Friday, June 19, 2009

Making the move

At long last, this blog is moving into The Billings Outpost website, where future posts will appear. You can find it at Please adjust your links accordingly. I will gradually get my links over there updated, so don't fret if you don't see yours right away.

Glen Campbell

The Outpost has unexpectedly acquired some tickets for tonight's concert by Glen Campbell at the Alberta Bair Theater. If you would like a couple, reply here for send me an e-mail at right away.

The shame of it

As Hannity railed on yesterday about David Letterman insulting Sarah Palin and her daughter, something occurred to me that I haven't seen anywhere else. Given how much this story has been pawed over, it probably has appeared somewhere else, but I've missed it.

That's the conservative component of Letterman's joke. One way that societies typically curb unwelcome sexual behavior is by publicly shaming those who engage in it. It's an ancient way of keeping young people and the parents responsible for them in line.

No doubt the hunters and gatherers who thought this up never imagined that public shaming would become part of the TV culture. But Letterman, whatever his motives, was fulfilling an ancient -- and profoundly conservative -- social sanction when he ridiculed daughter and mother for failing to adhere to social mores.

It was actually liberals, I think, who began to argue that public shaming isn't such a good idea. Now conservatives seem to have adopted it full scale, perhaps without realizing just how liberal they have become.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday talk radio update

Driving to work this afternoon, after a long night at the Outpost, I heard Sean Hannity and Sen. Lindsey Graham saying that Obama was being weak on Iran unlike Reagan, who was strong on Poland. And I thought this, word for word.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monday talk radio update

While slaving my way through a blisteringly long string of e-mailed items for the Outpost's Calendar of Events, I listed to Hannity interview Sen. Joe Lieberman. Both agreed that:

1. Photographs showing abuses at Abu Ghraib should not be released.

2. Guantanamo should not be closed.

This is a paradox. The argument for covering up the photos is that releasing them could inflame anti-American sentiment and cost U.S. soldiers their lives. The argument for closing Guantanamo is that it inflames anti-American sentiment and costs U.S. soldiers their lives. Those who have made that second argument aren't just a bunch of liberal hacks, unless that's the label you pin on Gen. David Petraeus and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So why are Hannity and Lieberman so concerned about the lives of U.S. soldiers when it comes to photographs and so indifferent when it comes to Guantanamo? Good luck getting an honest answer to that question. But Glenn Greenwald suggests they have blood on their hands.

Of course, I would never allege that Hannity would rather see soldiers die than ever admit that Obama might do something right. That's too cynical, even for me. But no matter how cynical you are ... .

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Answer no longer blows in wind

First, global warming. Now, or perhaps as a result, there's this.

Great Falls is looking more habitable all the time.

BBB warning

Keep an eye out: The Outpost got a call last week from somebody selling for the "Trivia Pages." Now comes this from the Better Business Bureau release:

Companies in Billings, MT have reported contact by Northwest Publishing soliciting advertising in a "restaurant flyer". This company claims they have a close relationship with various local restaurants, including Jakes, and the Montana Rib and Chop House, when the relationships are not as represented.

This company has an "F" rating with the BBB of Alaska, Oregon & Western Washington. Complaints against the company allege a delay in service and refunds, or payments being submitted with no service performed.

Complaints filed with the BBB also allege that "Trivia Pages" are not displayed in specific restaurants as promised by Northwest Publishing sales personnel. When consumers inquire about the "Trivia Pages" at the restaurants, the restaurants have never heard of them.

There are bad, bad people out there. Better to advertise with us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

In the aftermath of the latest fatal assault by a right-wing conspiracy nut, conservative talk radio hosts this week were somber and reflective, wondering whether their relentless attacks on Barack Obama, Democrats and liberals in general might in any way be endangering the republic.

No, wait, that was in Bizarro World. On this planet, they were blaming liberals.

Yes, liberals. Please don't ask me to explain.

Look, I wouldn't try to stop anybody from speaking out freely. And I don't think we ought to be prosecuting, or even persecuting, talk show hosts just because some nut gets carried away.

But still.

If I hosted a talk show that reached an audience of millions every day; and if I believed that my show influenced opinion and the political culture, as all of these guys seem to think; and if I spent three hours every day attacking the president's patriotism and honesty and competence; and if I spent a lot of that time suggesting that the president is a socialist or a fascist or worse; and if I had suggested that he might even be deliberately undermining the country's economic well being in order to promote his one-world goals; and if all of that was followed by a string of attacks by gunmen who question the president's patriotism and think he is a socialist and believe that he wants one-world government -- then I might be moved to reflect, at least for a moment, on the possibility that my words might be making this planet a little more dangerous than it really needs to be.

Which may be why I will never host a talk show like that.

Thursday's shows were singularly lacking in reflection not only upon that topic but also upon others that seemed worthy of serious contemplation:

1. The transfer of Uighurs from Guantanamo to Palau and Bermuda. To the extent this was mentioned at all, it was only to point out that it would have been cheaper to keep them locked up in Cuba, although they haven't done anything wrong. Better to imprison innocent people, apparently, than burden taxpayers.

2. The election in Iran. NPR played this big all day, but the talk shows barely touched it. Hannity did say that he had no confidence the election would be honest. Fair enough. But the fact that the election was drawing so much enthusiasm within Iran, and was so closely contested, sounded like big news to me. Why not to Hannity? I suppose because he has spent so many years branding Ahmadinejad as a brutal dictator. We can't have brutal dictators losing elections. It damages the narrative.

3. The Abu Ghraib photo release. Hannity actually had a segment on this, interviewing John McCain, who pretty angrily opposed Democratic opposition to a bill that would forbid release of additional incriminating photos. Good topic, yes? Nobody wants to endanger American soldiers, but do we really want Congress blithely passing bills aimed specifically at suppressing evidence of government wrongdoing? Nice topic for debate. Of course, we got none. Instead, we got a screed.

4. Reading Miranda rights to terrorists. Fred Thompson and Hannity both went on at length about this, and you would have thought Obama had issued orders commanding G.I.s in the field to read a Miranda warning before aiming their rifles. Not quite so.

So what did we get instead of thoughtful discussions of these important topics? Um, we got an interview with the deposed California beauty queen. And we learned that Letterman went too far in poking fun at Sarah Palin.

And that shooting at the Holocaust museum? Liberals did that.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

'Red' Tester

Just in case that whole Senate thing doesn't work out, Jon Tester is doing color commentary tonight on Fox Sports Northwest for a game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Seattle Mariners. The game starts at 5:05 p.m., and Tester is scheduled to come on in the bottom of the fourth.

Consider that a plug -- or a warning.

Sotomayor revisited

Dahlia Lithwick, a wise woman whose rich experiences more often than not allow her to reach better judgments than me, has a good read on the Supreme Court controversy.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Politically correct

I've been arguing away on the Sotomayor choice, both below and at Electric City Weblog. Not much point to it, probably, other than as a claw-sharpening exercise, but it is striking how many apparent conservatives are professing outrage over her suggestion that a wise woman with a Latina background might be better equipped to make good decisions than someone without that background.

Suppose I were to suggest the possibility that if a couple of black justices had been on the Supreme Court in 1857 -- rather than just the nine white males actually there, including five from slave-holding families -- we might have gotten a better ruling in the Dred Scott case.

To read the right, I would be a racist for even suggesting the possibility. Oh, the vapors! Political correctness run amok.


Help! I'm supposed to teach freshman comp this fall at Rocky and am really struggling with what to assign them to read. I wasn't happy with how the last comp course I taught there turned out, so I am trying to shake things up, but am at a bit of a loss.

I ran across Roger Clawson's list of the three greatest novels of the Western Hemisphere and thought: Not only is Roger right, but I've read "Huckleberry Finn" and "One Hundred Years of Solitude" twice each and "Moby-Dick" three times. So how about a class just on those three books? Too much?

So then I thought that shorter Melville, say "Billy Budd," might work better. I read it again on Saturday but wonder if it might be too obscure. I actually tried "Solitude" once in a freshmen class and would estimate that about a third of the class loved it, a third hated it and a third didn't get it. The ones who loved it seemed to love it a lot, so it almost seemed worth doing for that. But it was a real struggle for some of them.

I'm stuck, and the deadline is near. Any ideas?

Friday, June 05, 2009


Some Republicans are now backing off the claim that Sonia Sotomayor was being racist when she said, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." But they keep repeating the idea that a white man who said that white males would make better judges would be out of the running for the Supreme Court seat. I heard it twice yesterday, from a caller to Rush Limbaugh (who agreed) and from Sen. Lindsey Graham.

They are right that the reaction would be different, and that might be a problem if the two statements were equivalent. But they aren't. Let me illustrate the point with a noncontroversial example.

Suppose you were to call me "the watermelon-eating David Crisp." I would think that was an odd way to refer to me, but I would not be in the least offended. I love watermelon. I have eaten it with great pleasure since I was a small child. If I ever am put to death for all of my crimes against humanity, watermelon will be on the menu for my last meal. So have at it.

But suppose you refer instead to the "watermelon-eating Barack Obama." That would mean something far different and would be racially offensive for reasons that I should not have to explain and that have nothing to do with how he feels about watermelon.

The fact is that we do not live in a color-blind world, never have, and probably won't in my lifetime. So if a white male says that white males make better judges than Latina females, the statement is immediately suspect because, for 150 years or so, the belief that white males made the best judges was essentially the default position in American jurisprudence. Not only did all the jobs go to white males, they were usually the only ones even considered. And since access to the kind of education and background that is needed to make it into the pool of people from whom justices are picked was for many years routinely denied to women and minorities, white males were often the only really qualified candidates.

So when a white male says that white males make the best judges, he seems to be endorsing decades of blatant discrimination. But when Sotomayor says what she said, she is saying something far different. She isn't saying that white males ought to be excluded from the Supreme Court for the next 150 years. She isn't saying that white males are genetically inferior. She's just saying that what Latinas had to go through to make into that pool of potential justices might enable them to make better decisions than people who didn't go through that.

That's a debatable proposition, but it isn't racist. When Chief Justice John Roberts famously compares judging to calling balls and strikes in a baseball game, that is held up as a model of fairness and objectivity. But Jeffrey Toobin reports: "In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff."

No doubt Roberts believes that he was just calling balls and strikes, and I am not enough of a lawyer to prove him wrong. But it's possible that a judge who has spent his life on one side of the street might have trouble appreciating the legal arguments that come from the other side. And a judge who presumes that umpires and referees operate in some neutral other world just doesn't understand the game (h/t Yglesias).

The fact is that umpires struggle against their own biases all the time. Their job is at its heart much simpler than that of Supreme Court justices. They typically have all of the facts right in front of them, and most of their decisions involve matters of physical space and time (Was the pitch over the plate? Did the slide beat the tag?).

Yet bias intrudes. Some players are nicer guys than others; some teams are more sympathetic. Sometimes umpires are just tired and want the game to be over. Sometimes umpires are suspected of deferring to players who are known to have a good sense of the strike zone. Experienced umpire baiters know that arguing a call isn't about getting an umpire to change a previous decision -- that never happens. It's about getting him to change a decision that hasn't been made yet.

Who makes a better umpire: One who takes all of that into account and constantly tests his judgment against his biases, or one who pretends that biases don't exist?

As the saying goes, you make the call.

Thursday talk radio update II

A caller to Hannity said he had invited friends over the previous night for beer, barbecue and a listen to Hannity's TV interview with Rush Limbaugh. He said the interview was brilliant. I gathered that beer was heavily involved in reaching that conclusion.

Hannity asked what kind of beer they drank. I instantly thought: Bud Light, the anti-beer.

The answer was even worse than I guessed: It was Coors and Bud Light -- the non-beer and the anti-beer.

By their beer shall you know them.

Thursday talk radio update I

Some days it must really suck to be Rush Limbaugh.

I know he makes good money, and I suppose that he generally likes his job. But probably not every day.

An example would be yesterday, when his show came on shortly after Barack Obama had concluded his Mideast speech. In similar circumstances, an ordinary journalist would have to hustle but would know the basic outlines of what he had to do: Grab a few sound bites, talk to a couple of people who thought the speech was good and a couple who thought it wasn't, then just wing it.

But Limbaugh is an ideologue and a monologist. He can't just say that the president gave a speech, and here's some of what he said. He can't even say that it was a good speech from a president with whom he still has profound ideological differences. Nor can he say it was a mediocre speech from a mediocre president.

No. It has to be a bad speech, filled with disloyalty and betrayal. That's what his listeners demand; it's what he promises them every day; and he has to deliver.

Limbaugh is nothing if not a consummate pro, and he did his professional best. He claimed to be "outraged" that Obama gave undeserved credit to the scientific innovations of Muslim nations. He claimed that Obama found moral equivalence between the plight of Holocaust victims and Palestinian refugees. He said the speech signaled an end to capitalism and a call for massive wealth redistribution on an international scale. He asserted that Obama is "angry," and so is his wife, and so is his Supreme Court nominee.

Then he went home and smoked a cigar. And left it to the rest of us to wonder whether he believed a single word he said.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Good example?

I've made quite a bit of fun of the Montana GOP E-briefs in this space because of the comical way they distort most of what goes on in the world. Then I quit getting them for a while. I thought maybe the GOP decided it was bad business to send their rhetoric to someone who would just ridicule it.

But I have gotten a few Montana Republican e-mails lately that are far different in tone from the old stuff. They have been focusing on the upcoming convention (natch) and on what the GOP could actually do to make itself useful in this state.

Maybe the national party should take notice. The Republican National Committee e-mails are as bizarre as ever. But Republicans and Democrats in Montana worked and played pretty well together in the last legislative session. Left in the West (which appears to be temporarily out of commission) even gave a well deserved shout-out to Republican Bill Glaser, which reminded me not only of how much I like Glaser but of how many other solid and reasonable Republican legislators I have gotten to know in this state.

By that I don't mean liberals in Republican disguise. I mean real conservatives, who know what they stand for but also understand that ideology isn't everything.

While the national Republican Party seems ready to self-immolate, Montana Republicans actually seem willing to do what they were elected to do: Serve the people of the state.

Maybe that's why the Republican Party has remained stronger here than in most other states. And maybe the national party could learn something from Montana.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Mea culpa

I've been feeling like a bit of a chump the last couple of days, ever since the abortion doctor was gunned down as he attended church. I spend a lot of time (too much, probably) in this space attacking the talk-show morons for their various assaults on good sense and decency. But it occurs to me now that I have heard Bill O'Reilly launch several verbal sallies against the doctor without thinking much about it.

I'm a pro-choice guy, mostly because I don't trust the government to make these kinds of decisions, but it seemed reasonable enough to me to believe, as O'Reilly insisted, that there probably really was some greedy doctor in Kansas cranking out abortions as fast he could for the sake of the bottom line.

Now the situation looks much more complicated. If you read Andrew Sullivan, you have heard from a number of the doctor's customers who regard him as a hero or saint for helping them through heart-rendingly difficult decisions about what to do with a pregnancy gone hideously wrong.

You can still oppose all abortions and realize that these situations are much more nuanced and difficult than talk radio ever lets on. I knew that. I even listen especially for that. Then I got sucked in anyway, damn it.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dred Scott's Revenge

I spent a fair part of Saturday reading "Dred Scott's Revenge: A Legal History of Race and Freedom in America," by Andrew Napolitano, the judicial analyst for Fox News. It's a good read but really less a legal history than a retelling of the story of racism in North America, from colonial slave-trading days to the election of Obama.

Napolitano's basic argument is that the government (and its judges) erred through much of U.S. history by failing to follow natural law rather than "positivist" law created by men for their own ends. It isn't quite clear to me how things would have played out if the legal history had gone his way; I hope to get a chance to ask him. A couple of phone interviews I had scheduled with him had to be canceled because the book was so slow in arriving, and I am trying for a third.

Just for example: A lot of early Americans (and some still today) believe that intermarriage between the races violated natural law. Others, even some pretty progressive revolutionary thinkers, thought that blacks were naturally inferior to whites, and that gap could never be overcome without subjugation, deportation or extermination. How do these beliefs fit into Napolitano's conception of an America ruled by natural law?

Napolitano is right, though, at least judging from my reading, that quite a few revolutionary thinkers found it obvious that blacks were fully human and entitled to the same natural rights as any other human being. The failure of that kind of thinking to win the day in early America has cost us dearly. And the judge is particularly hard on Abe Lincoln -- the harshest assessment I believe I have ever seen of Lincoln's role in preserving the union above all else, including justice for slaves. Again, it isn't clear to me that things would have turned out better for blacks in the long run if Lincoln had been more interested in their welfare and less interested in saving the union.

If nothing else, Napolitano's book is a good corrective to nonsense like Limbaugh's claim that Sotomayor is a racist. You want to talk racism? Let's talk centuries of slavery, thousands of lynchings, a hundred years of Jim Crow, decades of segregation and an ongoing legacy of crime, poverty, and employment and legal discrimination.

Then, if Limbaugh still thinks it is in his best interest, we can compare all of that to what Sotomayor said.

Napolitano, by the way, is an admirable fellow in my book. KBUL's decision to drop his radio show in favor of Dennis Miller's was egregious. Napolitano leans right and like all talk show hosts has a tendency to bluster, but he is a bulldog on civil liberties issues and a reminder of what conservatism ought to be about.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

A caller tried to make what sounded like a perfectly reasonable point on Hannity's show, but Hannity cut him off.

I say that "sounded like" because it is usually hard to tell on Hannity's program. Anytime a caller starts to make an argument that he can't answer, he immediately begins to bully and interrupt, making it hard to know for sure what the caller wanted to say. But this caller seemed to be saying that whatever one may think of Sotomayor's decision in the Ricci case, it could hardly be called an example of judicial activism, as Hannity was claiming (a good non-lawyer's discussion of the case is here). The appeals court ruling that Sotomayor supported not only upheld the lower court, it also followed existing precedents. Those may be bad precedents, or they might be good precedents based on a bad law, but there was no sign of judicial activism in her ruling.

That's not good enough for Hannity, of course, so he cut the caller off. To him, Sotomayor not only has to be a bad choice (because she was picked by a Democrat), she has to be a bad choice because of judicial activism. Those are the accepted code words. Her actual record has very little to do with it. At least Limbaugh had enough intellectual honesty to admit that he would oppose Sotomayor if for no other reason than to try to make Obama look bad. Hannity is never that straightforward.

When another caller suggested that Hannity shouldn't place so much weight in opposing her on essentially two sentences she has spoken in her life, Hannity replied that he had examined her record thoroughly and had found five cases demonstrating her legal ineptitude. When pressed, he named only one: Ricci.

Hannity made this same claim throughout the last election campaign. He always claimed that he had examined the context of Jeremiah Wright's controversial half-dozen sentences thoroughly. But I never once heard him cite any context or give any indication that he had understood, read or even thought about what the context might have been. I eventually became convinced that he was just lying about having examined the context, and I suspect that he is lying about Sotomayor, too.

But if Hannity walked around the edge of the abyss, Glenn Beck plunged right in. In the few minutes that I listened, he accused Sotomayor of being both a "racist" and a "Marxist." The racist label apparently was based solely on this statement: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Say what you will about the merits of that statement (and don't ignore the fact that she used the subjunctive voice), it is a long, long way from saying that certain cultural experiences may better prepare one to make certain kinds of decisions to saying that certain races are genetically superior to other races and that this justifies subjugation of the inferior race.

The Marxist claim appeared to rest solely on the fact that in a yearbook entry she quoted Norman Thomas (the incendiary quote: "I am not a champion of lost causes, but of causes not yet won"). Thomas was, of course, a Socialist, which means that Sotomayor must be a Marxist.

Hannity makes this sort of claim, too: If you agree with anything a Marxist or socialist ever said, then you must be a Marxist or socialist, too. In his "man on the street" interviews, he frequently asks ordinary people if they agree with this classic Marxist statement: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Most of those interviewed agree with the statement and have no idea where it came from. Hannity then pounces: So you must be a Marxist.

What the heck? When I was in the Army I had an old Chinese proverb tacked to the barracks wall. What does that make me, an old Chinese? (The proverb: "Just as one does not use good metal to make nails, one does not use good men to make soldiers.")

At least Hannity has an excuse for his absurdities. He is an unreflective and ill-informed man. Beck seems much smarter than Hannity. He just sounds crazy.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pirates and democracy

Back in April, Rob Natelson wrote a tongue-in-cheek post arguing that Somali pirates were environmental activists and heroes who promoted social justice. I wrote in comments that there actually was some truth to the myths that romanticize piracy.

Evidence for my claim comes in a book by Peter T. Leeson, "The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates." He notes that pirates were far better paid than commercial sailors, had more control over their working conditions and operated in a more democratic atmosphere. He writes:

Pirates ... were outlaws, with no recognized authorities to settle disputes. So they invented their own ways of doing business. Decades before the American Founders got their act together, pirates were drafting documents full of voting rights, juries, checks and balances, rules for property allocation, even methods for impeachment. The buccaneers may have been less concerned with natural rights than with survival and claiming their fair share of booty, but the end result feels surprisingly like the kind of self-governance we expect from enlightened modern republics.

Pirates' reputation for ruthless torture and murder arose in part because they tortured and murdered. But Leeson notes, "Portraying the freebooters in the worst possible light worked to the advantage of everyone concerned. For governments, crusading against the outlaws who robbed their merchants and treasury ships was a way to keep public opinion firmly on the side of the state. Practicing pirates, meanwhile, were happy to be depicted as violent and unpredictable outlaws, as this encouraged their prey to surrender and cooperate. In fact, the marauders went to great lengths to ensure that their reputation as heartless ship wreckers and torturers remained intact."

It's a long way from Blackbeard to Somali pirates, but some of the appeal of the profession remains the same.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day talk radio update

Hope you are out celebrating and commemorating while I am sitting here in the office, pounding out another issue of the Outpost. Don't feel too bad for me: We did get into the mountains for a few hours yesterday, and they were lovely and inviting.

Today I'm sitting here typing and listening to the radio, and wondering why it is that conservative talk radio, whatever its acknowledged flaws, always gets a pass on patriotism. NPR, as we know, is the refuge of liberals and arugula lovers, America haters and liberal traitors. Talk radio is where salt-of-the-earth, old-fashioned, real Americans go for enlightenment.

But this holiday is just like all of the others with a patriotic bent. All weekend long, NPR has been cranking out hours of quality programming on Memorial Day themes. There has been show after show of music appropriate to the day, from folk songs to marches to classical music. The news today had a superb interview with the author of a book about the little-known troubles that World War II veterans had readjusting to civilian life. "To the Point" interviewed an inventor of devices to help wounded soldiers back on their feet. There was even a piece about "Lili Marleen," the lovely soldiers' song that was a hit on both sides during World War II, despite its German origins.

KBLG, meanwhile, was replaying a Fred Thompson broadcast first heard when Obama released the torture memos. Caller after outraged caller accused Obama of treason and called for his impeachment and prosecution. I didn't flip over to Limbaugh, but apparently he had on similar fare. In conservative radio land, no holiday is important enough to set aside the vital work of impugning the loyalty and integrity of Democrats.

I don't really mind conservative talk fans pursuing their blind agenda 24-7-365. That's their business. And I don't really mind their claiming to be better Americans than I am. God knows better. But it sticks in my craw that they can make both claims simultaneously on a day set aside to remember those who died to help keep all Americans together.

They ought to feel at least a smidgen of shame.

SIDEBAR: I was nowhere near World War II but nevertheless learned to love "Lili Marleen" in the Army, too, while I was in German language school. The melody is gorgeous, and I especially like this verse, which doesn't really come through in the English versions I know of (you need to know that the song is about a soldier dreaming of once again standing under the lamp post at the barracks gate, hugging his girl):

Deine Schritte kennt sie,
Deinen zieren Gang
Alle Abend brennt sie,
Doch mich vergaƟ sie lang
Und sollte mir ein Leids gescheh'n
Wer wird bei der Laterne stehen
Mit dir Lili Marleen?


The lamp post knows your steps,
Your graceful walk.
Every evening it shines,
But forgot me long ago.
And should something happen to me,
Who will stand under the lamp post with you,
With you, Lili Marleen?

Well, it doesn't really come through in my English version either. Trust me.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

So yes, I did take a few days off to go see my daughter graduate in Missoula, a fine and pleasurable event. Then there was the paper to catch up on, which explains why nothing has appeared in this space for a while. Please contact the subscription department for refunds.

All the radio talk yesterday was about the "showdown" between Dick Cheney and Barack Obama on national security matters. Sadly, it was one of those cases where one gets all of the commentary about the speech before hearing the actual speech. Limbaugh declined to even play excerpts from Obama's speech, reasoning that his listeners were more interested in hearing his reaction than in hearing the speech itself. It's a bit stomach churning to think that he was probably right.

You would never guess his reaction in million years: He thought Obama was arrogant and defensive. He thought Cheney was incisive and brilliant. Hannity had a different reaction: He thought Obama was defensive and arrogant; Cheney was brilliant and incisive. Actually, give Hannity a point or two for originality: He said Obama was "pathetic" and that Cheney "rocked."

I cannot confirm the accuracy of this analysis. When I finally did hear some excerpts from Obama's speech later on TV, he sounded reasonable but unexceptional. The excerpts from Cheney that Limbaugh and Hannity played sounded flat wrong.

Here was the first:

We hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists.

I don't doubt that there might be some phony moralizing going on out there (What? The CIA lied to the speaker of the House?), but you would think that even Cheney would acknowledge that some Americans really do care about our history, our reputation and our ideals. We aren't all just faking it.

Here was the second:

But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed. You cannot keep just some nuclear-armed terrorists out of the United States, you must keep every nuclear-armed terrorist out of the United States.

It's true that we don't want nuclear-armed terrorists getting into the United States. But that misses a more important point: We don't want terrorists getting nuclear arms at all. That means that we have to keep them away not only from our own weapons but from the nuclear weapons of every other country in the world, including countries that are still trying to build some.

Since even Cheney might concede that we can't impose our will on every country out there, we are stuck with cooperation, negotiation and persuasion. And half-measures are the basis of international diplomacy. We can't just go around making demands; we have to work with people.

Maybe Cheney had things to say that made more sense, but when these are the excerpts chosen by two of his fans to demonstrate his brilliance, it sort of squelches the desire to seek out more excerpts.

SIDENOTE: Hannity also interviewed Oliver North. I don't much care what North has to say, but I was kind of interested because Hannity has been so upset over Nancy Pelosi's accusation that the CIA lied to Congress. I've been wondering lately why Hannity would be so upset over the charge, since North famously lied to Congress and became a right-wing hero as a result. So isn't Pelosi really just nominating the CIA for hero status?

But the issue never came up. Instead, Hannity tried, and failed, to get North to sing along on the first verse of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." It was a low moment in radio history. When I switched to jazz on NPR, it had never sounded better.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

As noted here and elsewhere, there has been whining all week by Hannity, Beck and their ilk about Wanda Sykes making fun of Rush Limbaugh, and quite a bit of criticism of Obama for appearing to find it funny.

But this is clearly a case where the pot should do a color check before making observations about the kettle. I just got through two hours of Limbaugh (minus bouncing in an out of the car making delivery stops) and jotted down a list of points he made, approximately in order:

-- He made fun of how Nancy Pelosi blinks.

-- He referred to Obama as "The Messiah" (twice).

-- He accused Obama of saying during the campaign that "terrorists are good guys."

-- He said that Obama's base is "anti-American."

-- He compared Obama unfavorably to Hugo Chavez.

-- He accused Obama of "creeping socialism."

-- He referred (twice) to Obama's inauguration as his "immaculation."

-- He said that Obama "denies God."

-- He said that Obama believes that American soldiers "rape and murder."

-- He accused Obama of having said that every successful American is corrupted.

-- He summarized an Obama commencement address to Arizona graduates with two words: "America sucks."

And Obama is supposed to apologize for chuckling at the suggestion that Limbaugh might have kidney failure? Obama should instead get some sort of medal for restraint for not rolling on the floor guffawing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Addison Bragg

Just got word of the death of longtime newsman and Gazette columnist Addison Bragg. His health had been declining for a while, enough that his family recently gave the Outpost a skillfully drawn caricature depicting him after using a bow to shoot a fountain pen into the chest of a sword-wielding thug, with the caption, "The pen IS mightier than the sword."

I didn't know Addison well; he was still writing a column but was a fairly rare sight in the newsroom by the time I arrived at the Gazette. But he was one of the fraternity, an amiable and inexhaustible story teller, and I am sorry to hear that he is gone.

Monday talk radio update

Cunningham on Sunday night and then Hannity and Beck today were all beating up on Wanda Sykes for cracking wise about Rush Limbaugh and also at Barack Obama for apparently having laughed.

I won't defend her sense of humor. I don't think much of jokes about people dying either. But I would defend the serious point behind the joke. The open rooting of Limbaugh, Hannity and their ilk for the failure of the Obama administration is deeply disloyal and worthy of public scorn.

It's one thing to hope that Obama's proposals don't get through Congress. By all means, flail away against them. It's one thing to try to get bad policies changed. But it's a very different thing to hope that once the policies are in place they will fail in some dramatic, election-altering fashion.

If that happens, people lose their jobs. They lose their houses. They lose their medical care. Some will die -- perhaps of kidney failure. If Obama's policies fail, then Iraqis will die. Afghanis will die. Pakistan may fall. American soldiers will die, and their families will mourn.

Press them, and Hannbaugh will protest that they are rooting only against socialistic policies. But I have listened to them for at least a hundred hours since Obama was elected and have yet to hear either of them root for -- or try to bring about -- anything but utter, abject, complete failure of the Obama administration in every respect.

I thought Bush's decision to invade Iraq was the dumbest move I'd ever seen by a U.S. president (yes, worse than Vietnam, worse than the Bay of Pigs). But once the decision was made, I rooted every day for him to be right and me wrong. Let the neocon bloggers blast away at my stupidity and cowardice. Better to be proved a fool than to have a disaster in the Middle East.

Obama entered office under similar circumstances. The economy was cratering. Auto companies were failing. Banks were sinking. Afghanistan was deteriorating. It's too soon to know whether his decisions will prove right or wrong. But for all our sakes, we had better hope they are right.

And if your devotion to your ideology outweighs your devotion to the welfare and safety of your country, then you really aren't much different from Osama Bin Laden.

WEIRD SIDE NOTE: In nearly the same breath in which he attacked Sykes, Cunningham defended this joke, which insults not only Pelosi and Reid but also U.S. soldiers. So hoping that Limbaugh drops dead of a disease isn't funny. Rooting for the assassination of congressional leaders by soldiers sworn to protect them? Comedy gold.

Going Kindle

Tyler Gernant, the Democrat running for Denny Rehberg's seat, says that his campaign is the first in the nation that allows visitors to his site to download "policy packets" to Kindle.

Packets will cost users 99 cents, with all of the receipts going toward a tree-planting campaign.

Rye responds

For those of you who don't usually look back through old comments, you will want to check Dave Rye's response to my question about the Fairness Doctrine under the Thursday Talk Radio Update I post. It's a thorough and interesting response.

I still think there is less here than meets the eye, but considering that we are still talking about a doctrine that not only doesn't exist but hasn't even really been proposed, it's hard to say. I will reiterate: I am sympathetic to the Fairness Doctrine because I don't think radio stations should be able to use their government-granted licenses to essentially promote one political party for 24 hours a day, but I would vigorously oppose any doctrine that would cause a hardship for fair-minded shows like Dave's.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What real newspapers do

Most newspaper work is less thrilling than the climax of "State of Play" (worst movie title ever?) described below.

More typical is the reaction I had during the previews, when Tom Hanks in the upcoming "Angels and Demons" said the Catholic Church had ordered a "brutal massacre." My instant thought: What's the difference between a brutal massacre and a run-of-the-mill massacre? Would it be possible to have an "amiable massacre"?

That's how newspaper work warps your mind.

The dying news

I turned in final grades for my two German classes on Wednesday, so I took Saturday off. Around my house, days off are rare enough to always seem like bloggable events. Not much excitement here, though. I took it easy, washed dishes, cooked a steak dinner for an early Mother's Day, hit the hot tub, lay in the hammock and read.

Some of it was even work-related. I'm teaching freshmen composition again in the fall, so I reviewed a couple of textbooks for possible use. This allowed me to read excerpts from "The Communist Manifesto," which I had not read for many years, and from "Wealth of Nations," which I have never read. My most striking observation was how little would have to be changed in either piece to have exactly the same argument today.

I also read Wally McRae's new book of prose pieces. That was work-related, too, since an Outpost review will come of it, but that did not diminish the sheer pleasure of reading his stories. My friend Anita gave me a copy of "The Cowboy Curmudgeon" when I left Texas for Montana, and getting to briefly know the author (who delivered his new book personally to the Outpost office) has been one of my Montana pleasures.

We also went to see "State of Play," which is a political thriller wrapped inside a newspaper reporter's wet dream about the dying of a noble industry. The closing scene has it all: a rumpled, chili-cheeseburger- and Cheetos-munching, knows-everybody reporter flanked by the cute-as-a-button blogger he is mentoring, pounding out a story stuffed to the gills with sex, greed and corporate and political corruption that reaches to the highest levels of Congress, all while the press is holding past deadline at a cost to his corporate overlords of $300 a minute.

Get me rewrite!

Although actually I thought Russell Crowe's lede looked a little weak. Improved versions are welcome.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Swine flu here

The state health department is holding a news conference in a few minutes (5 p.m.) to announce Montana's first probable case of swine flu. The patient is a Yellowstone County resident who is not hospitalized and is recovering, a news release says.

People with flu symptoms are advised to stay away from school, daycare and work.

Savage banned

Electric City Weblog has an amusing post and comments on England's decision to ban Michael Savage from its shores. Mr. Natelson presents this largely as a free speech case, but it isn't really. Mr. Savage is free to speak as he pleases; he simply is not free to travel to England.

I admit that I would find this outrageous if Mr. Savage were English and were banned from traveling to America. This is a free country. But I am less interested in protecting him from the despotism of English law. We already had that fight with England, and we won. We can easily avoid England's legal excesses by avoiding England.

Moreover, I don't much mind mind seeing Savage held to standards that he himself applies to those he dislikes. He has called, for example, for an outright ban on Muslim immigration, laws making it illegal to build mosques in America and a law requiring that only English may be spoken on U.S. streets. England isn't telling him that he may not speak; it is telling him, "We don't want your sort here."

Sidenote: In comments, Mr. Natelson says that by the standards applied to Savage, Jeremiah Wright also should be banned. This is insane. Despite massive efforts in the presidential campaign to dig up outrageous statements by Wright, Republicans managed to find only a half-dozen or so sentences. A couple of these seem less outrageous in context. A couple of others are tough criticism that nevertheless fall well within accepted boundaries of public discourse.

So we are now to equate perhaps two sentences spoken by the Rev. Wright over a couple of decades with the venom that Savage spouts daily? No way.

Thursday talk radio update II

Sean Hannity had James Dobson of Focus on the Family on to complain that Barack Obama had given short shrift to the National Day of Prayer. He quoted James Madison saying that religion was the basis of sound government.

He didn't note that Madison (and Thomas Jefferson) opposed presidential proclamations calling for prayer or other religious exercises. Madison's view is worth reading in full, with special emphasis on this sentence:

The last & not the least objection is the liability of the practice to a subserviency to political views; to the scandal of religion, as well as the increase of party animosities. Candid or incautious politicians will not always disown such views. In truth it is difficult to frame such a religious proclamation generally suggested by a political state of things, without referring to them in terms having some bearing on party questions.

Short version: Unscrupulous talk-show hosts like Sean Hannity can easily turn prayer proclamations into opportunities for short-term political gain.

Dobson, I am sure, would have a hard time understanding why someone like Madison could think religion is important but also think that it should have nothing to do with government. But the founders understand that keeping religion separate from politics would strengthen, not weaken, religion. That was still obvious to de Tocqueville when he visited America decades later and attributed the powerful influence of religion in American life to its divorce from the political world. He wrote, "Hence any alliance with any political power whatsoever is bound to be burdensome for religion. It does not need their support in order to live, and in serving them it may die."

Somewhere around the early 1950s, though, the message seemed to get lost. That's when the National Day of Prayer was created and when "Under God" was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance. With the threat of godless communism looming, we lost our nerve, and some of us still haven't gotten it back.

Thursday talk radio update I

Dave Rye said on his show yesterday that if the federal government were to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine, he would simply quit his show.

I'm not sure why this topic keeps coming up. I remain unaware of any serious attempt to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine. Is there one I am missing?

In any case, I'm not sure why it would be of concern to Dave. He presumably has worked with the doctrine more than I have (since I haven't worked with it at all, he couldn't have worked with it less), but it is hard for me to imagine any scenario, past or present, under which his show would run afoul of the doctrine. While Dave himself leans pretty far to the right on most (but not all) issues, his program is a model of fairness to all points of view. Indeed, he specifically invites opposing views. If the government were to impose sanctions on his show, then it really would be wildly out of control.

So, Dave, I know you stop by here occasionally. Please explain. Do you really think you would be affected by the Fairness Doctrine, or were you just trying to make a point?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

More American fascism

Piece of Mind takes exception on several counts to my American Fascism post below. I thought the post was clear; it still seems clear to me. But Piece of Mind has managed to find a number of things in it that I never intended to say.

What I said was that a number of acts of the Bush administration came closer to my dictionary's definition of fascism than anything I have ever seen in my lifetime. Piece of Mind seems to believe that I said I had never seen any of those things until Bush came along. That was not my point. My point was that Bush put all of the parts together in a way I had never seen.

I said that Bush had attacked countries that had not attacked us. I did not say that had never happened before.

I said that we then ran those countries with a seamless marriage of corporate, military and governmental interests. Perhaps a better word would have been "unprecedented" rather than "seamless"; still, the statement stands. None of the examples he cites comes close, in my view.

I said that we adopted torture for the first time in American history. I didn't say that we had never used torture before. But the Bush administration was the first American administration I know of (Piece of Mind provides no counter examples) that made torture a deliberate, and purportedly legal, part of its information-gathering arsenal. That's why I said "adopted," not "used."

Piece of Mind makes it his mission to pry the motes from editors' eyes. Maybe it is time he saw the beam in his own.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Gazette circ down

According to my usually reliable source, the Gazette's audited Sunday circulation was down just over a thousand for the six months that ended March 30. Monday through Friday circulation was down just over 900.

Out of my head

So one Christmas my brother thought, if he likes Simon and Garfunkel, he ought to like Dylan, right? So I got Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, and the world changed again. There was nothing like this in Great Songs of the Church, Volume 2. People said this one was a drug song, but they always said that in those days about things they didn't understand. A few years later, after I had traveled around Europe for a while, I decided it was a hitchhiking song. Still works for me.

Though I know that evening's empire has returned into sand,
Vanished from my hand,
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping.
My weariness amazes me; I'm branded on my feet,
I have no one to meet,
And the ancient, empty street's too dead for dreaming.

Hey, Mister Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I'm not sleepy, and there is no place I'm going to.
Hey, Mister Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
In the jingle-jangle morning, I'll come following you.

Take me for a trip upon your magic, swirling ship,
My senses have been stripped,
My hands can't feel to grip,
My toes too numb to step,
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering.
I'm ready to go anywhere,
I'm ready for to fade
Into my own parade.
Cast your dancing spell my way,
I promise to go under it.


Though you might hear laughing spinning, skipping madly across the sun,
It's not aimed at anyone,
It's just escaping on the run,
And but for the sky there are no fences facing.
And if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rhyme,
To your tambourine in time,
I wouldn't pay it any mind,
It's just a ragged clown behind,
It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing.


Then take me disappearing down the smoke rings of my mind,
Down the foggy ruins of time,
Far past the frozen leaves,
The haunted, frightened trees,
Out to the windy beach,
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky,
With one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea,
Circled by the circus sands,
With all memory and fate,
Driven deep beneath the waves,
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.


Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Messiah, 1932

My friend Robert Lubbers is reading a book about the Great Depression (and, yes, I am so dumb that I have forgotten the name and so lazy that I won't call and ask him). Last night he showed me a passage about the common habit that people had then, even in relief agencies, to claim that people who were out of work somehow deserved their fate. It should have been pretty obvious that millions of hardworking Americans who had been diligently providing for their families didn't suddenly become shiftless bums overnight, but the feeling was common enough, and it was often shared by the unemployed themselves.

The writer said that the director of one relief agency said that Negroes believed the new president was "the Messiah" and that he would provide them $12 a week to live on without their having to lift a finger.

Even omitting the outdated racial reference, and even adjusting for inflation, the bigotry in that statement is pretty obvious, isn't it? Do you suppose that modern-day claims that Obama is a purported Messiah will someday look just as bigoted to our grandkids?

American fascism

Over at Electric City Weblog, Rob Natelson sniffs fascism in a plan for restructuring General Motors. Mr. Natelson has done a fair amount of casual name calling on that blog of late. He found a "show trial" (his weasel-like quotation marks) in the Libby trial of Grace executives; he found a Messiah in Obama's presidency; he found Obama worship in the media; he found pornography in a Kaimin sex column.

This is probably good blogging; judging from the number of comments at Electric City, dropping a few slurs from time to time is good for business. But can it possibly be true, or fair?

Of course not. My dictionary, for instance, defines fascism as "a system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of opposition, private economic enterprise under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism, racism, and militarism." So we can clearly see that Obama's plan for General Motors is fascist, provided one leaves out the parts about one-party rule (although Republicans seem determined to push us in that direction), suppression of opposition, national belligerence, racism and militarism.

Even the one plank left to Natelson -- government control of the economy -- is not nearly so strong as he imagines. Obama said at his press conference Thursday that he has no desire to run auto companies, and I see no reason not to believe him. Why would he?

But he inherited a situation in which all three big automakers were in bad shape, and two of them appeared to be on the verge of bankruptcy. It's understandable that he would want to find a way to shore them up until his program to get the economy on the mend got untracked. Maybe it was a bad idea. Maybe it will make things worse. But it isn't fascism. Neither Chrysler nor GM was forced to take a nickel of government money, but without it they were almost surely headed for the courts anyway, which means the government was bound to get involved in some fashion. If Obama is smart, and he seems to be, he will do what can be done, then get out as fast as possible.

Mr. Natelson presumes that Obama plans to stick his nose into other businesses, but he naturally fails to discuss specifics. Even the obvious possibility -- healthcare -- goes unmentioned. Mr. Natelson settles for the quick slur, and he defends it in part by saying that leftists are quick to pin the same slur on conservatives.

Certainly there have been leftists who have tossed around the "f" word. But I can't think of anyone with the national audience that, say, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage have, who has done so. At the national level labels of fascism appear to be conservative property. And that may be true even in Montana. Has any leftist with Natelson's notoriety and stature used the term in this state? I haven't seen it.

I am not as far to the left as Mr. Natelson is to the right, but I admit that I saw elements of what looked like fascism to me in the Bush administration. We invaded countries that hadn't attacked us; we then ran the conquered countries with an almost seamless marriage of corporate, military and governmental interests. We suspended, without admitting it, habeas corpus. We adopted torture for the first time in American history. We taunted prisoners' religious and cultural beliefs. We ignored and insulted allies. It's the closest thing to fascism I have ever seen in America.

But still not close enough. I don't think I ever used the term in print or on the blog to describe Bush policies. To the best of my memory, I mentioned the scary parallels only in private to a couple of people who I knew would get the point without taking offense. Fascism, whatever limited merits it might have as a way of describing government policy, is simply too tainted by its Axis associations to be fair game in American political discourse. You mention it; you lose.

Mr. Natelson ought to know that. And as a man who values words, he should choose them more carefully.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Torture revisited

It's worth taking another look at why torture is a bad idea as a matter of public policy even if you think it's a good idea in certain circumstances.

Some of this comes from watching the complete conversation between Jon Stewart and Cliff May, which can -- and should -- be seen here. May argues, in part, that the so-called torture memos are actually good because they show the limits America placed on enhanced interrogations. That's why releasing them was bad -- because terrorists now know what the limits are.

And why is that bad? Because the reason torture is so powerful is that the victim never knows when it will stop. He is powerless. If you know, for example, that there are limits on waterboarding -- only 182 to go! -- then you have a certain amount of control over the situation. If you are deprived of sleep for 11 days, but know you can sleep in on the 12th, then it's less like torture and more like finals week in college.

So the idea is that we don't torture, but only the president gets to define torture, and only the president gets to know what that definition is. If the definition gets out, as is likely in a free and open society, then torture doesn't work so well. You really have to choose: freedom or torture? Take a moment to think it over before you decide.

Another reason why setting specific limits on interrogations isn't helpful is that not everybody reacts to torture in the same way. So what might cause intense suffering in one victim might be quite tolerable for another. May, for instance, presented as laughable the notion that loud music might be considered a form of torture. But I read somewhere recently (I forget where) that a victim said that loud noise was actually one of the worst parts of the ordeal.

It makes sense to me. You are all alone with nothing do, and you have music blaring that guarantees you can't sleep, you can't hear and you can't talk. Pretty soon, I imagine, you can't even think, and madness can't be too far past that. Sounds like torture to me.

May's justification for one-size-fits-all torture tactics seemed to rest in part on the Geneva Conventions standard that torture is what shocks the conscience. What shocks the conscience more, he asked, a waterboarded terrorist or 3,000 dead in the World Trade Center?

The problem with heading down that road is that there really is no place to stop. What shocks the conscience more, pulled-out fingernails or 3,000 dead? A severed limb or 3,000 dead? An innocent child murdered to get her father to talk or 3,000 dead?

It is not a slippery slope. It is a plunge into the abyss.

Thursday talk radio update II

It amazes me how many phony and irrelevant arguments about torture hold sway in the talk radio world. Dennis Miller and Dave Rye both had some yesterday, and Hannity has been a veritable fount of them. Just to keep our minds clear, let's once more shoot down a few of the more obvious errors.

1. Torture is OK if it works. The Convention Against Torture, which was signed and publicly promoted by President Reagan, who some conservatives seem to think was a pretty good president, specifically says that torture for any reason is banned. Of course, it has to say that. Everybody who tortures can think of a good reason to do it. The torture convention simply takes that argument off the table. As somebody said on "Says You," that argument is like saying, "Maybe robbery is a crime, but look at all the nice stuff I got."

2. Waterboarding is OK because other forms of torture are worse. So the next time a cop pulls you over for speeding, try to talk him out of a ticket by saying, "Hey, maybe I was driving too fast, but at least I didn't shoot anybody." Let me know how that works for you.

3. Waterboarding isn't torture because it doesn't seem like torture to me. Dennis Miller was making this point yesterday, apparently unaware that binding international legal precedents are not set by comedians. Unfortunately for his legal theories, it's pretty clear that waterboarding violates U.S. law, the convention on torture and the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. remedy for that problem is to either abide by the law or change the law and to either renegotiate or repudiate the treaties. We can't just let talk show hosts make up their own laws.

What these confused pundits probably do know but don't like to mention is that we are bound by treaty not only to refrain from torture but also to punish those who fail to refrain. So when the former president and vice president of the United States openly admit to practices that almost surely violate our treaty obligations, then Obama risks committing a war crime himself if he fails to pursue an investigation.

Personally, I think that pursuing torture charges against Bush administration officials is bad politics. It may even be bad for the country. But I don't think that we have an honorable alternative.

Thursday talk radio update I

Rush Limbaugh seemed to be in a bit of a quandary yesterday. He led with news that Chrysler had filed for bankruptcy, which he, of course, read as a sign of failure for the Obama presidency. And since Limbaugh has famously rooted for Obama to fail, then this should have been good news for him.

Not so fast. Using a chain of logic that I couldn't quite follow, Limbaugh argued that Chrysler's bankruptcy may make Obama look bad in the short term, which is good, but in the long term it promotes Obama's secret goal of leading the United States into socialism, which is bad. So Chrysler's bankruptcy was actually bad news for Limbaugh.

So Limbaugh has to root for Chrysler to succeed, which would make Obama look good, in order for Obama to ultimately fail, which is what Limbaugh wants. No wonder failure has so many fathers. Or is that success?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Swine flu

I find this to be extraordinarily easy advice to follow. I suppose I should worry about public health emergencies more than I do, but I don't, and I probably won't.

When pigs fly, that's when you can come here and read, "Swine flu."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Pay cuts

I missed this at the time, but I see now that Rick Foote reported in the March 18 Butte Weekly (no website) that Lee Enterprises' publishers took a 25 percent pay cut on March 1. The item came from what Foote characterized as "very reliable sources within Lee Enterprises," which publishes The Billings Gazette and four other Montana dailies.

Preserving the Constitution

A common theme in the April 15 TEA parties was that protests were needed to uphold and/or restore the Constitution. A typical (and typically vague) example of the type appeared in last week's Gazette.

So what threats to the Constitution need protester response? Electric City Weblog suggests two: a balanced budget amendment and term limits.

That's it? Pretty weak TEA.

Especially since an astonishing number of TEA party protesters were conspicuously quiet and may even still defend the Bush administration, which offered these novel constitutional theories:

1. That the president could suspend habeas corpus without meeting the constitutional test for suspension.

2. That the president has the power to torture, regardless of Congress, law, tradition and international treaty.

3. That the president had the power to imprison anyone at any time, without access to legal counsel, without charges and without evidence.

4. That lawyers for those accused of terrorism should be subjected, if civilians, to public ridicule and, if military, to blocked promotions.

5. That constitutional rights do not extend to prisoners held in U.S. custody outside the borders of the United States.

6. That suspects could be transferred without their knowledge or consent to foreign countries where they could be interrogated and tortured beyond restrictions of U.S. law.

And we're worried about term limits?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The messiah

The lively Electric City Weblog had a post the other day under the headline "Mainstream media Obama worship." The post said that Time and Newsweek had devoted at least 30 covers (upgraded in comments to 39) to Obama between them over the past four years. The post seemed to argue that the number was not only excessive but amounted to out-and-out worship of "The Messiah."

As I have often stated, I object strongly to the whole "Messiah" trope because it is stupid, and because it makes every discussion in which it is used stupider than it would otherwise be. So in comments I asked three questions:

1. What would the journalistically correct number of cover stories have been, considering Obama was barely a national figure when he entered, and then won, the longest and, to my mind, most interesting presidential race in many decades? And that he subsequently entered the office confronted by a range of problems that may be as serious as those that have faced any incoming president since Franklin D. Roosevelt?

2. How many covers more than the journalistically correct number does an MSM publication have to print to move from imbalance to worship?

3. If Obama really is the Messiah, as the post claims, then are 39 covers enough? My journalistic instincts, withered though they may be, tell me that if the Messiah were in fact to come to earth and somehow managed to get elected president of the United States, that would be worth the front cover just about every single week until, well, kingdom come. So the MSM either really don't believe Obama is the Messiah or, if they do, they are sadly underplaying the most significant news story of the last two millennia. Probably they are guilty of anti-religious bias.

No reply so far. Electric City must be too busy contemplating secession from Messiahland. I hope Satan can find room.

Cheney vs. Chavez

I heard part of an interview of Dick Cheney the other night, and he was criticizing Barack Obama for, I guess, shaking hands with Hugo Chavez. Cheney said the Bush administration's hands-off policy was the right choice.

And I thought: Evidence for that? Anybody want to argue that Chavez is weaker today than he was when Bush took office? Or that America is stronger? Or that our overall position in South America is stronger?

Didn't think so.

Death to waterboarders

Here is what America used to do to people who waterboarded.

Not coincidentally, I was talking about this topic last night with a woman who said her husband, a World War II veteran, was moved almost to tears by revelations about what his country -- the country he defended -- has done.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not doing our bit

Maybe it's just me, but Max Baucus' response to the idea of putting Guantanamo detainees in the vacant prison in Hardin seems unusually dumb:
My number one job is to keep Montanans safe, and bringing terrorists into our state is a clear and present danger to everyone who lives here. I understand the need to create jobs, but we’re not going to bring Al-Qaeda to Big Sky Country – no way, not on my watch.

Look, either it is safe to put prisoners in the Hardin prison or not. If it is not, then nobody should be put there -- not Guantanamo transfers, not pickpockets, nobody. But if it is safe, then why shouldn't Montana do its bit to help the country (and make a little money at it)?

Maybe these guys are, as Baucus says, "some of the most dangerous people in the world." But they aren't dangerous because they have plans to fly airplanes into the Crowne Plaza. Should they be brought here, and should they escape, they would still have a long ways to go to get anywhere they would want to be.

(Don't mean to just pick on Baucus, but I haven't yet seen responses from Tester or Rehberg.)

Thursday talk radio update

Sean Hannity was in full pro-torture mode. His argument:

1. We don't torture.
2. If we do torture, it's OK because it worked.

No hint that he grasped how ludicrous both arguments are. With respect to point one, Sean Hannity isn't in charge of deciding what torture is. Torture is defined by longstanding precedent, by U.S. and military law and by international treaty. We are guilty of torture by all standards.

Look at it this way. Before 2001, you could not have found a single American who would have disputed that it is torture (or at least criminally abusive) to subject someone to repeated waterboarding, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, shackles, sexual abuse and other enormities described in the torture memos. There simply was no debate on the topic. Nobody was arguing that the men we have convicted of committing war crimes by subjecting prisoners to waterboarding should be pardoned. They were criminals. Everybody knew it.

What changed? We got hurt. That's all. But torture is still torture.

The second point is just purely irrelevant. Suppose Sean Hannity robs a bank, gets caught and tells the judge, "Hey, but I'm using this money to send my kid to medical school. He'll become a surgeon. He'll save thousands of lives."

The judge will say, "Yes, and in 20 years you will be able to go visit him."

Hannity also was pushing a TV segment he was planning to expose congressional Democrats who were aware of what the Bush administration was up to but failed to act. It is no doubt correct that a full investigation of the Bush administration's crimes would make many Democrats look bad. But Hannity was arguing:

1. Republicans did nothing wrong.
2. If Republicans did something wrong, Democrats are to blame for letting them get away with it.
3. If Democrats hadn't let Republicans get away with it, then they would still be to blame for weakness in the war on terrorism because:
4. Republicans did nothing wrong.

Woe is us

The Outpost is reshaping it's webpage yet again, so there isn't much there to read. But I happen to know for a fact that the editor wrote a column lamenting the state of the newspaper industry, and I have obtained a copy of it through the Freedom of Information Act:

I see in The Outpost that Mike Gulledge, publisher of The Billings Gazette, is speaking to the Rotary Club on Monday on the current state of the newspaper industry.
It is a talk I will miss because I will be working at one of the part-time jobs that help keep me alive when I’m not editing this newspaper. Which tells you something right there about the state of the newspaper industry. So since I can’t go, I’ve been thinking about what I would say if I were giving his speech. It would go something like this:

I stand before you today feeling like the Texas oilmen who said during the bust of the 1980s, “Lord, just give me one more good strike, and this time I promise not to blow it.”
Newspapers have been hanging around for a couple of decades like grumpy old grandpas, frail and outdated but still full of vinegar and seemingly immortal. Now, at long last, they appear to be surrendering all at once to the infirmities of age.
Earlier this year, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer printed its last dead-tree edition, 145 years after the first. It lives online with a staff reduced to 20 reporters.
Denver’s Rocky Mountain News shut down on Feb. 27, one year short of its sesquicentennial. The Tucson Citizen, in business for 138 years, plans to close if its owner can’t find a buyer.
The list of newspapers in bankruptcy, or close to it, or in some other form of financial trouble, or rumored to be in it, could fill the rest of this speech: The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The nation’s largest newspaper company, Gannett, recently announced another round of unpaid furloughs. Lee Enterprises, Montana’s dominant newspaper company and the Gazette’s owner, just managed to stave off creditors while renegotiating a heavy pile of debt while its stock was hovering around 40 cents a share.
Across the nation, newspaper ad revenues fell 23 percent in the last two years. One in five journalists working for a newspaper in 2001 is now gone.
But hard times are everywhere. Why should newspapers be any different?
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that only 43 percent of Americans say the loss of a local newspaper would be a detriment to the community. Only a third said they would miss reading the paper. Among young people, the numbers are far worse.
So newspapers are dying and nobody cares. Guess I’ll go eat worms.
But the imminent extinction of newspapers, if that’s what is coming, should not pass without blame, or without mourning.
Lord knows, we should have seen it coming. Owning a daily newspaper in a small market was a license to print money for 150 years. Even a company like Lee Enterprises, which invests some in quality, could churn out companywide profits of better than 25 percent for long after the good years started to end. For companies without a conscience, the sky was the limit.
The prevailing attitude was this: Don’t like our newspaper? Start your own. Then learn the hard way about the inexorable logic of monopoly markets, where a 51 percent share of readers eventually brings in 100 percent of advertisers. You can see that logic at work in conservative talk radio to this day.
So when times were good, newspapers raised prices. When times were bad, newspapers laid off staff – and raised prices. At all other times, just for good measure, newspapers raised prices.
We could have done better. We could have invested more in figuring out the internet, in covering local news, in expanding research into finding new and better ways to report stories. The money was just too good.
But publishing kept getting cheaper, and small outfits started nipping at the ankles. Then, with the rise of the internet, publishing and distribution costs dropped, for practical purposes, to zero. That’s great for newspaper publishers, right? The biggest cost, next to staff, suddenly disappeared.
Except that advertisers went with it, distracted by a thousand new websites. And the tired old newspaper, cranky and inefficient and losing readers, remained where the money was.
Now some of the corporations that swallowed up independent dailies to the verge of extinction are in danger themselves of going under. That’s true even though many papers – such as The Billings Gazette – remain sustainable operations on their own.
What will become of them? Expect local buyers to arise - perhaps nonprofit organizations, perhaps employee-led buyouts, perhaps coalitions of advertisers - to attempt to peel local papers out from under the debt that cripples their corporate bosses.
But suppose we don’t care about the papers – about the thousands of jobs that stand to be lost, about the reporters and photographers and editors who will have to find another way to make a living if newspapers die. What of the news itself?
Short answer: Nobody knows. It’s a big world, and somebody, presumably, will figure out a way to make some money putting national and international news on the internet. Some sites will charge for content; some will tap nonprofit foundations to fund investigative reporting; some news will no doubt come from amateur writers and photographers chronicling, for free, what goes on in their corner of the woods.
National and world news is likely to become more concentrated and centralized; regional and local news is likely to become more fragmented. News everywhere is likely to be more partisan, more opinionated, more subservient to the will of whoever is paying the bills. And it won’t always be clear who is paying the bills.
Nobody has figured out what will happen to daily papers that aren’t big enough to command a national audience but are too big to survive without the kind of advertising that pays for day-to-day reporting of city council meetings, crimes, school boards and the occasional public official with fingers in the till.
Just in the last six years, the number of full-time reporters working in the nation’s state capitols has fallen 32 percent. Since 1980, the number of full-time political cartoonists has fallen from 280 to fewer than 90. The government keeps getting bigger, and the number of people paid to keep an eye on it keeps getting smaller.
Democracy doesn’t flow from Washington, D.C. It flows to Washington from thousands of local communities, electing representatives to take their concerns to the Capitol from thousands of cities and school districts, counties and PTAs. For a couple of centuries, those concerns have been reflected in and reported by hundreds of local and regional newspapers.
Now many of them are in trouble. Maybe a few hardy bloggers will take their place. Maybe not.
Nobody knows, and we may not know until it’s too late for newspapers to make much difference.
Lord, just give us one more chance. This time, we promise, we won’t screw it up.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The shame of it all

Obama's overseas humiliation continues. Here he is, bowing to, and shaking hands with, a Mexican dog.

Tombstone blues

I was trying to think of something pithy to say about the torture memos released last week. Then I realized that Bob Dylan already had said it:

Well, John the Baptist, after torturing a thief,
Looks up at his hero, the commander-in-chief,
Saying, "Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?"

The commander-in-chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, "Death to all those who would whimper and cry."
And dropping a barbell he points to the sky
Saying, "The sun's not yellow, it's chicken."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Harry Kalas, R.I.P.

In the spring of 1965, a friend named Ruben Garcia told me he listened to Houston Astros baseball games on the radio. I didn't like baseball and didn't listen much to the radio, but for some reason what he told me caused me to tune in. Almost immediately, I got hooked, and my brother Joe soon got hooked, too. For several years, Astros' radio broadcasts were the soundtrack to our summers. Every night, we would tune in the game on KNAL, the local AM station, sometimes out on the screen porch, usually in our room. When we were away from home, we would search desperately for a signal, sometimes sitting out at night in the mosquito-infested car because the car radio could pull in WWL ("Way down yonder in New Orleans") when all else failed.

When the Astros played on the West Coast, we would lie in bed with the lights out, listening to games from San Francisco and Los Angeles. I vividly remember Willie Mays at the bat in extra innings one late night, no doubt saying to himself, "This game ends here," then fouling off a half-dozen pitches before hitting a game-ending home run. We heard back-to-back no-hitters (Jim Maloney and Don Wilson) and followed Joe Morgan's rookie year on his way to the Hall of Fame. One memorable night, we fell asleep during a home game against the Mets and woke up hours later, with the game still playing on the radio. The Astros finally won, 1-0, in 24 innings, 41 years ago last week.

Gene Elston, a consummate pro who is now in his 80s, was the anchor of that broadcast crew, with Loel Passe, who died in 1997, as the No. 2 man and Harry Kalas, just two years into his first big league job, calling a couple of the middle innings each night. Last week, Kalas, 73, died. But I have missed his voice for a long, long time.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck were crowing about the success of TEA parties across the country and attacking the "MSM" (as if they weren't part of it) for failing to cover the protests with as much enthusiasm as FOX news did. With my schedule, I don't have much time to consume MSM, so I don't know whether they had a legitimate gripe. Their MSM complaints included a clip of a CNN reporter badgering a protester (very bad form), a blanket indictment that liberals were terrified of the protesters (no evidence of this that I saw), and a suggestion that MSM really couldn't understand what the protests were about.

I'm not part of the MSM, but count me in on the last point. I couldn't understand why they were protesting, and Hannity and Beck weren't much help. Basically, they were complaining that taxes are too high (although Obama has proposed tax cuts for most Americans), that Obama is a socialist (Beck dialed back a bit from last week's claim that Obama is actually a fascist) and that deficits are huge (which they are, of course, and were for years, without public protest, before Obama took office). Hannity also complained several times that Obama was trying to "gut" the defense budget, with the word "gut" apparently defined as a 4 percent increase.

The protests seemed to violate the fundamental rules of successful political protesting:

1. Keep it simple. End the war. Let women vote. Impeach Earl Warren. That's change we can understand, if not believe in. And it's why you had major protests, for example, against going to war in Iraq but have no protests over how many months the exit strategy should cover. It's just too complicated. It wasn't clear to me whether the protesters were against Keynesian economics, health care reforms, the omnibus budget bill, the proposed budget, TARP funds, or all of the above. If they opposed all of the above, then at least they get points for ideological consistency. But did they really expect Obama to do nothing at all if elected but watch the economy slide into the sea?

2. Know where you stand. It made sense for women to march for the right to vote because they couldn't just go out to the polls and elect people who would make it happen. And it makes senses for gay rights advocates to protest for the right to marry because they hope to raise awareness among a public that is in large measure indifferent or hostile. But it doesn't make sense to protest taxation without representation when the only reason you don't feel represented is because the guy you voted for didn't win. That calls for a political rally, not a protest rally. And it doesn't make sense to pretend that you speak for most Americans when you can't turn out the numbers to prove it.

3. Acknowledge that protest is a right that belongs to everybody. Jon Stewart had more fun that he really should have had juxtaposing footage of Hannity dismissing protests in 2002 as whining sour grapes from political losers with footage of Hannity praising TEA parties as speaking for "real" Americans. This would be pretty embarrassing for Hannity, if he understood that hypocrisy is a character flaw.

Finally, the best and the worst: Best was John Oliver of "The Comedy Show," who had great fun asking protesters which was worse, British rule over the American colonies or Barack Obama as president. Of course, he didn't have to look far to find people who thought Obama was as bad, or worse, than the British had been. Then Oliver, who is British, pretended to take offense that protesters would give a young upstart like Obama as much credit for evil as the British empire, which honed tyranny to a fine art over centuries of colonial rule. So you had the weird spectacle of hearing patriotic Americans downplaying British tyranny while a Brit was arguing that the British were far more ruthless tyrants than Obama could hope to be. Pretty darn funny.

Worst was Michael Savage, who played excerpts from Hitler speeches to argue that Obama is leading us into fascism. Setting aside the absurdity of the political claim, let's just agree that if Hitler had his way, Obama would be the very first American president that Hitler would have consigned to the gas chambers. To make the comparison Savage did is unspeakably vile, and it should shame both him and KBLG for broadcasting him.

Signs of the times

More evidence of how tough things are in the newspaper business:

1. Just got a letter from a Montana newspaper with which we have traded papers for 11 years. No more. After May 1, exchange subscriptions will be cut off as a cost-cutting measure.

2. Got a letter from a major newspaper vendor addressed to the Outpost "legal department." That's me, I think. We had owed that company quite a bit of money at one time, but I promised to pay it off with regular payments, and I did, and we have been square for quite a long while. So why are we getting threatening letters?

Well, we weren't. The company is now in bankruptcy. It was writing to see if we had any claims against it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Socialists abound

John Young sends along the above photo of Socialist Hall in Butte with this note: "In light of all the Socialists reported in Congress, here's where they hang out."

And Marvin Granger sends a reminder that there are things worse than socialism:
The word "socialism" has been floating around the U.S. commentariat lately. To keep this in perspective, read this quote from a New York Herald editorial, September 19, 1860:

"Socialism in its worst form, including the most advanced theories of women's rights, the division of land, free love and the exaltation of the desires of the individual over the rights of the family, and the forced equality of all men...are part of the logical chain of ideas that flow from the anti-slavery theory."

-Michael Burlingame, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A Life, Vol. 1, pp 414-415

Talk radio update

We played bridge with some friends on Friday night, and they had a copy of the new Vanity Fair, which has an article about Rush Limbaugh. Amazing statistic: The average age of conservative talk radio listeners is 67, and rising. So amazing, in fact, that I find it hard to believe.

But if it's true, then Limbaugh may be in even more trouble than the "liberal media" he excoriates.

By the way, if you are among those who argue that MSM are in decline because they are too liberal, it might be instructive to recall what editorials from the early giants of the newspaper business had to say:

E.W. Scripps: "I have only one principle and that is represented by an effort to make it harder for the rich to grow richer and easier for the poor to keep from growing poorer."

Joseph Pulitzer
: "Tax luxuries, inheritances, monopolies ... the privileged corporation."

William Randolph Hearst: "Shall organized capital control the people, or shall the people control capital and limit its power? ... The trusts ... are teaching us that it is feasible and necessary for the nation eventually to take possession of and manage its own properties, industrial as well as others."

These newspaper owners not only survived with such opinions, they thrived -- they all made millions and millions of dollars. Ben Bagdikian, whose "The Media Monopoly" was the source of these quotes, argues that these chains' devotion to the common man fueled their success. The bland, no-offense corporate dailies are the real reason newspapers started to fall flat, he says.

Out of my head

Before Simon and Garfunkel came along, songs that stuck in my head were mostly ones like this, which I tried to learn to play on our Sears Silvertone guitar:

Come listen, you fellows, so young and so fine,
And seek not your fortunes in the dark, dreary mine.
It'll start as a habit and seep in your soul
Till the blood in your veins runs as black as the coal.

Where it's dark as a dungeon, damp as the dew,
Where danger is double and pleasures are few,
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines,
It's dark as a dungeon way down in the mine.

It's many a fellow I've known in my day
Who lived just to labor his whole life away.
Like a fiend for his dope, or a drunkard his wine,
A man will have lust for the lure of the mine.


I hope when I've died and the ages shall roll,
My body will blacken and turn into coal.
Then I'll sit at the door of my heavenly home
And pity the miners a-digging my bones.


Not quite sure why I replaced that with songs like this, which I couldn't even try to play:

Let us be lovers, we'll marry our fortunes together.
I've got some real estate here in my bag.
So we bought a pack of cigarettes, and Mrs. Wagner's pies,
And walked off to look for America.

"Kathy," I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
"Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
"It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw,
"They've all come to look for America."

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces.
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy.
I said, "Be careful, his bowtie is really a camera."

"Toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat."
"We smoked the last one an hour ago."
So I looked at the scenery, she read her magazines,
And the moon rose over an open field.

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping.
"I'm empty and aching, and I don't know why."
Counting the cars on the New Jersey turnpike,
They've all come to look for America,
All come to look for America,
All come to look ...

Friday, April 10, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

Tough day. With MSU Billings out for "mini-break," I didn't have German class to interrupt my weekly talk show dose. So I decided to inhale a couple of hours of Rush Limbaugh, something I have not done for a good long while.

I barely made it this time. At one point, in desperation, I flipped over to Fred Thompson, but he was even worse. Just a couple of things from Rush:

The first actually came from earlier in the week when, with the market down in the morning by 166 points, he attributed the decline to the fact that Obama was returning from his European trip. The second, on Thursday, was that since Obama maintains that we are not at war with Islam, then the Somali pirates holding a U.S. ship captain hostage must not be Muslim.

Both comments are, on the face of it, utter nonsense, too puerile even to refute. Rush's defenders would say, I suppose, that they illustrate his mastery of satire, but I don't see how they even qualify. They make no larger point; they have no bite; they evoke no laugh or even a smile.

Perhaps they illustrate what Camille Paglia likes about Rush. She wrote this week, "I respect Rush for his independence of thought and his always provocative news analysis." Neither "independence" nor "provocative" necessarily implies "coherent," and maybe asking for all three would be too much.

More seriously, Limbaugh was making hay out of a clip of Obama declining to answer a question about the pirate hostage crisis. This was a win-win-win for Limbaugh: If Obama gives a substantive answer to the question, Limbaugh attacks him for disclosing details of sensitive negotiations. If Obama gives a generic answer, Limbaugh attacks him for being weak. If Obama declines to answer at all, Limbaugh attacks him for being non-responsive.

I suppose that if Obama had announced that he had personally parachuted into the lifeboat, single-handedly disarmed the pirates and freed the captain, Limbaugh would have attacked him for depleting the parachute budget.

Which raises an even larger question: After Sept. 11, 2001, Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, rallied behind their president. Whether they had voted for him or not, they overwhelmingly threw him their support as he took on that grave threat.

So if Sept. 11 is a 10 on the presidential crisis scale, and the pirates' hostage crisis is a 1, then where along the spectrum do you suppose that Limbaugh decides to drop his partisan attacks and simply rally behind the president as a loyal American? Never?

Neither Limbaugh nor Hannity could talk about the economy on Thursday, because the stock market was up a couple of hundred points, and it appeared possible that the explanation was that Obama's policies were working. In their world scheme, Democratic presidents are responsible for what happens in the stock market only when it goes down. So that topic was off limits.

Instead, they talked about the president's alleged dissing of America on his European trip, when he said that Americans had at times been "arrogant" and "dismissive" toward Europe. Hannity has repeatedly seized on this, always omitting Obama's next sentence, which was that Europeans in turn had indulged a casual and insidious anti-Americanism.

As Jon Stewart put, that's like criticizing Charles Dickens by quoting only the first clause of his famous opening sentence in "A Tale of Two Cities": "'It was the best of times ...'? Well, it was wasn't the best of times for everybody, Dickens."

Hannity and Limbaugh made their case against Obama by showing just how arrogant and dismissive Americans can be. Hannity maintained, as he often has, that America essentially won World War II all by itself. He seems not to be aware that the war had gone on for two long years before we even entered it. He seems not to know that Britain already had won the naval war (except against submarines) in the North Atlantic and had won the air war over London. He seems not to know that while we were still cranking up the war machine, the Soviet Union had defeated Germany in the largest and most decisive battle of the war. He seems not to know that even the maligned French (a country the size of Texas) sacrificed half as many soldiers' lives in defense of their country in their short campaign as we did in four long years.

Anybody who denies the importance of U.S. contributions to allied victory in World War II is a fool. But anybody who thinks that is all there was to it is simply, well, arrogant and dismissive.

Limbaugh's tack was to give Ronald Reagan full credit for winning the Cold War, with a slight nod to Maggie Thatcher. He didn't mention Gorbachev, except in derision. He didn't mention Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, two giants in the struggle. He didn't mention NATO. He didn't even mention the tiny but cumulatively powerful contributions of hundreds of thousands of soldiers like me -- a guy who was sitting on the East German border monitoring troop movements while Limbaugh was at home honing his radio voice and nursing his anal cyst. Nor did he mention the key and stubbornly brave part played by the Afghan people, many of whom (or at least their sons and nephews) are now fighting American soldiers they same way they fought the Soviets.

That last detail ought to cure anyone of arrogance. But it has failed to do so.

UPDATE: Stewart also had the best overall summary of right-wing whining over Obama: If the guy you didn't vote for because you didn't like his policies wins the election anyway and starts implementing policies you don't like, that isn't tyranny. It's democracy.