Friday, December 31, 2004

No solon Left Behind

Curious about the candidates to replace John Bohlinger in the Senate, I ran Corky Harkins through Google. This hit was interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that I've heard that Harkins' fondness for motorcoach trips cost him his Senate primary race against Bruce Simon. Supposedly, he took off for a couple of weeks right before the election.

The other is Harkins' choice of favorite books. I haven't read the "Left Behind" series, so I shouldn't be too judgmental, but when you consider all the great books that have been written since, say, Homer, it seems like, at best, an odd choice. Obviously, millions of fans disagree.

HD 12 fuss

Outpost associates Brad Molnar and Rob Natelson take a predictably dim (and blistering) view of the Supreme Court decision in the House District 12 race. As I noted over at City Lights, I agree with them that the Supreme Court acted improperly if all it did was substitute its own opinions for those of the duly constituted local officials. But since we haven't seen the legal reasoning behind the court's decision, I'm willing to cut the justices some slack for now. But there are interesting parallels to the 2000 debacle in Florida, with implications for both parties:

1. Remember all the Bush supporters who said that people in Florida who were too dumb to mark their ballots properly didn't deserve to vote? I'm still waiting to hear a Republican make the same observation about this race, even though, if you look at the disputed ballots, it's pretty clear that some of these voters were pretty darn clueless.

2. Democrats who didn't like having the U.S. Supreme Court nose its way into the Florida vote better not crow too much about the Montana Supreme Court's decision in this case. As a rule, elections ought to be settled at the most local level feasible.

Having said that, I still think that the ballot I posted below (provided by the Jore campaign) is highly questionable. I don't know what the "NLA" or "NRA" by Cross' name is supposed to mean, but one reasonable guess would be that the voter wrote his or her initials to show that Cross, not Jore, should get the vote. However, I should have noted yesterday that the Jore campaign says the smudge is an erasure. That isn't obvious in this copy, but if it was clear in the original, that would lend weight to their argument that it was a vote for Jore.

X-Mas Greetings

My column this week takes a (typically for me) belated look at the Christmas fuss.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The fatal ballot

This may be the ballot that cost Rick Jore a House seat and Republicans control of the Montana House. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Bloggers you know

Here's a short piece from the Montana Heritage Project about Montana blogging. Some bloggers you know are mentioned.

Sunday, December 26, 2004


The MT GOP E-brief accuses Yellowstone County commissioners of "underhanded chicanery" for failing to select a replacement for Sen. John Bohlinger from nominations submitted by the Republican Central Committee here. That's a tough charge, considering that two of the three commissioners are Republicans, and the lone Democrat, Bill Kennedy, stayed out of the fracas. The session hasn't even started yet, and Republicans are already beating each other up.

Coke vs. pop vs. soda

At last, a county-by-county map on a topic that really matters.

Christmas in Iraq

An Outpost reader sent along this fascinating e-mail from a buddy serving in Iraq:

Hi frm Iraq!

Mail arrived today. Got a package my folks shipped that had some much-needed toner for a printer, along with two post cards and a card in a red envelope... Also got a christmas stocking from the East Helena VFW, full of candy and other odds and ends... no idea how they got my name and address.
Doesn't seem at all like xmas; no sign of snow (although it is quite cool in the mornings - below freezing), no decorations, no constant barrage of sappy christmas music from every storefront (for that matter, on the Forward Operating Base, or FOB, there is no such thing as a storefront). There is music at some storefronts, but it has a distinctly non-US touch... anyone who has heard it knows what I mean, and anyone who hasn't should check it out at least once in their lifetime, just to say they did.
Had some kind of upper respiratory crud since Kuwait, which generates amazing quantities of thick nasty mucous. Hope it goes away soon, but sleep is hard to find...
By the way, disclaimer before I get too far: everything I say is true, but 1. lacks specifics because of security requirements and 2. isn't all the story - it's a complicated land of contrasts, and you could probably find a counter-example to anything I could possibly say.
The Iraqis have done me the favor of not mortaring our FOB since I arrived - very quiet, considering that this summer, it was one of the most mortared FOBs in Iraq. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been our nemesis instead. Since I arrived here just a few short days ago, several convoys have been hit, and one had six casualties. Now remember, casualties doesn't necessarily mean deaths; in this case, one individual will probably lose sight in one eye; one will probably take three to four months to heal up, but most likely be just fine; and four already went back to work. Shortly before we arrived, another convoy was not so lucky; three soldiers were riding in the cargo compartment of a Hummer when it was hit by an IED, and a fragment of shrapnel penetrated the armor and a soldier's face, removing enough of it to kill him. Another lost a leg, and the third, although he sustained only minor physical injuries, will probably have a hard time for the rest of his life with the experience. He saw what was rest of his comerades and did what too many of us naturally do: fainted. Now he feels guilty for not having been able to render greater immediate assistance - although in this case, it most likely wouldn't have made a difference in the outcomes anyway.
Mosul has of course made the news; the good news is that a repeat is unlikely, given the accuracy of most of the indirect fire systems (rockets and mortars) that the AIF have been using. The bad news is that with a glorious victory such as this, they're likely to launch many more hoping to have a similar stroke of luck.
AIF, by the way, is "Anti-Iraqi Forces", a classic example of spin. The AIF are made up of multiple components; Former Regime Elements, Disgruntled Iraqis, Foreign Jihadists, Iranian and Syrian non-jihadist proxies (this last being subject to much dispute, but I personally am sure they're a part of it - see or for more on the topic)... the list goes on and on. But since we're liberating and building freedom in Iraq, and since the American public has a short attention span, we don't name each group. Instead, we just use a group label that implies that they're against the Iraqi people... even though the majority of their foot soldiers (but perhaps not the organizers, financiers, and training cadres) are, um, well, Iraqi people. Calling them AIF isn't wrong, exactly; they really are against the majority of the Iraqi people... but it's definitely spin.
I have to convoy between our outlying FOB and the much larger FOB that has our Brigade Headquarters at least twice a week for meetings. Very interesting - every time you go past a dog, or a car, or a pile of gravel, or trash by the road, or a patch in a curb, or a pothole, or a bridge, you hope that it doesn't blow up. Amazing how many ways a truly creative jihadist can come up with to hide old munitions... Most IEDs here are improvised out of old munitions, because they are in such supply. There are vast tracts of land that are litterally littered with old shells and bombs, stockpiled as the Iran-Iraq war or the "Kurdish problem" swung its way back and forth, and then forgotten. Want to build a bomb? just go hike around for a while until you find a shell you like... And not all IEDs use munitions. The numbers of IEDs are stupendous, but of course only the ones that cause casualties, preferably deadly, get reported on CNN - and not even all of those. The majority either cause damage, but no injuries, or are discovered before being detonated; in our Battalion's AO, there are only token numbers that go off every day (I can't get too specific without violating Operational Security, or OPSEC). Most Iraqi factions generally try to avoid killing Iraqis with their IEDs, but the jihadists and the foreign fighters just don't care - if a few kids bite it too, well, it's all for the cause... and actually, more Iraqis die from IEDs than Americans. We have armor, after all.
The convoy goes past mud huts with poor farmers trudging around looking grim, and their innocent kids waving at the convoy - often without smiles. Their disgruntled parents have taught them that they shouldn't enjoy waving to the infidels, but they haven't quite broken the habit of waving itself. Every once in a while, we also pass the home of one of the highly placed members of the regime, and the contrast is stunning - Huge white homes with orchards, gardens, pools, etc, all for one family, and two hundred meters down the road an entire village of mud huts on far less land, with everything drab dirt except the clothes. In many ways, it reminds me of eastern Turkey, but without anyone who seems to hope for the future. Of course, part of that is built into the religion; you are supposed to accept what Allah has willed for your life. To even try and change it is most likely heresy!
The large FOB that serves as the Brigade Headquarters is on an old Iraqi airbase; it shows that the military were definitely better treated than the general public, but the facilities are still a far cry from the homes of the regime insiders. There are dirt fields fenced off with signs reading "Warning - High Radiation Area", but presumably, the missing WMD aren't in 'em... although it's probably residue from the programs, which did exist, even if they never did generate Wal-Mart sized warehouses of chemical warheads. Seems the picture a certain still extant regime painted rather dramatically overstated the case. There are pyramid-shaped concrete bunkers that we've taken over, designed to shelter the Iraqis from air raids from Iran and then the US... there's also a ragged half-pyramid with a monument sticking out of its middle for those who died inside it during gulf war one. We probably all watched the video on CNN as it got hit...
Elections are coming up, and many of the troops we work with are extended until they're over - though they're not happy about it, they're professional and keep on going. These elections will choose a group to write a new constitution... and the first elections for the form of government that results will probably take place about a year from now, roughly the time we're slated to rotate out. Which means, of course, that there's a good chance that we too will be extended. Only time will tell.
Well, would love to write more, but I really must be getting to sleep; have to get up in the morning and convoy in the opposite direction to an outlying village to check into reports that the violence there is getting pretty bad... Will keep my eyes open for dogs along the way.


In his City Lights column, Ed Kemmick picks up on something I mentioned here. Wonder why it is that neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to notice that they are politically much closer to each other than they are to any of the third parties in this country? Governance in this country overwhelmingly takes place in the big political middle, and Republicans and Democrats stand toe to toe over that middle ground.

First one side, then the other

I have to wonder if some people have trouble deciding which side of the bed to get out of in the morning. This letter in today's Gazette (fifth letter down, under the heading "Judges should follow opinion of most voters," begins by arguing, quite sensibly, that the job of judges is to interpret the law based upon the constitution. Then it concludes by arguing, "Judges should be subject to recall from the ballot box if they do not represent the opinion of the majority of the voters."

Which do you want? Interpret the law or obey the voters? No wonder public notions about jurisprudence are so muddled.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Foreign orders

I'm paying bills this Christmas Eve and just noted, once again with irritation, that my Billings Gazette payment now goes to Portland, Ore. Why am I paying somebody in Oregon to get a local newspaper?

Self-serving addendum: Every subscription payment to The Billings Outpost is personally handled, drooled over and deposited by the editor and publisher.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Networks get religion

Here's my take on the United Church of Christ ad that two networks wouldn't run, along with related controversies.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

World's dumbest columnist

Joseph Perkins widened his lead in the race for World's Dumbest Columnist with this entry, which appeared in today's Gazette. Perkins notes, accurately, that reporters rate low in public esteem for ethical standards. He then finds "prima facie" evidence of media bias in three recent Iraq stories:
1. The reporter who got a soldier to ask Donald Rumsfeld about vehicle armor.
2. The NBC correspondent who filmed an American soldier shooting an apparently wounded Iraqi.
3. The Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.
Perkins acknowledges, as any journalist would, that all three of these are legitimate stories. Then he adds this odd but true sentence: "Indeed, when stories appear on the front pages of major dailies or air on the evening news offering decidedly negative assessments of America's prosecution of the war in Iraq, or reflecting badly upon this nation's men and women in uniform, many Americans wonder about the reporter's motivation."

The upshot being -- what? Reporters shouldn't do stories, no matter how legitimate, that might cause Americans to question our motivation? Even Perkins isn't willing to go that far. So he ends with this insipid drivel: "In many cases, if not most, the reporter may simply be calling it as he or she sees it. But in at least some cases, it seems, the reporter's story is driven by anti-war bias."

Oh. And what might Americans wonder about the motivation of columnists who write such pathetic crap? Only one conclusion is possible: Such writers are determined to lay claim to the title of World's Dumbest Columnist. But no one will catch Perkins.

Back to blogging

Just turned in the last of my grades for the fall semester, and I don't start back to school until Jan. 10. So my self-imposed exile from blogging is at an end -- for at least a couple of weeks. That isn't meant to say that I will be blogging much; I still have a huge backlog of Outpost work. But any blogging at all would beat what I have been doing.

Friday, December 17, 2004

No mo so do

Effective today, I'm taking South Dakota Politics off my blog roll. Here's why.