Sunday, January 29, 2006

Rumors at rest

City Lights notes the odd rumor that surfaced in The Outpost in a page of responses to "Brokeback Mountain." I did, in fact, ask Mr. Sutton about the source of this rumor in an e-mail. Although I didn't have room for his reply in The Outpost, here, in full (so to speak), is his response (none of which I'm making up):

Now it should be obvious that, as a self-respecting reporter (of rumors), I cannot reveal my sources. But I will try to give you some idea as to the gravity of this thing.

If I recall correctly, a friend of mine told me late last year that his sister-in-law had told his wife that her (the sister-in-law's) husband's youngest brother (who isn't from here) was talking to a barmaid in some little town in North Dakota, who had gotten part of the story from a fuel truck driver, and another part from a Billings beverage salesman. But no business names were actually mentioned in the story (to protect the guilty, no doubt). But she had been repeatedly assured by both sources that the report was from very, very reliable sources. Very reliable.

Anyway, this friend of mine (who sells hand soap) later asked some of his customers at a couple of auto parts stores if they had heard about it. The funny thing is that when he first asked them, they said no. But when he got around to talking with them again a week or so later, they did recall hearing someone saying something about that very thing. They seemed to remember some guy had come in asking about the story, for some kind of official investigation or something.

Getting more curious, my friend then starting asking everyone he saw about it. And in the next couple of weeks, as he made his rounds, it seems that every time he mentioned the rumors to anyone, more and more people had heard about it. Not all of the reports had the same details, of course. People often lose the details, it seems. But the story was out there, with a life of its own.

Based on what I've heard, then, I'm pretty sure that there is something very, very substantial to the rumors. Very substantial. Of course, I might just be full of it, if you know what I mean. I do get filled with some substantial stuff, now and then. But that's what laxatives are for, right?

So The Gazette's denial was, perhaps, a bit too glib.

An affair of honor

More astute bloggers than I have observed that today’s blogging world most nearly resembles the pamphleteering era of the 18th century. Thomas Paine set a standard for reach and influence that no blogger has come close to matching.

Less often observed is that 18th century political enthusiasts had a way of settling disputes that no longer exists: dueling. It’s a useful tradition that ought to be restored.

Readers with long memories and little else to do may recall my ongoing unpleasantness with Bill Quick at Daily Pundit. It started when he published a post that accused mainstream media of treason. MSM get accused of all sorts of things, and many of the accusations are stupid and irresponsible but essentially harmless. Treason is a different matter. Allegations of treason require a prompt and unsparing rebuttal because those allegations (1) devalue a concept that should not be devalued and (2) slur the honor of people who have served their country honorably and with distinction.

If dueling were socially acceptable, then when Quick posts such loathsome and scurrilous charges, I could insist that he produce either indictable evidence or a retraction. He would respond in his usual churlish way, I would demand satisfaction and, provided he could screw up enough courage, we would meet some clear morning on the field of honor, accompanied by our seconds, and I would shoot him dead.

Why would I win? I’m no gunman, but I did qualify as an expert marksman in the Army, and even at my age I think I have one good shot left in me. Doesn’t God guide the aim of those whose hearts are true?

But as matters stand, there would be an unpleasant police investigation, depositions and indictments, and I might have to do prison time (although, in Quick’s bizarro world, I could get off with a reprimand).

So I am reduced to merely publicly ridiculing his more outrageous lies and indiscretions from time to time, prompting him to reply with a string of imprecations that essentially all make exactly the same rhetorical point: His shit smells better than mine. And since nobody wins a shit-smelling contest, nobody comes away happy.

I’ve considered other options. There could be a blogger’s court, for instance, where aggrieved parties could state their claims before a neutral arbiter. But that probably would perpetuate more feuds than it would resolve.

Fights in the alley behind a bar tend to be tawdry affairs, and boxing matches, popular for settling some disputes, unfairly favor the better pugilist, an irrelevant consideration in matters of honor. Duels may favor the better marksman, to be sure, but the whole apparatus of dueling – the strict adherence to rules and procedure, the need to stand stock still and let the antagonist have his chance, the uniformity of weapons – rewards courage over mere technical competence.

Dueling is, in fact, the only way to extinguish flame wars in the blogosphere. If blogging is to endure, Americans will have to overcome our senseless prejudice against settling affairs of honor in an honorable way. We have nothing to lose but a few ignorant blowhards.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Ad out

More bad news for newspapers -- and Lee Enterprises takes a hit.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tristram Shandy

I was delighted to hear this morning that "Tristram Shandy" has been made into a movie. One critic says that it's "a movie about 'Tristram Shandy' that's also a movie about a movie about 'Tristram Shandy.'"

Which may not be a bad way to approach "Tristram Shandy." Interviewed on NPR this morning, director Michael Winterbottom said one advantage to making this movie is that nobody has read the book.

Well, I read the book, and I consider it one of the comic masterpieces of English literature. But it is also, I have always thought, entirely unfilmable. It's a long digressive tale that begins with the birth of the title character -- and pretty much ends there. Lawrence Sterne wanders from digression to digression, leaves out entire chapters and invites readers to imagine others. He writes, "Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine ; ---- they are the life, the soul of reading ; -- take them out of this book for instance, -- you might as well take the book along with them."

For which reason, from the beginning of this, you see, I have constructed the main work and the adventitious parts of it with such intersections, and have so complicated and involved the digressive and progressive movements, one wheel within another, that the whole machine, in general, has been kept a-going ; -- and, what's more, it shall be kept a-going these forty years, if it pleases the fountain of health to bless me so long with life and good spirits.

Not exactly a blockbuster plot. Chapter XXIII of Volume I, for example begins: "I have a strong propensity in me to begin this chapter very nonsensically, and I will not balk my fancy. -- Accordingly I set off thus." And he ends Chapter XXV of the volume with this: "I set no small store by myself upon this very account, that my reader has never yet been able to guess at any thing. And in this, Sir, I am of so nice and singular a humour, that if I thought you was able to form the least judgment or probable conjecture to yourself, of what was to come in the next page, -- I would tear it out of my book."

My favorite part is the rhetorical treatise on the Argumentum Fistulatorium, which the author calls one of the most unanswerable arguments in the whole science of Ars Logica. The argument consists of whistling half a dozen bars of "Lillabullero"; it is Uncle Toby's response "when any thing shocked or surprised him ; ---- but especially when any thing, which he deem'd very absurd, was offer'd." No matter how bitter or instense the argument, when Uncle Toby invoked Argumentum Fistulatorium, the debate was over.

It's the argument every blogger needs in his arsenal.

Rehberg and Brown?

Here's one scenario that I hear is circulating in Democratic circles:

1. Burns takes the fall for the Abramoff scandal and pulls out of the race.

2. Rehberg runs for Burns' seat.

3. Roy Brown runs for Rehberg's seat.

On first blush, every part of this struck me as implausible. But it's beginning to sound more reasonable.

1. Burns doesn't sound like a guy who's thinking about giving up. Besides, even if he does, it's not clear that the baying dogs would quit howling.
But Todd made the counter case in a comment here to an earlier post.

2. After a few years on the endless fund-raising circus in the House, the Senate must hold at least some appeal to Rehberg. And I presume that he would be the instant favorite.

3. It's never been clear that Brown's assets would translate well to a statewide race. By most accounts, he got elected to the House by knocking on every door in the district. You can't knock on every door in the state, no matter how energetic you are. Treasure County alone would take several hours. On the other hand, he obviously knew how to get the party behind him in the House, and he's certainly ambitious.

Lindeen vs. Brown? I think Brown wins Yellowstone County, but Lindeen might win the race.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Essmann vs. Noennig

Maybe everybody else but me already knew this, but Jeff Essmann says that Mark Noennig has filed against him in the Republican primary for Senate District 28. Democrats, apparently, are still looking for a candidate.

Essmann, of course, is trying to get elected for the first time after he was appointed to office to replace John Bohlinger just before the last session. There was a lot of speculation at the time that Noennig would enter this race.

But I gotta go with Essmann: Noennig's too darn hard to spell. Actually, I do have a lot of respect for Essmann, a solid Republican with an open mind and a record of service. Nothing against Noennig; he's just more of a mystery to me.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

McDermott for House

Billings City Councilman Shirley McDermott tells me that she has filed to run as a Republican in House District 49. Kendall Van Dyk already has announced as a Democrat in that district. His campaign treasurer, interestingly enough, is City Councilman Peggie Gaghen.

UPDATE: Just got a note from Roy Brown, the incumbent, in HD49, announcing his candidacy in Senate District 25, which encompasses HD49 and HD50. And, of course, I should have mentioned already that Gene Jarussi is running as a Democrat in HD49.

I don't know Van Dyk, but I think Jarussi vs. McDermott could be a heck of a race. Jarussi hung tough during the teachers' strike, and McDermott certainly made her share of enemies on the council. Both come into the race with a good deal of experience and a lot of name recognition, and Jarussi might be the more conservative of the two. Good matchup.

2ND UPDATE: In light of my past prognostication record, I should probably go ahead and pick this one. But I don't have a feel for it. McDermott will take some heat for the City Council's various fiascos, but she can say, at least, that she has been on the side of open government. Plus it always has seemed to me that she does a superb job of representing her constituents.

Jarussi will take some heat for the school board's various fiascos, but he really did take a strong stand in the strike, and that took piles of guts. The strike also was longer ago, but then, teachers may have longer memories. On the other hand, Democrats always seem to be the default choice of educators.

I don't think I know the district well enough to decide who would be the better fit. My pick: It won't be Van Dyk.

Burns the flag

Conrad Burns has his new campaign website up. No pictures of Jack Abramoff that I could see, but he did give his position on the American flag:

I believe it is wrong to desecrate the American flag. It is a symbol of freedom and of who we are, and it is an insult to all Americans, past and present, when it is burned or defamed. Too many dedicated men and women have fought and died to protect our flag and our freedoms for me to stand by and support its destruction in the name of so-called freedom of expression.

To which, two questions:

1. Would the senator make it a crime to "defame" the flag?

2. What's the difference between freedom of expression and "so-called" freedom of expression?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Burns on fire

Apparently I missed a story by Jennifer McKee that told part of this remarkable story about one vote by Conrad Burns. Hardly a neutral source, but certainly interesting.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday blues

Tough week at the Outpost. Another ad rep gave notice, so we're back down to about 1.2 reps. Pretty tough to make a living that way. It's a tough, tough job.

And I just finished the least appealing of my many tasks: Sending out monthly statements and collection notices. I felt so down that I went over to Daily Pundit and took a shot at Bill Quick -- I know, I keep promising to stop, but it always cheers me to stir up his relentless and irrational bile. I'm sure there are worse bloggers out there, but I haven't found one who is more enraptured by his own self-importance. You can't go read my comments beause he has now seems to have deleted them -- although he left reponses up. Truly a class act.

Anyway, if I ever write my 13-volume treatise on "How to Screw Up a Business," I will certainly have a volume about the one thing that surprised me most about going into business: Discovering how many deadbeats there are out there. The number of people who think absolutely nothing of blowing off an overdue invoice never fails to amaze me.

Obviously, I don't want to paint with a broad brush. The huge majority of customers are dependable, and some, I am sure, would skip meals for a week to avoid leaving an unpaid bill on the table. But far more people than I ever expected will just flat walk away from a bill, never reply to a letter and never return a phone call. And the law protects them, so I have to be careful about naming names.

Ethically, I have a hard time distinguishing between those folks and somebody who walks into a store and steals something off the shelf. Of course, there are an awful lot of those people, too.

Story of the year

So what do you suppose was the most read article at in 2005? Something about the war? Iraqi elections? Hurricane damage? Illegal wiretapping?

Nope. It was this.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Slow take

I'm still struggling to get outraged about the Burns-Abramoff connection. Let's see: Guy wants Congress to do something. Guy gives money to people in Congress. They vote the way he wants.

And exactly how is this different from what goes on there every day?

I always thought the outrage about Burns is that he preaches fiscal restraint, then runs every six years on his record as a pork roller. Giving people what they pay for may not be virtuous, but it isn't hypocritical.

Gay cowboyero

Christopher Abel's review of "Brokeback Mountain" got picked up on the Internet Movie Database, where it has generated a lot of comments well worth reading.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Bumper sticker of the day

This one bore the Marine Corps insignia and said: "When it absolutely, positively, has to be destroyed overnight."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Back in the saddle

Blogging's been fun here the last month, and I've enjoyed all of the comments, even if it ultimately turns out that 98 percent of them were from Don P. Mellon. Now it's time to slow down again.

Classes started today at MSU-Billings. I've got two German courses, and I'm working as a tutor as many hours at the Academic Support Center as I legally can without compromising my part-time status. Then there's the newspaper. The schedule won't be as grueling as it was in the fall, but it will be plenty busy, and I have to spend as much time as I can doing things that might actually put a nickel or two in my pocket. So I'll be blogging some, at a reduced pace.

Monday, January 16, 2006

'Real conservatives'

In response to a post below, Dave Budge asks what a "real conservative" is. It's a fair question, one I used to think I knew the answer to. Here's my traditional definition. A conservative is someone who:

1. Thinks government should be as large as necessary and as small as practicable.

2. Believes that government is a creation of the people, designed to serve their interests, not the other way around.

3. Has strong traditional beliefs but realizes that other people aren't obliged to agree with or respect those beliefs.

4. Favors the individual over the collective, right over wrong and ethics over profit.

5. Believes in balanced budgets.

6. Thinks the Constitution means what it says.

7. Embraces change slowly or not at all rather than calling for anything radical.

I may be forgetting a point or two, but that's roughly it. But as I say, I'm not so sure what it means anymore. If George Bush is a conservative, it seems to me, then my understanding of the word has lost all meaning.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


I've been meaning to blog about this since Thursday, but I've been too lazy. Jim Gransbery's Jan. 12 Gazette story on Conrad Burns ended with this quote: "Selling out my country, my state, that is beyond my amprehension (sic)," he said. "Ain't no way I'm going to do it."


Let me lay a little groundwork here. Journalism is a trade with no agreed-upon professional standards, so this is a tad haphazard, but here a few broadly accepted principles when somebody says something that is obviously butchered:

1. You don't qualify it with "sic." Even the AP Stylebook says that.

2. Mangled quotes typically are repaired by paraphrasing instead of quoting directly:

Sen. Burns said that he would never sell out his country or state. "Ain't no way I'm gonna do it," he said.

3. Some reporters think it's OK to repair mangled utterances even in direct quotes. Others frown on that. Either way, your ear does an amazing job of editing speech even when you are trying to get it exactly. Just compare a written transcript with what you thought you heard sometime.

4. Mangled quotes may be preserved in certain instances:

A. When quoting exactly is particularly important, such as a response to a criminal allegation or formal charge, or when the quote may have been heard by large numbers of people.

B. When the mangled quote is unusally revealing or apt. No one would ever want to correct, "Say it ain't so, Joe." Which is why I left the ungrammatical "ain't" alone in Point 2 above. And "amprehension," as a combination, presumably, of "apprehension" and "comprehension," ain't that bad a word.

C. When the reporter wants to subtly convey the message that the speaker is ignorant and unlettered.

The theory behind those principles is that everybody misspeaks, so it isn't fair to single out a simple misstatement and showcase it in a newspaper story. So what was Gransbery thinking? I have a lot of respect for Jim, so I wouldn't accuse him of "C." Possibly, elements of A, B and C were involved in the decision to use the messed-up quote.

Was printing the error a good idea? I wouldn't have done it, but I'm feeling fairly obsolete these days.

Real I.D.

Hard to believe that real conservatives voted for this.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Workless in America

I wonder how these 58 workers feel about the "Wal-Mart is good for the world" argument today.

On the other hand, County Market didn't appear to have strong survival instincts. Back when we were fighting over distribution with outside rack companies, I wrote a stack of letters to grocery store and restaurant owners complaining about the way the matter was handled and seeking relief. Three businesses, including two grocery stores, contacted me immediately. County Market never responded. Not one word.

Of course, I'm just one guy. And I don't know much about the grocery business, except that margins are notoriously low, so high volume is essential. And County Market doesn't know much about me -- for all they know, I have nine kids and 36 grandkids, all breathlessly awaiting my advice on where to do their grocery shopping. Not to mention, of course, that I am the proprietor of a business that generates a few hundred thousand bucks in revenue each year and also of the wildly influential Billings Blog. So you'd think it would have been worth 37 cents (now 39 cents) to County Market to write a letter and tell me, "Tough luck, pal."

But they didn't think so, which makes me suspect that they treated a lot of other complaints the same way. And now they're closing. Not too big a surprise.

It hurts, though, when these big Outpost distribution points close. The Kit-Kat Cafe, Gibson's, the two Elmer's restaurants, Smith's -- you're talking close to a thousand papers a week right there. Some people will just pick up the paper elsewhere, of course, but not all. National chains tend to be unsympathetic to the need for a locally owned press, so as they come in, we get squeezed out.

UPDATE: Downtown Billings has been thinking about this, too.

2ND UPDATE: Comments have veered into a discussion of supermarket discount cards, so here' a link to a site that makes the case against them. I also wrote about the issue here.

3RD UPDATE: Ed at City Lights makes a good point about Good Earth Market. My wife does a lot of shopping there already, and I'm sure it will continue to get a larger share of our grocery dollar.

Forensics night

I spent Friday evening judging the forensics meet at Senior High School. This is the second time I have done this, and I was again amazed at how extraordinarily capable the contestants are: poised, courteous, well trained, just about perfectly at home with themselves and their material. Certainly, we were all much bigger dolts at my high school.

The events I judged, serious interpretation and duo interpretation, are judged primarily on delivery and not content, but I got a particular kick out of the subject material that two groups chose. One was a collection of stories and headlines from the Onion -- hilarious stuff. The other was a complete history of the United States in 10 minutes by someone whose name I didn't catch. Part of it was over the top, but it had its moments.

For instance, it said that the Civil War resulted in the largest number of deaths of soldiers named Zeke in world history. It also concluded with a quick backward history of the United States: The stock market soars to record highs in 1929, and early settlers give massive amounts of land to dispossessed Indians.

Spun out

Spun and Spinning doesn't seem to be spinning any more.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hail or hell?

Dump the Montana state flag and song, Roger Clawson writes. He's got my vote.

Dirty rags

Our colleagues at the Northern Light in Molt are urging advertisers and stores to dump copies of two local publications, Sistah and Piece.

In its latest print edition (at this writing, apparently still not available online), the Light publishes an editorial called "Three dirty rags." The first rag is the Ravalli Republic, which draws fire for printing a potshot at Dallas Erickson.

The second is Sistah, of which the Northern Light says, "Vulgar words soil the tabloid throughout, from front to back, including headings. There are petty and malicious attention grabbers, intended as humor no doubt, and to their discredit they advertise for the abortion company, Planned Parenthood."

Of Piece, the Light writes, "Their multiple ads for Planet Lockwood should be enough to indicate the direction of the new publication. ... Article headings include: 'Ask an Exotic Dancer,' "Make Love Longer,' and 'Pick-up Lines from Hell!'" Piece also mentions Planned Parenthood, the Light notes.

The Light doesn't just criticize; it issues a call for action. Advertisers are listed for each publication, and the Light urgers readers, "If you see these papers, ask store attendants to remove them, that they shouldn't be where children can see them."

The Light also notes that there are "20 odd, free periodicals that have come out since we started business in 1992." None, however, is odder than the Light itself.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

In the Outpost

Montana Quarterly is allowing me to reprint my Schweitzer piece, so it's now in the Outpost (in somewhat abbreviated form). I also review Venture Theatre's One-Act Play Festival, in my mind the theater event of the year, and Billings Studio Theatre's "Waiting for MacArthur."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

O'Reilly vs. Letterman

The blogosphere has been masticating last week's "showdown" between Bill O'Reilly and David Letterman, with most of the attention focusing on Letterman's statement that about 60 percent of what O'Reilly says is "crap."

Most observers see this statement as a putdown, but I see it as a pretty accurate assessment and as fairly high praise. Few broadcast pundits manage to hit the coveted 40 percent standard of non-crap. Limbaugh runs in the 75-80 percent crap range, and Hannity has bursts of up to 90 percent crap. On many days, Michael Savage never dips below 100 percent crap. I don't listen to the liberal pundits, but anecdotal evidence suggests they don't score much better.

How many bloggers manage to keep the level of crap below 60 percent, especially when comments are unmoderated? Black Jack has made comments on this blog that have been up to 175 percent crap, a percentage obtainable only by writing comments so bad that they actually multiply in toxicity upon prolonged exposure.

Under Sturgeon's Law, 90 percent of everything is crap. Even if one applies Sturgeon's Law to Stugeon's Law, then the percentage of non-crap in the world can rarely exceed the low 20s. O'Reilly beats the average because he is thoroughly nonpartisan, occasionally funny and actually willing on occasion to change his mind in the face of contrary evidence.

On the other hand, he also is remarkably thin-skinned for a guy in his position, and he has a wildly exaggerated sense of his own importance (a common enough failing) and journalistic acumen. Letterman may be giving him a bit more credit than he deserves.

Torture, Washington style

This Washington Post editorial doesn't go quite as far as I did in my impeachment post below, but the last sentence, with its reference to "possibly further action," certainly leaves the gate open.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

To bomb or not to bomb?

Christopher Hitchens weighs in on the possibility that George Bush really did want to bomb Al Jazeera, an act that would have been not only criminal but also very bad policy. Bottom line: sounds plausible to him.

UPDATE: Spun and Spinning goes a bit beserk over this posting. My offense? Conceding the possibility that Bush didn't really propose bombing Al Jazeera. Unfortunately for Tony, even the story he cites as proof says only that the document in question "suggests" that Bush may have "considered" bombing. Hitchens finds it believable, and so do I, but it ain't proof.

UPDATE: Now he's gone beserker. Of course, he has to misquote me to do it -- he substitutes "maybe" and "possibly" for "suggests" and "considered" -- but that seems to be no obstacle.

Easy, big fellow. We don't even disagree on this. All we're arguing about is the standard of proof.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Bette Bohlinger has died

Just got this news release:

(HELENA) - Bette Bohlinger, wife of Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger, passed away this morning at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena after a battle with acute leukemia. Bette was diagnosed the first time with acute leukemia about one year ago, she was in remission when tests revealed this past December that the cancer had returned.

“We are people of faith,” said Lieutenant Governor John Bohlinger. “My family thanks the people of Montana for all their support and we ask them to keep us in their thoughts and prayers as we go through this trying time.”

“Bette always had a smile, always had kind words for everyone, she was an amazing woman, a dear friend and a great Montanan -- she will be missed,” said Governor Brian Schweitzer. “Nancy and I are praying for John and his family.”

Bette Bohlinger recently led the charge to get Montanans signed up for the National Bone Marrow registry. Bette herself needed a donor, but more important to her was giving hope to the thousands of other people who need marrow.

Governor and Nancy Schweitzer and staff held a marrow drive last Thursday, January 5th, Bette was in attendance thanking everyone for giving hope --“I ask anyone who is willing to donate to please get on the registry. How wonderful it would be to save someone’s life,” said Bette Bohlinger.

A funeral is tentatively scheduled for Saturday in Billings. The flags will be flown at half mast at the Capitol. Governor Schweitzer’s schedule will be cancelled today.

UPDATE: (HELENA) – Services for Bette Bohlinger, wife of Lt. Governor John Bohlinger will be held in Billings on Saturday and next week in Helena.

Friday, January 13, 2006, 7:00PM
Vigil for Bette Bohlinger
Saint Patrick’s, 215 N. 31st, Billings

Saturday, January 14, 2006, 11:00AM
Funeral Mass Bette Bohlinger
Saint Patrick’s, 215 N. 31st, Billings

A memorial honoring Bette’s life will be held in Helena the week following the funeral; details are still to be determined.

Letters and cards can be sent to the Bohlinger family at the following:

Lt. Governor John Bohlinger
P.O. Box 200801
Helena, MT 59620-0801

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to any of the following charities, which were among Bette’s favorites.

Parmly Billings Library
Care of Sandy Raymond
510 North Broadway
Billings, MT 59101

St. John’s Lutheran Home
Care of Foundation Department
3940 Rimrock Road
Billings, MT 59102

Yellowstone Art Center
Care of Christi Niles
401 North 27th Street
Billings, MT 59101

St. Vincent’s Healthcare Foundation
1106 N 30th
Billings, MT 59101 - 0124

Billings Clinic Foundation
2917 Tenth Ave N
Billings, MT 59101

Head Start, Inc.
Care of Judy Bryngelson
615 N 19th
Billings, MT 59101

Flowers for the funeral services can be sent to Michelotti, Sawyers and Nordquist Funeral Home in Billings.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Minimum wage

I've always said it would be a mistake for Montana to raise its minimum wage unless the whole country went along. This study suggests that I am wrong. But then I'm skeptical of the source.

UPDATE: Left in the West disagrees with me, sort of.

2ND UPDATE: More states are exceeding the federal minimum wage than I thought.

3RD UPDATE: Just got a news release from Jon Tester endorsing the initiative to raise Montana's minimum wage to $6.15 an hour.

Another blogger

Adam Graham, whose interesting run-in with Donald Cyphers I wrote about here, is finishing the first year at his blog.

OK by us

A nonscientific sampling of Laurel residents appears to be OK with having Wal-Mart come to town.

Meanwhile, Evelyn Pyburn blames federal regulations for the success of big box stores.

I'm always reluctant to mention this, for fear some federal bureaucrat will come along and point out all the paperwork I haven't been doing, but my own eight years running a business hasn't proved terribly burdensome in terms of paperwork. No doubt it's worse for some businesses.

But I always wonder if the burden of regulation isn't a bit exaggerated, especially for tiny businesses that are exempt from some of the more burdensome requirements.

Farming green

I'm hearing quite a few comments on this week's Outpost cover story, a detailed look at the prospects for organic farming in Montana that we picked up from High Plains News. It's 4,000 words, but well worth the time and effort to read it. If nothing else, you should click over there to read the first reader comment at the bottom of the story.

Looking up

This is a grim time of year in the news business. Retailers, recovering from the Christmas push, pull in their horns. The Butte Weekly, our colleagues up the interstate, published an eight-page edition this week. That's tiny. We're struggling to keep the Outpost at 28 pages this month.

So it's a bit of a comfort to note that both the Outpost website and this blog had record months in December, both in terms of visits and hits. Thanks for your support (and, in a couple of cases, your hostility).

Friday, January 06, 2006

Beating by sandal

I'm getting around to reading "New West Reader," which Jim Larson reviewed in the Outpost Christmas book issue.

I haven't read enough to draw any conclusions, but I was struck by a sentence in the introduction by Philip Connors, a University of Montana graduate who edited the volume. Writing about conflicts between ranchers and environmentalists, he says, "There remain bars where to wear a pair of sandals is to invite a beating."

He's writing specifically of the Gila Wilderness, but he obviously envisions the entire American West between California and the Rocky Mountains. And I'm skeptical about his assertion. But I don't believe that I have worn a pair of sandals since I was 3 years old, so I'm obviously not in the best position to know.

So I put it to any sandal-wearing, beer-swilling readers out there: Have you ever been beaten, or credibly threatened with a beating, in any bar in the West?

Master's of naught

Where do you suppose these folks got the idea that a master's degree with no classwork, no contact with the instructor, no exams and no thesis would be worth something in the marketplace?

And, more to the point, how many kids have they taught that notion?

UPDATE: I just got an e-mail offering a degree program that sounds similar to the one these teachers took advantage of. The subject line: "Is your skills about to expired?"

Moby Dick

This should be fun. The Outpost is the media sponsor for a couple of events a year at the Alberta Bair Theater. This year, we sponsored Dervish and were scheduled to sponsor a production of "Cyrano."

"Cyrano de Bergerac" is probably my favorite of all non-Shakespearean plays. So I was disappointed when I got a call last week telling me that the show had been canceled. The cast, it seems, couldn't get visas. But my attitude changed when I learned what would replace it: a three-person production by a German theater company of "Moby Dick."

The list of things I like better than "Cyrano" is mighty short, but one of the things on that list is "Moby Dick." And someone (perhaps Gary Svee) already has observed that this production is bound to be brilliant because a failed three-person production of "Moby Dick" would be so awful that no one would ever try to do it twice.

It's on May 24. Keep a sharp eye.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Just wondering

So I would like to take off early today (by my standards) to watch the Rose Bowl. I look in The Gazette and see that the game starts at 6 p.m.

What does that tell me about when the game actually starts? I think it means that it starts no earlier than 6 p.m. Based on actual experience with televised start times, the actual start could be anywhere from 6:05 p.m. to 7 p.m., depending on the quantity of pregame foofarah the network decides to air.

So how do I avoid the foofarah and still see the game? Has anybody figured out how to tell when a televised football game actually starts? Or is it like rock concerts and speed limits, a sort of minimal guideline that you can never really pin down until the band starts to play or the cop pulls you over?

UPDATE: In this case, 6 p.m. actually meant approximately 6:25 p.m. Who knew?

2ND UPDATE: Some commenters note that the game was worth the wait. Certainly true. It was a terrific game, justifying every inch of hype, and, as an old college football beat writer, count me among those who find college football more interesting in every way than the stereotyped pro game. But why does every bowl game have to last four hours? Four hours! I could have gone to see "King Kong" and still caught the last quarter.

3RD UPDATE: A commenter says that waiting through the pregame show was worth it to hear Keith Jackson. I'm one of Jackson's admirers, but it seemed to me last night that he has slipped a notch or two since the last time I heard him (which may have been a few years; I don't watch much football any more). He seemed confused about what was going on more often than I have ever heard him, including expressing apparent surprise at one point that no time had elapsed during an extra-point attempt. It wasn't an embarrassing performance, but it didn't seem up to his standard. Jackson is one of the all-time greats, but I couldn't help but wonder how close he is to hanging it up.


My comments below on impeachment degenerated into an incredibly inane thread that I would advise any newcomers to avoid. Rich seemed to want to argue about my position, but he was unwilling, or unable, to articulate any actual arguments. My efforts to draw him out were in vain. I suspect that I couldn't have pried Rich's point out of him with an MRI, truth serum, a lie detector and a full autopsy. So skip it.

But I hope no one goes away from this thinking that the whole debate about torture and prisoner abuse is just some liberal plot to discredit Bush. The evidence is quite abundant, and if you haven't seen any of it, you really do need to start reading Andrew Sullivan (who, by the way, was a hawk on the Iraq war).

I won't try to reduplicate his work, but let me just throw one quote at you from Ian Fishback. He is the 82nd Airborne Division captain who went public with a letter to Sen. McCain urging passage of the McCain Amendment in order to set clear standards for the conduct of American soldiers. Sullivan calls him an American hero.

In a Human Rights Watch report, Capt. Fishback said he had witnessed violations of the Geneva Conventions that nevertheless appeared to be U.S. policy. He concluded:

If you draw a hard line and you say “Don’t do anything bad to prisoners,” ... then, yeah, that is an easy line to draw, but when you start drawing shades of gray and you start stripping prisoners, or you start making prisoners do humiliating things and then you tell a soldier to draw the line somewhere, then ... things are going to get out of hand because everyone is going to draw the line at a different place.

... It’s unjust to hold only lower-ranking soldiers accountable for something that is so clearly, at a minimum, an officer corps problem, and probably a combination with the executive branch of government ... . [B]y trying to claim that it was “rogue elements” we seriously hinder our ability to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

That makes such great good sense that it's a shame it hasn't penetrated up the chain of command.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Targeting Baucus

The National Pro-Life Alliance is targeting Max Baucus and 12 other U.S. senators with a $585,000 ad campaign aimed at pressuring him to support Samuel Alito's confirmation on the Supreme Court. A news release cites the senator's "long history of siding with abortion extremists," including a vote against banning partial birth abortions. "Without grassroots pressure from pro-life constituents," Executive Director Mary King says, "he will be just as unwilling to confirm any Supreme Court nominee who refuses to submit to the radical pro-abortion lobby."

My own position is that I intend to criticize Baucus no matter what he does. If he votes for Alito, he's caving in to pressure from right-wing ideologues. If he votes against Alito, he's in the grip of the left-wing extremists that have taken over his party.

There's only one way out: Harriet Meyers.

Schweitzer fans

The Daily Kos is still lovin' Brian Schweitzer.

Monday, January 02, 2006

On with the "I" word

Tony, near the end of a long post, isn't happy with me for failing to call for Bush's impeachment. It's true; I haven't, although I did print this column, which did call for impeachment if it is determined that Bush broke the law.

I'm still not certain whether he did break the law. I'm not a lawyer, nor a FISA expert, and I don't have time to read all of the relevant commentary. It still seems probable that he broke the law, but I think it's pointless even to consider impeachment as long as there is a reasonable contrary case to be made.

On the other hand, I find this quite disturbing. The president's position on torture now appears to be:

1. We don't torture people.

2. The torture we don't do is legal.

3. If Congress makes torture illegal, the torture we don't do will continue.

Now that, damn it, is an impeachable offense. A president who violates a fundamental American principle of how we treat others, then lies about it, then thumbs his nose at Congress for trying to stop him, belongs in prison. Preferably Abu Ghraib.

And now, two by-the-ways:

1. If you haven't been reading Andrew Sullivan on torture, you ought to start. I've never been a Sullivan fan, but he is indispensable on this topic.

2. I should make it clear that when I said earlier that the Outpost doesn't deal much with national issues, I was referring strictly to the dead-tree edition. What happens on the blog is a different matter.

Corraling Kralj

I've been lax about letting Larry Kralj use this space to insult and demean other visitors here. Frankly, I find his stuff so painful to read that I skip nearly all of it, and I have been letting things get by that shouldn't. This is my house, and people who comment here are my guests. When one of those guests becomes rude and abusive, it's my job to stop him.

Fair warning, Larry: From now on, any post you write that personally attacks another commenter will be immediately deleted. Any post you write that makes fun of someone else's name (including Cornhole and Racicrotch) will be deleted. I won't have it anymore.

Furthermore, any post that contains multiple exclamation points at the end of a sentence and pointless all-caps will be deleted. That's not because those things are offensive in themselves, but because I don't intend to wade through that kind of garbage to find out what you really are saying. I have a high tolerance for bad writing -- I've even managed to get paid for quite a few years to read bad writing -- but I'm not going to read phony exclamation points and all-caps for free. Out it goes.

Larry was an early and enthusiastic supporter of the Outpost, and that has lulled me into cutting him a lot of slack. But the slack is all used up now.

UPDATE: Dave Budge is fed up with Larry, too.