Five Best Thursday Columns

Michael Wolff on Facebook's IPO, Juliette Kayyem on women in combat, Howard Markel on influenza research, Fareed Zakaria on the post-American century, and Andy Kessler on the 'Like' button

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Michael Wolff in The Guardian on Facebook's IPO On Tuesday, Facebook filed its intent to sell shares to the public in one of the most anticipated tech IPOs in history. "I don't think that Facebook, with its messianic ambitions and squirrelly zeal, is actually ready for the harsh light of public company life," Wolff worries, writing hours before the Facebook IPO filing went public. "[I]t has grown up in such a bubble of cultishness and doctrine, that primetime scrutiny could shortly become very uncomfortable," he predicts. Where Mark Zuckerberg has typically been able to maintain his privacy, and Facebook has remained quiet in the face of minor scandals, the CEO will soon have to perform for shareholders and answer to them. He'll have to answer questions about regulation on the world stage, and the company's advertising strategy will likely need to be more short-term to satisfy shareholders. "This is the $100 billion-and-climbing vision, which now, in the public glare, will have to walk past cagey regulators, grumpy media, issue-hungry politicians, impatient shareholders and irritated customers."

Juliette Kayyem in The Boston Globe on women in combat American women have long fought in wars -- 130 have died in Afghanistan and Iraq -- though they are not officially assigned to combat positions thanks to the Pentagon's policy. "But if 2011 was the year of ending the 'don't ask, don't tell' prohibition, 2012 begins with hints about a significant policy transformation regarding women in combat," writes Kayyem. She describes the rules that have allowed women to move further and further "forward" on the battlefield without breaching the technical restrictions placed by long-standing military rules. She argues that modern warfare and its interaction with female civilians actually makes the presence of women important, and she describes signs that the Pentagon, in delaying its review on the current rules, is considering a big change. After African-Americans integrated into the military, "the military survived and became a model vehicle for blacks to break their proverbial glass ceiling. The lives of over 130 women suggest that theirs is broken already."

Howard Markel in The New York Times on censoring influenza research In December, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked scientific journals not to publish details in papers about a highly contagious influenza virus, for fear it could educate bio-terrorists. "The censorship of influenza research will do little to prevent its misuse by evildoers — and it may well hinder our ability to stop influenza outbreaks, whether natural or otherwise, when they do occur." Markel notes that the data from these particular papers has already been distributed at conferences, and much of it would be of questionable use to terrorists anyway. More threatening is a naturally occurring epidemic, and we don't have enough data yet to combat that. Markel says that post 9/11 measures have made some information so difficult to access, it hinders scientific advancement. "[W]e have reason to be concerned about any recommendations the federal government makes to censor science."

Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post on the post-American century Mitt Romney has often attacked President Obama for allegedly embracing a "post-American century." "I am optimistic about America, convinced that it can prosper in this new world and remain the most powerful country on the planet. But I argue that the age of American uni-polarity — which began with the collapse of the Soviet Union — has ended," writes Zakaria. He describes the state of countries like China, Brazil, and Turkey in 1990 and compares them to the significant gains they've made and will continue to make into the future. That's why Obama's foreign policy has embraced the Group of 20 as a decision making body, and he's emphasized alliances and multi-lateral actions. "You can call this new century whatever you like, but it won't change reality. After all, just because we call it the World Series doesn't make it one."

Andy Kessler in The Wall Street Journal on Facebook's 'Like' button Facebook's potential to advertisers is part of what drives its huge valuation. "As bizarre as this sounds, one of the most valuable innovations in technology over the last several decades is Facebook's 'Like' button.  ... It's because computing has evolved beyond just taking directions from humans—and instead is cozying up to us and sniffing out our emotions and intent," Kessler writes. He describes the potential for Google, Apple, or Amazon moving forward as the advertising and business world reinvents itself. But he argues that Facebook's ownership of peoples' feelings and preferences will make selective advertising within their domain the most attractive to companies. "My best advice to Facebook is to keep playing poker and betting big while Apple, Amazon and Google move around their chess pieces playing defense."

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