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Zer Netmouse
March 6th, 2005
01:21 pm


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West Wing
Last night I joined Bill to have dinner and hang out (with folks from the Bullwhip workshop he's taking this weekend) at Zingerman's, hearing stories from when Greg has taught his bullwhip
course at different venues, and what it was like to go on TV with his act.

Afterwards we went over to Tammy and Eric's and visited with them for
a bit. Krysta came over with her girlfriend Catherine,
and we watched two weeks of west wing episodes. In between the
episodes the recap bit started, and Bill suggested we skip it, asking
if it wasn't merely what we had just watched, and people started to
explain that no, there might be more... Catherine turned to him and
said something like "You don't watch television. Leave this to those
of us who do.." and it was really funny. It's hard to describe it so
that you can tell why it was funny, but it was.

It was interesting to watch the shows, and yet afterward it left me
feeling sad. It's encouraging to watch someone be swayed on screen by
the logical arguments for opening up funding for stem cell research
but sad at the same time to think that the same bill cannot be passed
in our current congress.

I was discussing with Krysta afterwards why the voting procedure
continues to require everyone voting to be present on the floor. she
pointed out quite rightly that there are procedural actions, like a
filibuster, that only work if you're present, and yet I have to
question how this requirement is related to the point of
representational democratic government. Does giving the Speaker this
kind of power forward the goals of democracy or does it primarily
divert and undercut the process?

Different Speakers have, of course, used it toward different ends.

Anyway, it was on the whole an enjoyable evening.

(9 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2005 10:54 am (UTC)
"You don't watch television. Leave this to those of us who do.."

*snork* Sounds like something that could be hurled my way as well.

Bullwhip class? How to make one? How to use one? I'm trying to think of a way that bullwhips and balloon animals could combine, but the balloons always come out on the losing end.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2005 01:42 pm (UTC)
I have very complicated emotions after watching episodes of The West Wing, too. But mostly I just start acting like Toby Ziegler. (I suppose "more like" is more accurate; it's not much of a stretch.)


(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2005 03:11 pm (UTC)
um, Krysta's tape, I think
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2005 03:32 pm (UTC)
Re: the voting procedure.

I believe that was instituted in order to have decisions made by people who cared enough to show up, or to send in proxies, rather than by large groups from out of town, or people who didn't care enough to go vote.

Maybe enough time has passed that we can amend the rule, but I actually think it's a good rule.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2005 06:19 pm (UTC)
They were discussing the voting procedure used by the US government, in case that wasn't clear.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 04:32 am (UTC)
Decisions made by people who cared enough to show up, and could afford to be away from home and could afford the travel. And, I think, so that they would participate in debating a point before it is voted on. I like that goal, but I'm not sure the rule succeeds in promoting it.

If a senator has been called home because a family member is ill, or has gone home in order to confer with his constituents, does that mean he doesn't care enough to deserve to vote? In the example in the television show, a bill was placed on the agenda during a time in the presidential campaign when the focus of many senators was away from Washington DC (the impact of campaigns on the effectiveness of our government is a whole 'nother can of worms, but anyway...). But, in the TV show, they *did* care - they came back to the hill to vote. And the Speaker, seeing that the vote would not go the way he wanted it to go, "pulled the vote." He said "never mind, we're not voting on this today." As represented, it was a deliberate ploy to manipulate *who got to vote*. Demonstrated by the Speaker's calling the vote the next day after he felt sure the people who had come back had given up and gone back to their campaigns.

You also see this kind of thing in situations where a vote is pushed through really fast late in the day (or early the next day) in October - without giving people time to return to the hill or wake up or even to have their offices peruse the bill in question. Neither of these tactics, in my mind, are supportable considering what the purpose of representative government is supposed to be.
[User Picture]
Date:March 8th, 2005 12:21 pm (UTC)

Legislative Abuse of Procedure

It's a general principle of American parliamentary law, going back prior to the foundation of the republic, that in any deliberative assembly, be it a house of the US Congress, the Business Meeting of the World Science Fiction Society, or your local club meeting, that you must be present to represent yourself. Proxies are prohibited unless specifically allowed (I'd give the page reference from Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised but I don't have the current edition at hand -- it's p. 415 in the 9th edition.)

Having said that, situations such as the one described are what I might call "procedural abuse." In an ordinary deliberative assembly (like the WSFS BM, or most clubs or similar groups), the Chair wouldn't be able to do such a thing, because (a) it's not within his authority to do so and (b) even if it was, if enough members were aggravated by the actions, they could pull the measure out from under the Chair and force a vote. But Congressional rules (and they're apparently substantially different between the House of Representatives and Senate -- American common parliamentary law derives from House rules) give vast procedural powers to the Chair. As long as there's a majority party, the Chair is pretty much going to be able to get away with this. As it happens, both parties support this sort of system, even when they aren't the ones in charge, because they know that when they are in charge, they get to have their way.

I've presided over WSFS Business Meetings a couple of times now, and the Chair there has much less authority. Common parliamentary law vests a lot more authority with the rank and file members than do most legislatures' procedural rules. And procedural rules are for the most part not constitutional law, so procedural abuses such as described here are legal but are not written in constitutional granite.

If you've watched C-SPAN, you will have from time to time seen the Chair dispose of business quickly with the magic phrase, "Without objection, the motion is read a third time, passed, and the motion to Reconsider is laid on the table." That last bit is critical here. Under Congressional rules, it's practically impossible to rescue a motion that is laid on the table on account of the super-majority vote required to do so. They lay the Reconsider on the table because otherwise, a soon as the aggrieved legislators returned, one of them would move a Reconsideration of the motion, which would start the whole thing over again. (Reconsider, incidentally, is apparently an entirely American motion, which within limits allows you to restart legislation even after it has been finally disposed of. More details upon request.)

Kevin, lapsed member of the National Association of Parliamentarians
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2005 06:20 pm (UTC)
It was really nice that you could come over. I hope we can do it again sometime soon! It's great that you now have weekends on the same days as the rest of us.
[User Picture]
Date:March 7th, 2005 04:32 am (UTC)
It's great that you now have weekends on the same days as the rest of us.

yeah! I'm still getting used to it...

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