Five Best Friday Columns

Jonathan Chait on Barack Obama and the culture of poverty, Alissa Nutting on the the necessity of a sun lamp during an endless winter, Martin Linton on the man who could become Palestine's Nelson Mandela, Jamelle Bouie on Paul Ryan's non-existent "racist bones," Felix Salmon takes a stance against beautiful journalism. 

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Jonathan Chait at New York on Barack Obama and the culture of poverty. “Four years ago, Ta Nehisi-Coates wrote one of the most important and memorable essays I’ve ever read. In it, Coates described a horrifying episode from an early, ascendant moment in his career, when, in the course of a heated argument with another journalist, he threatened to assault him and very nearly carried through. When the imprint of this culture was nearly strong enough to derail the career of a writer as brilliant as Coates, we are talking about a powerful force, indeed,” Chait writes. “Coates initially made the provocative claim that Barack Obama’s views about the relationship between culture and poverty are not only wrong but essentially identical to those of Paul Ryan. In his follow-up, he concedes that they are not identical, but maintains nonetheless that they are wrong.”

Alissa Nutting at The New York Times on the necessity of a sun lamp during an endless winter. “My psychiatrist is a fan of “happy lamps,” lamps that use full-spectrum bulbs to treat wintertime seasonal depression. Opening his office door is like entering a scene in “Poltergeist”: I’m blinded by a powerful glow that emanates from every direction. It feels as if it’s been winter forever, and the forecast is for more of the same. Basically, I want some of whatever he’s on, pronto,” Nutting writes. “My expectations were high. I wanted to get wasted on light. Instead, I felt a mild increase in alertness that was perhaps conducive to productivity. The effect was entirely reasonable and moderate, which was kind of a pity. That may have been enough to get me through the winter, but I couldn’t be happier to cram it back in its box for the spring.”

Martin Linton at the Guardian on the man who could become Palestine’s Nelson Mandela. “The death of Nelson Mandela reminds us that often the first step towards the resolution of a conflict is the release from prison of a national leader who has the authority to unite, negotiate and resolve. Marwan Barghouti has been in jail since 15 April 2002 when Israeli security agents, posing as ambulance workers, seized him in broad daylight and took him to Israel. Despite nearly 12 years behind bars, Barghouti remains the most popular politician in Palestine,” Linton writes. “An international campaign has been launched to free Barghouti and the 4,227 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. It is supported by every party in the Palestinian parliament, with Fatah and Hamas united for once.”

Jamelle Bouie at Slate on Paul Ryan’s non-existent “racist bones.” “On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan took to the O’Reilly Factor to tell the world he isn’t a racist. The question is: Does anyone have a racist bone in his body?” Jamelle writes, listing Republican Sen. Bob Dole and TV “personality” Jesse James as people who do claim not to, but do seem to in fact, possess a racist bone. “The only reason to say “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” is to change the subject: from what someone said or did to who he is. Indeed, when it comes to race, it’s much easier for people to talk about their boundless tolerance than it is to own up to their actions.”

Felix Salmon at Reuters takes a stance against beautiful journalism. “The stripped-down, minimal approach to page design has its place — but most of that time, that place isn’t for news stories, which by their nature are mostly snack-sized things written on deadline and designed to be consumed quickly and easily, rather than long meals designed to be slowly savored,” Salmon writes. “Today, when you read a story at the New Republic, or Medium, or any of a thousand other sites, it looks great; every story looks great. The result is a cognitive disconnect: why is the website design telling me that this short blog post is incredibly important, when in reality it’s just a blockquote and a single line of snark?”

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