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Saturday Q&A

There is so much news, on so many different fronts, these days that it makes for a nice mix of questions.

Current Events

J.W. in Newton, MA, asks: This recent interview with Barbara F. Walter, author of How Civil Wars Start, is chilling. Dr. Walter argues that the two strongest predictors of civil war are weakened democratic norms and arrangement of parties around racial, religious, or other identities. In her analysis, we are definitely in peril, with the possibility of a right-wing insurgency in the next 20 years quite high if we do not change our ways. You have traditionally argued that our democracy is too strong for a garden-variety military coup, but what about an IRA-style insurgency that kills thousands and goes on for decades?

V & Z answer: Let's start by noting that Barbara Walter has a vested interest in telling readers that a civil war may be imminent, and you should really read her book if you want to know more. This is not to suggest that she's saying something she knows to be untrue, merely that she's not an entirely dispassionate observer, here. Further, if "weakened democratic norms" and "arrangement of parties around racial, religious or other identities" are the two prerequisites for civil war, then the U.S. was on the cusp of a civil war in the 1800s, the 1830s, the 1860s, the 1890s, the 1930s, the 1960s, and the 1990s, in addition to the 2020s. Of course, an actual civil war came to pass on only one of those occasions. And note that we just went through U.S. history and picked the decades that most clearly met Walter's list of conditions. It's an interesting coincidence that the decades chosen, with only one exception, ended up at 30-year intervals.

As to an IRA-style insurgency, that seems very plausible. In fact, are we sure it's not already happening? From Oklahoma City to the various mass shootings to the 1/6 insurrection, there is already a lot of right-wing terrorism in service of a reactionary political and social agenda.

J.C. in Silver Spring, MD, asks: With all of the hand-wringing regarding perceived inaction on the part of the Justice Department when it comes to investigating Donald Trump and other higher-ups in the January 6th coup attempt, I have to wonder: If AG Merrick Garland is concerned about appearing to be partisan if he were to indict, or even aggressively investigate, the past president, why not simply appoint a special counsel and wash his hands of the whole thing? It seems like such a no-brainer that I wonder if I'm missing something. Any light that you gentlemen can shed on this?

V & Z answer: It's certainly possible that Garland could look at the cost-benefit analysis and decide to make an appointment. But we will point out three things: (1) That will not, in any way, stop Trump and his supporters in the media from claiming that it's a partisan witch hunt (see Mueller, Robert); (2) The independent counsel would have to start from scratch, with a de facto late-2023 deadline, or else it wouldn't be an independent investigation; (3) There is a pretty strong argument that if something as bold as indicting a former president is going to happen, that decision needs to come from the very highest levels of the federal government, and not from a freelancer.

R.D. in Philadelphia, PA, asks: What is the status of Congress or any other governmental agency who went through the countless legal battles to get Trump's tax returns?

V & Z answer: There are two separate cases. One of them has the House Oversight Committee trying to get the returns from Trump's now-former accounting firm, Mazars USA. The other has the House Ways and Means committee trying to get the returns from the IRS. The courts have consistently ruled against Trump, but he's managed to keep things tied up with appeals, and that is where things stand now. For example, a three-judge panel from the D.C. Court of Appeals just ruled against the former president yesterday, but he's certain to ask for an en banc hearing from the entire circuit.

S.W. in Pasadena, CA, asks: Of course this is not Joe Biden's "style," but if the ghost of Franklin D. Roosevelt suddenly took control of his body, could Biden, in his role as Commander-in-Chief, respond to the Dobbs decision something along the following lines? First, emphasize two facts: (1) Women play a vital role in today's military and (2) Unreasonable restrictions on access to abortion are likely to adversely affect enlistment and retention rates for women in the military. So, in order to ensure that the military is not adversely affected, he is ordering the Joint Chiefs to immediately begin moving all possible military operations from states with unreasonable restrictions to states that comply with the general terms of Roe v. Wade. Then, he could add "P.S., the Constitution gave the Federal courts no role in purely military decisions, so everyone can skip filing suits to stop this, because we are going to ignore any rulings from the Fifth Circuit."

My guess is that most states would rethink their abortion position if they thought that they might face the loss of all the money that a bustling military base brings.

V & Z answer: Would it be legal? Probably so. Would it be practical? No.

The problem is that if you are going to relocate 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 people from facility [X], you have to have some other place to put them. It's not like the U.S. has unused workspace and housing for 100,000 or 150,000 troops in the blue states. And that's before we consider that many bases are highly specialized. For example, it would not be easy to relocate the Air Forces Northern National Security Emergency Preparedness Directorate from Florida, especially since one of its responsibilities is to track hurricanes.

Of course, Congress could allocate funding for new facilities for many or most red-state personnel. However, that would run into the trillions of dollars, and if the Democrats had the votes for something like that, they'd have the votes to just pass national abortion legislation.

M.M. in Upland, CA, asks: What's stopping Joe Biden (and future presidents) from promising doctors that perform an abortion on federal land a pardon on his last day in office?

V & Z answer: Biden is a cautious institutionalist, and is very unlikely to sign off on a plan that effectively weaponizes the pardon power. Further, any physician who was part of such a scheme would be taking some big risks. First, they would have to rely on the President to actually make good on his promise, since a president can only pardon past crimes, not future ones. Biden presumably would follow through, but nothing is certain in life. Second, the doctors who did this could not hide their participation, and so would end up on a list of targets for pro-abortion forces. That might mean governors using their powers to persecute the physicians in any way possible, or picketing of their homes and workplaces, or acts of violence. Besides abortions on federal land would still be punishable by state courts and Biden can't pardon state crimes.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, asks: Back before casinos became legal almost everywhere, there were party boats that would go out beyond the 3-mile limit, and only then turn on their slot machines, etc.

While I can easily imagine the usual anti-abortion zealots harassing and even attacking them, like Greenpeace vs. the whalers, is there any legal reason why someone—say, Planned Parenthood—couldn't run such a service out of Houston, New Orleans or Miami? I can't imagine that a vessel big enough to accommodate a well-equipped clinic would be economically viable, though.

V & Z answer: We are not experts in admiralty law nor in medical licensure, so we can't speak to issues that might arise on those fronts, though there may well be some. Also, the logistics of getting all the women who need abortion services in one place at one time could be problematic. Most importantly, a ship can't dock in a place without permission. And it would take approximately 2 minutes for Texas, Louisiana, Florida, etc. to take whatever steps needed to deny access to abortion ships.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, asks: If the Supreme Court goes back to being more centrist or liberal in the near future, can they reinstate Roe v. Wade as the law of the land through a case they hear? Or would the overturning of Roe be final and be dead for good?

V & Z answer: Yes, they can. There are two basic ways that might happen. The first, which is both very rare in practice, and very unlikely in theory, is that if the Court finds that "fundamental errors" were made in the Dobbs decision, and that certain other conditions are met, it can issue a decree called a writ of coram nobis. On only one occasion has a Supreme Court decision been reversed by a writ of coram nobis.

Alternatively, a person with standing (say, a woman who was denied an abortion) could file a case claiming she should have been allowed to get an abortion, have the case work its way through the federal courts, have SCOTUS grant certiorari, and then have the Court rule in her favor. Technically, this would not restore Roe, but it would establish a new precedent that has the same effect.

J.A. in Rutland, VT, asks: Would the Supreme Court decisions have been much different if a more traditional Republican had been elected president instead of Donald Trump? I realize the number of nominations was not Trump's doing, but largely a product of Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) shenanigans and Ruth Bader Ginsburg's decision not to retire. But might another Republican president have nominated candidates with more traditional credentials, and might they have chosen to reach less extreme decisions?

V & Z answer: If Donald Trump had never run for president, and some other Republican had won that election, it would have made virtually no difference in the judges appointed. First of all, the Federalist Society has been calling the shots on that front since the 1980s. Recall that the most extreme-right judge on the Supreme Court right now is Clarence Thomas. He was a nominee of George H.W. Bush, who was certainly a "traditional Republican." Second, recall that because Jeb! never made any headway, the main alternatives to Trump in 2016 were Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Carson, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). All are plenty right-wing, and would have wanted staunchly right-wing SCOTUS justices.

K.F.K. in Cle Elum, WA, asks: What would it take to prosecute the father of the gunman for sponsoring his permit? If the father bears zero responsibility for the son's behavior with the gun, then the law about sponsoring is meaningless.

V & Z answer: Well, most gun laws are pretty meaningless these days, unfortunately. And the sponsorship law appears to be pretty toothless, though Illinois legislators are promising to go back and close some of the loopholes that have presented themselves. That's very helpful for those who perished or were injured in the July 4 shooting.

If the gunman's father is to pay a price here, then either a criminal or civil case (or both) would have to be filed making the argument that the father was aware of a pattern of behavior, and that his decision to support the gun application anyhow amounts to negligence. Then he could be popped for negligent homicide or for civil damages. The civil case would be more likely to succeed, though they're both tenuous. The shooter's father would argue that his son went through an extensive background check, and if the authorities didn't see a problem, then he couldn't be expected to, either.

M.A. in Montreal, QC, Canada, asks: My wife believes real change will only come the day a mass shooting happens at a DC school and the victims include the children of representatives and senators. I would love your opinion.

V & Z answer: During practice for the annual congressional softball game, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) was himself shot by a mass shooter and nearly died. He eventually resumed his duties, however, and has remained a reliable vote for the gun lobby. In fact, in the first campaign cycle after the shooting, he collected $142,653 from the gun industry, which was more than any other member of Congress.

From this example, we draw the conclusion that even if gun violence becomes very personal, it's not going to change the minds of the pro-gun members of Congress, many of whom really love that sweet, sweet pro-gun money.


M.W. in Richmond, VA, asks: Back at the beginning of the 117th Congress, there was a lot of talk about making D.C. a state, and putting limits on the power of the president to pardon his own family and associates. Has anything happened with those now that the clock is ticking?

V & Z answer: Barring some very inventive interpretations of the rules for reconciliation, which are not likely to pass muster with Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough even if the Democrats tried it, then these things would require some Republican votes. D.C. statehood would be filibustered, and so 10 Republican votes would be needed in the Senate, and those are not forthcoming. Limits on the pardon power might possibly gain some Republican support, but maybe not, since the right-wing media would go nuts. They know full well who is, and who is not, likely to need that power.

Keep in mind also that the members of Congress are very busy, and there are only so many hours in the day. They can't spend time tilting at windmills at the expense of doing things that can/will actually succeed (like approving judges).

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, asks: Let's say hypothetically that, in mid-2016, Barack Obama announced that the Senate had abrogated its duty to advise and consent as to his Supreme Court nominee of Merrick Garland, and so Garland would be immediately seated. Let's say it was also widely accepted that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan felt that Obama's decision was reasonable, so if any litigation challenging Obama's conduct made its way to the Supreme Court, his action would be approved by the now-liberal majority. What would have happened next? What would the reaction have been from the public? How about from the Republican leadership?

V & Z answer: This kind of thing is not unprecedented. George Washington attempted to get the Senate's advice on the very first treaty he negotiated on taking office. They annoyed him with their dilly-dallying, and so he never bothered again, nor has any other president. The result is that the Senate's constitutional duty to "advise and consent" on treaties has been reduced, in practice, to only "consent."

If Obama had tried it, he might have managed to make it stick. However, while Democrats would have cheered, Republicans would have been furious. As we've pointed out, if states and their citizens do not view the Court as legitimate, then they are prone to rebel against its decisions. The red states were already pushing things to the limit, even without the excuse of an "illegitimate judge." Imagine what they would have done with that propaganda opportunity in place.

P.R. in Arvada, CO, asks: I was wondering if you could dust of your crystal ball or drag the staff mind reader out of the bar for 5 minutes.

One of the things that struck me about Joe Biden when he was vice president was the time when he advised President Obama to wait for more information before authorizing the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden. From that point on, I have always thought of him as too cautious and indecisive to make a good President.

Do you think he suffers from analysis paralysis, is just incompetent as Fox would have us believe, or could he be waiting for the right time to do something when it would have maximum effect at the polls? Also, does he have a track record of being overly cautious in general, when the buck stops with him, or am I unfairly judging based on one incident?

V & Z answer: Obviously, the story of his presidency is still being written. And then after he's done, he'll presumably write a memoir, which will add additional insight that we currently don't have.

With those caveats, we don't think he's incompetent, and we doubt that he's milking the drama for maximal polling effect. That leaves us with "really cautious." He's a senior citizen and someone steeped in 40 years of the culture of the U.S. Senate. Further, the boldest moves of his political life, namely the 1980s crime bill and his dealings with Anita Hill, both came back to bite him in the rear. All of these things will tend to make a person rather circumspect.

Also, beyond the political calculus, Biden seems to be a person whose natural proclivities are pretty moderate. For example, he has managed to reconcile his Catholic faith with his pro-choice politics. But given the tension there, is it terribly surprising that he's not willing to do anything and everything to preserve abortion rights?

B.J. in Boston, MA, asks: Regarding your item post about Joe Biden's potentially failed presidency, I am as rabidly anti-Republican and pro-Democrat as anyone, and even I've lost patience with him. I know he has done some great things behind the scenes (e.g., NATO, Ukraine), but there is absolutely something more he can be doing right now without help from Congress or the courts: leading. His job is to protect the Constitution. We are at war with a domestic enemy that wants to destroy it. He should be using his bully pulpit to summon his troops to battle. His troops are citizens. Call out the enemy actions. Name the enemy. Explain clearly, and regularly, what is going on. Tell us what to do to help! Surely he has better information about what is needed, or he can publicize the organizers who do.

My question is: What more can I do? What is the most useful thing I can do? And how can everyone answer this question for themselves?

After a few weeks of feeling at a loss, I hit on what now seems like an obvious idea yesterday. Biden will be President until 2024, so what matters most right now is control of Congress after 2022. In the House and Senate, every seat has an equal vote. Therefore, I should find House or Senate seats in any state that are close enough to be tossup/swing-able so that whatever volunteering I can do might contribute to either protecting a seat or flipping a seat. In my case, I can go so far as to take a month or two of unpaid leave from work to volunteer full time. I would like to stay near home, though, since I have young kids.

I live in Boston. What is the geographically closest House or Senate race that my volunteering for might legitimately make a difference? And where can I find the data so that I could answer that question myself?

V & Z answer: If your goal is to advance Democratic priorities, then you are right that the focus must be on the midterms, and on keeping a Democratic House while adding seats in the Senate.

For left-leaning folks who are trying to figure out what to do with their time and their money, Swing Left has a tool called Blueprint, where you answer a few questions and they send you quarterly recommendations as to what races, organizations, etc. you should be looking at.

In your case, B.J., you probably want to look to New Hampshire. Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) is one of the more endangered Senate Democrats this year. Or, if you want a campaign where a single person is likely to have a bigger impact, Rep. Chris Pappas (D), in NH-01, is one of the more endangered House Democrats this year.

M.R. in Centre County, PA, asks: My father listens to a conservative podcast. He's mentioned a few times in the past few months that it looks like the story about Hunter Biden's laptop is more legitimate than many news outlets previously indicated. I did my own research a few months back, and it seemed like more liberal-leaning news outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post were taking the story more seriously, but that there were still parts of it that didn't add up. I haven't read anything on recently regarding all this, so my question to you guys is, what is your current take on the Hunter Biden Laptop conundrum?

V & Z answer: When this news initially broke, the story was that a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden had been discovered, and that it contained all sorts of incriminating e-mails and other information. Because the main sources for this revelation were Rudy Giuliani and The New York Post, 60% of the country did not take the story seriously, while many law enforcement/national security experts said it could well be a Russian scam.

Now, it appears that the laptop might well have been Biden's, and (at least some of) the e-mails on it really were his. However, the potentially legitimate e-mails speak only to Hunter sometimes trying to monetize his famous name. That's not great, but it's something the Trumps do all day long. Further, unlike (most of) the Trumps, Hunter Biden is not a part of the administration. So, to the extent that the laptop and its comments "incriminate" Joe Biden, it's that they suggest he should have taken a bit firmer hand with his son's business activities.

J.K. in Dublin, Ireland, asks: There is a lot of reporting these days on the unfavorable ratings of president Biden. However, in a country which is so divided politically, and where presumably no Republican will ever have a good word for any Democratic president and vice-versa, how much weight should we place on these polls? Isn't it clear that nothing President Biden does will ever attract support from the Republican half of the electorate?

V & Z answer: Well, it's not quite as simple as that. We'd guess that, at the moment, about 40% of the country will not approve of a Democrat under any circumstances, while about the same percentage will not approve of a Republican under any circumstances.

Even with those ceilings, though, approval ratings are useful. They act as a form of tracking poll, and allow us to assess the extent to which a president's political capital is ebbing or flowing.

S.O.C. in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, asks: Are presidential approval ratings actually worth anything anymore? I have met so many Democrats who really, really don't like Joe Biden and want better options. (In fact, I've only met one person who actively approves of him). So if they were called and asked if they approved of him, they would say "no." But they would also vote for him if it was him versus Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), or Mike Pence. I have also met a lot of Republicans who hated and disapproved of Donald Trump. But they would also vote for him if it were him vs. Biden, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or VP Kamala Harris. Nobody has good approval ratings these days, it seems, but this tribalism means you'll still vote for who you disapprove of over who you hate.

V & Z answer: It is true that voters these days feel they are deciding which candidate they disapprove of less. That said, approval ratings speak to enthusiasm about a president among those who might plausibly vote for him, and do correlate with turnout among those individuals. A president with 40% approval is not likely to lure enough of his voters to the polls to win an election.

D.D. in Carversville, PA, asks: In your item "Youngkin for President?", you write that he's pushing for laws that aren't viable nationally. Isn't Ron DeSantis doing the same thing, and yet he's perhaps the current favorite for the nomination? Do you think Youngkin might be the one Republican who could outplay DeSantis for the nomination? (Republicans seem to love their supposedly wealthy nominees.)

V & Z answer: We do not believe Youngkin can outpace DeSantis. At the moment, if a Republican wants to be nominated for president (or for most other offices), they have to be squarely in the Trump lane. And among candidates who are not Trump himself, DeSantis is dominating that lane, presidentially.

However—and we've written this many times—we believe DeSantis is not palatable to a presidential electorate because of his far-right politics and his track record. His best (and maybe only) hope if he gets the Republican nomination in 2024 is to be matched up against an unpopular Democrat, and for there to be a lot of voters who are willing to vote for anyone who is not that unpopular Democrat as long as it doesn't mean voting for Donald Trump.

M.G. in Boulder, CO, asks: You listed potential replacements for U.K. PM Boris Johnson. Your comment was, "Not a real promising field, from where we sit." Britain has 60 million people. Surely there should be hundreds of people capable of doing a better job than Johnson, but none are presenting themselves. For that matter, the U.S. has far more people, and very few seem ready for and capable of competent national leadership. Why are our systems failing to produce the leaders we need?

V & Z answer: Not to oversimplify too much, but the skills needed to build and lead a political movement are different from the skills needed to lead a country successfully. Some people are good at both, but many are only good at the former, particularly in the social media age. And the former is all you need to win an election.


J.M. in Sewickley, PA, asks: Since the Shakers did not allow sex or childbearing, could a woman claim to be a Shaker, claim to have been raped, then make the argument that her religion requires her to get an abortion? Seems like that might be a (convoluted, true) end run around any law proscribing abortion?

V & Z answer: Obviously, a person cannot violate laws with impunity and claim they are allowed to do so because of their religious views. And when disputes of this sort end up in court, the courts weigh whether the person will be "substantially burdened" in their practice of their religion versus whether the rule or law in question advances a "compelling government interest" that cannot be achieved in any other manner.

In the hypothetical case you describe, it would be an easy call for the courts. The government's compelling interest in protecting the lives of its citizens outweighs any and all religious practice. So, the moment that a state government decides that a fetus is a person, religion ceases to be a loophole that might allow someone to acquire an abortion.

B.B. in Warminster, PA, asks: I came across this short article on Political Wire regarding Rick Santorum's $1 million-plus in campaign debts from 2012 and 2016. I wonder, do these reported debts represent real money that people or companies are owed? Is some poor soul sitting in their home hoping that Rick comes through today so they can pay their electric bill? Is interest charged on the loans? And when they are finally found in arrears, what collateral can the lenders go after?

V & Z answer: The real champion here is actually Newt Gingrich, whose 2012 campaign remains more than $4 million in debt. You can see Gingrich's most recent disclosure here, if you wish (the debts start on page nine). And if you look at it, you will see that there are different sorts of debts. One of those is loans to the campaign from the candidate themselves. Presumably, those were really "donations" that the candidate did not expect to be repaid. A second is fees from consultants and other politics-related vendors. We are assuming these people are clever enough to know that campaigns often go belly-up, and that they extended "credit" (and thus assumed a risk) because if the campaign worked out, they would get lots of business and gain invaluable access. A third sort of debt is to entities that provide general services, like cable TV, and whose business model is predicated on the understanding that you grant "credit" liberally and sometimes you get stuck for a few hundred bucks' worth of unpaid bills.

In short, we don't think there's anyone who is missing meals because Santorum or Gingrich failed to pay their bills. As to interest being charged, yes it is. And as to going after a candidate who is in arrears, a campaign is a corporation. And, as we know, a corporation is legally a person. So, if the campaign/corporation accrues new assets, then the creditors can go after those. But it would not be possible to go after Santorum's house or Gingrich's checking account.

P.L. in Lund, Sweden, asks: Now that a judge has allowed the cases between Dominion and Newsmax/FoxNews to continue, it seems "brave" for the cartoonist Scott Adams to publish this:

Dilbert speaks to a colleague
about their company entering the voting machine market, wonders if this means if his vote will still count, and is
told that yes it will and that sometimes it will even be counted twice.

Even though no voting machine company is mentioned, do you think he Adams can get into trouble over this?

V & Z answer: Let's talk about the small penis rule (which should really be called the small penis technique or the small penis maneuver). This is a trick used by writers to get around defamation law. In the U.S., you can only get busted for defaming someone in a work of fiction if the portrayal is so accurate that nobody would fail to link the fictional depiction with the real person. And so the workaround is that an author creates a fictional male who is clearly meant to reference a real-world male, but then gives the fictional male a small penis. The idea is that there are few males willing to go into court and say: "Newspaper reporter, graduated Fordham, known for wearing a bowtie, won two Pulitzers, tiny penis... of course that's me!"

And therein lies the answer to your question. A general reference to voting machines is not enough detail to link the portrayal in the cartoon to any specific vendor. So, Adams is in the clear.


O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, asks: Hey (Z), do you know Joseph Manson? What do you think about his retirement?

V & Z answer: (Z) does not know Professor Manson as a colleague, but he did take Manson's introductory anthro class as an undergrad.

Manson's retirement, for those who do not know, was prompted by his view that academic departments have become too woke, and have fallen under the control of far-left cabals with no tolerance for even the slightest of disagreements. He wrote a lengthy blog post explaining his perspective.

As to (Z)'s opinion, Manson is right that the modern-day academy is often hostile to differing viewpoints—not only right-wing, but centrist, center-left, etc.—and does not live up to the ideal of being a "marketplace of ideas."

To take one small example, (Z) once attended a presentation on how to make the classroom inclusive for students of all races, gender identities, sexual orientations, etc. And the first thing the (straight, cis) presenter talked about was how they always announce their pronouns on the first day of class, and they also carry a thermos around that features the "pride" rainbow. (Z) raised his hand and commented that such gestures are great in terms of welcoming LGBTQ+ students, but that they could be somewhat off-putting or hostile for someone who came from a more conservative background or culture. And so, such gestures might not make the classroom more inclusive as much as they would trade inclusion of some students for the inclusion of other students. This wasn't even meant as a criticism, it was meant as a request for comment on how the presenter might also take steps to also put those more conservative students at ease. However, the presenter got very angry, and there were many other people in the room who spent the next 20 minutes glaring at (Z). This despite the fact that (Z) was basically on the same page as the presenter, and voluntarily gave up 2 hours of his time to learn how to make a more inclusive classroom.

At the same time, on the very first day of that undergrad class 30 years ago, (Z) noted that Manson was unusually prickly. Undoubtedly, some of his difficulties with his colleagues were due to things other than his left-wing politics versus their ultra-left-wing politics. Further, his essay misrepresents some of the examples he cites, and it was also published on the blog of Bari Weiss. It's also worth noting that nasty departmental politics are hardly a new thing, and most departments are run by a clique who tries to impose their approach to teaching, scholarship, etc.

J.S. in Iowa City, IA, asks: I am curious as to (Z)'s thoughts about UCLA (and that other school) joining the Big Ten from a faculty perspective.

I am one year into a Ph.D. program at Iowa and much is made about the Big Ten Academic Alliance fostering cooperation between the member schools, including shared library resources and access to academic conferences. In my area of music education, we seem to have a strong professional community between faculty at the different institutions, with frequent guest lectures and our annual conference to present research and build connections. It was even used as a selling point as I was discerning where to attend, though a teaching assistantship offer eventually decided it for me.

Do other conferences do anything like this? Will this be welcome news for the faculty members at the two new additions, or is this just something that will have minimal to no impact?

V & Z answer: (Z) can't speak for USC, of course, since he was not a student or a faculty member there. He's not eligible, actually—his parents were married.

But speaking for UCLA, that added layer of cooperation isn't likely to have much impact. To start, people at UCLA tend to form their own communities of expertise that are unrelated to the composition of sports leagues.

Further, UCLA is already part of an alliance, of sorts, namely the UC System. To use your example of the libraries, the UCLA library system has more volumes than any college library other than that of Harvard. Further, any UC person can get a book from any UC campus by requesting it via interlibrary loan. That puts something like 100 million books at a UCLA student's or faculty member's command. (Interestingly, many of the volumes belonging to other UC campuses are actually housed in a special subterranean facility at UCLA). Under these circumstances, it is very unlikely that there would be much need to call on the library at Purdue or the University of Minnesota.

Finally, there's the geography problem. The traditional Big 10 schools are pretty close to each other, and even the more recent additions, like Penn State, aren't that far removed. But UCLA is way across the country. It is not all that practical for a UCLA history professor to pop over to the University of Michigan for a colloquium talk.

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