Five Best Thursday Columns

The Atlantic

Gail Collins in The New York Times on preschool promises It's difficult to argue against "high-quality preschool" for 4-year-old Americans, one of the promises that President Obama made in Tuesday's State of the Union Research, which he will take on the road in Georgia today. Research clearly shows that universal preschool can lower economic inequality and better prepare children for grade school. But as Gail Collins notes, the odds are against Obama's preschool promises. Efforts to legislate universal preschool into being have failed for more than four decades. In 1971, then-Senator Walter Mondale's preschool bill was vetoed by then-President Nixon. "Now, 42 years later, working parents of every economic level scramble madly to find quality programs for their preschoolers, while the waiting lines for poor families looking for subsidized programs stretch on into infinity," Collins writes, citing the blocking of universal preschool programs as a major victory for the new right. "The president proposes doing something for 4-year-olds. This is a great idea. Mondale is certainly enthusiastic. But still."

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Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic on Jonah Lehrer's profitable apology Apologies rarely pay well. But when you're a former famous tech writer apologizing for journalistic misconduct, apparently you have some bargaining power with the Knight Foundation. Jonah Lehrer gave a speech at a Knight Foundation event two days ago, and it was revealed shortly after that he received $20,000 for saying sorry. Isaac Chotiner argues that the sum isn't the only thing to get upset about here. "More important was what this going-through-the-motions routine elided: Lehrer's entire method was dishonest and lazy," he writes. "Rather than wondering whether or not Lehrer’s apology was suitably abject, commentators should have pondered the disturbing trends that made Lehrer such a phenomenon before his downfall. Or, to put it another way, there is something odd about a culture that becomes appropriately moralistic about lying but sees no problem with selling a book by saying, 'the color blue can help you double your creative output.'"

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Stan Chu Ilo at CNN.com on electing and African pope With Pope Benedict XVI abruptly retiring in the near future, the Catholic Church has a chance to demonstrate the diversity of its adherents by electing a non-European cleric into the papacy. Stan Chu Ilo — a religion professor at St Michael's College, University of Toronto — argues that the next  conclave of cardinals should consider drawing their new pope from Africa, a continent full of regions with thriving Catholicism. Ilo writes, "This way, the Catholic Church will become truly a household of God, where blacks and whites, saints and sinners, men and women, liberals and conservatives, rich and poor, gays and straights are all treated as equal children of God, without regard to rank or status." 

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Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times on Amazon's algorithms of love Forget Paris. The real cito of love is Knoxville, Tennessee — that is, if Amazon orders for rom-com DVDs, love song mp3s, and "sexual wellness products" are any indication. Valentine's Day has always been about consumerism, but Meghan Daum isn't so sure Amazon's algorithms capture true love. "Romance has always been hard to define," she writes. "But Amazon, clearly, has it figured out. We don't need actual romance in our lives to 'be romantic.' We need only be striving for romance, yearning for it, painfully noting its absence everywhere we go." 

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Jonathan Rue in The Guardian on what the U.S. owes its soldiers A new Esquire profile on the post-military fortunes of the Navy SEAL who pulled the fatal trigger on Osama bin Laden has raised questions about what the U.S. owes its veterans. According to the article, the shooter's marriage hit the skids while he was deployed, he sustained multiple injuries, and he now struggles with suicidal thoughts on top of meager employment opportunities. Jonathan Rue argues that U.S. soldiers deserve so much more after their service, and not just in terms of financial and medical support. He writes, "Maybe, we should start by showing a bit more thoughtfulness when making decisions of war and peace; considerably more diligence prosecuting the wars we've decided to wage; and demanding an efficient, comprehensive system of care for those veterans who return injured. Ensuring these things requires more than a war tax and a 'thanks for your service' nod. While throwing money at the problem may assuage our guilt, it won't solve the problem."

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