Friday, June 19, 2009

Making the move

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

Glen Campbell

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

The shame of it

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday talk radio update

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monday talk radio update

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

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

2. Guantanamo should not be closed.

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

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

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

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Answer no longer blows in wind

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

Great Falls is looking more habitable all the time.

BBB warning

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thursday talk radio update

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

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

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

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

But still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

'Red' Tester

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

Consider that a plug -- or a warning.

Sotomayor revisited

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

Monday, June 08, 2009

Politically correct

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, June 05, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the saying goes, you make the call.

Thursday talk radio update II

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

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

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

By their beer shall you know them.

Thursday talk radio update I

Some days it must really suck to be Rush Limbaugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Good example?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Mea culpa

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

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

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

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