Five Best Thursday Columns
Michael Moynihan on the road to 1984, David Remnick on James Gandolfini's iconic role, Maria Arana on the new Pope's arrival in Brazil, Natasha Kumar Warikoo on the role of affirmative action, and Nick Hanauer on hiking the minimum wage.
Michael Moynihan in Newsweek on the road to 1984 Are we living in the dystopian future depicted in George Orwell's novel? After tracking recent warnings, Michael Moynihan forges a standard. "The rule here is simple: If you are invoking 1984 in a country in which 1984 is available for purchase and can be freely deployed as a rhetorical device, you likely don’t understand the point of 1984." He continues: "We are engaged in a robust debate around Snowden’s disclosures, as newspapers fearlessly publish more top-secret documents purloined from the NSA. Which can only mean that, whatever our imperfections, we aren’t living in 1984." Which isn't to say that Orwell is irrelevant, as Morten Høi Jensen at Salon notes: "When NSA director James Clapper said he'd responded 'in the least untruthful way' to Congress in March by telling them that the NSA does not intentionally collect any data of American citizens, Orwell's famous definition of political language — that it is 'designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind' — seemed particularly apt."
David Remnick at The New Yorker on James Gandolfini's iconic role The actor James Gandolfini, who died in Italy on Wednesday of a heart attack, was Tony Soprano, says David Remnick in one of many remembrances today, referring to Gandolfini's force in the HBO series The Sopranos. "Gandolfini was not a fantastically varied actor. He played within a certain range. Like Jackie Gleason, he’ll be remembered for a particular role, and a particular kind of role, but there is no underestimating his devotion to the part of a lifetime that was given to him," he writes. "In the dozens of hours he had on the screen, he made Tony Soprano—lovable, repulsive, cunning, ignorant, brutal—more ruthlessly alive than any character we’ve ever encountered in television." Kate Aurthur at BuzzFeed adds: "As Tony Soprano, Gandolfini seemed to act with every cell in his body. He talked out of the corner of his mouth. ... Gandolfini recessed the slightly metallic tone of his normal voice in favor of a thug who said 'deese' and 'dose' and dropped his gs in gerunds. Even with his breathing he made Tony into a corporeal human being."
Maria Arana in The New York Times on the new Pope's arrival in Brazil What kind of pontiff will Pope Francis be in South America? Maria Arana considers his upcoming trip to Brazil, where Catholicism, though slowly eroding in power, remains the dominant religion: "For all the guesswork about the pope’s Sphinx-like comments about a 'gay lobby,' or his elliptical suggestion that priestly celibacy could change, Latin Americans expect concrete outcomes from their pontiff: a revival of concern for the poor; a renewed effort to rebuild the church, as St. Francis was called to do; a rejection of the blind pursuit of profit that the pope argues has scarred the human spirit." She adds: "As the late Rev. Edward L. Cleary, an American specialist in Latin American politics, put it, 'the future of the Catholic Church lies south of the border.' It is counting on Latin America to save its soul." Eric J. Lyman in USA Today documents a certain impatience, however: "One-hundred days after Francis became the first non-European pope since the eighth century, the main difference between him and his European predecessors has more to do with style than concrete action."
Natasha Kumar Warikoo in the Los Angeles Times on the role of affirmative action Natasha Kumar Warikoo considers the difference between British and American universities in terms of remedying social structures. "Since long before Abigail Fisher was born, university admissions policies in the United States have been highly subjective, responding to the desires and needs of society and the academic institution itself. Race-based affirmative action is a part of the picture, and it symbolizes a deep commitment on the part of colleges and universities to the pursuit of racial justice in a country plagued by extreme racial inequality." Across the pond, however, students at schools like Oxford "feel that the university is not responsible for making British society equal." John Cassidy at The New Yorker, meanwhile, considers affirmative action less of antidote and more a positive action, "to make real the vision of a society in which rewards are based on effort and talent, rather than family connections. And that, surely, should be something that even some conservatives could sign onto."
Nick Hanauer at Bloomberg View on hiking the minimum wage It's time to raise the minimum wage, says Nick Hanauer — to $15 per hour. "True, that sounds like a lot. When President Barack Obama called in February for an increase to $9 an hour from $7.25, he was accused of being a dangerous redistributionist. Yet consider this: If the minimum wage had simply tracked U.S. productivity gains since 1968, it would be $21.72 an hour — three times what it is now." He emphasizes the potential tax benefits from curtailing the social safety net: "No one earning the current minimum wage of about $15,000 per year can aspire to live decently, much less raise a family. As a result, almost all workers subsisting on those low earnings need panoply of taxpayer-supported benefits, including the earned income tax credit, food stamps, Medicaid or housing subsidies." Felix Salmon at Reuters cheers Hanauer's arguments: "The minimum-wage intervention would kill a lot of birds with one stone: it's a win-win-win-win-win-win. ... This is the particular genius of Hanauer's suggestion: it's especially effective right now, and we’re at the perfect point in the economic cycle to implement it."