Five Best Tuesday Columns

Kathryn Schulz on America's Gatsby obsession, Jillian Kay Melchior on the morning after pill, Sital Kalantry on the making of a pro-life movie, Ramesh Ponnuru on adoption politics, and Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers on what a flawed economic study teaches us.

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Kathryn Schulz at New York on America's Gatsby obsession Everyone has read The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel that gets its newest interpretation this Friday. But is the novel still any good? Gatsby "is the only book I have read so often despite failing—in the face of real effort and sincere ­intentions—to derive almost any pleasure at all from the experience," writes Kathryn Schulz, who continues: "I find Gatsby aesthetically overrated, psychologically vacant, and morally complacent; I think we kid ourselves about the lessons it contains." Fitzgerald fails to engage with any kind of moral complexity, she argues, referring to the novel's famous last line: "In the moral universe of The Great Gatsby, we are not all in the same boat. We are all up above it, watching—with prurient fascination, with pious opprobrium, watching and watching and doing nothing at all." Zachary M. Seward at Quartz took a different tack, arguing that we've forgotten what The Great Gatsby was actually about — "the hollow, rotting underbelly of class and capital in the early 1920s." He writes: "Many people seem enchanted enough by the decadence described in Fitzgerald’s book to ignore its fairly obvious message of condemnation. Gatsby parties can be found all over town. They are staples of spring on many Ivy League campuses and a frequent theme of galas in Manhattan. Just the other day, vacation rental startup Airbnb sent out invitations to a 'Gatsby-inspired soiree' at a multi-million-dollar home on Long Island, seemingly oblivious to the novel’s undertones. It’s like throwing a Lolita-themed children’s birthday party."

Jillian Kay Melchior at National Review on the morning after pill Weighing the ongoing controversy over the availability of emergency contraception, Jillian Kay Melchior sees an opening for Republicans struggling to explain the weight of government policy: "Republicans should push to improve women's access to birth control even further," she begins. "Why require a prescription? The federal government’s existing requirement isn’t about safety; it’s about controlling women’s health-care choices, forcing them to make annual visits to the gynecologist. ... The government wants you to see your doctor every year, and it holds contraceptives hostage to make sure you do." She adds, "If Republicans backed this effort ... it would carry not only social benefits but also political ones. ... By championing birth-control reform, Republicans could help women while emphasizing a critical point: Health care should be a matter of personal responsibility, not government control." Amanda Marcotte at RH Reality Check agrees, and hopes this imperative extends to regular birth control: "Trying to make birth control pills available OTC would set off a political firestorm that would make the emergency contraception wars look like mere skirmishes. Still, for women’s health, I believe that’s a fight that pro-choicers would be happy to have."

Sital Kalantry at Slate on the making of a pro-life movie Sital Kalantry investigates the popularity of It's a Girl, a 2012 documentary about sex-selective abortion in China and India, among both pro-choice and pro-life activists. "How did a movie linked to a pro-life group become the darling of the pro-choice community?" Kalantry wonders. "The story involves clever disguises on the part of financing sources that managed to hide their involvement and pass off a movie about the horrors of sex-selection abortions as just a sympathetic movie about the plight of women in India and China." But Kalantry detects a long-term strategy: "Pro-life groups have in recent years begun using the practice of sex-selective abortion—a practice that is rare in the United States—in foreign countries as an excuse for limiting women's access to abortion here at home." On Twitter, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat called Kalantry's piece "a fascinating document" in terms of "how sex selective abortion brings up moral intuitions that then need to be suppressed."

Ramesh Ponnuru at the American Enterprise Institute on adoption politics Addressing a recent essay by Esquire's Tom Junod about his adopted daughter, Ramesh Ponnuru considers how adoption factors into the gay marriage debate. "I think adoption is a wonderful thing and admire people who have adopted children. In this respect, I am, I think, like almost everyone else, including almost all opponents of same-sex marriage. Yet there is an important sense, is there not, in which adoptive families are not ideal?" Ponnuru asks. "Unlike the raising of children by biological parents, adoption is always a response to less-than-ideal circumstances, for example to the unreadiness, unfitness, or death of the biological parents. You do not have to have any desire to belittle adoptive parents to say that where such conditions do not exist we should not favor adoption. ... Junod and [gay marriage activist Walter] Olson have not discredited that concern of the opponents. With the best will in the world, as far as I can tell, they have illustrated it." Illustrator Chris Ware the The New Yorker picks up on a related idea: "Now that the numbers are in on same-sex marriage, many Republicans are falling like dominos all over themselves to express their support for something that only a few months ago they steadfastly claimed to stand against." He adds: "That same-sex marriage could go from its preliminary draft of 'diagnosable' to the final edit of 'so what?' must indicate some positive evolution on the part of the larger human consciousness."

Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers at Bloomberg View on what a flawed economics study teaches us The lessons of the flawed study on national debt by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff should not be forgotten, write Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. "There's only one reliable way to verify empirical findings: Try to replicate them," the pair says. "In the narrowest terms, this can mean taking the author’s data and checking their spreadsheets, as economists Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin did in their critique of Reinhart and Rogoff. At a broader level, replication can mean collecting new data, assessing their reliability and using them to subject a finding to fresh scrutiny." But this pays few meaningful dividends: "Replication rarely leads to career success. 'Ideas' people — those exciting scholars generating new insights into how society functions — are the stars of the profession. Those who do the grindingly difficult work of checking whether the stars' insights are actually true rarely get recognized. Who can name an economist who achieved fame through replication?" Lawrence Summers at Reuters assesses the fallout from a political point of view: "No important policy conclusion should ever be based solely on a single statistical result.  Policy judgments should be based on the accumulation of evidence from multiple studies done with differing methodological approaches. ... It is right and understandable that scholars want their findings to inform the policy debate. But they have an obligation to discourage and on occasion contradict those who would oversimplify and exaggerate their conclusions."

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