Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

Funny how the world turns. Hannity had on Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to blast the stimulus plan. As always on Thursday, I was bouncing in and out of my car, so I may have missed something that made Grassley sound better than he sounded to me. But he sounded to me like he was swallowing Hannity's line with mouth wide open: The stimulus won't work; it's a plot to destroy capitalism; it'll bankrupt the country; Republicans have to hold the line, etc.

A couple of hours later, Grassley was on NPR, and he sounded like an entirely different fellow. He said Republicans had legitimate concerns about the plan, but he was confident that he could work in a bipartisan fashion with his friend Max Baucus to come up with something that would pass both houses, most likely by stripping the bill of items that don't really have much to with stimulus but properly belong in appropriations.

This made perfect sense to me, and it gave me hope that we might actually succeed in getting past partisan barriers, at least in the Senate. What I heard on Hannity made no sense and gave me no hope.

Hannity keeps wondering why Obama mentions him and Rush Limbaugh so often. He thinks it's because Obama is afraid of him or is trying to set the stage to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine. I think it's because Obama is a whole lot smarter than him and is perfectly willing to paint the GOP as the party of Hannity and Limbaugh. If the November election told us anything, it is that the public isn't buying what Hannity and Limbaugh are selling. From their perspective, voters picked the worst possible Democrat (of those with any chance to win) and the worst possible Republican, and appeared to do so for exactly the reasons that Hannity and Limbaugh hate the most.

It was striking on Thursday to listen to "To the Point" on NPR and hear a thorough, nuanced discussion on what, if anything, should be done about global warming, followed by Hannity, who dismissed the whole issue in a handful of sentences and essentially called it a hoax. You can believe what you want about global warming, but if you think that it isn't even worthy of discussion and that all the scientists who are working on the problem are liars and cheats, then you really have no place in the national discourse. You are a loser.

Which is where Hannity and Limbaugh are. And Republicans are afraid to cross them. And that, I suspect, is just fine with Obama.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More layoffs

The Missoulian is cutting six positions. And Lee Enterprises CEO Mary Junck will have to settle for her measly $850,000 salary. Meanwhile, I have heard but have been unable to confirm that Lee stock has been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. Anybody heard anything?

Meanwhile, France is finding new ways to help its struggling newspaper industry. Before you go off blasting this as un-American, remember that the first U.S. bill providing preferential postal rates for newspapers was passed in 1792.

UPDATE: For a detailed (and lengthy) analysis of what wrong with newspapers and what to do about it, go here and here. The posts are especially enlightening on the long history of government subsidies for news.

Monday, January 26, 2009

David Crisp, R.I.P.

I was thinking of complaining about my day, but then I realized that not every David Crisp had it so good.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


Ed Kemmick gives space today to the ideas of Don Tapscott, who argues that people born between 1978 and 1994 are "smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors."

My thoroughly unscientific response, based on a few years of knocking around high school and college campuses:

1. Smarter? No. Intelligence doesn't vary much from generation to generation. A kid who grew up on a farm during the Depression may have been vastly ignorant of the wide world, but he knew how to saddle and ride a horse, fix a fence, milk a cow, pluck a chicken, raise a garden, fix a tractor, read the weather, hunt a varmint, read the Bible and carve a living out of hard dirt. You think he was dumber than a kid who knows how to Google?

2. Quicker? Yep, at least on certain tasks. Students today seem substantially more world wise, adaptable and sophisticated than the ruffians I grew up with. But that comes at a price. The "rote learning" that education consultants criticize gave earlier students a sense of history and context that is lacking in many kids today. If you don't know that the Civil War started in 1861, you can probably get through life just fine. But if you don't know that the Civil War happened in the 19th century, then you don't have enough information for Wikipedia to help.

3. More tolerant of diversity? No doubt about it, at least on certain push-button issues: race, sexual orientation, abortion.

One more thing: Tapscott trashes the lecture method. That's popular, and most teachers, including me, are always looking for alternatives to simply telling students stuff. But when I think back on my most memorable college classes, it's amazing how many of them mostly involved just listening to a professor talk. There is something to be said for just letting smart people talk about the things they know and love. It's called education.

SIDEBAR: Intelligent Discontent has been posting a lot about education lately. Well worth a read.

Natelson update

My post on Rob Natelson's mystery posts finally drew a response from Mr. Natelson, buried deep in comments over at Electric City Weblog. I'm not sure why a conservative would think it's a bad thing that poor people can't afford to send their kids to ritzy private schools, but Rob seems to think it is. He offers two solutions: (1) Get rid of public schools altogether, or (2) give parents back some of their tax dollars through vouchers or tax credits so they can choose (presumably less ritzy) schools of their own.

It's safe to presume that Obama won't propose to do away with public schools, since that would be the effective end of his administration, so I guess we are left with vouchers or tax credits. Let's use "vouchers" as code for both.

As a strict adherent of the "let a thousand flowers bloom" philosophy of education, I'm a longstanding agnostic on vouchers. If they work, fine. And if the union doesn't like it, tough.

But I've never quite understood the logic of the voucher argument, especially in rural states like Montana. No matter how much the globe warms, a thousand flowers ain't gonna bloom in Ekalaka. And public schools, whatever their demerits, have one advantage in efficiency that's hard for private schools to duplicate: They are the closest possible schools to where kids actually live, which saves transportation dollars, if nothing else. No matter how big the vouchers are, they are never going to be big enough to send a kid to Sidwell.

Then there's the philosophical argument that public schools benefit society as a whole, not just the kids who are in them. Even if nobody in your family ever sets foot inside a public school, you supposedly are better off knowing that the soldiers who defend your country have learned to do math, and that the clerk who takes your order can read and write, and that when Joe the Plumber goes to the polls, he has learned enough civics to know how to vote intelligently, and why it matters.

That's why people who don't have kids, or whose kids have graduated, or who send their kids to private schools, generally have to pay the taxes that support public schools. Limit public school taxes just to the people who have kids in school, and their parents aren't paying taxes anymore; they are paying tuition.

I realize that lots of people feel they have no control over the tax dollars that are pumped into public schools. I'm sympathetic. But that's a political problem, not a philosophical problem. The people own, and pay for, the schools. It's up to the people to create a public school system that best meets the needs of the students who attend them.

UPDATE: This post doesn't say much about whether vouchers produce actual results because I don't know much about that. But here's a pretty strong case that they don't work.

Thursday talk radio update

Dennis Miller (sorry, Dave) was making the case for waterboarding. O'Reilly has been doing the same thing lately.

I have yet to hear either acknowledge a fundamental problem with their position: Waterboarding is torture (the author of the linked post, Marty Lederman, is now deputy assistant attorney general in Obama's Office of Legal Counsel, so his opinion carries weight). As such, waterboarding violates U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions, not to mention our national ethos.

Of course, we could change U.S. law to endorse torture if we wanted to. George Washington would spin in his grave if we did that, but he's probably used to spinning by now. But do we really want to repudiate the Geneva Conventions? Bad idea.

Not only that, failing to prosecute those who authorized waterboarding also is a bad idea. I'm as queasy as the next guy about devoting a lot of time and energy to running down crimes of the previous administration, but we really have no ethical alternative. Either nobody is above the law, or some people are. And if some people are, then this isn't America anymore.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan weighs in and adds a great quote from "A Man for All Seasons."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New blog

The Big Sky Institute at Montana State University has started a new blog on climate change and other environmental issues.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Just back from Bev Gray's funeral, which was good, as those things go, I suppose. It was a bit too religious for this agnostic's tastes, but it is a relief in a way how religious people seem to have it all figured out and go about dealing with death in such a predictable, comfortable fashion. We agnostics just flail about feeling miserable.

I didn't think that I would know any of the hymns, but it turned out that I did; it's just that the words had changed. Same for the Scripture readings. I understand that the King James Bible doesn't cut it for serious scholarship anymore, but it still makes a fine accompaniment to the grave. "I walk through the darkest valley" can't hold even a feeble candle to "I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." And "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long" is scant consolation to someone who grew up expecting to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Bev, who knew the language, would have appreciated the difference.

Enough quibbles. It was a fitting sendoff to a fine woman. But I got a bit of a shock when I put on my sports coat to go the funeral. In the left pocket was the program from the last funeral I attended, that of Paul Russell Brown just over a year ago.

When today's service ended, I put Bev's program in the same pocket. With luck, I thought, the pocket will one day be filled with death notices of all of those dear to me. With less luck, somebody else will have to empty the pocket so I can be buried in that coat.

A bitter thought. I think I had better pull out my King James.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gazette redesign

The new design of The Billings Gazette, unveiled this morning, makes the word "broadsheet" obsolete. The term used to distinguish standard dailies from tabloid-sized newspapers, such as the Outpost. But the width of the Gazette has now shrunk to the same width as The Outpost. The only difference is that the Gazette page is a few inches longer. Guess they could call it the "longsheet."

In a column announcing the change, Gazette Editor Steve Prosinski says the narrower format "is becoming the industry standard as newspapers strive to control newsprint costs."

Of course, a narrower page does not in itself save newsprint. To do that, you have to not only have narrower pages but print the same number, or fewer, of them every day. Narrower pages do two things: They allow newspapers to print the same number of pages and perpetuate the illusion that nothing has changed. They also make ads smaller.

Notice, for example, that the Outpost is laid out in a four-column format. A two-column ad in the Outpost is nearly five inches wide. But when the Gazette changed to our width, it stuck with the old six-column format (the same as Outpost classified ads). So a two-column ad, which already was narrower than one in the Outpost, shrinks to about three and a quarter inches. Chances are, prices didn't drop to match.

I'm not indifferent to the Gazette's problem. Times are tough for newspapers -- us, too. I saw an old Gazette buddy over the weekend and told him that I have worked for three newspaper chains. The first two are no longer in the newspaper business, and my goal, I've often said, is to outlast the third. Right now, I'd say we're about neck and neck.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mystery posts

Over at Electric City Weblog, Rob Natelson makes a couple of mystery posts. One notes that the Obamas are sending their children to an exclusive private school. Why? "Because they care about their own kids enough to find them the best school — even if they don’t care enough about your kids to let you do the same."

What the? Guess I missed the speech where Obama said that people rich enough to afford it should not be allowed to send their kids to exclusive private schools. One of the commenters says that Sidwell costs $29,000 a year. So now Natelson, the small government guy, wants the government to come up with the money to send every American child to the equivalent of Sidwell? Bizarre.

Then he has a post explaining why he's glad newspapers are in trouble, a point he makes with a list of stories in Sunday's Missoulian that allegedly indicate liberal bias.

Just imagine: two stories, and a photo, about the guy who will become president on Tuesday (never would have happened if a Republican had been elected).

And a story about a medical marijuana bill. Wait a minute, I thought conservatives were supposed to be in favor of the individuals' right to make decisions about their own medical treatment. How'd that story slip in?

Then a story about a Martin Luther King Day Jr. celebration. So now conservatives hate civil rights, too?

And a story that "glorifies" conservation easements. No real conservative favors conservation.

A Mike Dennison column "pushing" more government health care. Read it for yourself: I don't see Dennison pushing much of anything.

An editorial praising Jon Tester -- praising a Democrat counts as liberal bias, I suppose. Except that Tester was praised for (1.) Working to help veterans (2.) Opposing banking and auto bailouts and (3.) Demanding openness in government. A conservative nightmare!

Editorial page references to George Bush's "hubris" and in favor of allowing homosexual marriage. And just imagine: Liberals in Missoula writing letters to the editor. There is no justice.

For this, newspapers should die? Couldn't bloggers be sacrificed instead?

Thursday talk radio update

NPR had the Eric Holder hearing for attorney general on for most of the day, so that's what I listened to. It was an impressive showing, especially compared to the incredibly lame appearances that Alberto Gonzales made when he held the same job. It's a cliche, I know, but it was a showing that helped reinforce the idea that adults really are going to be in charge again.

NPR reporters, and most everybody else, it seemed, thought the most significant thing Holder said was that waterboarding is torture. Hannity, of course, missed that detail. All he heard was that Holder failed to stop the Marc Rich pardon and that he helped pardon terrorists. It isn't so much that Hannity defends torture as that, at least when I listen, he doesn't seem to even know it's an issue.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Intensive care

Bad news. Outpost columnist and longtime newsman Roger Clawson had a severe heart attack and apparent stroke last night. He is in the hospital (I stupidly forgot to ask which one) but apparently cannot receive visitors. The prognosis is uncertain.

In unrelated bad news, Bev Gray, a colleague of mine from the Academic Support Center at MSU Billings, died yesterday. We heard on Tuesday that she was out this semester because of ill health. We didn't realize how ill her health was. She was a superb writing tutor, meticulous, thoughtful and kind, and a pleasure to work with.

Rotten day all around.

UPDATE: Not much new to report. As of Friday afternoon, Roger was still in intensive care, somewhat responsive. Still don't know much about the long-term outlook.

UPDATE 2: Better news. Roger is out of intensive care at Billings Clinic. Gary Svee says: "He has a hard time talking. Apparently he has a sore throat from all the tubes they put there in ICU. But he can talk, and he can hear, and he can even tell jokes." No surgery is planned, but considerable rehab may be required.

Perhaps he will be back to annoying Eric sooner than we imagined.

UPDATE 3: Roger is supposed to get out of the hospital today (Saturday, Jan. 24).

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Billings brand

The Brand Billings Campaign unveiled its new slogan and logo today. My perennial question on such campaigns: Do they ever matter?

The newsroom staff at the first paper I worked for once wasted the better part of an afternoon trying to improve on the city's slogan, which appeared right under our flag on each issue. It was "Hub of the Trinity Valley." Not terribly memorable, but we couldn't improve on it.

Somehow, branding efforts for cities every since always have struck me as roughly equally futile. How many city slogans can you even name? And how much do they influence what you think about the city they are applied to? Not much, I would guess.

Monday, January 12, 2009


I guess I'm a dunce for not knowing this, but I just read in a Bretton Woods Inc. report that if you write a stack of checks that overdraw your account, banks routinely pay the biggest checks first to ensure that you will be assessed the highest fees possible for overdrawing your account. That's one reason why fees that banks and credit unions make on bad checks have increased 130 percent in the last five years.

Why bother to steal when you can beat up your customers legally?

Gazette layoffs

I am reliably informed that more layoffs have taken place in The Billings Gazette newsroom and that even more layoffs may take place today. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: The total is eight.

UPDATE 2: Fans say good-bye to one of the victims.

Coulter vs. Huckabee

I cruised past Mike Huckabee's show on Fox last night and found that he was interviewing Ann Coulter. This struck me as of interest. Huckabee hasn't given me much reason to think he would be a good president, but he seems to be a perfectly decent guy. Coulter is a wicked shrew. So I was interested to see whether he would hold her to account for her outrages.

The first segment went fine. Huckabee played footage of Coulter having a pie thrown at her, then followed with clips of her calling Huckabee "stupid" and misrepresenting his positions on a variety of issues. He was polite but unsparing in his critique of her, and she began to look very uncomfortable.

Second segment, not so good. Huckabee praised Coulter's research and arguments and generally defended her book. He made no apparent connection between the shabby way she treated him with the shabby way she treats everybody she disagrees with. Couldn't he see that that it is all of a piece?

Coulter's various offenses against truth have been richly documented, for example, here, here and here. When Huckabee lets her off so easy, he discredits himself.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

Bill O'Reilly spent his first hour on the theme of whether Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican Party. For various reasons, I missed most of this, so I don't know what he concluded.

Palin remains unfathomably popular in certain quarters. Beats me. She lost me as soon as she started lying about the Bridge to Nowhere. Sorry, but when it turns out that a job applicant has exaggerated the first item on the resume, I don't bother to check the second item.

Some argue that Palin simply aroused a liberal media. Maybe there is something to that, but I'm dubious. She never sounded all that conservative to me. She favored a windfall profits tax, exposed corruption in the Republican Party, hired a lobbyist to fish for federal handouts and made noises about abortion that sounded far more conciliatory than her official position. She certainly never offended any of my liberal sensibilities, but, then, my sensibilities aren't all that sensitive.

The media scrutiny she drew was a perfectly natural reaction to her relative obscurity, the brevity of her record and some obvious smoke clouds in her background. The fact that she didn't stand up too brilliantly to the scrutiny she received just invited more scrutiny.

At a more personal level, her rhetoric left me cold. People just didn't want to hear the argument any more that some Americans are more American than the rest of us. Barack Obama's strength was his ability to make voters feel like we are all in this together; Palin sent a message that only a few are worthy. Not surprisingly, only a few voted for that position.

So maybe she will resurface in 2012. But not for long, I suspect.

Hannity devoted a couple of hours to:

1. Attacking Obama for scaring us all to death about the economy.

2. Scaring us all to death about how Obama will end the free market economy in America.

What would Hannity have us do instead of Obama's plan? Interestingly, the nearest thing I heard to an answer was a suggestion that the federal government should simply stop collecting income tax for a year. Since Hannity always argues that cutting taxes increases revenues, he presumably believes that removing taxes altogether would bring in infinite revenues. It's a great plan. We could balance the budget, pay off the national debt, put everybody back to work and never have to pay a nickel in taxes. Sometimes, his genius goes unrecognized.

Hard as it may be to believe, Hannity actually made more sense on this topic than Glenn Beck did. Beck's point was that -- well, I'm not sure exactly what his point was. He seemed to be saying that Obama was wrong for wanting to spend so much money, and wrong for not spending money on large enough projects, such as building huge dams and atomic bombs. He seemed to confuse the New Deal with World War II for a while -- he may think that World War II was the New Deal -- and there was something in there about building a lifeboat large enough to hold 300 million people.

That would be a project big enough, presumably, to meet Beck's requirements for sufficient scale, and I don't know why Obama hasn't thought of it yet. It would be one way to fight global warming. Dibs on the bow seat.

I should mention that "To the Point" was on the economy, too, but in typical liberal style it actually used facts and figures to make its points. Here was a stunner (given here from memory but close enough, I think): Americans historically have spent 70 percent to 80 percent of their income each year and saved the rest. In recent years, they have spent 120 percent of their yearly income, fueling the consumer economy with debt. But since the big financial crash, Americans have been spending only 52 percent of their incomes. The problem would not appear to be (at least not yet) that we have too little money in our pockets, which makes Hannity's solution even more suspect. The problem is that we are afraid to spend it.

Another stunning figure was that banks are sitting on some $800 billion in a certain type of reserve whose name I have forgotten but which the analyst described as banks' equivalent of petty cash. Typically, he said, banks keep only a few billion around in those reserves. So banks are sitting on a ton of money that they can't, or won't lend -- and some of that is money from the $700 billion bailout.

If Obama didn't scare you, maybe the facts will.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Solon, farewell

In his column this week (available soon at; keep checking back!), Roger Clawson noodles a bit about the term "solon." He writes that his favorite use of the term was in a story that said, “Solons Loom!”

Presumably, Mr. Clawson never read the Palestine (Texas) Herald-Press during the 1980s, when a promising young editor wrote an entire editorial about the end of the Texas legislative session just so he could print this headline: "Solons, it's been good to know you."

This is, of course, the same Herald-Press that once printed this immortal headline: "County rain falls 12 inches short." And the same Herald-Press that had a wall lined with fractured headlines that included what is still my all-time favorite sports headline, above a story about a basketball game between two parochial schools: "Christ the King raps Crusaders."

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Not so dumb

Left in the West responds to my post about Susan Jacoby's book. I would have added my comments there, but apparently I am too dumb to figure out how to do that. Fortunately, I can still blog here like a real person.

I came close to touching on the point Matt makes in my initial post but decided it probably wasn't necessary. Perhaps it was. I would agree that knowing who all of the Supreme Court justices are isn't necessarily a high priority for most voters, but it does seem that anyone who is simply swimming in the sea of news that surrounds presidential elections would have ingested the name of a justice or two. Arguably, appointing justices is one of the president's most important powers, and it's a bit troublesome that so many people seem not to take that aspect of the job even into consideration. It's even more troubling that so many don't even know what the Supreme Court does. People with these levels of ignorance aren't simply making Supreme Court appointments a low priority in their evaluation of candidates; they have no clue that it even matters.

I would make a stronger case about finding Iraq on a map. Responsible citizens are obligated to consider the merits of wars in which this country engages. Not knowing where Iraq is -- or even why it matters where Iraq is -- is a fundamental disqualification. It it even possible to have an opinion about a war with no knowledge of the terrain over which it is fought?

Monday, January 05, 2009

No big deal

At the end of "No Country for Old Men," the new widow, just back from burying her mother, tells the man who has come to kill her that she can't pay the bill for the funeral.

"I wouldn't worry about it," he says. We soon see him walking out the front door, checking his boots for blood.

So you've heard all of the talk about economic collapse and depression? I wouldn't worry about it.

UPDATE: Amazing footage of what it would look like if Yellowstone blows up. I think that's my house in the lower left corner of the very first shot.

Best and worst

Intelligent Discontent gives picks for the best and worst of the Montana blogosphere in 2008.

I was pleased to see that the Billings Blog made the best list, and Andy Hammond was so proud of making the worst list that he already has an early entry in for 2009.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New year

From a news release, Jon Tester's new year's resolutions:

10. Pray for the success and safety of our troops.
9. Expand and improve Veterans Administration services in Montana and across America.
8. Reach out to Republicans and Democrats alike to work together for our nation.
7. Get tough on Wall Street with common sense regulations.
6. Continue to fight for open, accountable and ethical government.
5. Put Montana at the front of America’s quest for energy independence.
4. Check out the new White House basketball court and show Barack how we set a pick on Big Sandy hardwood.
3. Pass a jobs bill to put folks to work in Montana and across the country building infrastructure that grows our economy.
2. Attend the historic presidential inauguration and work for positive change for America.
1. Spend time with my grandkids in Montana.

Still dumbing down

Finished Susan Jacoby's "The Age of American Unreason" this morning. I was a tad disappointed, in part for reasons that appear to be built into this sort of book: the inevitable tone of a nanny, and the sense that what she considers to be "unreason" is really just believing something that she doesn't. I had much the same reaction to Allan Bloom's less readable "The Closing of the American Mind," although he came at the issue from a very different ideological framework. Still haven't read more than a few pages of Hofstadter's "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," which Jacoby's book attempts to update. I think Hofstadter's book may be sitting on a shelf in the attic, but my own anti-intellectualism has kept me from digging it up so far.

Whatever her book's failings, Jacoby is on solid ground when she raises concerns that Americans are becoming too plain ignorant to govern themselves wisely. After all, we are five years and counting into a war in Iraq, and most Americans still can't find the country on a map. What's worse, many Americans don't think it's important to be able to find Iraq on a map.

Similarly, most Americans can't name a single Supreme Court justice, and most don't know that the court's job is to settle constitutional questions. Pretty scary.

Most Americans don't even read a newspaper every day anymore. Jacoby acknowledges a certain irony in this lament: Newspapers were once far from an elevated way to learn about national affairs, but they are so far above their apparent replacements that their loss could be devastating. (She doesn't think much of the blogosphere, which she finds nasty and mutually self-reinforcing.)

All of which leads me in a roundabout way back to my posts of Dec. 26 and Dec. 29, in which I castigated a conservative talk-show host for spouting unscientific nonsense about global warming. I went a few rounds with an anonymous commenter about this before he (or she) finally concluded: "Actually, I'm open-minded about the issue. I'm willing to be convinced that we need to take strong steps to control greenhouse gases. But I'm skeptical of a lot of reporting on the issue."

Fair enough. And pretty much what I think. Which may have been (or perhaps should have been) my point. So much of what passes for political discourse in this country tends to drive apart people on matters about which they fundamentally agree. The irresponsible rhetoric of people like Bill Cunningham and Sean Hannity keeps us from seeing that we really can work together on important matters.

It's sort of like the "chosen one" rhetoric about Barack Obama that I took such vitriolic exception to before the last election. It wasn't just that the rhetoric was false -- nobody, outside of a wacko or two, really thinks Obama has supernatural powers. What made the rhetoric so offensive was that it functioned as a sort of anti-knowledge. That sort of talk actually made the people who listened to it dumber than they were before they started listening. We don't need to get any dumber.

Then there is this sort of rhetoric in today's Gazette. Unlike global warming or the morality of abortion, the question of whether it's more dangerous to drive with or without a seatbelt really isn't open to debate. It's a settled matter. The Dec. 25 Outpost quoted the Montana Seatbelt Coalition as saying that the failure of some Montanans to wear seatbelts costs every driver in the state $51 a year in higher taxes and health insurance costs. The figure may be debatable, but the premise isn't. The letter writer wants me to pay higher taxes and insurance rates out of consideration for his dumb friend's irrational fear about wearing seatbelts.

He writes, "I think my friend and I have enough information to make our own decisions." But his friend, we can be sure, couldn't cite a single scrap of information, outside of perhaps a few anecdotes, to bolster his case. The evidence just doesn't exist.

And Jacoby's argument resounds: Some of us don't know enough to make decisions about how to govern ourselves.

UPDATE: Think you know where Iraq is? Prove it.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Lee faces delisting

More bad news for Lee Enterprises.


I like college football but don't follow it much, so I've been fairly agnostic about the longstanding debate over college football playoffs. I did think it was unfair of Obama to disclose that he favors a playoff only after he was elected; this is information I wanted before I cast my vote.

Because fundamentally I'm against playoffs. The season is too long anyway, and even football players should have to worry about their studies sometime. Besides, college football is too disparate -- lots of teams from lots of schools of vastly different athletic and academic aspirations -- for a playoff to mean much. That's the beauty of college football, and trying to make it more like pro football, where all the teams look the same except for team colors and where everything -- the draft, the schedule, the conferences -- is designed to produce a champion simply demeans the college sport.

Still, no big deal. But I do like to watch football on New Year's Day, and it was dispiriting to find only four games on the holiday schedule. Four games? That's not enough to get to the afternoon snack. And none of the games I cared about were played. Texas Tech (in matters football, I'm still a Texan) plays in the Cotton Bowl today, Texas doesn't play until Monday, and the ostensible championship game is still a week away -- all on working days.

So I settled down for just one game, Clemson vs. Nebraska (luckily, probably the best game of the day), then we watched "Them," a 1954 movie about giant radioactive ants. The wise scientist says at the end, Who knows what mankind may have unleashed when it unlocked the secrets of the Atomic Age?

Moviegoers first heard that line in the last year that Rice University won the Cotton Bowl, back when teams in the old Southwest Conference battled it out for one final game on Jan. 1. The season ended then, but the debate over who had the best team in the country went on until spring training. Those were better days.