Friday, December 28, 2007

Gazette campaign spending

Here's my little scoop, by the way.

At least I think it's a scoop. I've paid so little attention to local news lately that I might have missed it somewhere else.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bohlinger for McCain

Good choice. McCain increasingly seems like the only Republican presidential candidate it is possible to vote for. Much as I like Ron Paul, he strikes me as too ideologically pure to govern successfully as president. And the rest of the GOP batch are too soft on torture and civil liberties for my taste.

McCain worries me because I don't like his position on the war, or on campaign finance reform, and his age bothers me a little. But he does seem to be an honest man, willing to take public hits on positions he believes in strongly, and I really don't see that Republicans have anyone else to turn to.

Now we'll see how much heat the endorsement takes off Bohlinger.

UPDATE: In comments, Eric says I'm too liberal for McCain and Mark T. says, in effect, that McCain's war position disqualifies him for the presidency. Mark also indicates that he has trouble telling liberals from conservatives.

Of course, I argue that all Americans are liberals because America is a liberal democracy founded on liberal principles and almost nobody rejects those principles. We pretty much all believe that humans are capable of self rule, that they should be equal under the law and that they have rights that outweigh the power of government. Those are all liberal ideas.

Real liberals and real conservatives both embrace those ideas, which can make them hard to distinguish, and that's a good thing. Telling them apart often boils down to what percentage of GDP they are willing to spend on taxes. But the right-wing talk machine has done a great job of conflating liberalism with socialism, an absurd but politically powerful gambit. And so-called conservatives have in large measure abandoned traditional American principles on torture, on foreign wars and on individual liberty. They should not be confused with real conservatives, who are people I respect and would, in fact, vote for.

As for McCain, I find his war position hard to take. But none of the other Republicans, outside of Ron Paul, is any better. And among the Democrats most likely to win, only Obama was against the war when it really mattered. So yes, I might vote for McCain if it comes down to a choice between a candidate who voted for and still supports the war and a candidate who voted for the war and has been running from the vote ever since.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A merry Christmas

Despite the death of Russ Brown (see below) Arlene Becker went ahead and held the annual Christmas party that she and Russ have hosted for years. It was a brave thing to do but, as she said, the tradition had to go on. The food was great, as always, and the crowd was eclectic. All that was missing was Russ' distinctive charm as host. He is definitely missed.

My daughter, Rachel, home from Missoula for the holiday, and I still had to go back to the office after the party to finish the Outpost. Christmas Day was our normal production day, and typically I don't put the paper to bed until the wee hours (or later) Wednesday morning. Pushing the schedule up by a day and a half is a real challenge for a weekly, especially with our regular production person gone on vacation, a vacancy in classified and last-minute Christmas shopping to do. So my wife did the classified pages, Rachel built ads, and I put the paper together, and we got done around midnight, just as Christmas Day broke. I even broke a bit of news, which you can read tomorrow.

So we slept late, opened presents, then cooked tamales for Christmas dinner -- a Southwestern tradition that we have been importing to Montana for years. They were wonderful, accompanied by Mexican rice, beans and a huracan gravy that was the best I ever made, I think.

Then the best part: a few cold tamales for breakfast today. Most tamales served cold are an abomination -- mealy, greasy and unpleasant. But really good homemade tamales take on an almost supernatural quality straight from the refrigerator -- firm, rich and painfully addictive. Then a slice of cherry pie, and back to work.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Chamber for Brown

The Montana Chamber of Commerce has given Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown a Champion of Business Award for his 95 percent "pro-business" voting record.

Ninety-five percent? Saddam Hussein didn't do much better than that when he was at his peak. Do you think the Chamber is on your side 95 percent of the time? Heck, I own a business, and I don't think the Chamber is on my side that often. Incumbent Gov. Brian Schweitzer, by contrast, rates only 12 percent.

I'm not too happy with either of those numbers. I'd like somebody who knows what it takes to help the economy but realizes that sometimes what it takes is slapping the Chamber of Commerce around a little.

The partisan card

In response to this post, a commenter at Montana Headlines suggests that I have failed to take into account the extent to which the Schweitzer administration is playing the bipartisan card for cynical political purposes.

There might be some truth in that. But my sense is that Schweitzer doesn't really care much about partisan politics. What he does care about is winning, and he will play whatever cards are in his hand to do that.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Paul vs. Romney

This is amazing. Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe asked all presidential candidates a series of crucial questions about the powers of the president, the Constitution, surveillance and unlawful combatants. Here's where Ron Paul stands. Now here's where Mitt Romney stands.

All of which raises two questions of my own:

1. Any doubt why Ron Paul arouses more public interest than the rest of the candidates put together?

2. Did Mitt Romney give a real answer to even one of those questions?

Additional note: Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee refused to respond at all.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Election update

Taylor Brown, who has owned the Northern Broadcasting System since 1985, is running for Senate District 22. Outside of his radio broadcasts, Brown, 51, may be best known for getting former broadcaster Conrad Burns into politics. This is his first run for office.

According to his news release, "Senate District 22 includes the Briarwood and Lockwood communities on the south edge of Billings, then runs down the Yellowstone River to the edge of Miles City. It includes Colstrip on the south, and runs north to include all of Treasure County." The seat is held by Lane Larson, who is running for re-election and is stopping by the Outpost tomorrow as he kicks off his campaign.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Person of year

This isn't exactly happy news either, but at least one Montanan has won a Person of the Year award.

Sad news

Kevin Dowling just called with news that Russ Brown has died. Probably heart-related, but that isn't certain yet.

Russ was one of my favorite people, the best kind of political activist with plenty of energy and good will and a sense of humor. In recent years, our favorite event of the holiday season has been to go to his and Arlene's house on Christmas Eve for a seafood feast: oysters on the half shell, soup, dessert and whatever dish anyone cared to bring. We like to bring shrimp jambalaya. I'm not much of a party guy, but the food is always great, Russ was a first-rate host, and the crowd was so interesting that I always looked forward to it.

In fact, Russ left a long, rambling telephone message on our machine yesterday about this year's event. He said he was counting on us for the jambalaya. We were in full production at The Outpost yesterday, so I didn't hear the message until this afternoon. By that time, Russ was already dead, although I didn't know it at the time.

It's a sad day.

UPDATE: This from Ray Tracy, chairman of the Yellowstone County Democratic Central Committee:

It’s with a very heavy heart that I inform you that this morning Russ Brown passed away. Russ’ death was from natural causes but was also unexpected and tragic. If anybody knew Russ, they knew his life was all about Montana politics and helping out in any way he could. Russ was known for his spirited character, his capacity for vibrant debate, and volunteerism. His wisdom, experience, and cheerful presence will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

I will announce Russ’ memorial service as soon as it’s known.

In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and treasure every moment with each other.

UPDATE 2: Russ Brown’s memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28, at the Elks Club. Donations may be made an environmental organization of your choice.

Monday, December 17, 2007

He's back -- no, really

OK, it wasn't much of a comeback. I underestimated how many papers I still had to grade and how much catching up around the office. Then there were a few hours of pure indolence: grocery shopping, movie watching ("Beowulf" in 3D!), even a TV football game. And there's that thing about blogging: The further away I get from it, the smaller it looks. If I don't have my nose in it every day, it doesn't seem to much matter.

But there was this: My annual survey of news consumption habits among my journalism students once again turned up not a single regular consumer of news and political blogs. I have asked every year since I first heard about blogs, and while I no longer have to explain what a blog is, I still haven't found a student who regularly reads blogs for news and commentary.

As I told them, failing to follow the news when one is in college isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's one time in life when it makes sense to focus on news that never stops being news, like "Beowulf" in 1D, which I spent a whole semester on in graduate school. After seeing the movie, I picked up my copy of the poem, wondering whether I remembered any of the language. In short: No. It might as well have been my blog.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

He's back

I promised not to let the blog go totally dark during the fall semester, and I kept that promise -- but just barely. Now I'm back -- but just barely. I taught my last class on Friday and still have a couple of finals to give and quite a few papers to grade, but I have gained a little breathing room. So a few scattered comments:

1. I was disappointed to see that Roy Brown was listed as signing a no-tax-increase pledge in his campaign for governor. Why? It isn't like Brian Schweitzer is going to run to the right of him on tax increases. If low taxes are all you care about, then Brown is your man.

So the pledge gains him nothing and costs him something I would hope for in a governor: the flexibility to deal with changing circumstances, no matter what they might be. A no-tax pledge says that no imaginable situation, crisis or emergency is important enough to raise taxes, even temporarily, or even while other taxes are being cut. I don't particularly want taxes to rise, but I also don't think it's the worst thing in the world. I can think of a lot of things worse than higher taxes -- wars, fiscal crises, natural disasters -- and I don't want politicians to unilaterally disarm.

2. Montana Headlines has an interesting post about Republicans' hate-hate affair with John Bohlinger. Montana Headlines makes some good points -- I, too, would like to see Bohlinger face Republicans in their natural lair -- but I think he misses an important point: What makes Republicans so annoyed with Bohlinger is exactly what makes him popular. Like it or not, Americans increasingly identify loyalty to party with disloyalty to country. Many of us fear that politicians in both parties are sacrificing the well-being of their constituents on the altar of partisanship.

Every day Bohlinger is in office, he makes a quiet statement that what unites us as a people is far more important than what divides us as political partisans. And Republican attacks on Bohlinger just reinforce that statement.

3. Montana Headlines also is worth reading on the presidential race, where John McCain is seen as making a comeback. I liked McCain against Bush, but this year it seemed that time had passed him by. He is no longer the newest thing on the shelf, and he gives activists at both ends of the political spectrum reason to dislike him: liberals because of his support of the war and conservatives because of immigration and campaign financing reforms.

Still, he is the only Republican who seems to understand that torture is a war crime. And, as Montana Headlines points out, McCain sensibly declined to sign a no-tax pledge (see No. 1 above) while still acting like a fiscal conservative.

The only other appealing Republicans from this chair are Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. Admirable fellow that he is, Paul probably is unelectable and would quite likely be a disaster as president. Huckabee is an amiable sort, but for me he is disqualified by his statements that the president should have the power to start a war even if Congress says no. I don't want to vote for a president who would be perjuring himself the moment he swore to defend the Constitution.

UPDATE: Here's another reason not to like Huckabee. I don't care what he thinks about homosexuals, but the idea that the cost of AIDS research should be borne by "multimillionaire celebrities" is the sleaziest kind of pandering -- not to mention wildly unchristian.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Lying liars

I just published a comment about some post I couldn't identify making some point I couldn't quite decipher. It had something to do with Satanism, which is perhaps all the explanation required.

Anyway, I was struck by the last line: "Please, if you are going to tell utter lies, at least get your facts straight."

A piece of sound advice for us all.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I'm trying to stay out of things that are none of my business, but the post-Thanksgiving shopping spree just gets to me. Even though I would rather have an ear cut off than to do it myself, I don't care that people get up at 2:30 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving for sport shopping; everybody has to have a hobby. It's not much different than hunters getting up at 2:30 a.m. so they can draw a bead on an elk at sunrise.

But elk don't celebrate Thanksgiving, and they get up early anyway. What bugs me is that, as the link above reports, stores like Best Buy, which normally have 50 people on duty, brought in all 140 Billings employees at 5 a.m. Friday to meet the rush.

Thanksgiving always has been my favorite holiday, with all the perks of Christmas without the pressure. More than that, it is a uniquely American holiday, a day for pulling together the disparate bonds that hold us as a nation. To see it cut short for millions of retail employees just for sport -- well, it gets to me. And I would feel the same way if I knew that every single one of those employees was pleased as punch to be up at that hour. They ought to know better.

It's un-American. As for the sport shoppers who make it happen, I'm with Ari LeVaux: Let's get the FBI after them.

Friday, November 16, 2007

And they aren't free either

This bit of unconventional culinary wisdom comes from the menu at Torres Mexican restaurant: "Chips and salsa are not complementary."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Vets day

I think I just had my best Veterans Day ever. For years I have argued (as Mike Royko used to) that veterans should get Veterans Day off. It has never made sense to me to celebrate Veterans Day by giving bankers and government bureaucrats a holiday. I've always had to work on Veterans Day, and I've had no desire to sneak in a celebration by marching around and saluting Old Glory. Sorry, no offense to patriots, but Veterans Day to me is a day to celebrate not having to march or salute anymore.

Of course, the son of a bitch who runs the Outpost wouldn't let me off, but MSU Billings shut down on Monday. So I took Saturday off -- a rare event during the school year. And I did nothing: watched the Texas A&M football game, read a little German, sat in the hot tub, washed dishes, changed a couple of light bulbs, cooked short ribs with gravy, drank some wine and hot rum, played bridge with friends.

Then Monday evening the wife and I went to the Golden Corral for the free Veterans Day feed. They did it up right: all you could eat, no questions asked (except: "Are you a veteran?"). There was a huge crowd when we arrived, but everybody was cheerful, the line moved right along, and we wound up sitting at a table with a guy who had served in the Air Force in Vietnam and with his father-in-law, who had been in the Navy in World War II. We had a pleasant talk, good food, and I didn't have to pay a nickel.

I've been out for 34 years and finally had an enjoyable Veterans Day. Maybe the war really is over.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Listening to Rush

I have often thought, and occasionally said, that one reason conservative talk radio gets better ratings than liberal talk radio is that liberals are more willing to listen to conservative talk than conservatives are willing to listen to liberal talk. A new poll from Zogby International and the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School provides some hard evidence that I'm right about that:

The extensive interactive survey of deeply held beliefs and behavior patterns – conducted June 26–29, 2007, including 3,939 adults nationwide and carrying a margin of error of +/– 1.6 percentage points – shows that liberals were much more likely than conservatives to listen to commentary and entertainment with which they disagreed philosophically.

The numbers:

While 22% of conservatives said they “never” enjoy entertainment that reflects values other than their own, just 7% of liberals felt the same way. At the other end of the scale, just 11% of conservatives said they “very often” enjoyed programming that ran counter to their personal philosophies, compared to 20% of liberals and 18% of moderates who said the same thing.

Given a country that is closely divided along partisan lines, that may be enough to make all of the difference.

UPDATE: Also this tidbit: "Over 80% of liberals admit that they are entertained by material that’s in bad taste. Almost 40% of conservatives say they are never entertained by it."

Monday, October 29, 2007

Free speech or free pizza

Numerous Montana bloggers have written about the Aaron Flint case at the University of Montana, particularly George Will's column on it. If you haven't kept up it, you can start here and follow the assorted links.

I may have missed a post or two, but I haven't seen that anyone has mentioned this analysis at the Volokh Conspiracy. As a guy who sells newspaper ads for a living (if you call this living), my sympathies lie with Will's position. But I have to admit that Volokh makes a pretty compelling case that he is wrong.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Drug war claims another casualty

This wasn't suicide. It was murder by government.

Ms. Prosser's last letter the Outpost appeared just a month ago. You can find it here.

Billings Bull*!@&

The Outpost is one of the media sponsors of the Billings Bulls this year, so we grabbed a couple of free tickets Saturday night and went to our first game in the Centennial Ice Arena.

On the whole, not a bad experience. Centennial lacks the big-league atmosphere of MetraPark, but it makes up for it in intimacy. There are truly no bad seats in this house.

Play was ragged, but the game was close, and I found it increasingly absorbing as it went along. Even with tons of penalties, a pointless fight and two overtimes, the game moved along quickly enough that we were able to catch the first inning and the last two of the World Series game on TV.

In typical bush league fashion, the music that came up every time a whistle blew was too loud and too bad -- sort of '80s style big hair rock music of no discernable pedigree. Jim Larson, who also was there, said the music apparently was chosen to match the crummy acoustics. On the positive side, the most annoying aspect of the Bulls experience -- the Pizza Scream -- is logistically impractical in Centennial, and its absence was welcome.

But one ugly aspect of the game just about ruined the whole evening for me. The rink and stands are almost totally dark before the game, and it was in that darkness that Bulls management chose to introduce the visiting team, the Bozeman Icedogs. The players were nothing more than dark shadows, they were introduced so fast they all wound up skating to mid-ice practically simultaneously, and behind it all over the loudspeakers were playing the lyrics to the Beck song: "I'm a loser, baby, so why don't you kill me?" The Bulls, of course, got full spotlight treatment.

Sorry, but I can't root for a team that shows such poor sportsmanship. Geographical ties don't trump bad behavior. I had to root for the Icedogs all the way.

Here I am getting into old geezer mode again, but it seems to me that such behavior would have been universally condemned when I was kid back in the '50s. An iconic image of my childhood was a film clip of a college football player slamming into an opponent, then reaching out a hand and helping him to his feet. The message wasn't just that this was proper conduct on the football field but that this was the American way. You played to win, but you played by the rules, and you treated your opponents with dignity and respect. Such thinking carried us to victory in two world wars.

No doubt readers with long memories can come up with plenty of examples of when that ideal was breached. But the ideal itself, in my memory, was never questioned. You didn't talk trash, you didn't cheat, you didn't showboat. This Saturday night, instead of the image of a football player helping an opponent to his feet, we got the image of a Bulls player skating around the rink with one arm raised, celebrating to a roar of approval the penalty he got for fighting.

His opponent nearly didn't get to his feet. The two were fighting helmets off, and when the inevitable scuffle to the ice came, the Bozeman player banged the back of his head against the ice. He lay there for several minutes, a potential calamity that was allowed to take place to the utter indifference of the other players and referees.

This may all seem like exceedingly small beer. But I don't think that it is. To me, it is a very short mental leap from degrading a sports opponent to degrading an enemy. One minute, you are trashing opposing hockey teams; the next, you are torturing innocent people.

Some days, I think this is not the country I was born in. I am permanently on the visiting team now, and everything looks dark.

An opposing view

In this week's Outpost, T.J. Gilles takes a contrarian view on the closing of a half-dozen Farm Services Agency offices in Montana.

I can't say that I'm knowledgeable enough to endorse T.J.'s position, but I do find it a bit refreshing to see someone occasionally challenge the idea that whatever farmers have, they should keep in perpetuity. No lobby, not even the gun lobby, is so powerful as agricultural interests, and politicians line up willingly to oppose every perceived threat to farmers. As T.J. suggests, maybe it shouldn't be that simple.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Wake me when it's over

I have been trying to wait a decent interval -- say, until after the election -- to complain about how much I hate the mail-in ballot for the municipal election, but I can't hold back any longer. I hate it.

Here it is, a week or two before the actual election -- whenever it actually is -- and I am just about to the point where I normally would begin to take interest. But quite likely, it's already all over. My mailed ballot sits along with the bills and credit card scams in a pile in the foyer. Voting used to be a pleasure; now it's just another form to fill out. Maybe I will bother; maybe I won't.

Is it really just me, or is there less excitement, anticipation and general all around interest in this election than in any election we've had since the last mail-in ballot? Elections used to be one event that pulled people out of their thick shells for at least an hour or so a year of civic activity. Now we shrink ever deeper into our tiny domains, lost to the world and to public discourse.

The only real argument I have heard for mail-in ballots is that they increase turnout. For most people, that seems to settle the matter. But it isn't clear to me how adding up the opinions of a bunch of people too lazy to drive a few blocks to a polling place strengthens democracy.

Yes, I know, I'm old and grumpy and helplessly stuck in the past. But you've got to say one thing for us geezers: We vote. And we don't need a mailed invitation to do it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

10 years old

With my trip to Texas and all the Tuney Award hoopla, I nearly neglected to notice that the Billings Outpost turned 10 last week. The first issue came out on Oct. 16, 1997.

None of the years have been easy, but the 10th has been one of the toughest. To recap: We struggled through the startup years and made a small profit in 2002. In 2003, we were approached by nearly the entire Thrifty Nickel staff about coming to work for us. We took them on, expanded dramatically, and took a beating. Since then, we have been trying to recover, and we essentially got back to break-even point last year.

But the expansion left us saddled with debt, and we have been struggling to work out from under it. This year, we lost some people, and had some illness that knocked out a key person for a couple of months. Our printing bill went way up; through September, we have spent $7,000 more on printing than we did last year, although we have printed fewer pages. The landlord just jacked up our rent by 12 percent -- and he wants a $100 late fee because I couldn't get around to paying this month's rent before we had to head to Texas for the funeral.

Just last week, I learned that our mailing service has tripled its charge for handling our weekly mailing of subscribers' newspapers. Apparently, it is trying to shed small customers. Of course, we have been hit hard by Albertsons, which allowed the nation's most predatory newspaper chain, Gannett, to charge us to be in their grocery stores. An advertiser just stiffed us for $1,500 worth of ads. And our aging computer equipment is starting to cost us money.

Add to all of that the growing uncertainty over whether newspapers in general have a future, and these are not fun times. Yesterday, I looked through the masthead of the Missoula Independent and saw 23 names listed, with at least one spot, that of editor, open. On Friday, I wrote paychecks to three Outpost employees -- not counting me; I couldn't afford a paycheck for myself. So the Independent is printing roughly twice as many pages as we are with about six times the staff. No wonder I'm tired.

Friday night at the High Plains BookFest, I talked briefly to Dennis Swibold, whose Copper Chorus looks at the rough-and-ready past of Montana's press. We talked a bit about the hard times for the press today.

"Well," he said, "you're doing the Lord's work."

If that's the case, I told him, I wish the Lord would help out a little more.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Tuney wrap

Nice wrapup of the Tuney Awards here. It was a heck of a show, which I can say with particular pride because I had almost nothing to do with it.

I was like Yossarian in "Catch-22," who considered the officers' club he didn't help build in Pianosa "a sturdy and complex monument to his powers of determination." Yossarian never lifted a hand to help build it, but then went there often when it was built. "It was truly a splendid structure," Joseph Heller writes, "and Yossarian throbbed with a mighty sense of accomplishment each time he gazed at it and reflected that none of the work that had gone into it was his."

It was a good time. Jim Larson, Scott Prinzing and Cindy Moore all got some stage time, but credit also should go to Jim; Paula Close; and my wife, Pat, for counting the ballots. Through no fault of their own, they wound up having to do the whole job in one day, working late into the night, Paula after pulling a day shift at the office, Pat after flying back from Texas for the funeral, and Jim after holding down the office almost singlehandedly most of the week. Without their efforts, there would have been no Tuneys.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Who's biased?

Montana Headlines finds media bias in this AP story about Republicans buying up Democrat Linda McCulloch's domain name. MH wonders why the story was printed at all, then notes that a similar ploy against potential Republican candidate Bob Keenan doesn't appear until toward the end of the story.

Why MH thinks this might not be a story escapes me. It seems like a legitimate enough story, especially since Gouras pulls in national experts to discuss the phenomenon, which apparently is common in statewide races. I found it one of the more interesting state stories I have read in recent months. It certainly doesn't read like a McCulloch puff piece. If anything, she comes off as naive and shortsighted.

So why didn't Keenan get higher play in the story? I can't know what was in Gouras' mind. I don't have the mind-reading capacity that media-bashing conservatives seem to possess in great measure. For all I know, Gouras worships a bust of Ronald Reagan before he goes to work every morning. But regardless of Gouras' political beliefs, I can think of a few reasons why he might have played the story the way he did.

1. The news about McCulloch was fresh. News about Bob Keenan's website chicanery had appeared as far back as August.

2. In McCulloch's case, Republicans took an existing domain name. In Keenan's case, Democrats took an unclaimed name. So discussion of what happened to Keenan fell naturally within the cybersquatting section of the story, rather than the part about swiping existing names.

3. Gouras' story followed a classic journalistic form: start with a specific incident, show how the incident fits within a broader context (aka the nut graph), develop the broader context, then provide a sense of closure by leading back to the original example. The Wall Street Journal writes stories using that basic structure every day. For Gouras, Keenan's story made a perfect transition back to Montana. Put Keenan too early, and you risk burying the nut graph. Gouras could have mentioned him early, then come back to him later, to keep Montana Headlines happy, I suppose, but the story would have lost a little zing. Sometimes you just have to make tough calls about how much MH's happiness is worth to you.

4. Maybe Gouras is so far beyond partisan bias that it never occurred to him that people would read the whole piece in a Republican-Democrat context. After all, if Republicans are acting like 4-year-olds, then citing evidence that Democrats act like 4-year-olds doesn't make Republicans look any more mature. It just makes it look as if the whole state is being run by 4-year-olds. And that isn't news.

UPDATE: In the original post, I forgot to link to Montana Headlines. That has now been fixed.

UPDATE 2: After I rattled on for a while longer in comments, another thought occurred to me. Montana Headlines, Ed in comments and I all seem to be proceeding from the same assumption: that the practices described in the story make the political parties look bad. But neither Montana party seems to think it has done anything wrong, and both apparently are in accord with national trends and practices.

So isn't Gouras just as liable to a charge of conservative bias as to liberal bias? Why does he give Montana Republicans credit in the opening graph for adopting this technologically savvy technique but fails to note until deep in the story that Montana Democrats are equally up to date?

Fact is, I'm so persuaded this is a sleazy practice that it didn't occur to me until now that other possibilities might exist. That persuasion arises from my own deep biases -- in favor of openhandedness, fair play and general courtesy -- and I suspect that Montana Headlines and Ed share those biases. I think these are conservative biases, but it's hard to know for sure anymore.

And I still don't know about Gouras' biases. Maybe he thought he was doing Republicans a favor.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tuney Awards on Sunday

Don't forget the Tuney Awards on Sunday, from 4-8 p.m. at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co. Garage Pub. It should be the best show ever, with a long list of bands lined up to play.

And, of course, I will be performing my famous a cappella rendition of "There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea," but only after 30 beers.

Tuckered out

I thought Tucker Carlson was supposed to be a smart guy, but he sure wasn't on Bill Maher's Real Time last night. He was obstreperous, constantly interrupting to take bizarrely contrarian viewpoints.

The strangest was during a discussion of Blackwater, when Carlson attacked Paul Krugman, who was also on the show, for criticizing the use of mercenaries when the New York Times Baghdad bureau is protected by private contractors. Krugman repeatedly attempted to make the simple point that there is a distinction between private companies hiring private security to protect their private interests and the federal government hiring mercenaries to pursue military goals. Carlson, an alleged conservative, either refused to see the distinction or never heard it because he was so busy interrupting everything Krugman said.


The evening's highlight was Maher's take on Barack Obama's decision not to wear an American flag lapel pin. Maher said that Sean Hannity had to go see a doctor because his fake-outrage hard-on didn't go down within 72 hours.

Friday, October 12, 2007

That's It for Huckabee

Shane Mason has a great post on this week's Republican presidential debate. Most revealing are comments by Mike Huckabee that essentially call for repeal of the U.S. Constitution. No force, not even Congress, can stop a president who wishes to start a war, Huckabee says.

Ron Paul appears to be the sole voice of sanity. "Why don't we just open up the Constitution and read it?" he says.

The silent conspiracy by both political parties to repeal constitutional provisions on the power to declare war continues to baffle and appall me. And the one candidate who appears to understand what the founding fathers intended, and why they intended it, is routinely dismissed by both parties as a kook.


Monday, October 08, 2007

That's it for Romney

Any chance that Mitt Romney had of getting my vote ended here. It isn't that he is wrong on the issue; I would expect Republicans (although not conservatives) to be wrong about medical marijuana. It's that he doesn't have the guts to look the man in the eye and tell him that he would rather throw people in jail than allow them the medical care they need. Wrong and gutless -- a fatal combination (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan).

Strange words

Dave Budge links to an American Spectator post that makes it sound as if Democrats aim to use government power to go after conservative talk show hosts. But the wording of the linked post is a bit suspicious. It implies that Henry Waxman plans to make an FCC case against Rush Limbaugh, but it doesn't say that explicitly. Instead, it juxtaposes two factual assertions, leaving it to the reader to presume that they are related.

Using Limbaugh's own words against him is fine (although taxpayers should not have to pay for the research). Talking to the FCC chairman about the Fairness Doctrine is fine, too. Trying to bring federal pressure to silence Limbaugh and his ilk is not fine -- and it wasn't fine when Republicans did it against either. That dog should have been kept on its leash.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I'm back

Just back from a whirlwind five-day trip to Texas to lay my mother to rest. The experience was similar to that three years ago when my father died: Same funeral home, same church, same preacher, even pretty much the same meal following the service. Later that evening, a pretty hilarious discussion of why none of the Crisp brothers can dance.

Then, on Saturday, the same long drive to North Texas for burial in the Prairie Point Cemetery at Bazette. This time it was overcast and raining and humid. My shirt stuck to me like a cocklebur. Afterward, we even ate at the same place: Sam's, in Fairfield, Texas, where I used to eat during my days covering high school sports.

Everything went about as well as could have been hoped for. My mother died peacefully, with my sister-in-law reading Psalms to her and love letters that my father, Clifton, had written to her just before they married. My mother was unconscious, but Linda said she was sure that Mom was aware, at some level, of what was going on.

And this odd moment: A few days before she drifted into unconsciousness for the last time, my mother asked my brother: "Did you see Clifton?" He had just been there, she said, stopping by to visit.

A delusion? I suppose. Or maybe just an early welcome home.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Word comes from Victoria, Texas, that my mother, Novella Dean Crisp, has died.

This was no surprise. Her health had been slowly declining for some time, then much more rapidly in recent weeks. Word from two of my brothers last week was that it could be a couple of days or a couple of weeks.

Despite her best efforts, she never had much much luck at getting me to believe in Heaven. But she did believe, and if there is consolation, it is in knowing that if she was right and I am wrong (which is usually how it worked out) then she will be there, wondering what's keeping the rest of us. I rack up a longer list of sins in putting out a single issue of The Outpost than she did in an average decade. If she ever took a drink, told a lie, cheated a soul, uttered a foul word or did a mean deed, I never heard about it. And I wouldn't have believed it if I had heard.

She worked hard. May she rest well.

UPDATE: Thanks for all of the kind words in comments. Here is the obituary.

Don't know nothing

I bumped into a guy while delivering papers this week. As we de-bumped, he said something to the effect that nothing but troublesome news was in the paper anyhow.

I said there was good stuff in this issue. He looked at me with a thin smile.

"I learned a long time ago," he said, "that it's better not to know nothing." As he said that, he gave me a look that indicated he had done everything in his power to live up to his aspiration.

And you, sir, I thought (but didn't say), are what's wrong with this country.

Rush flushed

Congress would be wrong to condemn Rush Limbaugh for his "phony soldiers" remark, just as it was wrong to condemn for its "Betrayus" ad. If Congress were less dim-witted, it would have been obvious at the time of the vote that our representatives were headed down a path they should not travel. Still, there is a certain satisfaction in seeing Limbaugh hoist on his own considerable petard.

Of course, Limbaugh now says he was referring to just one soldier who did, in fact, lie about his service. Fair enough. I can't argue with what he says was in his heart. But that wasn't clear from the context of his remarks, and the usual thing to do when one is misunderstood, no matter how innocently, is to apologize. He refuses to do that.

The other thing he could do would be to say explicitly that it is possible for a "real soldier" to think the war in Iraq is a bad idea. He hasn't said that either, or at least I haven't found it in the long screed linked above. For Limbaugh to acknowledge that loyal Americans, including soldiers, could legitimately disagree with his point of view would demonstrate the generosity of spirit that is essential to a healthy democracy. So I don't expect to hear him do it.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another one down

Tough week. I made a serious mistake last weekend: I took a day off. At a Mustangs game last summer, my program had a lucky number and I won two free round-trip tickets to any place Big Sky Airlines flies. So my wife and I flew to Missoula last weekend, visited my daughter, ate Indian food and saw a They Might Be Giants concert.

That began the brewing of a near-perfect storm. I was, of course, behind on the paper and struggling late Monday and all day Tuesday to catch up. Our classified person quit on short notice last week, and Paula, our ace production person, was sick and went home early Tuesday evening. My wife, who helped by entering some ads late Monday, couldn't help on Tuesday because she had a paper due in a course she is taking. Our fall intern also sent an e-mail saying she was sick. That left our ad guru, Jim Larson (henceforth known as Lord High Muckety-Muck His Holiness King James I, or Lord Jim for short), and I to figure out how to get the classified pages done. Between us, we had only slight clues.

It was a nightmare, except worse, because nightmares at least involve sleep. After Jim struggled with the classifieds for four hours or so, we still had production problems that took a couple of hours to unravel. Somewhere in the course of our futile efforts, I managed to save the classified file over the file of the entire paper -- wiping out several hours of work.

Jim gamely hung in and rebuilt the paper. By the time he finished at 4 a.m., I was four hours away from deadline with about 12 pages to go. Cranking out a page every 20 minutes for four hours is a fairly tough slog under good circumstances, but I had been on the job for 18 hours already, after working until 2:30 a.m. the night before. And the stories all still needed to be selected and edited.

I didn't quite make it. By the time the printer called to ask about the last four pages, I was distilling them into PDFs. They were on the way within minutes, and I had time to go home, change my shirt and brush my teeth before teaching a couple of German classes.

And the paper looked, well, pretty good to me. I've said it before: This isn't a weekly newspaper. It's a weekly miracle.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cal on the loose

I don't suppose it will surprise anyone to hear that I was perfectly OK with letting the president of Iran speak to students at Columbia, before the United Nations or on the corner stool at the Empire Bar. Letting unpopular ideas air freely is in my DNA.

The usual arguments against letting him speak -- that he denies the Holocaust, that we are on the brink of war with Iran, that he has American blood on his hands -- all make me more rather than less eager to give him a forum. If we are going to spend billions of dollars and possibly thousands of lives to remove the guy from power, we ought to at least listen to what he has to say first.

After all, we have a fair amount of Iranian blood on our hands, too, mostly shed on behalf of our staunch ally -- scratch that -- arch enemy, Saddam Hussein. If talking things over has even a tiny chance of preventing further bloodying of hands, then I'm all for it.

I had hoped that Ahmadinejad might come across as a more reasonable and flexible person than we had been led to believe. I didn't expect it, but I hoped for it. Unfortunately, it didn't happen. He came across as a lying loon. I'm not happy about that, but that's the chance you take when you let people speak openly. I favor free speech even when it produces results I don't like.

Besides, he gave us the best weapon we might have against him. Despite the efforts of "60 Minutes," Ahmadinejad couldn't be embarrassed or cajoled into answering questions honestly. But he could be ridiculed, and that's what students at Columbia did best in response to his stupid comments about homosexuals in Iran. He won't listen to people who attack him, but he might listen to people who laugh at him.

This all seems pretty simple to me. But no position is so simple that Cal Thomas can't find a way to muddle it. In a column that appeared this week in the Gazette, Thomas compares the trials of being a conservative who speaks on a college campus to those of blacks who integrated lunch counters in the South in the 1960s. He makes me wonder why those blacks didn't just collect their honorary diplomas and go air their grievances on talk radio.

Thomas makes a perfectly sound argument except for one detail. He has no actual evidence. Indeed, every single example he gives of repression of conservative speech on college campuses involves people who actually were speaking on college campuses at the time.

Two of his examples even seem to provide counter evidence against his thesis. One is Ahmadinejad himself, who serves as a beacon of liberalism to no one this side of the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian president is a testament to the ability of conservatives to be heard on college campuses.

Another example is a former PLO terrorist turned anti-jihadist -- a step toward liberalism, not away from it. As in the other cases, the speaker did find an audience, but Thomas says that access to the talk was limited because of security concerns. As Thomas rightly points out, security concerns are an easy excuse to restrict speech, but fears that a former terrorist publicly denouncing his old beliefs might be at a bit of public risk hardly seem misplaced.

Thomas' other examples didn't involve conservatives who weren't allowed to speak on college campuses but conservatives whose speeches were disrupted by hecklers and protesters. This is a legitimate concern, but accusing colleges of poor crowd management isn't quite the same thing as accusing them of denying conservatives a chance to speak.

Besides, it isn't clear to me that the hecklers were liberals. Perhaps they were hard leftists; I don't know. But liberalism strikes me as less a political platform than as an attitude. Part of that attitude is a willingness to listen to other points of view because you never know when somebody you disagree with might turn out to be right. So it isn't clear to me how liberalism can be blamed for the deeds of students whose actions are profoundly anti-liberal.

My favorite line from Thomas' column: "Ahmadinejad is probably using his visit to case our country, like a bank robber does before a big heist." So what's he doing, counting security guards at the airport? Timing shift changes at the Empire State Building? He is capable of anything -- and so is Thomas.

UPDATE: I would have thought it impossible to write a dumber column on this topic than Cal Thomas did, but Ann Coulter was up to the challenge. Favorite quote: "Liberals are never called upon to tolerate anything they don't already adore, such as treason, pornography and heresy."

Is there a brain cell functioning anywhere in that head?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Utter waste

Hard to believe that Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester would put out a joint news release bragging that they voted for this piece-of-crap resolution. But they did.

The meat of the resolution is this: "It is the sense of the Senate ... to strongly condemn all attacks on the honor, integrity, and patriotism of any individual who is serving or has served honorably in the United States Armed Forces, by any person or organization."

Baucus' canned statement: “Montana men and women who fight for freedom and democracy across the globe shouldn’t have to fight for their dignity once they return.”

Tester's canned statement: “Personal attacks on America’s heroes for political gain have no place in the discussion and debate on the serious issues that face this nation.”

I understand that these two characters were trying to provide themselves some political cover from a resolution that condemned solely the ad against Gen. Petraeus. But the gambit failed. The Boxer resolution failed, and both wound up voting to condemn the ad anyway.

But the resolution has to stand on its own merits. And its merits are nill.

In the first place, condemning speech is not one of the duties of Congress. It's incredible that many of the senators who earlier condemned Democrats' "meaningless" resolutions against the Iraq War voted for this. If it's meaningless to pass resolutions on a war, an issue that goes to the heart of Congress' duties, then a resolution condemning political speech -- an issue over which Congress expressly has absolutely no constitutional authority -- must be beyond all known meaninglessness. It's a Britney Spears tune sung by Lindsay Lohan.

In the second place, military service by no stretch insulates anybody from personal attack. If it did, the Dave Rye dust-up over at City Lights could never have happened. Both Rye and his critics would have been rendered speechless.

And the higher up the military hierarchy one goes, the less insulation there is. Generals are, and ought to be, among the most vulnerable figures in the public eye. Those whose honor and integrity are on the line when the nation is most gravely at risk must never be exempt from personal attack. They are not gods; they are soldiers, and their performance is an open book.

Fortunately, so is the senators'. And on this day, their performance was dismal.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Feds pay for Cobb Field

I just ran across a news release that Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus put out last week boasting that they had fended off an amendment to cut $500,000 in federal funding for Cobb Field.

In his shocking floor remarks, Sen. Baucus disclosed that "Field of Dreams" is one of his favorite movies, suggesting that he should perhaps see more movies. Sen. Tester said the new park would a "major economic boost" and an "asset to the entire region."

This will baffle some readers here who are convinced beyond all evidence that I'm a liberal, but I'm having a hard time seeing how it is a federal responsibility to build baseball parks. Maybe if times were flush it would be different, but not when the federal government already is running massive deficits and spending a couple of billion dollars a week on a war that looks endless.

Congressmen come and go, but the pork never stops.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What counts

A Zogby poll finds that 81 percent of Americans say that the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were the most significant historical event of their lives.

Can that be? I have always thought that the most significant historical event of my life was the collapse of the Soviet Union. That's the only thing that has happened in my life, I suspect, that had both the scale and significance of World War II (which I can't put on my list because I'm not quite that old).

I'm not sure I would even put the 9-11 attacks as No. 2. Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination, the first moon landing -- those all have to be up there pretty high. Then no doubt a thing or two has surely happened in my life that has significance I can't yet fully appreciate. All those Nigerian philanthropists, for example.

The commonplace that Sept. 11 changed everything has always seemed wrong to me. We already knew that the world contained terrorists, and that they wanted to kill us, and even that the World Trade Center was a favored target. Sept. 11 certainly made us take the threat more seriously, but it didn't change the nature of the threat in any major way.

What am I missing?

GOP hijinx

Montana Republicans have put out a news release criticizing Jon Tester for:

1. Refusing to denounce an infamous ad that appeared in the New York Times.

2. Failing to return campaign contributions from the group.

Republicans also tried to amend a housing and transportation bill to publicly denounce Tester, who apparently was presiding over the Senate at the time, ruled the amendment out of order because it wasn't germane to the bill, which of course it wasn't.

The idea that political candidates should refuse to take campaign contributions from people and groups that say and do stupid things seems to be on the rise, especially from Republicans. But it makes no sense.

If all candidates refused to take money from people who say things the candidate disagrees with, then that would wring a lot of money out of political campaigns. But it's hard to see how it would do anything for democracy.

I don't really want my elected officials poring over campaign reports to detect ideological impurities. And I don't want them rushing to the House or Senate floor to pass meaningless resolutions every time somebody says something they don't like. I would rather they didn't even know who was giving them money, and I would rather they spent their time in Congress working on issues that really matter. I don't want government in the business of telling people what they ought and ought not say.

I don't expect Republican legislators to denounce the GOP E-brief every time it says something stupid and irresponsible, even though that is almost a daily occurrence, and even though the E-brief is an official party publication. I just take it for granted that in a political system dominated by two huge, undisciplined parties, a certain number of energetic morons are going to get into positions of influence. I don't blame the whole party for that.

I do want elected officials who are able to represent a broad range of people with whom they may have powerful disagreements. Politicians are elected to represent all of us, not just those who pass an ideological litmus test. When Jesus was criticized for breaking bread with sinners, he said he had come to save them, not the righteous. Politicians should have the same attitude.

Am I wrong to say that Republicans are worse about this than Democrats? I welcome evidence to the contrary. Abramoff doesn't count. I didn't really care whether Conrad Burns returned Abramoff's contributions or not, but I can see why he felt he should. Abramoff didn't get in trouble for what he said but for trying to use contributions to abet illegal activities. It's a different animal.

And if it's true that Republicans are worse about this than Democrats, then maybe that helps explain why the polls show Republicans are in trouble.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cobb Field

The Outpost editor tells you more about the last game at Cobb Field than you could ever possibly want to know. And he makes you want more.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Punditry done wrong

By way of Dave Budge I found this unfortunate post at Montana Pundit. Rarely has a post gotten so much wrong in so little space. I address only three points:

1. "Truth is the democrats [sic] have such disdain and hatred for the military and all who serve, that no matter what the general says it does not matter."

That is shameful and irresponsible and an unforgivable insult to all Democrats who served their country honorably, both in and out of the military. And it is presented, of course, totally without evidence.

2. "It is impossible to support someone when you do not support what they [sic] do."

Dead wrong. Nobody blames the soldiers for the war. They didn't start it. As Americans gradually have soured on the war, their support for the troops has wavered almost not at all.

3. "If we leave now all who have died will have died for nothing."

Wrong militarily, wrong politically, wrong morally. Sending soldiers to die solely because other soldiers have died is always wrong. Soldiers live and die based on decisions by their commanders. Those decisions may be wise, or they may be foolish, but in neither case do soldiers die for nothing. They die for their country. Perpetuating a bad decision in hopes of vindicating the sacrifice of those who already have died guarantees disaster.

Friday, September 07, 2007


Lessee. I worked 16 hours on Tuesday, 18 on Wednesday and 19 on Thursday. Bad trend. Think I'll lock up early and head to the ball yard to watch the Mustangs' season end.

I did see two signs worth mentioning on delivery day:

1. "Military and war, 20% off"

At first, I found it immensely cheering that war had fallen so far into disfavor that it had be sold off at a discount. Then I realized the sign was for a bookstore.

2. "A Childs Place Early Learning Center"

How early should children learn to use apostrophes? Not until after they receive advanced degrees in education, apparently.

Monday, September 03, 2007

We're No. 1

Montana has the best business climate in America? Here's the case.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Hypocrisy on the grill

I disagree with Ed's Sunday column, although not by much. I'm not persuaded that Larry Craig is a hypocrite. He probably really does believe in family values, traditional marriage and the evils of homosexuality. The fact that he personally is unable to uphold those values doesn't make him a hypocrite, just weak. As are we all.

Of course, that doesn't make it any less annoying that he is willing to use the law to create conditions that cause people like him to break the law. But again, I suspect that is weakness rather than hypocrisy. When his defense is, "I don't do these kinds of things" rather than "I didn't do this thing," he is juxtaposing his view of what he thinks he should be against what he really is. That can be an ugly look in the mirror.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Baseball online

The city of Billings plans to post photos every few days for those who wish to keep track of construction at the new ballpark. Here's the link.

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Letters like this one appealing to the conscience of a thief appear commonly. Other than perhaps making the letter writer feel better, do you suppose such letters ever do any good?

Somehow, I doubt it. I don't see thieves as regular readers of the editorial page. Nor would they, I suspect, be thieves in the first place if their consciences could be so easily touched. Anybody ever hear of someone who returned a stolen wallet because of a guilty conscience induced by a letter to the editor?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Viva Cambodia

This week's best delivery day talk radio rant came from Bill O'Reilly, who said that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was "off the charts" on the far left.

Off the charts? I thought the chart pretty much ended at Karl Marx. So if the P-I is off the charts, with whom is it aligning itself? Pol Pot? Next time you see a pro-Khmer Rouge editorial in the P-I, be sure to give O'Reilly a call. You might get a free copy of his latest best-seller, "The No Sense Zone."


I'm a little confused. If you are the top dog in the state for the biggest media company in the state, and you get a chance to become at the same time the head of the state's largest advertiser, is that really a community service?

Winding down

School starts next week, so this blog may be headed into hibernation again shortly. I'm teaching three classes this fall: two German classes at MSU Billings and my usual fall journalism class at Rocky. I will also be tutoring at the Academic Support Center a couple of evenings a week and, of course, trying to hold the Outpost together.

I will make an effort to keep the blog from going completely dark, as it has in some past semesters. Since it is now linked to the Outpost website, I have a financial incentive to keep it up, which is more than most people have. But I also am going to try to devote more of what writing energy remains into the Outpost, where the payoff is potentially higher.

I must admit that I don't feel quite ready for all this. I did work on my German some this summer -- saw a few movies, read a couple of books -- but I didn't do a very good job of clearing up the backlog at the office. I didn't get out enough, didn't take enough days off, didn't write enough, didn't even get my desk cleaned off. It's still August, and I feel a bit stressed, tired and overburdened already. Dang it.

There is something invigorating, though, about heading back to school. It's just the right mix of the familiar and the new, a charge of adrenaline, a chance to try new things. That's the best part about the job, and other jobs would be wise to try to do something similar.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007


In his infamous style, Glenn Reynolds sort of but not quite accuses a TV station of showing bias by burying the party affiliation of a politician charged with assault. Reynolds invites the smug reader to guess that the politician's party was buried because he is a Democrat.

Where was it buried? In one version of the story, party affiliation apparently was in the lede. In another, it was in the second paragraph. It the current version, the station placed the fact that it broke the story in the second paragraph and dropped party affiliation to the third. Apparently, in no version has the party been named lower than the third paragraph. Even on TV, most people listen that long.

I've always wondered how some people are able to spot liberal bias in places it would never occur to me to look. Apparently, they have more vivid imaginations. To me, it would have appeared that a reporter who broke a story about political corruption and put the party affiliation before the jump was just doing his job.

Now I know better. Thank God that Reynolds is looking out for me. I might have wound up hating Democrats one trillionth of a percentage point less. And that TV station -- who knows? -- might not have mentioned the party until the fifth paragraph.

Small people

The Outpost is a free publication that relies upon the kindness of businesses to allow us to place racks. Because of that, I resolved long ago that I would never hold it against a business that wouldn't allow us in or that asked us to leave. But I do take manners into account.

Last week provided a good example of how this can work. When I delivered papers to the West End Wal-Mart on Thursday, our rack was missing. I called on Friday to ask if anyone knew what had happened, and I was told that the rack had been removed because it had not been "authorized." I asked to speak to the manager. The guy who answered was immediately rude and defensive. When he repeated the "unauthorized" claim, I told him that wasn't true: We always get approval before we place a rack, and our Wal-Mart rack had been in place for years (more than seven years, my research revealed later, since June 14, 2000, with never a complaint that I know of).

"Are you trying to argue with me?" he said. I said I wasn't arguing; I was just stating a fact. Eventually, he said that the order to remove racks had come from Bentonville. “So you don’t really have the power to authorize racks?” I asked. “Not really,” he conceded. So I asked why other racks remained where ours had been. "Guess what?" he said, they're gone.

But they weren't. When I went to pick up our rack, which had been stuffed out back, four or five other racks were still in place, just as before. I don't know why, but I do know this: I would no longer believe any explanation he gave me.

The second removal came at Godfather's Pizza on 24th Street West. The manager left a message on the machine. He explained why the owner wanted the rack removed and asked us to stop by and pick it up. He said there was no rush and left his name and number in case we had any questions. In short, he was a pro. I'm not much of a Godfather's customer, but nothing he said would make me less inclined to eat there.

Readers of this blog know I have my complaints about Wal-Mart, but this isn't a Wal-Mart thing. When we were asked to remove our Heights Wal-Mart rack, the manager there was perfectly decent about it. It's a human being thing: Small people should not be given power, even the modest power of a store manager. I saw it happen often enough in the Army: Small people who got small promotions would sometimes act like they ruled the world. In the Army, there was no escaping them, but in civilian life, they do not get my business.

UPDATE: Just got word from the real manager at Wal-Mart. The rack is back.

Al Jazeera -- nowhere near you

The refusal of American cable companies to carry the English language version of Al Jazeera is one of the great disgraces of our time. The fact that Al Jazeera presents points of view that Americans object to isn't a a negative; it's a good thing. We need to hear that perspective, even if only to avoid blundering into ill-considered wars (hat tip to Paul Stephens).

At the fire

We headed out to the Ford fire for a while on Sunday to see if there was anything useful we could do. I heard about the fire from an Outpost staffer who saw the smoke as she drove home from work. A few minutes later, my friend Gary Svee called, and we went to see what was up. From initial reports, it might have been a refinery going up or something equally dramatic, and we wanted to know for sure.

Lots was going on, but it was an impossible story for a weekly newspaper to cover. Becraft Lane was blocked by a fallen tree, and so we stopped by the Lockwood fire station. We heard that 400 homes had been evacuated in a three-mile radius around the fire. We talked to a woman who said the strong winds that accompanied the afternoon storm had riffled the tiles on her house -- the first time that had happened in 11 years out there. Other people were standing around anxiously, waiting for news. Smoke hung heavy in the air. No word at that time on any injuries or any destroyed homes. That news came later.

So what to do? We had a sneaking feeling that we were more likely to get in the way than to do any good. Gary had to get home. We would have to wait a while to try to get up in the hills to shoot pictures. Any breaking news we dug up would have been ancient by Thursday, when the paper comes out. I could have hung around and dug up feature quotes, but considering how uncertain it all was, even those likely would have been obsolete by press time. Theoretically, we could provide daily coverage on the website, but with tons of work waiting at the office, there was no chance to update meaningfully today and Tuesday.

So we made a brave decision. Gary went home, and my wife and I drove to Tiny's Tavern to drink a couple of Schoonies and listen to Norrine the Outlaw Queen and her band. She had been urging me to come hear her for several years, and it at least seemed possible to work off that longtime obligation.

What a contrast. The beer was cold, the chicken was hot, and the band was relaxed and enjoying itself. Tunes by Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and Eddy Arnold filled the evening air. Norrine gave the Outpost a half-dozen good plugs, which meant that going to hear her play probably was a better business decision than trying to cover the fire.

The smoke in Lockwood seemed very far away.

UPDATE: The governor will be in Lockwood at 2:30 p.m. today for a look at the fire.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Taking the pledge

I'm behind on my reading, as usual, and just saw 4&20 Blackbirds' discussion of a resolution requiring recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at Missoula City Council meetings.

I have expressed my own reservations about the pledge often enough. In short: I was raised to believe that the pledge undermines religion and borders on blasphemy because it uses the name of God in a rote recitation that promotes secular purposes.

So much for that. But it did strike me the other day that quite a few allegedly religious people who are sensitive about protecting the fragile beliefs of creationists have no such sensitivity to religious qualms about the pledge. How come?

Talk about screws

Your tax dollars at work.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Partisan goofiness

Montana's two major political parties appear to be competing for the goofiest news release of the week.

First, the Democrats attack Denny Rehberg for taking a "junket" to France, Brazil, Argentina and Chile while brave Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus are fighting it out on the front lines against raging Montana fires. Right.

Then, the Republicans attack Tester and Baucus for continuing to "question military commanders on the ground from the comfort of the US Senate" while Rehberg has made two trips to Iraq -- one as recently as 2005. "Congressman Rehberg continues to seek out the facts for himself, while others choose to sit on the sidelines," said Chris Wilcox, executive director of the Montana Republican Party.

Note to both parties: If you really think that having a couple of senators in the state is going to help get the fires out, and if you really think that a couple of quick trips to Iraq are going to help you understand the war, then you really don't get either situation.

For the rest of us, there is at least the consolation of knowing that if the two parties can waste their time on this garbage, not much of importance must be going on in the world.

UPDATE: Here's a better explanation than I gave of why a couple of trips to Iraq don't make you an expert, especially if you are a traveling congressman.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Left in the West recants its acceptance of reports in The New Republic by now notorious soldier Scott Thomas Beauchamp. "I backed the wrong guy," writes Jay Stevens.

I'm not so sure. I was an agnostic about Beauchamp's honesty before the Army investigation, and I remain one. The only remarkable thing about his story, it seems to me, is the war-backing blogosphere's surprise at learning that soldiers can be cruel and insensitive during wars.

I served in the Army and used to subscribe to The New Republic. Given a choice between the Army's version of events and The New Republic's, I tend to lean toward TNR. For every Steven Glass at TNR, the Army has a Pat Tillman cover-up. Taken in sum, the Army has more incentive and more power to get the results it wants out of an investigation than TNR does.

A couple of other things incline me Beauchamp's way. One is that at least one of the anecdotes he tells makes him look like a real jerk. In my experience, people rarely tell lies that make themselves look bad. The only exceptions I can think of are professional comedians and people who concede a small indiscretion in hopes of concealing a larger one.

The other thing is that the stories are so unexceptional. If I were willing to risk my writing career and professional reputation on a pack of lies, I would print more sensational lies. Admittedly, I have been burned on this point before. When questions were first raised in the "60 Minutes" forged documents scandal, I figured the documents had to be authentic because anyone who would take the trouble to forge documents would have put a little more smoke in the gun. But I may have been wrong. Some people lie just because they can.

So I remain agnostic. But I do hold out against those who argue that Beauchamp's admission that one incident occurred in Kuwait rather than Iraq changes everything. They say that if the incident occurred before he went to war, then that undermines his point that war leads to cruelty. Wrong. The cruelty of war begins well before actual combat.

Water, water

While delivering papers in the heat this week, I had another thought about the national decline in customer service that I harp on from time to time. Maybe this is a North-South thing, but I remember when I was a kid that lots of businesses had water fountains for customers. Nearly every gas station did, usually right by the pop machine, plus lots of department stores, grocery stores, even fast-food restaurants. I think every Dairy Queen in Texas had a water fountain.

Now? On my delivery route, with well over a hundred stops, I can think of two with water fountains, at the courthouse and at a home for seniors. Maybe there is one at Rimrock Mall. When I do the Medical Corridor route, I can hit the water fountains at Billings Clinic. Are there others? I can't think of any. If I want water (and I constantly do), I have to pay a buck a quart for it.

P.S. The general comment should not cover up the kindness of certain businesses, or at least of certain employees. Off the top of my head, I can think of a half-dozen occasions when businesses either offered me a drink for free or refused to take my money when I tried to buy something. I won't name names for fear of endangering the job of a good-hearted employee who may be working for a hardhearted owner.

Crash and burn

I don't get many days off, and occasionally it catches up to me. Yesterday was one of those days. Slept and read, bought groceries, hot tub, finally scraping together enough energy to cook some Indian food in belated recognition of my wife's birthday. The simple life -- it's easy to miss.

The Babe

In all the hoopla over Barry Bonds and the home run record, it's worth remembering that no modern player comes close to Babe Ruth in terms of overall dominance of the game. In his prime years, Babe Ruth hit more home runs all by himself than any other team in baseball. In 1927, the Red Sox and Senators combined didn't hit as many home runs as Ruth did -- and neither of those teams finished last in the league in home runs. To have that kind of impact today, a player would have to hit 200 home runs a season.

Had he remained a pitcher, Ruth probably could have made the Hall of Fame on that alone. As it was, he set a World Series pitching record that lasted for decades.

And then there was the Ruth charisma: rags to riches, a boy in a man's body, abounding in excess, full of life and charm, the American dream in a pot-bellied package. He was one of a kind, and no number of asterisks will ever change that.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Aren't they transferring the wrong guy? Seems to me that failing to back up a fellow officer, whether you like him or not, would be extremely dangerous and a firing offense.

To me, if you have a left fielder who won't back up throws to third base because he doesn't like the third baseman, you get rid of the outfielder, not the infielder.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Somewhere over the striped apparition

I don't read much contemporary fiction, unless it has Montana or Wyoming roots, but I am wasting the summer reading "Absolute Power," a potboiler of a political thriller that was made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman.

The only thing worth mentioning is that the author, David Baldacci, has sold 40 million books. Forty million. And he can't write a lick. Maybe he learned something after writing "Absolute Power," which was his first novel, but this one has clunkers on every page. The New York Times called it a "mountain of thudding prose" -- and that was the film critic. I can imagine what the book critic must have thought.

You'd think a guy who wants to write novels for a living would bother to learn the craft. But if he can sell 40 million books, maybe it doesn't matter.

I won't waste your time by quoting from the book, except for this brilliant bit: In one strained metaphor, he refers to "the pot of gold at the end of the striped apparition."

OK. I'm ready to die now.

UPDATE: 6 Generations asks, sensibly enough, why waste time reading a poorly written book? Several reasons:

1. Bad habits. I finish bad books for the same reason I eat everything on my plate. There's some poor kid in China who would give anything to have a badly written book.

2. Some poorly written books are worth reading. Exhibit 1: David Halberstam. Terrible writer, in my view, but a terrific reporter who must be read. He is the example I use when journalism students go into despair that they can't write well enough to make a living at it. This particular novel has an premise interesting enough that I still want to know how it turns out (although I have been reading very ... very ... slowly).

3. You can learn a lot from poor writing. The trouble with good writers is that they are so skilled I can't figure out how they do it. With bad writers, I can see all of the seams between the joints, all the badly fitted boards and missing nails. I think: I could do better than that. The good ones just intimidate me.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Nigerians still at it

Just got my all-time favorite Nigerian e-mail, this from an outfit claiming to collect money from "fraudstars" to refund to scam victims.

It starts:




And it ends:


If you aren't a victim, just wait. Your time is coming.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The government sector

KBLG has been running a promo for "The Radio Factor" in which Bill O'Reilly says that the only things that government can do are run the military and collect taxes. Even allowing for the usual O'Reilly exaggeration, this seems like an awfully short list.

And I'm not even sure it's accurate. Does government really run the military that well? Granted, the United States has the most powerful military history has ever seen. But since armies are nearly always run by governments, the U.S. military can't really be compared to a private sector army, can it? And while I don't doubt that the U.S. Army today is a better-run outfit than the one I served in 35 years ago, certain inefficiencies common to any bureaucracy appear to be built in to the military hierarchy.

To give just one of many possible examples: Since I was stationed with a small detachment of soldiers on the East German border, we had to drive to Bremerhaven to conduct much Army business: medical appointments, shipping goods, clearing up paperwork. On narrow and crowded German roads, it was about a seven-hour round trip, and a military vehicle generally made the run at least once a week.

One week, the Army changed its policy and decided that soldiers had to have an appointment before they could conduct any business in Bremerhaven. Nobody told us, of course, and we drove up as usual. And even though the clerk in Army personnel appeared to have nothing whatever to do, he wouldn't help any of us -- a half-dozen soldiers wasting a full day apiece for absolutely no good reason. This sort of thing happened all the time, and nobody in charge cared very much because nobody had to meet a bottom line.

Still, I don't really want to know how a government-run army would stack up against a privately run army because I don't want big private armies running around out there. This is one monopoly I'm happy for government to keep. The same goes for prisons and courts of law, where I'm willing to accept a little government inefficiency in exchange for the power to vote for or against the people in charge.

Beyond all that, it seems to me that government does do some things well -- at least as well and perhaps better than the private sector. A few come to mind:

1. National parks. Does anybody think that Yellowstone would be a better place if Disney ran it? I don't.

2. Campgrounds. Sight unseen, I would prefer any federal or state campground over
any private campground. In my experience, government-run campgrounds are nearly always prettier and cheaper. The amenities may not be as good, but I don't care much for amenities when I go camping, and I don't like camping close to people who do.

3. Highways. A few privately funded highways have been built in high-traffic areas, but government-built highways suit me just fine, even allowing for the occasional bridge collapse.

4. Public libraries. Nothing else comes close.

5. Mail service. People always bitch about this, but I have never understood why. Almost without exception everywhere I have lived, mail service has been reliable and cheap, and postal employees have been pleasant to deal with. I don't argue that my experience is typical, but I have no gripes.

6. Customer service. Another supposed government weak point, but again it doesn't fit with my experience. Private sector customer service keeps getting worse, in my view, and government service keeps getting better.

7. Fire protection. Who complains about the fire department?

8. Museums.

9. NPR. Not strictly government run, but it gets a few federal dollars, and it is vastly superior to commercial radio in every respect (except sports coverage).

That's not a complete list, but it's a fairly big chunk of what government does. And while you certainly might argue that turning all those services over to the private sector would save a few tax dollars, it's hard for me to see that we would ultimately really be better off.

UPDATE: Two more I neglected to mention:

1. Trash pickup. I never even see those guys, but the trash is always picked up.

2. Water. In all the cities I have lived in over the years, I can't recall that I ever once had any contact with a municipal water department. Why? Because I never once had a problem -- water always has been cheap, plentiful and clean.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who's next?

Now that Rupert Murdoch has Dow Jones, which newspaper company will be the next to go? Most likely Gannett, according to the Wall Street Journal. Lee Enterprises doesn't rate a mention until deep in the comments (3:12 p.m. Aug. 1).

Bad Pat

I like Pat Buchanan because he is mean and smart and a real-deal conservative. But I think he would be a terrible president and would never vote for him. Today on MSNBC, I got a reminder of why.

Buchanan was bloviating on this story, which pits the forces of good (English speakers) against the forces of evil (Spanish speakers) over what languages beach rules should be printed in. That this should be news even in Merrimack is remarkable, but it is astounding that it became national news.

It happened, of course, because guys like Buchanan are willing to go on national TV to express outrage that any language other than English should be heard between the unpatriotically named Rio Grande and the Great Lakes. Judging from the comments, many Merrimack readers, no matter how slipshod their own grasp of English, feel the same way.

As someone who has spent a fair chunk of time struggling with unfamiliar languages (German, French, Spanish, even a semester of Old English), I think I have learned a couple of things:

1. The purpose of language is to communicate, not to make political statements. So if your goal is to have people understand what the beach rules are, you should print the signs in a language they understand. If you have some other goal in mind, then maybe you need to think about why you have signs in the first place.

2. Yes, English is the language of success in America, but even the most diligent students of English are going to struggle for a few years. They deserve a break.

3. In German, the beach is masculine, the sign is neuter and the sea is feminine. Do I have to make you a sign?

P.S. The German equivalent of "That's Greek to me" is "Das kommt mir Spanisch vor," or "That's Spanish to me."

Monday, July 30, 2007

The cruelty of war

If you roam the blogosphere at all, you have encountered this story, or at least the controversy about it. The remarkable thing is that anyone finds it remarkable.

I can understand why soldiers in Iraq might be offended if the stories Beauchamp tells turn out not be true. He makes other soldiers -- and himself -- look bad for no good reason. And I can understand why certain people just want to bash The New Republic. That's an entertaining thing to do.

But the idea that soldiers do mean things in wars is hardly news. Military history is full of the banal cruelty of war. Even under the best of circumstances, putting young men together under stress is likely to have coarse consequences. Just go to a rugby practice or cowboy bar. Give 20-year-olds superior firepower, and most anything could happen. That is no slur on soldiers, unless it is a slur to say that soldiers are human beings.

In "Goodbye to All That," Robert Graves describes moving with a bunch of soldiers during World War I through a trench past a soldier who had been buried so deep under an artillery shell that only one hand remained visible. As the soldiers passed by, each shook the hand in turn.

Now, Graves was a humane and erudite man. And the British Army is among the most disciplined and "civilized" in the world. Yet in Graves' memoirs, this grotesque act (imagine the response if rescue workers at a mining accident did such a thing) seems perfectly understandable and, yes, even funny. War does peculiar things to people.

That's one reason why using wars to pursue diplomatic aims so often backfires. Armies are good at breaking things, but not very good at putting them back together again.

And that may be why so many pro-war bloggers with no personal stake in the truth or falsity of The New Republic's claims have taken such offense. Having been wrong so long about how this war would turn out, they take every cruel detail as an affront.

The odd thing is that so many of those appalled by these stories are among those who think the war should be even crueler. We should loosen rules of engagement. We should torture prisoners. We should expand the war to Iran. Such actions inevitably expand the number of war stories that people like Scott Thomas Beauchamp tell.

War tests to its limits our capacity for civilized behavior. If we can't accept the consequences of pushing those limits, we have no business fighting wars.

Perverse ways

The new Republican strategy on waging war in Iraq seems wildly perverse. I keep arguing that the Constitution requires Congress to begin and end wars and the president to conduct them. This appears to be the exact opposite: The president can still decide when the war will end, but Congress will control the mission of the troops. Outside of the obvious political grandstanding in this maneuver, how can it possibly make sense?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

On target

Exactly my concern about the future of journalism.

UPDATE: And this is worth reading, too.

Move on, Moveon

Trying to get advertisers to pull ads from Fox News strikes me as a terribly bad idea. Given the overwhelming -- if badly exaggerated -- perception that most news tilts left, it makes no sense for leftists to encourage businesses, which mostly tilt right, to make advertising choices based on political biases. It's brainless.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book issue

If you haven't taken a look at the Outpost's summer book issue, well, then go do it.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Wacky news

The wackiest talk radio news on delivery day this week was about this story. Duncan Hunter was pushing this bill on Hannity's Inanity radio show, where it passed conservative muster with a gleeful Hannity.

So people who think they are conservatives believe that it's OK for Congress to impose itself in the middle of the criminal appeals process, but at the same time they think Congress should keep its nose out of its constitutional duty to decide when wars begin and end.

How do these people get to claim they are conservatives? Has the term lost all meaning?

UPDATE: Slate lays out the legal case.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

BBI no go

Just got a phone call from our very own Public Service commissioner, Brad Molnar, R-Laurel, who says that the PSC voted today to deny a rehearing to Babcock and Brown Infrastructure on its $2.2 billion proposal to buy NorthWestern Energy. The vote was 5-0.

BBI can still appeal the decision or file for a new case, Molnar said.

He said that most commissioners were concerned that the request for rehearing contained deficiencies. His own concerns had to do with a couple of issues:

* BBI proposed to build a new transmission line that eventually would have made Colstrip electricity available for sale in California, driving up Montana rates.

* Fraudulent claims by NorthWestern Energy when it acquired Montana Power Co.'s assets cost Montana ratepayers $300 million, he said, and the proposal includes only $20 million in rate relief. "That's not a dime on the dollar," he said.

BBI also would take NWE profits out of Montana while leaving local ratepayers with debt, Molnar said. "It's like living on a credit card," he said.

The PSC plans a final vote on denying the purchase next week. The Lee State Bureau story is here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The shadow economy

The Big Sky Business Journal considers the possibility that Montana's underground economy is twice as large as in other states.

Media salvation

Apparently, lack of media coverage is all that prevented protesters from going to jail here Saturday. In a e-mail about Saturday night's protest at the Yellowstone County Democrats' Truman Dinner, organizer William Crain says:

even the media didn't think these dupes [Tester and Baucus] were worth the time of day. Otherwise, we can assure you, when the police came and with the media there we'd have gone down for the cuffs! but alas no media and i really thought there be some there.

I have been to a Truman Dinner or two, but not this one. If I had gone, I might have jail time on my conscience. Apparently, at least one reporter was there, but I didn't see that she mentioned the protest in her story. Crain said that Baucus stopped to shake hands with one protester, saw her "Out of Iraq" sign and said, "We're working on it."

Whose ox?

When I read this letter in the Gazette, I couldn't help but wonder if the writer would feel the same way if her life savings had been part of the loss. If it were my money, I would say, "Let him rot."

Chasing Chase

I took the day off on the Fourth of July. It was my first, or maybe second, day off in six months, and one result was that I forgot to pay a Chase credit card bill. When I realized my mistake, I paid the bill, one or two days late.

The penalty? A $39 late fee, of course, which I expected. But Chase also tripled our interest rate. The monthly payment we had been making no longer even covers the cost of the interest, and our payment went up about $150 a month.

This wasn't our first bad experience with Chase. The first credit card the Outpost ever got had a reasonable 13 percent interest rate. We had it for three or four years and never went over our credit limit and never, in my memory, made a late payment. Then Chase bought the company that issued the card. Almost immediately, our credit limit was reduced, and our interest rate went to 29.9 percent. Pleas for mercy were ignored.

Fortunately, we have other alternatives. We have paid off the business card, and we will be able to close out our personal account. But the incidents set several thoughts in motion:

1. Defenders of the free market may say we have other options and shouldn't do business with unscrupulous companies. But in neither case did we choose to do business with Chase. In both cases, it bought out more honest companies that we had been dealing with. People with fewer options than we have can easily get trapped by scoundrels through no fault of their own.

2. The idea that usury is a crime runs deep in the human psyche, well back to biblical times and probably much longer. Credit card companies test the public's tolerance of usury at their peril.

3. As a small business owner, I don't have to speculate about how I would react if a loyal customer occasionally made a payment a day or two late. I would say, as I have said many times, "Don't worry about it. Thanks for your business." Honest customers are too precious to throw away on a triviality.

4. Just from a business standpoint, it would be interesting to hear how Chase thinks that what it does makes sense. We have been good customers for years. They have made money off us every single month. Now, because of one payment two days late, they will never make another nickel off us. How does that make sense?

5. What they did isn't a crime, but the penalty would be smaller if it were. All things considered, it would have cost me less to go to Chase headquarters and punch the CEO in the nose. The law takes a dim view of misdemeanor assault, but it also understands that some people need punching.

6. Every couple of weeks, we get a "preferred customer" offer from Chase asking us to borrow more money at low rates, sometimes as low as 4 percent. When the next offer comes, should we take it?

UPDATE: This story curled my toes.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lives of others

This is a shameless plug intended to persuade you to go see "The Lives of Others" at the Carmike 7. It isn't likely to stay longer than a week, so hurry.

It's one of those movies we get so few of at local Carmike theaters: a subtitled foreign-language film that has won a pile of awards and great reviews, but doesn't draw the masses like the big summer movies do. It's highly worth seeing: a grim but undoubtedly accurate view of life in East Germany and the extraordinary ethical and moral pressure that country placed on its citizens. The acting is great, and the suspense builds steadily as the secret police close in on the dramatist at the center of the film. Well, not quite the center. That position belongs to a true believer, a dedicated socialist who begins to see the world in a new way. That's a vague description, but to say much more would begin to give away something that you should see for yourself.

German cinema has come a long ways since I lived over there. The number of worthy-to-excellent German films has expanded exponentially in recent years, from "Run, Lola, Run," to "Downfall" to "Stalingrad" to "Goodbye, Lenin," a comedy to which "The Lives of Others" provides a stern counterpoint. For me, popular German cinema used to pretty much begin and end with "Das Boot." This is a golden age.

Be prepared for the usual Carmike experience. A long string of commercials delayed the start, and a pile of boxes piled up near the stage blocked part of the subtitles for those who, like me, prefer to sit up close. I was actually kind of glad that the subtitles were hard to see, since that made me rely more on my German listening skills and less on my English reading skills. But it would annoy most people.

At the end, just as the credits began to roll, the screen inexplicably went blank. I particularly wanted to see who did the music, but no such luck. No final credits, and the lights didn't even come on. The handful of viewers had to stumble out in the dark. But at least we had a couple of hours of light.