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October 13, 2005


Hard to take that criticism seriously from anyone who voted for Mr. Strategery and accepted, "It's hard work", as an acceptable Iraq policy. You reap what you sow.

Hey, great post with very sharp-edged prose.

And, Brooks was good, too, which is a mere coinicidence.

But, I have this deal I can't quite swallow, which is, oddly, what Sebastian, Slart, and Charles, and do we need to mention Von, are having a tough time digesting, which is:

We are governed by utterly vacuous, stupid people. Which is not my paradigm; I would prefer pure evil considering the harm that has been done, is being done, and will continue to be done in perpetuity.

No question. Just.. you know.. what gives?

I would prefer to be uncompromisingly angry, and blow stuff up. But the giggling gets in the way.

Which makes me feel insuffient.

I suspect she's a genius. Vacuous & banal; but also sincere, well-intentioned, non-threatening, concerned. I cannot yet tell if she is merely a sociopath or a true psychopath, but the art with which she disguises herself is astonishing. She obviously has you and Brooks completely fooled.

Even the character in "Being There" attracted attention to himself, because his similes and metaphors were concrete, with nature references susceptible to interpretation. Miers is an astonishment.

They are the sort that would be written by someone for whom written prose was to some extent an alien and resistant medium.

Didn't she major in math? Maybe if she was told to write it again using symbols like <=> and such, she would be forced to think about what she is trying to say. Anyway it's all a bit like worrying about Caligula's decision to make his horse a Consul. The horse is not the problem here.

Having read a few 'letter from the president of the bar' columns myself, I'm not sure it's a very fair measure of her writing or thinking. Blandness is the hallmark of the medium. It's not like blog comments, or something. Or birthday cards (and thank you notes), which seem to be the other principal sources of publicly available writing.

It's all moot anyway. She'll come up with a few well rehearsed turns of phrase at the hearings, charm a significant portion of the public (the portion that seems charmed by GWB, for reasons I absolutely cannot fathom) and Republican Senators will shrink from defying their commander-in-chief. She'll be on the Court by Thanksgiving.

Hilzoy - "These are not, I think, the sorts of sentences that would be written by a good writer who was writing in haste, for instance."

So, are you mimicking what, you think, Miers's style is, or is this sort of an example of what better writing might look like, for example?

those snippets sound like they could've come from any of the upper-management goal-setting emails that i get every week. just add a couple of "six sigmas" and a few "culture of excellence" lines and she could be a VP at _______ Corp.

it's generally not true that you can have a perfectly sound argument that just happens to be obscured by terrible writing

You haven't spent nearly enough time around me.

This is probably the final nail in the coffin. If she can't write an intelligible decision...even were she a legal Stephen Hawking, her suitability as a SC justice is just about nil if she can't explain her decisions.

"But she presents no arguments or ideas, except the repetition of the bromide that bad things can be eliminated if people of good will come together to eliminate bad things."

That sounds like Bush's own theory of governance.

CharlieCarp is right: Brooks misunderstands the purpose of a "letter from the bar president" if he expects it to be clear and incisive. These letters are meant say nothing by saying everying, for fear of giving offense to some bar constituency.

If you want to judge her writing, read her briefs. They're by and large public (if sometimes difficult to dig up).*


*Even briefs, however, can be a bit dry; it can't all be "Tangential discourses on existential wrongdoing, however, do not a RICO claim make."

The assertion that Miers lack of writing ability should disqualify her would be more persuasive if, for example, George Bush were capable of writing, or even of clear speech. An inability to write has not impeded his career progress!

Molly Ivins has written on this. George Bush used to be quite articulate speaker, but in later years he lost the ability to speak clearly. It appears this is not simply an affectation, he can't do it any more.

I suspect he suffers from some complex and probably undefined progressive environmental and genetic organic brain syndrome. Eight years ago Bush was still a very capable person, I suspect his condition has progressed.

Perhaps as a consequence of his own disability, Bush does not value clear communication. He may feels Miers' spiritual and emotional/reactive behaviors are much more important than her cognitive or linguistic abilities. In other words, he accepts the very lefty-liberal squishy idea of 'alternative intelligences'.

Miers is Bush as he would be on the supreme court. It would not surprise me if he expects to go there himself some day; Miers is his precedent.

This pattern of appointing people that are in his mold (athletic, anti-intellectual, evangelical, emotional, charismatic -- ESFP on the old Myers-Briggs) is very Bush. This can be seen in the infamous list of his 15 most incompetent appointees and in his very troubled scientific/technical appointees (they don't last).

The horror for Republicans is that the more they look at Miers, the more they see Bush. That's why this is tearing apart the 'know-nothing' party.

Well, her brief writing had better be a helluva lot better than these passages. I mean, seriously--

"Achieving the necessary understanding and appreciation of why the challenge is so important, we can then turn to the task of providing the much needed support."
The muses are shrieking.

"It would not surprise me if he expects to go there himself some day."

Let's say there is a vacancy on the court in September of 2008. Bush could appoint himself and don the robes after Inauguration Day. Alternatively, Dick Cheney could conduct a search for a new Justice. You know the rest.

John Faughnan - Verbal skill is not essential to the job of a president, whose principal responsibility is making decisions. It is essential to a Supreme Court Justice, because the Supreme Court's primary role isn't handing down judgments in 90 or so cases a year; it's writing opinions to guide the determination of thousands of cases that never reach the Court.

I agree that these types of letters are supposed to be substanceless, but it sure would be nice to see some evidence that the woman can write.

Let us not forget - "Clear, workmanlike prose" is a horrific thing when employed in the service of a greater obscurantism which, for the sake of its 'clarity', is capable of hiding right beneath the reader's smugly 'comprehending' nose.

Arguing in favor of a populist prose aesthetics remains culturally toxic at best. The type of "clear, workmanlike prose" you advocate is, in short, both the precursor to and the hermeneutic perpetuator of newspeak.

In other words - Miers's writing might be terrible, yes, but to conflate the central problem of its obvious poverty of insight with its equally obvious but unrelated stylistic difficulties does a disservice to the central problem - by promoting the possibility of a false solution.

Not to compare Miers and Billy Shakes in any manner that might even risk flattering Harriet, but I would never like to see "Hamlet" translated into the type of prose you advocate.

Bourgeois emphasis on "clarity" and "accessibility" at the expense of precision, specificity and robust meaning remains one of the contemporary academic dynamics that has helped to turn American culture into the monstrously walking paradox it now is: that of an anti-intellectual information society.

For myself, I'm at least grateful that this administration seems to have as many linguistic and expressive problems as it has ideological ones.

"Clear, workmanlike prose" these days means - SMS Text Messaging argot.


The emptiness of these samples jibes nicely with the utter vacuousness of her personal correspondence with the Predident. Though understandably more familiar in tone, those cards and letters more closely resemble crush notes than professional communication or even an articulate personal note.

"Will you nominate me?
-Check Yes or No-
XOXOXO - Harriet"

The horse is not the problem here.

Which reminds me of this favorite cartoon.

"The horror for Republicans is that the more they look at Miers, the more they see Bush. That's why this is tearing apart the 'know-nothing' party."

Ahhaha! Flash of insight! Are Republicans looking at Miers and seeing the next Fed Chairman? The Horror!
"Tangential discourses on existential wrongdoing, however, do not a RICO claim make." ...a sly example to use today

Does it ever occur to you that we're living in a parody? "My little crony" indeed.

My respect for Harry Reid continues to grow based on the right-wing implosion we're witnessing here.

Given that someone George W. Bush nominates will eventually become Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement on the Supreme Court, the question comes down to "how do we minimize the damage?"

I cannot follow the esteemed Mr. McManus down this particular path. Not prone to overoptimism here, but even so, I just can't look at Miers and think to myself "evil genius." Sometimes the other side really does just screw up.

I don't think the problem is that she doesn't have clear, erudite prose, though she doesn't, but that she obscures the lack of substance in the complicated language so popular within the private bureaucracy. I understand why no one complained before. Her writing is indistinguishable from the writing of a thousand executives who are trying to sound erudite without offending or even saying anything at all.

Shakespeare was clear -- it is our use of the language and the style that we use that has changed.

I don't know. There is a certain art to writing new versions of platitutdes with fancy words, which seems to be her talent. AS freelunch said, the lack of substance in the complicated language so popular within the private bureaucracy....

She seems to have mastered the art of being the pure sycophant.

Her writing is also indistinguishable from that of the lower division undergrads coming into my composition classes. These examples accurately mimic the sort of 'commonplaces spun out large in imitation of an institutional style' that is the hallmark of a college admission essay or those wonderful little test essays one sees from schoolchildren in the wake of 'No Child Left Behind.' In this light, Meiers is a harbinger of what we can expect twenty years down the road when the generation molded by our "Education President" come into their political power.

I recall that the sales department at one company for which I worked had a motivational banner hung on the wall which read "The world is run by C students - Harry Truman." (The quotation is actually from the late Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire). Most of the department found it deeply inspirational. I found it ominous.

Welcome to my fear.

Well, Bush clearly wanted a business nominee on the Supreme Court. And he may have got one. These, and especially the one beginning: "An organization must also implement programs to fulfill strategies established through its goals and mission..." sound like some of the most egregious examples of business-speak I have seen. I have worked in large companies, and heard a lot of prose like this. I find it very difficult believing that anybody who can come up with sentences like this has anything worth saying. In fact, I associate prose like this (probably occasionally unjustly) with people trying to obscure the fact that they have nothing to say.

Nous, I would have to say that her writing is worse than I see from my undergrads--or at least after a month in my freshman comp classes. This sentence

"When consensus of diverse leadership can be achieved on issues of importance, the greatest impact can be achieved"
would be an embarrassment to sign one's nick to in a blog comment.

I was in the wait-and-see, we'-re-probably-screwed-anyway camp, but now, having read this gelatinous wriggling from Ms. Miers, I want my Senators to filibuster.

An exceptional editor once told me that clear writing requires clear thought. That is another major difference between Roberts and Miers.

Even the character in "Being There" attracted attention to himself, because his similes and metaphors were concrete, with nature references susceptible to interpretation.
Wait, have we checked Scooter Libby's "aspen" passage to make sure he's not quoting Chauncey Gardner?

I'd started to worry that my prose skills had atrophied over the past few years. Seeing Miers' work cheers me up no end.

Incidentally, she didn't use my personal bugbear phrase "going forward," which seems to be tacked on to the end of sentences willy-nilly by pointy haired bosses.

What America needs is a nominee who implements a results-oriented vision with mission specific metrics and goal directed strategies for building a consensus towards schedule driven focus on deliverables going forward.

Or not.

Heh heh.

Hilzoy said "titmice."

Heh heh.

(Just establishing my street cred with the Immature Generation.)

Sorry, dr. ngo, but you missed this line in Slart's comment to von

Making the Boilermaker traveling squad was nice, but they were desperate for breaststrokers.

In short, I know immature, and you aren't it. ;^)

Peter said: " I associate prose like this... with people trying to obscure the fact that they have nothing to say."


Since this seems to be the bad writing thread, I'd point out that John Fund can't seem to count:

President Bush has told friends that he learned how to manage from three places: Harvard Business School, his experiences working in the Texas oilfields and with baseball teams, and from watching his father.

dr ngo: my image of you lies in ruins. However, if you're into this sort of thing, ornithology is, well, a veritable Diana of Ephesus of a discipline. Besides the tits proper (which include not just predictable things like the great tit but the sombre tit, the elegant tit, the dusky tit, the bearded tit, the penduline tit) there is an entire family of tit-tyrants, including (best for establishing street cred with the immature) the agile tit-tyrant.


Why do you assume it's Fund who can't count to three? Who's he quoting?

Hah! Good point!

Don't forget the bushtit!

dr ngo: Heh heh.

Hilzoy said "titmice."

Heh heh.

This was featured on Snopes.

dr ngo: my image of you lies in ruins.

I believe I mentioned (though perhaps on another thread) a couple of double Manhattans. These were subsequent to my last class before fall break. Surely this constitutes mitigation, or extenuation, or something else ending in -ation.

I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.

"The world is run by C students - Harry Truman." (The quotation is actually from the late Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire). Most of the department found it deeply inspirational. I found it ominous.

Welcome to my fear.

My fear is that an English major is going to work on my car, and use "theory".

My fear is that an English major is going to work on my car, and use "theory".

I'd rather have that than a plumber go to work on my large intestine with a closet auger...

Titmice haunt feeders.
Pity the hunted woodcock,
reclusive rooster.

*this is not a response to lj, I was just waxwing poetical

You know what really ticks me off is the Crosby Stills and Nash lines:

Chestnut Brown Canary,
Ruby Throated Sparrow...

That makes about as much sense as "Scarlet Bluebird"

I bet they were English majors.

It's been a long time
since the last haiku thread here -
nasty, evil things.

A friend put a birdbath up in her garden, and e-mailed me soon afterwards to say "I have great tits, and blue tits, and - "

to which of course I responded:

I have great tits

I concur.

Sorry to interrupt the tit hunt, but this Buchanan column is hilarious

Bush and the first lady lost sight of what should have been his first consideration: a justice cut from the same bolt of cloth as Scalia, William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas, who had a judicial philosophy of strict construction of the Constitution, and the intelligence and capacity not only to argue that position but to persuade other justices of its wisdom.

By hanging out a shingle reading ''No Males Need Apply!'' Bush has made the O'Connor seat the affirmative action seat for women on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Which raises a question: Will Justice Harriet Miers, a beneficiary of affirmative action, recuse herself when the issue of discrimination against men comes before the court?

I had no idea it was so fun when you don't have a dog in the fight.

Sorry to interrupt the tit hunt, but this Buchanan column is hilarious

I dunno, you seem to have done just fine unearthing one of the world's biggest boobs.

hilzoy offered: "the bearded tit"

Another great band name. Right up there with the Chirping (or was it Chirpy?) Vaginas.

I think you all miss the point. You don't change law with brilliant legal reasoning or graceful prose. You do it with five vote majorities.
Harriet Miers has Scalia & Roberts to do her thinking, and law clerks to do her writing. All she has to do is to vote, reliably and repeatedly, for whatever positions that Scalia and Roberts espouse.She can certainly do that.

So could X, X being any of several million or so other choices. Or Y, Y being any one of hundreds or perhaps thousands of better choices.

carib- But will she? :) Bush could have nominated someone most Republicans would have had confidence in to do that, he prefers someone else. I wonder why.

This has the potential for turning tragedy into comedy. The meat is in the comments.

The road was cold and hard. Cold like the impersonal logic behind the eyes of Chief Justice Roberts. Hard like the hearts of Karl's conservative supporters. Worse yet, the road was black. Rove hated black.

DaveC--My fear is that an English major is going to work on my car, and use "theory".

No worries there. Most English majors end up as embittered barristas or snotty book store clerks.

Only the failed grammarians get the mechanic gigs.

I'd do that sentence in Faulkner style, but it's beyond me.


The man whose spine's the axis of world
Sat in a car, under whose hood there curled
A metal jungle beast of guile and force
And glaring eyes that never hid remorse.
The angel stood atop the marble peak
Of Washington's tomb, and though he would not speak
He watched the Jaguar loping mile by mile
And raised both hands in gestures of denial.

Had a guy leave me a message the other day about how a rental house he owns on Capitol Hill has a bad door jam, and would I please fix it within the next two days. Said he'd pay my usual rate.

Fooled by my surname, evidently. (Doubly in error according to a family myth, which holds that my surname is not based on the occupation, but on the way a certain ancestor swung his battle axe in one of the Crusades).

I ignored it, and he called back a week later, and sounded kind of put out. Told him I'm a lawyer, and that for $400 per hour I'd go argue with his door.

Wish I'd thought of DaveC's response. I'm sure I could have fixed it with a theory, an alternative argument, two associates, and a paralegal. And if it didn't work out, he'd still have to pay me.

Slarti: I liked this:

"Karl Rove nosed his Jaguar out of the garage at his home in Northwest Washington in the predawn gloom. The road was cold and hard. He drove expressionlessly. What was the point, he wondered.

There was a stirring beside him. A presence.

A voice.

"George Bush is the most brilliant man I have ever met."

Rove stiffened, then exhaled slowly through his nostrils. Damn the woman! But she was right. She was always right. He'd needed that. He nodded tightly. He took a breath and depressed the accelerator.

The Jaguar knifed through the fog like a tiger."

I'd rather have that than a plumber go to work on my large intestine with a closet auger...

Yes, definitely. Augers shouldn't feel any shame about how they're made.

Perhaps this thread is fallow, but this

The White House's 20-person "confirmation team" will line up news conferences, opinion pieces and letters to the editor by professors and former colleagues who can talk about Miers' experience dealing with such real-world issues as the Voting Rights Act when she was a Dallas city council member and Native American tribal sovereignty when she was chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission.

Brings to mind this

The first moment came when Mark Trahant of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) asked [Bush], "What do you think tribal sovereignty means in the 21st century, and how do we resolve conflicts between tribes and the federal and the state governments?"

Said the president, "Tribal sovereignty means that -- it's sovereign. You're a -- you've been given sovereignty, and you're viewed as a sovereign entity. And, therefore, the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities."

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