gathering evidence to build this case, but there is much to suggest that the organization responsible for the defamatory campaign flier and the illegal auto-dial messages is none other than Barrett Kaiser's Big Sky Democrats."

The E-brief goes on to urge voters to cast their ballots for Al Garver. So now the race has become a surrogate for both political parties. Nice.

UPDATE: The Big Sky Democrats respond.

UPDATE UPDATE: More on the tactics of the Big Sky Democrats from the Washington Post (scroll to the bottom of the page, while murmuring thanks to Jackie Corr).

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE: Garver is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution of those responsible for stealing his campaign signs. "I just hope the voters can see who the good guy is in all this mess,” he said in a news release.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Come again no more

Hard times at Lee Enterprises.

Garver catching up?

My delivery tour of Billings on Thursday seemed to show that Al Garver had cut heavily into the mayoral race sign gap. This week he seemed to have as many, and possibly more, signs up than Tussing, and many of them were in better locations.

I should note that my opinions about sign coverage aren't as useful as they used to be. I used to deliver 140 Outpost stops over about 10 hours, from the far end of Lockwood and the Heights to Shiloh Road. Nobody in Yellowstone County saw more political signs than I did.

My route is much more restricted now -- I don't enter the Heights at all, for instance, or go west of 24th Street West -- so I don't get a complete picture. But that's how it looked to me. Perhaps someone else can offer a more comprehensive view.

This whole race continues to puzzle me. Here we have two intelligent, articulate guys, both well informed about city government and both saying mostly the right things, running for a job that probably requires only a small fraction of the skills they have. So why don't I feel better about these choices? And why do so many people I talk to feel the same way?


So the Gazette gives me just enough Sudoku puzzles to get me mildly addicted, then it cuts back to "very easy" and "easy" puzzles with the occasional "medium" thrown in.

The medium puzzles are OK; it takes 15 or 20 minutes for me to do one, and that's about all the time I can spare anyway. But the others are at connect-the-dots level.

What's the Gazoo trying to do: Drive readers to an alternative publication that could provide a more challenging puzzle?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Garver-Tussing again

Just for the record: If someone at the mayoral forum I moderated had asked, "Do you think it's ethical for candidates to encourage their supporters to make donations that violate campaign laws?," I would have thought that was a dumb question, too.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Done and done

Finished my big freelance piece on Brian Schweitzer last night and shipped it off in the e-mail. Hallelujah. It'll be out in December, I think.

Getting the piece done was tough sledding with my schedule, but enjoyable all the same. I wish I could afford to write for a living.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


From the indispensable Jackie Corr comes word that Matt Vincent, formerly of the Montana Standard's Rat Pack column, has quit the Standard and started a new column for our Butte colleagues, the Butte Weekly. The popular Rat Pack, so Vincent tells us, was canceled by the Standard in part because a couple of advertisers objected to an item. Vincent writes:

Congratulations to those two pompous advertisers and a spineless publisher - you sure showed us. And The Standard also showed everyone that core principles like freedom of the press and censorship are debatable if it means being potentially unpopular or unprofitable in the eyes of a few crybaby advertisers - in this case ones that don't even spend enough money to worry about losing.

Vincent goes on to allege that Standard Editor Gerry O'Brien removed citizen commentary opposing the cancellation from the Standard's website and that the Standard has failed to run some letters to the editor defending the column.

Opinions get more expensive every day.

Readers' choice

Reasonable people can disagree, and so can unreasonable ones. So I would never find fault with the Gazette's Readers' Choice awards. After all, we were told that the response was "wonderful," which must mean that at least somebody responded.

But in all seriousness: Applebee's for Best All-Around Restaurant? Wendy's for Best Hamburger? Let's set aside the possibility that either of these establishments could have won a plurality of votes in these categories. Does even one person seriously think that Applebee's is the best restaurant in Billings? Or what it would say about the state of Billings cuisine if it were?

And I can't imagine that even Wendy's thinks it makes the best hamburgers in town. Heck, Applebee's makes better hamburgers.

Come on, Applebee's and Wendy's fans. If you are out there, make your case.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Never apologize

When we called up City Council candidates this week in a last-minute attempt to round up some political ads, Ron Tussing turned us down. His reason: He said that I am “an apologist” for Al Garver.

I can’t think of anything I wrote in The Outpost that would deserve that label, and I assume he wasn’t referring to this. So it must have to this, in which I labeled a loaded question posed by a Tussing supporter as a “cheap shot” and “dumb.”

Since Tussing ran a couple of 2-by-4 ads before the primary, and since we charge a flat $10 per column inch for political ads, my comment may have cost me $160 or so. That makes it the most expensive opinion in the history of the Montana blogosphere, I’m guessing. Can anybody top it?

I’m working on a freelance piece that, with luck, may pay me 20 cents a word. My three-word “apology” for Garver may have cost me $53.33 a word. If Larry Kralj had to pay those kind of rates each times he gives offense, he would be bankrupt after a paragraph or two.

I wrote the offending lines about 13 hours into a 22-hour day. If I had been a little less tired, I might have been more circumspect. But after considerable reflection and discussion, I haven’t found a reason to doubt my initial judgment about the question. It was dumb. And, since the bill already has been paid: dumb, dumb, dumb.

At any rate, this development has put a serious crimp into the profitability of this blog. The latest P&L:

Hosting $0
Compensation to author $0
Total $0

Gross income $0
Intemperate opinion penalty ($160)
Total ($160)

Total net income: ($160).

As usual, my business plan appears to have some holes in it.

The oddest thing is that Tussing seems to think I have something against him and his campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth. I need him in the public eye. Until he came along, I was Donald Cyphers’ public enemy No. 1.

Heck, I probably should apologize. But then Garver might pull his ads. I don’t think I can afford any more apologies.

Hockey time

As it happens, I have a fairly substantial number of free hockey tickets for tonight's and Saturday's games. If you want any, please send me an e-mail at and you're welcome to them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sell dirt cheap

The cheapest housing market in Montana? Right here in Billings (thanks to Ed Ulledalen for the link).

Monday, October 24, 2005

Buying local

Heard a radio ad the other day for a fairly prominent Billings business urging residents to buy from Montana-owned stores. Bravo for that.

The thing that rankled was that we have been trying for eight years to get that particular business to buy an ad in this Montana-owned newspaper. Not one nickel has come our way. Maybe the owners should listen to their own ads.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Garver-Tussing update

My entry on the debate Tuesday between Al Garver and Ron Tussing spurred quite a bit of discussion below, much of it on the question of whether Garver improperly funneled campaign funds through his consulting business. I asked Garver about it yesterday, and he said that he incurred some expenses, including printing and miscellanenous items, before his campaign fund had been properly set up. He charged those expenses to his consulting business, then reimbursed the business when his campaign was up and going.

He said he submitted an invoice of the expenses to the commissioner of political practice when he filed his campaign report. That, he said, is why the commissioner dismissed a complaint filed against him without even bothering to notify him: There was simply no problem.

The conversation took place too late in the day for me to verify his account with the office of political practice, but that's his story.

In Tune?

The all-time roster of Tuney Award winners for the best in Billings music is located here. I'm not a huge music fan, but I found the list pretty interesting in not quite definable ways.

I also enjoyed the Tuney Award celebration itself, especially the soulful and rustic performance by the Smoothgrass Boys. Afterward, a few fancy-pants modernists (who shall go here unnamed) complained that the Boys weren't exactly in tune. Harumph.

I grew up in steeped in old-timey gospel music. Give me a few minutes, and I could sing you the first verse of at least 100 gospel songs, without getting a single measure in tune. That ain't the point.

My father, the itinerant preacher, hauled us kids to meetings in South Texas churches so rural that even locals hadn't heard of them: Ezzell, Nursery, Fordtran, Bazette, Prairie Point. The notion that singing should be in tune was not only foreign but mildly suspect, unAmerican and possibly even ungodly. My church permitted no instrumental music, and I remember serious theological disputes over whether the use of a pitch pipe to get the congregants in tune violated the will of the Lord. The pitch pipe backers won out, leading directly to the breakdown of the family, pornography and George W. Bush.

In my later youth, a friend and I shared a Sunday pulpit in Fordtran, Texas, halfway between Victoria and Halletsville. One Sunday after church, we decided to take a ride through the community of Fordtran itself, up the road from the church. We drove around aimlessly for a half-hour or so, then pulled up by a boy in bluejeans who was standing all alone on a road bounded by barbed-wire fences and flat, treeless pasture stretching as far as the eye could see.

"Where's Fordtran?" we asked.

"You're in it," he said.

But when Wesley Stevens led the singing on Sunday mornings, his powerful voice blasted through the open windows and echoed among the pecan trees. We grabbed our songbooks and just held on. And when the whole Stevens clan gathered on Sunday afternoons for a full-fledged singing, the sheer musicality of it was the talk of Victoria County. But was everybody always and exactly in tune, following some dictatorial priniciple laid down in hymnal law? What are you, some kind of communist?

My friend Tony Rohne put it best, years later and in a different context, during choir practice for the Methodist church.

"Those notes," he said, "those notes are just guidelines."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Free at last

A couple of minutes after the Astros hauled in the final fly ball last night to win their first-ever trip to the World Series, my phone rang. I didn't have to check caller ID to know who was calling: It was my brother, checking in from Texas, about the team we began following in 1965, when I was 14 and he was 13.

"It's been 40 years," he said. "Forty years. And now I have seen the Promised Land."

The Astros haunted us for decades. We began listening on the radio when the Astrodome opened, getting hooked while spending spring nights on cots on the screen porch as the Astros played a series of exhibition games against the New York Yankees, then still starring Mickey Mantle.

It wasn't just the baseball. We grew up out in the country in South Texas, and the Astros opened a window on a world that we could only imagine: We followed an ongoing storyline -- mostly futile, sometimes absurd -- night after night, city after city, to St. Louis, San Francisco, New York, Chicago. On West Coast swings, when games started about the time we had to go to bed, we would fall asleep with the radio turned down low in the dark. I remember lying half asleep one night in extra innings as Willie Mays, then still in his prime, fouled off pitch after pitch, waiting for just the right one before driving the ball out of the park to end the game.

Finally seeing the team live was an experience I recall more clearly than any game I have ever seen since. That game was against the Cardinals, too, and the Astros won it, 4-3, when Bob Aspromonte hit a line drive single that split the third-base line with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th.

When the Astros finally were on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time, in 1980, they went into LA with a two-game lead on the Dodgers and three to play. The Astros lost the first two, and my phone rang after the final out of the second game. It wasn't my brother but a sportswriting buddy, whose first words were, "This is the suicide hotline. We had a message to call here." But the Astros won that third game (the headline in the Los Angeles Times: "Astros win first prize, two days in Philadelphia; Dodgers win second, winter in LA") and played the best post-season series ever against the Phillies, but the World Series remained elusive.

I tried to swear off the Astros over the years. It was always a lousy match, the Astros with their fake grass and Hawaiian luau jerseys and exploding scoreboard and me railing against aluminum bats and calling for a constitutional amendment to outlaw the designated hitter rule. I tried to adopt the Rangers and the Rockies, but nothing took. For me, it was the Astros or nobody.

And now they're in the World Series. I have seen the Promised Land.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Debate update

I'm just back from the moderating the mayoral debate sponsored by the Descro Neighborhood Task Force. With only two candidates, we experimented with a more interactive format than in most debates. Panelists Jim Van Arsdale and Royal Johnson took turns asking questions in four-minute blocks, which allowed follow-up questions on key issues and made for some interesting exchanges. Don't ask me what anybody actually said: I was too busy monitoring the second hand on my wristwatch.

Johnson asked some questions along these lines, and I was relieved to hear that both candidates seemed to have as much trouble sorting this issue out as I do.

But my impression was that Tussing did somewhat better overall than he did in the six-candidate primary debate. The longer format allowed more of his in-depth knowledge to surface, and his sense of humor showed through (before the debate, he suggested that he and Garver should just give each other's answers, since both had heard them often enough before). The format also forced him to answer some pretty tough questions about his agreement not to work for the city and his probable relations with city staff, and he answered those questions fully and without flinching.

Garver doesn't quite have Tussing's natural ease in front of a crowd, but he did OK, too, and he defended himself well from a cheapshot question posed from the audience by Mary Jo Fox, who essentially accused him of using his consulting business as a front to pump campaign funds into his own pocket. Pretty dumb.

So what difference does it make who wins? Not much, probably. More laughs with Tussing, no doubt, and possibly more public confrontations. That makes good copy. Garver might work harder and push more initiatives and projects -- maybe good, maybe not. Frankly, I'm still not sure how I will vote. Where's Bovee when you need him?

Pot, meet Kettle

From the latest Montana Republican Party e-mail: "Just look at what the Democrats’ tactics have been to this point. Lie, slander, throw mud, and attempt character assassination. That’s all they can do!"

Monday, October 17, 2005

Council update

The meeting with the Billings City Council this evening went about as expected. All the media representatives in attendance (Steve Prosinski and Kristi Angel, Gazette; Blair Martin, KULR-8; Jon Stepanek, Q2) pretty much saw eye to eye: Nobody wanted a media advisory council, and nobody really wanted to negotiate with the city on how to resolve open records disputes.

As presented at the meeting, the city's idea didn't sound quite as bad as in the letter. Apparently, Bozeman has adopted some kind of deal with the media (presumably, the Chronicle) so that disagreements about what is public go directly to district judges without a lot of legal formalities and briefs. The city says this would save money and time.

Perhaps that's so, on certain types of open records requests. But I think we all hoped to hear the city say that it has simply been wrong to fight some of the requests it has fought, and we didn't hear that. In any case, no media organization can make a deal that's binding on others, and even if we all agreed, any member of the public could still challenge the agreement, so I'm not sure what the agreement would solve when substantive legal issues were in dispute.

So I don't know that anything was settled. Vince Ruegamer said that if we don't like the city's ideas for improving things then we should come up with our own. But I agree with what Stepanek said afterward: A bit of an adversarial relationship is not a bad thing, and the existing system works OK, so long as everybody just tries to follow the law.

Q2's attorney, Bill Conner, wondered afterward why Cyphers wasn't there. Probably ought interviewing Tussing, he figured.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Damned to hell

I saw in City Lights that Ed Kemmick got a note from Marvella Orchard along with a copy of the Northern Light. I got a copy of the Northern Light in the mail the other day, too, but I couldn't find a note. Just now, as I was cleaning off my desk, there it was.

Marvella Orchard wrote: "I have read your personal attacks against Mr. Donald Cyphers and your bad words about the Montana News Association. You tried through unethical business tactics to destroy both Mr. Cyphers and Mrs. Kathleen Plumb of the Northern Light. Yet, as you can see, while you are declining, God is blessing and increasing their business and their influence."

I don't know what I did to "destroy" Ms. Plumb. Nothing that I can recall. And it beats me why Cyphers gets a pass for ripping people off while God punishes me for pointing it out.

Maybe I've spent too many Sunday mornings at St. Mattress.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Fighting privacy

Mayor Chuck Tooley has invited me to a workshop Monday on city-media relations. His letter proposes (with some paraphrasing):

1. That when the media request information that may jeopardize individual privacy, all parties will agree to seek and abide by a judge's ruling.

2. The City Council won't act on any such matter until the judge has ruled.

3. The council wants to create a committee of members of the media to review requests that the city considers burdensome and then make recommendations.

These might be matters worthy of serious consideration, but since I have my blogging hat on, I'll just dash off a few leather-headed opinions.

1. I don't want to have anything to do with this. I want the city to grant all legal requests and deny the rest. It's my job to protect privacy when warranted when I decide what to publish, but it's not my job to help the city control access to information.

2. If I were to serve on the committee the mayor has proposed, my recommendation in every case would be that the city comply promptly and fully with both the letter and spirit of the law. Since I'm not the city's legal adviser, my advice would never go beyond that.

3. It doesn't really matter to me whether requests to the city for information are made in good faith or bad, with pure motives or corrupt, in service of the greater good or not. My only concern is whether the requests are legal. If they are, then the information ought to be released.

4. I can't afford lawyers. If the city improperly denies me information, I want to be compensated.

One for Tussing

I don't have a Ron Tussing banner on my blog, but I still think he comes out the big winner in this exchange. Al Garver sounds both petty and naive, a deadly combination in a prospective leader. And Tussing's response was dead on: "It's not my job to give Al Garver ideas."

I'm not backing off from my prediction that Garver will win this, but I'm also not doubling up any bets.

Rack update update update update

My latest piece on the rack situation is here. But actually there has been a later development since I wrote that. It looks as if we will be allowed to leave our papers on Albertsons racks without signing a contract. That's not the same as being free, and it doesn't mean that we can't get kicked off, but it feels like a victory, no matter how small.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Rack update update update

I've finally written my long overdue update to our rack distribution problems. But do you think I will let you read it for free here? No, you'll have to wait until Thursday and read it for free in The Outpost. Short summary: It ain't over yet.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

News from Bizarro World

Here's a marriage made in -- well, maybe not exactly heaven -- but somewhere south of there. The Northern Light, a monthly based in Molt, and the Montana News Association, an online publication based in Never Never Land, have joined forces.

The latest issue of the Northern Light includes a letter from MNA Editor Donald Cyphers welcoming Light Editor Kathleen Plumb as an MNA member. He writes, "The Montana News Association, together with our many state, national and International media partnerships, pray for your success in Christ and that you will be abundantly blessed with His direction, protection and peace." Ms. Plumb adds, "May God bless our efforts."

God may stay out of this one. Cyphers, despite his Christian orientation has -- how shall I put it? -- some integrity management issues (see, for example, here, here, here and here.

Plumb, despite her Christian orientation, has -- how shall I put it? -- some reality management issues. See, for example, here and my response here.

So this ought to be interesting. I just hope nobody gets hurt. At least, I hope Ms. Plumb doesn't get hurt. But here's the bright side: The Northern Light's latest issue reprints an MNA piece about Ron Tussing that refers to Ed Kemmick's "lack of any semblance of logic" and his "irresponsible cavalier attitude." Ed's overjoyed response is here.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Doggone it

The last comment on the Tussing Tussle thread below is pretty doggone hilarious. Well, it may not be the last comment by the time you get there, but you'll know you found it when you start chuckling.

And speaking of doggone, Brian Schweitzer dropped a "doggone" into a radio interview with national talk show host Glenn Beck last week. Gov. Schweitzer's discussion of coal liquefaction on Thursday just about charmed the pants off Beck, who was particularly struck by Schweitzer's "doggone" terminology and used it half-a-dozen times in the next 5 or 10 minutes.

After the interview, when the conservative Beck's sidekick reminded him that he wasn't supposed to like Democrats, Beck said, "Well, doggone it, I want to like him."

It all struck me as especially funny because I had just interviewed Schweitzer for an hour, finishing up not more than five minutes before the (apparently pretaped) show aired. I have a freelance story in the works about the governor.

Naturally, I used my interview to get a dig in at the governor -- after he took a dig at me for my lacksadaisical blogging habits. When he asked how The Outpost was doing, I told him it had been a tough year. A year ago in October, I told him, was the best month The Outpost ever had.

"Then you got elected," I said, "and everything went to hell."

Which actually is true. Not that I'm saying the two are connected.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Naked woman alert

For our lunchtime entertainment, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals promises to put a naked woman on display near the courthouse in downtown Billings at noon tomorrow. According to a news release:

Wearing nothing but shackles and covered in “scars” as a result of violent “beatings”—an everyday reality for animals in circuses—a woman will protest the arrival of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She will be joined by protesters holding a banner that reads, “Shackled, Lonely, Beaten,” while others show footage of elephant beatings on body screen TVs and hold poster-size photos of animals who have died at Ringling’s hands ... . “If it takes exposing some of my skin to expose the cruelty that goes on behind the scenes at the circus, I’m happy to do it,” says PETA spokesperson Julie Kelton. “I only have to spend a few minutes in chains, while animals in circuses must endure a lifetime of chains, cages, and beatings.”

Plus, they have to perform in the nude.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The governor's list

John Clayton and wife just stopped by to say hello, and he told me I am on the governor's blogroll. Gee, maybe I should pick up the pace around here a bit.

On the other hand, I am a veritable gasbag compared to this entry on the governor's list.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Tussing tussle

Good column today by Ed Kemmick on the Ron Tussing contract dispute. It made me wonder: Why doesn't Tussing just promise that, if elected, he'll give the $160,000 back to the city? He says he doesn't actually have the money, but a newly elected top city official with a long career in law enforcement ought to be able to scrounge it up somewhere.

I know I'd want to vote for a candidate who promised that the first thing he'd do if elected is donate enough of his personal wealth to pay for a police officer for five years. How could Al Garver top that? He'd have to offer to build a fire station!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Unconstitutional Constitution Day

The Cato Institute makes the best case I've seen that the law requiring students to learn about the Constitution on or about Sept. 17 is itself unconstitutional.

Is it really possible to argue that the Cato Institute is wrong? Or do we just not give a damn what the Constitution says anymore?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Scooped again

I teach two classes at Rocky Mountain College, but one of them is early in the morning and the other is late in the evening. I'm rarely around during normal hours, and I'm not on campus e-mail. So perhaps it's not too surprising that I didn't hear about this until I got up this morning. Quite likely, I was the very last Rocky employee to know.

So I skipped reporting on the story in blissful ignorance. But it made me wonder: If I had gotten my hands on that e-mail Tuesday afternoon, with the eerie note that essentially asks me as a faculty member not to talk to myself as a reporter, would I have gotten the story in this week's Outpost? A year ago I think the answer would have been easy. But how willing would I be now to risk the job that supports me in order to shore up the nonpaying hobby that is slowly grinding me down?

The correct response may be this: When you start asking yourself that kind of question, you already know the answer.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

So who won?

When I saw The Gazette's count on Thursday of who won which box in the City Council election, my heart sank the final eighth of an inch to the dead bottom. The Gazoo had Ron Tussing winning 27 precincts; I had him at 25.

I had a bad feeling that I was wrong. My e-mail program had crashed in the heat of production on Tuesday night, and I fiddled with it for a few hours. By the time I got to the City Council story, it was five or six in the morning and I had been working for 22 straight hours. It was one of those stories I had trouble writing because my chin kept dropping onto my chest.

So yesterday I did a recount. Sure enough, I had made a mistake: I counted a box for Al Garver that should have gone to Larry Brewster. But I still came up with 25 boxes for Tussing, so I had it: Tussing 25; Garver, 9; Brewster, 4; with one box tied between Garver and Tussing. I counted again. Same thing.

Maybe the Gazette corrected its story and I missed it. Maybe I'm still nodding off. Has somebody else made a count?

Sleepless in Montana

I mentioned earlier that Walter Kirn had guest-blogged for Andrew Sullivan. Now he's written a funny essay describing the experience.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On to November

I'm no believer in online polls, but it is interesting to note that the Outpost online poll picked the exact order of finish of the six candidates in the mayor's race. We won the hexfecta.

Ron Tussing did considerably better online than in the actual election (47 percent vs. 34 percent), which is consistent with my theory that Tussing supporters are more passionate about their candidate than other voters. Online polls tend to reflect passion more than actual votes. All that passion probably helped Tussing in the primary, but it could hurt him in November if the anti-Tussing forces, with only one other candidate to concentrate on, become as passionate as his supporters are now.

Tussing's online margin came mostly at the expense of Larry Brewster, who did twice as well in the actual primary as in the online poll. Again, that would be consistent with my theory: I don't think anyone felt terribly passionate about

Al Garver, Cliff Hanson and David Bovee all had online results that, when compared to actual votes, would fall within a typical margin of error for a scientific poll. Michael Larson did better at the polls than online, but his totals were so low in both places that the result probably is just an artifact.

So it's Garver vs. Tussing in November. I picked both of the guys to advance, so I might as well go all out and pick again: Garver. Why? Money, for one thing. Garver knows how to get it and how to spend it. Plus, Tuesday's results weren't exactly a repudiation of the incumbent council. Don Jones, Ed Ulledalen and Chris "Shoots" Veis all led their primary races. For all the complaints about how the council handled Tussing's dispute with the city administrator, incumbents (except maybe Brewster) didn't suffer for it.

Finally, I'm sticking by my theory in the second graph. Tussing arouses the strongest emotions, both pro and con, of any candidate in the race. There's no way to know how many votes cast in the primary were really "anti-Tussing" votes, but my guess is that there are enough out there to give Garver the victory.

One caveat: I've only glanced at the precinct-by-precinct totals, but it appears that Tussing did consistently well across nearly all of the city. That could bode well for him.

UPDATE: The Montana News Association seems to have pulled its online poll in the mayor's race, but the last time I checked Tussing had, if memory serves, 1.2 percent of the vote. Now that's sampling error.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Time to vote

If you still haven't made up your mind about the mayor's race, you might want to take a look at the Outpost's online poll. I don't know if the votes mean anything, but the comments are pretty interesting.

N is for News

The Missoula Independent interviews Don Cyphers, the estimable publisher of the detestable Montana News Association.

Funny about that quote from Cyphers: Every time I've ever talked to him, he's mentioned lawyers, too.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Roberts and privacy

I'm behind, as always (see schedule below), so I just ran across Dave Budge's comments on John Roberts and privacy. Budge takes a routine quote from Justice Ginsberg, brands it "nonsense" and says its logic would lead to constitutional protection for incest and bestiality, among other crimes.

It's amazing how wrong a blogger can be in just a few short sentences. Ginsberg's remarks, unless Budge has taken them wildly out of context, do not in any way seek to protect criminal activity. She seems to be making a point that I have occasionally made: While the Constitution contains no explicit right to privacy, certain privacy rights appear to be inherent in the document, such as the right not to quarter troops in your house, to demand a search warrant or not to incriminate yourself. Those protections don't say it's OK to commit crimes; they merely limit the government's ability to poke around in your personal life to find out if you are committing any crimes. Nothing in the Ginsberg quote indicates that she would disagree with Blackmun's statement that privacy rights are less than absolute.

Roberts may be correct, at least in constitutional terms, to refer to a "so-called" right to privacy. But that term of art in no way diminishes the importance of fundamental constitutional protections aimed at keeping government's nose out of our business. Roberts' attitude toward privacy clearly is a legitimate public interest and ought to be explored in hearings.

Without some federal recognition of privacy rights, then the government might imagine it could come along and confiscate your children's urine. No, wait. It already thinks it can do that.

If Teddy had been in charge

So how did the government handle a natural disaster comparable to Katrina: the San Francisco earthquake of 1906? Curious, I pulled out my copy of Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts’ 1971 book on the topic and scribbled a few notes.

The earthquake itself was quite comparable to Katrina in scope and destruction: some 400 dead, 5,000 injured and 100,000 left homeless by the quake and three days of fire that followed it. Damage estimates ranged as high as $500 million – a large chunk of change in those days.

Government response was about as mixed as you might imagine. At the local level, city officials accomplished little in the early hours and the fire department was ineffective (not really its fault; the chief was mortally injured in the quake and the water was almost entirely unavailable).

Sixteen hours after the quake, “At 11:00 that night, confusion in the streets was as great as ever. … No attempt was made to marshal the remaining means of transportation into any real order; communications, where they existed, were haphazard, and verbal messages were frequently distorted.” Local officials also were accused of covering up an outbreak of bubonic plague.

The brigadier general in charge of U.S. troops in California immediately imposed something close to martial law. Looters and price gougers were treated mercilessly. A man digging in the ruins of a jewelry shop was run through with a bayonet. A shopkeeper who demanded 75 cents for a loaf of bread “was frog-marched outside his shop and executed.”

Dr. Alfred Spalding, part of a medical team, said later, “All along the streets I saw dead bodies placarded ‘shot for stealing.’ Ten men were shot while trying to get into Shreve’s. One man was shot for refusing to carry a hose.”
With no water, troops attempted to head off fire by dynamiting buildings in its path. It’s unclear whether those actions reduced or added to the destruction. Newspapers were filled with rumors and false reports that became conventional wisdom for the next half-century.

The federal government, with Teddy Roosevelt in charge, acted quickly. When the size of the disaster became clear by mid-afternoon the next day, the president immediately authorized federal military and relief intervention. Marines and sailors disembarked from warships earlier that day and formed firefighting squads.

It took Congress 10 minutes to pass $2.5 million in relief. By that time, express trains were on their way with tents, blankets and cots. Within six hours of the earthquake, 700,000 rations were on their way from commissaries in Portland and Seattle. Eventually, some $9 million in relief funds was received.

After the earthquake, bribery charges arose in part over deals made to rebuild. Mayor Eugene Schmitz was acquitted of bribery, but Abraham Ruef, a Republican political kingpin, was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in San Quentin. He served 4½. The body of Police Chief William J. Biggy, who was blamed for the death of a suspect, mysteriously turned up in Oakland Bay.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

New hours

OK, I think I just about have my fall schedule worked out.

Monday: 8 a.m. to noon, writing tutor at MSU-Billings
12:50-1:50 p.m., teach German at MSU-Billings
2-4 p.m., writing tutor
4-5 p.m., office hours at Rocky

Tuesday: 7:45-9 a.m., teach first-year writing at Rocky Mountain College
9:20-10:35 a.m., sit in on first-year business class (RFE program)
10:30 a.m. to whenever, produce a newspaper

Wednesday: 10 a.m. to noon, writing tutor at MSU-Billings
12:50-1:50 p.m., teach German at MSU-Billings
2-4 p.m., writing tutor
4-5 p.m., office hours at Rocky

Thursday: 7:45-9 a.m., teach first-year writing at Rocky Mountain College
9:20-10:30 a.m., sit in on first-year business class
10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., deliver newspapers
7-10 p.m., teach journalism class

Friday: 8 a.m. to noon, writing tutor
12:50-1:50 p.m., teach German
2-3:30 p.m., office hours at MSU-Billings
4 p.m. to sometime Sunday night, be a newspaper publisher

What the hell. The rest of the time, I might just blog.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Missouri wisdom

From the Vandalia (Mo.) Leader: "We're probably the only manufacturing plant in town that shuts down a production line when a customer enters the building."

Blasting BLM

If you haven't been following the discussion of Todd Wilkinson's Outpost column this week, you probably should be.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Debate wrapup

Here's my (belated) analysis of winners and losers in Tuesday night's mayoral debate. My ups and downs just indicate whether I think the candidate helped or hurt his chances. They aren't necessarily related to my overall view of who's winning or which candidate I personally prefer.

David Bovee (up): His candidacy is going nowhere, so anything he did outside of swinging an ax or throwing up on another candidate probably would have helped him. He sounded less versed than some of the others, but rational and mainstream. He probably should come up with a better description of his career than "retired."

Larry Brewster (down): Brewster came across as the apologist for the current council and staff, and that's a tough job. I don't think anybody can win this election who doesn't sound as if he could make things better. Brewster seemed to promise more of the same.

Al Garver (up): Impressive showing. He sounded remarkably well schooled on the issues, quite reasonable and quite articulate. The crowd, which was fairly large and fairly old, had obvious sympathy for his complaints about the wording of the public safety mill levy. In my experience, incumbents generally can bury challengers on the facts -- it takes a long time to get up to speed on all the stuff that government does. But Garver sounded ready to hit the ground running.

Cliff Hanson (down): Came across more as a perpetual candidate than as a committed citizen ready to take the next step in public service. He seemed to lack clear vision and goals, and he was the only candidate who sounded at all downbeat about Billings' future. While that may be rational, it's probably not good politics.

Michael Larson (up): He's not an incumbent, but he's a fairly recent council member, which puts him a tricky position. He could criticize recent council decisions without sharing the blame, but he still needed to sound as if the city did something right in the eight years he helped run it. In my view, he handled the challenge masterfully. He's well versed on the issues, thoroughly articulate, and is able to sound like he is making bold pronouncements while actually outlining positions nearly everyone would agree with. Probably the big winner of the debate.

Ron Tussing (neutral): He carries lots of baggage in this race, some helpful and some not. The Tussing supporters were by far the most visible in the crowd, and they didn't hear anything to change their minds. But I'm not sure that voters who are skeptical about his motives and diplomacy heard anything to change their minds either.

My straight news account is here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Kirn on Sullivan

A fellow Montanan, Walter Kirn, is guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan.

It's a good thing somebody is blogging. Just when you thought this blog couldn't get any deader, it's about to. I'm back to teaching next week, two courses at Rocky(freshmen comp and journalism) and one -- at least -- at MSU-Billings (second-year German). I probably also will still be doing some tutoring. And still trying to put out a paper.

Any resemblance between this site and an actual blog will be purely superficial.

In the meantime, though, I've been following, and occasionally contributing to, this discussion over at Press Think. Important topic but, as always, lots of blather in the comments.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Just say don't go

Here's an oddity: a Montana-based website "committed to stopping the militarization of our schools."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Rack update update

I've now talked to two business managers who say that Community Racks of Montana had given them the impression that free publications had been contacted in advance before their racks were removed. Neither was happy to hear that wasn't true, and one offered to let us right back in. We may not have lost this thing yet.

Sad news

Over at The Outpost site, an anonymous commenter posted this profound thought:

It's not the 6,000 votes that typically vote "no" in Billings' school mill levy elections that bother me. It is the fewer than 4,000 voting "yes." With 16,000 students, and at least one parent of each student, it's sad to see such apathy. Maybe parents don't see the needs. There's a lot of work to be done, isn't there?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Rack update

In response to some of the comments below, it occurs to me that I haven't been as clear about the rack distribution mess as I ought to be.

There actually are two companies out there signing stores to distribution agreements. One is River's Edge Distribution of Great Falls, which is owned by the Great Falls Tribune, which is owned by Gannett, which is the nation's largest newspaper company -- one of the few left with the resources to swallow somebody like Lee Enterprises. River's Edge is the Montana branch of DistribuTech, which has the national contract for publications in Albertsons stores.

The other company is Community Racks of Montana, described in the post below. It claims to have contracts with the two big IGAs, County Markets, Western Drug and a few other places. I am still trying to confirm whether these contracts are legitimate.

Tony asks, What can be done? I wish I knew. Since the Albertsons agreement appears to be national, local managers probably are impervious to pressure. But a little pressure never hurts. For various reasons, I don't really think the Trib is in this for the money; I think it wants to protect access for its own (and Gannett's?) free publications. If a few local newspapers should happen to fold ... well, Gannett could live with that. In some respects, I would feel safer if the Trib was in it for the money.

Community Racks, I suspect, is just in it for the money, and its managers may be too stupid to know that alienating their potential customers to death isn't a bright way to start a business. I'm a little nervous about going public with all of this in The Outpost (do I really want to advertise the fact that some rack locations may get paid while others don't?), but I think that's probably what I ought to do.

Monday, August 01, 2005

On the rack

I'm still not sure how much I will write about this in The Outpost, since it's such insider stuff and since I don't know that anybody gives a damn, but here's a draft of a letter I'm working on to local merchants that have agreed to have our racks pulled from their stores:

Dear xxxxx,
A company named Community Racks of Montana alleges that it has obtained your permission to remove our distribution rack from your store. Since I have no reason to rely upon the veracity of this company’s representatives, I am writing to ask you to verify whether this is in fact the truth.

If you have indeed signed an agreement with this company, I would appreciate your letting me know why. You should be aware that, although this company appears to have signed agreements with some local businesses as early as June, it provided no notice whatsoever to us or, apparently, to other publishers, until last Friday. The notice it did provide gave no indication of any intention to remove any racks; however, at least some of our racks already were gone by the very next day. At this writing, we still do not know where all of these racks are. I have heard from other business owners that this company has used this same tactic in at least one other Montana city, desisting only under threat of legal action. At this writing, we still have received no coherent business offer from this company. I am having difficulty believing that you would jeopardize the reputation of your business by contracting with an outfit of this caliber.

Moreover, Community Racks has been unable, or unwilling, to demonstrate to me that it has any agreement in place that allows it to remove our racks. We obtained your permission to be in your store; obviously, you have the right to withdraw that permission, but I have seen no convincing evidence that you have done so. The two sample contracts that Community Racks provided to me upon my demand referred to “marketing materials” and to “free magazines, flyers and brochures.” They contained no reference to newspapers; in fact, one of the contracts clearly distinguished between this company’s “free standing Displays” and “newspaper stands.” I have no way of knowing what your intention was when you signed this agreement, if in fact you did sign it, and I am asking that you please clarify your intentions.

If you did intend to include The Outpost in any agreement you signed, I would ask that you reconsider that decision. I hope you understand that The Outpost is in no way comparable, either under law or in common understanding, to the materials mentioned in this agreement. The Outpost provides a wide range of news articles, commentary, public affairs information and cultural coverage. We devote hundreds of column inches each issue and thousands of man-hours each year to giving readers vital information about nonprofit activities, government and the community. We have sponsored and organized gubernatorial debates, music awards programs and public affairs television programming. We are media sponsors of the Alberta Bair Theater and the Billings Symphony, and we are key sponsors each year of the MSU-Billings Career Fair. Just this year, the Montana Legislature, recognizing the role we play in our communities, voted to allow our newspapers and others like us to print official county legal notices. To dismiss us as “marketing material” is to grossly underestimate the role The Outpost plays in this community.

Since our inception, we have been fully aware that we depend upon the generosity of local merchants to make our newspaper available to the public. We could not possibly afford to pay for the locations we need to reach readers promptly each week. It is no exaggeration to say that agreements such as these jeopardize our survival. Over the years, we attempted, admittedly inadequately, to acknowledge your generosity in a series of house ads, some of them as large as a full page, listing merchants who allow us to place our paper in their stores and inviting readers to patronize them. We have attempted to earn our place in your stores by practicing responsible and reliable journalism. I have lost track of the number of readers who say they arrange shopping trips around Outpost delivery day. Just a few weeks ago, a woman stopped me as I delivered papers to a Billings grocery store and said, “It’s my Thursday ritual. I always have to buy something unnecessary so I can get my Outpost.”

We also have attempted to respond promptly to any complaints from merchants about problems with our racks. On at least two occasions, we have responded to merchant concerns by constructing, at our own expense, multi-publication racks and shelves custom-designed to meet the merchant’s needs. This we would gladly continue to do.

My point is that it is unclear to me whether you intended to force us to deal with an unreliable distributor in order to continue to have access to your store. In any case, I see nothing in the agreement that prevents you from continuing to allow us in or in front of your store, and I look forward to hearing from you and continuing our business relationship.