Sunday, April 30, 2006

Enviro whackos

Ed Kemmick writes about Steve Prosinski's Sunday column on reader comments appended to Gazette stories.

I may have more to say about that later but what struck me about Prosinski's column was the short item about cutting the Sunday comics from six pages to four. The reason, according to Prosinski: "to conserve newsprint."

Thank God, somebody's finally doing something about conservation. Now if the Gazette would just get rid of some of those Sunday circulars. Heck, we'd take them.

Brooks on target

David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, gave a terrific speech at MSU-Billings Thursday night. I'll write about in next week's Outpost but will post a few observations here:

1. Petro Theater was just about full, but very few people there seemed of student age. Most seemed my age or older. I'm not sure the Times means much to students.

2. Brooks pulled up an old quote from Tom Wolfe: "Every teenager knows who his natural enemy is." He used the quote to make the point that people choose their party not on ideology but on "tribalism" and group identification. The quote hit home with me. I've always thought of George Bush as a spoiled frat kid, and I've never liked spoiled frat kids. I never bought the faux-rancher act because I've known too many ranchers. I never bought the born-again Christian business because no authentic Texas Christian would call a man an asshole, and then refuse to apologize for it. So maybe all my dislike for him is really just working off teenage angst toward upperclass rich kids. Except for the Iraq part.

3. He said that the consensus among Republicans is that they will lose at least the House this fall. "I think they know they've strayed, and they're going to pay for it," he said. But the consensus among Democrats is that they can't believe they will win.

4. In 2004, Bush won 23 of the 24 states with the highest fertility rates. Kerry won all 17 states with the lowest fertility rates. Republicans are reproducing, he noted.

5. While American poltical positions have not become more polarized, their voting has. The number of counties with landslide majorities for one party or the other has doubled since the '60s. The number of split ticket voters has dropped dramatically. The number of people who never go to church has doubled in the last 10 years.

6. Reporters, once part of the working class, have become much more elite. He noted that when he had a drink recently with a group of reporters, he was the only one who ordered alcohol. The rest all got bottled water.

This is deeply troubling. Sobriety in American journalism is indeed reaching alarming levels. Lewis Grizzard once pointed out that all of the creativity went out of American newsrooms when the glue pots were taken away. A dwindling few of us carry on.

Anyway, none of this really even much touches on the important things he had to say. For that, you'll have to read the Outpost.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Where the money goes

My take this week in the Outpost on School District 2 funding may be a bit different than what you have seen before.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bummer for Burns

More bad news for Conrad Burns. You have to follow the link at the bottom to get his response.

At the old ball game

When I couldn't stand looking at this computer any more on Saturday, I headed over to Cobb Field to watch MSU-Billings in a doubleheader against Oklahoma Panhandle State University. There I ran into Allen Rice, an old Gazette colleague (now retired) who is one of the most knowledgeable baseball people I know.

Otherwise, the crowd was thin. I doubt there were 100 paying customers in the stadium. But a wildly disproportionate number of them appeared to be female college students dressed in their summer shorts. I don't know how well this team gets baseball, but it sure gets the girls.

It was a fine day. The weather was gorgeous. The brats were tasty. The Jackets came from behind to win the first game, then lost a ragged second game. It was fun being able to hear the players talking and cheering each other on.

The quality of play was watchable. In my sports writing days, I covered a lot of college baseball and generally found the level of play comparable to the Mustangs -- the players may have had less talent top to bottom, but they were a little older and a tad more polished. Of course, that was Southwest Conference baseball, which was about as good as college baseball got. A lot of those players had their eyes on the big leagues, and quite a few made it. Saturday's twin bill was a few notches below that, but the Jackets are improving steadily.

The two biggest annoyances from the college game also were present: the seven-inning doubleheader games, which never feel quite finished, and the aluminum bats. Somebody ought to be able to come up with a composite bat of some sort that combines the durability of aluminum with the satisfying thwack of wood. Then we would have something.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hockey for-never

Should county government subsidize sports? My take is in this week's Outpost.

Growing down

A big ad in Wednesday's Billings Gazette proclaimed, "Circulation is UP! Billings Gazette's circulation is GROWING!" An editor's note on the opinion page today made a similar claim. But neither the ad nor the note answered the two questions I always ask my writing students when they baldly state, as they often do, that some trend or another is increasing: How much? Since when?

Since I can't order the Gazette to produce its research, I did some of my own. The annual reports on the Lee Enterprises web site list circulation figures for each paper for the period ending in September. For the Gazette, I compared September 2004 to September 2005. Sunday circulation had, indeed, increased by 331 papers, a stunning increase of 0.6 percent. But daily circulation was down 740 papers. So in September 2005 the Gazette was selling 4,109 fewer papers a week than it had a year earlier.

As Chico Marx used to say, "'Atsa some joke, eh, Boss?" Using that kind of math, I expect to demonstrate in the Outpost next week that I am growing younger.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Alphabet soup

This senator thinks a senator is going to prison over the Abramoff scandal. Who could that be? Let's go through the alphabet: A ... B ... (hat tip to Kevin Drum).

Mill levy doom?

I have yet to encounter a single soul not actually serving on the Billings school board who thinks the mill levies have a chance to pass. Anybody here heard different?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

School spending

I meant to link the other day to my Outpost story on the School District 2 budget, but have been too busy paying taxes and bitching about having to work on such a lovely Easter weekend. I'm not sure my story adds a whole lot to the debate, but I do add some perspective starting about the fifth graph on how much faster expenses have grown than revenues have. The upshot is that even after winning a big lawsuit over state funding, the district's budget just keeps getting tighter. Is this the answer?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Blogging on blogging

I liked Ed Kemmick's Weekend Update post, in part because I, too, broke out the hammock for the first time this weekend and in part because I, too, found the Garry Wills column (thanks to Jackie Corr) brave, thoughtful and all-around wonderful. Ed also comments on the phenomenon I mention here: The further away you get from blogging, the smaller it looks.

In Ed's comments, a couple of people point out that traditional media people have little use for bloggers. I think there is truth in that, although I don't mean to speak for others. But I think it's fair to say that even alternative weeklies are now part of "traditional media."

The usual reasons bloggers give for the antipathy of traditional media are:

1. Media have never been held accountable before and now they don't like it. This is hokum. In the quarter-century I have spent in the news business, my phone number always has been in the book. People have always been able to call me at 3 a.m. to tell me what a lousy job I'm doing, and sometimes they do. Papers I've edited have printed thousands of letters to the editor, hundreds of them disagreeing with something we've said or done.

2. Bloggers fact-check our asses, and we don't like it. Some do, some of the time. But most media criticism on blogs is of such low and redundant quality that reading it is a waste of time. One recurring theme: If you ever read a news story about yourself or about a topic with which you are intimately familiar, you always find inaccuracies and frequently find that that the whole take is wrong. That's the feeling I get when I read most blogging critics: They have no clue.

3. The old media are dying because bloggers are killing them, and they don't like it. Probably some truth in this; these are tough times to be in the news business. But I don't really see any bloggers doing what newspapers do. Perhaps someday they will.

I think the real reasons traditional media don't much care for bloggers are more like this:

1. Lack of accountability. I stand behind everything I write and always have. Most bloggers (or at least commenters) hide behind anonymity.

2. One criticism of journalists is that they are a step removed from real life. They observe, comment, ask questions and write. They don't DO. But most bloggers are even a further step removed. They don't go to meetings, don't go to car accidents, don't confront people they will make look bad in print. If the world holds journalists in contempt, they can now pass along that contempt to bloggers.

3. Blogger triumphalism. So tired.

4. Confronting blogging forces traditional media to refight old battles. There was a reason why, many years ago, most newspapers quit running anonymous letters to the editor. Those letters destroyed civil discourse. There was a reason why most newspapers didn't explain themselves very well to their readers. Self-absorption is an addiction best treated cold turkey.

5. Lack of civility. People who want to criticize my newspaper work have to look me in the eye, talk to me on the phone, or attach their name to a letter. Dealing directly with other humans makes people be nice. Those restraints vanish on the web. When morons like Bill Quick can label traditional media as traitors with no real fear of recrimination, then you don’t have a conversation. You have a brawl.

UPDATE: Just want to make it clear that the above are general comments about a general phenomenon. The list of bloggers for whom I have personal admiration and respect would be too long to include here.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

All the news that pays

This news release, I'm guessing, describes what news gathering is becoming:

MISSOULA — During the next two years, Montana Public Radio’s News Department will present regular feature stories about issues of poverty in Montana.
The features project is supported by a $78,500 grant from the Northwest Area Foundation, whose mission is to help communities reduce poverty.
“Poverty in Montana takes many forms, from working families who can’t afford health care to food banks who can’t keep their shelves stocked to keep up with the increasing demand,” said Sally Mauk, news director at The University of Montana Broadcast Media Center, where MPR’s studios are located. “I’m excited about the project and the opportunity to get our news staff out to many Montana communities to report on such an important and timely topic.”
Kevin Maki, a longtime Montana journalist, will join the MPR staff for the two-year project. Maki currently produces feature stories about people and places in the Bitterroot for the radio station.
The Northwest Area Foundation works in an eight-state region that includes Montana. The foundation approached MPR after successful projects last year with Minnesota Public Radio and Seattle’s KUOW.
For more information about the Northwest Area Foundation, visit its Web site
Montana Public Radio programming and station information can be found at

My prediction: Montana Public Radio will discover that poverty is a problem. But less of a problem when the grants are rolling in.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Oh Ohs

Chuck Denowh sent along this, which I guess is what sparked the news release quoted below:

Dear Editor:

I learned from reading this newspaper last weekend that a Nazi has filed as
a Republican for legislative office in Butte. I want to make it clear that
neither the state nor county Republican Party organizations had any part in
recruiting this man to run for office.

The Montana Republican Party in no way condones what the Nazis stand for.
Our state party platform is very clear that we believe in a "commitment to
equal rights and equality for every citizen regardless of gender, age, race,
national origin, religion, creed, or physical impairment."

This candidate who has filed as a Republican is misinformed on a number of
levels, including his assertion that his views in any way reflect the
Republican Party's emphasis on equality. I speak for all Republicans when I
say that we did not recruit this man to run, we do not support his
candidacy, and we will work to achieve his defeat.

Karl Ohs
Montana Republican Party

For the record, I certainly would not suggest that Republicans are "pro-Nazi" compared to Democrats. If there is one issue that has so far remained beyond partisan debate, it is that nobody likes Nazis.

On the other hand, if Republicans are going to blame Democrats for how Hollywood actors vote, I guess it's fair for Democrats to blame Republicans for how Nazis vote.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Typical anti-white bias

News release of the day:

Bill White, spokesman for the National Socialist
Movement today responded to letters written by the
Montana Republican Party and the Montana Democratic
Party about the campaign of National Socialist
Movement candidate for Montana legislature Shawn
Stuart in House Distrit 76.

"The Montana Republican Party's Chairman Karl Ohs is
lying when he says the Republican Party did not
recruit or encourage Stuart to run, or that they were
not familiar with his views," White stated today, "At
the Pachyderm Club's Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner, just
prior to the filing date, Shawn Stuart, at the
invitation and encouragement of Rachel Roberts,
Pachyderm Club President, and Charles Robinson,
President of the Young Republicans, of which Mr Stuart
is a member, announced his candidacy and informed the
Republican Party leadership of his views. His views
and his candidacy were embraced by the Republican
Party at that time.

"We find Mr Ohs response today hypocritical and false.
Mr Ohs is lying when he attempts to distance the
Republican Party from Mr Stuart.

"Further, the National Socialist Movement finds the
various threats made against Mr Stuart and his
campaign by the Republican and Democratic Parties
ridiculous. In particular, the Montana Democratic
Party has manipulated Montana's anti-working-class
unions in order to push the homosexual and
Jewish-multiculturalist agenda on the white working
people of Montana for too long.

"We look forward to the defeat of their candidates."

White, who, organized Pat Buchanan's 2000 Reform Party
presidential petition drive in Maryland, as well as
managed the campaigns of the first team of third party
candidates to qualify for ballot access for Congress
and legislature in Maryland in twenty years, stated
that the National Socialist Movement expects to
"easily defeat" any attempt by the Republican Party to
stop Stuart from running for office.

"The law does not permit them to try to remove him
from the ballot at this point and their only other
option -- which we will wait to see if they use before
telling them what it is -- has historically failed.
We expect Shawn Stuart to be the Republican nominee in
this district and we expect him to go on to an
outstanding performance at the polls.

"With only 3,000 or so registered voters in HD 76, I
think it will be easy for Mr Stuart and the NSM to
counteract any of the typical mass media and mass
political party actions white nationalist candidates
typically face."

Monday, April 03, 2006

Bad blog

This is discouraging. Yesterday I posted what I thought was a reasonably coherent post on a timely topic of broad concern. Matt Singer, at least, thought it was worthy and quoted it at length. At this writing, he has received seven responses to the post, some of them disagreeing with my point but all of them rational, civil and on topic. I have received ... garbage. You can judge for yourself, except that I already have deleted the most offensive (read: Mellonesque) comments.

This can't go on. Someone in comments suggested blocking Mellon's IP address, but I have no clue how to do that. Perhaps someone can fill me in. In the meantime, I am adopting another suggestion: I have enabled comment moderation. Since my various other jobs require me to be away from this desk for long periods, this may mean a considerable gap between the time comments are posted and when they show up here. I'm not happy about that, but the only other options I can see are closing off all comments or shutting the whole blog down. So I am taking the least drastic alternative.

Perhaps, someday soon, Mellon's final blinking brain cell will wink out, and he no longer will be able to type. Then, blogging may have a future.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Blog some more

Some readers inferred from the post below that I wouldn't blog again. Perhaps it was that pesky headline: "Blog no more." But everybody knows you can't rely on headlines in newspapers. Why trust blog headlines?

I really only meant to say that I had no regrets about taking three weeks off and that I would blog again only with good reason, such as when I have something to say that isn't likely to fit into the Outpost. Here is one such topic:

Some conservatives (but not all; George Will makes the sensible conservative argument here) make the case against illegal immigration that U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher made Friday night on “Real Time with Bill Maher”: It hurts American workers, and it hurts the American economy.

Many conservatives (I don’t know whether Rohrabacher is one of them) also make the case for Wal-Mart: It helps American workers by providing jobs and low prices, and it helps the American economy. But one reason Wal-Mart has low prices is that it buys heavily overseas, and pressures its suppliers to lower their costs by exporting manufacturing jobs overseas.

Here’s what I don’t get: If it’s good for America to buy cheap goods made by low-wage workers in other countries, why isn’t it good for America to buy cheap goods and services provided by low-wage workers who come here from other countries? What’s the difference?

One difference, Wal-Mart supporters will say, is that illegal immigrants don’t play by the rules. But neither does Wal-Mart. At last count, some 44 lawsuits had been filed against Wal-Mart for forcing employees to work illegally off the clock . And nearly 2 million women are involved in a sex discrimination suit against the company.

So illegal immigrants are just doing what smart entrepreneurs have been doing for centuries: Cutting costs, and a few corners. They are following the dictates of the market. So why is it wrong when they do it and right when Wal-Mart does it?

If we really want to help the American economy, maybe we ought to build a fence around Bentonville.

UPDATE: Don Mellon is permanently banned from this blog. Life is too short to waste any of it on losers like him. If you post a comment that even looks like it be from that scum, it will be deleted. If I have deleted your post in error, please contact me by e-mail. Hear that, Mellon? GO AWAY!