Five Best Monday Columns
Heather Long on President's Day, Paul Krugman on speaking plain English, John A. Stevenson on the perils of ceasefire in South Sudan, Brian Beutler on Ted Cruz's latest effort to doom the GOP, Isaac Chotiner defends 'True Detective.'
Heather Long at the Guardian on President’s Day and U.S. holiday policies: “If you get today off, you're lucky. If you get it off with pay, you're even more fortunate. Some question why we have this holiday. President's Day seems like little more than an excuse for car and retail sales. Other than brush up on a bit of US history, which few people do, there's nothing you should be doing today. There are no BBQs and fireworks like Independence Day or solemn events as on Memorial and Veterans days or the "day of service and action" that Martin Luther King Day has become. Today was supposed to honor America's first president, George Washington, but even that has eroded away. Most people now call it President's Day and view it as a celebration of all American presidents (or, at least, the more popular ones from the past),” Long writes. “It's another example of the dividing line between the haves and have nots in America. There are those who get today off – with pay – who have both the time and money to go out and buy new clothes, gadgets and cars. And then there are those who have to work today (and most other holidays), often serving those on vacation.” Long illustrates the ingrained culture of excessive work ethic with a ludicrous commercial from Cadillac that declares: “Other countries, they work, they stroll home. They stop by the café. They take August off. OFF. Why aren't you like that? Why aren't we like that? … Because we're crazy driven, hard workin' believers, that's why.”
Paul Krugman at The New York Times on speaking plain English : “In my field there is indeed a problem with abstruseness, with the many academics who never even try to put their thoughts in plain language. And what is the nature of that problem? It’s not that laypeople don’t understand what the academics are saying. It is, instead, that the academics themselves don’t understand what they’re saying,” Krugman writes, after Nicholas Kristof’s column on the sometimes cloistered and unintelligible realm of political scientists was criticized. "But it’s really important to step away from the math and drop the jargon every once in a while, and not just as a public service. Trying to explain what you’re doing intuitively isn’t just for the proles; it’s an important way to check on yourself, to be sure that your story is at least halfway plausible. Math is good. Sometimes jargon is good, too. But plain language and simple intuition are important to keep you grounded.”
John A. Stevenson at Slate on the perils of ceasefire in South Sudan: “In late January, the two sides participated in peace talks mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African regional bloc, and signed a cease-fire. But since then the fighting has intensified. Forces allied with the South Sudanese government have been on the rampage while rebel forces have responded with attacks on military targets. New talks are scheduled to begin on Friday in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. I have bad news and worse news. The bad news first: These talks will likely fail, and the belligerents will continue to kill and displace civilians in large numbers. And the worst news: The cease-fire is making it worse. Indeed, this uncomfortable truth isn’t even unique to South Sudan. Cease-fires almost always make a conflict worse, delaying political deals, prolonging the killing, and ensuring that the fighting continues long after it has begun,” Stevenson writes; ceasefires are just pauses that do nothing to stop the root causes of violence against civilians. “The killing and destruction in South Sudan is horrible. But the international community shouldn’t invest efforts in processes that make the killing worse when there are easy and inexpensive ways to save lives by keeping power permanently out of reach of murderous governments.”
Brian Beutler at Salon on Ted Cruz’s latest effort to doom the GOP: “He didn’t shut down the government, or talk himself hoarse on the Senate floor. But he did spoil his leadership’s plan to let Senate Democrats increase the debt limit on their own without implicating any individual Republicans — including the highest-ranking Republican, who just happens to be in the midst of an unexpectedly tough election,” Beutler writes. Republicans wanted to not filibuster a bill, but Cruz refused to give his consent as the bill went to final passage, causing another confrontation for the GOP, and prompting Sen. John McCain to tweet a critical article of Cruz. “Establishment Republicans want to get the debt limit behind them quietly now because they know Obama won’t surrender to their demands, and they don’t want to spoil their opportunity to control the Senate by picking another economically damaging fight right now. For very different reasons, Cruz wants that fight right now — or at least he wants to be seen as the Republican who’s most willing to pick it.”
Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic defends ‘True Detective’: “I think the show is the most compelling and striking thing I have seen on television since 'The Wire' and 'The Sopranos' stopped airing new episodes. The direction is startlingly good—each episode has a few shots that take the viewer's breath away—and outside of David Fincher's best movies, I can't recall any show or movie so creepily atmospheric and so filled with foreboding. But back to the criticisms. The most common one appears to be that McConaughey's character spouts mouthfuls of bad dialogue. Rust is clearly on the edge—he has lost a daughter, and his police career has been filled with hardship—and consequently he is borderline insane, prone to ruminating on existence and faith and, yes, the meaning of life,” Chotiner writes. “I suppose I could be wrong, and that the minds behind the show really think this is deep stuff. Or that this—“Mankind should walk hand-in-hand to extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal"—acutely captures the human condition. But more likely, they intended to create a character who is both smart and crazy, often wise and frequently disturbed. They have succeeded.”