Constitutional Hill

Quote of the week

Book 1

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When it comes to Cheney’s rise and his persistence we are in the realm of miracles and wonders. In 1969, Cheney was a twenty-eight-year-old fledgling academic wannabe from Wyoming laboring obscurely as an intern on Capitol Hill—and lucky to be there, having twice flunked out of Yale, twice been jailed for drunk driving. Five years later he was Gerald Ford’s White House chief of staff. Can American history offer a more rapid rise to power? Even the firework arc of his mentor Donald Rumsfeld pales before it. – Mark Danner on Dick Cheney

Book

Perhaps one could also assume that the debate on affirmative action and employment equity inside the DA has now been resolved. When a black politician from outside the DA is promoted over the heads of the party’s leader, the party chairman and the parliamentary leader, we are witnessing the application of affirmative action with a vengeance. What recommends Ms Ramphele above all else is her contribution to the liberation struggle. With the exception of Joe Seremane, none of the DA’s long-standing black members made any such contribution. – Pallo Jordan in Business Day

The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.” There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives. – Michael Chabon in The New York Review of Books

Summer School

Jacob Zuma came to power backed by the SACP, by Cosatu, by the ANCYL, by disparate regional power-blocks and business groups who saw an opportunity to get the benefits of being at the high table, and by democrats within the ANC who believed Mbeki had become authoritarian and/or unresponsive to the changing requirements of the situation (with his failure to grapple with the HIV/AIDs question his most obvious failing.) This alliance of interests and groups has long since fragmented (with the trajectories of Malema and Vavi the most visible signs of this), but the SACP remains up close and personal with Zuma, his family, his business friends and the security agencies he keeps firmly under his wing. That it is the SACP who has said: ‘let’s chase these Numsa fellows out’ is not a surprise, as the SACP is one of the main beneficiaries of the rise of Jacob Zuma … an attack on Zuma is an attack on the SACP. – Nic Borain

Naked but for the towel around his waist, a man of a certain age sat by himself, bent slightly forward as if praying, in a corner of the sauna at a gym in central Rome. I had not met this man before, but as I entered the sauna, I thought I recognized him from photographs. He looked like a priest with whom I’d corresponded after mutual friends put us in touch, a man I had wanted to consult about gay clerics in the Vatican Curia. My friends told me that this priest was gay, politically savvy, and well connected to the gay Church hierarchy in Rome. But this couldn’t be that priest. He had told me that he’d be away and couldn’t meet. Yet as I looked at the man more closely, I saw that it was definitely him. When we were alone, I spoke his name, telling him mine. “I thought you were out of the country,” I said. “How lucky for me: you’re here!” Startled, the priest talked fast. Yes, his plans had changed, he said, but he was leaving again the next day and would return only after I was gone. – Micheal Joseph Gross in Vanity Fair on “gay cabal” in the Vatican

In Snowden’s view, the traditional forms of oversight—secret one-sided courts and closed congressional or parliamentary committees—are inadequate, not least because they have only partial information and poor technical understanding and are frequently misled. He may have had in mind such moments as when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress in March that the NSA did not intentionally collect “any type of data at all” on millions of Americans. That turned out not to be true. Clapper later justified his response as the “least untruthful answer” he could give. Which Orwell would surely have regarded as a doubleplusgood answer. – Alan Rushbridger in the New York Review of Books