Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pants beating

If, as seems likely (see post below), Americans are willing to tolerate just about any conceivable level of animal cruelty as long as it makes pork chops cheaper, let's consider another species: human beings.

I've had Charles Fishman's "The Wal-Mart Effect" around for a couple of years, and for some reason I never read quite all of it. Not sure why. It's an extremely well written and enlightening book, and it is by no means a screed against Wal-Mart. Even Wal-Mart apparently eventually realized that he was trying to be fair, since it finally gave in and allowed him to speak to some employees.

The random chapter I turned to last week had a section about a lawsuit filed by 15 workers in five countries who allege that Wal-Mart is guilty of sweatshop mismanagement. The suit proposes the novel legal theory that although Wal-Mart isn't based in those countries and doesn't own the factories involved, it in effect has control of the factories and is responsible for workplace abuses there.

Since Fishman's book was published, a U.S. court has dismissed the suit, finding, unsurprisingly, that it had no jurisdiction. But an appeal is planned and, according to Fishman, Wal-Mart has not disputed the underlying allegations.

One of those allegations is from a factory worker in Bangladesh, who was working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, for 13 cents an hour sewing back pockets onto pants that eventually were sold in Wal-Mart stores. If she kept at the job for 50 years, Fishman calculated, she would still earn less in her career than Wal-Mart made in profits in every minute of 2004.

But here's the point: The 16-year-old worker claimed that workers were required to sew 120 pairs of pants an hour. If they made mistakes or fell behind, supervisors would beat them across the face with the pants they were working on.

If her account is true, Fishman says, "then it is possible that Wal-Mart's customers were buying pants off the display racks that might literally have been used to beat the people who made them. Who is wearing those pants now?"

Good question. Second question: Would Americans knowingly buy pants that were used to beat the workers who made them? My guess: Yes.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cruel world

Wandering through the Intertubes the other day, I ran across someone who said, approximately, that the thing that may strike future generations as most barbaric about early 21st century America is our wanton cruelty to farm animals.

I forgot who said that, but it came back to my mind when I was watching a documentary on HBO the other night about a corporate pig farm. An undercover activist took a job there so that he could secretly try to confirm a rumor he had heard: that the farm disposed of unmarketable hogs by hanging them with a chain.

He got the goods, all right: shots of pigs unable even to walk being dragged out of barns by their legs and strung up, kicking for four or five minutes before expiring.

That was the sensational shot, but the whole atmosphere had a sense of casual cruelty to it that made it hard to watch. Pigs were confined in pens so narrow they could not move about or even turn around. They could lie down only in their own filth.

Piglets were sorted and tossed into barrels like lumber, piled by the dozen on top of each other while still alive and squealing.

Why are we so mean?

I don't think I'm a polyanna about this sort of thing. I grew up in the country. We kept our own chickens and occasionally chopped off the head of one or two to make Sunday dinner. Farming isn't a PETA party.

But there was a certain rough justice in it. You couldn't call it a social contract because the animals didn't get to vote. But they did get certain compensations. If farm life is tough on animals, life in the wild is often even tougher. Farmers offered their livestock a steady, nourishing diet, relative safety from predators and reasonable accommodations. In return, the occasional animal became dinner. Farmers often felt protective, even affectionate, toward the animals they tended and sometimes slaughtered.

None of that was on display on this farm. The whole idea seemed to be to treat pigs as much like inanimate objects as possible, without the slightest hint of what used to be called humanity. It does seem likely that our descendants will look back on us someday and wonder what evil lurked in our hearts.

How's that bacon smelling?

Out of my mind

Time for a little Jimmie Rodgers, eh, Ed?

I've ranged, I've roamed and I've traveled.
I've been a no-good, they say.
Many years of my life I have wasted,
But I stopped leading that life today.

I had a dear old mother,
A dad and a sister, too.
But I was the youngest, and spoiled, some say,
By Mother, as mothers will do.

I left when a kid for the city;
I craved the Great White Way.
But it is a place without pity;
I went wrong the very first day.

I met there a lady,
She seemed so jolly and gay.
She took me up to her apartment
Where a dozen or more men stay.

For it was her gang, and she was their boss,
They talked of the fun they had.
We all played poker and soon I had lost
Every nickel that I had.

They said, "Come on, kid, and cheer up,
We'll let you join our gang."
They took me out on a job that night;
That's when my troubles began.

For one of the gang shot the watchman;
They laid the blame on me.
I spent 20 years in the prison,
I'm a man of forty-three.

It was then I thought of my mother,
At home, feeble and gray.
I want to see you, Mother,
As I did when I went away.

I sat down and wrote her a letter,
And this is how it ran:
I said, "Mother, I've been gone 20 long years,
Out West across the Rio Grande.

"No mail ever reaches me here,
There's nothing but sagebrush and sand.
Mother, I love you and want to come home,
And start life all over again."

(Add "yo-do-lay-lee" as needed).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Idle thoughts

Just wondering: If Hannity, Limbaugh and their ilk had spent, say, 10 percent as much energy over the previous eight years attacking the Bush administration -- going after torture, deficits, undeclared wars, civil liberties violations -- as they already have spent going after Obama, would the country be better off?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hard times at the Missoulian

The Missoulian whines about losing county legal notices to the Missoula Independent (h/t Matt Singer. As you may recall, the Outpost lost out on Yellowstone County legals last year, despite submitting the low bid, based on similar concerns raised by Yellowstone County commissioners.

Our argument remains:

1. People who read legals will go where the legals are.

2. No. 1 is especially true when they can go where the legals are for free.

3. Lots of people read the Outpost who will never shell out for a Gazette subscription. And those numbers are increasing steadily.

4. As more and more legals readers migrate to the web, whatever edge the daily might have continues to diminish.

5. Competition holds costs down.

So why not save taxpayers a few bucks?

UPDATE: In comments to this post, I said that I didn't know the status of a bill this session that would allow free newspapers to print legal notices for cities and towns as well as for counties. According to the Montana Newspaper Association, that bill (SB296) has been sent to the governor for his signature.

Thursday talk radio update II

After listening to the usual daylong attacks on Obama, I finally arrived home after a 13-hour delivery day and watched Barack Obama hold a town meeting on C-SPAN.

I felt one of those weird disconnects. Could this guy on TV, who sounded so reasonable and intelligent, actually be the same guy I had just heard all day was an incompetent, dishonest socialist? Hard to reconcile the two.

To give just one example: Hannity repeatedly attacks Obama's stimulus package, arguing among many other things that it is unsustainable. To which my internal Hannity Rebuttal Machine inevitably replies, "Of course it's not sustainable. The whole point of a stimulus to kick start the economy, not to provide a sustainable model for economic growth."

In fact, very nearly the first thing we heard at the town hall meeting was a questioner raising concerns about the prospects for long-term deficits. To which Obama replied, surprise, surprise, that current deficits aren't sustainable. Instead, they must be endured for a year or two until the economy gets back on its feet.

Of course, I have long argued that the more extreme right-wing voices on the radio probably help Obama more than hurt him. Democrats apparently have concluded that as well, since they seem delighted to label Limbaugh as the No. 1 voice of the Republican Party.

I got more of the same feeling Thursday evening when Paul Krugman was interviewed on Yellowstone Public Radio. Krugman's major criticism of the stimulus, of course, was that it wasn't big enough. I have no idea whether he is right about that, but he certainly knows how to make a heck of a case. I was especially impressed by his point that having too much debt was less risky than having too little stimulus.

It's great to have a Nobel Prize-winning economist who is able to express his ideas so clearly and succinctly, and Krugman makes Hannity look like the total hack he is.

Out of my head

My first-year German students are learning the dative case, which prompted me to teach them this dative-rich song:

Du, du liegst mir im Herzen,
Du, du liegst mir im Sinn.
Du, du machst mir viel Schmerzen,
Weisst nicht wie gut ich dir bin.
Ja, ja, ja, ja, weisst nich wie gut ich dir bin.

Wenn, wenn, wenn in der Ferne,
Mir, mir dein Bild erscheint.
Dann, dann, wuenschte ich so gerne,
Dass uns die Liebe vereint.
Ja, ja, ja, ja, dass uns die Liebe vereint.


You, you are in my heart,
You, you are on my mind.
You, you cause me much pain,
You don't know how good I am to you.

When, when, when in the distance,
To me, to me your image appears.
Then, then, I wish so gladly,
That we were united by love.

To hear a prettier voice, and see a prettier person, plus get a couple of verses I haven't memorized, go here.

Thursday talk radio update I

For months, Sean Hannity has been defending America's healthcare system by pointing out that medical providers are obligated by law to provide emergency help. Every time he says this, my internal Hannity Rebuttal Machine responds, "That's not an example of free-market success. That's an example of free-market failure." When laws are passed requiring McDonald's to give a free Big Mac to every broke customer who walks in the door, then we will know that the free market for food has broken down, too.

Since Hannity routinely interrupts just about every sentence spoken by those who disagree with him, I never heard a caller dispute this bromide. Until Thursday. Hannity, perhaps unwittingly, let an unusually articulate and persistent caller point out that laws requiring free emergency medical care are an example of socialism, not capitalism. Even more remarkable, Hannity agreed with the caller. This prompted him to go ahead and actually describe his own medical plan, which would require Americans to pay into mandatory health savings accounts.

My Hannity Rebuttal Machine wants to know why Obama's plan, which as I understand it would require employers who don't offer medical insurance to pay into a pool to cover the uninsured, is more socialistic than Hannity's. In one case, the government tells employers what they have to do. In the other, it tells private citizens what they have to do. Socialism, anyone?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Laid off, written up

The Helena Independent Record laid off Bill Skidmore not long ago. Now it has written a profile of him. Just so you'll know what you're missing, I guess (h/t Queen City News).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Crisp gets it backwards

Over at Electric City Weblog, Rob Natelson asked if I would have published the Kaimin sex column in the Outpost. I replied:
I probably wouldn’t publish that column because I don’t think that Billings has a typical audience for an alternative weekly. Our readers, I think, are generally older and more conservative than the typical alternative audience (and far more so than the Kaimin audience), so I suspect that it wouldn’t work well for us.
But if you want a taste of what’s typical at alt-weeklies, try Dan Savage at
Pandering to lurid curiosity? I thought that’s how newspapers made a living.

This, Mr. Natelson replies, gets it exactly backwards. He replies, "The standards of quality for discourse in university newspapers ought to be higher, not lower, than in the mainstream press, and certainly higher than in alternative papers."

I'm not sure where I said that student newspapers should aspire to lower standards than commercial ones, but let it be. This is an argument I am glad to have backwards. I would like to be as far away from Mr. Natelson's position as it is possible to get.

What I actually said (see below) was that student newspapers, no matter how high their standards, are likely to fall short of them. Professional journalists do that, too, and, by definition, students are still learning. My point was not that students shouldn't have standards but that they need to be given plenty of room to feel their way toward those standards, and that nobody should get too upset when they mess up.

Mr. Natelson, however, has been unable to make a case that the Kaimin, in fact, falls short of acceptable journalistic standards. He calls the newspaper's sex column pornography, but I can't see that it is in any meaningful way, and he hasn't bothered to demonstrate that it is. At best, he points to SPJ's Code of Ethics, but the code, while well intentioned, is laughably imprecise.

Rather than deal with that complexity, Mr. Natelson falls back on the argument that it's coercive to make taxpayers support speech of which they disapprove. As I indicate below, that's life. I would anticipate that taxpayer-supported universities every single day would be filled with ideas, expressions and notions with which I disagree.

Heck, sometimes in my own university classes I say things that even I don't agree with, just because I hope to get students thinking about complicated matters. I don't know to what extent taxpayer-supported Mr. Natelson lets his political views leak out into his classes, but I expect that they do, and I hope that they do. Students ought to be exposed to those ideas.

Because some Kaimin students are paid, he now argues, and because they fall short of what he believes their professional standards should be, the Kaimin is now somehow different from every other form of taxpayer-supported opinion, expression and utterance that shows up on any healthy campus. And taxpayers should stick their noses into an arena best handled by professionals and by readers and by students who are aspiring to become professionals.

Or maybe I have that backward. If so, I'll keep it that way.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

New magazine

Print may be dying, but it ain't dead.

At the Missoula Independent, Matt Gibson is launching Headwall, an outdoor recreation magazine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Electric City makes a porno

I have largely stayed out of the exhaustive discussion at Electric City Weblog over the Kaimin's sex column (numerous links; just check my blogroll, where my longstanding broken link to that site has now been fixed). I jumped in only to ask Rob Natelson whether the sex column was truly pornographic. He assured me that it was; I was dubious but didn't want to make the argument without having read the columns, and I didn't want to read the columns.

Now I have read a few, and I don't see any pornography there. What I read doesn't go much further than the sex column that appears in the refurbished MSU Billings Retort, and that doesn't go very far. But that's not my point. I'm more interested in the larger issue, which is the professor's complaint that taxpayers are being forced to pay for content they may not like.

I'm not insensitive to the argument, but that's the breaks. We all have to pay for government we don't want, including the occasional war. Democracies tend to be self-correcting on those sorts of issues, but they aren't perfect.

I even agree that the Hazelwood case, however little I may like it, was correctly decided. Somebody has to take final responsibility for what appears in print; as long as schools have to pay the libel judgments, they are entitled to some control. So, sure, taxpayers have a lot of power to dictate what student papers can print. It is interesting to hear the argument coming from a professor who might easily have the most to lose if Montana taxpayers were to begin seriously clamping down on people who draw state paychecks while expressing unpopular views.

But there is a big difference between the legal obligations of taxpayer-funded entities and what works best. I'd rather have student newspapers left in the hands of students, with some faculty guidance, than placed under the thumb of hyper-sensitive taxpayers. Students need a place where they can screw up pretty freely without ruining their careers; giving student publications the longest possible leash helps ensure that will happen. So what if they make mistakes? Small price to pay. They get a lesson in what works for readers, and they acquire a couple of layers of shellac on their hides.

The same argument applies to such controversies as federal funding of, for instance, an exhibition of Mapplethorpe photographs back in 1989. Some conservatives saw that as final proof that the federal government should not be funding art. The way I see it, such errors are the natural consequence of a robust and uninhibited arts-funding process. If we don't have a process broad enough to tolerate a few stupid mistakes, then we have no process at all.

UPDATE: Worth mentioning, perhaps, that one of my German students brought to class a book about sex that is used for required sex education classes in Germany for about third or fourth grade. It is far more graphic, in language, content and illustration, than anything I read in the Kaimin's sex column for young adults.

We are a bunch of Puritans, aren't we?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Out of my head

I wonder if these are still in my head: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah and Malachi.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, I Peter, II Peter, I John, II John, III John, Jude, Revelations.

I'm afraid to check to see if I'm right.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

Sean Hannity has been criticizing Barack Obama for saying that he doesn't pay much attention to day-to-day fluctuations of the stock market. This is, of course, a perfectly reasonable thing for Obama to say, and it is what even Hannity would want the president to say if the president were a Republican. Nobody wants a president who changes his economic policies every day based on how many points the stock market goes up or down. But Obama is a Democrat, so Hannity has been mocking this comment daily.

Hannity also has been saying that Obama is to blame for recent market declines and has even called this "the Obama economy." He also has repeatedly asserted that he will treat Obama fairly, giving credit where credit is due and criticizing where criticism is due.

The stock market rose 240 points on Thursday. So, if:

1. The president is responsible for the stock market, and
2. Daily fluctuations matter, and
3. Fair is fair,

then Hannity must have been praising Obama to the heavens on Thursday, right?

Wrong. Funny thing, I listened for two hours, and he never mentioned the stock market. Probably just an oversight.

Meanwhile, Ed sent me this link, in which Hannity endorses torture. Many of the comments focused on the last four words: "And I'm a Christian." What could possibly have been the point? commenters wanted to know.

I took the point to be that Hannity is aspiring to membership in Christians for Torture, which meets Tuesdays in the Satanic Hall. But I liked best the response that said: "I'm trying to figure out the the point of Hannity's last ten million words."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Out of my head

I don't know why this is in my head, but it has been there for a long time, at least since high school:

I give you now Professor Twist,
The conscientious scientist.
Trustees exclaimed, "He never bungles,"
And sent him off to distant jungles.
Camped on a tropic riverside,
One day he missed his loving bride.
She had, the guide informed him later,
Been eaten by an alligator.
Professor Twist could not but smile.
"You mean," he said, "a crocodile."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Wandering through the Intertubes yesterday, I ran across yet another defense of conservative talk radio as the refuge of reason and logic (sorry, I forget where, and no time to look it up, but it was from somebody who ought to know).

I thought: Have I gone mad? Am I so blinded by my own liberal media bias that I can't recognize logic when I hear it? So driving to work this morning after class I tuned in Rush Limbaugh and heard him say, all in one sentence, that liberals are mean spirited and racists and that some of them are Stalinists.

Mean spirited? I guess that's a matter of opinion (certainly not a matter of logic). But as for the other two charges, I would argue that, by definition, neither can possibly be true. A racist is at best a failed liberal (or a failed conservative, since overt racists no longer a respected part of the national political dialogue). And a Stalinist just can't be a liberal. It's like saying that some apples are oranges.

This is useful debate? This is Socratic dialogue? This is logic?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Honorably discharged

Let's see. If I got out of the Army 36 years ago yesterday, then I must have gone into the Army 39 years ago today. Guess I'll have another gin and tonic.

The most vivid thing I remember about the induction center was walking through the line in our underwear and hearing a doctor giving physical examinations say, "Here we are, keeping the world safe from democracy."

A few hours later, I was on a plane to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

In honor of the occasion, one more German poem. I've seen this attributed to Goethe. Don't know if that's true. Don't care.

Der schlimmste Feind des Menschen wohl,
Das ist der boese Alkohol.
Doch in der Bibel steht's gescrieben,
Du sollst auch deine Feinde lieben.


The worst enemy of man is certainly evil alcohol.
But it is written in the Bible,
You should love your enemies.

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Montana to Congress: You can have my gun when you pry it out of my cold, rebel hands.

Out of my head, special edition

Just so you know, I got out of the Army 36 years ago today. Traditionally, I get drunk on this anniversary, but I probably will settle for a gin and tonic sometime tonight. And I will pull my favorite beer-drinking song out of my head:

Da wo the blaue Isar fliesst,
Wo man mit "Gruess Gott" dich gruesst,
Liegt meine schoene Muenchner Stadt,
die ihres gleichen nicht hat.

In Muenchen steht ein Hofbraeuhaus,
Eins, zwei, g'suffa!
Da laeuft schon manches faesschen aus,
Eins, zwei, g'suffa!
Da hat schon mancher braver Mann,
Eins, zwei g'suffa!
Gezeigt was er so vertragen kann,
Schon frueh am Morgen fing er an,
Und spaet am Abend ging er hinaus,
So schoen ist's im Hofbraeuhaus.

Wasser ist billig, rein und gut,
Doch verduennt es unser Blut.
Schoener sind tropfen goldenen Weins
Aber am schoensten ist eins:

(Repeat chorus)

Crude translation:

There where the blue Isar River flows,
Where one is greeted with "Gruess Gott,"1
Lies my lovely city of Munich,
Which is beyond compare.

In Munich stands a Hofbrauhaus,
One, two, g'suffa.2
There has been emptied many a keg,
One, two, g'suffa.
There has the occasional brave man
Shown how much he could hold.
Early in the morning, he began,
And late in the evening, he went home,
So lovely is it in the Hofbrauhaus.

Water is cheap, pure and good,
But it thins our blood.
Lovelier are drops of golden wine,
but loveliest of all is one thing: (chorus)

1. Literally, "Greet God," "Gruess Gott" is the traditional Bavarian greeting.

2. "G'suffa" means nothing in particular that I know of, but if you are singing along after drinking a liter or two of good German beer, rocking in time to the music, you will get the idea.

Ask the voters?

Intelligent Discontent takes a shot at Bob Story's opinion piece about the CHIP program.

Story's position seems to be that if voters had known then what they do now about how bad the economy would be, they would never have supported expansion of that health insurance program. He's guessing about that, and he may be guessing wrong. Arguably, shoring up health insurance is more important during hard times than when surpluses are bulging.

But there's no way to really know, even if he had a solid poll backing his position. Polls aren't elections, and elections mean something. As I have often said, I don't much like voter initiatives. Passing legislation may be like making sausage, but I'd rather have sausage than the raw meat of a public vote. Good bills have to be carefully drafted, argued out, fiddled with, debated and amended. Initiatives cut out that process.

Story is now telling us that a voter-passed initiative is just an advisory opinion. My take: If we aren't willing to let voters have the final say, then get rid of initiatives altogether.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


The title indicates the way that Bruce Pearson pronounced "doomed" in "Bang the Drum Slowly." And it's the way this news makes me feel: Even Reader's Digest may be going into bankruptcy. How bad can it get?

Out of my head

When I was a kid, my father preached on Sundays in La Grange (yes, that La Grange: home of the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas). La Grange was about 75 miles north of our home in Victoria, so we drove up every Sunday morning. The church was a converted house and still had a kitchen and a couple of rooms. We stayed there during the day, and left after the evening service.

For the closing song, we usually sang just the first verse, sometimes the first and last. By that time, people had had enough church and were ready to head for the house. Usually, it was one of these two songs:

Blessed be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love.
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

From sorrow, toil and woe,
And sin we shall be free.
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.


God be with you till we meet again,
By his counsel's guide uphold you,
With his sheep securely fold you.
God be with you till we meet again.

Till we meet,
Till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus' feet.
Till we meet,
Till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

Afterward, we kids put our pajamas on under our regular clothes for the the first leg of the drive home. That was to a Texaco station in Schulenburg, where my father bought gas and the station's proprietor, Mr. Helmcamp, gave nickels to us kids for candy. My father told him once, "You can't make any money off us that way." He said, "I don't want to make any money off you."

We peeled to our pajamas as the car rolled through the underpass and slept the long drive home.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Montana's share

Gov. Brian Schweitzer has posted details of plans for spending Montana's $800 million share of the federal government's stimulus package. The bill to make it happen is being carried by Rep. Jon Sesso, D-Butte.

Bottom line, according to the gov: 11,000 new jobs in Montana and tax savings for 97 percent of Montanans. Happy days.

Out of my head

I went to church three times a week for the first 19 years of my life, so a verse or two of a lot of gospel songs are stuck in my head. Here's one you know:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy crimson side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Heal me by Thy grace and power.

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill the law's demands.
Could my tears forever flow,
Could my zeal no respite know,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save and Thou alone.

Some dare call it treason

While Hannity is only hinting that Obama is a traitor, others on the right are already there.

Sometimes on the talk show update I forget to mention that the most important update is what isn't said. This week, for instance, I heard many callers and commentators complain that Obama is destroying freedom. Not one word did I hear about George Bush's wholesale repudiation of the Constitution.

Not in Butte, America

The Butte Weekly (not available online) is reporting that USA Today has pulled out of Butte, Helena and Dillon, citing high distribution costs out of Salt Lake City. The story said USA Today in Billings is distributed out of Denver, so it wasn't clear whether delivery here would be suspended, too. Anybody heard anything?

Thursday talk radio update

KBLG's replacement for Bill O'Reilly turns out to be Fred Thompson, whose entry into the presidential race did so much to liven up the 2008 campaign. Not just Thompson, as it turns out, but also his wife and his brother.

It's sort of like Hannity RFD: all the usual right-wing blather without the noise and passion. Thompson always comes across as a guy who doesn't think very much or work very hard, and that's essentially the style of his show. He and his wife were trying to make hay out of some story that the mainstream media picked up on based on some poll that supposedly was methodologically suspect, but they made such a hash of it that not only could I not decipher the methodological errors, I couldn't even figure out what the poll supposedly showed, or why its appearance on MSM was evidence of liberal bias. True, I often miss stuff while delivering papers, but I'm pretty sure that this bit was simply incoherent.

The one thing Thompson has going for him is that at least he sounds like he really does believe the stuff he says. Maybe that's the actor in him. Hannity makes a critical error: He sounds like he's too smart to really believe some of the dumb stuff he says. Thompson sounds like he is being as smart as he knows how to be. But his folksy charm, such as it is, is somewhat offset by his wife, who comes across as a bit of a harpy.

Thompson's show was so soporific that I switched over a time or two to Limbaugh, who clearly is enjoying his recent notoriety. At the lead-in to one break, his announcer said, "You're listening to the leader of the conservative movement in America." Eat your heart out, Newt Gingrich.

Warren Olney, who always gums up the works on Thursday by injecting a lot of facts and balance into his show, had an important discussion about how whether taxpayers are entitled to know exactly which companies are benefiting (other than AIG) from all of the AIG bailout money. As a reporter, my sympathies lie with disclosure, but I can see the argument about why it might screw things up in this case. My friend Rob Natelson would agree: It's another example of why it's a bad idea to intertwine public and private enterprise.

Meanwhile, Hannity himself was veering closer and closer to accusing Obama of outright treason. He hinted at a belief that Obama's policies are not merely wrong but are deliberately wrong, designed to weaken opposition to a purely socialist agenda that will overthrow constitutional government in the United States.

One thing you have to admire about Hannity is his intellectual flexibility. He is perfectly happy to argue one minute that Obama is hurting the country by talking down the economy to further his socialist political agenda, then in the next minute to talk down the economy himself in order to further his conservative political agenda. And he is happy to argue one minute that Obama is an inexperienced and hopeless naif, battered by economic realities he can't understand, then argue in the next minute that Obama is outsmarting us all, cleverly destroying America while fooling most Americans into thinking he is on the right track.

If we can't get the fairness doctrine back, can't we at least get an FCC rule requiring that talk-show hosts wait at least one segment before totally revamping their points of attack? It's confusing for us old folks.

Hannity also had on Jim Cramer of CNBC, who blamed recent stock market declines on Obama's plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Experience has taught me not to take people seriously who yell for a living, so I was skeptical. It's hard for me to understand why the stock market would crater today because tax rates might increase a couple of percentage points two years from now, which may be why I am not a professional stock adviser.

But NPR did talk to a couple of professional stock advisers on "All Things Considered." One said that the market is so weak now that every time there is a small rally, as there was on Wednesday, traders who have been sitting on tanking stocks take the opportunity to sell, driving the market back down. That made some sense to me. The other said that people now aren't focused on the long term at all; instead, they are reacting to day-to-day events, ignoring fundamentals of both individual businesses and the economy as a whole. I don't know if that makes sense or not, but it's definitely a counterpoint to Cramer and to CNBC, which Jon Stewart pretty much destroys right here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Out of my head

I don't remember what the first song was I learned by heart. But I'm pretty sure that if they unplug all of my memory circuits, as they did to Hal in "2001: A Space Odyssey," the last coherent words out of my mouth would be the lyrics to one of the following three songs (punctuation shamelessly improvised):

Rock-a-bye baby,
In the tree top.
When the wind blows,
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
And down will come baby,
cradle and all.


Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in His sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.


Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak, but he is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Some more pretty grim news about the recession and about newspapers.

Out of my head

A semester or two ago, I was telling my German students that in order to be proficient they would have to memorize all of the definite and indefinite article forms, plus corresponding adjective endings, for all four grammatical cases and all three genders, plus the plural. The obvious pain in their faces led me to say something like, "It's not that bad. You've memorized a lot harder things than that already."

Which started me wondering: How much memorized stuff is floating around in my head? I don't mean odd little facts (date of the Battle of Austerlitz: Dec. 2, 1805; number of times Babe Ruth struck out, 1,330) or bits of doggerel ("you are my candy, girl, and you've got me wanting you"). I mean songs, poems, tables of data -- more or less permanent additions to the body of things I can recite from memory.

It's not something I'm particularly talented at or have worked very hard at. But it strikes me that there is quite a bit of stuff in there, and I thought it might be interesting, at least to me, to write some of it down. So that's what I will do here, from time to time, under this heading.

No doubt I will get some stuff wrong. Your corrections are not welcome. The goal is not to reflect the world as it is but as it exists inside my head.

It will be boring stuff, mostly, I suppose. Skeptics are welcome to skip anything they see under this heading.

For openers, let's try those German endings:

Definite articles:

Masculine Neuter Feminine Plural
Nominative der kleine Wagen das kleine Bier die kleine Jacke die kleinen Jacken
Accusative den kleinen Wagen das kleine Bier die kleine Jacke die kleinen Jacken
Dative dem kleinen Wagen dem kleinen Bier der kleinen Jacke den kleinen Jacken
Genitive des kleinen Wagens des kleinen Biers der kleinen Jacke der kleinen Jacken

Indefinite articles:
Nominative Neuter Feminine Plural
Nom. ein kleiner Wagen ein kleines Bier eine kleine Jacke keine kleinen Jacken
Acc. einen kleinen Wagen ein kleines Bier eine kleine Jacke keine kleinen Jacken
Dat. einem kleinen Wagen einem kleinen Bier einer kleinen Jacke keinen kleinen Jacken
Gen. eines kleinen Wagens eines kleinen Biers einer kleinen Jacke keiner kleinen Jacken

Adjectives unpreceded by an article

Nom. kleiner Wagen kleines Bier kleine Jacke kleine Jacken
Acc. kleinen Wagen kleines Bier kleine Jacke kleine Jacken
Dat. kleinem Wagen kleinem Bier kleiner Jacke kleinen Jacken

See, that wasn't so bad. But there will be a test.

UPDATE: It made a nice table in the draft version. Here, not so good. Sorry.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A young man's fancy

Dang, I get baseball fever on a day like this. Somebody throw me a glove.

UPDATE: MSU Billings plays its first home game on March 31. Sounds a million years away.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Limbaugh as platonic ideal

In praise of Rush Limbaugh, Andrew Breitbart writes: "Only talk radio with its emphasis on Socratic debate over raw emotionalism and with Mr. Limbaugh in the driver's seat has escaped the left's clutches of pure media dominance."

I think Socrates just ordered a double shot of hemlock.

Sunday talk radio update

I was listening to Bill Cunningham last night while doing the monthly billing. Part of his show was a tribute to Paul Harvey, which wasn't handled particularly well but was at least worthy. I listened to Paul Harvey growing up a kid and figured he must have been a million years old then. I haven't heard him much in recent years but always sort of figured he would be around long after I'm gone. He had a voice that could have made reading the commodity market reports sound interesting. Nobody ever had a better delivery.

Then Cunningham went on to proclaim the "I hope Obama fails" agenda, and wound up accusing liberals of labeling conservatives as Nazis. It wasn't clear to me exactly whom he was blaming for this. At one point, he blamed the mainstream media, but that was almost certainly untrue. Whatever its failings, the MSM rarely calls people Nazis who aren't actually, you know, Nazis.

The funny thing is, during the election campaign, Cunningham regularly referred to "Barack Hussein Obama" as a Bolshevik. He did it every week, as if he meant it to be a serious label. I wondered if he had any clue what a Bolshevik actually was.

I suppose it's marginally worse to be labeled a Nazi than a Bolshevik. But guys who toss around the latter term don't have much grounds to complain about the former.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Beer here

Ronnie Crocker, one of my beer-drinking friends from Texas, has started a beer blog for the Houston Chronicle. He and I worked together at the Bryan-College Station Eagle many eons ago.

There are many Ronnie Crocker stories, mostly drawn from the late mad rush for a couple of pitchers of beer at the Chicken Oil, which closed a half-hour after the paper's final deadline. A high degree of both editing and drinking efficiency was mandatory.

But one of my favorite stories was when he was a young, and short, reporter for the Eagle and I was a prematurely grizzled assistant city editor. He had a late-breaking story that I had to trim to make fit, and he complained mightily.

I tried to soothe him. "You'll never even notice the difference," I said.

"Hey," he said, "when you're my height, every inch counts."