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.