Friday, August 24, 2007

I'm getting the "school itch"

Maybe it's the fact that two of my friends just started law school, one is about to start her second year, and another is about to start a graduate program, but I'm feeling the urge to go back to school. I absolutely loved my undergraduate years. A lot of that had to do with the immense freedom I had to use my time as I saw fit. With the minor exceptions of the 12.5 hours per week I attended class, the few hours a week I did volunteer work, and the interspersed periods when I was employed part-time, I was free to pursue my studies when and how I wanted. The pursuit of my studies is what kept it interesting though, both assigned and extracurricular. Actually, the extracurricular is probably what inspired me the most. I certainly enjoyed a lot of the assigned readings and the topics I researched for some of the papers I wrote, but it was the educational path that I created myself (with the help of the authors I read, speakers I heard, and students and faculty I interacted with) that was so enthralling. For me, there are few things as enjoyable as discovering a new idea or piece of history and then spending hours researching it, discussing it with others, and formulating an opinion about it.

Of course, towards the end of my undergraduate studies, I was getting the itch to do something, instead of just studying it. So perhaps I'm destined to transition back and forth between the two.

Friday, August 17, 2007

California's June 3rd election could be the most important of 2008

If you think that the most important election of 2008 is for the new president of the United States, then you may want to pay attention to California's primary on June 3rd. That's not the day California will hold their presidential primaries. It's the day that an initiative may be on the ballot to change the way California apportions its electoral votes in the general election for president. Right now, as with the overwhelming majority of states, the recipient of all of California's electoral votes is the winner of the popular vote within California. Initiative # 07-0032, the Presidential Election Reform Act, would instead apportion California's electoral votes by the winner of each congressional district, with the remaining two going to the winner of the popular vote. The most likely practical effect of this change is that the Republican nominee for president will receive a bump of about 20 electoral votes. If this had been the case in 2000, then we wouldn't have had Bush v. Gore decided by 9 judges in D.C. and no one would have had to pay much attention to Ohio in 2004.

I am all for reform of the Electoral College, or more precisely for its elimination entirely. It apportions votes in a "winner-takes-all" manner that ascribes greater value to the votes of persons in states with smaller populations or lower turnouts. However, the proponents of this initiative can't argue it's about changing the system to make it more fair, because it doesn't fundamentally change the methodology of how votes are distributed. There would still be a "winner-takes-all" system; it would just be at the district level instead of the state level.

I'm not sure the backers of this initiative are making the fairness argument though, at least not the one I would make. While the "organization" backing it is called Californians for Equal Representation, their mailing address leads back to the law firm that represents the California Republican Party. And the spokesman for this organization seems to be focusing on how this is more "fair" to Californians, because it will encourage candidates to campaign in the state instead of taking for granted what the result will be. However, this claim doesn't hold up to scrutiny either. The problem with that argument is that because of gerrymandering, almost none of the districts are competitive. Of the fifty-three 2006 U.S. House races in California, a whopping three had a less than 10% margin of victory, and only one had a less than 5% margin. I'd surmise that about 50 (or over 94%) of those districts still won't get much attention. Sooo...what this all boils down to is the Republicans wanting about 20 more electoral votes than they would likely get otherwise, which may be just what they need to get the presidency. Since Californians for Equal Representation's spokesman said the "...backers want to create a better democracy," I wonder if they'll help fund a similar initiative in a nice big red state like Texas. Or perhaps they'll lobby on behalf of the measure being pushed in the Democratically-controlled North Carolina legislature to do the same thing, except North Carolina has also been red in presidential elections for the last 30 years.

As I said before, I'd support Electoral College reform, but I don't think it should be done in a way that is clearly geared towards helping one of the political parties. After all, President Bush would still be in office if there had been no Electoral College in 2004, but an individual's vote in California would have carried the same weight as one in Ohio.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Am I capable of subjecting myself to scrutiny in the way that I do others?

Sometimes when I feel the urge to accuse someone of hypocrisy, I try to reflect on whether I've been hypocritical in a similar fashion. After all, to call someone hypocritical regarding behavior that I myself have engaged in, is itself...hypocritical. But, can I begin to know my own hypocrisy?

Take for example the Dick Cheney video in the previous post (apparently I had more to say than "surreal"). If he were to watch that, would he simply say that the circumstances were sufficiently different in 1994, and the drastically different actions taken in 2003 were justified? Or would he think he was mistaken then, or hypocritical now? Or perhaps he wouldn't recognize himself. This column cites research that suggests the Vice President or I may not be able to recognize our "hot" state behavior when we are in a "cold" state. In other words, when we are emotionally or physically charged, our behavior can become so irrational or visceral as to be unrecognizable to us -- and were we able to scrutinize ourselves the way we do others, we would see this.

If this is true, and it seems likely that it is to some degree, though perhaps not for all people in all circumstances, what limits must I place on my criticisms of others to avoid hypocrisy, and the loss of credibility that follows? I'm not sure that we can be sufficiently critical of our own criticisms. That is why I feel it's necessary to subject my beliefs, arguments, and criticisms to the skeptical eye of my opposition. Where I may fail to recognize the weakness of my position, my intellectual opponent is sure to see it.

I have long felt that the President has failed to expose himself to a sufficient number of advisers who would challenge the recommendations of his inner circle. Would the invasion of Iraq have taken place, or have been executed as haphazardly as it was, if the President had received the advice of the Dick Cheney of 1994, instead of only the Dick Cheney of 2003? Unfortunately, it seems there are troubling examples that our next president may be equally unwilling to face down the intellectual opposition and test the justificatory basis of his or her ideas. Time will tell...

I have nothing to say, but...surreal...