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Saturday, March 26, 2011

I hope none of my readers are fortune tellers

Q. What do you call a seer who is neither too tall or too small?
A. A medium.
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Q. What do you call a group of seers who tell you about current events?
A. News media

Another revised sample amendment to reform the Senate

This amendment is almost identical to the one I posted here, but I'm taking out the provision for a house of representatives override of the Senate veto of the executive order. I have also changed some of the other wording:

Section 1: All bills shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may concur in any bill passed by the House of Representatives. If the Senate concur, the bill shall be presented to the President for his or her approval or disapproval, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the seventh section of the first article. If the Senate do not concur after one hundred eighty days shall have elapsed, the bill shall be referred again to the House of Representatives. If the House of Representatives shall approve said bill, without amendment, before three hundred sixty five days shall have elapsed from its original passage by that house, the bill shall be presented to the President for his or her approval or disapproval, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the seventh section of the first article. But nothing in this article or in any article, of the constitution shall be so construed as to permit the Senate to propose amendments to any bill.

Section 2: The Senate shall have power to remove any officer of the United States, appointed by the President, if three-fifths of the Senate concur in such removal, provided that nothing in this article or in any article, of the constitution be so construed as to deny the term of service during Good Behavior of Judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, and provided also that nothing in this article or in any article, of the Constitution be so construed as to deny the power of impeachment to the House of Representatives or to deny the power to try all impeachments to the Senate, according to the rules prescribed for impeachments and trying all impeachments.

Section 3: The Senate shall have power to nullify any executive order or any order issued by the President when engaged in his or her official duties as President, or any order of any officer of the United States, appointed by the President, if three-fifths of the Senate concur in such nullification, provided, however, that nothing in this article shall be so construed as to permit the Senate to nullify the decision of any Judge, of the supreme court or any inferior courts, when done in the exercise of his or her office; and provided, further, that the failure by the President to obey the Senate's order for nullification by voiding the order or by offering a replacement for said order that be substantively different from the nullified order shall be considered a high crime or misdemeanor against the United States.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Not quite a Badger yet

Over at Stanley Fish's blog, this week's entry (click here) has a "conversation" between Stanley Fish and Walter Benn Michaels. Fish used to be an English professor and dean at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Michaels is currently an English professor. Their "conversation," which is actually a series of alternating paragraphs, discusses the recent public employees union debacle in Wisconsin. This "conversation" revolves mostly around the idea of faculty unions and not really the larger question of unions for public school teachers or for other public employees.

During this discussion, Michaels has this to say:
But what amazes us [the pro-union faculty at UIC] is the idea that somehow a faculty can’t be both unionized and, to use the word invoked by [Naomi Schaefer] Riley in her USA Today piece and by our own provost in his communications to the faculty, “elite.” This would come as a shock to the Rutgers philosophy department, which works on a unionized campus and which is nonetheless ranked as one of the two best in the U.S. And it’s even a bit of a shock to the UIC English department, which isn’t as elite as Rutgers philosophy but is (according to the National Research Council) among the top 20 in the country, and which almost unanimously supports unionization. Riley may think that only the “laziest” want unions, but our ranking is based largely on the strength of faculty productivity — it’s the hard-working ones who want the union most.
He goes on about a paragraph later:
Why [unionize]? Because we think that the people who actually do the teaching and the research should have more of a say in how the teaching and the research gets done
What amazes me about the attitude represented both these quotations and in the "conversation" as a whole is the refusal to recognize that tenured faculty at universities--especially at "tier 1 1/2" research universities--used to, in what some (e.g., Stanley Fish) have called the "Golden Age of being a professor" (c. 1950-1980), be a guild-like "union," a gate keeping boys-and-sometimes-girls club. Now they are losing power. Gone (or more accurately, going, and slowly, at least for the ones who already have tenure) are the days when they had to put up with "the bureaucrats who run the university" and whose job it was to make sure that the professors live up to such onerous job requirements as actually showing up for class or reading from lecture notes instead of from textbooks.

The why's and wherefore's are simple: the faculty are losing wealth and, especially, power and prestige. And they want it back, or at least not to lose it so quickly. They want keep their professional prerogatives and get back those prerogatives they have lost. They also would prefer to teach, say, two classes a semester rather than four (after all, that's what they have adjuncts and TA's for).

And now for all the caveats and qualifications: Yes, it probably is better for those who teach a class to have a say in how the classes are run or taught. Yes, professors at tier 1 1/2 research universities do work hard at publishing, which for some reason is valued over teaching even though the universities in question might be overrated in the rankings because of high-profile professors. Yes, most tenured faculty probably really do care about the adjuncts and TA's and some might even volunteer their time (without an increase in pay) to help the adjuncts and TA's in their duties. Yes, some professors sometimes take on extra classes to save their departments money. And yes, the caricature of the professor who doesn't come to a lot of their own classes or who reads from the textbook probably represents only a very small minority of the faculty. And maybe the biggest caveat: just because one has tenure doesn't mean one's life is easy; job security is great, but there are ways to make the money worth less and less (by, for example, doubling the number of classes someone must teach); and what seems like a lot of money to someone in my position would not necessarily be enough for a person who has to support a family.

I don't really know the vision that Fish and Michaels are advocating here. Is it a grand alliance of faculty unions, adjunct unions, staff unions, and graduate employees unions? If so, is there any account taken of the opposing interests involved? Tenured professors have much different interests, and much different kinds of work prerogatives and wealth at stake from the ones that non-tenured faculty and, especially, adjuncts do. A cynic might wonder if the function of faculty unions is to reassert themselves as the true elite, the true masters of their world.

The system is probably dysfunctional and something probably needs to be done, and perhaps unionization (even the unionization of tenured faculty) is one of those needful things. But let's keep in mind that these struggles are questions of power and retaining privileges as much as they are questions of justice, the fate of higher education, and the good of the Republic.

Update 3-23-11: I have edited this post to correct some typos and make a minor addition to the last sentence.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What if Munich had happened differently?

In history, as with most things, the "what if's" are difficult. We don't really know what would have happened when it did not happen. To a certain extent, any statement of causality is based on a "what if": when we say x caused y, we are saying "what if x never happened....would y not have happened, too?" But historians are admonished not to go too far on that track, lest they be trapped in a series of mutually reinforcing hypotheticals.

That is the difficulty that those who appeal to some variant of the "Munich syndrome" flirt with, and it is also the difficulty I am about to flirt with in this blog post. For those who aren't familiar, here's the story of Munich:

In 1938, Hitler threatened to take over the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. This was an area that had a large number of ethnically German inhabitants and was the part of Czechoslovakia that, being mountainous, was militarily most defensible, and Hitler's saw this as one step in his attempt to dominate eastern Europe. The major European powers at the time that could have stopped Hitler--the UK and France--met in a a conference with Hitler, and they foolishly declined to invite the other major European power that might have stopped him, the Soviet Union. The British and French conferees, led by Neville Chamberlain, agreed to let Hitler take over the Sudetenland on the promise that he would take no other territory. Early the next year, Hitler ordered the invasion of the rest of Czechoslovakia, and in August, he set his sights on Poland. The Soviet Union, ostracized by the western European powers, made an alliance with Hitler, and thus did not stop--indeed, took its share--when Germany invaded Poland in September.

The lesson that people, in hindsight, are to take from this is that Chamberlain et al. should have stopped aggression when they could and not coddle it to the point where it was unmanageable. The idea was that Hitler might have been stopped much earlier, or at least might have been forced to play his war card when Germany was in a less strategically favorable position.

Here's my take--my "what if"--on what might plausibly have happened if Chamberlain had done all that he in retrospect was supposed to have done (invite the Soviet Union to the conference (and the Czechoslovaks, who had been excluded from the actual conference), stood firm against Hitler's position, and gone to war if he had insisted on invading the Sudetenland). Here are what I see as the most likely scenarios:
  1. Faced with the possibility of a two-, even three-front war (Russia on the East, Czechoslovakia to the southeast, and France and UK to the West), Hitler might have backed down, and war would not have only been diverted, but effectively prevented. Yet at the same time, a brutal dictatorship would be kept in power for x number of years, maybe to fall at the hands of a liberal-democratic revolution, maybe to fall to a succession of aggressive military juntas, maybe to lead to a bigger war in the 1950s or 1960s.
  2. Hitler might have invaded the Sudetenland, making World War II start 1 year earlier than it actually did. In this scenario, the war might have ended more quickly because the Soviet Union would not only have been in the war to prevent the invasion, Hitler's army would have to fight first in Czechoslovakia and not later in Poland. Or, the war might have dragged on and been something like a replay of World War I. Or, of course, some other possibility....
My point here is not merely to replay the "what if" game with all its potential "what if" fallacies and rough guestimates. In truth, other than the World War II books I used to read as an adolescent, I have done no real research in 20th century European diplomacy when it comes to World War II. My point is, rather, to ask how we might have perceived Munich.

If scenario 1 had happened, Munich might have seemed a success but also as part of a balance-of-power politics that kept in power, even as it checked, a brutal dictator who oppressed hundreds of thousands of his own people with his racist regime. If scenario 2 had happened, it might have been seen as the same thing, if the war ended quickly, or it might have seemed like 1914 all over again, leading to a long war of attrition. Of course, other things might have happened as well; we don't know.

My larger point is that if Chamberlain et al. had stood firm and Munich had "worked" like it was supposed to, we would not have known it with the certainty that some of us claim to know it now that it happened differently. I guess I have merely rediscovered the aphorism that "hindsight is 20/20," but it is helpful to know that our mistakes are more apparent than our right decisions.

Won't be fooled again....part II

In the preceding post (click here to see it), I chastised Mr. Kopel at the Volokh. Conspiracy for what I considered his "rah rah let's go to war and isn't it splendid" attitude in a post he wrote on the U.N.'s resolution that can be interpreted as authorizing almost any military action short of occupation to assist the rebels in Libya.

I should note that Qadaffi has at least made a gesture in response to this UN resolution, claiming to have instituted a cease fire. There is much skepticism about this: he has publicly said he is issuing a cease fire, but as of yesterday evening, it appears that he either really hasn't or that his military hasn't gotten the memo or that, maybe more or maybe less disturbingly, "his" own factions are not obeying him and he doesn't have control over his own army (the latter I have not heard anyone mention, but I find it at least possible).

To the extent that I believed--and I think I did, although I did not say so in that post--that the UN resolution would lead to nothing but bloodshed and a quagmire, I might have been wrong, although events still need to bear out one way or another. And to the extent I believed that early and more expeditious US intervention would have done the same thing, I also might have been wrong, although that proposition, remaining a hypothetical, isn't something I'd bet my apartment lease on.

But this I do not recant: war, even when necessary and the right thing to do, should never be entered into or considered joyously, but with somber deliberation, and not with slogans and chants from the French Revolution.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Won't be fooled again.....

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Kopel, staunch and valiant defender of freedom, is celebrating the decision by the United Nations to authorize limited intervention in Libya. In an updated to one of his posts (click here to read the post in its entirety), Mr. Kopel says:

Wall Street Journal reports that Egyptian army is shipping arms to the Libyan “rebels.” Which is to say, to the legitimate government of Libya. As the Declaration of Independence affirms, the only legitimate governments are those founded on the consent of the governed. Accordingly, the Gaddafi gang was never a legitimate government, merely a large gang of criminals who controlled a big territory. The French government’s diplomatic recognition of the legitimate Libyan government reflects this fact. @liamstack reports that France says it will be ready within hours to fly over Libya. @lilianwagdy says that Libyans in France are chanting “Zanga Zanga, Dar Dar, We will get you Muamar!” Vive la France! Vive Sarkozy! Vive les droits de l’homme!
Now, I'll admit that Qadaffi probably doesn't have the consent of the governed, or at least a significant portion of the governed, to claim legitimacy, and maybe he never did. Maybe the rebels are part of a grand humanitarian plan a la "droits de l'homme" (an unfortunate allusion....look at how that revolution turned out), but surely we--by which I mean myself and Mr. Kopel, although not necessarily someone with a deeper knowledge of North Africa--don't know that the rebels have the consent of enough of the governed, or that they will not fall apart in factions, or that they will not go on murderous rampages.

Who knows where this will lead. If I've learned anything from studying history, it's that it's almost impossible to learn from history: the guns of August were not Munich was not Vietnam was not Gulf War I was not Gulf War II is not Libya. And who knows, maybe if the American empire should last for another 30 years, people will look back and still say "this was one of its better hours."

For some reason, I keep thinking of a passage from the novel Catch-22 (and I quote almost verbatim):
Colonel Cathcart had courage. He was never afraid to volunteer his men for any assignment.
For what it's worth, I am not a pacifist--I'm not even a "functional pacifist"--but before we start polishing off our dusty copies of the Declaration of Independence and Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, maybe we should realize that war, even if it's for the best and engaged in to prevent even greater evils than may already be happening, comes at the cost of suffering and the cost of being the ones to inflict suffering.

There are none righteous, no, not one. There's only us, and we're all too human.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Random observations....

  1. Mail that says "IMPORTANT ACCOUNT INFORMATION ENCLOSED" has no importance, other than that it must be shredded as soon as possible to prevent identity theft. Truly important account information--such as a replacement card, a pin number,* or an account statement--is usually discreetly labeled because misuse of such contents represents a more direct liability to the company that sent the envelope.
  2. A "courtesy call" from a telemarketer is not particularly courteous to the one receiving the call.
  3. In Chicago, cars don't slow down at the red octagonal stop-suggestion signs, but they're more likely to slow down to avoid splashing a pedestrian who walks by a flooded gutter. This increased likelihood is in direct proportion to driver's wish not to splash his or her own car and thus not have to clean it again.


*Yes, I know "pin" stands for "personal identification number" so that saying "pin number" is redundant. Deal with it.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Revised sample amendment to reform senate

Here's my revised sample amendment to reform the senate:

Section 1: All bills shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may concur in any bill passed by the House of Representatives. If the Senate concur, the bill shall be presented to the President for his or her approval or disapproval, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the seventh section of the first article. If the Senate do not concur after one hundred eighty days shall have elapsed, the bill shall be referred again to the House of Representatives. If the House of Representatives shall approve said bill, without amendment, before three hundred sixty five days shall have elapsed, the bill shall be presented to the President for his or her approval or disapproval, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the seventh section of the first article. But nothing in this article or in any article, of the constitution shall be so construed as to permit the Senate to propose amendments to any bill.

Section 2: The Senate shall have power to remove any officer of the United States, appointed by the President, if three-fifths of the Senate concur in such removal, provided that nothing in this article or in any article, of the constitution be so construed as to deny the term of service during Good Behavior of Judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, and provided also that nothing in this article or in any article, of the Constitution be so construed as to deny the power of impeachment to the House of Representatives or to deny the power to try all impeachments to the Senate.

Section 3: The Senate shall have power to nullify any executive order or any order issued by the President when engaged in his or her official duties as President, or any order of any officer of the United States, appointed by the President, if three-fifths of the Senate concur in such nullification, provided, however, that nothing in this article shall be so construed as to permit the Senate to nullify the decision of any Judge, of the supreme court or any inferior courts, when done in the exercise of his or her office; and provided, further, that the President may, with the advice and consent of the House of Representatives, reinstate the nullified order for approval by that House within ten days of such nullification, including Sundays; and provided, further, that in the case that the House of Representatives do not consent to the reinstatement of the nullified order, the failure by the President to obey the Senate's order for nullification by voiding the order or by offering a replacement for said order that be substantively different from the nullified order shall be considered a high crime or misdemeanor against the United States.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sample amendment to reform the U.S. Senate

Here's the text of my proposed amendment to reform the Senate. The goal is to give the Senate the power to replace its power to veto legislation with the power to provide a suspensory veto and to oversee the executive branch's cabinet level and sub-cabinet level officers and executive orders:

Section 1: All bills shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may concur in any bill passed by the House of Representatives. If the Senate so concur, the bill shall be presented to the President as stipulated in the second clause of the seventh section of the first article of the constitution. If the Senate do not concur, the bill shall be referred to the House of Representative which shall approve or disapprove of the same bill, without amendment, after one hundred eighty days, including Sundays, shall have elapsed, but before three hundred sixty days, including Sundays, shall have elapsed. If the president disapprove of said bill, the bill shall become law only if two thirds House of Representatives repass the bill, according to the rules and limitations prescribed in the case of a bill. But nothing in this article or in any article, of the constitution shall be so construed as to permit the Senate to propose amendments to any bill.

Section 2: [see update #2 below] The Senate shall have power to remove from any officer of the United States ,appointed by the President, if three-fifths of the Senate concur in such removal, provided that nothing in this article or in any article, of the constitution be so construed as to impeach the tenure of Judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts.

Section 3: The Senate shall have power to nullify any executive order or any order issued by the President when engaged in his or her official duties as President, if three-fifths of the Senate concur in such nullification.

Update 3-5-11: I already notice something I want to change. I should modify the phrasing of section 2. I do not mean to state that the Senate shall not have power to try impeachments when it comes to article III judges (or anybody), but only that if the Senate wants to remove a judge, the judge needs to be removed by the impeachment process described in the Constitution.

Update #2, 3-5-11: Here is how I would re-write section 2:

Section 2: The Senate shall have power to remove any officer of the United States, appointed by the President, if three-fifths of the Senate concur in such removal, provided that nothing in this article or in any article, of the constitution be so construed as to deny the term of service during Good Behavior of Judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, and provided also that nothing in this article or in any article, of the Constitution be so construed as to deny the power of impeachment to the House of Representatives or to deny the power to try all impeachments to the Senate.