Five Best Wednesday Columns

Blake Zeff on the real Anthony Weiner, Thomas L. Friedman on mediocrity, Amy Davidson on the hunger strike at Guantanamo, Jonathan Chait on opinion journalism, and Helena Fitzgerald on teenagers' online lives.

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Blake Zeff at Salon on the real Anthony Weiner What kind of politician — moderate, liberal, or something else — is former Congressman Anthony Weiner? As Weiner continues his comeback tour in a run for New York City mayor, Blake Zeff observes a man who straddled two identities, a moderate "outer-borough" politician and a crowd-pleasing liberal on TV. But after being ousted from office after a sexting scandal — and aiming at the mayorship — he'll need to shift strategy: "The inability to change his image, chameleon-like, hour to hour, and please everyone means mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner may have to decide who, once and for all, he is. First, he was a working class moderate. Then he was a working class moderate while also a liberal darling. Now he’s a corporate advisor, with clients like law firms and biofuel firms ... What will the next formulation of Anthony Weiner be? Like many politicians, the answer is probably: whatever it takes to win." Capital New York's Josh Benson senses an opening, too: "Maybe the fact that [Weiner's] comeback has been such a circus actually works for him in that, as long as the story is about his personal search for redemption, he doesn't have get bogged down in the policy details."

Thomas L. Friedman at The New York Times on mediocrity Thomas L. Friedman weighs the costs of ever-expanding technology, which "empowers individuals to access learning, retrain, engage in commerce, seek or advertise a job, invent, invest and crowd source — all online." But it comes with significant caveats, Friedman writes, especially for those who can't keep up: "If you are self-motivated, wow, this world is tailored for you. The boundaries are all gone. But if you’re not self-motivated, this world will be a challenge because the walls, ceilings and floors that protected people are also disappearing. ... Government will do less for you. Companies will do less for you. Unions can do less for you. ... We’re entering a world that increasingly rewards individual aspiration and persistence and can measure precisely who is contributing and who is not." Some felt Friedman's verbiage crowded a legitimate argument. "[Friedman] whips up a mean word salad," Rolling Stone editor Tim Dickinson commented. But others, like Slate's Matthew Yglesias, appreciated his metaphor of a "401(k) world," in which there are no guarantees. Meanwhile, Salon's Alex Pareene wondered if the Times, using Friedman, was trying to stir rage over this new order: "Maybe Thomas Friedman does have an editor but the editor is just quietly and patiently trying to incite the revolution."

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker on the hunger strike at Guantanamo Which detainees at Guantanamo Bay are starving themselves — and thus being force-fed liquified food? Amy Davidson does the math: "A hundred prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike at Guantánamo now—a hundred angry men, or ones who are in a state of despair. There may be more, since that is the military’s count, and the lawyers for the prisoners have been saying for some time that the number is higher. There are not, it should be said, a hundred prisoners at Guantánamo who even the United States government considers dangerous enemy combatants; that means it’s a mathematical necessity that there are hunger-strikers who shouldn’t be there, either. ... One doesn’t need to do the math to know that some of the prisoners trying to kill themselves are not enemy combatants, or suspected terrorists, or militants, or any of the phrases we turn to when we are scared and give up on courts." Joe Nocera at The New York Times adds: "Are there terrorists at Guantánamo? Yes. The government knows who they are and keeps them away from the other detainees. But the hunger strike is a vivid reminder that Guantánamo remains exactly what it has always been: a stain on our country."

Jonathan Chait at New York on opinion journalism Responding to David Brooks's Tuesday column in The New York Times on the two paths of political writing — detachment or engagement — Jonathan Chait laments: "It's a shame Brooks has done such an injustice to the topic, since the question of standards for opinion journalism is a pretty important and underexplored one. Straight news reporters tend to lump opinion writing of all forms into the same bin — punditry, essays, agitprop — and to therefore shy away from holding it to any defined standard." Chait continues: "But opinion journalism is a form of journalism, and it ought to have its own standards." (He then lists his own, beginning with intellectual consistency.) Brooks's column received bipartisan rebuke. Writing at The Wall Street Journal, James Taranto says: "Brooks is setting up a false dichotomy. Given sufficient talent, it's possible for a writer to be either analytical or passionate depending on the subject matter, or to be both at once."

Helena Fitzgerald at The New Inquiry on teenagers' online lives Delving into the #followateen phenomenon, in which working-age adults follow the tweets of, but do not interact with, teenagers on Twitter, Helena Fitzgerald finds a clear window into the adolescent world: "In a teen's experience, everything is a crisis — school, clothes, parents, cars, prom, shoes, backpacks, homework. Every tiny thing is crucial and worth crying about – or, in this case, worth tweeting about. Teens are the ideal tweeters because they are never happy and always interesting." In that sense, "follow" takes on a strong connotation, Fitzgerald writes: "What #followateen admits is not that teenagers’ lives are smaller than our own, but that teenagers are the only ones who are doing the internet right. The social internet is determined by teenagers. Our use of the medium, and all of its memes and codes and approved and appropriated and habituated constructions and formal devices are all adapted from the language of teenagers using the internet." #Followateen's inventor, David Thorp, provided a different interpretation to BuzzFeed: "If you get below the surface, Twitter is like 99% teens who are mad at their moms ... it's just about tuning in to the weird secret worldwide teenosphere and seeing what's up with today's youth."

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