Forced march

I’ve been reading an old book about sieges and fortifications in the 15th and 16th centuries. It has lots of cool contemporary drawings of old fortifications, but it’s fairly dry reading, with an occasional bright spot. One passage about the 80-year war between Spain and the Netherlands makes the point that the Spaniards had difficulty maneuvering in the low-lying Dutch coastal areas. In one case, the author says, Spanish troops actually waded to an offshore island to launch an attack.

Then he adds, in a tone as dry as the setting allows: “But there were natural limits to the amphibious capacity of even the tallest Spaniard.”

Stein for president!

I’ve taken this survey a couple of times. I like it because it allows fairly nuanced answers to complex issues rather than simple up or down votes.

Both times the survey showed that Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, most closely matches my preferences. I think that’s because I think global warming is real, and I favor preservation of national parks.

Obama comes in second, followed by Rocky Anderson, a Justice Party candidate I have never heard of running for a party I have never heard of. Ron Paul runs fourth, no doubt because of my libertarian leanings on social issues and foreign policy.

The most interesting result is the Obama-Romney split: I favor Obama 86-3. Before you dismiss that as liberal robotics, consider this: According to the survey, my views are in line with 60 percent of Montana voters across a broad range of issues. And Montanans as a whole prefer Obama and Stein to Romney.

Yet no one thinks that Obama, much less Jill Stein, will win Montana’s electoral votes. Is this another case where voters plan to vote against their actual beliefs?

Or maybe the survey is biased in important ways that aren’t obvious. Interesting to play with though.

UPDATE: More here on how the survey was created.

Watching the dog

According to a news release, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity has acquired Montana Watchdog, a site founded by the Montana Policy Institute with a grant from the Franklin Center.

Sounds like this should be important, but I haven’t figured out why yet. The Watchdog’s Dustin Hurst will manage the site, and the site apparently still “reports on politics and public policy, and exposes waste, fraud and abuse in the state.”

A modest proposal

One feature of the 2012 election is that Republicans in many states have been passing laws to tighten voting requirements. Democrats claim that this is intended to depress voting by poor people and minorities, who are more likely to vote for Democrats. Republicans assure us that their only intention to combat the terrible scourge of voter fraud, which occurs at the astonishing rate of nearly a case a year.

Fortunately, Republicans can easily squelch the nasty claim that they are trying to keep eligible voters from casting ballots. They can launch a national get-the-vote-out campaign aimed at ensuring that every eligible voter has the necessary ID card, and the money to pay for it, and a way to get to the polls on election day.

Let’s face it: All those millions being spent on negative campaign ads just annoy voters after a while. Better to divert some of that money to making sure that everybody actually gets to vote, even if some people don’t vote the way Republicans would prefer.

Such a national effort would cut off Democratic critics at the knees. It would make for a stronger democracy. And it would still meet the goal of preventing voter fraud. Come on, Republicans, get on board.

Talk radio update

Huckabee, Limbaugh and Hannity all were talking about Todd Akin, the Missouri Senate candidate who got in trouble for saying what he really thinks about rape. Huckabee, of course, is defending Akin. Hannity’s view is more like, he’s a nice guy, but he’s got to go for the good of the party. Limbaugh was closer to Lenin: If you want to make an omelette …

Huckabee expressed surprise, which I share, that this has drawn so much attention. It makes sense that liberals would be all over it; the MSNBC hosts were practically peeing in their pants with excitement. But I would have expected Republicans to hold fire — or at least to put away their weapons after firing off a round or two.

After all, Akin didn’t really misspeak. I’m willing to grant that “legitimate rape” was just a poor choice of words, although it is hard to tell what word would have worked. Akin himself has suggested that he should have said “forcible rape,” but if that is the rug he hoped to hide under, Paul Ryan quickly jerked it away. Ryan has voted for bills that refer to forcible rape, but in an interview this week, he acknowledged that “forcible rape” is indistinguishable from “rape.”

Even if we grant Akin a little more time to decide what word he actually meant instead of “legitimate,” there’s no doubt that he was fundamentally expressing what he truly at the bottom of his heart believes. It’s not clear to what extent his supporters in the Republican primary knew that when they voted for him, but it cannot have come as a big surprise.

It isn’t crazy to think that women might be less likely to become pregnant from rape than otherwise. It might even have evolutionary advantages. It’s not unreasonable that the body might decide that women under high stress for whatever reason are less likely to produce thriving babies, so it would be better just to call off the whole thing until conditions are more favorable.

The fact that there seems to be no scientific evidence that this actually happens is no obstacle to Akin’s belief. I’m guessing that he isn’t too interested in scientific evidence about evolution or climate change, either. Certainly, if God wanted to keep raped women from becoming pregnant, He could do that, and He could conceal the mechanism that made it happen, too.

What Akin can’t get around is not his odd belief but its horrendous implication: If a pregnant woman claims she was raped, she must either be lying or she secretly enjoyed it. That’s just an indefensible proposition, even for those who think it might be true.

That leaves people who think as Akin does in a terrible quandary. They can’t say what they really think, but they also can’t retreat from their belief that raped women should have to bear unwanted babies. If the Personhood Amendment means anything, it means that innocent babies should not be punished just because someone else committed the crime of rape. Therefore, people like Akin tell themselves, the woman must be forced to bear the child, and if it is right to punish her, then she must have done something wrong.

So the problem is not what Akin believes; the problem is that it sticks to other members of his party who believe very similar things. Huckabee is man enough to face up to those dire implications; the rest appear to be on the run.

Fortunately, I caught a few minutes of Michael Savage, who assured me that American democracy no longer exists. We are now living in a dictatorship. That was a relief. If Obama is running the whole show, then I no longer need to trouble my head over the intricacies of abortion politics.

But I had a nagging thought: If Obama is a dictator, why is he allowing Michael Savage to remain on the air? If I were dictator, my first act would be to get rid of Michael Savage’s show. My second would be to get rid of Michael Savage.

Apparently other listeners had the same nagging concern. One caller asked how Savage could sleep at night knowing that government thugs might haul him away at any moment. Savage at first said he was considering leaving the country and living on a fishing boat, then he conceded that he believed he was probably safe until the election.

Note to Savage: If you believe that Obama would peacefully surrender power following the election, then you don’t really believe he is a dictator. Guess I will have to keep worrying about abortion after all.


Just got word that David Baskin, my old friend and housemate at Stephen F. Austin State University, has died.

Baskin (always known by his last name to keep the Davids straight) was, I can say unreservedly, the smartest person I have ever known. A historian by temperament and training, he had an extraordinary grasp of the fundamentals of things. He learned, and mastered, Chinese cooking. When his VW bug broke down, he set out to overhaul it by himself and mastered it so completely that the repair shop where he was going for parts offered him a job. He dug deeply into the blues. He memorized large chunks of the Iliad — and of old “Star Trek” episodes. Though he scarcely read a newspaper or watched the news, he had a deeper grasp of what was going on in the world than I ever had. He knew how to look for, and find, the oldest, the best, the most lasting, the most original, and how to cling to it.

He was, at least in those days, a great consumer of marijuana. “Why,” he would ask as we sat toking on the front porch in Nacogdoches, Texas, “does man stupefy himself?” From such questions would ensue discussions that lasted deep into the night.

I never met a guy I liked as instantly, or as well, as I did David Baskin. He was just 59, and now he is gone. Damn it all to hell anyhow.