Five Best Friday Columns
Jamilah King on the cultural impact of stop-and-frisk, Jonathan Chait on revising George W. Bush's presidential legacy, Matt Buchanan on Twitter's problematic velocity, Alan Jacobs on the moral world of Girls, and Paul Krugman on the morality of austerity.
Jamilah King at The American Prospect on the cultural impact of stop-and-frisk How does the New York Police Department's controversial "stop-and-frisk" program alter a city's culture? "In most neighborhoods in America, it is not a crime to play basketball after dark. But in Brownsville, where a majority of the population is black, even the most innocuous activities can lead to run-ins with the cops," Jamilah King writes, referring to the Brooklyn neighborhood. The stop-and-frisk program changes the way people view police, King argues, along with the civic fabric of city life. "Black and Latino communities have long been suspicious of police, but the danger of the NYPD’s program is that it further engrains the idea that police officers are an occupying force instead of public servants who protect citizens." Jonathan P. Hicks at BET, discussing an ongoing trial concerning a class action lawsuit against the NYPD, assented: "The intention, police say, is to deter crime before it moves from contemplation to execution. In fact, it is indistinguishable from unabashed racial profiling. It has become painfully commonplace for young men of color to be stopped for doing nothing more than standing in front of a building, sitting in a park, walking to the subway from a rehearsal at school or from church, only to be detained by police, who rummage through their clothing and treat them with derision."
Jonathan Chait at New York on revising George W. Bush's presidential legacy "The Bush revisionist project has far more ambitious aims than to merely salvage a few specks of decency from the ruins," writes Jonathan Chait of this week's return to the spotlight for former President George W. Bush. "It aims for a wholesale restoration, both characterologically and substantively." Recounting Bush's policy achievements — two long wars, a series of deep tax cuts, Medicare Part D — in light of his intelligence and style of governance, Chait sees an eight-year error in American history: "The failures of Bush's governing method — the staffing of hacks and cronies, the disdain for evidence — was perfectly reflected in the outcomes. The Bush presidency was a full disaster at home and abroad, and whatever small accomplishments that can be salvaged barely rate any mention in comparison with the failures. The general reckoning of Bush is not too harsh. It is too kind." At the Wall Street Journal, however, Peggy Noonan thinks Bush nostalgia — as evidenced by his rising approval ratings — falls out of Obama's present unpopularity: "Mr. Bush has been modest, humorous, proud but unassuming, and essentially philosophical: History will decide. ... This felt like an antidote to Obama—to the imperious I, to the inability to execute, to the endless interviews and the imperturbable drone, to the sense that he is trying to teach us, like an Ivy League instructor taken aback by the backwardness of his students."
Matt Buchanan at The New Yorker on Twitter's problematic velocity Calling Twitter "the medium of the moment," Matt Buchanan explains how Twitter breaks news (in more than one sense): "Twitter's intrinsic, relentless driving of the new makes it the quintessential medium of breaking news, particularly combined with its capacity for spreading that news with breathtaking ease. ... By clicking "retweet," you can re-broadcast a tweet from somebody to all of your followers. A tweet, and the information it contains, can go viral in seconds. So can misinformation, as countless celebrities killed by Twitter can attest. And the mechanics of Twitter offer only awkward partial solutions to that problem." The solution to policing misinformation is unclear, but seems bound up in the way Twitter forces us to process things: "One of the ways we’re learning to deal with the trade-offs inherent to real-time streams is a burgeoning self-awareness of their potential to spread misinformation in half a heartbeat." Buchanan links to Wired's Mat Honan, who suggests adding the ability to edit tweets while preserving their prior content: "It's one way, and it possible. And it's increasingly obvious as time goes on that Twitter needs something like this if its to remain something we turn to when messy fast-moving events take place." As The Atlantic Wire's Rebecca Greenfield reported, that's not likely to happen.
Alan Jacobs in First Things on the moral world of Girls Where does Lena Dunham's sitcom Girls fall in the vast literature of morality? Having watched both seasons, the second of which ended in March, Alan Jacobs draws from the work of Jane Austen to inspect the relationship between Hannah and Adam, and the moral world they and the show occupy. He ends up prescribing: "What we need is not condemnation of Adam, or condemnation of Hannah for liking Adam, but better art and better stories—better fictional worlds ... Not the abolition of mythic sandboxes but the making of sandboxes in which to play with true, or truer, myths: fictive spaces in which Hannah can do better than Adam, and Adam can be better than what he is." All the same, Girls is Dunham's creation, and should heed her artistic vision, says Anita Felicelli at The Rumpus: "It's her fictional world and she should write it how she believes it should be written."
Paul Krugman in The New York Times on the morality of austerity Why did American elites — in particular policymakers — embrace an austerity agenda, despite discredited research supporting it and real-world events disproving it? "Part of the answer surely lies in the widespread desire to see economics as a morality play, to make it a tale of excess and its consequences. We lived beyond our means, the story goes, and now we’re paying the inevitable price," Paul Krugman explains. "Many people have a visceral sense that we sinned and must seek redemption through suffering — and neither economic argument nor the observation that the people now suffering aren't at all the same people who sinned during the bubble years makes much of a dent." It has to do with class, too: "The wealthy, by a large majority, regard deficits as the most important problem we face ... [and] favor cutting federal spending on health care and Social Security — that is, 'entitlements' — while the public at large actually wants to see spending on those programs rise. You get the idea: The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do." Next to Krugman's column appeared a defense from Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, the authors of a discredited paper Krugman mentions. The pair write: "The politically charged discussion, especially sharp in the past week or so, has falsely equated our finding of a negative association between debt and growth with an unambiguous call for austerity."