Rule Encyclopedia Britannica–Eleventh Edition

I don’t regularly read the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica that we rescued decades ago. But it’s more useable now that the spouse has rebound it.It is overwhelming. Each of the twenty-nine volumes averages about 1,000 pages with entries I would not even think of looking up—“Hydrasine,” for example, is followed by “Hydrate,” which precedes about 180,000 words and scores of illustrations, charts, and equations on “Hydraulics.” But in its new state, I do consult this Britannica more often than I did before.

I thought it might be interesting to see what the learned books had to say about some important topics today. I looked up “Ukraine” and found but five lines telling me that it was a former name for a district of European Russia and that the “portion east of the Dnieper became Russian in 1686 and the portion west of that river in 1793.” That nearly-empty-cupboard entry perhaps tells me something of significance for today’s conflict, but I don’t know what. (On the same page, six times more space was given to “Uist, North and South,” which I had never heard of. Okay, I will tell you that they are islands in the Outer Hebrides, with a population then of about 5,000, apparently swelled sometimes by anglers.)

I then went to “Filibuster.” The brief entry first traced the word’s origin from Dutch through French and Spanish, where it became a term for pirate. It went on to say that in nineteenth century America it came to mean adventurers who organized expeditions in the United States to take part in revolutions in Central America and the West Indies. It concluded: “From this has sprung the modern usage of the word to imply one who engages in private, unauthorized and irregular warfare against any state. In the United States it colloquially applied to legislators who practice obstruction.” I did not learn–as I had hoped–the 1910 view about how congressional filibusters originated or their usefulness.

More satisfying, however, have been entries about places I plan to visit. We have booked an autumn trip to Rochester, New York. I appreciated getting some information about the city’s early history. I had no idea about the dramatic river cutting through the town. I wonder whether the landmark buildings the entry described will still be there, but it reminded me of some of the famous and important people who lived in Rochester in the nineteenth century. After reading the entry, I became even more eager for the trip.

The encyclopedia’s entry on Iceland was less enlightening because I had already visited and read books about the country when I looked it up. The topographical, geological, and historical discussions added little to what I had already seen or heard about. What was most surprising about the entry, however, was that more than half of it was devoted to the literature of Iceland, centering on ancient texts in an opinionated, authoritative tone. (“Taste has sunk since the old days, but still this rimur poetry is popular and genuine.”) But since I am interested in modern writing, the descriptions of what seems to be hundreds of ancient works held little interest for me.

Perhaps the most joy that the set has given me are the serendipitous discoveries when I search for something and my eye is drawn to an illustration. When I looked for Rochester, I saw five color plates accompanying “Robes,” and I (temporarily) learned that the garment for The Most Ancient Order of the Thistle is green with black and white accents and a long, golden braided cord hanging from the neck. (I also incidentally learned, again temporarily, that there is [or was] such a thing as The Most Ancient Order of the Thistle.)

Coronation Robe

Black and white photographs make me move on to “Round Towers,” and I learn for the moment that a “peculiar class of round tower exists in Ireland.” My search for Ukraine is interrupted by eight color plates of “Uniforms.” I can see how “France: Sergeant Alsace Regt: 1690,” “Ludhian Sikhs,” Prussian Generals, and many more were attired.


The most striking feature in the encyclopedia are its maps. Every volume has several, usually in color, that fold out to fifteen by twelve inches. The “Hus-Ita” book has foldouts for maps for Idaho and Montana, Illinois, two for India (Northern and Southern parts), Indiana, Iowa (but in black and white), and Ireland. The detail is incredible and serious examination requires a magnifier. (In a square inch of the Ireland map, I spot at least thirty-five labels.) They are maps, but also works of art. They are well preserved in the set. I feel a strong temptation to razor them out, mount them, and then add onto the house so that I can have a map room, but there are so many exquisite ones, it would have to be a somewhat large addition.

Map: Russia in Europe
Detail: Russia in Europe

I am grateful that the spouse rebound our long-possessed 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica, for while I doubt that it will be an everyday occurrence, I expect that I will dip into it more often now than I have in the past. And if you perhaps would like to know an early twentieth century viewpoint on something, let me know. As always, my research fees are reasonable.


When has the Senate filibuster aided non-conservatives?

You have some new bodily lump, pain, or discoloration. Do you feel better if you learn that this condition has a name?

John is the ranger, as his father was before him, for the community’s 4,000 mostly wooded acres. Recently I have worked with John on a conservation easement for a portion of this land. My admiration for him has grown. He seems to know every inch of the land, and his conversation is filled with landmarks such as Turkey Hill field, the path going from Fox Run Creek to Porcupine Parade, the Hardy’s 1930s hunting grounds, and much more. I nod as if I understand. His devotion to the conservation of the lands is palpable, and he has been invaluable as I and others have worked on the easement. I have known who John was for a long time, but only because of this recent project have I felt comfortable in trying to get to know him a bit better. He is about to retire, and I asked him what he was going to do. He was vague as I might have expected from someone who retains something of a mountain man from yesteryear. Thinking that perhaps this might be an activity in his retirement, I asked him if he hunted. He replied, “I used to hunt with a lot of the old-timers here,” and rattled off a host of names I did not know. He continued, “I haven’t hunted in six or seven years.” And then, almost blushing and with a shy tone, he said, “I have gotten soft. I’ve killed enough deer in my life.”

“The key to success was having parents who had succeeded.” Rumaan Alam, Leave the World Behind.

Old joke: Southern Baptists do not believe in making love standing up. It could lead to dancing.

The Olympics are upon us. Margaret MacMillan in War: How Conflict Shaped Us (2020) points out that the modern Olympics have taken on many attributes of war. The competitions are by nations, award medals, incorporate national anthems, and have teams in uniforms behind national flags.

Growing up and well into adulthood, I could stand alongside a Wisconsin farm fence, moo, and cows would amble to me. The spouse, once again doubting me on the important stuff, thought I made this ability up until I demonstrated it to her several times. But then after a considerable absence from Wisconsin I found that I was out of practice or the voice timbre had changed, I had lost my cow-calling trait. I have had many sad moments in life.

I watched videos of the invasion of the Capitol on January 6 and was reminded of the words of David Hume: “Everyone has observed how much more dogs are animated when they hunt in a pack, than when they pursue their game apart. We might, perhaps, be at a loss to explain this phenomenon, if we had not experience of a similar in ourselves.”

Principles and Partisanship (concluded)

The National Emergencies Act allows the president, after finding that a “national emergency” exists, to take money already allocated by Congress for another purpose and spend it to meet the national emergency. The act had a laudable and limited purpose. When a national emergency suddenly arises, action might be needed before Congress, which might not even be in session, could act. The president was given authority to address the emergency.

Normally when the president wants to take action that requires money, he must convince Congress to allocate the money. He cannot just take the action without congressional authority. President Eisenhower wanted an interstate highway system in part because he thought it would aid our national defense. These roads required money. Eisenhower had to persuade Congress to authorize the construction. If he had been unable to convince the legislature, he could not have built the roads. A constitutional branch, co-equal to the executive, would have properly exercised its discretion against the highway system.

Congress has considered the problems at our southern border. No emergency has arisen which the legislature has not had time to examine. Congress has exercised its constitutional power and decided how much should be spent on a border wall. Through the national emergency declaration, Trump seeks to disregard or overrule that congressional decision and usurp the constitutional power of the purse given to Congress.

As far as I know, this is an unprecedented use of the national emergency authorization. No president before has sought to use the National Emergencies Act to do what Congress has expressly decided against. (Trump’s action in a broader sense, however, is not unprecedented. In what we call the Iran-Contra affair, Reagan sought to do what Congress had expressly forbidden, and, unlike Trump’s action, tried to do it in secret and without a fig leaf of a law supposedly allowing the president’s actions.)

The defenders of the president say that even if his action is unprecedented, it is authorized by the National Emergencies Act, in which Congress gave him legislative powers. This reading of the National Emergencies Act raises an important constitutional question. The Constitution’s Section 1 of Article I states, “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States. . . .” Congress legislates; the president executes. That was the design of the Constitution. Can Congress change that and cede its powers to the president so that the president can both legislate and execute?

Congress, in fact, put unusual provisions into the National Emergencies Act to constrain a president’s power. That law originally said that a presidentially-declared national emergency ceased if “Congress terminates the emergency by concurrent resolution. . . .” That Act put strict time limits on the consideration of an emergency-termination resolution. That proposed resolution had to be reported out of committee within fifteen calendar (not business) days and voted on within three calendar days. If it passed in one House, the other House had to report it out of committee within fifteen calendar days and voted on by the second House within three calendar days. The requirement for a vote meant that Senators could not filibuster the resolution. If the provision passed by the Senate did not match the one passed by the House, the Act required a conference committee report within six calendar days and the Senate and House action on the conference committee report within another six calendar days.

These provisions worked together so that a congressional minority could not block the rescission of a president’s emergency declaration. A minority could not bottle it up in a committee, and Senate or House leadership or a minority could not prevent a vote. If a majority in each body wanted the termination of the declaration, it would be terminated. And because the concurrent resolution did not require the president’s signature to take effect, the president could not veto it. President Trump, however, has vetoed the present congressional rescission of Trump’s “emergency.” If thirty-four percent of only one house does not vote to override the veto, a national emergency stays in place, as this one has because the House did not override the president’s veto. The National Emergencies Act was structured to prevent such minority power. How did that change?

Time to bring in that third branch of government and the Supreme Court’s 1983 decision of Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha. The Immigration and Nationality Act allowed the Attorney General under certain circumstances to suspend deportation of an individual if the deportation would cause “extreme hardship.” Under that Act, however, either house of Congress could veto the AG’s determination and then the deportation would have to occur.

In Chadha, the Supreme Court held this veto unconstitutional. The Court decided that the veto was legislation, and a proposed law must be passed by both Houses and presented to the president for a possible veto. With the Chadha case in mind, Congress in 1985 amended the National Emergencies Act, leaving all the congressional termination provisions intact so a congressional minority still can’t prevent a vote on a termination resolution, but changing “concurrent resolution” in the original law to “joint resolution.” This joint resolution is the equivalent of a law and has to be presented to the president who can veto it. If it is vetoed, as Trump has done, a minority in one house can thwart the majority in both houses. The president will have legislative authority and power over the purse that the Constitution gives to Congress. Can the Constitution be changed in such fashion without an amendment?

Principles and Partisanship

Ronald Reagan also changed the Republican party by proclaiming that government was the enemy. Following Reagan, Republicans did not promise to govern more efficiently or more wisely than Democrats. Instead they denounced government as the problem and promised to oppose government. When the GOP was primarily a party of big business, Republicans may have supported measures to improve capital markets or certain sorts of infrastructure spending that could help businesses. At one time, they might have been concerned about climate change because of the harm it could do to the economy. But no longer. Government is the enemy except, perhaps, for defense spending and building a border wall. It is bad or evil if it accomplishes anything else. And what better way to lessen government than by reducing taxes, especially on those who support me, the rich and the corporations. If you proclaim government is the enemy, then creating a dysfunctional Congress is a godsend.

It followed, then, if lack of government and dysfunctionality are desirble, Republicans increasingly used cloture. Cloture is the procedure that requires sixty votes for a Senate action. It was once the method of ending a filibuster. Even though the Senate no longer has those throat-draining, sleep-depriving filibusters of yore, the threat of a filibuster can still require cloture, or a three-fifths vote, for the Senate to move on. In 1970, there were fifteen cloture motions. In the 1980s, for a two-year Congress, the Senate never had more than eighty cloture motions, but when the Democrats gained the Senate majority after the 2006 elections, the Republicans seeking to block the majority filed 139 and 137 cloture motions in the 2007-08 and 2009-10 Congresses. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, had adopted the threat of a filibuster as a basic tactic.

By preventing the majority from acting, cloture conforms to the idea that government is the enemy, but it also fits the new conservatism in another way. Traditional conservatives pledged to support traditional values and practices. The new conservative Senate Republicans led by McConnell changed that. Traditionally, cloture was rare. Under McConnell, those Senatorial values were abandoned to the greater partisan good of denying Democrats the ability to act. Tradition be damned.

McConnell’s famous statement that his priority was to make sure that Barack Obama was not reelected elevates partisanship over country.  McConnell was not interested in whether an Obama proposal was good for the country, only in denying Obama victories that might get that president reelected.  Something similar was at work with the Dodd-Frank act, Kaiser indicates. Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, who was vulnerable to electoral defeat the following November, decided not to seek reelection. Kaiser concludes that Dodd’s decision greatly aided passage of the act that sought to prevent future 2008-like financial crises. McConnell did not do everything within his power to defeat the act. However, Kaiser maintains that if Dodd had sought to return to the Senate, McConnell would have spared no effort to defeat the bill. He would have wanted to deny Dodd a victory that Dodd could have touted in his reelection campaign. Partisanship before the good of the country.

The Dodd-Frank history also shows that partisanship came before honest debate. Republicans opposing the bill simply made up stuff about what was in the proposed legislation. It didn’t matter if what they said was true as long as it sounded like it was true to partisans. Distorting the truth kills serious discussion, for, Kaiser points out, “Without an agreed set of facts, meaningful debate is impossible.” The make-stuff-up crowd has only increased since then. It hardly matters if it is demonstrated a conservative’s facts are fantasy. (We are not just talking about the president here. The fact-checking sites have found that conservatives make “misstatements” more frequently than non-conservatives.) The fantastical just keeps coming. What Christopher Dodd found out a decade ago has even wider application today. He tried to shame Mitch McConnell about his indifference to the truth. Kaiser wryly remarks that shaming McConnell was “not an easy task.”

(continued March 27)