Wednesday 31 August 2011

American Football Teams

There are 32 professional teams who play in the National Football League. The are divided into the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC). Each Conference is divided into 4 divisions.

Teams play each other within and across Conferences and Divisions. There is a scheduling formula to ensure rotation of games over a period. It is described on p16 of the Official NFL Record & Fact Book 2011.

How can you record who plays in which conference and division. The MindMap below - which stresses the connections - and has some spatial relationships (the teams in each division are in the rough position of the cities relative to each other).

Tap the MindMap to enlarge it.

Does this way of representing the information make it easier to remember who the teams are - and which Conference/Division they play in? It may be a technique which may help you record and remember key information for your exams!

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Revision Planning Tool

If you are thinking about planning your revision, below is a model mind map which might help you plan for the weeks approaching an exam. It has 6 weeks on it - so you can either use it for 6 weeks, leaving time for another period of planned revision or add extra branches for the extra weeks.

The idea is to set topics for each week, and then further break down the week into daily tasks (making allowance for the likely demands on your time - days/evenings when you won't be able to revise - or days especially set aside)

The MindMap below can then serve as a template for your own planning Mind Map (which can be hand drawn - or developed on a computer - for more details go here.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Bank Holiday Weekend

It's a Bank Holiday weekend in the UK (the last Bank Holiday) before Christmas Day! My mind is therefore turning from the upcoming return of the UK Parliament (back on 5th September); US Congress (6th September); French Parlement (Special Session on 6th & 7th September) and European Parliament (Committees return to Brussels on Monday!!!). Instead I'm thinking about the upcoming American Football season.

I'm a fan of Washington Redskins (which other team could WASHminster follow?). Their website is accessible here. I've already copied & pasted the roster into an excel file - so have lists of the players by Name; Number and Position. My copy of the Official NFL Record & Fact Book, 2011 arrived on Friday.

I'm looking forward to watching Redskins games using NFL Game Pass on my computer - further details here.

I won't be posting any more until Tuesday (unless a major story breaks over the weekend). By the Way (or should I write BTW?) the photograph is ironic - its not expected to be a very summery weekend (but at least it's better than in Washington!!!) - this was a photo taken during our recent holiday in Brittany.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Historic win for the Left?

Elections for the French Senat take place on September 25th. Le Monde suggests that there is a real possibility the Senat may, for the first time under the 5th Republic, fall to the parties of the Left.

In an article in the Le Monde of 26th August, Patrick Roger writes that the Left needs 22 gains to become the majority - and estimations by Le Monde currently suggest a gain of 20 seats. Too close to call!!!

170 seats (out of 348) are being contested. There is an electoral college made up up members of the Assemblee nationale; Regional and Departmental Councils and delegates from municipal councils. The system has been frequently criticised for having an inbuilt over-representation of rural areas giving an advantage to right wing parties. Roger points out the difficulties in predicting the results, but - for the first time, as a result of recent successes in local elections - the Left can see the possibility of an historic win.

Friday 26 August 2011


I have recorded a short video for my Open University Law Students. Of course it includes some general advice on revising for exams.

If you are interested in studying at the OU - their website can be accessed here.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Primaries for the French Presidential Election

This summer six candidates have been campaigning to be chosen as the person to represent the Parti Socialiste/Parti Radical de Gauche ticket in next year's French presidential election. The Presidential election takes place on 22nd April (1st Round); and 6th May (2nd Round - with just the two remaining candidates).

This year the main candididate of the left will be chosen in primaries taking place nationally on 9th October (1st Round) and 16th October (2nd Round - if no candidate has won over 50% of the votes).

The candidates are

Martine Aubry - Mayor of Lille and First Secretary of the PS since 2008 (she has stood aside from this during while standing as a candidate). The daughter of former European Commission President, Jacques Delors, she has been a Minister in the governments of Cresson & Jospin. Website

Francois Hollande - currently a depute in the Assemblee nationale; and the President of the General Council (departement) of Corrèze - he preceded Aubry as Party Secretary. Website

Ségolène Royal - candidate for the PS at the last presidential election, she is President of the Poitou-Charentes Regional Council. She had some ministerial experience in 1997-2002. Website

Arnaud Montebourg - A member of the Assemblee nationale and President of the General Council of Saone-et-Loire. Website

Manuel Valls - Mayor of Evry and member of the Assemblee nationale. Website

Jean-Michel Baylet - the only one of the six candidates to come from the Parti Radical de Gauche. He is a Senateur, and President of the General Council of Tarn-et-Garonne. Previously he had served as a minister in the governments of four PS Prime Ministers. Website

Further information (in French) about the "primaires citoyennes" can be found here.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

The Washington Monument

It has been announced that the Washington Monument will be closed indefinitely as a result of damage sustained during yesterday's earthquake. I have to admit - I have kept putting off a climb to the top, and now I may not get the opportunity.... As a wise man once said "seize the day" (Horace - Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero – "Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future").

The monument was built in 1the 1880s, being finally completed on December 6, 1884. It is shaped like an Egyptian obelisk, stands 555' 5 1/8" tall, and offers views in excess of thirty miles. I particularly like the fact that it is possible to stand on the north side of the monument - and just by moving one's eyes can see the Reflecting Pool on the Mall and the Lincoln Memorial (where the "I have a dream" speech was delivered by Martin Luther King); the White House and the US Capitol.

The video was taken during my 25 mile sponsored walk when I was in Washington earlier this year.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Two major stories intersect

The East Coast earthquake hit just as the prosecutor was explaining the decision in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case

Finding Law in Progress

Yesterday's post looked at the sources of ideas and proposals for law. You can read the measures that are currently before legislatures by following the links below

UK Parliament - Bills before Parliament
US Congress - Browse Bills & Resolutions (by text or number)
European Parliament - The Legislative Observatory
French Parlement - Texts and Progress of legislation

Monday 22 August 2011

Where do Laws come from?

Before the legislative process can begin - someone has to come up with the idea for a law. So where do laws originate?

1 Some laws are proposed by Members of Legislatures themselves. MPs, Peers, Congressmen, Senators, MEPs, Deputes & Senateurs have ideas about new laws they would like to create. In the UK time is set aside for Private Members Bills. In the United States many of the bills considered by Congress originate and are drafted by Members themselves. Today Members have staff, and they too - as part of their work, may generate ideas for legislation.

2 The Executive is often a major source of legislation. In the UK Standing Order 14 gives precedence to Government Business for most of the time available. Even some Private Members Bills are in fact bills which the Government has come up with, but have been taken up by a backbencher. In the US, the President has no right to introduce legislation himself, but a member of Congress will introduce the measure for them. Sometimetimes the member might disgree agree with the proposed legislation, but will do so as a courtesy. These may even be designated "by request".

3 Constituents may request their representative to introduce a bill.

4 As part of their representative activities, Members do 'casework'. This can highlight weaknesses in the existing law or uncover a need which is not yet being addressed. Members may propose legislation themselves or press the Executive to act by introducing draft legislation.

5 Some ideas come forward from special interests. Trade Associations, Unions, Employers' organisations will put forward ideas.

6 Think tanks can be a valuable source of ideas for new legislation.

7 There are bodies set up to review the working of existing law - and to propose law revision or reform. In the UK there is the Law Commission.

8 Some laws are the result of media pressure. One notorious example in Britain is the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which was rushed through with great haste in response to a media driven campaign.

9 Not all laws remain on the Statute book indefinitely. In the UK an Armed Forces Bill is required every five years in order to continue in force the provisions of the current Service legislation relating to Service discipline.

10 External events may drive the introduction of legislation. A court decision may lead the Government or a concerned member to introduce a bill to change the law in response. A disaster or a scandal may prompt legislation to avoid reeoccurence. Advances in scientific knowledge or capabilities may require action.

Throughout the world it is normal to limit the right of initiative - the right to actually introduce the piece of proposed legislation - to members of the legislature. However as the list above shows - the ideas may come from many outside sources. There are legislatures where the Government can directly introduce legislation (in the UK bills are introduced in the name of the Minister or Ministers who are members - by convention all ministers are members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords). In the European Union, the right to initiative rests exclusively with the European Commission (for more information press here).

Saturday 20 August 2011

Studying or Revising?

I've been a long term 'fan' of mind-mapping. I was first introduced to it as a teenager - and have found it very useful throughout my career, first as a student, then as an academic (and also for dealing with the masses of information I was using as a parliamentary candidate). As with any system - it is good to adapt to your own style and strengths. My problem is that I am useless at drawing (I know there are those who claim that anyone can be taught to draw, but is beyond me - I couldn't draw to save my life!). That has meant that I lost one of the advantages of mind-mapping - which is to use all the senses. My "mind-maps" were closer to "spidergrams" - sometimes I used colour - but essentially I used two dimensional diagrams, without drawings. However it has assisted me in studying; writing essays and preparing presentations and speeches.

I recently discovered that Tony Buzan had now gone hi-tech (he probably did so some time ago, but I was still using his books of, how shall I say, "a certain vintage"). Now I can do it on screen - I have MindMaps loaded on my home PC and on my iPad.

It may work for you - it may not. Each of us has our own learning style. For me it works - and works VERY well. In fact I am now using my computer mindmaps to draw together the research I have collected - as I write up my thesis for my Ph.D. So I have quite detailed MindMaps for each of the Congresses and Parliaments since 1974 - and for each of the Chief/Majority Whips; and for the key theories I have been using and developing. It has made the process of writing up so much easier for me. I also find it an invaluable "thinking device".

Previously, I found them most useful for exam revision - thankfully I'm not facing any exams in the near future - but if you are - or you have a friend who is - then it's worth considering whether Mind Maps can help.

If you want further information - press here. It tells you something about the products available. If you do order them - please use this link - as it will earn commission for Washminster - which I am hoping to develop further as a service for students and those interested in US, UK, French & EU politics and government.

Friday 19 August 2011

Elections in 2012

As with any year, 2012 will see a number of important elections. Washminster will be focusing on the elections due in the USA and France (and a little on the London mayoral election and the other local elections in the UK). Already these elections are regularly in the news.

The US Elections will be held on November 6th 2012. The race which will dominate international coverage will be the Presidential Election. We've seen in recent days how the competition for the Republican nomination is developing. President Obama will seek re-election, but there is some chatter about a challenge for the Democratic nomination. The possibility of a serious third party challenger has also been discussed. On the same day there will be elections for all 435 seats in the House of Representatives. One third of the Senate seats are also in play. The Americans have moved to a system where most local, state and federal elections are held on the same day in November.

In France the two main national elections are held on separate days. The Presidential Election will see its first round on April 22nd. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes cast, a second round will be held on May 6th, a contest that will only involve two candidates. The first round of the elections for the Assemblee nationale will take place on June 10th - with a second round one week later.

In September 2011, on Sunday 25th, elections will be held for half of the Senat seats (the upper House of the French Parlement). These are indirect elections. Further details about the electorate and the seats which are being fought, can be found here.

Thursday 18 August 2011


What is Europe? and what is its future? With the current crisis in the eurozone - and after growing euroscepticism in recent years - many people are asking where Europe goes now. Will we see a drift back towards each country doing its own thing - or will the process of integration continue, albeit at a slower rate. I receive a regular newsletter from "Next Europe", which features articles about the choices ahead.

Next Europe can be accessed here - and the newsletter can be subscribed to there.

Europe of course can mean different things in different contexts. Much misunderstanding has resulted from sloppy journalism (which is the most generous interpretation - I'm sure that some confusion is the result of deliberate, politically motivated, disinformation). The European Union consists of 27 European nations. It has developed from a European Coal & Steel Community of 6 members - and has encouraged the free movement of goods, persons and capital. It citizens have rights to travel throughout the community and some of the disincentives to work and travel have been removed. Within the EU a number of States have adopted the Euro - a single currency, in place of the many different currencies that previously existed.

The Council of Europe has 47 members. One of its most famous achievements is the European Convention on Human Rights. Sadly, in the UK, the press - even the non-tabloid papers - fail to distinguish between the European Court of Human Rights, which is based in Strasbourg, and is an institution of the Council of Europe - and the Court of Justice of the European Union. That court is based in Luxembourg.

The OSCE - the Organisation for Cooperation & Security in Europe - is an even larger institution. There are 56 member states - from Europe, North America and Central Asia.

There is also a generally agreed definition of Europe as a continent - bordered by the sea to the north, west and south (but including the offshore islands such as Great Britain, Ireland and Iceland) and the Ural mountains to the east.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Improving the quality of scrutiny

Yesterday I mentioned the work of the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Along with the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) and the GAO (Government Accountability Office), they provide a service enabling members of both Houses of Congress to improve the quality of their scrutiny - a key role for legislators.

In the UK we have the House of Commons and House of Lords Libraries. The first is the best resourced of the two - and yet its counterpart in Congress - provides an excellent service to legislators. It's reports (Research Papers and Standard Notes) are publicly available here. In addition they provide an individual service to MPs - answering questions and providing specific research. The House of Lords Library is a smaller operation. It's Library Notes can be accessed here.

The National Audit Office carries out similar functions to the GAO. A description of their work can be found on DirectGov. "The National Audit Office works on behalf of Parliament and the taxpayer to hold government to account for the use of public money and to help public services improve performance. The National Audit Office is independent of government and has comprehensive statutory rights of access to the bodies it audits." It works specifically with the Public Accounts Committee, but its reports are an invaluable aid for other select committees. The reports are available here.

Select Committees and Public Bill Committees are assisted by the Scrutiny Unit, which consists of a small number of specialists. They are also useful in advising committees about external sources of specialist advice. Their reports can be accessed here.

The reports mentioned in this post are of course important for the work of Parliament and Congress - but they are publicly available - and I have found them to be useful for background reading - and for specific issues which I am researching. They can be very useful tools if you are a student, researcher, or wish to be one step ahead of others in your knowledge of particular subjects.

Monday 15 August 2011

Interview with Senator Bernie Sanders

Broadcast on C-SPAN

The Library of Congress

C-SPAN have recently broadcast a programme about the Library of Congress. The documentary is available here. It tells the story of the institution which began as a reference library for Congress, but has grown into one of the most important centres of information and culture in the world. It is the largest library worldwide in terms of shelf space and the number of books. I strongly recommend watching this fascinating documentary and visiting the Library's website here. In addition to the books there are collections of recordings, maps, newspapers, and manuscripts.

The Library also contains a research service, the Congressional Research Service. I've been impressed by both the quality and quantity of material produced by CRS. Their reports are prepared for Members of Congress - but thanks to OpenCRS, documents already in the public domain can be accessed at the OpenCRS website. Whether you are looking for something on practice and procedure in Congress - or a report on a specific policy subject - CRS in one of the best places for an impartial, well researched - and well written report. These can be short articles or long, in-depth pieces.

The Library is spread over a number of buildings. CRS are housed in the Madison Building, while the most famous of the sites is the Jefferson Building - worth a visit just for the superb art it contains. (It also has an excellent bookshop). The main reading room is a superb place to research - not only because of the wealth of material available in the Library - but for the beauty of the room itself.

Sunday 14 August 2011

The Washington Metro

Listening to French Radio London yesterday morning, I heard this superb song. It was a bit strange to hear it on a mainly French language station - and it took me a while to realise that it was about the Metro in Washington DC. It's very funny - and the video is even better. I have now seen more of Remy's work - and think he's great. His website can be accessed here.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Youthful Indiscretions

At the height of the impeachment process of President Clinton - the media discovered that a number of his congressional accusers themselves had done similar things. Henry Hyde's dismissal of his own four-year long extramarital sexual affair as a "youthful indiscretion", has become notorious. He of course was the Chair of the Judiciary Committee who wrote the Resolution of Impeachment and was Chief Prosecutor at the trial in the Senate. Hyde was himself 41 years of age at the time of his affair. The drama of the impeachment itself was heightened when it was revealed that Bob Livingston, who was due to succeed Newt Gingrich as Speaker, had had a number of extra-material affairs. He resigned. Of course, Newt himself has had a series of marriages - marrying the latest person he had been conducting an affair with.

Now the term has come back to haunt the leaders of the coalition government in Britain. We've heard Prime Minister, David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg demand that the criminals involved in this week's rioting face the consequences of their actions. As the Prime Minister said, "Anyone charged with violent disorder and other serious offences should expect to be remanded in custody, not let back on the streets; and anyone convicted should expect to go to jail."

The Social Media has seen the resurrection of stories these leaders would have prefered forgotten.

The Financial Times - in their respected "Westminster Blog", ran an exclusive about Cameron and his involvement in the drunken and disorderly activities of the Bullingdon Club (April 4th 2010) - available here.
In 2007 Nick Clegg's conviction for arson as a teenager was revealed. The BBC reported on the story here.

Friday 12 August 2011

How Washminster is developing

Washminster will be developing further - it has since March 2007 concentrated mainly on Washington and Westminster matters. It has also provided course and revision materials for students of Law and Politics - again with the emphasis on UK & US Constitutional Law plus British and American Politics.

Washminster will continue to highlight developments in, and the background to these important areas. In fact it will extend its coverage. But, in addition, it will take on two further areas - The European Union and France. Next year will be a particularly interesting one for France - there will be both Presidential and Legislative elections. The additional coverage will particularly complement studies of EU Law; EU Politics and French Politics and Constitutional Law. I have taught EU Law on undergraduate Law for the last 21 years; European Institutions and Politics on politics courses - and myself studied Droit constitutionnel through the Universite de Poitiers.

This blog is aimed at readers interested in the workings of the democratic institutions of the USA, UK, France and the EU. An appreciation of history really helps understanding of where we are today - so I include many posts about historical matters.

It is also designed to provide an extra resource for students of Law and Politics. I currently teach on three of the Open University courses - Y166 Starting with Law (a taster course); W200 - Understanding Law (first of the LL.B. Law Degree courses - covering English Legal System; EU Law; Legal research and tasters of Constitutional Law; Tort and Contract) and W201 - The Individual & the State (UK Constitutional Law, Administrative Law; Human Rights Law and Criminal Law). I have also taught politics at Leicester University (undergraduate and Masters courses) and to American students on Educational Programmes Abroad courses.

If you are a student, I hope you will find this blog useful. Please don't hesitate to sent me any comments or questions.

If you know of someone who might find this blog complementary to their studies - please share with them the details of the blog.

In addition I operate a news retweeting service - WM_Alert.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Recall of Parliament

The House of Commons meets today for its second recall this recess. The Commons were recalled on the first day of the recess to discuss the Phonehacking scandal. The Lords hadn't broken for their recess. Both Houses will return for the day.

The recall of the House of Commons is covered by Standing Order 13 (Standing Orders of the House of Commons - Public Business) - available here.

13.—(1) Whenever the House stands adjourned and it is represented to the Speaker by Her Majesty’s Ministers that the public interest requires that the House should meet at a time earlier than that to which the House stands adjourned, the Speaker, if he is satisfied that the public interest does so require, may give notice that, being so satisfied, he appoints a time for the House to meet, and the House shall accordingly meet at the time stated in such notice.
(2) The government business to be transacted on the day on which the House shall so meet shall, subject to the publication of notice thereof in the order paper to be circulated on the day on which the House shall so meet, be such as the government may appoint, but subject as aforesaid the House shall transact its business as if it had been duly adjourned to the day on which it shall so meet, and any government order of the day and government notices of motions that may stand on the order book for any day shall be appointed for the day on which the House shall so meet.

(3) In the event of the Speaker being unable to act owing to illness or other cause, the Chairman of Ways and Means, or either Deputy Chairman, shall act in his stead for the purposes of this order.

The recall of the House of Lords is covered by Standing Order 17 (Standing Orders of the House of Commons - Public Business) - available here.

(1) If, during any adjournment of the House, the Lord Speaker, after consultation with Her Majesty’s Government, is satisfied that the public interest requires that the House should meet at a time earlier than that appointed, he may signify that he is so satisfied and notice shall be given and thereupon the House shall meet at the time stated in the notice, as if it had been duly adjourned to that time.

(2) If the Lord Speaker is unable to act for the purposes of this Standing Order, the Chairman of Committees, after consultation with Her Majesty’s Government, may act in his stead.

In the past Parliament has been recalled to discuss the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA (2001); Iraq and weapons of mass destruction (2002) and the Falklands War (1982).

The House of Commons will meet at 11.30 for a statement from the Prime Minister on the riots and a second statement on the economy. The Lords will meet at 12.00.

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Britain and the American Civil War

I subscribe to C-SPAN's "After Words" podcasts. There are some excellent in- depth interviews with authors about the books they have written. At the moment I am listening to Amanda Foreman talking to Eric Foner about her book "A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided". The book looks at British volunteers in the civil war. It can be watched on http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Forem

As Foreman says at one point in the discussion - "there are layers upon layers here". It looks at different attitudes within Britain to the two sides of the war. There was much support in England for the confederacy (a fact that wasn't highlighted in the English histories I read as a youngster!). There is also a mirror of the divisions which have affected Ireland.

A fascinating problem - which ever side of the Atlantic you live on!

Tuesday 9 August 2011

An Amazing Lawyer

John Farrell, the author of the excellent "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century" has a new book aout. In it he recounts the life and career of attorney Clarence Darrow (1857-1938).

Darrow was one of the greatest defence attorney's in history. He is particularly celebrated for his representation of Tennessee teacher John Scopes, who taught evolution in a public school and was tried for his curriculum in the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Over the last year I read Donald McRae's book about Darrow and watched the film "Darrow" starring Kevin Spacey. I'm a great admirer of Farrell (his book on Tip O'Neill was an excellent background read - with some real gems which has provoked further research - for my own studies) - and will be adding it to my wishlist.

The book is available as an e-book. This can be used on a Kindle - or on an iPad using the free Kindle app


Monday 8 August 2011

The Young Guns

Washington Post video discussing the "Young Guns" (House Majority Leader Eric Cantor; House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan

Their book of the same title gives an invaluable insight to their thinking and strategies.