Five Best Friday Columns

Héctor Carrillo on gay marriage in Brazil, Stephen L. Carter on the scope of the First Amendment, Melanie Springer Mock on the pitfalls of Christian adoption, Sarah Posner on Obama's 'Watergate', and Alexandra Petri on the manners of live theatre.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Héctor Carrillo at The New York Times on machismo in Brazil "Brazil is potentially poised to become the third and largest country in Latin America to legalize same-sex marriage," says Héctor Carrillo, referring to prior legislation in Argentina, Uruguay, and parts of Mexico. His question: "How can we reconcile these developments with the stereotype of Latin culture as a bastion of religiosity and machismo? How is it that the continent the Catholic Church looks to as its future (along with Africa) is home to what is said to be the largest gay-pride celebration in the world, in São Paulo, Brazil?" The answer comes down to culture, he argues: "These achievements were not inevitable; for decades the left, with ideological roots in class struggle, could be as patriarchal and homophobic as the capitalists and soldiers it condemned. So to understand why the politics changed, we must also look to society." He draws upon his work as an anthropologist in Mexico: "Women wanted to be recognized as sexual beings, with legitimate desires and the ability to pursue them. Men felt the old models of machismo were constraining, not empowering. ... This desire for individual autonomy — which in some ways lagged behind the sexual revolution in the United States — extended to gay and lesbian people." But vestiges of that same culture remain. As Grace Wyler at Business Insider points out, "Women who seek medical abortions in Brazil are also often subjected to sexual assault and humiliation. In Brazil's machismo culture, pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, and Barroso described scenarios in which women who purchased misoprostol were then harassed at the pharmacy, or forced to allow the pharmacist to vaginally insert the drug."

Stephen L. Carter at Bloomberg View on the scope of the First Amendment Stephen L. Carters weighs the nature of a proposed press shield law designed to protect journalists from revealing confidential sources. He's skeptical: "Consider a whistle-blower, A, who tells B of something nefarious going on at a hypothetical federal agency, which we’ll call the Internal Revenue Service. B in turn tells the world. Scandal ensues. ... The statute, as written, would permit the subpoena if B is, say, a blogger who obtains no income from her writing, or a wealthy philanthropist who distributes a newsletter but derives no income from it, or a law student using the information as the basis of a project to be published in her school’s law review. One cannot make a serious case that any one of these forms of publication contributes less to public debate and the public good than the coverage of the same news on television or in a newspaper." He continues: "The obvious argument therefore has to do with the chilling effect — that is, intimidating professional journalists is more dangerous to public debate than frightening bloggers or philanthropists or law students. This is a scary reading of the First Amendment, which does not on its face divide free speakers into different classes." The shield law received new support due to the Department of Justice's subpoena of Associated Press phone records. Jack Shafer at Reuters explains why the Obama administrations has been so keen to plug leaks: "It wasn’t the substance of the AP story that has exasperated the government but that the AP found a source or sources that spilled information about an ongoing intelligence operation and that even grander leaks might surge into the press corps’ rain barrels. ... A leak once sprung can turn into a gusher as the original leakers keep talking and new ones join them, or as the government attempts to explain itself, or as others in the government begin to speak out of turn."

Melanie Springer Mock at The Nation on the pitfalls of Christian adoption Melanie Springer Mock considers the Christian adoption movement, of which a foundational principle is the superiority of placing adopted children from foreign countries in Western, Christian homes. "Christians committed to justice and equity need to remember we are not entitled to other people’s children, no matter how poor or powerless those people might be; and many times the best possible place for a child to grow up is with his birth family, in his birth culture, even if that family—and culture—is poorer and less developed than ours," she writes. "Implicit in many [adoption] narratives is the belief that adoption into Christian homes saves children two ways: first, by giving them a better life, supportive parents, an education, and all the goods American prosperity can provide; and second, more significantly, by saving them from their presumed spiritual darkness and giving them a life in Christ." Which horrifies Mock, herself a mother of adopted children: "If I follow this line of thinking to its conclusion, my own two sons would have burned in hell, save that they were adopted by Christians, who are de facto often white and wealthy, who could take them to church, have them baptized, raise them up as believers. I reject this idea whole-heartedly, and I hope other Christians do to." The culture of adoption remains unforgiving in other ways too, says Nina Easton at The Washington Post: "Women routinely face family, friends and even health-care providers who think that adoption equals abandonment, according to researchers and conversations with birth mothers. ... This cultural bias infuses the guidance women receive. Just 1 percent of pregnant women who seek counseling, whether at a church-backed pregnancy crisis center or a clinic where abortions are performed, walk out with an adoption referral, according to the National Council for Adoption."

Sarah Posner at The Guardian on Obama's 'Watergate' "As a trio of scandals converged on the Obama administration this week, and congressional committees announced a series of hearings on the Internal Revenue Service, there have been attempts to compare the IRS and Benghazi controversies to Watergate," observes Sarah Posner. "But here's the critical fact: there's been no finding of criminal activity in the Obama administration, and the FBI's opening of a criminal investigation of the IRS should lay to rest accusations that the administration has failed to take the matter seriously. ... As Carl Bernstein, one of the reporters who broke the Watergate story, pointed out, there is no evidence the president ordered, much less knew about, the IRS scrutiny of conservative groups' tax-exempt applications. ... If this scandal prompts Congress to pass some meaningful reform of the tax and campaign finance laws, then it would, in that sense, be comparable to Watergate. But it appears far more likely to turn into a spectacle of political grandstanding – and, absurdly enough, opportunistic political fundraising." Peggy Noonan at The Wall Street Journal argues exactly the opposite: "We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. ... A president sets a mood, a tone. He establishes an atmosphere. If he is arrogant, arrogance spreads. If he is to too partisan, too disrespecting of political adversaries, that spreads too. Presidents always undo themselves and then blame it on the third guy in the last row in the sleepy agency across town."

Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post on the manners of live theatre How should one deal with distracting theatre patrons? Alexandra Petri takes stock of a recent column by National Review columnist Kevin D. Williamson, who admitted to grabbing and then throwing a distractor's cell phone across the room at a recent show in New York. "Who hasn’t wanted to do something along these lines?" Petri asks. "To take the offending cell phone and toss it away, not caring where it lands! What rapture! What bliss! Why not? The person clicking or buzzing or ringing in the far corner of your vision is not respecting certain basic principles of civility. Why should you?" She admits reluctance, though: "For most of us, this sort of dream stays in the realm of fantasy. Williamson might call it cowardice. I would call it politeness. The way to fight rudeness is not with vigilante rudeness of your own. But how much one wants to." Gothamist's John Del Signore, on the other hand, heaped praise on Williamson under the headline "Heroic Theatergoer Smashes Cell Phone, Gets Thrown Out," and offered to help raise money should Williamson face any criminal charges. "Kevin Williamson, you are indeed our Thoreau," Del Signore wrote. "And if you need help raising bail money, we'll totally start a Kickstarter for you, just like Emerson did."

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