Five Best Wednesday Columns

Julia Ioffe on the Kiev protests, Dana Milbank on Obama's fundraising prowess, Noah Kristula-Green on The Lego MovieClive Crook on unfunny North Korea jokes, Thomas Friedman on MOOCs in the Middle East.

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Julia Ioffe at The New Republic on what the Kiev protests mean to Putin. “I will not explain to you what is happening in Kiev tonight other than to say that it is Vladimir Putin's worst nightmare. The last time that this many people came out to the Independence Square (the Maidan) in Kiev, nine years ago, protesters undid the election of Victor Yanukovich and brought to power a Western-friendly government. In the process, they scared the living daylights out of Putin. The reforms he began at the beginning of his term to limit electoral competition, sideline his critics, disable civil society, and atomize the population took on a renewed urgency,” Ioffe writes. “If it can happen in Kiev, in other words, it can happen in Moscow. Putin is tightening the screws, because this is what stability looks like and that, to Putin, by all accounts a man deeply traumatized by the chaotic, painful collapse of the Soviet Union, is worth any price. And the more unstable Ukraine gets, the tighter he'll turn them. Just you wait.” Kriszta Satori at the BBC tweets, “Honestly a must read!”

Dana Milbank at The Washington Post on Obama’s fundraising prowess. “If Obama is a toxic wingman for Democratic candidates, they desperately need his help fundraising. And they are grumbling that he hasn’t been willing enough to assist them. Even a marginally popular president remains a huge draw among party donors, but fundraising isn’t easily done from Brussels and Tokyo. After weeks of complaining to the White House, Democrats said last week that Obama had committed to doing at least 18 fundraisers this year: six each for House Democrats, Senate Democrats and other party committees,” Milbank writes. “There’s probably nothing that Obama could do in these midterm elections to match the conservative billionaires’ advantage. But at least giving it a try might prove more productive than his combination of foreign jaunts and unremarkable domestic speeches: at an electric equipment maker in Raleigh, N.C.; a gas engine plant in Waukesha, Wis.; a Costco in Lanham; and steel mills in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Then on Tuesday he was back in Maryland, at a Safeway distribution hub in Upper Marlboro 'where delivery trucks get everything from Doritos to diapers where they need to go.' It’s a worthy cause, no doubt. But diapers, Doritos and diesel won’t deliver Democrats from a drubbing in November.”

Noah Kristula-Green at The American Conservative on The Lego Movie. “In an environment where everything is politicized, it is pretty striking to see bipartisan and cross-ideological appropriation of The Lego Movie. To be sure, the film does play lip service to political tropes, but what really makes the film work is that it represents the highest form of capitalist expression: it is a commercial,” Good writes. He sees the film and Lego as an extension successful ads campaigns like Apple’s “1984” commercial and the “Dove Evolution” ad that deeply resonated with audiences for their perceived authenticity. “To the extent that the film does have a politics it is not a politics that is primarily about freedom and liberty, or capitalism and conformity, though those themes do play a part. It’s a politics of how, through the magic of plastic, families can be strengthened and fun can be had by all. At a time when our politics is wrestling with the question of how to achieve family stability and promote lives that have meaning when communities are weaker: that peon to domestic stability really does transcend political ideologies.” Josh Good of the American Enterprise Institute tweets, “Brilliant piece.”

Clive Crook at Bloomberg on unfunny North Korea jokes. “I've often thought that my finest moment in more than 20 years working for the Economist was a cover we ran on North Korea in June 2000. The editor was away that week, so what we did with the cover was my call. The hitherto reclusive Kim Jong Il had just appeared before the cameras, looking wonderfully absurd. Graeme James, the paper's (brilliant) art editor, showed me the photograph and said, 'Greetings, earthlings.' I don't know if Graeme intended it for the headline, but that was that. People still mention it to me unprompted as their favorite Economist cover. Yet reading the UN report on North Korean atrocities, I felt a small pang of shame,” Crook writes. “I think we can agree there's something funny about a chubby central planner with a perm, designer glasses and a romper suit, gravely accepting applause while his country sets the standard for economic failure. On the face of it, Kim Jong Il's pudgy offspring has similar comic potential. You don't make jokes about concentration camps and you don't make jokes about torture, I thought as I read the report. It was a memorable cover, but there's nothing funny about North Korea.”

Thomas Friedman at The New York Times on MOOCs in the Middle East. “Beginning March 2, Prof. Hossam Haick, will teach the first ever massive open online course, or MOOC, on nanotechnology in Arabic. What’s more interesting, though, he explained to me the other day over breakfast is some of the curious email he’s received from students registering for his MOOC from all over the Arab world. Their questions include: Are you a real person? Are you really an Arab, or are you an Israeli Jew speaking Arabic, pretending to be an Arab?” Friedman writes. “If you had any doubts about the hunger for education in the Middle East today, Haick’s MOOC will dispel them. So far, there are about 4,800 registrations for the Arabic version, including students from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and the West Bank. Iranians are signing up for the English version. Because the registration is through the Coursera MOOC website, some registrants initially don’t realize the course is being taught by an Israeli Arab scientist at the Technion, said Haick, and when they do, some professors and students 'unregister.' Haick says he always tells people, 'If the Middle East was like the Technion, we would already have peace.'"

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