August 16, 2007

One of My Great Pet Peeves

Why can't Hollywood do an accurate portrayal of Washington, DC?

It's a problem that extends to the whole DC region, too. In Syriana, I believe there's a scene where George Clooney is standing outside what is obviously an Ikea -- only thing is, the only Ikea in the region is in College Park. And let's not forget the gleaming set of skyscrapers that populated Ft. Detrick in the disaster flick Outbreak, which if you've seen the actual Ft. Detrick in Frederick, is an absolute farce.

August 12, 2007

Textbooks for Rent

In my inbox, I just got a promotion for TextBookFlix, which allows you to rent textbooks for a semester, and, according to the website, save 55% to 65% on your textbook bills. As a grad student, this is quite tempting; however, is this a sustainable business model? In my experience, at least, the turnover for textbooks (and indeed, any books used for a class) tends to be rather high -- new professors come in, some classes cycle through different professors each semester, some classes are only offered occasionally, if at all, etc. Add to this the fact that professors are usually idiosyncratic about their textbook choices, and it's hard to see how this could work, at least from the point of view of the bookseller. (For the book buyer, the ultimate fate of books rented is arguably not important.) I guess that for introductory courses that everyone has to take, there is plenty of money to be made in renting textbooks; but for advanced courses, its profitability has to taper off.

August 5, 2007

Monkey Torture

Trolling through YouTube (in lieu of doing something useful), I came across this old clip from The State, and given the state of politics and the media today, I found it strangely resonant:

Let's Recall the President

I don't think it's going too far to say that the Bush years have revealed some glaring weaknesses in our system of government, not least of which concerns executive accountability: The barriers to prosecuting an impeachment are extremely high, and given the dissatisfaction of so many Americans with the President's policies, and the inability of Congress to successfully oppose the administration, we have the situation we have now, where the President can pursue policies in outright defiance of the will of the American people with impunity. And, since the President is term-limited, we can't even vote the bastard out of office.

This is why this op-ed by Robert Dallek in the Sunday Post is so fascinating: He proposes amending the Constitution to provide for the recall of the president and vice president, to be initiated by a 3/5th majority in both houses of Congress, and decided by the voters. This is an idea I've actually been toying with myself for a few weeks, and there's some merit to it:
  1. It treats the presidency and the vice presidency as a unit, which impeachment does not do, and which would be more in accordance with the post-12th Amendment Constitution;
  2. The supermajority barriers to recall are lower than impeachment;
  3. It grapples with the need to apply more accountability to the modern, term-limited, and imperial presidency;
  4. And the decision to recall ultimately rests with the people, thus maintaining a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.
It also passes the Clinton test; i.e., if a recall motion were initiated against Bill Clinton instead of impeachment, the result would have been the same -- failure. So Democrats supporting this can feel secure against charges of opportunism or Bush-hatred. (Republicans, of course, will wait until the next Democratic president to extol the virtues of recall.) Moreover, the impeachment provision would still be useful against lesser members of the executive branch.

On the other hand, there are still a number of things that even the current Congress can do to check the executive -- that is, if they showed a little more spine.