My Country, 'Tis of Thee

by Dan H

Dan on the West Wing and National Pride
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Our esteemed Editor and I have started rewatching The West Wing mostly, admittedly, as background noise while playing WoW.

It's kinda heavy handed at times, it's kinda schmaltzy, and the least said about their post 9-11 episode the better (particularly since it seemed to carry the worrying implication that while they didn't think all Muslims were terrorists, they were fairly convinced that all terrorists were Muslims). On the other hand I'm a sentimental fool and it makes me cry. All it takes is for Bartlett or one of his staffers to give a tremblingly sincere speech about their duty to the American people and the beauty of democracy and I'm gone.

The West Wing makes me proud to be an American, even though I am not one.

This article is basically based around a single slightly lame piece of observational comedy, to wit: When Americans decided to write a TV series about their political leaders, they produced The West Wing, a heartbreakingly sincere political drama about intelligent, passionate, dynamic people giving their all for the good of the country. When Brits decided to write a TV series about their political leaders they produced Yes, Prime Minister.

For those amongst you who aren't familiar with the latter series, Yes, Prime Minister (which was actually a follow-up to the original Yes, Minister) is a sitcom from the late 1980s about a fictional MP (later PM) by the name of James “Jim” Hacker whose desire to cut a statesmanlike figure in his chosen career is consistently undermined by his Permanent Secretary (later Cabinet Secretary) Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Yes, I know, it's a glib comparison. And ultimately one is a sitcom and the other's a major drama series, so they're obviously going to be different. What I find interesting, though, is not so much the differences between them, as the peculiar similarities.

The administration in The West Wing is headed up by Josiah Bartlet. Bartlet, interestingly, was never intended to be a major character. He only appears in the last few minutes of the pilot and was supposed to be very much off-camera, however he tested so well with the audience that they beefed up his role considerably.

Jed Bartlet is amazing. He's a gifted economist, an eloquent and forthright public speaker. He has unimpeachable integrity, tremendous personal and political courage, and a genuine desire to give his all for the good of his country. He is, in short, Presidential.

Jim Hacker is interestingly similar. Like Bartlet he is a highly educated economist, a graduate of the London School of Economics and a former editor of Reform. Like Bartlet he has grand ideas for the nation. Like Bartlet he has a wife and family who are extremely important to him. Unlike Bartlet he's presented as a pompous ass.

Jed Bartlet and Jim Hacker both attended the LSE. In The West Wing this is cited as evidence that the President is an educated man with a keen understanding of economic realities. In Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister it is a running joke:

Jim: I believe in education too. I am a graduate of the London School of Economics, may I remind you.
Sir Humphrey: Well I am glad to learn that even the LSE is not totally opposed to education.


He didn't go to Oxford or Cambridge. He didn't even go to the LSE


Well I think Bernard means is that he'll know how to behave if he went to an English university, even if it was the LSE


Again, a big part of this just comes down to the fact that one of the series is a sitcom and the other's a drama, but I think it also betrays a fundamental difference in the way we view our political leaders.

Josiah Bartlet is not a real person. He's the embodiment of all the writers' hopes and dreams for the Presidency and the country. He is an idealised notion of An American President. Sure he's got a wife and kids, but he exists far more as the office than as the man. He is smarter than you, more driven. He is better than you and he is President of the United States because more than anybody else in the nation he deserves to be.

Jim Hacker is very much a real person. He's small and petty and foolish. He wants to be Winston Churchill but he's barely Winnie the Pooh. He talks about grand designs and the good of the nation, but he's really an insecure votegrubber. His wife treats his political career with a certain good-natured tolerance. Jim Hacker does not become Prime Minister because he deserves it, he becomes Prime Minister almost by accident.

The West Wing presents the President and his staff as the best of the best. Charming, educated, humane supermen working tirelessly for the good of the nation. Yes, Prime Minister presents the Prime Minister and his staff as just a bunch of guys doing a job which they frequently do quite badly.

Which brings us to the business of government.

One of my favourite lines from Yes, Prime Minister Minister comes from an episode that pits Jim Hacker against the Foreign Office. Bernard wants to know why Sir Humphrey thinks the Prime Minister isn't qualified to set foreign policy. He and the Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office sit down and ask the following questions:

Who is the president of Argentina?

What is the capital of Chad?

What language do they speak in Mali?

What is the national religion of Cameroon?

Of course in the modern world of high-speed internet connections, it's relatively easy to find the answers to these questions (severally “Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner”, “N'Djamena”, “Officially French, but in practice Bambara and approximately fifty other languages” and “the constitution embraces freedom of religion, but Christian and Muslim holy days are both celebrated as national holidays”) but I've always felt that between them they provide an excellent example of how bewilderingly complex the world is.

Both The West Wing and Yes, Prime Minister present the business of government as spectacularly complex, as something that is and must be the province of highly educated, highly dedicated individuals. In The West Wing those people are the president and his staff. In Yes, Minister those people are the Civil Service.

The interesting thing about these portrayals of leadership is that they're so weirdly similar. Both accept that the business of government is absurdly complicated. Both argue that it must be put in the hands of dedicated, educated people. It's just that The West Wing makes the assumption that these people will be the same people that get elected, and Yes, Minister assumes that they won't.

I think the thing I find most interesting about the two shows is that The West Wing, for all its liberal sensibility, is a profoundly conservative program. The show is a heartfelt but strangely authoritarian homily to the United States Federal Government. It ultimately sends the message that the people who govern do so because they have a demonstrable right to do so. A show that casts the president as a Nobel Laureate, his staff as supremely talented Ivy League graduates is sending a very clear, very conservative message: trust the President, trust the government, they know better than you.

By contrast, Yes, Minister presents a deeply subversive view of government and politics. While it admits that government is complex business, it does not make the assumption that the people who do it are intrinsically better qualified than the people who do not. We are frequently reminded that Members of Parliament have no selection or training, that they require no qualifications and that being an MP is a “vast, subsidised ego trip”.

The Civil Service, of course, are all extremely well educated and highly trained, but they are also short-sighted, selfish, arrogant and chauvinistic. Yes, Minister tells us that the government might be doing a difficult job, but that doesn't make them anything other than a bunch of self-serving windbags.

I said at the start of this article that The West Wing makes me proud to be an American, even though I'm not one. It's the sincerity of it, I am absolutely caught up in the trials and triumphs of the Bartlet White House. The genuine love these people have for their country is extremely moving although to me, as a Brit, it is rather alien.

People often talk about the fact that the British lack a sense of national identity. We don't love our country the way Americans do. If you burn the Union Jack, the average Brit won't even think about taking it as an insult. If you say “God Bless Britain” the average Brit will look at you like you're a loony. What people don't quite realise is that this indifference to the notion of national pride is what the British national identity is all about.

Yes, Minister makes me proud to be British. It makes me proud that I come from a nation which accepts that its leaders are ordinary people. It makes me proud that my nation treats the ambitions of politicians with the suspicion they deserve. It makes me proud of the fact that I am not expected to be proud to be British, and that I am not expected to see patriotism as the cornerstone of virtue.
Themes: TV & Movies
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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 16:09 on 2009-07-15
The interesting thing about these portrayals of leadership is that they're so weirdly similar. Both accept that the business of government is absurdly complicated. Both argue that it must be put in the hands of dedicated, educated people. It's just that The West Wing makes the assumption that these people will be the same people that get elected, and Yes, Minister assumes that they won't.

One of the best speeches I saw in the 2008 election in the US was when Bill Clinton made a big speech in support of Obama at a rally - which was a big deal at the time, because previously he'd been seen as being a bit lukewarm about Obama being the Democratic nominee - and he praised the way that, when confronted with a tricky situation, Obama would get on the phone and talk to people before coming to a decision. (I seem to remember Colin Powell said something similar when he was ramming the knife home in McCain's back.)

I was impressed mainly because it seemed to be a bold declaration that the important thing about being President isn't what you know or don't know, it's who you turn to for advice, which seems very much in opposition to the way many in the US seem to view the Presidency but at the same time is a really key point. I was still mildly surprised that people weren't turned off by the remark, considering the "Obama isn't qualified to be President" slur that was going around (no one person is qualified to make the decisions the President makes, that's why the President has advisors), but I suppose a) The West Wing pointing out how the President relies on the support of an extensive staff in his day-to-day business and b) the impression that George Bush's consultations didn't go much further than Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Christ helped people warm to the idea of a President who actually takes advice.
Rami at 17:28 on 2009-07-15
One of the things I really love about the West Wing is that it was very much built around the idea of the President's staff running the country as much as or more than he does - there's a bit at some point where McGarry and Bartlet are arguing with each other and McGarry points out that without him Bartlet would be nothing more than "the most popular economics professor at the University of Notre Dame".
Andy G at 20:39 on 2009-07-15
Ooh I'm just discovering West Wing now myself, rather late into the day. I guess seeing it post-Obama for the first time must make it a rather different experience - the elections are far less exciting for a start.

I know what you mean about the sentimentality and idealism - it seems incredibly schmalzy after The Sopranos and The Wire. But I do remember reading a thing by Ian Hislop also comparing Yes Minister and The West Wing - he said that he thought both shows were guilty of escapism: the West Wing praising a benign, liberal president during the Bush era, while Yes Minister imagined the cosy civil service running the show while in fact Thatcher was rather ruthlessly getting her own way and undercutting the civil service at every turn.
Rude Cyrus at 23:02 on 2009-07-15
Jed Bartlet is amazing. He's a gifted economist, an eloquent and forthright public speaker. He has unimpeachable integrity, tremendous personal and political courage, and a genuine desire to give his all for the good of his country. He is, in short, Presidential.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

Yeah, that's fiction all right. The depiction of politicians in Yes, Prime Minister sounds far, far more accurate.
Rami at 00:03 on 2009-07-16
Yeah, that's fiction all right

Well, WW isn't exclusively that rosy-eyed, but I agree that Yes Minister agrees much more with my cynic's view of politics.
Dafydd at 16:39 on 2009-07-16
Proud to be American!
I ain't seen 'West Wing', but in the late '80s there was a Season of black and white USA Patriotic movies on TV. I wept at those movies, so I get that 'West Wing' was very entertaining.

How could you leave out 'House of Cards' with Iain Richardson?

Season 1: Francis Urquhart is 5th in line to be Prime Minister. Urquhart is intelligent and evil. He applies cunning plans to discredit the Others and becomes PM. The Glory is when they break the 4th Wall, Urquhart turns to camera and explains his cunning plan and then we can watch him defeat the Mooks.

Obama is allegedly Intelligent/Good. That makes an entertining story.

'Yes Minister' was a sitcom about Mostly-good/ mostly-incompetent! Jim versus mostly-evil / mostly-competent! Humphrey.

'House of Cards' was a drama aboot super-competent / mostly-evil Anti-hero defeating the Incompetent mooks.

That is the difference between reality and entertaininment. Maggie Thatcher was super-evil and super-competent therefore entertaining.

Ever since, her minions have been boring.
Rami at 03:41 on 2009-07-17
I ain't seen 'West Wing'
You really should ;-)

Obama is allegedly Intelligent/Good.
Personally, I hope it's more than a story! The last time I actually felt any national pride was when he won the election. And possibly when he issued the order to close Guantanamo.
Jamie Johnston at 19:49 on 2009-07-18
Winne the Pooh would be an awesome prime minister.
Robinson L at 20:02 on 2009-07-18
I've pretty much washed my hands of nationalism at this point. I mean, I'll support it when the nation becomes a symbol of something denied in a liberation struggle (e.g. Palestine, Tibet), but nationalism for its own sake? Nah-uh. I mean, what sane individual would dream up a system of organization so patently ridiculous and disaster-prone as a nation-state in the first place?

All right, I'll admit I've never seen The West Wing, Yes, Minister or Yes, Prime Minister, may understanding of the shows is going to be based mainly on what I've read here.

At first, I was inclined to agree with Rude Cyrus that Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister depicts a more accurate picture of politics than The West Wing, but having thought about it a bit more, I think in my view, both shows miss the point.

It sounds like both shows (along with the majority of the American and British populaces) are so caught up in the personal aspects of governmental politics that they largely miss the systemic angle. It sounds like The West Wing is promoting the Establishment-idealist view that the government could work the way we'd like it to if only we had the right people in the decision-making positions; Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister sounds like it preaches the Establishment-cynic position that the government can never work the way we'd like because people are inherently corrupt and incompetent.

While I'm largely in agreement with Yes, Minister/Yes, Prime Minister outlook on governmental politics, my reasons for viewing them as unworkable are slightly different. As I see it, the very political systems of the various nation-states which inhabit our planet are inherently corrupt. Elected politicians can't change that, any more than an elected politician in the American South could've abolished slavery during the early 1800s. There were plenty of Southern abolitionists who had the vote, but since the politico-economic system in the Southern States was dependent on slavery, there was no way an elected official within that system could've successfully challenged the institution of slavery.

So no matter how good or competent a politician may be, if they're working in an inherently flawed politico-economic system, their results are going to be less than optimal.

Obama is a good example. By all appearances he is, indeed, intelligent, and given the constraints of the American politico-economic system he's probably "Good" as well.

However, one of the first things he did in office was either to reaffirm or step up (I forget which) the US' program of firing missiles into Pakistan. Just last month, his administration pushed through a resolution to commit over $100 billion to continue the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the bombing of Pakistan. There was also a hefty chunk of money in there for the Imperialist Monetary Fund. I listened to his big speech in Cairo last month, where he talked about how the 9/11 attacks were morally unforgivable because they targeted civilians, and then a couple minutes later reaffirmed his intentions to continue the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan (he may've mentioned Pakistan, too - if not, well, his actions speak for themselves). Hypocrisy, much?

On the home front, his administration has committed billions of dollars to bail out banks and other financial institutions which got us into this mess, while doing precious little to support the people losing their jobs, losing their homes, losing their healthcare, and otherwise suffering because of an economic disaster which was no fault of their own. The guilty get rewarded (President Obama has even said that while the government specifically will not do anything to interfere with the institutions it's bailed out - such as putting systems in place to make sure they don't run the economy into the ground again for their own profit); the innocent, as usual, get all the bad consequences externalized onto them.

Obama's sympathizers might argue that he didn't really have a choice; that the political climate was such he was basically forced into making those morally questionable decisions (if so, one has to wonder what the implications are for the claim that the United States is a democracy, since I doubt the majority of voters were clamoring for any of these moves). In any case though, the above argument would essentially be making my point.
Andy G at 21:04 on 2009-07-18
@ L. Robinson:

I agree with your point about nationalism: typically British "down the pub" cynicism is probably more conservative than the kind of idealism seen in The West Wing. To give Yes, Prime Minister its due, however, I seem to remember there are several points where the PM is confronted with the system when he does try to do something that will make a real difference. It is more astute than your average British cynicism. And I guess on the other side of the pond the existence of shows like The Wire, which I think illustrate exactly the kind of point you're making (some of the later seasons are very prescient about the Obama victory), shows that the idealism of The West Wing isn't 100% representative ....
Arthur B at 21:08 on 2009-07-18
On the home front, his administration has committed billions of dollars to bail out banks and other financial institutions which got us into this mess, while doing precious little to support the people losing their jobs, losing their homes, losing their healthcare, and otherwise suffering because of an economic disaster which was no fault of their own.

OK, there's a lot I disagree with in your post, but this is the part I really have to respond to: I absolutely despise it when people (on the left and the right, it's a disease common to both) bitch about government bailouts of financial institutions as though it was some sort of reward for slick bastard financiers and a punch in the face for everyone else. Whatever dire straits people are in because of the economic nuclear winter would only be exacerbated if their savings accounts were wiped out overnight, and if the banking system collapsed that's what would happen.

I note that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which Obama lobbied hard to get passed by Congress, incorporates:

- direct support for low income workers, unemployed people, and retirees - people vastly more likely to be adversely affected by the crisis than anyone else.
- massive investment in healthcare, almost $150 billion. (Much more healthcare reform is being debated right now, with an eye to fundamentally reforming the system.)
- heaps of money for education, including boosting funds for the education of homeless kids, the pay of teachers, $13 billion for the education of kids from low income backgrounds and $44.5 billion to help school districts avoid layoffs and cutbacks.
- numerous tax breaks and other schemes to help the housing situation.

On top of that, he dived in to help General Motors and Chrysler keep operating until they could sort their shit out, which, yes, is beneficial to their owners, but is also immensely beneficial to the factory workers who would otherwise be out of a job there.

The total money spent on the ARRA comes to a $787 billion package. This is actually more than the Emergency Economic Stimulus Program (the main "bailout") actually cost, and more than has been spent on the Troubled Asset Relief Program as far as I can tell.

How is this "precious little" to support those whose homes, jobs, healthcare, education and so on are at risk due to the crisis?
Arthur B at 21:23 on 2009-07-18
(Sorry to rant, by the way, it's just that your argument stank dangerously of the sort of "they're all just as bad as each other/they're a slave to the system, so why bother?" thinking which prompts otherwise sensible people to get disenchanted with going out to vote. And when that happens, we get shit like this.)
Robinson L at 22:36 on 2009-07-18
No problem Arthur. After my going into my own venomous rant, I probably deserve some kind of counter-rant.

And, of course, I'm hampered by the fact that I have neither the patience nor probably the capability to analyze these matters for myself, and rely mostly on secondary sources to understand the issue. However, I've made the argument, so it's my responsibility either to defend or abandon it, so here goes.

Yes, obviously something had to be done to prevent even worse consequences on the people whose savings are in danger. I should not have suggested otherwise.

And you're right, saying that the bailout does "precious little" for those in greatest need is probably hyperbole. What I should have said is that it doesn't do as much as it could/should.

Let's even say, for the sake of argument, that this required bailing out the banks and Chrysler and General Motors was necessary for the sake of their credit holders/workers. There are still many ways to accomplish that, some of them more bottom-friendly than others.

The Obama strategy seems at the moment to be one of damage control, attempting to put the system back where it was two years ago with a minimum of structural change (let the irony begin). Which means leaving all the loopholes and general lack of checks and balances which enabled this mess in the first place intact. When Obama talks about not interfering in the banks and auto companies, what I hear is that he's not going to stipulate they shape up their practices and start dealing more responsibly.

The CEOs and other top financial officials whose short-sighted profit grabbing created the boom and inevitable bust get to keep their bonuses and luxurious severance pays while auto workers accept wage cuts a layoffs. Banks are continuing to evict people for not paying their mortgages, and sometimes even refusing to draw up new mortgages for them based on the post-crash cost of housing. And the official unemployment rate has almost hit 10% (and since that does not include people who are not employed and have not attempted to get a job in a certain number of weeks - likely because they know they probably wont' get one).

Now it seems to me that a government - and you may disagree - that's worth anything at all should be able to prevent that from happening, or at least fix it when it does happen. If a government isn't preventing/fixing those things, it's either because it can but isn't, in which case it obviously has bad priorities; or it genuinely can't prevent/fix them, in which case it's time at least to consider strongly if there might be a system of government which can take care of people the way that it should.

I agree with you about what happens when you don't vote, Arthur. You're right that just giving up on politics is not the way to go, or to conclude that just because the various political parties have a lot more in common than they'll admit, that means they're exactly the same. I voted for Obama and I would do it again if someone like McCain was the other option.

On the other hand, I equally reject the conclusions that "it may suck, but it doesn't get any better than this" or "if we just keep at it, we'll eventually hit upon the right formula" (the West Wing approach). Voting, to me, is putting my tiny bit of say behind the less awful option while at the same time trying to work for a politico-economic structure which is actually viable for human consumption. Just because I don't believe in the present system doesn't mean I don't believe there are better alternatives, or that I won't actively work for them.
Rude Cyrus at 23:18 on 2009-07-18
Let's just say I don't have a lot of national pride right now.
Arthur B at 23:27 on 2009-07-18
Now it seems to me that a government - and you may disagree - that's worth anything at all should be able to prevent that from happening, or at least fix it when it does happen. If a government isn't preventing/fixing those things, it's either because it can but isn't, in which case it obviously has bad priorities; or it genuinely can't prevent/fix them, in which case it's time at least to consider strongly if there might be a system of government which can take care of people the way that it should.

You miss the third possibility, which is that it could be that no system of government could fix the issue at hand in a way which doesn't cause even greater disruption. Not all problems have solutions.

As for reaching a new system, it all depends what you're talking about: are we dealing with reform, or revolution? In the former case, this is happening in a gradual way all the time. If we're talking about a radical overhaul of the very philosophical underpinnings of the system, then the way I see it you're left with four choices:

- Replacing one form of representative democracy with another form. Which seems to just be another sort of reform.
- Replacing representative democracy with direct democracy. Which is great if you want the majority to be able to kick minorities in the teeth whenever the fancy takes them.
- Replacing representative democracy with something more autocratic and undemocratic. This seems undesirable on the face of it.
- Replacing representative democracy with something more anarchic, which I understand to be your preferred the solution. But by definition in an anarchist/libertarian system you can't force people to go out of their way for the common good, you can't force the banks to give the public a better deal, and you can't force people to pay the taxes required to maintain the welfare state. If you want to help people who are losing their homes and their jobs and so forth, you're going to have to get people to pull together and help out with their money and/or resources, and some form of government is the only force which can really go and do that. Otherwise you're just leaving it to altruism and philanthropy, which is precisely the solution that the Libertarians propose.

I might be missing something here, if so I'm genuinely interested in seeing what the alternative is.

You have said that you have "neither the patience nor probably the capability" to actually research the issues involved beyond what you've picked up from secondary sources (which sources are you talking about, by the way?), but even though this is the case I think it's enormously arrogant of you to simply brush aside the three-quarters-of-a-trillion dollar recovery plan I pointed out in my first reply to you by simply saying "Well, bad things are still happening", as though anything short of a complete and total reversal of the economic situation in the space of the five months since the act has been passed represents a failure of the act to go far enough. You do not appear to have spent any effort into looking into how effective the plan has been in preventing even greater economic difficulties, and you do not appear to have spent any effort into coming up with actual ideas as to what else the government could do to prevent unemployment and foreclosures.

You simply look at the fact that unemployment and foreclosures are happening, and look at the fact that the government is trying to alleviate the situation, and you conclude on that basis that not only is the government not being as effective as it could reasonably be expected to be, but the entire system of government is broken and this is another sign of the downfall of the system. I would be less annoyed by this if the extent of my research in my first reply had been anything more than checking a few wikipedia articles, but that's precisely what I did. I find it pretty incredible that you lack the patience to do even that, but at the same time you have very definite and, if you don't mind me saying, extreme views on the political direction we should take. "We should change the entire basis of our society" is an enormous assertion to make, possibly the biggest political assertion anyone could make, but to immediately follow it up with "I don't actually feel like researching the issues at hand, but I'm pretty sure they back me up anyway" is absolutely incredible. Obama "seems at the moment" to be doing damage control, "you hear" he's not going to put new constraints on the auto companies, and you're absolutely convinced that a new governmental system could "take care of people the way that it should". Never mind that the idea that we need a government to take care of is the very antithesis of anarchism.

I'm sorry, L., but you're going to have to actually cite some shit if you want people to swallow what you're proposing.
Viorica at 00:17 on 2009-07-19
I think part of the reason that the US (and Canada- yu should've seen the response when a school principal suggested that they not sing "Oh Canada" every single morning*) is so nationalistic is that we're still frantic to ensure that everyone knows that we're independent countries. Which is stupid, especially given that Canada still has ties to Britain, but there you have it.

*There was, I shit you not, an article quoting two girls who had a cousin deployed to Afghanistan, saying that singing the anthem made them feel closer to him. Because that's not emotional manipulation at all.
Rude Cyrus at 00:39 on 2009-07-19
The biggest problem with the bailout is that the government failed to break up these gigantic institutions and properly regulate them, leaving them to continue the practices that gutted the economy in the first place. Hell, Goldman Sachs has very recently posted huge profits due to engaging in the same high-risk trading that led to economic collapse last fall.

It doesn't help that so many former employees of these big banks become government officials -- like Hank Paulson, who was the CEO of Goldman Sachs and the former Treasury Secretary, or Tim Geithner, the current secretary and former employee of New York's Federal Reserve. Add to that the hundreds of lobbyists these firms employ and it's difficult not to feel hopeless. I think Senator Dick Durbin said the banks "own the place" when referring to Congress.
Arthur B at 00:52 on 2009-07-19
Hell, Goldman Sachs has very recently posted huge profits due to engaging in the same high-risk trading that led to economic collapse last fall.

You got a citation for this, Rude?

I'm specifically looking for something that can confirm:
- Which specific trading practices you are talking about that Goldman Sachs are continuing.
- Whether those trading practices are, in fact, the ones responsible for the credit crunch.

Bonus points if you can get an explanation as to why these practices are now working for Goldman Sachs when last autumn they suddenly stopped working for everyone else.
Arthur B at 04:16 on 2009-07-19
Thanks; I think Taibbi overstates the case a little (the RS article sometimes reads as though he's saying that Goldman Sachs, the organisation, is personally and solely responsible for every bubble in the US financial markets since the 1920s, and I don't think mob psychology works that way), but it's interesting reading nonetheless.
Rami at 08:41 on 2009-07-19
I don't agree with everything McArdle says, but it's worth bearing in mind that there are a couple of flaws in Taibbi's argument. If we're going to talk economics, we've got to be scientific about it, after all.

I'd much rather have heated and uninformed rants go back and forth (they're much more fun) but I'm just waiting for the Phillips curves to come out...
Rami at 08:50 on 2009-07-19
@Rude: Just FYI, the Federal Reserve banks are government institutions, not traditional banks, so I wouldn't hold that against Geithner – it is rather an indication that he's been part of the system (and, arguably, therefore part of the problem, although I don't personally think so) for longer.

@Viorica: I read a book once that pointed out that people need to believe in something, and we often just need an icon or figurehead to put our faith in. For many European countries, that's provided by strong historical figures and institutions like the British monarchy -- for the US and Canada, that has to be something different: the flag or some similar generic symbol of National Pride. Perhaps that's what's at work when millions of eyes get misty on the Fourth (or First) of July...
Andy G at 09:34 on 2009-07-19
you conclude on that basis that not only is the government not being as effective as it could reasonably be expected to be, but the entire system of government is broken and this is another sign of the downfall of the system.


I think this is slightly misrepresenting the argument above - I don't read anything there about the "downfall of the system" or extreme (or even specific) views about what the potential change in system could be. What I took away from it is more the fact that there is limited scope for individuals to make a difference, regardless of how good or able they are. I think you can accept that even if you conclude that a different system is impossible or undesirable (which still doesn't mean you'd have to be over the moon about the current one), but why is it any better to be cynical about the possibility of a better system than to be cynical about the possibility of a better leader, which was what you criticsed L. for previously?
Arthur B at 16:41 on 2009-07-19
why is it any better to be cynical about the possibility of a better system than to be cynical about the possibility of a better leader, which was what you criticsed L. for previously?

Because we have clear examples of Better Leaders and Worse Leaders, whereas every system we've tried other than representative democracy seems to be worse.
Rami at 17:37 on 2009-07-19
every system we've tried other than representative democracy
And how many of those have there been -- besides (depending how widely you want to cast your historical net) possibly monarchy?
Arthur B at 18:02 on 2009-07-19
And how many of those have there been -- besides (depending how widely you want to cast your historical net) possibly monarchy?

Well, I'm saying "we" as in the global we, so there's far more out there than could be sensibly listed. Restricting ourselves to just the last hundred years or so, there's been various flavours of fascism, military/police rule, Iran-style systems where a supposedly representative democracy can be vetoed by a theocratic elite, oligarchies that at least call themselves Communist (even if they don't do a brilliant job of following Marx), unrepresentative democracies (apartheid South Africa, Jim Crow-era US), and still a couple of attempts at absolute monarchy (see Nepal's recent troubles).

Now, you could argue that the reason representative democracies seem to do well is that the wealthy nations of the world are representative democracies, and therefore they're going have a better quality of life than everywhere else, but I'm not sure I buy it. There a number of representative democracies which are not wealthy, such as Ghana, or have only recently started to become wealthy, such as India, and I'm not convinced that they would be better off if they were not democracies.

Just about the only political ideologies that have been proposed that haven't been seriously tried up are anarchism as left-anarchists see it (there's Somalia, but most left-anarchists would describe that as rule-by-warlord rather than genuine anarchy) and Communism in its idealistic form rather than the way it's actually been implemented in the past, and both have enormous practical problems to get over, including the fact that they tend to assume that all participants in the system will act in good faith.

This leaves us with political systems that we haven't thought of, and haven't tried, at which point we end up in political SF. It's always possible that such a thing could be devised, but until something genuinely new is actually proposed there's not much point speculating about it.
Rude Cyrus at 18:39 on 2009-07-19
Churchill said, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried." It's far from perfect, but it's probably the best system we have so far.

Unfortunately, it's easy for the democratic process to become corrupt, where the representatives put corporate and private interests over the interests of the public.
Andy G at 19:29 on 2009-07-19
@ Arthur: I'm not sure where your interpretation comes from that anyone is talking about doing away with "representative democracy". As I said, I'm agnostic about the possibility of a truly fair social system, but that doesn't mean we have to be cheerleaders for the one we have or deny that it is this system itself which places restrictions on the actions of individual leaders.

However, it is worth pointing out that the fact that Europe and America have higher quality of life than other parts of the world with systems other than capitalist democracy doesn't necessarily speak in favour of our system if the lower quality of life in those countries is not because of their systems but because of ours. Your list of systems of social organisation also ignores social systems that exist for societies below a certain size.

Which isn't to say I'm committed to anything more than substantial reform to the present system. I just think the emphasis always needs to be on the structures within which people do things, rather than the individuals themselves. To take a British example, the MPs expense scandal is fundamentally a systematic problem of lax regulation, rather than the moral inadequacy of individual MPs (as if things could have been different if only honest, upright individuals happened to have been elected). Different systems are far more influential than different individuals.
Arthur B at 19:49 on 2009-07-19
I'm not sure where your interpretation comes from that anyone is talking about doing away with "representative democracy".

Well, this whole conversation started with L. mentioning how he thought the very idea of nation-states was flawed and he didn't support them, except when they happened to be places like Palestine and Tibet where the idea of the state was tied to a liberation movement, and how he considers Obama to be unable to do good because he's working in an "inherently flawed politico-economic system". I believe L. in past comments (under his arkan2 openID login) has mentioned being an anarchist - he certainly mentions being such on his LJ, as linked from his contributor bio - so I think it's only reasonable of me to conclude that L's preferred changes to the idea of the nation-state and the political-economic system of the US are based on his left-anarchist views.
Andy G at 20:27 on 2009-07-19
@ Arthur: OK, fair enough, though I still stand by my points as responses to your counterarguments.
Rami at 02:22 on 2009-07-20
Well, I'm saying "we" as in the global we

Unfortunately, that's a point at which you can't compare political systems effectively -- cultural, social, and historical differences mean that any model is of necessity too general to be able to say anything useful.

There's a lot of literature around this (some of which has somewhat recently been thrown into relief in light of the need for nations to be built in freshly flattened bits of desert), not to mention several great examples of how systems work wonderfully in one place and fail completely in another thanks to the vagaries of human nature and the effect of historical path-dependency.

My personal favorite example is India vs Pakistan since the early 1970s, where the historical and cultural factors are tangled but have enough similarity to be glossed over. One is the less-than-entirely-representative but generally functional poster-child for democracy in the developing world. The other is up to its eyeballs in a decades-long cycle of corrupt faux-democracy and military coups d'etat. Unpredictable, much?
Arthur B at 04:30 on 2009-07-20
My personal favorite example is India vs Pakistan since the early 1970s, where the historical and cultural factors are tangled but have enough similarity to be glossed over. One is the less-than-entirely-representative but generally functional poster-child for democracy in the developing world. The other is up to its eyeballs in a decades-long cycle of corrupt faux-democracy and military coups d'etat. Unpredictable, much?

But there's the thing - one of them, the one which has actually embraced representative democracy, is currently an extremely successful nation and enjoys a quality of life which is improving - not universally by any means, but improving nonetheless. The other one has, well, the precise vicious cycle you're talking about. Pakistan shows us that representative democracy doesn't really work if the institutions and the people that comprise said institutions don't buy into the idea, but at the same time India shows us that areas of the world which previously lacked a tradition of representative democracy, having come out of centuries of foreign domination, can embrace it and succeed at it.

Representative democracy isn't immune to becoming dysfunctional, and I don't think it's a miracle cure which will always take root wherever it's attempted, but it's certainly better than those systems which can't help but be dysfunctional (it's also notable that once a representative democracy gets dysfunctional enough, it tends to cease being a representative democracy, since there's only so many abuses you can get away with if proper elections are still happening). I can certainly think of few examples of a functional dictatorship; the closest I can think of are places like Saudi Arabia and Burma, where the ruling parties (whether absolute monarchies or military juntas) have maintained an absolute control over the nation for going on decades, and I wouldn't characterise those states as being "functional" for the majority of their residents.

This doesn't, of course, mean that you can blunder about the planet knocking over dictatorships and installing democracies and expect them to be functional.
Rami at 06:04 on 2009-07-20
the one which has actually embraced representative democracy
Right, but what made it work there?

The point I'm making is that you have cultural / historical / path-dependent factors that completely change the nature of the challenges the government has to face, and end up with wildly different outcomes from what seem to be very similar starting points. (In the case of India/Pakistan, one of the major reasons Pakistan didn't initially embrace democracy was that the elites in power were distinctly not representative of the actual demographics of the population -- and that was caused by the arbitrary nature of the lines the British drew in '47). So it's not really a legitimate comparison between different systems in different contexts.

I'll grant you that intuitively, representative democracy does seem like the least-worst solution, but I don't think that's best illustrated by example.
Arthur B at 09:07 on 2009-07-20
I'll grant you that intuitively, representative democracy does seem like the least-worst solution, but I don't think that's best illustrated by example.

I'm not following you here. "A small minority happened to be in charge, chose not to go with democracy, and led Pakistan into an alternating cycle of corrupt fauxmocracies and military dictatorships" doesn't strike me as a strong argument that democracy was the "wrong" choice for Pakistan at the time, even if it was the "right" choice for the minority in charge.

To make my position clear, I've been trying to say that representative democracy is the political system currently available to us which produces the greatest good for the greatest number, not the system which inherently prevails when a bunch of people get sovereignty dumped on them and they have to decide for themselves how to organise their lives.
Andy G at 10:34 on 2009-07-20
But there's the thing - one of them, the one which has actually embraced representative democracy, is currently an extremely successful nation and enjoys a quality of life which is improving - not universally by any means, but improving nonetheless


To play devil's advocate here – in developed democracies, we like to tell ourselves that things have improved since the bad old days besides a few leftovers that will soon be swept away. But progress is a myth - not in the sense of being untrue, but in the sense of being an interpretation rather than an objective perception of facts.

To say that things are better now than they used to be ignores the fact that lots of the the historical problems that we are supposedly overcoming are actually far more recent in origin. It also ignores the fact that things being great for us may be systematically (and not accidentally) at the expense of things being worse for other people, or even that those enjoying the higher quality of life also experience a lot of unhappiness and alienation.

Modern capitalist democracies are not systems designed or chosen to create the greatest amounts of good or happiness – they weren't designed or chosen at all, they just happened for various reasons, and were justified after the fact. Balanced against the ways in which they have improved life, they have also given us apartheid, the Holocaust, the slave trade, colonialism, global warming, extremism and dictatorships, and unprecedented levels of exploitation, poverty and inequality. If they really are the least worst option, they're a pretty underwhelming one.
Arthur B at 11:25 on 2009-07-20
Hoo boy, where to begin?

Balanced against the ways in which they have improved life, they have also given us apartheid, the Holocaust,

Any system, such as apartheid or the Holocaust, which hinges on stripping the vote and/or basic human rights from a significant section of the population has more or less turned its back on representative democracy. Apartheid is a particularly poor example here, since it was only possible because most of the population of South Africa couldn't vote. The Holocaust is a better example, since the Nazis did after all rise to power in a democratic system, but it only really swung into gear after they had dismantled said system in favour of absolute rule by the party. You can certainly blame democracy for preventing to stop that from happening, but I fail to see what sort of system would have done so.

the slave trade,

Which slave trade are you referring to here? If you're referring to the transatlantic slave trade, that was going for centuries before any of the major participants adopted anything approaching democracy (that being the US - the vote was extremely restricted in the UK until the Reform Act of 1832, long after Britain banned the slave trade and moved to suppress it), and since the US economy (especially in the South) was by this point entirely dependent on slavery it is highly doubtful that the US would have moved to abolish it any earlier under a different political system. If you're referring to earlier slave trades, I can't think of many democratic participants in those unless you go back to Athens (which was far from representative, voting being pretty much restricted to the upper social classes). If you're referring to later slave trades, I can't think of any developed democracy where that's legal.

colonialism,

Began long before any of the European powers reached anything approaching representative democracy and universal suffrage; though I grant you that it took shamefully long for said powers to renounce colonialism once they adopted democratic systems, saying that democracy gave us colonialism is simply incorrect.

global warming,

OK, first off this is an accidental phenomenon which people were not aware of their responsibility for until comparatively recently, and secondly it's more properly a consequence of industrial activity rather than the system which said activity occurs under - I'm not seeing many political systems in the last hundred years or so which have really reigned in industrial activity to any great extent. The Soviet Union under Communism wasn't exactly carbon-neutral, and nor is China today.

extremism and dictatorships,

Surely these both result from a rejection of democracy on the part of said extremists and regimes? Unless you're talking about the sort of regimes imposed on South America and Greece and other places from the Cold War onwards by the US, and I can't think of any hegemon in history which didn't play the proxy state game; a sickness common to all systems isn't something you can blame on one of them.

and unprecedented levels of exploitation, poverty and inequality.

I fail to see how this would not occur if we lived in a world where the hegemons were developed dictatorships rather than developed democracies; at least under the current system we can say "look, our lifestyle is dumping all over the Third World" and people won't actually disappear us for suggesting our nation isn't a blessing upon the Earth.

Also note that I've fairly consistently been talking about "representative democracy" here rather than "capitalist democracy". Most of your social ills could much more credibly be ascribed to capitalism as opposed to democracy - the slave trade, colonialism, exploitation and poverty in particular.
Andy G at 11:55 on 2009-07-20
I'm not so sure you can meaningfully extricate representative democracy as it exists from capitalist democracy or industrialisation – just as you can't extricate it from the various terrible things that have happened in modern times "despite" the supposed overall improvement in the world. The sheer extent of suffering, genocide, waste and exploitation has been increased, not decreased as byproducts of the rise of enlightened democratic nations.


Niall at 12:04 on 2009-07-20
To address a different part of L. Robinson's original comment:

It sounds like both shows (along with the majority of the American and British populaces) are so caught up in the personal aspects of governmental politics that they largely miss the systemic angle.


Actually, I'd say the main problem with Dan's analysis is that it foregrounds both show's engagement with personal aspects of government over the systemic episodes, and that this does a disservice to The West Wing, in particular. I don't, actually, think the show puts forward the position that Bartlet is President because he deserves to be; I think it puts forward the position that America deserves Bartlet because it has a governmental system under which, despite all its flaws, a man like Bartlet can be elected President. Now, I doubt that actually makes you any happier than what you concluded the show was about from Dan's reading of it. But I think that, although there's an awareness of flaws, the valorization of American political process is really fundamental to the show -- I would say that, e.g. "The Stackhouse Filibuster" is a central episode.
Andy G at 12:08 on 2009-07-20
And having said my piece I'm going to leave it at that I think.
Wardog at 12:32 on 2009-07-20
Ahem, I can see this is A Various Discussion but I do feel the need to pick up on this:

Winne the Pooh would be an awesome prime minister.


I entirely agree, and he'd get my vote, although I'm concerned that his altruistic and benevolent ideals for gonverment might be thwarted by Permanent Secretary's Piglet's cynicism, to say nothing of Owl's love for bureaucracy. I see Owl and Piglet, up there in wing chairs in Owl's treehouse, sipping Scotch and discussing the need for larger administrative staff...
Arthur B at 12:59 on 2009-07-20
Tigger would obviously be the leader of the opposition in this scenario, constantly demanding this and that and then, when the government delivers, declaring that it's not what was wanted at all.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown resembles Eeyore more and more every day...
Rami at 15:31 on 2009-07-20
Clearly we're aiming at different targets.
representative democracy is the political system currently available to us which produces the greatest good for the greatest number

I'm saying that you can't really show that particularly well -- the examples available to us through history are too compromised by the vagaries of the situation at the time. It's probably my training talking here, though -- studying political science influenced by philosophy means you get very precise about definitions while taking an overly scientific view of a socio-historical process ;-)

Less politically, I do agree with Niall -- "The Stackhouse Filibuster" points out perfectly the central idea that American politicians, despite all their flaws, really are good, worthy, caring people at heart. Which is a bit too much of a rose-colored view for me, but it's a nice thought nonetheless... and isn't that what The West Wing is really about?
Dafydd at 01:41 on 2009-07-21
by Arthur B
.1) bitch about government bailouts of financial institutions as though it was some sort of reward for slick bastard financiers and a punch in the face for everyone else.

.2) so why bother?" thinking which prompts otherwise sensible people to get disenchanted with going out to vote. And when that happens, we get shit like this.)

-3) Replacing representative democracy with direct democracy. Which is great if you want the majority to be able to kick minorities in the teeth whenever the fancy takes them

.4) But by definition in an anarchist/libertarian system you can't force people to go out of their way for the common good, you can't force the banks to give the public a better deal, and you can't force people to pay the taxes required to maintain the welfare state.

.5) To lighten the mood: this is what Ferretbrain would look like under Maoism.

.6) I can't think of many democratic participants in those unless you go back to Athens (which was far from representative, voting being pretty much restricted to the upper social classes).

.1) So the Bankers “earning” huge boni/bonuses wasn’t a reward? The boni were a punishment for their sins? May God punish my sins with massive boni. Amen.

.2) Dubya didn’t “win” the election because people couldn’t be bothered to vote. People did vote against Dubya, but his own brother was the Returning Officer and invented hanging chads to insist that anti-Bush votes are in fact pro-Bush votes. He would say that wouldn’t he?

.3) Indeed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solon In Athens, the majority Peasants were in debt slavery to the minority Aristocrats. As soon as Peasants got the Vote, they cancelled the Debts – ungrateful scum. (sarcasm)

.4) Liberals fear Anarchists and respect Fascists. Consider a Fascist tyrant who murders 2 Million people: you don’t get Liberals saying “Na-ni-na-ni-pooh-pooh! If you were a real Fascist, you would have murdered 5M.” But whenever an Anarchist proposes any practical strategy for an immediate situation, Liberals jump up and down, “That is not the pure, Platonic ideology of Anarchy.” They would say that, wouldn’t they?

Indeed, Anarchists can’t force the bankers to give the public a better deal. On day #1 of the Revolution, we cancel all debt and hang the bankers. The only response we expect from bankers is “Knock once for yes; knock twice for no.”

.5) Excellent link to MIM! Thank you, Arthur.

.6) Athens: women, foreigners and slaves were excluded, but all free-born, Peasant Citizens voted in the Assembly of the People/Demos.
Mao tze Tung: Political power comes out of the barrel of a gun.
The Greek city States had many forms of government.
Originally, the Aristocrat cavalry was the backbone of the Militia, so only Aristos could vote.
Later, the Heavy infantry Hoplites were the backbone. Well to do Peasants who could afford the armour and equipment voted.
Athens was a Naval power. Piss-poor Peasant oarsmen voted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pericles%27_Funeral_Oration
explains the difference between Athenian Democracy and Spartan Oligarchy.

But then http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcibiades Socrates’ disciple Alcibiades conspired to set up the Pelopennesian War to destroy Athens. And Liberals have despised Democracy ever since.

To explain the Pelopennesian War in terms of Harry Potter: Socrates = Dumbledore; Alcibiades = Snape, Plato = JK Rowling; Pericles = Xenophilus Lovegood.


Have fun!
Rude Cyrus at 02:17 on 2009-07-21
Dayfdd, I hope your comment about liberals was meant as snark.
Rami at 06:03 on 2009-07-21
Dayfdd, I hope your comment about liberals was meant as snark.

As do I. I'd also appreciate it if you could explain some of the analogies to Greece, because I just don't understand them. And I'm pretty sure most oarsmen in ancient Athens were slaves, so they didn't vote.
Arthur B at 06:42 on 2009-07-21
Uh, Daffyd, do you actually mean what you say about bankers? Because if you're talking about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out.

Also, I wasn't endorsing MIM, I think they're enormous cranks.

(Oh, and this seems to be a better link to their FerretMao section - this time with book, music, and videogame reviews! Because we really needed to know what the doctrinally correct take on Fallout is...)
Dafydd at 10:02 on 2009-07-21
As soon as Peasants got the Vote, they cancelled the Debts – ungrateful scum. (sarcasm)
"Ungrateful scum" is the only sarcastic bit. Not only do I believe that Anarchy is the correct political doctrine to achieve Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, but also, I believe other doctrines are wrong. Fucking Splitters.

Ancient Rome and Renaissance Spain used galley slaves. Vikings and Ionian Greeks used Free-born oarsmen. Other Greek cities hired mercenary oarsmen. Mercenaries were paid wages, so they weren't slaves; but as foreigners, they couldn't vote.

Arthur said there are only two alternates, Reform or Revolution. Revolution happens when the Working Class are so angry that they can't take any more; such righteous, burning rage inevitably leads to heads on spikes. Revolution without hangings is just Reform wearing a leather jacket trying to look hard and cool

I expected MIM to be filled with hilarious mad stuff. So far, I have only read the LotR and Harry Potter reviews and I agree with them.

My name is Dafydd: Daffyd is the "only gay in the village".
Jamie Johnston at 19:05 on 2009-07-21
To ensure transatlantic mutual understanding during political arguments, could all commenters indicate whether they're using "liberal" in the U.S. sense of "anyone left of the political centre of the U.S." or in the rest-of-the-world sense of "anyone who believes the state should seek above all to protect and promote the autonomy and equality of individuals"? Thanks.
Rude Cyrus at 19:23 on 2009-07-21
"Ungrateful scum" is the only sarcastic bit. Not only do I believe that Anarchy is the correct political doctrine to achieve Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, but also, I believe other doctrines are wrong. Fucking Splitters.

I'm not sure how to respond to this.
Jamie Johnston at 19:38 on 2009-07-21
Ancient Rome... used galley slaves

Very rarely. Roman oarsmen were generally free-born citizens or freed slaves (who were also citizens, though of low social status), or free citizens of allied states (see e.g. Livy 42.27). They were paid (e.g. Livy 24.11). When, in times of emergency, slaves were put to the oars, they were, it seems, always rewarded with their freedom beforehand or immediately afterwards.
Robinson L at 22:00 on 2009-07-28
Hi sis, how's it going?

(Apologies to anyone confused by my apparent non-sequitur. My sister claims she can recognize my comments after the first two or three words, so I'm having a little fun with her.)

Arthur, that was very harsh, but no worse than I deserved. Not that I agree with your conclusions, obviously, but my counterarguments in previous post were, in a word, abysmal. If you then go ahead and take my argumentative incompetence to indicate equal incompetence in building my political consciousness, well, I've only myself to blame, I suppose.

For what it's worth, I suck at citation, have a difficult time with dry, “objective” prose, and am a hopeless perfectionist, which means I can't work with citation that's just “good enough.” However, if I'm not prepared to back up my arguments, the correct answer is to keep my trap shut.

On further reflection, I could probably continue this discussion with better arguments (and proper citation), but I feel that to do so would be stupefyingly unproductive and therefore will restrict myself to a few related points which came up during the ensuing discussion.

so I think it's only reasonable of me to conclude that L's preferred changes to the idea of the nation-state and the political-economic system of the US are based on his left-anarchist views.
Close. Actually, my being a left-anarchist is based on 20 years of dealing with the inherent (to my mind) problems of the nation-state and the political-economic system of the world, and the US in particular, and for most of those 20 years flailing around unsuccessfully for an alternate system which a) was genuinely humane and b) was realistically feasible. (I'd prefer not to go into another protracted debate on the feasibility of my political views. Can we leave it at my having arguments for why a system of horizontal democracy would actually work which satisfy me, even if it might not satisfy any of you?)

The distinction is important, I feel, because it means you don't have to accept either anarchist or Marxist assumptions to accept my critique of the current politico-social-economic system. (Although you do, obviously, need much better arguments.)

Thanks to Niall for pointing out my flawed assumption that because Dan's article dwells on the personality aspects of politics, that means the shows do, as well.

Arthur B: Uh, Dafydd, do you actually mean what you say about bankers? Because if you're talking about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out.
Seconded. If we want Liberty, Equality, and a gender-neutral Fraternity, we can't achieve it by taking people who's only real crime is being born in a flawed system and introducing them to a makeshift gallows.

burning rage inevitably leads to heads on spikes.
Not always, thank goodness. Righteous anger is only so much when not matched with righteous action.

(On a lighter note, I really wish I'd inverted the letter-name arrangement in my username.)
Rami at 06:54 on 2009-07-29
my sister claims she can recognize my comments after the first two or three words
Surely she gets a fairly strong hint from your username ;-)?

I really wish I'd inverted the letter-name arrangement in my username
You can do that through your user details page -- use the 'Admin' link in the top right corner, then click on the 'Edit Profile' link just by your profile picture.
Robinson L at 20:02 on 2009-07-29
Surely she gets a fairly strong hint from your username ;-)?
That too.

You can do that through your user details page -- use the 'Admin' link in the top right corner, then click on the 'Edit Profile' link just by your profile picture.
Thanks, I'd been meaning to mess with the profile a bit anyway, and I think I'll fix that, too.
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