I wish I could write

February 24, 2010

Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.


If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Robert Jackson

A teacher’s lament

September 10, 2009

And the glory of it is its complete irrelevance to our lives. That’s why it’s so fun!

Paul Lockhart, in A Mathematician’s Lament. It’s a good read for future teachers.

Another Sydney Smith

September 7, 2009

I think ignorance is highly underrated. Ignorance permeates our lives; ignorance is why I’ll always be a student. Ignorance isn’t shameful, but complacency is.

Have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything.

Sydney Smith

A primer on American courts.

May 26, 2009

The public reaction to today’s California Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage in that state has exposed a disturbing misinterpretation of the role of the judiciary in American society.

I am not a legal expert, but I was exposed to the ideas that I’m about to espouse by experts.

First of all, the judiciary is limited to “interpreting the constitution.” Your definition of “interpreting” is invariably linked to your personal politics, but the first admission one must make is this: Proposition 8, the proposition banning same-sex marriage, is no longer a Proposition. It is constitutional law in California. (That is to say, in California, it is now legal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Now you know my politics!)

It would seem that, when one accepts this fact, the conclusion is forgone — until the case reaches federal courts, any state court in California must uphold the amendment. There are no compromises to this — the California courts are bound to uphold the constitution of the state.

But still, people are appalled that such a forward thinking state could be so ass-backwards. The state is not the problem; the problem is the people who voted to pass the Proposition.

Well then, one might say, can’t the courts invalidate the will of the people? The answer is yes, and the consequences are usually disastrous. The courts are essentially powerless if they don’t have the backing of the people. (However, the invalidation of [major] state laws usually occurs in the federal courts. Again, state courts are limited to interpreting their constitutions, and if [a certain classification of] discrimination is written in those documents, their hands are tied.)

Take Brown v. Board of Education. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court desegregation case from Kansas was unanimously decided, but Eisenhower was queasy about enforcing it. The South decided to give the Court the finger — schools in the South weren’t integrated until Nixon came along (!!!). Only after Congress threatened to revoke funding from segregated schools did the South comply with the ruling.

It’s impossible to use the courts as an instrument of social change. While they may be the final arbiters of the law, their power is not in the affirmation of justice — it is in the denial of injustice. And unfortunately, the people of California have decided that it is entirely just to deny certain people the “right” to marry.

The Power and the Glory

March 4, 2009

But then he remembered the gift he had been given which nobody could take away. That was what made him worthy of damnation.


Suddenly and unexpectedly there was agony in the cemetery. They had been used to losing children, but they hadn’t been used to what the rest of the world knows best of all – the hope which peters out.

There are lots of these in Graham Greene-land.

Colonization of the Congo

February 2, 2009

I made war against them. One example was enough: a hundred heads cut off.

My goal is ultimately humanitarian. I killed a hundred people…but that allowed five hundred others to live.

Leon Fievez, a Belgian official in the Congo, from King Leopold’s Ghost

David Souter is my homeboy

December 10, 2008

I believe you have just made a statement to me that is utterly irrational.

Justice Souter, as summarized by Nina Totenberg

I love the French scenes in Munich

November 29, 2008

Oh, we are tragic men. Butcher’s hands, gentle souls.

In my despair I have fathered madmen who dress like factory workers but never do manual labor, who read nonsense and spout pompous bullshit about Algerians and, and who love nothing, not Algerians or French or flesh and blood or anything living.

Papa, in Munich

People may be boring…

November 19, 2008

…but so is where we live.

Fortunately, the Milky Way is located in a remarkably dull corner of the Universe.

Galactic Astronomy

Someone wrote this…

November 15, 2008

…infinite loop.

Speech is a clumsiness and writing an impoverishment.

Richard Rhodes


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