5 Best Sunday Columns

A deteriorating Afghanistan, a human rights hero in China, a quiz on religion and more...

This article is from the archive of our partner .
  • Philip Howard on Our Over-Lawyered Society  The New York Daily News contributor focuses on the legal obstacles confronting doctors, teachers and government officials:

Schools are bureaucratic viper pits. Mandates from Washington, from state capitals and from aggressive local districts transform teachers into pedagogical drones. Because of fear of lawsuits, they're told never to put an arm around a crying child. Good teachers quit, surveys show, because they don't feel free to do what's right, or indeed, even to be themselves.

Government itself is choking on accumulated law. The simplest choices take years to grind through labyrinthian requirements mandated by obsolete laws. Good public management takes superman, because accountability is nonexistent. Firing an insubordinate civil servant is even harder than firing a teacher.

  • David Ignatius on the Dire State of Afghanistan  The Washington Post columnist reviews a sobering and pessimistic White House review of the war effort:

What's notable about the new White House report on Afghanistan and Pakistan sent to Congress this week is its bleak assessment of the security picture. You could almost read President Obama between the lines warning the military: This strategy isn't working the way we hoped. Don't ask me for more troops.

The bleakest area of all was governance. The performance of President Hamid Karzai's government was judged "unsatisfactory" throughout the first half of the year. Indeed, public perceptions seemed to be worsening, with fewer people saying in June than in March that the government is moving "in the right direction" and more (still a minority) saying a return to power by the Taliban would be good. Public confidence in Karzai's actions against corruption fell, from 21.5 percent in March to 16.5 percent in June.

  • The Wall Street Journal on China's Human Rights Crusader  The editorial board predicts that China's Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo will someday be a source of national pride:

It's a point of frustration in China that despite the country's many brilliant scientists, economists, writers and philosophers, not one Chinese has won a Nobel Prize for work done in their country. That changed yesterday when the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. He is still working in China—by serving an 11-year sentence for daring to call for democracy and civil liberties. This recognition of his courage and integrity will one day be a source of pride for all Chinese.

  • Maureen Dowd on The Social Network's Message  The New York Times columnist explores the film's message about social status and class resentment:

It unfolds with mythic sweep, telling the most compelling story of all, the one I cover every day in politics: What happens when the powerless become powerful and the powerful become powerless?

This is a drama about quarrels over riches, social hierarchy, envy, theft and the consequence of deceit — a world upended where the vassals suddenly become lords and the lords suddenly lose their magic.

  • Nick Kristof's Religion Quiz  In an effort to humble people who excoriate the religion of others, The New York Times columnist, quizes his readers on the holy texts of the great religions:

The New York Times reported recently on a Pew Research Center poll in which religious people turned out to be remarkably uninformed about religion. Almost half of Catholics didn’t understand Communion. Most Protestants didn’t know that Martin Luther started the Reformation. Almost half of Jews didn’t realize Maimonides was Jewish. And atheists were among the best informed about religion.

So let me give everybody another chance. And given the uproar about Islam, I’ll focus on extremism and fundamentalism — and, as you’ll see, there’s a larger point to this quiz. Note that some questions have more than one correct choice; answers are at the end.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.