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.