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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Power of Senators

What can a drunken Robert Byrd really tell us about the American political system? Quite simple. The truth and nothing but the truth. While people like to focus on the president, it is quite clear that the true force in American politics is still Congress and here it is clearly the Senate which plays the overpowering role (due to its only 100 members and need for bipartisan consensus). Thus, Robert Byrd is not far off with this self-description. Big Daddy. The Man.

Senators virtually never lose reelection (the incumbency advantage is even stronger than in the House where incumbents lose seldom enough already). This prominence coupled with the need for a broad consensus (in order to avoid a Filibuster) makes for easy earmarking in the Senate. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) constructed his famous bridge into nowhere, Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) assured money for his bio-center. Every senator does this, some more, some less successful.

Drunk politicians really make political scientists' jobs easier sometimes, so thank you Robert Byrd for emphasising this point.

Double Post appearing in tapmag at the same time.


Admittedly, there is a certain irony to a German writing this entry, considering Germany's well-documented history with horrendous law-abiding but also more modern stereotypes about Germans waiting at a red trafic light with no one else around at three in the morning, but I consider it ridicolous how Americans adher to rules and regulations sometimes, and how preposterous they are in doing so.

The obvious example of this are the way bouncers handle IDs at bars. A vast amount of places simply don't take foreign ones based on the fact that they could more easily be faked, even obvious proof (the existence of approximately 2 million other cards with the same name and birth date) does not make these people change their mind about a supposed fake ID.

This is not all there is though, Americans in official positions are surprisingly (considering national stereotypes) inflexible when it comes to rules and regulations even when faced with obvious extraordinary circumstances. I am currently trying to apply for a teaching assistant position for a German-language recitation of a course entitled Society and Culture in Postwar Germany. Without being too arrogant I cannot really see anyone being more qualified for this position. Yet, because I am officially considered an undergraduate at the university here (despite of the fact that I will write my master's thesis next semester and graduate in the fall), it is 'unlikely' that I will get the position.

Examples like these abound, most of them involving drinking laws, but also course requirements or university regulations. I would argue that contrary to popular stereotypes Americans (at least those working in a public institution such as UNC) are as inflexible as most Germans.

L'avalée des avalés

Je viens à apprendre quelque chose sur la littérature francophone. Je ne suis pas encore capable de faire des remarques généralisés, et peut-être que je ne le serai jamais, mais découvrir une nouvelle litterature, s'ouvrir un nouveau monde est une expérience très agréable. Je lis encore aussi lentement qu'un un enfant, et je ne comprends pas tous les mots, même pas tous les phrases avouons-le. Mais, j'y arrive toujours et j'espère que le temps et l'expérience m'aideront à résoudre ces deux problèmes aussi (c'est comme ça, en lisant, que j'ai appris la plupart de mon vocabulaire en anglais après tout).

Concernant le livre L'avalée des avalés de Réjean Ducharme il faut admettre, qu'il m'a posé des problèmes. L'histoire avance très lentement, et parfois on a l'impression que rien ne se passe durant tout un chapitre. On m'avait beaucoup recommandé ce bouquin, et je ne l'ai pas trouvé mauvais, ni aussi génial comme on m'avait dit à son propos. Il y a beaucoup de similarité entre Bérénice Einberg, la protagoniste, et Holden Caulfield, le héros de The Catcher in the Rye, mais les insécurités, les agressions de Holden sont compréhensible. Il regarde le monde et il le trouve faux. Bérénice est explicable par la jalousie seulement. Il y a une scène où Bérénice raconte ses sentiments quand elle a vu sa mère et son frère interagir, mais sauf ça, les explications n'étaient pas clairs et j'avais l'impression qu'il n'y a pas d'autres. Elle déteste sa mère, mais elle l'aime, elle aime son frère, elle déteste son père, elle déteste sa vie, mais à la fin elle profite d'une façon incroyablement immorale d'une amie pour se sauver.

Enfin, le livre parle d'une fille qui a des grands problèmes psychologiques, mais à mon avis, Ducharme n'explique jamais pourquoi elles les a. En plus, ce qui m'énerve le plus peut-être, est que Bérénice n'évolue pas. Au moins cinq ans passent dans sa vie pendant le livre, et elle ne change jamais ni dans ses pensés ni ses activités. Alors, le livre n'a pas été mauvais, mais il serait non plus pas dans mon panthéon personnel.

Mid-Term Essay

Honestly, I shelled this essay out in very little time (I think I wrote it in like 7 to 10 hours), it has no footnotes, and really is just an argumentative essay. I kind of like it for what it is though. So, enjoy.

Was the development of the Bush Doctrine a proper response to the attacks of 9/11/01? Has implementation of the Bush Doctrine over the past five years been effective, ineffective or counterproductive in reducing the threat of international terrorism against the United States?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Memo 2

My second memo for the 9/11 and its aftermath class. See below for the topic:

You are staff for a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. The Committee is holding a hearing entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States: A Review of the Post-9/11 Security Posture" in the fall of 2002. Write a short briefing memo (of no more than 750 words) for the Chairman of the Committee. The memo should 1) summarize the key points of the national security strategy, 2) analyze the strategy and note its strengths (if any) and weaknesses (if any). The memo should conclude with a recommendation stating whether the Chairman should support or criticize the strategy and concise statement explaining the reasoning for the recommended position.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House

My PhD class again made me read a 200-page scientific book in a day and I know this sounds kind of sadomasochistic but I enjoyed it. Somehow this intense pressure of doing things, leaves one satisfied. David W. Rohde in this book - Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House - talks about ... well, read the title. Basically, Democrats - who were the majority party in the House for about 50 years before 1994 - changed the rules in the House during the early 70s, resulting in a more parliamentarian system not based on consensus building but majority dominance. Rohde argues that this was due to - or possible in the first place because - increases in homogeneity in the Democratic caucus - which in turn was brought about through racial legislation during the 60s, which eliminated Dixiecrats to some extent - and the willingness by leaders to take advantage of these new measures. The result of all this was an increase in polarization (party-unity voting, distinctiveness...).

All in all a highly interesting book, even if some of his chapters are a little on the long side and become too detailed. Yet it gives an interesting recount of the committee governance of the House which was implemented in 1910 to counter the Speaker's dominant position of power. Then with Southern Democrats blocking liberal legislation due to their dominance of committee chairmanships which they obtained through seniority due mainly to a less than democratic South, the Democrats decided to abolish the power of these committees and instead empower the Speaker (as an expression of the whole caucus this time though) and the subcommittees.

Again, highly interesting, if you care about institutional politics and have some time to spare, read it.