Monday, July 31, 2006

Heating up

As its name suggests, the Fire Fact Sheet from the Bureau of Indian Affairs normally is a no-nonsense report. But with high temperatures, gusty winds and dry lightning storms in the forecast today, the BIA waxes a bit lyrical:

Forest areas smell good this week; it's been so hot and dry that even the trees' aromatic oils are evaporating. Logs hold only 4% fuel moisture, only half as damp as kiln-dried lumber. Fires are burning actively all through the night.

Fuels Specialist Randy Pretty On Top said, "We're hanging in there, but with the weather they're predicting, I can hear the tune 'Garryowen' playing in my left ear."

Time to get Sen. Burns on the fireline!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bound to lose

A real estate agent called who was upset about Roger Clawson's column on the possibility of fire in the Emerald Hills. That's fine. I wasn't too crazy about the tone of the column myself, but Roger gets a lot of rope in my shop. She acknowledged that the fire danger is real but said that the column should have taken a positive and constructive approach.

Here's what bugged me: She said she would urge other real estate agents not to advertise in the Outpost. She herself has never, to my knowledge, run an ad in the Outpost, and she also said that she doesn't normally read it.

The Outpost, of course, runs many positive and constructive articles. To cite just one example, we run a weekly Calendar of Events, typically 4,000 to 6,000 words long, that is chock full of fund-raisers, benefits and nonprofit events. And we don't charge a nickel for it.

So here's a woman who ignores the Outpost when it publishes positive news. She reads it only when she can find something to be angry about, and she uses that anger to try to hurt our business.

So if we're positive, we lose. If we're negative, we lose. No wonder newspapers are in trouble.


The last time I went to a Billings Outlaws game, I said someone would have to pay me a hundred bucks to go again. Well, someone did, so I went.

The Fayetteville, N.C., Observer came up short a stringer a couple of hours before game time on Friday and called in desperation. The sports editor offered me $100, so I borrowed a laptop and headed out.

I hated it. From the moment I walked in the door at a quarter to six, until the last bit of recorded music faded at 10:30 p.m., it was an unrelenting onslaught of noise and hype. Everything I wrote before still applies, with at least one new twist. The public address announcer, instead of simply saying, "Third down," has adopted the habit of yelling, "Third down! Third down! Third down! Third down! Third down!" He is trying to create a once-in-a-lifetime "Giants win the pennant!" moment every time two passes fall incomplete. In 39 states, this is a capital offense.

I'm an old sports writer, but my skills have rusted, and the Observer is two hours east of here, so I had a tight deadline. Also, MetraPark's internet was down. So I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out a way to get my story to North Carolina. Then the contact number I had stopped working.

By the time the third quarter rolled around, I was typing play-by-play directly into my story, polishing the top of the story between plays, keeping notes on the action and trying every couple of minutes to place a phone call. Those blogging jerks who think reporters are lazy ought to give it a try sometime.

I wound up doing the story the old-fashioned way: With the game still in progress, I called in the story to a rewrite man, who turned it into serviceable English. With all the noise, he could barely hear me, and I couldn't hear him at all. I literally shouted myself hoarse into a cell phone. But we got it done, and someday I may get up the courage to actually read the story.

But the next time somebody offers me a hundred bucks to see an Outlaws game, I may just say that my price has gone up. I would rather spend a night in Abu Ghraib.

UPDATE: The Gazette story today emphasizes poor sportsmanship on the part of the Fayetteville Guard. But the worst case of poor sportsmanship I saw was when the execrable PA announcer went down onto the field (which should be a violation in itself) with about five minutes to go and the game still technically possible for either team to win. He urged fans to stick around after the game for the presentation of the championship trophy to YOUR BILLINGS OUTLAWS!

Is there a class below no-class? That's the class he's in. I thought the Guard showed admirable restraint by not dismembering him on the spot. If they had, I would have contributed to their legal defense fund.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Professional courtesy

The Daily Kos has been tracking spending on initiatives similar to those on the ballot in Montana this fall. One outfit this post examines is called America at Its Best out of Boise, Idaho.

The head of that group is Duncan Scott, who, the AP says, is "a former Republican state senator from New Mexico who once sponsored a bill there to require a psychologist testifying at a defendant's competency hearing to wear a two-foot-tall cone-shaped hat imprinted with stars or lightning bolts."

And New Mexico legislators should have to wear cone-shaped hats imprinted with the letters "D-U-N-C-E."

Occupation or liberation?

In one of Sen. Conrad Burns' latest radio ads, he says that Jon Tester has inaccurately referred to U.S. troops in Iraq as an occupying force. It's as though he thinks that occupying forces are bad things. Why?

We had occupying forces in Germany and Japan for years. It had its rough points here and there, but I think you would find very few Germans, Japanese or Americans who would say that it was bad. We removed despotic governments, established democracies, helped rebuild vibrant economies and provided a bulwark of protection against outside threats. I doubt that you could find more successful examples of military occupations in world history.

At some level, Sen. Burns knows that, so he doesn't come out and say that it's bad to call what we're doing in Iraq an occupation. He just says that it's inaccurate. Instead, it is an army of liberation. Really?

Let's look at a couple of undisputed examples, both from World War II.

A. An invading army conquers France. U.S. forces counterattack, drive out the invading force and, in effect, tell the French, "Here's your country back, to do with as you please, no matter how much you may annoy us." That's liberation.

B. We invade Germany, dismantle its government, and, in effect, tell the Germans, "You can't have your old government back. You have to form a new government, and we aren't leaving until you get it right, and we decide that it's safe to go." That's occupation.

So does what we are doing in Iraq more closely resemble A or B? And is the senator really all that concerned about semantic accuracy?

UPDATE: Apparently I was wrong when I said the above examples were undisputed. David Berg on "Berg in the Morning" just said that U.S. forces in Germany were an army of liberation, not of occupation. So Burns was right to criticize Tester, not because what he said was inaccurate but because what he said was impossible: Armies of occupation do not exist (at least not American armies).

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Burns: not so bad

In recent days, I've been getting a pile of e-mails from the office of U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns about appropriations he has wrangled for Montana. It's no mystery why: His seat is crucial, and he is in danger of losing it, just as he was against Brian Schweitzer six years ago. So the Republican-controlled Congress will be shooting money Montana's way with great alacrity.

I wonder how much of Burns' vaunted ability to bring home the pork for Montana relies on the fact that he is such a vulnerable candidate? In fact, it occurs to me that if you love big government (and who doesn't?) Burns is the ideal senator for this state: weak enough that he always needs help and strong enough that he can't be written off entirely.

I'm not sure how you work that notion into a political campaign. Here's my best slogan so far: Conrad Burns -- just good enough. Better submissions are welcome.

UPDATE: How about this one? Conrad Burns: Good enough for government work.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Election officially over

That wily Outpost editor has figured out how the Democrats can win.

UPDATE: Between the time I wrote that column and the time The Outpost hit the streets, the court-stripping vote on the Pledge of Allegiance did, in fact, come before the House again, and it passed. Of the 260 votes for the bill, 221 were cast by Republicans.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Those flag-draped coffins

This one has me puzzled. Dave Berg was livid on Thursday about an ad by Democrats that showed flag-draped coffins of American soldiers. Denny Rehberg put out a news release asking Monica Lindeen to disavow the ad. Republicans expressed outrage that Democrats would "exploit" the deaths of soldiers to raise money; Democrats pointed out that President Bush had used the flag-draped coffin of a terrorism victim in his own campaign ads.

My naive question: So what? What's wrong with showing pictures of flag-draped coffins? It's not an invasion of privacy, since no one was identifiable. Indeed, coffins are an accepted method of displaying human remains in public.

Is it because the Dems were trying to raise money? If the coffins had been displayed by a company trying to sell flags, or coffins, or better body armor, then I would be on the Republicans' side. But this is a political fight about multiple issues -- one of which is what we are going to do about a terrorism strategy that puts soldiers into flag-draped coffins. Let's not shrink from reality.

Is it a simple matter of taste? Maybe. I haven't seen the ad, thanks to my screwy computer, and the Democrats have now pulled it, so I probably won't. But I also think that excessively good taste in time of war is itself a perversion. Wars that have been as painless and distant as this one has been for millions of Americans ought to be shoved in our faces now and again.

There may be some pain, I suppose, for families of slain soldiers to see those pictures of coffins. But it would be far worse to forget their sacrifices and cut short a needed political debate simply out of fear that feelings might be hurt.

Far more than feelings are at stake in this war. I would hate to think that our political campaigns would be too genteel to remind us of that hard fact.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

E-mail of the day

This comes from Bill White, who has been in occasional contact since a Nazi filed to run for office in Bozeman. White now says he has resigned from the National Socialist Movement. His reason:

My resignation comes days after it was revealed that the Chairman of the National Socialist Movement is involved in a Satanic cult called the "Joy of Satan".
Further, this cult certainly engages in inappropriate sexual discussions with children through their "Teens for Satan" e-group, if not actual sex with minors.

And, it appears many senior NSM members are members of this cult group, including at least one convicted child molestor that was readmitted to the NSM last year without much explanation.

Mass murder of children is OK, apparently. Just don't have sex with them first.

Here's the offending website. Much more here.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


This is a troubling story. It doesn't bother me so much that the school administration would pull the plug on a valedictory speech; school administrators are supposed to be idiots. That's their role in creation.

But I find it worrisome that the ACLU is backing, and apparently was even involved in, the decision to cut her speech short on the grounds that it promoted religion. Poppycock. She wasn't given a chance to speak because the school wanted to throw religion at the students. She got a chance to speak because she earned it, and the First Amendment is all on her side.

It bothers me nearly as much that the story seems to have gotten attention only on the right side of the blogosphere. The corollary, I suppose, would be that if she had made comments attacking religion the right side of the blogosphere would be silent and the left side would be all over it.

Free speech doesn't work that way. The ACLU's position, if reported accurately, is wildly off base. I've e-mailed Scott Crichton asking for clarification. If I learn anything, I will let you know.

Outpost update

My take on the political campaigns is in this week's Outpost. I also sat down for an hour with Jon Tester this week for a freelance story I'm doing. I've met Tester a couple of times before, but this was my first extended interview with him. My reaction: a heck of a nice guy. If he has an artifical bone anywhere in him, I couldn't find it. The guy just sort of exudes decency. Even a stalwart conservative I interviewed who served in the Legislature with Tester, and who blasted just about everything Tester has done and hopes to do, agreed that he's a great guy.

But is that enough to win? I don't think so. And I still haven't gotten a good feeling about what Tester actually would do if he won. I'm guessing that lots of people feel the same way. On the other hand, I'm not sure what Conrad Burns would do either. His ads this week were nearly all on flag burning. I wrote about that in the June 29 Outpost (the link doesn't seem to be working right now).

What Burns doesn't even attempt to do in his flag-burning ads is try to make a case for amending the constitution, other than that he thinks he owes it to veterans. Just out of cussedness, I fired off an e-mail to his staff asking whether the senator thought the 1989 Supreme Court ruling on flag burning was wrong (Antonin Scalia voted with the majority) or whether it was the founding fathers who screwed up. I don't expect an answer.

He blogs!

I still can't blog from my own computer, so posts will be rarer and probably in concentrated bursts. Here's a batch.

Paul Stephens' Montana Green Bulletin, always an interesting read, carries an excerpt from a piece H.L. Mencken wrote for the Baltimore Evening Sun during the Scopes trial. Here's a bit from his description of William Jennings Bryan:

The old boy grows more and more pathetic. He has aged greatly during the past few years and begins to look elderly and enfeebled. All that remains of his old fire is now in his black eyes. They glitter like dark gems, and in their glitter there is immense and yet futile malignancy. That is all that is left of the Peerless Leader of thirty years ago. Once he had one leg in the White House and the nation trembled under his roars. Now he is a tinpot pope in the Coca-Cola belt and a brother to the forlorn pastors who belabor half-wits in galvanized iron tabernacles behind the railroad yards. His own speech was a grotesque performance and downright touching in its imbecility. ... The effect of the whole harangue was extremely depressing. It quickly ceased to be an argument addressed to the court -- Bryan, in fact, constantly said "My friends" instead of "Your Honor" -- and became a sermon at the camp-meeting. All the familiar contentions of the Dayton divines appeared in it -- that learning is dangerous, that nothing is true that is not in the Bible, that a yokel who goes to church regularly knows more than any scientist ever heard of. The thing went to fantastic lengths. It became a farrago of puerilities without coherence or sense.

Oh, how I long for the days when reporters were objective and didn't let their biases infect their stories!

Stephens also had this gem from U.S. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., about a failed amendment that would have prohibited the federal government from undermining state medical marijuana laws:

"If I am terminally ill, it is not anybody's business on this floor how I handle the pain or the illness or the sickness associated with that illness. With all due respect to all of you, butt out. I did not enter this world with the permission of the Justice Department, and I am certainly not going to depart it by seeking their permission or that of any other authority. The Congress has no business telling people that they cannot manage their illness or their pain any way they need to. I would trust any doctor in the country before I trust some of the daffy ducks in this institution to decide what I am supposed to do if I am terminally ill ... . When is this Congress going to recognize that individuals in their private lives have a right to manage their problems as they see fit without the permission of the big guy in the White House or the big guy in the Justice Department or any of the Lilliputians on this Congressional floor? Wake up!"

Between this vote and the flag amendment, it looks like Democrats are all we have to rely upon to uphold principles of limited government and freedom. What a bizarre world.