Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wal-Mart on steroids

From my daughter comes this fascinating video showing how Wal-Mart has spread.

Do you suppose this story, which has been played up on CNN and MSNBC lately, will slow the growth rate?

Bonus question: If shoppers boycotted Wal-Mart until it lost as much in sales as the cost of her settlement, how long would the boycott have to last? Answer: 38 seconds.

UPDATE: Wal-Mart backs down.


In case you missed it, here is the poem by Tami Haaland that Garrison Keillor read on "The Writer's Almanac" last Tuesday. Ms. Haaland teaches English at MSU Billings and a book of her poems, "Breath in Every Room," won a big award.

Found what I think are the breast feathers
of a flicker lying in the melting snow
in front of the house. Found a crow feather
in Bozeman one spring and have kept it
in a vase on top of the dresser. Yarrow grows
where my son planted a root last summer,
and hyssop seeds have sprouted
with the wildflowers. Found spearmint
growing under the outside faucet
and tiny blue snails in the fallen apples
and black and white hornets stumbling drunk
around the rotting apples in August. The columbine
had eight inches of new growth in January,
and two summers ago found a red-shafted flicker
lying in the alley behind my house
with grass in its throat and wasps
crawling in and out of its mouth.
Its wing feathers were dazzling
and I took them, buried its body
in tall weeds, saved the feathers
in checkbook boxes in the dresser
beside a Norwegian pewter cake server,
a twenty dollar bill, some old ribbons
and a flat rock from the Marias.
His mate remained in the neighborhood until fall,
and this February a pair or flickers returned
to eat last year's sunflower seeds
at the side of the garage.
One spring, hundreds of crows filled a single tree,
their black wings shifting against dense bodies
and air, their voices calling across leaves
then reeling into space.
Saw flickers in the park last spring,
a male calling with such racket
my son covered his ears, and
from across the park, through twigs
and leaves pushing out from resinous shells,
a female approached, blended into bark
and clouds, and for an instant, opened to the sound.

Hat tip: Gary Svee

Thursday, March 20, 2008

All Obama, all the time

Talk radio again today: All about Obama and his preacher. No other topic really even came up. Since every blog in the country has bloviated on this topic, I probably can't add much. But here are three points:

1. The remarkable thing is how little the story has advanced in the week that talk radio has been obsessing over it. Outside of the original half-dozen or so sentences on tape from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I have not heard another word of anything he has said. Still no context, still no indication of how common such remarks were. The presumption has been that he was saying stuff like that every week, but no evidence has been offered to show that is true. To me, it makes a difference. A guy who says a half-dozen dumb things over the course of a long career is a lot different from a guy who says dumb things every week. And if such comments were rare, it would certainly help explain why Obama stands by him. But talk radio seems to have no interest in the question -- either that, or the staffs are looking hard for more dirt and can't find any.

2. Obama made an excellent speech about race this week that you would think would be relevant. But talk radio has almost entirely ignored it. Today, Dick Morris said it was a good speech but maybe not enough. A caller said the speech showed that Obama lied about what he heard and when he heard it. O'Reilly played a clip of Chris Matthews praising the speech and said that showed how deeply Matthews is in the tank for Obama. Otherwise, the speech might as well have never happened. Too bad. Obama said a lot of things worth discussing, but that discussion apparently won't take place on talk radio.

3. Several callers complained that the Rev. Wright took the Lord's name in vain. I assume this refers to his "God damn America" statement. But whatever may be wrong with that statement, it is not an example of taking God's name in vain. Hitting your thumb with a hammer and saying "goddamnit" is taking God's name in vain. But if what Wright said takes the Lord's name in vain, then so does "God bless America." Both statements ask God to respond on the speaker's behalf in particular ways for particular reasons. Neither is more vain than the other.

UPDATE: Apparently cable news has been no more insightful. Jon Stewart played a long clip of cable news excerpts last night that consisted solely of questions about how the speech would affect Obama's election chances.

The night before, Stewart played an excerpt from Obama's speech, then said: "At 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race as though they were adults."

Not too many adults, apparently, in the cable news and talk radio crowd.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rush for Clinton

I have been glancing through the evidence that Rush Limbaugh delivered Texas (h/t Jackie Corr) for Hillary Clinton, and it seems inconclusive to me. Either way, it is stupid, unfair, self-defeating and at least vaguely un-American to vote for a candidate you don't want in a party to which you do not belong for the sole purpose of giving voters worse choices at the polls in November.

I'm not sure I could vote for John McCain for president, but I thought he was the best of the Republican pack, and I am glad he got the nomination. Both parties should have the best possible candidate on the ballot in the fall, and shenanigans aimed at keeping that from happening ought to be beneath a great democracy.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Rev. Wright

Talk radio was utterly dominated on delivery day this week by the untoward words of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's minister and spiritual mentor.

In classic talk radio style, we were given no more than a half-dozen sentences from his sermons, devoid of all context, then hours of criticism and analysis tearing down the man.

It was a dismal day, brightened only by the fact that it kept ex-Gov. Spitzer off the radio. And by a brief exchange Sean Hannity had with a member of the Congress of Racial Equality. Hannity said the Rev. Wright had suggested that the U.S. government was responsible for the AIDS virus. He demanded repeatedly whether the CORE spokesman believed that was true.

The man from CORE mostly sputtered. As I often do, I mentally grabbed his microphone. "No, Sean," I said to the audience (me) inside my car, "I think that's nonsense. But I also think it is nonsense to say that the Earth is 6,000 years old. How come I have never heard you attack a candidate whose minister makes that claim?"


I didn't learn until last night that Jim Phelps had died. I have written about Phelps and his ilk before but it may bear repeating: He was one of the old-school good guys, kind and generous, fair but tough and indefatigable. He was the best kind of activist, always fighting the good fight, never making enemies he didn't need to make.

My last conversation with him was a couple of weeks ago, and he said then that his health hadn't been good. But that wasn't why he called. He just wanted to say that if I was going to keep running Brad Molnar's columns, I should try to run some counter arguments, too.

That was classic Phelps: more concerned about seeing that all points of view have a chance to get heard than about seeing that his point of view prevailed.

Phelps also had one of the great end-of-life lines ever. I believe I have quoted it here before, too, but it also is worth repeating: "I feel like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter," he told me last summer. "I don't know how long it will last, but I'm just enjoying every pitch."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dumbest quote

It's only March, but it is hard to imagine much will top this from Dan McGee about global warming science as the dumbest quote of the year:
“This is all flawed and it’s based on flawed everything. This is a lie. Call it what it is.”

Obviously, all science is open to debate, more or less, and people who wish to dispute the evidence ought to have at it. But to argue that every bit of global warming evidence is either flawed or a lie or both is pretty doggone wacky.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Boing for the governor

Gov. Brian Schweitzer gets rave reviews from the Boingboing crowd (h/t my daughter Rachel).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Off the record

Glenn Greenwald makes considerable hay out of a published remark by Samantha Power that forced her to resign an advisory position with the Barack Obama campaign.

I'm not so interested in Greenwald's thoughts about the obsequiousness of American reporters, particularly as compared to their British counterparts. And I have no interest at all in wading through his 400-plus comments about how worthless and corrupt all American reporters are. But a few basic principles seems worth repeating:

1. The Scotsman was perfectly correct to use the quote from Power. Off-the-record agreements have to be made in advance, and Power should know that.

2. Just because it is legitimate to use a quote doesn't necessarily mean it is a good idea. This sort of situation comes up fairly often, and I generally honor an ex post facto request to go off the record when:
A. I am dealing with someone unused to working with the press.
B. The source clearly made a misstatement that he or she wishes to correct or withdraw.
C. The quote isn't important enough to be of interest anyway.

3. Delayed requests to go off the record should be denied when:
A. Sources who should know better abuse the practice.
B. The quote reveals important information that readers should know.

The case that always comes to mind was a remark I once heard from a hospital administrator in Texas who was explaining why the hospital always seemed to be short of beds even when it had fewer patients than its rated capacity. One reason, he said, was that some white people didn't want to share rooms with black people. He asked me not to use that, but it was on the record and it seemed newsworthy to me, so I printed it. He never liked me after that, but I don't think he liked me much before that either, so no big deal.

I'm not going to second-guess The Scotsman, which naturally has a somewhat different perspective and approach than an American newspaper would have. But here's a case where a source said something that may represent her true beliefs but that was a very dumb thing to say in public. She apparently realized it was a mistake as soon as she said it and tried, not very gracefully, to take it back. Outside of a day or two of embarrassment for her and the Obama campaign, her remark added nothing of importance or substance to the debate about who should be president.

Printing it made no big difference. It just may make it even a little harder than it already is to get anyone associated with a political campaign to ever say anything that hasn't been cleared with top management. That, I would submit, is the real problem with American politics: not that reporters won't print the good stuff, but that campaigns are so afraid of getting burned that they won't say anything worth printing.

This post sponsored by Rimrock Auto

Ed Kemmick has some fun with the modern habit of selling naming rights to public facilities to the highest bidder. A light touch probably is the way to go, but I still felt something almost unspeakably sad about seeing the Rimrock Auto Group sign atop MetraPark when I visited the Outpost booth at the Home Show on Friday.

Here's the thought that ran through my mind: I don't dispute that capitalism is the greatest approach to creating wealth that history has seen. But it has its ugly side, and that sign is part of it.

Ed jokes about McKinley School, too, for being named after a forgotten president. Again, he's kidding, so this isn't aimed at him. But the serious side is that one reason for naming buildings after people is so that those who follow will be prodded to remember, in some small way, those who came before. Before he became president, McKinley served all four years of the Civil War, rising from private to brevet major. He was gunned down in office by an assassin. To memorialize that in the name of a school for a hundred years or so seems small enough tribute.

A hundred years from now, kids will look back at us as the people who erected their finest memorials to car dealers. Perhaps that is all they will need to know about us.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Commander in chief

During newspaper deliveries on Thursday, Bill O'Reilly was pontificating about which presidential candidate would be the best commander in chief. O'Reilly leaned heavily toward McCain because of his military experience.

I think it is possible that McCain might be the best commander in chief, but I'm not certain of it, and if he would be, I don't think experience would have much to do with it. Military experience in presidential candidates can easily be overrated. No matter how much civilians may try to keep up, they can't really have the range of knowledge and experience that we expect from top generals. So even the most experienced presidents have to lean heavily on generals for military advice, and the knowledge that presidents have might tempt them to leap to wrong conclusions.

Consider that the two greatest wartime presidents this country has had were Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Lincoln's military experience was so slight that even he joked about it; Roosevelt held a civilian post as assistant secretary of the Navy. He was an able administrator, apparently, but never wore the uniform.

So what made these two presidents successful as war presidents? Three things, it seems to me: They defined the mission, both for the military and the public; they kept their eye on the ball; and they had good generals.

How do the current candidates stack up? Barack Obama, it seems to me, wins big on the first point. Can you imagine either of the other two candidates giving one the great Lincoln or Roosevelt wartime speeches? Me neither.

On point two, Obama also seems to have the edge, based on his opposition to the Iraq War. It isn't just that he opposed the war; that was easy enough. But his 2002 speech laid out the case against the war in blunt and eloquent terms: The war was dumb, unnecessary and outside our real interests.

Point three? A tougher call. Lincoln went through quite a few generals before he found the right one. Roosevelt had an easier time of it; Eisenhower was perfectly suited for the kind of war World War II was.

My guess is that Clinton might be best at weeding through generals because she is tough and ruthless. McCain's military experience might give him an edge in cutting through the bull to see what's really going on, but it might also make it harder for him to make the right call. So I'm not sure. It's an open question.

The blank slate is in my head

Ed Kemmick points out, quite correctly, the eloquence of a passage in this Roger Clawson column. But to me, Ed's post read less like a tribute to good writing than as a reminder of the mind-numbing job of newspaper editing.

I edited that Clawson column about 12 hours into an 18-hour shift on Tuesday. If you had asked me on Wednesday afternoon about that passage, I would have remembered exactly one thing: In the original, both "tabula" and "rasa" were misspelled, a rare twofer in the Misspelling, Foreign Words category.

After Ed wrote about it, I could see that it was, indeed, a masterful bit of prose. And it reads even better with the words spelled right.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Marvin Granger steps down

"Your Opinion Please," the best radio talk show I know of at any level, is no more. Marvin Granger has retired.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Big Sky Country indeed

The Economist has a fascinating take on Montana.

Cunningham vs. the Truth

The most appalling thing about William Daniel Cunningham's attack on Barack Obama last week was the utter pack of lies he told to defend it. He first called Obama a "Manchurian candidate," then moments later denied he had said that. He then pretended that he calls John McCain "John Sidney McCain III," but that is a lie. I don't listen to William Daniel Cunningham all of the time, so I can't swear that he has never said "John Sidney McCain," but I have never heard him say it, and I have heard him say "Barack Hussein Obama" dozens of times. The gall it takes to pretend he treats them the same is unmitigated.

The biggest lie was Cunningham's insistence that he uses all three of Obama's names out of respect for his presidential qualities, as if he were referring to John Fitzgerald Kennedy or Dwight David Eisenhower. A statement like that one refutes itself.

To McCain's credit, he quickly disowned William Daniel Cunningham's remarks. But somebody on McCain's staff wasn't paying attention. Cunningham's smear tactics are on record before millions of people. If you don't want a name-calling, immature liar warming up the crowd for your candidate, then don't invite him. Unless something more devious is going on.

Obama has been oblique enough about "change" that it is possible to imagine that he stands for whatever sort of change one might want. My hope is that the change he might bring is total repudiation of talk-show hate mongers like William Daniel Cunningham.

P.S. On Thursday, Rush Limbaugh was defending himself from those who were saying that the death of William F. Buckley demonstrated how far civil discourse has declined on the right. But even in defending himself, Limbaugh proved his critics' point. He couldn't get through even one minute of his defense before he called one of his critics a "clown." Then he tacked on this nonsensical argument: If Buckley was such an effective spokesman for conservatives, why are there still liberals?

It was a twofer: He not only trashed a distinguished conservative commentator, he showed how pathetic Buckley's heirs are.

: The Last Best Place has an unusually ill-considered post on this topic.

Endorsements: Who cares?

Barack Obama has been catching heat because Louis Farrakhan endorsed him. Now John McCain has been catching heat because John Hagee endorsed him.

Let's call the whole thing off. People can endorse any candidate they want. Candidates are not to be blamed for the people who endorse them. Jesus came to save sinners, and sinners followed him. That did not make Jesus a sinner. Leave it alone.

Tussing vs. Molnar

You probably know by now that Ron Tussing's announcement mentioned below laid out his intention to run for the Public Service Commission. If Tussing survives the primary, that could set up a highly entertaining race in the general election between Tussing and Brad Molnar: two straight-spoken, smart guys with acid senses of humor and probably plenty to disagree about.

This is the sort of race that makes politics a spectator sport. Bring on the lions.

UPDATE: Montana Headlines has a must-read post on this race.