I love House of Cards.
Both versions. Political intrigue, generally, sign me up.
The House of Cards plot, about a Whip whose lust for power and fury at the denial of a senior cabinet position after the election of his preferred head of government, firstly works much better in the House of Commons than the House of Representatives. Legislators are much more often tapped to be important members of a new administration’s cabinet in the UK (i.e. 100% of the time) than in American politics. For example, Underwood was denied the position Secretary of State in the new President’s cabinet. How absurd is it that the third ranking House Democrat would expect Secretary of State? Unless he also chaired the House Foreign Relations Committee for a generation (and the show says nothing about this), there are a whole host of career diplomats, senior Senators, committee chairpeople, and career civil servants who would be much more deserving candidates. Back to the Clinton Administration, the previous post held by the US Secretary of State was Senator (Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee), Senator, National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ambassador to the United Nations, Deputy Secretary of State. Not a single member of the House of Representatives. In fact the last US Secretary of State to have served in the House of Representatives was James F. Byrnes, Truman’s Secretary of State between 1945-1947. EVEN then though, after he was in the House of Representatives, Byrnes went on to be a Senator from (coincidentally) South Carolina, Associate Justice on the American Supreme Court, and then, during the War, the Director of the Office of Economic Stabilization before being considered for Secretary of State.
Face it, members of the House of Representatives don’t become Secretaries of State, and a show about a plot hatched by a Congressman to take the reins of government because he is pissed that he didn’t get a bump to Secretary of State in a new Administration is absurd. However, in the House of Commons, it is certainly not implausible for a Chief Whip to assume a leadership position in a new cabinet. Urquhart would have been happy to assume any Great Office of State, but was denied a promotion, though his support in the leadership election was critical. This is a much more grave offence.
The second, and my primary reason, for why the British House of Cards is better - the party affiliation of the show’s protagonist provides the central moral ambiguity and the most exciting challenge of the two shows. First, it is obvious that both Underwood and Urquhart are men motivated by lust for power. Frank Underwood is a South Carolina Democrat. He is clearly a centrist Democrat, demonstrated by his unwavering support for school voucher programmes and his resistance to the right to collective bargaining for teachers. There are certainly principled Southern Democrats, but Frank Underwood is not one of them. Frank Underwood is that lowest of creatures, a member of a party from a region where he must be a centrist to win office, Underwood lacks any convincing motivation for his actions other than his naked lust for power. This is boring, easily condemned, and one-dimensional. Though what motivates Underwood and why we can feel sympathy for him despite his repugnant one-dimensional lust is the central question of the show.
Francis Urquhart, on the other hand, is a class warrior, a member of the Tory elite insistent on solidifying the strides towards a liberal economy made by his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, whom he admires, in a patronising sort of way. It is Urquhart’s membership of the upper class and his ideological fervour which makes the morality question faced by the viewer all the more exciting! Unlike Underwood, there are very few who would sympathise with a member of the landed aristocracy, even in the Conservative Party, in his furious pursuit of power. Even in Britain, politicians must pretend to be middle class, and David Cameron is subject daily to ridicule over his Etonian elite background. How can I, as a member of the middle class, as someone who would never vote Tory, as someone who opposes everything that Francis Urquhart stands for, want him to succeed and vanquish his opponents!? Even Tories must wonder this too - is this unrepentant scion of privilege the right man to lead Britain? There is moral ambiguity in the British House of Cards for everyone.
The plot of House of Cards makes much more sense in the United Kingdom, given the nature of the way people move into top positions in the British political system. The central ambiguity of political intrigue, be it MacBeth or House of Cards, is getting the audience to feel empathy, and even to cheer on a morally repugnant character, and to ask themselves, “Just how far would I be willing to go?” The American House of Cards accomplishes this ambiguity. It is a fantastic piece of political intrigue. The British House of Cards accomplishes it in a much more reasoned and morally challenging way. The agony of cheering on a politician you know you should despise is much more interesting and, even, more fun, in the British series.
Wrote this for a student newspaper. ENTER THE CULTURE WARS -
Scotland’s Student Newspaper.
Over the Halloween period, two University of Chester students caused a small international incident by dressing as the World Trade Center buildings, each featuring a plane mid-explosion crashing into them.
The students who chose this as their costume have apologised and said that their intention “was to depict a serious, modern-day horror that happened in our lifetime,” rather than as a joke. Whether or not this is a lie, their judgment surely must be called into question. 2,996 people lost their lives on 9/11. Over 6,000 people were injured from the attacks, with some living with chronic and debilitating injuries. What is there to be said on the affair other than that their decision was deplorable and insensitive?
The issue of controversial Halloween fancy dress is a national political debate, and it should be. The way people dress on Halloween exposes what expressions of societal biases and stereotypes they find acceptable. The response to anti-social and racist Halloween fancy dress by institutions is also political, raising questions about personal liberty and the degree to which institutions ought to limit speech. The University of Birmingham Guild of Students adopted a zero tolerance policy towards individuals wearing racist or discriminatory fancy dress at Guild Halloween parties. Individuals were turned away if they were dressed as Mexicans, Native Americans and Sacha Baron Cohen’s ‘Dictator’ character. This stand by the University of Birmingham Guild of Students ought to be praised and emulated by other student associations around the country.
Student unions are by nature political. They exist to advocate on behalf of the interests of students and fail students when they do not. Culture is created in a social context. Student unions are powerful agents in creating campus cultures, and campus cultures obviously feed into the creation of a national political culture. Racist and derogatory fancy dress is a cultural problem. Active political student unions should promote a national culture that is equality oriented and a campus culture that is inclusive, accessible and non-threatening.
Defenders of free speech might object to the University of Birmingham Students Guild’s actions. I sympathise with their arguments. As an American, the comfort with which censorship is discussed in mainstream European political discourse is quite alien to me. This ban, even Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s (EUSA) Blurred Lines ban, would certainly be much less likely to happen on an American campus. That said, student unions are curious institutions in that they are both an advocacy organisation and a business. All businesses express their values through what goods or services they decide to sell or not to sell. Boycotting a certain good or service by declining to provide it for consumption, like EUSA decided to on Blurred Lines, is the legitimate expression of a business’s values. Further, deciding what dress that individuals can and cannot wear on a business’s premises is a legitimate legal decision and an important expression of values.
Student unions should express student values. The zero tolerance policy for racist or derogatory fancy dress is a tool in the war of ideas that student unions can use to affect campus and national culture. A culture permissive of racist and derogatory Halloween fancy dress is a culture that tolerates racism and xenophobia. And these have no place on campuses in Scotland or the rest of the United Kingdom.
University is often a critical time where people develop and consolidate their political beliefs. Whether we find examples of individuals dressing as Mexicans, or going in blackface as Trayvon Martin, or dressing as the World Trade Center buildings mid-attack, we cannot deny that Halloween is a platform for stereotyping, bigotry and intimidation. Creating a culture that is explicitly inclusive and anti-racist should be a top priority for every campus institution, including societies, but especially a representative and political student union.
Dead Presidents: LBJ's Historic Night Out -
On December 31, 1963, Lyndon Johnson had been President of the United States for just over a month. Forty days earlier, John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas and LBJ was now entering 1964 — a Presidential election year — as the incumbent President, albeit an accidental one.
After several somber, tense, and exhausting weeks, LBJ was spending the Holidays at the LBJ Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. On that New Year’s Eve, many members of President Johnson’s staff gathered at the Forty Acres Club in Austin, Texas to celebrate a birthday party for LBJ aide Horace Busby. President Johnson wanted to join the festivities, but a tired Lady Bird wasn’t interested in going out, so LBJ gathered his secretaries at the LBJ Ranch and boarded a helicopter for the short flight into Austin.
Anonymous asked: Know any good anti-racist stories about presidents before they became president?
I love the story of Felix Longoria and LBJ. Felix Longoria was a Mexican-American from a small town in Texas who was killed on Luzon during World War II. A couple of years after the war, Longoria’s family had his body transported from the Philippines for burial in his hometown in South Texas. The owner of the funeral home in Longoria’s hometown refused to bury the soldier because “The Whites won’t like it.”
Longoria’s wife contacted the leader of a Texas group that was working to ensure that Mexican-American veterans received the benefits that they deserved once they returned home from the war. That man sent letters and telegrams to military leaders, members of Congress, and Texas’s new Senator — Lyndon B. Johnson.
As soon as LBJ received the telegram and learned about Longoria, he immediately summoned his staff and said, “By God, we’ll bury him in Arlington.” LBJ put his staff to work on the case and sent a telegram to the leader of the Texas group working on Mrs. Longoria’s behalf that makes me emotional every time I read it:
I deeply regret to learn that the prejudice of some individuals extends even beyond this life. I have no authority over civilian funeral homes, nor does the federal government. However, I have today made arrangements to have Felix Longoria buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery here at Washington where the honored dead of our nation’s wars rest. Or, if his family prefers to have his body interred nearer his home he can be reburied at Fort Sam Houston Military Cemetery at San Antonio. There will be no cost. If his widow desires to have him reburied in either cemetery, she should send me a collect telegram before his body is unloaded from an army transport at San Francisco, January 15. This injustice and prejudice is deplorable. I am happy to have a part in seeing that this Texas hero is laid to rest with the honor and dignity his service deserves.
Lyndon B. Johnson USS [United States Senator]
Instead of the small cemetery in Three Rivers, Texas, Felix Longoria was buried with full military honors in America’s most hallowed ground — Arlington National Cemetery. Lyndon B. Johnson had used all of the power of his office to right the injustice perpetrated against an American hero by people in his own home state.
Remarkably, when LBJ sent the telegram above, he had only been a United States Senator for eight days.
South China Sea. Territorial claims by nations in the region.
Ironton, Ohio, lays claim to the nation’s oldest continuously running Memorial Day parade. Its first parade was held May 5, 1868, and the town has held it every year since. However, the Memorial Day parade in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, predates Ironton’s by one year.
Posted this to Facebook. No likes or comments. The right girl for me will get this reference immediately.
Federalism is such an alien concept in this country. Popular sovereignty, too. In a seminar on parliamentary sovereignty and some guy cited different policies on the death penalty as an obvious failing of the American constitution. One can disagree with the death penalty, policy, without indicting the entire constitutional framework of popular sovereignty that arrives at a decision that one finds disagreeable.
That the federal government does not have an exclusive monopoly on violence is seen as a constitutional failing. Blew my mind. That sort of thing is celebrated in the States as one of the most essential features of our federal system, the diffusion of the traditional powers of the sovereign across the states.
Perhaps it is a question of rights. Perhaps they think that policymaking on the right to life should be a reserved for the federal government central authority, parliament, etc. That’s the only way that I can make sense of it. That is a reasonable complaint, the rights-based argument. I find the constitutional design argument rather disgusting.
Quite odd to find myself defending states’ rights.
Americans are war weary?
The Falling Man, by Tom Junod.
Counties and Council Districts of the United Kingdom