When I started Combat! blog, it was a practice—a way to write make myself write every day at a time when my job didn’t demand it. When I made the transition to writing for a living, back in the innocent days of 2009, Combat! was a way to even out a feast-or-famine freelance schedule. Now my schedule is like that scene in the Simpsons where Homer gets force-fed donuts in hell. I love it, and it’s coming at me as fast as I can handle. There is no blog today, because I have to spend all day making money by wiggling my fingers. Don’t pity me. Don’t expect much free content for the next couple of weeks, either, because I am not going to get any less busy until the middle of October. The good news is that I’ll come back with new material about what it’s like to live in a solid gold house. Either that or I’ll spend it all on tubs of cookie dough for the boy’s PTA fundraiser. Further updates as events warrant.
In 1882, Mark Twain published “On the Decay of the Art of Lying,” an essay lamenting the disappearance of quality falsehoods from the world. Twain’s complaint wasn’t that people had stopped lying. It was that they were lying poorly—”injudiciously,” as he puts it, which neatly captures the elements of both technical sloppiness and tactical unwisdom. “I sometimes think it were even better and safer not to lie at all than to lie
injudiciously,” he writes. “An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.” I’m sure he didn’t mean that and only let his emotions get the better of him. But his words have become true in the 21st century: ill-conceived, injudicious lies—lies without even internal coherence—threaten to reduce all statements, true and untrue, to the same ineffectual broth. Today is Friday, and we’re all Just Sayin’ Stuff now. Won’t you stop even trying to make your lies sound true with me?
The Montana Family Foundation is a research and education organization dedicated to supporting, protecting, and strengthening Montana families. It is definitely not a moneymaking scheme for Jeff Lazsloffy and his children. Its donors are not public, although in past years more than half the foundation’s income has come from Greg Gianforte. But his investment has been amply repaid in research and education, for example a bill before the state legislature that would have required Montanans to use locker rooms and restrooms that correspond to the genders on their birth certificates. Legislators rejected that, noting that a similar bill costs North Carolina billions of dollars earlier this year. So the Montana Family Foundation took its cause to the people, repackaging the Orewellian-named Locker Room Privacy Act as ballot initiative I-183.
Last week, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that the description Attorney General Tim Fox had written for I-183 was not sufficient. In addition to its potentially inaccurate fiscal note, the court took exception to this paragraph:
I-183 requires government entities to designate a protected facility in a government building or public school for use only by members of one sex, and prohibits persons from using a protected facility other than the facility that is designated for that person’s sex.
You will note that the word “transgender” does not appear. Neither does an explanation of what the word “sex” means. A lot of people would say that a trans a woman is of the sex “woman,” but that’s not what I-183 says. I-183 specifies that a person’s sex shall be determined by their birth certificate.
That would create a lot of problems for transgender Montanans, which is exactly what I-183 is designed to do. Yet the Montana Family Foundation never, ever mentions the word “transgender” in its communications on this issue. Instead, it offers jaunty statements like this one regarding the defunct Locker Room Privacy Act: “This bill was just common sense! Women shouldn’t have to shower in front of men, and vice versa.”
“Common sense” is a thing politicians say when they don’t want you to think about what they just said. The Montana Family Foundation keeps talking about I-183 as though it were designed to address the problem of high school boys gaining entry to the girls’ locker room by simply declaring that they are female. As near as I can tell, that’s never happened. The real issue here is that Lazsloffy has made a career out of converting popular prejudices to politics, and prejudice isn’t as popular as it once was. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Do it! Do it now, Linda!
Donald Trump has spent the last several days in a Facebook uncle-style tizzy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, which he would totally fire them for doing if he were an NFL owner instead of a failed USFL owner who somehow became president of the United States. There are two things to remember here. One, Colin Kaepernick started kneeling last season to protest unfair treatment of African Americans and other minorities by police officers. Two, his gesture has followed the ironclad progression of American protests: controversy, mischaracterization, co-opting.
A. Ron Galbraith sends us this item from Deadspin, in which the Green Bay Packers encourage their fans to link arms during the national anthem and stand intertwined before Thursday night’s game “like the threads in your favorite jersey.” I quote the Packers’ official statement:
Those of us joining arms on Thursday will be different in so many ways, but one thing that binds us together is that we are all individuals who want to help make our society, our country and our world a better place. We believe that in diversity there can be UNI-versity. Intertwined, we represent the many people who helped build this country, and we are joining together to show that we are ready to continue to build.
First of all “university” is already a word. Why be diverse when you can be universe? Oh, right—because that doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Second, Kaepernick’s original protest was not about how he felt we should be diverse, or that he did or did not want to make our society/country/world a better place. It was about cops killing black people and getting away with it. What possible value could there be in a protest that A) includes everybody and B) expresses the idea that everything should be better? Both of those elements obviate the need for protest, by definition. It’s not a meaningful gesture if everyone does it, and it’s not a meaningful message if everyone agrees with it. Next Thursday, let’s all go to the bathroom to show that despite our differences, we all want to go to the bathroom.
Of course, this linked-arms business is not a plan for a protest or even a demonstration. It’s a marketing strategy. Green Bay has seized part of the zeitgeist and emptied it of its content, leaving a husk to fill with its own important message: Green Bay Packers. That football team believes in making the world a better place, just like you and literally everyone else. It believes we all have the right to protest by delivering an anodyne message that everyone agrees with. It does not believe in, say, hiring Colin Kaepernick. By encouraging us all to do this arms thing instead of what Kaepernick did, it might even imply that it does not believe in the existence of racially motivated police brutality. Probably, though, the only thing the Green Bay Packers want to convey is their vague corporate enthusiasm for society and its freedoms. It’s like when Kendall Jenner gave that Pepsi to a cop while people marched with placards that read “join the conversation.” Public issues: we support your right to debate them, ideally wearing your favorite jersey.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke gave one heck of a speech to the National Petroleum Council yesterday, telling the industry group that he planned to move the Bureau of Land Management out of Washington and into an unspecified western state. He also said that one third of the employees in the Department of the Interior were not loyal to him or President Trump. That made headlines, but my favorite part of the story is the secretary’s nautical metaphor. Zinke told the assembled oil company reps that he knew when he took over Interior, “I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag.”
That’s the old Zinke charm, right there: by analogizing everything to the Navy, he makes his career as a SEAL the prerequisite for whatever job he has been called on to do. Of course, one side effect of this metaphor is that it conflates loyalty to the United States with loyalty to Trump. If Zinke is correct, and a third of his department is resisting his agenda from within, maybe it’s because they are more loyal to the Department of the Interior than to this particular administration. The new secretary’s plan is to radically restructure the department, after all. Perhaps they’re not on board with his changes because they have a bunch of experience, whereas Zinke has seen fit to re-envision a whole department in the executive branch despite never having done anything like this before. That’s the Trump administration’s promise, though: they’re going to completely change Washing by drawing on the wisdom they have gained by never working in it.
Anyway, best of luck to Commander Zinke in rooting out the traitors in his midst. I also wish him luck in his ongoing plan to protect public lands, a commitment that defined his politics right up until he stopped needing to win elections. On a completely unrelated note, here’s the other fun quote from the AP’s report:
Zinke also offered a quirky defense of hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique also known as fracking that has led to a years-long energy boom in the U.S., with sharply increased production of oil and natural gas.
“Fracking is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us,” Zinke said without explanation.