Five Best Thursday Columns

Dana Milbank on kids being used in the gun debate, Fred Kaplan on Mali, Jonathan Mahler on Lance Armstrong, Slavoj Žižek on European elites, and Ricky Sekhon on playing bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty.

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Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on kids being used in the gun debate The moment we bring children into the gun debate is the moment we can no longer rationally talk about guns, Dana Milbank argues. And both the NRA and Obama are guilty of crossing that line, with the pro-gun organization calling out the President's daughters in a new ad and Obama quoting children in his emotional signing of 23 executive actions aimed at quelling gun violence. "Is it really necessary for both sides to put them on the front lines in this political fight?" Milbank asks. "There’s an argument to be made that the horrific nature of the carnage justifies reminding the public that children are vulnerable, but partisans on each side will only dig in deeper if they perceive that the other side is using kids as props."

Fred Kaplan in Slate on Mali Should we be concerned about the intervention in Mali? French President Francois Hollande has called for American back-up in the mission to stop Islamist rebels from taking more Western hostages and wreaking further terror in their drive towards the south. But would American participation bring about another intractable and unwinnable war on terror? Not necessarily, argues Fred Kaplan. But we'd have to follow the "Obama Doctrine" here, which means—yes—"leading from behind." Kaplan writes, "One lesson we should have learned in the last decade (and in much of the half-century before that) is that, in these sorts of cases, where we’re so in the dark, we should keep a low profile, if we get involved at all."

Jonathan Mahler in Bloomberg View on Lance Armstrong Now that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has admitted to doping, let's rev up the blame machine, says Jonathan Mahler. But not just for Armstrong—for all the journalists, athletes, and cycling regulators who helped cover up the obvious through willful ignorance or outright lies. And once we spread that blame evenly, let's have a serious talk about performance enhancing drugs in cycling. "There’s no point in vilifying the user without also asking why he became one," Mahler writes. Armstrong became one, Mahler argues, "Because we value winning above all else, and pay winners accordingly. Because we expect to see transcendent athletic performances with casual frequency. Because of the unrealistic physical demands of endurance sports ... The world’s most famous doper is finally on record and presumably ready to cooperate with authorities. Let the outrage end—and the sensible conversation begin."

Slavoj Žižek in The Guardian on European elites Slavoj Žižek has seen an archetype everyone hoped was long dead and gone re-emerging on the European scene—the pushy, plutocratic dictator. Leaders in countries like Slovenia are making unconstitutional decisions that strip citizens of their right to vote on a banking referendum because, Žižek argues, "The idea is that, in a complex economic situation like today's, the majority of the people are not qualified to decide—they are unaware of the catastrophic consequences that would ensue if their demands were to be met." That's why more populist protests are necessary in Europe, according to everyone's favorite manic, unkempt philosopher. "The protesters know very well what they don't know; they don't pretend to have fast and easy answers; but what their instinct is telling them is nonetheless true – that those in power also don't know it. In Europe today, the blind are leading the blind.

Ricky Sekhon in The New York Times on playing bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty Ricky Sekhon doesn't get much screen-time in Zero Dark Thirty. But he was very prepared for his brief appearance as Osama bin Laden. "If I had known that my nostrils’ poking out of a body bag would be the main feature of my performance ... it would have saved me eight weeks of heart palpitations," writes Sekhon, who makes some fascinating points about casting discrimination and the few roles offered to Asian actors. Sekhon's own resume is riddled with terrorist roles and bit parts. "I guess playing Bin Laden was a natural progression, a graduation through the ranks of terrorists ... But would I be prepared to play a universally despised emblem of evil again? I guess it would depend on how many lines I had."

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