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.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Out of my head

So when I started to buy records, it was pretty much Simon and Garfunkel for a while (even at $2.60 a pop at Gibson's Discount, I couldn't afford to buy many records). There must be another S&G song stuck somewhere in my head. Lessee:

I'm sitting in a railway station,
Got a ticket for my destination.
On a tour of one-night stands,
My suitcase and guitar in hand,
And every stop is neatly planned
For a poet and a one-man band.

Homeward bound, I wish I was homeward bound.
Home, where my thoughts' escaping,
Home, where my music's playing,
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me.

Every day's an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines.
And each town looks the same to me,
The movies and the factories,
And every stranger's face I see
Reminds me that I long to be ... (Chorus)

Tonight I'll play my songs again,
And I'll play the game, and pretend.
But all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity.
Like emptiness and harmony,
I need someone to comfort me. (Chorus)

Saturday, April 04, 2009


This item from Intelligent Discontent reminded me of my boss when I was editor of the Palestine Herald-Press in Texas. When I presented him with an idea for an on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand editorial, he liked to quote an old editor's saw: "Well, let's not go pissing down both legs."

Thursday talk radio update

Glenn Beck admitted he has been wrong: Obama isn't out to make us all socialists, after all. Well, not exactly wrong, just shortsighted. Obama is making us all socialists, but that's just a way station: The real goal is fascism.

Evidence for this amazing claim? Hard to say exactly because Beck, like Mark Twain, has enormous respect for the truth and therefore uses it sparingly. I think the hardest piece of evidence he offered was the disturbing fact that Mussolini's symbol for fascism appeared on the Mercury dime, which appeared in 1916, which means it can be blamed on Woodrow Wilson, which means it can be blamed on progressives, which means it can be blamed on Barack Obama. The fact that Mussolini was still a corporal in the Italian army, not a fascist leader, when the dime appeared didn't seem to figure into Beck's calculations. Those progressives hate America so much, they can betray it years in advance.

The other evidence for fascism appeared to be that Obama fired the CEO of General Motors. I don't quite get that. I can see why people might oppose entanglement with GM for economic reasons, or even for ideological reasons. But I don't see how it's a step toward fascist dictatorship. After all, before Obama stepped in, GM basically had two choices: It could shut its doors, or it could declare bankruptcy. After Obama stepped in, GM still had those two choices plus one more: It could take more government money under conditions opposed by the government.

Not a pretty choice, but even GM seemed to think Obama's offer looked better than its other options. I know that if Obama called me up and offered to pump a billion bucks into The Outpost on condition that I resign, I would have exactly one question: Which door do you want me to leave by?

Gay marriage

The Montana Family Foundation, headed by Jeff Laszloffy of Laurel, takes exception to the Iowa Supreme Court ruling permitting gay marriage. In a news release, Laszloffy wrote: "An issue as large as the redefinition of marriage properly belongs to the people. In Montana, we believe marriage should be defined by folks who wear blue jeans not those who wear black robes."

Defining words isn't normally the work of folks in blue jeans, but never mind. More interestingly, Laszloffy says the decision proves the wisdom of Montana's Constitutional Initiative 96, under which Montanans (in blue jeans and otherwise) limited marriage to a man and a woman.

"We were concerned the Montana courts would toss out Montana's [Defense of Marriage Act] and mandate same-sex marriage in our state," he wrote.

When folks in black robes start mandating same-sex marriage, then I will join the revolution. But so far, judges haven't mandated marriage for anybody. They have said only that people are free to do as they please so long as governments are unable to demonstrate a compelling state interest in stopping them. Smells like freedom to me.

To Rob Natelson, however, the ruling smells like politics.

Out of my head

I grew up on gospel music and whatever country leaked into my ears from the radio or from passing by the living room when my father was watching "Louisiana Hayride," Porter Wagoner or Red Foley on television. Then I went to see "The Graduate" and things started to change. Still not sure what it all meant, but it sure was different:

Hello, darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again.
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seed while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains, within the sounds of silence.

In restless dreams I walked alone,
Narrow streets of cobblestone.
'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light,
That split the night, and touched the sounds of silence.

And in the naked light I saw
10,000 people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never shared,
No one dared disturb the sounds of silence.

Fools, said I, you do not know,
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach you,
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence.

And the people bowed and prayed
To a neon God they'd made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, "The words of the prophets
Are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls,
And in the sounds of silence."