Good Writing Quotes

Permanent Webstand II

I have a rotating list of news links at the right under "Webstand." The most recent go to the top and move down as new links are added. The bottom post is always Permanent Webstand, which contains quotes from the old links as they disappear. I'm now going to put up number II. Links and quotes after the jump.

David Souter vs. the Antonin Scalias, E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, June 3, 2010.
The core problem with originalism is that it overlooks what the historian Gordon Wood has observed about the Founders' work: that it is exceedingly difficult to discern the "true meaning" of the Constitution since it is the product "not of closet philosophizing but of contentious political polemics."

As a result, "many of our most cherished principles of constitutionalism associated with the Founding were in fact created inadvertently." The historian Joseph Ellis offered a parallel argument in The Post last month.

Souter is right to say that "the Constitution embodies the desire of the American people, like most people, to have things both ways. We want order and security, and we want liberty. And we want not only liberty but equality as well."

Because these desires clash, courts are "forced to choose between them, between one constitutional good thing and another one." Souter's view admits that this is what judges do. Originalists pretend they're not choosing. Which approach is the more trustworthy?
Iraq's Summer of Uncertainty, Joost Hiltermann, New York Review blog, June 4, 2010.
With so much in play, any prediction that these multiple crises will be resolved before Ramadan (which starts in mid-August)—or, symbolically more importantly perhaps, before August 31, the date by which the US intends to have completed its troop drawdown from Iraq—should be regarded with extreme scepticism.

The outlook is ominous. As the politicians dither, governmental institutions—never particularly effective—could become paralyzed, as senior officials fear for their careers if they make decisions that would anger Iraq’s future rulers. Uncertainty over the country’s prospects could spread through society and the economy. In a political vacuum, outside regional powers would almost certainly gain greater influence and be tempted to meddle more than they already do. The United States, which has been so eager to depart that it failed to craft an exit strategy, would then have trouble being heard over the din. Lacking strong support in Baghdad, parties and politicians would have little choice but to seek succour in neighbouring capitals, insinuating these states’ countervailing interests into what is already a combustible mix. And Iraq’s insurgencies could get a second wind, again making violence the primary mode of politics.

This, of course, is a doomsday scenario. No one in Baghdad is now predicting such an outcome, but in private conversations many express fears that the country may face a new descent into chaos. And all rue the bitter truth that the current battle is not about governing programs or other issues of national import—such as national reconciliation, a hydrocarbons law, or a solution to disputed territories—but about one seemingly simple post-election matter: who gets to lead the new government. As Iraqis adjust themselves to the early-summer heat, they brace themselves for hotter times yet to come.
Restoring leadership and integrity to the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen, Washington Post, June 11, 2010.
In 2004, the leak of a controversial memo on the use of torture catapulted the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel into the spotlight. Fallout and debate continue, including in the context of my nomination - withdrawn this spring - to head this office. While attention understandably is focused on confirming the president's Supreme Court nominee, the OLC remains, after six years, without a confirmed leader.

It is long past time to halt the damage caused by the "torture memo" by settling on a bipartisan understanding of the proper role of this critical office and confirming an assistant attorney general committed to that understanding.

There is no simple answer to why my nomination failed. But I have no doubt that the OLC torture memo - and my profoundly negative reaction to it - was a critical factor behind the substantial Republican opposition that sustained a filibuster threat. Paradoxically, prominent Republicans earlier had offered criticisms strikingly similar to my own. A bipartisan acceptance of those criticisms is key to moving forward. The Senate should not confirm anyone who defends that memo as acceptable legal advice.
McChrystal Does Not Matter, Garry Wills, New York Review blog, June 22, 2010.
The initial reaction to Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone article on General McChrystal was disturbing. The emphasis has been on the early parts of the article, with McChrystal’s dismissive attitude toward the President and his administration. Instant discussion focused on the person McChrystal—should he be fired, or resign, or have his resignation accepted? That does not matter. The Hastings article is powerful and important because of what it goes on to report from Afghanistan, building to a crushing conclusion, that the general was unable to command even the respect of Hamid Karzai and McChrystal’s own troops—for the very good reason that he has been given an impossible assignment, one that gets more surreal and absurd every day. His removal will not make the Afghan war go any better, for the simple reason that nothing will do that.
Obama's Right-Wing School Reform, Diane Ravitch, New York Review blog, June 10, 2010.
The Obama administration has dangled $4.3 billion in federal aid before the states in a competition called the Race to the Top. To be eligible to win, the states must increase the number of privately managed charter schools, must agree to evaluate teachers by student test scores, and must commit to “turning around” so-called failing schools (including by closing them or privatizing them). In the first round of this contest, the winning states were Tennessee, which received $500 million, and Delaware, which got $100 million—apparently based on their readiness to enact comprehensive reform along recommended lines. In this time of severe fiscal stringency, 37 other states have applied for funding from the next round of Race to the Top, each promising to reshape its education system around the administration’s priorities in order to win it.

The main ideas embodied in the Race to the Top program and other administration policies were incubated in conservative think tanks. I have argued that none of these “reforms” is likely to improve education, and all are likely to do harm.

Charter schools are the fad of the moment. There are some excellent charter schools, and some dismal ones. They have been around for nearly twenty years, and, to date, the best evidence shows that in aggregate students in them perform no better or worse than students in regular public schools. As their numbers grow under pressure from the Obama administration, their quality is not likely to improve; the history of American education is replete with small-scale demonstrations that became less effective when rapidly expanded to a mass scale. So, if history is a useful guide, charters, which are by definition very thinly regulated, will go from being no better or worse to being a very problematic sector riddled with extreme variability in performance and not infrequent cases of financial mismanagement. It is hard to see this turn to privatization of one of our nation’s basic public services as a route to better education.

Similarly, the strategy of tying teacher evaluations to test scores will have predictably negative consequences. It will promote more time spent preparing students for very inadequate tests and a narrowing of the curriculum (with less time for history, geography, science, the arts, foreign languages, and every other non-tested subject). It will judge teachers for matters over which they have no control, such as student absenteeism and family involvement (or lack thereof).

Everyone asks, how can we stop this misguided and potentially harmful approach? I keep hoping that some elected official, some Governor or Senator, will recognize that millions of discontented parents and teachers—not just the vilified teachers’ unions—are looking for political leadership. They don’t want to lose public education, and they hate the relentless emphasis on testing and punishment. I keep watching for the leader who will mobilize those who now are voiceless and demand that our nation get serious about improving education: making sure that all children have access to a full and balanced curriculum—-rather than just preparation for standardized tests—and taking steps to improve the teaching profession, rather than demeaning and demoralizing it.

I am still looking.
Sunday Sacrilege: So Alone, P.Z. Myers, Pharyngula, June 27, 2010.
I can sympathize. I loved and respected my father, and any attempt by an outsider to defame or complicate or diminish that relationship would trigger a resentful response from me. Christians and Muslims and Jews have been told from their earliest years that God is their father, with all the attendant associations of that argument, and what are we atheists doing? Telling them that no, he is not, and not only that, you don't even have a heavenly father at all, the imaginary guy you are worshipping is actually a hateful monster and an example of a bad and tyrannical father, and you aren't even a very special child — you're a mediocre product of a wasteful and entirely impersonal process.

It makes that whole business of breaking the news about Santa Claus look like small potatoes. Reality is harsh, man.

But it is reality. We've done the paternity tests, we've traced back the genealogy, we're doing all kinds of in-depth testing of the human species. We are apes and the descendants of apes, who were the descendants of rat-like primates, who were children of reptiles, who were the spawn of amphibians, who were the terrestrial progeny of fish, who came from worms, who were assembled from single-celled microorganisms, who were the products of chemistry. Your daddy was a film of chemical slime on a Hadean rock, and he didn't care about you — he was only obeying the laws of thermodynamics.
A Special Treat: Weekend N.P.V. Blogging!, Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, June 25, 2010.
Mr. Lipsky recognizes that “the whole game would be different.” But I’m not sure he is fully attentive to just how different the game would be. “Under the current system, candidates don’t run popular vote strategies in the first place,” he writes. Not so. Candidates do run popular vote strategies—but only in the battleground states. In the spectator states, where upwards of three-quarters of Americans live, candidates don’t run any strategies at all. They don’t visit, they don’t buy ads, they don’t organize. Apart from raising money to spend somewhere else, they don’t do anything. And why should they? In those states, it’s a foregone conclusion which candidate will get one hundred per cent of the electors. No wonder the turnout in such states is so much lower than in the battlegrounds. The wonder is that anyone at all bothers to vote in New York or Texas. It’s rather touching that so many people do, actually. (The point of N.P.V., of course, is to make the entire nation a battleground state, in which the every citizen’s vote is worth casting, and worth soliciting.)
Public Souring on the Afghanistan War, Juan Cole,, June 27, 2010.
If you’ve lost Rory Stewart, you’ve lost the war. Rory Stewart is a young British conservative, who once walked Afghanistan and later governed the Iraqi province of Maysan in 2003-2004 under Paul Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Government. He is now a Tory Member of Parliament and a junior member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in that body. Stewart ran a charity for years while residing in Kabul. He long expressed skepticism about a troop escalation in Afghanistan, but he is now in a position to influence British Prime Minister David Cameron. Stewart has vocally and publicly come out against the troop escalation or ‘surge’. And he wants a rapid reduction, though not complete withdrawal, beginning next summer (something that sounds to me sort of like the Biden/Eikenberry limited counter-terrorism strategy as opposed to McChrystal’s broad counter-insurgency campaign).

Stewart says, “I do not believe we can win a counterinsurgency campaign. We are never going to have the time or the troop numbers. Even if you put 600,000 troops on the ground, I can’t see a credible, effective, legitimate Afghan Government emerging . . . If you keep going like this the backlash that will build up, the spectres of Vietnam that will emerge in the minds of the British public will mean that we will end up leaving entirely and the country will be much worse off.”

He adds that after the draw-down of troops, “You would have a few planes around but you would no longer do counter-insurgency. You would no longer be in the game of trying to hold huge swathes of rural Afghanistan.”
No More Apologies - It's Time to Stand Up for Our Convictions, Howard Dean, Huffington Post, July 26, 2010.
None of this is new. I don't believe all or even most of the Republican party voters are racist, but going at least as far back as Lee Atwater, the Willie Horton ads, and the attacks on John McCain in the South Carolina primaries in both 2000 and 2008, the immigration debate in 2006, there is a persistent willingness in the Republican party to use race baiting for electoral advantage. The fact is, this is racist behavior.

Now if the Tea Party, which is not a professional group of politicians have the decency to repudiate the racist fringe in their group, why can't the Republicans? Obviously they think this approach works on the margins, but even if this stuff works, it sure doesn't produce good leaders or a civil society, and it certainly doesn't produce a stronger America, it produces an even more polarized and angry America. It's that willingness to put party ahead of country that has the Republicans in such low regard.
WikiLeaks and the war in Afghanistan, Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, August 9, 2010.
And what do we still not know? The documents are labelled in various ways, among them whether an incident involved an “enemy” or a “friend.” The Balkh report is marked “enemy,” and it does mention insurgents killing a motorist. But the designation, of this and many of the other reports, raises a larger question: Do we know who in Afghanistan is our enemy and who is our friend? Al Qaeda is our enemy, of course, but after that the lines get blurry. Is a police chief who might chase insurgents one day but creates more of them by alienating the civilian population the next our enemy or our friend? When our soldiers go to the chief’s village and are met with hostility, whose fight are they walking into?

The Afghan security forces apparently can’t tell their friends from their enemies, either. In February, 2008, according to one report, an Afghan policeman “was in the public shower smoking hash” when two Afghan National Army guys walked in. That sounds like the setup for a joke, but the punch line wasn’t funny: the policeman “felt threatened and a fire fight occurred.” In September, 2007, Afghan soldiers went looking for five policemen who had abandoned their post and, minutes later, brought one of them back with a bullet in his head. “Their story is that they tried to fire a warning shot and accidentally hit [the policeman],” the report notes. The area’s entire police force was then “withdrawn to prevent an attempted honor killing.” Both shootings are categorized as “friendly fire.”
Michael Bloomberg delivers stirring defense of mosque, Justin Elliot,, August 3, 2010.
"I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

"On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, 'What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?'

"The attack was an act of war, and our first responders defended not only our city, but our country and our constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked."
Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents, Scott Shane, Mark Mazzetti and Robert F. Worth, New York Times, August 14, 2010.
At first, the news from Yemen on May 25 sounded like a modest victory in the campaign against terrorists: an airstrike had hit a group suspected of being operatives for Al Qaeda in the remote desert of Marib Province, birthplace of the legendary queen of Sheba.

But the strike, it turned out, had also killed the province’s deputy governor, a respected local leader who Yemeni officials said had been trying to talk Qaeda members into giving up their fight. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, accepted responsibility for the death and paid blood money to the offended tribes.

The strike, though, was not the work of Mr. Saleh’s decrepit Soviet-era air force. It was a secret mission by the United States military, according to American officials, at least the fourth such assault on Al Qaeda in the arid mountains and deserts of Yemen since December.

The attack offered a glimpse of the Obama administration’s shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies. In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.