Five Best Friday Columns

On the ideology of a shutdown, Kabbalah's pop appeal, and Bob Dylan in China

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The New York Times on Why Republicans Are Really Holding Out  The impending government shutdown will be not be the result of a spending holdout but an ideological one, The New York Times editorial board argues. Really, it comes down to abortion and the environment. Republicans, pushed by the Tea Party, insist on cutting funding for Planned Parenthood, abortion services in D.C., "foreign aid to countries that might use the money for abortions or family planning," EPA greenhouse gas curbing efforts, and health care reform. Their insistence on these demands, the editors point out, "has the power to wreak national havoc: furloughing 800,000 federal workers, suspending paychecks for soldiers and punishing millions of Americans who will have to wait for tax refunds, Social Security applications, small-business loans, and even most city services in Washington." The Times doesn't want Democrats to "give in to this policy extortion": Democrats have already given in too much on spending. "There are a few hours left to stop this dangerous game, and for the Republicans to start doing their job, which, if they've forgotten, is to serve the American people."

Olivia Golden on Strategies to Keep Kids Safe  Olivia Golden, former director of the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency, points out in The New York Times that the anger over the death of a 4-year-old Brooklyn girl "who was beaten, malnourished and tied to a bed," is the perfect catalyst for real child welfare reform. She argues that the strategies other institutions, such as airlines and hospitals, use to prevent deaths can help create an effective child welfare system. Among the initiatives Golden thinks child safety programs should adopt are: the idea that blaming individuals instead of the larger system can be counterproductive; the creation of a national commission "to review deaths and serious injuries to children from abuse and neglect" and analyze them instead of dealing with single cases; and getting employees to "share information without fear" by assuring them that they will not be punished for speaking out. "That way Marchella’s death will not become just another example of the cycle of outrage and failure."

Evan Goldstein on Kabbalah's Pop Appeal  In today's Wall Street Journal, Evan Goldstein spotlights Kabbalah: an ancient "stream of Jewish mysticism" that has been "commodified," not unlike Scientology, into a hardly-religious "blend of kabbalistic ideas with astrology, secular science and a large dose of pop psychology," made popular by big celebrity followers and donors such as Madonna. Kabbalah's sacred text, "the Zohar, has at times been regarded as a dangerous book, its contents restricted to an elite of learned and married Jewish men over 40 who commit themselves to an ascetic lifestyle," Goldstein notes, pointing out the difference between Kabbalah's historical role in Judaism and how it is used today. The American family that created celebrity-filled The Kabbalah Centre, on the other hand, "lives lavishly--Beverly Hills mansions, luxury cars, first-class travel--all of it bankrolled by the Centre."

Lucy Jones on Earthquake Readiness in California  Seismologist Lucy Jones urges California's need to take a few hints from Chile, New Zealand and Japan--countries that have avoided significant numbers of deaths in recent serious earthquakes because they were prepared. For example, a Chilean law "that holds the original owner of a building liable for any earthquake damage is suffers during the first 10 years after it is built, even if ownership changes during that time," gives building owners a strong incentive to go above the minimum requirements and make high-quality, safe buildings. Also, she argues, people who live in cities that are susceptible to earthquakes need to be educated on what to do, like getting high above ground after the shaking stops in case there is a tsunami, or ducking inside a building rather than running outside. Though California is working on on an "automated seismic recording system" like the one that warned Tokyo its recent earthquake was coming, implementation is stalled because of a lack of funding. "In the end, knowledge empowers us," she insists.

William Langley on Taking Bob Dylan for What He Is: Musician and Businessman  The Telegraph's William Langley offers a counterargument to both Bob Dylan's detractors and those fans who are disillusioned by what the 69-year-old song writer's career has become. Most lately his authenticity has been called into question for accepting a deal from the Chinese authorities to offer somewhat defanged performances in the country. Though it was his lyrics that earned him lasting fame, Langley points out that, "It was his followers who made him a saint, when all he wanted to do was sing in the choir." Langley argues that Dylan's deal with the Chinese shouldn't be overanalyzed, like his songs, because it's just business. "Bob didn't want to lose the gig, and his hosts didn’t want to lose the kudos of having him. The deal they struck was surprisingly rock ’n’ roll. And nothing’s more Dylan than that."

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