Print Story Optimus Prime was never Truly Primed
By cam (Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 12:19:07 PM EST) (all tags)
rome, demo, doubleclick, green corvette, cruel sea, belgravia, comic, dow, andrew bartlett, suck it atlanta, lego

1. Roman Constitution: pre-Montesquieu.

2. Knocked up a basic, yet function complete, demo in three days. Thanks turbogears. I shudder to think how long it would have taken me to do the same amount of functionality with a java framework.

3. via cafeconleche:

I remember when DoubleClick and third party cookies were "the big problem". It appears that Google will now be well beyond what DoubleClick could ever have hoped in terms of privacy violation.

4. Bright green C5 Corvette, that isn't a factory color. I like it. The thread it comes from.

5. Honeymoon is Over from the Cruel Sea. Rock on Tex. I saw them at the Petersham(?) when Tex was only singing a couple of songs. They were a surf-instrumental band.

Well you can't sleep in my bed no more
You can't a-ride in my car
I won't let you cook for me baby
It's never gonna get that far
I'm gonna send you back to wherever
The hell it was you came
And then I'm gonna get this tattoo
Changed to another girl's name

Ma, ma, ma, ma, meow. And for the hell of it Seems Twice.

6. Interesting American political blog: Belgravia Dispatch.

7. funny comic

8. Inflation Adjusted Dow graph.

9. Andrew Bartlett on the PM's comment on HIV immigrants:

Applicants for permanent residency in Australia are already subject to health tests. I am surprised that the PM either didn’t know this, or didn’t think it was worth mentioning. His comment reinforces ill-informed and destructive prejudices that migrants ‘bring in diseases’.

Before I got the greencard my balls got held while I had to cough. I also had blood drawn to make sure I didn't have HIV and other blood transmitted diseases.

10. Suck it Atlanta.

11. Lego pr0n. Three feet long and five thousand pieces.

12. More lego pr0n: Mars Mission.

< Something always goes wrong. | BBC White season: 'Rivers of Blood' >
Optimus Prime was never Truly Primed | 25 comments (25 topical, 0 hidden)
some evil AU metal / drum and bass by MillMan (4.00 / 2) #1 Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 12:40:26 PM EST

When I'm imprisoned as an enemy combatant, will you blog about it?

Sounds OK by cam (4.00 / 2) #2 Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 01:15:13 PM EST
Unfortunately my music taste kinds of ends in 1995. So I am hopelessly out of date when it comes to good new bands.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
My boss has the Millenium Falcon by ucblockhead (4.00 / 2) #3 Sun Apr 15, 2007 at 03:01:06 PM EST
at home. He has the Star Destroyer in his office.
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
John Numbnuts Howard by Phage (4.00 / 2) #4 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 01:58:40 AM EST
Just keeps plumbing new depths.

(When I entered Aus in 1982, I had the works. Full immunisations, dental, chest x-ray, blood and urine samples. All followed by a face to face interview.)

I had the same for the greencard by cam (4.00 / 1) #6 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 03:48:46 AM EST
plus fingerprints x-times for the FBI.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
How innocent 1982 seems now ! nt by Phage (4.00 / 2) #8 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 03:57:38 AM EST

[ Parent ]
That was prior to September 11th by cam (4.00 / 1) #9 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 03:59:09 AM EST
It was still the 90s when I went through that process IIRC

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Roman constitution by R Mutt (4.00 / 2) #5 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 02:49:21 AM EST
Like you say, it didn't really exist: it was an accretion of traditions. Every time a new assembly or office was created, it was held onto, leading to a very complex structure with multiple assemblies: Senate, Curiate Assembly, Plebian Assembly, Centuriate assembly Tribal Assembly, and the various offers.

Seems a little bit unfair to say though: "it was easy for Sulla, Caesar and Augustus to subvert it". It lasted over 400 years before Sulla came along. If that's a system that's easy to subvert, how long does one have to last before it's hard to subvert?

The Roman republic worked very well in certain conditions: when land was farmed by smallholders, when it was small enough that citizens could walk to their assemblies, when the revenues from outside-assembly-distance areas were too small to be worth distorting the assembly for.

It helped that the military and the citizenry were much the same bodies: physical power coincided with political power because institutions like the Centuriate assembly were much the same as the military.

In particular though, it relied on Roman culture, with had a huge and absolute respect for tradition, and the way things had been done. It also relied on the concept of Imperium: that power is something which flows from the people, can be extended to individuals and then withdrawn from them.

There seems to be a bit of Whig History air to that article: that the Roman republic was a primitive step on the road to perfection. Sometimes you seem working from a kind of assumption, that "constitutions" can just be slotted interchangeably in at any time and any place; and so can be evaluated relative to each other. Seems to me more that a constitution or a political system is utterly intertwined with culture, technology, society, military tactics, religion and communications.

The Roman republic worked very well in its mileu, but wouldn't necessarily work very well anywhere else, nor would a modern system necessarily have worked well then.

However, it's worth noting that the early Renaissance humanists deliberately tried to emulate the Roman republic in their Italian city-states, as the ideal form of government.

The Final Act by cam (4.00 / 1) #7 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 03:52:05 AM EST
and the formal role of Dictator meant the system had an inbuilt mechanism for subversion. I consider constitutions technologies which are used to achieve outcomes in the same way I would consider programming languages technologies to achieve business outcomes. And yes, I think there is ample empirical evidence that humanity is progressing morally, and I agree with Deniehy and Harpur that the lessening of tyranny through improved political technologies has contributed to that outcome.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Actually re-reading what I wrote by cam (4.00 / 1) #10 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 04:01:34 AM EST
I am arguing in the intro that the lack of a written constitution (and a body dedicated to interpreting it) is what made it easy to subvert. Which I agree with, obviously, entirely. The legal position of Dictator was a flawed mechanism too.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Well by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #11 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 04:22:31 AM EST
I thought I was baffled as to why you have such faith in the value of written constitutions even in the modern world. If you can command enough armed men to control the state, a piece of paper isn't going to stop you. I'm even more baffled as to why you think in a largely illiterate society, a written constitution would have such power.

But using this as an example, you must admit that the Roman Republic was remarkably stable for a representative system of government. Considering it to begin in 509 BC and end with the dictatorship of Sulla in 81BC, that means it endured for 428 years. Longer if you date its demise from Julius or Augustus.

Also consider that its complex system of assemblies was unusually dynamic, constantly changing as new power groups were accepted into the system. This would have been harder if there had been a firm written consitution to be changed each time.

So, if we take your theory of constitutions as interchangeable, universally applicable components seriously; then the Roman republic clearly demonstrates the inferiority of a written constitution, since it resisted domination for so long.

[ Parent ]
Rome was arbitrary government by cam (4.00 / 1) #12 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 05:11:27 AM EST
If you can command enough armed men to control the state, a piece of paper isn't going to stop you.

Which was the Roman problem as politics and martial dominance were entwined. Senators were generals and enforced their political will as consuls through armies. The Forum was constantly dotted by violence and bills were forced through by intimidation of gangs that a Senator, Consul or Tribune would pay to intimidate the Senate specifically for that outcome.

Rome was a martial state and that violence often turned inwards, often enough that they set up legislative patterns for a Dictator where one person ran the state through emergency. We get all the nasty crap like homo sacer and state of exception through the Roman form of governance. These things are illegal under modern written constitutions.

Written constitutions are superior to convention etc because of their explicit nature and the way the executive and legislative can be sued, through the judicial, that an act is illegal. The Washington system is superior to the Westminster for that same reason. It is better capable of recovering from tyranny than the Westminster is, or the Roman system was.

Tyranny doesn't have to be absolute to be destructive. In its insidious nature we call it arbitrary government. Written constitutions and written legislation curb tyranny dramatically. Rome, despite being a heavily centralised state that was capable of expanding more than other Empires of the time did, was dominated by arbitrary government and political violence. Its constitution was inferior to modern ones such as the Washington and Westminster.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Roman Republic versus Weimar Republic by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #13 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 06:10:27 AM EST
Those problems that you mention existed, but only in the end stages of the Roman Republic as far as we know. They occurred in response to the social and economic changes we've already discussed, that would probably have doomed any form of Republic at the time.

I'm aware of your assertion that written consitutions are superior: I'm just not seeing any evidence for that assertion. Consider, for instance, the Weimar Republic versus the Roman Republic: as a constitutional republic with checks and balances and a separation of powers, one would expect it to have resisted tyranny for far longer than the Roman. Yet somehow it didn't. (Given of course your interchangeable constitutions theory, which I've already said I disagree with).

[ Parent ]
Because the Weimar Republic went into a by cam (4.00 / 1) #14 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 06:22:51 AM EST
state of exception. Which is the only way to get around a written constitution, which is what makes it a written constitution so powerful. The conventions in Rome entrenched emergency government. The state of exception comes from Roman governance. It was an integral component of how Rome governed - ie by emergency, ie by exception, ie by tyranny, by executive whim. All things that written constitutions stop - unless the executive acts illegally and outside the constitution. Written constitutions deny the position of dictator or tyrant and make it obvious when the executive is doing that because the only way they can act is unconstitutionally.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Where did the state of exception begin? by Scrymarch (4.00 / 1) #15 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 07:00:47 AM EST
When Hitler was appointed Chancellor? Seems to me it was legal according to all the public knowledge at the time - and if your system isn't robust in the face of private blackmail it has serious issues.

Even the best designed machine can be driven into a wall. Or run out of fuel, which might be a better analogy for the hyperinflationary German economy.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
It had a Final Act like Rome by cam (4.00 / 2) #17 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 07:28:45 AM EST
from here:

Save for a relative pause between 1925 and 1929, the governments of the Republic, beginning with Brüning's, made continual use of Article 48, proclaiming a state of exception and issuing emergency decrees on more than two hundred and fifty occasions; among other things, they employed it to imprison thousands of communist militants and to set up special tribunals authorized to pronounce capital sentences. On several occasions, particularly in October 1923, the government had recourse to Article 4 to cope with the fall of the mark, thus confirming the modern tendency to conflate politico-military and economic crises.

It is well known that the last years of the Weimar Republic passed entirely under a regime of the state of exception; it is less obvious to note that Hitler could probably not have taken power had the country not been under a regime of presidential dictatorship for nearly three years and had parliament been functioning.

Exception governance destroy separation of powers which makes it even tougher for parliamentary systems as they are lacking in that area anyway. But the Weimar Article 48 was exactly the same as the Roman Final Act.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Not powerful enough to work by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #16 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 07:12:24 AM EST
Seems a little bit far-fetched to blame the Weimar Republic's collapse on historical antecedents from 2,500 years earlier.

Up till the end, the institution of the dictator in the Roman Republic had exactly the opposite effect. In times of crisis a state needs a strong leader to ensure that the state can pursue a consistent course of action. The institution of the dictator ensured that in times of crisis such a leader could be created, but also ensured that when the crisis passed the leader would cease his powers.

This is the same principle as in other offices: officers could be granted imperium (the power of command) but it could always be rescinded, and it always had defined limits.

If the Weimar Republic had such an institution, it might well have survived. It failed because the weak, divided, constitutional government could not resolve the economic crisis and hyperinflation. In desperation, people then turned to what proved to be an absolute dictatorship. However, if they had had a Roman-style system, they could have instituted a less-powerful dictator earlier, solved the crisis, and had his dictatorship expire, all within the system. Instead, crippled by a rigid constitution, they went too far, too late.

[ Parent ]
Executives constantly try to entrench by cam (4.00 / 1) #18 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 07:31:25 AM EST
state of emergency language. Madagascar just had a referendum over it. Canada can suspend their charter of freedoms temporarily. This is exactly the same as the Roman Final Act. They are all intended to be temporary, but end up being permanent. The Weimar Republic was the same (see the reply to Scrymarch above). The necessity of emergency is a fallacy and a weakness in a written constitution as it gives the appearance of legality to stepping outside the constitution. That is why Rome was going to be usurped, the same as Weimar was and Madagascar will be.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Subtle differences by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #19 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 08:30:18 AM EST
I said
In times of crisis a state needs a strong leader to ensure that the state can pursue a consistent course of action.
A myriad of exceptional decrees from a weak, divided government isn't quite the same thing. A unity of purpose is often needed in a crisis; and there is an inevitable trade-off between that and the division of powers that helps prevent an oppressive government.

Now you say

The necessity of emergency is a fallacy and a weakness in a written constitution as it gives the appearance of legality to stepping outside the constitution.
That's another assertion that you're making, don't citing any evidence for, and I find I disagree with. (A recent example I would give is Churchill's government of national unity in WW2).

It seems to me that systems of government depend on complex trade-offs; in the broadest sense between making sure a state is powerful enough to protect its citizens in crises, but not so powerful that it can oppress its citizens. Denying that the trade-offs exist leads to a nice simple, elegant, system that's unworkable in practice.

You're still avoiding the issue that the Roman Republic survived for so long, just as the British parliament survived so long, and the Dutch Republic survived so long (though admittedly they eventually got a written constitution). All three though survived by constantly and flexibly adapting to changing circumstances. I think if you're going to write an article on the Roman Republic, you ought to at least address the way its longevity challenges your general beliefs. It's a bit weak to say, "well, it only managed a mere four and half centuries of wealth, power and stability under a fairly representative government before the inevitable demise predicted by my theories".

[ Parent ]
Constitutional government is sufficient to act by cam (4.00 / 1) #20 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 09:18:34 AM EST
in crisis, there doesn't need to be an exception. Madison in the war of 1812 is a good example. That was was going about as bad as it could be for the US, and he was hounded to enforce emergency procedures, such as removing habeous corpus (which Lincoln and Bush did). He refused to. Constitutional government was sufficient to hold England off and the war to be a victory for the US.

Westminster emergency is a bad example, as the legislative and executive are one and the same in the House, and by executive discipline and leakage of cabinet positions in the Australian Senate. A good example of emergency parliamentary government leading to permanent emergency is income tax in Australia. The federal government has no constitutional authority to it, yet in WWII they claimed national emergency and took over income tax. It was never given back. The states don't do income tax anymore and we now have the situation where the federal government does 85% of taxation. This is the natural progress of emergency government - it becomes permanent.

I explained in a previous post that Rome constantly conducted politics through violence. It is not correct to compare modern liberal democracy with Rome, especially the lack of tyranny that is in modern systems. Rome was tyrannical by comparison.

If anything the tyrannical governments are more politically stable as they wipe out any competition which liberal democracy does not do, as it requires constant political contention to be healthy. Parliamentary systems are more politically stable for the same reason, the executive is rarely challenged. There just isn't the mechanism for it in the system.

Look at the US now, Bush is getting subpoenaed and all sorts, this wouldn't happen in a parliamentary system because the opposition doesn't have the power that a legislative does in a Washington system. Government is made through majority of the legislative.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
It's true by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #21 Mon Apr 16, 2007 at 10:23:45 AM EST
That there were no modern-style representative democracies around in 500 BC. Nevertheless, the Roman Republic was remarkably representative for its day. You're reasserting the view that the Roman Republic "constantly conducted politics through violence", but I disagree with the "constant". This clearly only happened towards the end, since the historians of the period regarded it as a unique disaster, not just part of the way things are done.

Now, you say that tyrannical governments and parliamentary systems are more "politically stable" than the systems you advocate. Let's be more precise about what "stable" actually means though. In a particular year, it means that there will be a lesser probability that the state will collapse. In other words, those kinds of states are more capable of protecting their citizens than the kind you advocate.

So again, we're back at the trade-offs. The key to creating a political system is what trade-off you have between making a state powerful enough to protect its citizens, but not so powerful as to oppress them.

You can't make any meaninful judgments of political system without having that trade-off as the heart. However, you tend to ignore that and just argue in favour of the weakest and most divided government you can.

Now, what would you think if you saw a political scientist trying to code software on the assumption that there are no trade-offs between development time, number of features, and quality of code. Hey, progamming languages are just technologies to achieve outcomes in the same way as constitutions...

[ Parent ]
Stability by Scrymarch (2.00 / 0) #22 Tue Apr 17, 2007 at 06:27:46 AM EST
While we're calling out assumptions - and that's fair enough - it's not clear to me that a stable state necessarily protects its citizens. Eg Burma has been stable and oppressive for nearly twenty years since the last constitutional shock, but it's less protector than protection racket.

The Political Science Department of the University of Woolloomooloo

[ Parent ]
True by R Mutt (4.00 / 1) #23 Tue Apr 17, 2007 at 12:38:42 PM EST
At both ends of the spectrum, a state may not protect its citizens from harm very well. At one end because it has too little power to be capable of it; at the other because it has so much power it has little incentive to.

That said though, a citizen does have a value to the state as a resource, and other highly controlling and autocratic states do protect their citizens from physical harm quite effectively. Cuba might be an example for instance.

[ Parent ]
By political stability by cam (2.00 / 0) #24 Wed Apr 18, 2007 at 05:17:03 AM EST
I mean political entrenchment of a ruler/ruling class. Oligarchy falls into this description. One of the defining aspects of a tyrannical regime, despite its political stability, is how rough it is on the political, economic, social and cultural freedoms. Any challenger to the executive is dealt with violently. They don't protect their citizens; executive tyrannical power is inherently selfish domestically.

However, you tend to ignore that and just argue in favour of the weakest and most divided government you can.

Rubbish. Contention and competition without violence/tyranny is the hallmark of a republican or liberal democratic system. The executive is the most dangerous component of a modern government and requires a written constitution to be constrained so other branches of government and citizenry can sue them directly to keep them under control and with liberal bounds. A state of emergency breaks that directly. A good modern analogy is that an individual cannot sell themselves into slavery. Constitutional emergency is invalidates the constitution, and is directly unconstitutional. It cannot be in the constitution as its presence makes the constitution an unconstitutional document.

Freedom, liberty, equity and an Australian Republic

[ Parent ]
Well by R Mutt (2.00 / 0) #25 Wed Apr 18, 2007 at 11:23:35 PM EST
By political stability... I mean political entrenchment of a ruler/ruling class
Ah, in that case we're talking about different things. When I mentioned the stability of the Roman Republic I meant the way that it ensured the relative safety of its population, and the integrity of its institutions, for such a long period of time. That's particularly remarkable given the warfare and turbulence of that period and region.

I think you're not distinguishing correctly between two different, but desirable qualities of a system of government: protection and liberty.

Suppose, for instance, a state institutes compulsory military service. That reduces the liberty of the population, since they are compelled to serve. However, it can increase the security of the people, since the state is militarily stronger against outside invasion.

There are many other possible trade-offs. A nation that outlaws tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food could increase the physical health of its population, at the expense of liberty.

Now, dividing and reducing political power reduces the ability of a state to respond decisively to crises such as war, plague and natural disaster. This creates a trade-off between these two valuable qualities.

This is another reason why no particular political system can be universally applied. Consider, for instance, the Roman Republic against the United States. From its beginning, the United States was the most militarily powerful in its region. It has had a very low population in terms of what the land can support, has been the most economically powerful nation in the Americas, and has abundant natural resources. In local conflicts with more distant other powers, they suffer a huge military disadvantage in the length of their supply lines.

Compare that with the early Roman Republic: one relatively small city state in a crowded, long-populated region, dominated by many other powerful, aggressive, militaristic city-states.

It should be clear that when considering the trade-off between security and liberty, the Roman Republic required a system that is much further towards the security end than the United States. The US constitution is well suited to its needs, but cannot be applied universally any more than the Roman Republic's system.

[ Parent ]
Optimus Prime was never Truly Primed | 25 comments (25 topical, 0 hidden)