When is a conversation not a conversation? When it’s a political conversation.


It looks like liberal democracy is falling apart. But we can put it back together if we take democracy seriously enough—as seriously as the ancient Greeks.

The chaos of Donald Trump was unimaginable just a decade ago. Brexit was a similar humiliation for Britain’s political class, leading to its bewildered paralysis ever since. How do such things happen? Perhaps because I admire economists’ deployment of very simple ideas to powerful effect, I’ve come to an approach to these problems that I think is simple and compelling.

First, democracy is government by conversation. A political conversation should often be competitive—to sharpen ideas and measure their support. Yet, to remain a conversation rather than a parody of one, it must also be a co-operative search, if not for agreement, then at least for mutual understanding of where positions differ. However, this co-operative foundation for our politics has been largely extinguished by the weaponisation of political communication by professionals operating on the mass media, and, more recently by “trolling” on social media.

Second, where elections bake competition into the operating system of representation, there’s another, even more time honoured way to represent the people. The ancient Greeks built their democracy around it and it hides in plain sight today whenever a jury is empanelled in a court of law. And, whether it concerns legal or political matters, deliberation within such bodies nurtures the collaborative aspects of conversation. Giving citizens’ juries and assemblies chosen by lot a role within our beleaguered democracy could see it renewed.


To become a politician you compete for election. You then join party colleagues competing against their opponents. Yet democracy implies limits to competition. We remain safe for now that no substantial political grouping perpetuates extra-legal violence. Yet something more fundamental is afoot.

Though it apes the form of conversation, political communication has become as professionalised, as optimised to the competition to win votes as McDonald’s use of salt, fat, sugar and advertising is to win customers. Meanwhile, responding to similar competitive imperatives, the informational foundations of our democracy were being shorn away by mass media news values long before the internet arrived. Between 1968 and 1988, the length of presidential sound bites on US network news went from 43 to 9 seconds.1

The singleminded goal of each player in mass media political conversation is to manipulate it to their own end. Politicians rehearse “focus grouped” talking points and slogans like “take back control” and “roll up our sleeves” available on online lists (seriously!). Spokespeople cherry pick arguments, spurious or otherwise to defend their vested interest—until the they argue the opposite for their next client or employer. As Groucho put it, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I’ve got others.”

Our language and etiquette are being transformed by the imperatives of political and ideological combat. The repertoire of “moves” now labelled “political correctness” have grown like bacteria in a petri dish in no small part because of their success as tactics in political debate. Taking offence, “checking” privilege, and associated strictures offer trump cards to instantly ideologise and emotionalise a conversation to one side’s tactical advantage.


In a healthy democracy, the journalist’s role should surely be to report and probe in the public interest. Yet almost invariably, issues are framed reductively in terms of competing participants’ talking points, with disagreements reduced to “he-said-she-said.” As Paul Krugman put it, the response to one of these competitors announcing the world is flat would be the headline “Views differ on shape of Earth.”

When playing “ringmaster,” journalists simulate truth-seeking but again, their real schtick is usually reductively competitive. Their subjects’ talking points frame the issues with journalists stoking disagreement where they can—it’s so much more engaging and instantly relatable than exploring for common ground.

They then celebrate their “savvy” as insiders to the whole process with breathless “race calling” commentary on who’s winning the debate—from ‘he-said-she-said’ to ‘he’s-winning-she’s-winning’. Only this isn’t really about who is winning the debate, but whose tactics are working better, at least for those within the insiders’ echo-chamber. As Todd Gitlin put it—again long before internet campaigning—rather than being informed on the issues, the audience is invited to become “cognoscenti of their own bamboozlement.”2

A more recent variant on similarly reductive themes has been partisan mainstream media such as Fox News. Here the journalist MC and programming goes agent provocateur, for viewers to enjoy the fun of barracking for their ideology and hounding its enemies. As Fox News boss Chet Collier put it, “Viewers don’t want to be informed; they want to feel informed.”

With these rules of engagement, political coverage becomes wall-to-wall bullshit—in the technical sense defined by philosopher Harry Frankfurt. The speaker’s concern isn’t with truth or (more shockingly perhaps) with its falsity, but with “putting themselves over,” whether as concerned, contrite, respectable, or compassionate. Until their next gig.

Against all this, one can appreciate Donald Trump’s countercultural attraction—the least scripted, and most authentic, president in generations. A troll in his own cause.


There’s been a flowering of marvellous political conversation on the internet. But that’s not where the political or commercial action is. For all its uncanny simulation of conversation, internet trolling completes the weaponisation of conversation.

Where mass media’s production cost makes it necessarily ponderous, social media is improvisational, a place where anyone can mount a potentially devastating disinformation attack in minutes, destroying careers in an eye-blink. And while one can imagine strategies to counter inaccurate facts in “fake news,” how does one counter trolls spreading misunderstanding of others’ motives in a way that precludes the possibility of conversation?

With mass media having done the softening up, social media is finishing the job. Our political system still delivers politicians afraid of not running the trains on time. But mainstream political conversation is a corpse, twitching as professional communicators and AI powered trolls commandeer human reflexes that evolved to foster communication and mutual understanding on the African Savannah, to stoke fear, loathing, and misunderstanding.


That we’re being increasingly betrayed by political elites is true enough. Until social media turned toxic, many imagined it enabling us to “take back control” (if I might use that term).3 Like the glamorous assistant disappearing once inside the magician’s cabinet, only to miraculously reappear moments later, here the populace disappear when we go looking for the culprit responsible for the toxic state of our political culture, only to reappear as our deliverer moments later.

Though our choices and votes reward the clickbait and news values of the media and politicians practicing their own dark arts, we remain the victim throughout, not of our own folly, but of manipulation by an other.

Can “we the people” save democracy by coming into our own as a deliberative force? We’ve been warned since Socrates and Plato on, that, left unsupervised, the hoi polloi become “the mob” at the drop of a hat. But surely the media diet of bread and circuses, this school of infantilism is part of this mess.


Given the central role of the emotions as the motive force in political engagement, we should heed Martha Nussbaum’s advice in her book Political Emotions: not to banish them from political discourse – it would be impossible and unwise to try – but to strive for their health. Any functioning polity will mobilise and nurture the emotions of shared identity. This is necessary to the community’s survival if it must fight an enemy—as in World War Two. However, it can also be disastrous when it should talk more before fighting at all, or fighting on—as in World War One and most other wars that have ever been waged.

Yet, as we’re observing, in a diverse, liberal society at peace, no matter how much it serves the interests of mass and social media operatives in revving us up to hit their KPIs, too heavy an emphasis on identity can be highly corrosive. It’s transforming our politics into competing witch-hunts against ritualised “others” whether they’re fat cat bosses, “elites,” tax cheats, skivers, or welfare queens.

Against this, Nussbaum proposes that political emotions should inspire to worthy collective projects requiring effort and sacrifice from national defence to protecting the poor and weak. It’s partly by so doing that liberal politics must labour…

…to keep at bay forces that lurk in all societies and ultimately, in all of us: tendencies to protect the fragile self by denigrating and subordinating others. .… Disgust and envy, the desire to inflict shame upon others.

Nussbaum contrasts “masculine” emotions (associating them with competition and aggression) against the other “feminine” emotions (which build cooperation and care within the group). These emotions line up very neatly against the two ways of representing the people—by election and by lot.


The same people whose eyeballs, clicks, and votes drive the toxicity of the politico-entertainment complex as served up by political elites behave differently deliberating amongst peers. When a citizens’ jury is first assembled, because its subject is political, most jurors arrive having assumed that there’ll be the usual combative fare, complete with activists revving things up—the usual politicking as road rage. They’re surprised at how respectful and cooperative others are. Then they remember that they’re just like them and things fall into place.

“I’m a man, I’m six foot two,” reported one citizens’ juror considering the safety and vibrancy of Adelaide’s nightlife. “I have no considerations for my safety. Then being with other people—older, smaller, females—you learn that their experiences are very different.”4

Imagine that issue presented on mass media. There’d be (say) feminist activists against domestic violence arguing against a hoteliers association spokesperson. The activists would want to be newsworthy to get media coverage, while hotelier’s spokesperson would present arguments we’d all know lacked all bona fides, cherrypicked to support their own interest.

Citizens’ juries also engender substantial changes in view. They tend towards compromise rather than polarisation and pro-social, less punitive strategies for solving social dilemmas. In Texas, the proportion of citizens willing to pay a little more for wind and solar energy to address greenhouse concerns went from 52 to 84 percent.5 In Oregon, where citizens’ juries now preview all citizen initiated referendums to advise the populace, a mandatory sentencing proposal enjoying 70 percent opinion poll support received just three jurors’ votes in 24 after deliberations concluded. This seems to have been part of a swing reducing the vote in favour of the proposal by nearly 15%.


Even without any formal political power, a standing citizens’ assembly would reveal the people’s considered opinion as opposed to their unconsidered opinion measured by endless opinion polls. (Would you prefer the people’s considered, or unconsidered view?) This would have its own effect on elected politicians. If politicians won’t agree to fund a citizens’ assembly initially, philanthropists large and small can crowdfund it.

Imagine how the energies of our vote hungry political elite might find more considered and cooperative ways through the dramas of Brexit or government shutdowns if there were a standing citizens’ chamber making their own collective views known.

As the community’s experience with it grows, we should expand its power. Given elected legislators’ repeated inflictions of national self-harm for partisan reasons against their own better judgement, I’d give a super majority of (say) 60 percent of the members of a citizens’ assembly the power to impose a secret ballot on other legislative chambers. This could be helpful in Britain regarding Brexit, in America regarding Trump’s more obviously ill-advised moves over the government shutdown and trade wars, and in Australia where the imperatives of political combat saw parliamentarians abolish carbon pricing against their own better judgement of the national interest.

Joseph Schumpeter was an early proponent of the idea that electoral democracy was, and should be embraced as, a competition by a political elite for the consent of the governed. This made some sense where national cultures and class structures were unitary and strong 80-odd years ago. But, taking it to its logical conclusion as we do today, reveals it as a category mistake. Democracy is not a product. It is, as Aristotle reminds us, a system in which everyone takes turn in governing and being governed.

It’s time we set out on the hefty and happy task of setting it right.


1 Adatto, K., 1990. Sound bite democracy: Network evening news presidential campaign coverage, 1968 and 1988. Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. Reported also in John Tierney, “The 1992: Media; Sound Bites Become Smaller Mouthfuls” Jan. 23, 1992 athttps://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/23/us/the-1992-campaign-media-sound-bites-become-smaller-mouthfuls.html
2 Gitlin, T., 1991. Bites and blips: chunk news, savvy talk and the bifurcation of American politics. Communication and citizenship, p.117 at p. 119.
3 See eg. Trippi, J. 2008. The revolution will not be televised, Harper-Collins e-books, Kindle edition.
4 The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI), 2013. “Verdicts on the Jury, Views of jurors, bureaucrats and experts on South Australia’s first Citizens’ Jury”, mimeo, p. 6, currently available at https://s3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2014/08/22/01_45_56_391_Verdicts_on_the_Jury_TACSI.pdf
5 And see “The impact of deliberation on empathy and common interest”, Involve, more generally at https://goo.gl/NVrqsD


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107 Responses to When is a conversation not a conversation? When it’s a political conversation.

  1. paul frijters says:

    you’re getting better on this I think. I like this notion of political hacks to hyjack debates by going for emotional sound-bites. I do think it works because of a larger underlying truth (ie. that the audience is not really there to be informed, but to be entertained) but that truth too is not set in stone. As you say, make people truly responsible and the emotionally blurting idiot turns into a thoughtful person.

    Power is not swayed by arguments though. Thought can lay the ground for the institutions of the future, but power can only be overcome by power, so the population will have to be persuaded they have a problem. At the moment, its not all that obvious there is a problem. Bread and games are in plentiful supply.

    It is also interesting how well many countries function despite all these problems. The system has many internal checks and balances. The lack of open deliberation does not (yet) mean the demise of contemplative thought in many of our institutions.

  2. This report from the AFR about the first debating contest between a man and a computer seems relevant.
    The machine lost, it put to much faith in evidence :

    Underlying one of Project Debater’s last lines, “I am convinced that in my speeches I’ve supplied enough data to justify support for pre-schools”, was a faith in the persuasive force of evidence, which today seems naive if not anachronistic.

  3. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    I guess a computer would use soundbytes

  4. Fyodor says:

    This is a very muddled piece. For starters, the outcomes of the Brexit referendum and 2016 US presidential election are not evidence of liberal democracy “falling apart”. In both cases the electorate voted and the majority got what it wanted. That’s not a failure of democracy; it’s the opposite. You can bitch and moan about the majority making the “wrong” choice, but that’s how democracy works. Similarly, Trump’s administration has been shambolically ineffectual but there’s no evidence that the US system of government isn’t working as designed, i.e. to constrain the elected monarch.

    Similarly, running through the piece is this argument that there’s something “wrong” with the current state of liberal democracy, with frequent recourse to (social) media developments. This point is badly argued, on flimsy evidence. It’s just as easy to blame the polarisation of US politics on the perceived (justifiably, IMO) ineffectual policies of centrist politicians over the past decade resulting in the socio-economic stagnation we see today. If people are dissatisfied with the same centrist solutions that have failed to address their angst then they will favour policies and dialogue that offer something new, from left and right of centre; that’s polarisation. Social media naturally follow that angst and polarisation. There’s good reason to believe that social media present a distorted image of the electorate’s views, because the shrillest and most emotionally charged voices get amplified the most, but that doesn’t mean they don’t reflect real views.

    The worst part of the essay is conflating and contrasting “true” democracy with our system of government, i.e. liberal (representative) democracy. Socrates and particularly Plato were opposed to true democracy, most notably because it got Socrates killed by the mob, in a society where only 30% or so of people (and no women) got a vote anyway. In a liberal system, the rule of the majority would have been constrained, been bounded, by the protection of Socrates’ rights. Further, this idea that participatory democracy (i.e. “citizens’ juries”) would be suited to managing a modern nation-state is just a pipe-dream. Jurors can work on small, bounded issues like the binary outcome of a criminal trial, but ONLY with effective supervision, if not explicit direction and manipulation, by qualified judges and court officers. The analogy is ropey and there’s no argument presented to suggest that such an approach to government would result in any less political polarisation or “falling apart” of liberal democracy. You’ve presented an ineffectual and unworkable solution to a non-existent problem.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      Thanks Fyodor

      I don’t think there’s much contact between my piece and your criticism, so I doubt there’s much point in responding.

      The suggestion I’ve made is a modest addition to our existing system, not an assertion that there’s one true way or that citizens’ juries can or should displace our existing system.

      I’m inured to this from the generally stroppy and often silly side taking in the comments below the article in Quillette. The general approach seems to be
      1) sniff out whether this guy is on the ‘right’ side or not
      2) if it’s not your own, just go for your life – utopian, out of touch academic nitwit, fantasy merchant, social justice warrior etc.

      Not that it’s a particularly important point, but I’m certainly intrigued that in the last American presidential election “the electorate voted and the majority got what it wanted”.

      • Fyodor says:

        Well that’s a strangely verbose, but unsurprisingly empty, non-response.

        You really cannot assert to be presenting a modest proposal when you declare it to be the glue needed to restore our “failing” democracy. That’s a mighty claim for you to walk back, and thus it’s unsurprising to see the Quillette crowd eviscerate its silliness.

  5. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    except the majority did not vote for Trump

  6. Fyodor says:

    The majority of the electorate – the electoral college – did.

    Homework, Homerkles, homework.

    • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

      sorry again but you obviously do not know the majority of the electorate is not the electoral college . Never has been

      Yes one does need to so homework

      • Fyodor says:

        Keep digging, Homerkles. The electoral college is the electorate. Only the members of the electoral college elect the President, therefore they are the electorate. Always have been.

        As usual, you’re clueless on the subject and not bothering to do the most basic research. That said, some unfortunate folk are slow learners and need to do more homerwork than others.

        • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

          Yes oh brilliant one keep on digging. How many Yanks voted for Trump and how many voted for Clinton ans What votes did Clinton get and what.

          Try and understand what the word electorate means. This will help

          • Fyodor says:

            I’ve just explained to you, again, that the US electorate for the office of President is not individual voters. It is the electoral college that elects the President, NOT individual voters. This is why the popular vote is irrelevant. Trump won the majority of the electorate – the electoral college – and that is why Clinton conceded. Because she lost. If you had any sense you would follow her example.

            • That a clear majority of citizens votes does not necessarily mean a clear majority in the electoral college is not something to boast about. Not is the fact that the US still dosnt have an equivalent to our, independent, electoral commission something to boast about.

              • Fyodor says:

                Nor is a proliferation of double negatives not unhelpful.

                Who’s boasting? Nick presents the Trump presidency as evidence of the “falling apart” of “liberal democracy”. Pointing out to Nick that Trump was elected and has been operating according to the rules and conventions of the US political system, which are evidently working, is not “boasting”.

                • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

                  Yes he was elected according to electoral law but with a minority of the US electorate.
                  Nick said it was chaos which it is.
                  Trump is governing according to conventions?
                  Really what political conventions do you have in mind?

                  • Fyodor says:

                    Yes he was elected according to electoral law but with a minority of the US electorate.

                    Self-contradicting. The US constitution states that the electoral college elects the President. It is therefore the electorate. Trump won a majority of the electoral college, therefore the majority of the electorate.

                    Nick said it was chaos which it is.

                    No, that’s pearl-clutching hyperbole. The USA is evidently not in a state of chaos; that’s nonsense.

                    Trump is governing according to conventions? Really what political conventions do you have in mind?

                    The law, the constitution. What did YOU have in mind?

            • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

              sorry the electorate and electoral college are two different things. The electoral college is supposed to reflect the electorate. clearly it doesn’t as this example shows. That is why there is a debate over there to get rid of the electoral college. Indeed there have been times electors in the electoral college do not vote according to the electorate in their state!

              most people understand this but apparently geniuses do not.

              Be a good little Fyodor and do some homework on the subject.

              • Fyodor says:

                “sorry the electorate and electoral college are two different things. The electoral college is supposed to reflect the electorate.”

                Still wrong. First, and repeatedly, if the people do not elect the president – and they do not – then they are not the electorate – thus they are not. As a matter of simple logic, then, individual American voters are thus NOT the electorate. The electoral college elects the president, thus it is the electorate.

                Second, the US electoral college is not supposed to reflect the “electorate”, as you put it. The electoral college reflects the states. The United States of America is a federation; there’s a hint in the name. From its foundation the electoral college was intended and designed to accommodate and represent this federation of states by constraining the political power of the larger states by giving disproportionately more electoral college votes to small states. The Australian Senate has a similar feature in its composition, for the same reason. It’s a feature, not a bug, which is why the debate over it never goes away.

                Honestly, Homerkles, there’s no shame in educating yourself. All of this stuff is very easy to look up if you’re willing to put in a modicum of effort.

                • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

                  I will say this very very slowly for you. The voters and the electors are two different things.

                  They do reflect the electorates. The state electorates!

                  They should reflect the whole US electorate but they do not

                  • Fyodor says:

                    I always expect you to speak slowly, Homerkles, to match the speed of your comprehension.

                    There is NOTHING in the US Constitution that requires the electoral college to “reflect the whole US electorate”, as you put it, i.e. the individual voters.

                    Article II, Section 1 (“The President”) of the US Constitution states only that,

                    Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. [my emphasis]

                    There’s no requirement that each state appoint electors based upon the proportional vote of the state population. In fact, it’s entirely possible for a state to have its legislative assembly decide who the electors should be, and cut the population of that state entirely out of the decision. The common convention is that each state directs its electors to vote for the presidential candidate that wins the popular vote in that particular state on election day, but that is a convention, not a requirement of the constitution, which says NOWHERE that the president should be popularly elected.

                    I’ll repeat for the slow learner: you are categorically wrong.

                    • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

                      oh dear, skipped your esl lessons again.
                      Tell everyone here which state’s electral college has not reflected the vote by the state electorate?
                      State electors unlike the electorate MUST attend the college and elect accordingly.

            • Nicholas Gruen says:


              I responded too soon.

              Why did you bring up slaves in Athens as undemocratic when they weren’t part of the electorate.

              Such an ignoramus.

              Your mother was a hampster – etc.

              • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

                Sorry Nick but democracy in Athens is all greek to me

              • :-)
                As ‘hare ‘splinters go Fyodor is barely a baby rabbit.
                There was a great piece in the NYRB about the history of the US electoral system and about John Quincy Adams preseince re the consequences of the compromises that were made to get the slave states to join the Union-i.e inevitable break down and civil war. Will send it to you tomorrow.

              • Fyodor says:

                I didn’t bring up slaves in Athens, as it happens, but I did allude to it. I did this because you suggested in your second sentence of this piece that following the example of a slave-owning city state would fix our “failing” liberal democracy, and that clearly overlooked a range of problems with Athenian democracy.

      • The southern slave states voters got ,effectively, extra votes to ‘ make up ‘for all those slaves that didn’t have a vote and that is still mostly true today.
        Gerrymandering -aka Elbridge Gerry- is as American as apple pie.

  7. The US is still the land of Elbridge Gerry… Makes bjelke petersen look unambitious .

  8. Nicholas Gruen says:


    You still haven’t responded to my strongest point, which I made in all seriousness, that your mother was a hamster.

    • Fyodor says:

      Yes, it’s telling that your strongest point was quoting a hackneyed line from a 44-year old movie in the pursuit of a lame-o YO MAMA! joke.

      However, as you insist on a response, I can do no more than quote the inimitable Bill Bailey: ”I got ham but I’m not a hamster”.

  9. Am told that hamsters if properly cooked :
    -roasted- can form the basis for a nourishing and tasty repast for a whole family .

    Classic that a piece (in part )about Trolls- and hair splitting hamsters?- should in its comment thread have such a classic example of (by definition) pointless ,trolling , no?

    “conversation ” the term ,in this context it seems to me to be in the spirit of Burke as in conversation as the opposite of a congress of ambassadors .

  10. David says:

    I’ll admit, I haven’t read everything you’ve written on this subject.

    If we accept your premise that some form of a citizen’s jury can either decide or make proposals for others to decide on public policy, isn’t this both (a) similar to what policy makers try to do behind the scenes and (b) not scalable if we use amateurs (ie, people not paid to perform the task on a regular basis)?

    Also despite the assertion that juries or panels work well, Fyodor makes a reasonable point that they’re being asked binary questions when we evaluate their effectiveness. Complex public policy decisions are really beyond this type of forum on a continued basis aren’t they?

    Apologies for not offering any solutions to the problems you raised. I don’t see the problem with having someone as incompetent as Trump elected President or the British electing to take the UK out of the EU. Sure it’s sub-optimal, but so what? Better than having someone like Prabowo being popular enough to run for President in Indonesia!

  11. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Yes, there are similarities to what policy makers do behind the scenes. But there are lots of times when politicians take the decisions in other directions for their own reasons usually to do with appeasing and pleasing interest groups.

    Citizens’ juries can be asked binary questions or non binary questions.

    On complexity, lots of parliamentarians aren’t too bright either. They make decisions on all manner of things they don’t understand and don’t care to understand because they’re voting as instructed. They do get backup from public servants, which a citizens’ jury would have access to as well.

    In any event, my proposal is exceedingly modest. We should fund a citizens’ chamber and use it to surface the considered opinion of the people as we use polls to surface their unconsidered opinion. As we get more experience, things work out and people are impressed with what they see – which they almost invariably are in the many citizens’ juries that have been run out in the wild to this point, I’d like to see us give super-majorities in the citizens’ chamber more power to act as a check and balance on the existing system – for instance by imposing secret ballots on the other chambers where they disagree with a super-majority of the citizens’ chamber.

    I’m finding it hard to see the downside.

  12. BTW
    Dear Fyodor as best as I understand,

    Nobody is suggesting that Trump etc isn’t porphyrogenitus- legit under the rules, but that is both -not the point and the exact point of the whole shebang.

  13. Fyodor says:

    Dear John, when Nick cites the Trump administration as evidence of liberal democracy “falling apart” there is no interpretation but that which holds Trump’s presidency to be illegitimate.

    Once more for the cheap seats at the back: that you don’t like the outcome doesn’t prove that the system’s broken.

  14. Dear Fyodor
    Unless you are all seeing, omnipotent.
    The following should have read:
    “[in my mind there’s]no interpretation but that which holds Trump’s presidency to be illegitimate.” –

    As for the “the electorate voted and the majority got what it wanted” that sure looks intended to confuse-mislead.

    • Fyodor says:

      Dear John, no. There’s no “confuse-mislead” to Nick’s meaning; it’s obvious. If you have an alternative interpretation, I invite you to share it.

      As for the “the electorate voted and the majority got what it wanted” that sure looks intended to confuse-mislead.

      Two statements of fact are neither confusing or misleading.

      • To the best of my knowledge, Nicholas at no point has suggested that Trump ( or whoever else) wasn’t legally elected.

        When you connected ‘electorate’ and ‘majority ‘ you left something of meaningful significance out. You did not write “the majority of ,the electoral college, voted and the majority of ,the electoral college got what it wanted.”

        • Fyodor says:

          Nick very clearly cited as evidence for the “falling apart” of liberal democracy 1) the Trump presidency; and 2) Brexit. That is, in the US context, Nick argues that Trump’s presidency represents a “falling apart” of liberal democracy. As I challenged you before, if you have another interpretation, do share it.

          What you think is meaningful is neither here nor there. As I keep telling Homerkles and he keeps ignoring, the US electoral college IS the electorate. We know this because it is the body that elects the President.

          • The electiral College is by definition not the electorate, it’s a delegated entity.
            You Bubble headed booby- Your mother wore army boots. Your whole family ran away from home -there’s only so much Blacpkudding a koala can bear

            • Fyodor says:

              Elector = someone who elects
              Electorate = body of electors
              US president = elected by electoral college
              ∴ Electoral college = electorate

              I could quote the US constitution to demonstrate this point…but I already have and you didn’t pay attention the first time.

              • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

                err no .
                Here is a proper definition.
                An electorate is a body of people allowed to vote in an election.
                the electors in the electoral college must vote for how each state electorate voted.
                A voter does not have to turn up in the USA and if they do can vote whatever way they wish to. Not so if you are an elector in the electoral college.

                • Fyodor says:

                  You don’t get to redefine words, Homerkles, any more than you can construct a coherent argument.

                  The electors in the electoral college do NOT “vote how each state electorate voted”, Homerkles. 31.6% of California’s voters, 4.5m people, voted for Trump but not one of California’s 55 electors “voted how they voted”. Similarly, all of Florida’s 29 electors voted for Trump despite 4.5m Floridians voting for Clinton. The national popular vote is thus irrelevant. It doesn’t elect the president, the electoral college does; the electoral college is thus the electorate.

                  • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:


                    It is a winner take all system oh great intellectual.
                    The electors in an electri oal college voter for the candidate the
                    state electorate voted for i.e. the majority of voters in that state voted for.
                    Keep digging old son.

                    • Fyodor says:

                      Actually, not all states are “winner takes all”. It’s up to the states how they want to run it; Maine and Nebraska allow their elector votes to be split.
                      More importantly, I told you how this worked last week – see my comment above. All that you’ve just done is agree with me that it’s the electoral college that elects the president, not the national popular vote, thus it is the electoral college that is the electorate. Congrats on another self-beclowning, Homerkles.

  15. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    I love how Fyodor just keeps on digging.

    Only he could possibly think that chaos is not reigning at the Whitehouse.

    Fyodor does sound like little like Katesy perhaps he is

    • Fyodor says:

      As I said: pearl-clutching hyperbole. There’s no “chaos” in the White House, the US government or the USA in general. As I wrote in my first comment, Trump’s administration has been shambolically ineffectual, but that’s not “chaos”, let alone the “falling apart” of liberal democracy, FFS.

  16. The AFR today has a piece that sums the whole chaos-dysfunction that our adversarial system seems currently mired in:

    Scott Morrison uses taxpayer money to cut emissions – and underwrite coal-fire power
    Phillip Coorey


    Six months ago, the Liberal Party dumped Malcolm Turnbull, ostensibly because of his pursuit of emissions reduction in the energy sector.

    Today, his successor will champion the battle against climate change by pledging billions in taxpayer dollars over the next decade.”

  17. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Folks, I for one thank Fyodor for his little performance piece as a troll.

    Rather apposite don’t you think.

    I’m ashamed to say that those of you who are responding fell for it. (And we thought we had a better type of commenter than that here at #ClubPony)

    Remember, Fyodor’s mother was a hamster.

    • Quite.
      Mind you ‘Fyodor’ is sort of a fascinating bit of work- well it beats watching paint dry.

      • BTW
        Guess he ( would have to be ‘he’ ) is ,
        lonely has nobody to talk at ;parents ran away from home.

        In passing the US system for choosing a Head of State is I think the best argument for constitutional monarchy that I know of. And even more so if the monarch ,lives thousands of Ks away ,has a nice range of floral hats , every year makes thousands of people very happy by simply talking with them about their lives, and is throughly housetrained.

    • Fyodor says:

      Folks, I for one thank Fyodor for his little performance piece as a troll.

      It’s not trolling to point out that your brainfart is a nonsense non-solution to a non-existent problem. But, sure: it’s the “trolls” who have the problem. Very droll.

      (And we thought we had a better type of commenter than that here at #ClubPony)

      Why would you think that? The circle jerk of simpering twits on this thread has been distinctly unimpressive so far. Is there a VIP section where you keep the real talent?

  18. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    Yes Nick,
    That was a movies for intellectuals. They do not make them like that now, in fact they would not be allowed to

  19. Nicholas Gruen says:

    I distinctly remember saying that Trump had personally taken all the presidential papers back to George Washington and had them all shredded. I then said that Donald Trump had launched nuclear missiles at Tibet.

    If that isn’t chaos then what is it?

  20. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    I have see better examples on this blog of Fyodor’s unique intellect.

    I fondly recall in 2009 I think he agreeing with Sinclair Davidson that the reason for Ireland;s demise was too much government spending. He never got around to explaining how you can both have too much spending which usually means inflation but also have a depression.

    However he was truly sensational when he stated he believed the reason why retail trade rose remarkably in 20089 in Australia was not that horrible cash splash but interest rates being cut in December by Glen Stevens, I am not sure he took up my offer of writing this up for the Journal of Economic Literature since it would involve essentially no lag at all in monetary policy.

    compared to those two incidents this is small fry

  21. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    sorry old son you are the idiot who said it not me.
    Supporting Sinclair Davidson on fiscal policy is very strange.

    notice no denial!

    Oh to be an genius like Fyodor

  22. Fyodor says:

    What’s to deny? I won’t deny that you’re a clueless duffer, but that’s so obvious it’d be redundant.

    Nowhere in that post – which anyone can check for themselves – have I agreed with Sinclair Davidson. I don’t even mention his name, unlike your nutty obsession with him. You’re just making shit up again.

  23. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    okay having read the links I was only half right on Ireland about Fyodor. Sorry about that Chief. Unlike fyodor When I wrong I can say so
    This is probably due to him usually catallaxian anyway.

    However his comments on the cash splash were right.
    I could and should have said most banks experience of lowering interest rates is that the borrowers pay more back on their loan.

    Fyodor was advocating the shortest lag in monetary policy in the history of the Western world though.
    I guess the journal of economic literature is still waiting.

    • Fyodor says:

      okay having read the links I was only half right on Ireland about Fyodor. Sorry about that Chief.

      Apology accepted.

      Unlike fyodor When I wrong I can say so

      Not true. It’s just that you have so many more opportunities than me to admit your wrongness.

      This is probably due to him usually catallaxian anyway.

      “Usually”? When was the last time I even commented at Catallaxy?

      However his comments on the cash splash were right.


      I could and should have said most banks experience of lowering interest rates is that the borrowers pay more back on their loan.

      You could have said that, but there’s no evidence to back up such an assertion. Outstanding home loan balances continued to grow strongly through late 2008 and into 2009, at 7-9% p.a.

      Fyodor was advocating the shortest lag in monetary policy in the history of the Western world though. I guess the journal of economic literature is still waiting.

      No, I wasn’t.

      • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

        I said your comments were catallaxian not you commented there!

        no evidence except that is what the banks both say in public and tell the RBA.

        Yes you were.

  24. Now children…
    Clinton got about 48 percent of US citizens votes and Trump got about 46 percent. Trump however got 306 electors for the electoral college, more than enough to legitimately make him president.
    If we are going to be very pernickety:
    The majority of US citizens that voted for who would be, electors to to the electoral college, did not get what they voted for.

    • Fyodor says:

      Broadly correct, except Trump only received 304 electoral votes because two pledged electors were “faithless”. Interestingly, the more successful Clinton didn’t receive a majority of the popular vote either. That is, Bill Clinton didn’t win a majority of the popular vote in either of the presidential elections he won. Same for Kennedy with his election. It happens far more often than people realise.

      • Its a strange system that they have; Why delegate the ultimate choice of President to a special sole-purpose college ?
        Id guess there must be historical reasons why they didn’t choose to either elect the president by a direct vote of the citizenry or delegate the decision to a majority vote in their lower house. But US political history not a major interest of mine.

        The US system is the best argument going for Constitutional Monarchy that I know of.

        • Fyodor says:

          I touched on this earlier. At its foundation the USA was a federation of self-governing states. The federal executive government was originally intended to be of very limited scope and scale, essentially handling those issues (i.e. defense, settling inter-state conflicts, diplomacy) requiring a national executive. Nobody envisaged the vast fiscal engine that envelopes the nation today. The states were naturally jealous of their self-governance and rights, and the smaller states in particular were averse to domination by the larger states. At the same time the political culture of the states was dominated by a wealthy pseudo-aristocracy of merchants and landowners with an aversion to popular rule by the mob. In most states only white, male property owners were entitled to vote, just as in the UK. Thus only a small proportion (perhaps around 6%) of the population actually had any participation in government. James Madison’s original proposal for the national senate was for senators to be directly appointed by state legislatures, and implicitly to be members of this upper class. Hamilton went even further, suggesting that senators be appointed for life and be elected by “electors” [sound familiar?] appointed for that purpose. Virtually nobody trusted in the capacity of ordinary people to make an informed decision on who should be the president, and in particular the ability to make that decision without being biased by local/state loyalties. The solution – the electoral college – was a compromise featuring effective representation of states’ interests (skewed in favour of smaller states) with a democratic flavour through the delegation of the presidential election to suitably qualified electors, with each state determining how it wished to appoint its electors.

  25. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    So our resident genius is saying the electoral college can vote independently of the various state electorates but unfortunately for him have never done so.
    My memory has one elector not voting I think for Nixon. This has never occurred again. No need to guess why.
    The electoral college meets after the electorate vote. That has to be a sheer coincidence.
    they also vote as the electorate does. another coincidence.

    • Fyodor says:

      So our resident genius is saying the electoral college can vote independently of the various state electorates but unfortunately for him have never done so.

      C’est moi, le génie? Nope, didn’t say that. However, it is a matter of public record that electors HAVE voted independently on occasion. Moreover, it is also possible for a state’s electors to be appointed without reference to that state’s popular vote. They could be appointed directly by a state’s legislative assembly, for instance, and this was one of the original working assumptions in the framing of the constitution. How each state appoints electors to the college is a matter for each state to decide. That the vast majority have chosen to appoint electors on a winner-takes-all basis doesn’t preclude a different approach.

      Most importantly, none of this matters to your fixation on the popular vote. It doesn’t elect the president. The electoral college does, therefore it is the electorate.

      My memory has one elector not voting I think for Nixon. This has never occurred again. No need to guess why.

      Your memory is wrong. Again. No need to guess why; it’s just expected.

      The electoral college meets after the electorate vote. That has to be a sheer coincidence.

      Naturally, the electoral college meets after each state appoints its electors. That’s not an “electorate vote”. The electoral vote is the vote undertaken by the electoral college.

      they also vote as the electorate does. another coincidence.

      No, they vote in accordance with each state’s processes. As I mentioned to you before, this is why all of California’s electors were directed to vote for Clinton despite a substantial minority of the voters in California voting for Trump. The Californian electors clearly did not vote in accordance with THOSE voters’ wishes, but that’s the system California uses.

      • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

        I note that Clinton last five faithless electors whereas Trump had two.
        This never got the publicity of the man who could not vote for Nixon.
        It also caught out lots of political scientists who claimed Trump got 306.

        It also shows the electoral college casts their vote AFTER the State electorate vote.
        Perhaps you should read the Supreme’s court reading about.
        Afterall if they could vote for anyone why vote after. Imagine the furor if a state electorate college voted for the candidate that lost the electoral vote such as Trump in California!
        The Supreme court would intervene after people appeled to it and merely change the electoral college vote.

        Meanwhile Our own Fyodor is on his own on this topic. Just like he was on how fast lower interest rates impact an economy.

  26. Nicholas
    All this sound and fury does signify something:
    belief is everything and facts are at best optional.

  27. Pingback: When is a conversation not a conversation? When it’s a political conversation. – Express Daily Feed

  28. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    Those old Club Troppo articles brings back memories. Before starting my blog ( for which I thank Sinclair Davidson since he banned me from Catallaxy) This very blog had me changing the names I used when commenting. I think the Beverage curve and JB Cairns were my favourites.
    For reasons I cannot remember I examined Ireland quite a lot pre and post GFC.
    The most interesting point there was its structural budget deficit was -0.5% of GDP slightly before the GFC which magically changed to a deficit of -4-5% of GDP once the GFC g hit Ireland.
    Keynesian would argue the budget should have had a structural surplus of at least 2% of GDP. ( See Hard Keynesianism on Quiggin’s blog. It is quite dated but still on the money).

    Can you tell me why those of a classical bent simply do not understand what the structural and cyclical parts of the budget are and why they think a budget deficit is always stimulatory when there is abundant evidence it is not Ireland and Greece certainly come to my mind.

    • I think the Beverage curve and JB Cairns were my favourites.

      Meh. You’ve had better.

    • Nicholas Gruen says:

      JB Cairns was a fine Irishman who diagnosed the economic underpinnings of the next century of psychosis in the southern states of the USA in the mid 19th century.

      Regarding your final question, the answer is that they do understand. They’re just not letting on, sometimes even to themselves. It’s pretty basic stuff. Hedgehogs the lot of them. As Jesus said, blessed are the foxes.

      • Tumble says:

        Invoking Cairns as a soothsayer and US demographics expert topped by a childhood anecdote (that made you cry), thereby condemning perhaps 40% of the US population as psychotic, is beyond incoherent. Furthermore, flattering yourself by linking to your piece offers no evidence to the claim that Cairns was the futurist you suggest. Another fail. This is not one of your best efforts. But take heart, it’s also not one of your worst.

  29. Tumble weed Homer. says:

    Trampis, from my recollection, you weren’t banned from Catallaxy as such. You were also nicely asked to try and avoid being so stupid.

  30. Tumble says:


    While I agree with you about the popular vote/ electoral college argument, there is a correlation between the two in terms of presidential elections, especially after the 10 year census reset when both house seats and the electoral college are apportioned to relative movements in the population.

    Trump’s win was a pretty high odds bet with Clinton wining the popular vote by around 3 million more votes vs the states (electoral college) that carried Trump to a win. This is not an appeal suggesting she should have won and the prize was stolen from her. It’s just an observation how the system can work.

    Also, explain why you believe this administration has been “shambolically ineffectual”. This may of course be a personal opinion without supporting facts – in which case it’s really not worth debating.

    • Fyodor says:

      Of course there’s a correlation, but the formula for the composition of the electoral college – each state appoints a number of electors equal to its number of senators (two for each state) and members of HoR – means that small states will always be over-represented in the college as the number of reps is fixed.

      Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of 2.9m votes, but in large part because 4.3m* votes of that winning margin came from California (which is materially under-represented in the college) she was unable to win the electoral vote. [*Clinton lost the popular vote if California is excluded]

      Also, explain why you believe this administration has been “shambolically ineffectual”. This may of course be a personal opinion without supporting facts – in which case it’s really not worth debating.

      Don’t equivocate. If you want to debate my opinion, go ahead. What you think is “worth debating” is of no consequence to me – shit or get off the pot.

  31. Tumble says:

    An ugly euphemism. Okay, I’ll take a dump, but please don’t disappoint with opinions such as… oh he’s neutered the EPA, or he’s destroying the 9th circuit etc.

    • Fyodor says:

      Okay, I’ll take a dump, but please don’t disappoint with opinions such as….

      Good lord, is it impossible for you to ask a simple question without this precious, anticipatory presumption? Safe in the knowledge that I’ll disappoint you somehow, let’s press on.

      Why shambolic? Excessive turnover, verging on the ridiculous, of key leadership positions in the cabinet and administration. Trump’s own conduct has also been ill-disciplined, inconsistent and frequently incoherent. His abrasive and confrontational approach has been counter-productive in achieving unity and effectiveness within his own administration, let alone achieving effective compromise and cooperation with Congress and foreign powers.

      Why ineffectual? He’s simply achieved very little of his – admittedly inconsistent – policy platform. This is after the first two years of his presidency during which the GOP controlled both houses of Congress.

      The best that can be said of his achievements is that he brought through the income tax cuts (the merit of which is debateable, but they were part of his platform) he promised and finally confronted China on a spectrum of issues, albeit for little tangible benefit to-date.

      On trade issues the USMCA is simply a rehashed NAFTA with a few tweaks. On illegal immigration, apprehension of illegal immigrants on the South-West (Mexican) border remains higher than during the Obama years, despite all the hysteria about tougher enforcement. Where’s the fucking wall? On regulatory reform, he’s merely tinkered at the edges of Dodd-Frank. On defense, after railing about the run-down state of US armed forces we’ve seen little material change in force acquisition, and two embarrassing Navy collisions demonstrating the poor seamanship of USN vessels. The Middle-East and Afghanistan remain clusterfucks, and it’s not apparent that pulling out of the JCPOA with Iran has done any good, more likely the opposite in reinforcing US commitment to the Saudis. The US network of alliances is bruised and battered by Trump’s antagonism, when it should be a source of strength to the US. The list goes on: much sound & fury, accomplishing SFA.

      • Tumble says:

        Your criticisms sound okay and I’ll voice a few counters.

        It’s better to fire someone who isn’t working out rather than keep them. Also, it’s very hard to determine if a person will work out until they’re on the job no matter how many exhaustive interviews. Firing someone soon after an appointment is much more difficult, but Trump seems to bite the proverbial bullet if an appointee isn’t performing. That’s good, I believe as I’m not too fussed with turnover – especially those on the government payroll. There are far too few sackings in this sector.

        US corp tax rates were far too high and despite what the thinking is about corp tax rates at this blog, they have been sliding down around the world for the past few decades. The US rate stood out like dogs balls.

        However, spending is out of control and very concerning the US deficit is getting bigger during a period with the economy and employment is motoring along nicely.

        Court appointments have been excellent.

        This is the first prez in the very unappreciated Jimmy Carter whose advocating current immigration polices dealing with illegals. But the entire establishment seems to be against the wall and other proposals to stop illegal crossing.

        As you’re aware , it’s very difficult to pass major policies in the US because of the system’s many checks and balances.

        Trade looks confused, but at the end of the day if trade with China is liberalized the current turmoil is worth it.

        Signalling is very important. He has signaled to players this administration is generally pro commerce… much more so than the previous empty suit.

        Sent from my iPhone

        • Tumble says:

          Apologies for a few gram errors… dealing with a small screen while at a dentist’s wait room.

          Sent from my iPhone

        • I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

          well if you start by appointing very few competent people to cabinet and end up with none in competent it says something about you.

          The problem in the US is more about revenue.

          Yep put up a wall when illegal immigration it about at its lowest ebb in a long long time tells us a lot about him.

          Yes he is very pro=business and but is not pro market and the various blogs on regulation in the US have pointed out. what else would you expect from a land developer?

  32. It’s funny that an article about the Current relative failure of ,conversation, mutual respect and manners ( and trolling ).

    Should end up with its comment thread being such a good example of the problems that article was talking about.

    you are on the money, you have for some reason rattled the cages of some total pricks – and really boring pricks to boot.
    Jeez what if they liked you…

    • Fyodor says:

      Oh, for the days when ye faded buzzards would not approvingly at each other’s effete efforts, comforted by the thought that nowhere in this neglected nook of Ozblogistan would there be any fucking critical debate whatsoever.

      Now look at you, Dear John, reduced to whining impotently about howwible twolls “really boring pricks”. Naturally, your cage isn’t rattled at all, is it? Ou sont les beiges d’antan, indeed.

      • Dear Foyodr
        While any representation of the world may or may not tell you anything about the real world, it does tell everything about the mind that constructed that representation of the world.
        The following terms are representative of your, mind:
        ” faded, mediocrity, impotent(ly), effete .negectled”
        Quite sad.

        • Fyodor says:

          It took you 11 days to come up with that zinger? Sad.

          You have even less of a clue about my mind than you do the real world, Dear John. Stick to playing the fool – that’s what you’re good at.

          • Whatever
            My reason for ,11 days, is I work for a living. Last night was the first time in a while that I had nothing better to do .
            And you are mildly entertaining.
            BTW Fyodor you don’t have a surname etc
            My whole professional life has been on the ‘public stage-‘ anonymous snide sniggers from wannabee failed whatevers ..shrug

            • Fyodor says:

              BTW I do have a surname etc. It’s Bazarov, or von Bazarov und zu Lolzberg if you want to be formal.

              While I’m correcting you, please get your schtick straight. First I’m “really boring”, but now I’m “mildly entertaining”?

              Similarly, you declare yourself, repeatedly and convincingly, to be a fool and now you’re a big deal on the “public stage”?

              You really should have told me earlier that you’re terribly grand and important. That’s critical information that makes me think so much more highly of you, particularly on learning that you’re spending your precious time trading snark with really boring mildly entertaining pricks “wannabee failed whatevers” on Teh Interwebs.

              But seriously, I meant what I said earlier: humility is the better look for you. To paraphrase Churchill, you have a lot to be modest about.

    • Tumble says:

      Oh yes, Ron, all this lack of mutual respect, manners and comportment. Gruen states 40% of the US population is psychotic because a failed ne’er-do-well Australian politician wrote something a long time ago though not evident in the self-link and a woman made Gruen cry as a child. If only we all agreed with you – it’s Woodstock at Club Troppo.

      What a first-rate mind you have. The way you measure success in the market of ideas is by taking the temperature is how pissed people off are to what is said. How simples.

      • O wad some Power the giftie gie us
        To see oursels as ithers see us!
        It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
        An’ foolish notion:
        What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
        An’ ev’n devotion!

      • Pointless
        but needs saying
        virtually everything you say, involves a radical and often nonsensical, redefinition by you of the meaning of words written by, another person.

        Ironic awareness is not your strong point

        • Tumble says:

          First, what appears to be a Scottish poem and then, soon after, a “pointed” , pointless comment that “needs saying”, despite its pointlessness. Does this make sense?

          • Appears to be a Scottish poem.

            As I said awareness (let alone ironic awareness ) is not your strong suite. Suggest that you are better suited to a long life eating mush .

          • Dear ignorant, dumb as all gettup ,dim whited, ignorant, thickie, moron .
            I gesticulate in your general direction.
            The English version of, appears to be scothish..

            Oh, would some Power give us the gift
            To see ourselves as others see us!
            It would from many a blunder free us,
            And foolish notion:
            What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
            And even devotion

  33. Tumble says:

    Walker, you appear to misunderstand the meaning of “ironic”.

    There was nothing ironic in Gruen’s condemnation of millions of Americans living in the South. It wasn’t even amusing as that was the word you were looking for. He doesn’t like them because they’re “deplorable”.

    And white supremacists are called out for disliking Jews and blacks?

    Suggest that you are better suited to a long life eating mush .

    Suggest you’re better suited to your life as a mediocrity.

  34. Nicholas
    ” a long life eating mush ” as you probably know references a famous film that ends with all the bad people, along with virtually all of the rest of the village being, dead.

    Obviously that is not such a good real world strategy for dealing with populist trolls etc. So I wish your strategy all the best. God bless.

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