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.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Berg alert

I don't listen to Dave Berg's radio show much anymore, but I did hear him railing this morning about the story on Iraq mentioned below. He didn't have the courtesy to mention me by name, or even the newspaper, but he did misread the headline "Billings against Iraq War?" as "Billings against Iraq War." I fired off this response:

You badly mischaracterized the headline on my story this week by omitting the question mark. The headline was meant to indicate that a debate over the war appears to be pending with the City Council. By implying that I had made a flat statement "Billings against Iraq War," you misstated both my own position and the message of the story.

As the story made clear, the number of organized protesters in Billings is quite small. To presume that they represent the majority opinion here would be irresponsible, and it was irresponsible of you to imply that I made that presumption.

I also wonder why you characterized The Outpost as a "throwaway" newspaper. Is is because it is free? If that's the case, then you host a throwaway talk show.

I didn't mention that, while I opposed the war from the outset, I am far from the pull-out-now-at-any-cost crowd. I am very much of the Colin Powell if-you-break-it-you-own-it school. By invading, we took on a moral obligation to see things through. That's one reason I thought the war was a bad idea: The military should be used to protect our interests, not the interests of other countries.

But it's too late for that now. I won't support until a pullout until I am persuaded that it is in the best interests of Iraq to do so.

Fantasy land

While I was out delivering papers yesterday, I ran into Ed Kemmick and Gazette photographer David Grubbs. Kemmick said to Grubbs something to the effect that I would make a good source for a story on people who work in hot weather.

He was referring, I presume, to the newspaper perennial feature of rounding up people who have outdoor jobs and interviewing them during hot weather for a quick and easy summertime feature. It's in the genre of what Mark Twain called, if memory serves, "strawberry surprise" stories, a reference to newspaper editors' unfailing ability to greet with wonder the fact that every spring plants grow.

Kemmick and Grubbs were kidding around, but it did ease the tedium of a long, hot afternoon to fantasize about spending a day relating my delivery adventures to an attentive reporter and photographer. Most of the fantasy was idle nonsense, including the point at which I felt something resembling heat exhaustion coming on, and I pulled in under a tree to rest. "Here's your chance," I fantasized telling Grubbs, "to get a real front-page shot: 'Editor dies carrying news to the people.'" It would have made the perfect climax to the upcoming Nobel Prize nomination story.

Then there was the half hour or so I wasted speculating about who has it harder: guys who work in the heat every day, or a guy like me who sits on his butt staring at a computer screen for 60 hours a week, then works outside like a dog for one day a week. I never came up with the answer to that, but I did decide who had it toughest of all: the friend I had back in East Texas who repaired air conditioners. Everywhere he went, the air conditioning was on the fritz.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Billings vs. the war

The Outpost editor takes a regrettably incomplete look at what could be an upcoming vote on an Iraq War resolution before the Billings City Council.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Comma Wars

As an editor and teacher who has spent many years fighting the comma wars, I naturally read this City Lights post, and Samuelson's column, with great interest. Most of my students are so averse to commas that I have become something of a crusader on the topic, even though mastery is unobtainable.

I know no better comma story than this one (retold in Lynne Truss' "Eats, Shoots and Leaves"), which resulted from legendary comma battles between James Thurber and Harold Ross, editor of the New Yorker. Someone once asked Thurber why a comma appeared in this sentence he wrote for the New Yorker: "After dinner, the men went into the living-room." Thurber replied, "This particular comma was Ross's way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Why is Billings so much like Billings?

I'm interested in collecting thoughts on the difficulty (or ease) of exciting political activism in Billings. My read is that it's much tougher here than most places, but I haven't lived in most places. Can anyone enlighten me?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Must read

If you haven't read Karbon Kounty Moos' brucellosis post, now you no longer have an excuse.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Best movie line

Much as I like "Cool Hand Luke," Sullivan has me. This has to be the best movie line ever.

UPDATE: When I saw Dave's comment, I knew he had either lost his mind or I had the wrong link. Guess it was me. Try this one instead.

Bumper stickers of the week

Delivery day bumper sticker highlights (all from the same car in the Perkins parking lot):

"I love my country ... but I think we should start seeing other people."

"Support the troops: Impeach Bush."

"Liberty and Justice for all. Prices may vary. Offer not available in some areas."

And one more, next to drawing of an ancient Indian chief: "Fighting terrorism since 1492."

Tough week

July is always a tough month in the newspaper business, and this one is tougher than most. It would be nice to have the luxury of losing a million bucks now and then, the way some companies do, but here a couple of subpar weeks pushes us into panic mode. So I'm feeling panicky.

Finding somebody with bigger problems sometimes helps, so I listened to the president's news conference while delivering papers on Thursday. He actually sounded better than usual -- it was one of the few times I wasn't wishing that Tony Blair was around to explain our Iraq policy to us. But as Mara Liasson pointed out, it did seem that Bush was involved in a different debate than the rest of us. Most of the country is arguing about how best to leave Iraq; Bush seems to be ready to stay there forever.

Bush also bothered me when he said it was the job of commanders of the ground to decide when troops should come home. Dead wrong. The job of commanders is to conduct the war under the general direction of the commander in chief. Congress is supposed to decide when wars begin and end. The opinion of commanders about when the situation is stable enough to send troops home safely obviously should be considered carefully, but it isn't their call.

Then there was the other story of the day: Harriet Miers refused to appear at a congressional hearing. This seemed to get less attention than it deserved, and I was glad to finally find the post I had been looking for. Whatever the merits of the executive privilege claim, I don't see how it entitles someone to ignore a subpoena. But then lots of things that go on in the administration these days don't make much sense to me.

Personally, I don't much care about what the executive branch is required to disclose to Congress. But I do care about what it is required to disclose to me. Those people all get paid with my money. And Congress appears to be the only dog I have in this fight right now, so I'm pulling for Congress.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hyper local

City Lights points to this interesting piece by Johnathan Weber on the demise of Backfence. I don't disagree with Weber, but I would add this observation: Even with a strong editorial proposition, hyperlocal news content has never struck me as a moneymaker on the web.

Hyperlocal content -- although it has never gone by that name -- has worked for many years at community newspapers because, in a small town, everybody is a celebrity. News about people you know is rarely boring. So if John Smith across the street gets a DWI, or buys a building permit for a backyard deck, or even just gets a new car (yes, I once worked for a paper that printed new car registrations), there's a market for that information. And since everybody reads the local paper, everybody gets a chance to be a celebrity a few times a year.

As communities get larger, this proposition becomes harder to sustain. I may care about my kid's Little League batting average, but I don't care about the averages of 10,000 other kids. That hyperlocal content has to compete with everything else in the world for a tiny piece of newspaper real estate. The bigger they get, the pickier newspapers have to be about what they print.

On the surface, the internet appears to offer the perfect solution to this longstanding dilemma. With news hole unlimited and virtually free, newspapers would appear to have the best of both worlds. They can print all of the hyperlocal stuff anybody asks for and still print the big stories without hurting anybody.

But there are a couple of problems with that. For one, entering all of that hyperlocal information on the web is time consuming and boring, so you have to either pay people to do it or rely on people to submit their own stuff - which means they may be happy to send you the Little League score when their team wins but a no-show when the team loses. So you get spotty or inaccurate information.

For another, getting your name in the newspaper always has had a certain cachet for most people. If a photo of your kid hitting a home run makes the local paper, the page is likely to hang on the refrigerator door for months. So readers are willing to endure a fairly large chunk of boring content in the paper to get to their own name or the name of someone they know.

It isn't clear that this will ever translate to the web. After all, for no cost at all, I can announce to the whole world in large print every day on this blog that David Crisp deserves the Nobel Prize. But that doesn't mean anyone will read it, or that I will get the prize. It's just not the same as if the Gazette were to run a full page ad saying I should get the Nobel Prize -- something I expect to see any day now.

So if people aren't willing to donate the content, and if they aren't willing to read it, and if they derive no particular benefit from having it appear on the web, where's the business model? It makes more sense to give away newspapers for a living.

Kitzenberg running?

Just had a pleasant chat with Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, D-Glasgow, who was in town for breakfast this morning with Yellowstone County Democrats. He is considering a run for superintendent of public instruction to replace Linda McCulloch, who is finishing her second term.

Kitzenberg, of course, is notorious for switching parties just after the last election. That gives him an edge in name recognition, but that may not be helpful in his case. Republicans were infuriated by his switch, and it sounded as if Democrats this morning weren't quite prepared to jump on board his campaign.

He is a maverick, which has some appeal, and he does have a background in education. He taught high school English for 17 years, emphasizing poetry. He might have to struggle against the perception that the superintendent's office has become a "women's seat," at least in the eyes of Democrats, but he says he's tough enough to stand up against both parties and the teachers' union when needed.

Play ball

In Ed's Gazette piece this morning on the filmmaker filming a documentary about Cobb Field, I was struck by this sentence:

Most of all, he liked the lack of frills and the near-total focus on baseball that was part of the Cobb Field experience.

Ain't it the truth? When so many ballparks, and sports, are sullied by promotions, noise and razzle-dazzle, Cobb Field remains a wonderfully pure place to watch baseball. Sometimes I forget how grateful I should be for that, but I will think of it tonight, when the Outpost sponsors its annual game with the Downtown Billings Association. No park I know makes the classic rulebook instruction to umpires seem so real: "Keep your eye everlastingly on the ball."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More fairness

Montana Headlines has a thorough response, well worth reading, to my piece on the Fairness Doctrine (yes, the link is OK; you just just have to scroll down for a while).

Just sick

You can see it in Bozeman and Missoula. It is now the ninth-biggest box office film, despite showing in only a third as many theaters as the movies ranked above it. But you still can't see "Sicko" in Billings.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Gore on top

Al Gore has outsmarted his critics. When conservatives are writing posts like this one, Gore wins. Keep burning that carbon, Al.

Cool Hand

Andrew Sullivan has been rounding up great movie lines. I might do the same thing, except that all of my favorite lines come from one movie: "Cool Hand Luke." Here are a few:

1. "I can eat 50 eggs."

2. "I'm just standing in the rain, talking to myself."

3. "Calling it a job don't make it right."

And the sentence that became a tagline for the '60s:

4. "What we have here is failure to communicate."

The movie also has the best on-screen performance of "Plastic Jesus" I have ever heard. And bloodhounds.

Best movie ever? Yep.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Talk radio

In the post below, I quoted Jesus, which prompted a commenter to accuse me of hypocrisy for quoting the founder of a religion I dislike. When I asked the commenter to cite evidence that I dislike Christianity, he replied, "You don't seem to like rightwing talk radio, which is full of Christian morality and teaching."

Even by blogging standards, that is a remarkably weak argument. But it raises a larger question: How much Christian morality and teaching can one find on right-wing talk radio? My response: not much.

I'm going to make a few broad generalizations here, so bear with me. Specific examples available upon request. While talk radio generally supports some Christian notions, such as chastity, it badly abuses others. Here's the moral stance I find on much right-wing talk radio:

1. Moral relativism. No conservative should be punished if any Democrat has ever committed an equally egregious act. If Bill Clinton pardons a political buddy, Scooter Libby must go free. If Giuliani has three marriages, Robert Byrd was in the Ku Klux Klan. If a Republican congressman makes untoward advances on a page, well, what about Chappaquiddick?

2. Hard-heartedness. Jesus commanded us to forgive one another. Byrd has apologized for decades for his KKK membership, but Sean Hannity, to cite an example, never misses a chance to label him "Robert 'KKK' Byrd." And what about Chappaquiddick?

3. Greed. When the rich man asked Jesus how to be saved, Jesus told him to go and sell all that he had and give it to the poor. That idea does not appear on talk radio. Even asking for a few tax dollars to help the poor is questionable in talk-radio world.

4. Afflicting the comfortless. Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter accused World Trade Center widows of enjoying the deaths of their husbands, a clearcut violation of the command to comfort widows and orphans. Oddly enough, she did it in a book whose thesis appears to be that God likes conservatives better than liberals. That went too far even for some talk-radio hosts, but Hannity defended her. After all, Chappaquiddick was worse.

5. Violence. As John Prine said, Jesus don't like killin', no matter what the reasons for. But talk radio leads the push for institutionalized violence of all sorts, from waging war to abusing prisoners. Would Jesus have attacked Iraq? Interesting question, but don't even try to argue on talk radio that he wouldn't have.

Should I go on? No, time to get back to work.

Bad advice

Worst advice I heard on the radio while delivering papers for 12 hours in 104-degree heat on Friday: Drink before you get thirsty.

I woke up thirsty on Friday morning. I drank all day long, and was still thirsty when I woke up the next morning. If I'm going to drink before I get thirsty on days like this, I will have to start in April.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


The Outpost was delivered one day late because of the holiday, so my usual Thursday dose of talk radio came on Friday this week. The topic of the day was "Live Earth," and the tone was mockery.

I don't get it. Even if you think global warming is no big deal, it's hard to see why contempt is the appropriate response to a bunch of people getting together to encourage others to take better care of the planet. What do conservatives have against the planet?

The general argument was that the various talk show hosts and callers didn't want to be lectured to by rock stars whose lifestyles are less than perfectly earth friendly. That strikes me as willful nonsense. If anyone ought to be able to separate the message from the messenger, it should be conservatives. The Bible, a respectable conservative text, tells us we all sin and fall short. So if you are waiting for the stainless messenger, you will never get the message.

The whole thing reminded me of the fake outrage over John Edwards' haircuts. We all spend time and money on things that strike others as frivolous or silly. I buy my Shiner Bock; you buy your SUV. I piddle away an evening at the baseball game; you squander an hour on "American Idol." When did conservatives become the ones to decide what personal indulgences are socially acceptable? Isn't that supposed to be a left-wing malaise?

The standard reply appears to be, "But Edwards wants to increase your taxes to help the poor while he's wasting money on expensive haircuts." The message, I suppose, is that if Edwards wanted to lock poor people up in cages, then he could buy whatever haircut he wanted. But if he wants to help the poor, then he has no business being wealthy. The logical incoherence is staggering.

As for the moral argument that it is wrong to spend money on haircuts while poor people are suffering, we don't have to ask what Jesus would do. He already told us. When Mary washes his feet with expensive spikenard, Judas asks, "Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?" Jesus replies, "Let her alone."

Good advice, Republicans.

Up and running

We got our servers changed over yesterday, so your old links to the Outpost website should now work again. However, e-mail appears to have been down for a while during the changeover, so if you sent any e-mail to me or the Outpost in the last couple of days, better resend.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Waiting for 358

I had precisely this thought when I was typing the very same phrase while writing this story Wednesday morning. I thought I should try for some fresher way of saying this. Then I thought:

1. It's 6 a.m.

2. I have been working for 20 hours.

3. It's the Fourth of July.

4. I promised the printer the paper would be shipped to Bozeman by 7:30 a.m.

5. If I stay with the code, everyone will know what I am talking about. If I break new ground, I will have to explain what I mean.

6. Who am I to stand in the way of history?

Doomed to repeat

Dave Budge has an interesting post about the importance of history. For some reason, the comments on his site are almost impossibly hard to read, so I will make my own brief comment here:

Sean Hannity's "Man on the Street" interviews this week included an interview with a kindergarten teacher who identified:

1. World War I as the war that won America's independence.

2. Abraham Lincoln as the author of the Declaration of Independence.

Abandon hope.

Fair is fair

The Outpost editor gets a bit long-winded. But I agree with almost every word.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

God bless baseball

We spent a classic Fourth of July. For the first seven hours, I exercised my First Amendment right to publish a newspaper. Then I slept for a few hours, and slowly jogged myself awake by watching the Cubs play the Nationals and then watching an exercise in the best of America: an angry documentary called "Who Killed the Electric Car?" that blasted oil companies, car companies and the government in roughly equal measure.

Then we went to the baseball game, sitting near the top, just at the edge of the roof with enough shade and breeze to fend off the summer heat. It was a fine day and a good game, although the local boys didn't show much offense. We finished off the day by watching "1776," a favorite Fourth of July pleasure.

My only gripe was the decision at the ballgame to replace the usual seventh-inning stretch playing of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" with Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A."

People weren't sure how to act. Some treated it like the National Anthem, removing their hats and holding their hands over their hearts. I stood, of course, since it was the seventh-inning stretch, but, sorry, I'm not taking my hat off for Lee Greenwood.

It isn't that I don't much like songs that tell God what to do. I have pretty well gotten over my fundamentalist background, which preached that using God's name to promote secular purposes, even love of country, borders on blasphemy. And it isn't because Greenwood says "ain't." I'm no purist about such matters, but he doesn't sound like the sort of person who drops "ain't" in casual conversation. Why would he adopt it when he's aspiring to a certain grandeur of expression? Is he striving for the common touch, or does he just have a tin ear?

The only reason I really objected was that Greenwood replaced a song that already is one of America's finest patriotic works. Not only does it celebrate America's greatest game ("Take Me Out to the Ballgame") but it also pays homage to most of the best of America:

* Unity ("Take me out to the crowd"),

* Consumerism ("Buy me some"),

* American cuisine ("peanuts and crackerjack"),

* Liberty ("I don't care if I never get back"),

* Freedom of speech ("Let me root, root, root")

* Loyalty ("for the home team")

* Empathy ("If they don't win it's a shame"),

* Pragmatism ("For it's one, two, three strikes you're out") and

* Respect for tradition ("at the old ball game").

Don't tell me that "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" isn't patriotic enough for the Fourth of July. No song describes America better.

Monday, July 02, 2007


Apparently, amnesty is OK for some people.

UPDATE: A commenter suggests I go look at Bill Clinton's pardons. I won't because I don't care about Bill Clinton's pardons, but this is certainly of interest. And so is this. The only president since FDR to commute fewer sentences than George W. Bush was his daddy.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Hall of Fame

Interesting question raised here: Does Craig Biggio belong in the Hall of Fame? Such questions used to be easy for me. If a batter gets 3,000 hits or 500 home runs, or if a a pitcher gets 300 wins, he's in. Biggio is closing in on 3,000 hits, but even a Biggio fan like me has a hard time seeing him in the Hall. As the article notes, the old rules don't quite apply.

UPDATE: The revived What's Right in Montana already is being taken over by lying trolls, which is sad because Eric deserves better. But he's got to lay down the law over there or his blog will be destroyed again.

So I won't comment there, but Eric does bring up an always interesting debate: Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame?

Here I break my usual rules and say no. Rose certainly has the numbers to be there, and I generally don't think what players do off the field should influence their election to the Hall. If it did, then as Kirk Dooley notes in comments below, Ty Cobb would never have made it.

But while Rose's gambling happened off the field, it affected what happened on the field, and he was very much in the game when it all happened. It was way outside the boundaries, and he has earned permanent punishment.

Perhaps even more interesting is the question of what to do with the steroid athletes, especially those who never admit it and against whom it can never be proved. That's a tough call, and I don't have the energy tonight to make it. Game called.