Things I learned from reading the news last week:

There should be plenty of water in Montana's rivers this spring and summer.

This winter, mind you, we will ruin our backs shoveling snow, drive over canyons of ice on city streets, slip on icy sidewalks and empty our wallets to pay utility bills — but we'll have plenty of water in a few months.

That is one indispensable service performed by newspapers: We temper your misery with assurances of better days to come. Conversely, if this were a warm, dry winter, we'd be telling you how the forests are going to go up in smoke next summer. We're here to help!

Not as we do

Hypocrisy is alive and well in the Legislature. The same Republican majority that is beating its chest over promises to eviscerate federal health care reforms has no trouble accepting generous health insurance benefits from the state of Montana.

You might ask whether lawmakers who attend a 90-day legislative session deserve health benefits for their entire two-year term. If they had no state coverage or state subsidies for private health insurance, maybe they'd work harder to come up with reforms that actually benefit a majority of their constituents.

And maybe these budget hawks will one day vote to decline state health benefits. (Note to editors: Please use the sarcasm font for the preceding sentence.)

Yarn shot full of holes

Speaking of Helena, we also learned that a state senator who introduced a bill that would allow lawmakers to carry guns in the Capitol either passed along a bogus story about the Utah Legislature or fabricated one himself.

According to the story told by Sen. Verdell Jackson and later shown to be hooey, an armed intruder entered the Utah Senate chambers and was confronted by a gang of pistol-packin' lawmakers. As Jackson told it: “He looked up, and six guns were pointing at him. He turned around and ran right into a security guard.”

The president of the Utah Senate debunked the story, and I tell you, I'm shocked. It sounded so real. (Note to editors: See above.)

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Crazy talk

While it is dangerous to attempt making political hay out of incidents like the mass shooting in Tucson, there is apparently nothing wrong with using terms like “nut job,” “whack job,” “lunatic” and “wacko,” all of which I read last week in reference to Jared Loughner, the man who did the shooting.

We don't know yet exactly what is wrong with Loughner, but even those who use these antiquated or juvenile phrases acknowledge that anyone who would fire randomly into a crowd at a shopping center is probably seriously mentally ill.

Because Loughner has committed a heinous act, apparently it is OK to characterize him with cruel slurs. What about the thousands of people suffering from mental illnesses who haven't committed a crime and are just trying to live normal lives? Are they whack jobs, too?

Matt Kuntz, director of the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the saddest part about hearing such insensitive remarks is that it shows how little people understand that mental illness is “a biological brain disorder that changes behavior.”

“It definitely tells me I have a lot more work to do,” he said.

Bread, circuses

The empty Hardin jail, already the site of some of the funniest, most surreal scenes in the recent history of Montana, is back in the headlines.

Over the years, people have proposed using the $27 million white elephant as a paint-ball course, a pot-growing warehouse, the hub of a military-training operation, a dog pound, a holding pen for Guantanamo terrorism detainees, an addiction treatment center and a prison for habitual drunken drivers, sex offenders or federal prisoners.

Now it is supposedly being looked at by a production company that specializes in reality television shows. The people behind the “reality-based prison project,” as it was described in a news story, would have to furnish their own prisoners for the show.

Is it possible that a private company would be allowed to film the real-life adventures of caged criminals? If these Hollywood folks really think this will fly, I believe we can, without offending anyone else, call them nut jobs.

Contact Ed Kemmick at ekemmick@billingsgazette.com or 657-1293.

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