Monday, January 28, 2008

at least he's got taste 


The top law enforcement official said on Friday he keeps in his office a portrait of George Orwell, whose book "1984" envisioned a futuristic technology security state overseen by a prying "Big Brother."

But the inspiration comes from Orwell's writing style, not the dystopian world the English writer depicted, an aide said.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, in his first extensive meeting with reporters since taking office in November, said he selected two portraits for his office, the first being Robert Jackson, a former Supreme Court Justice, U.S. attorney general and Nuremberg war crimes prosecutor.

Mukasey, a former federal judge, said he admired Jackson for his clarity of expression and thought.

"I said I had his picture hanging. His was one of two. The other was George Orwell, so put 'em together " Mukasey said without elaborating.

Asked what Mukasey saw in Orwell, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said it was his clarity. "When he was a judge, he assigned new law clerks George Orwell's 1946 essay 'Politics and the English Language.' It's one of the first things our speechwriter received as well," Carr said.

Orwell wrote in his essay, "Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

Jackson also had memorable sayings. "The price of freedom of religion, or of speech, or of the press, is that we must put up with a good deal of rubbish," he once wrote.

We all know about Orwell and his superior grave-spinning skills. Some fun quotes from Justice Jackson:

On Nazis -

We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.

We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.

That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason.

... to initiate a war of aggression... is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime. [statement of the Nuremburg Tribunal]

On other things -

Nothing in our Constitution is plainer than that declaration of a war is entrusted only to Congress. Of course, a state of war may in fact exist without a formal declaration. But no doctrine that the Court could promulgate would seem to me more sinister and alarming than that a President whose conduct of foreign affairs is so largely uncontrolled, and often even is unknown, can vastly enlarge his mastery over the internal affairs of the country by his own commitment of the Nation's armed forces to some foreign venture.

No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a President can escape control of executive powers by law through assuming his military role.

If we can cultivate in the world the idea that aggressive war-making is the way to the prisoner's dock rather than the way to honors, we will have accomplished something toward making the peace more secure.

It is not the function of the government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error.

Keith Olbermann over at Kos found Mukasey's decorating proclivities worrisome because it might indicate an admiration for Ingsoc. As though out of a desire to emulate Oceania, Mukasey was valorizing its creator. This is a bit far-fetched. In this case it is fair to take the man at his word. The words of the men on his wall are arranged prettily, what they mean is irrelevant. Of course this habit has its own sinister implications.

I think I'll throw up a photo of Leni Riefenstahl next to my desk. Her films had such style, such clarity of thought and expression.


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