Five Best Wednesday Columns

On facial recognition, the big economic picture, Norway's children, and more

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Jo Nesbo on What Norway Lost  "Not even the brightest future can make up for the fact that no roads lead back to what came before--to the innocence of childhood or the first time we fell in love," writes novelist Jo Nesbo in The New York Times. Until Friday's bombing and shooting, Nesbo says, Norway seemed to him a peaceful place where everyone was cared for and political consensus reigned. He recounts a moment when he biked through Oslo with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. A passing car rolled down its window so that a little boy could shake the prime minister's hand, and Stoltenberg's bodyguards stood by smiling. "It's an image of safety and mutual trust," he recalls. "Of the ordinary, idyllic society that we all took for granted."Even in a nation that normally distrusts loud expressions of "national self-glorification," a Monday night gathering of 100,000 Norwegians struck him. "The gathering said that Norwegians refuse to let anyone take away our sense of security and trust. That we refuse to lose this battle against fear," he writes. "And yet there is no road back to the way it was before." On the train this week, he says for instance, he heard a man shouting angrily. Rather than look in curiosity is he might have before, he instead checked to see that his daughter was safe in case the man proved dangerous. Still, if this new fear never dissipates, Nesbo writes, Norwegians have nothing left but to be brave in the face of it, "to refuse to let fear change the way we build our society."

Alan Beattle on Dysfunctional Government  Europe and the United States have developed coinciding economic crises, notes Alan Beattle in the Financial Times. Each form of the governmental dysfunction which helped them along is distinct from the other, he suggests. "In Europe's case, the problem involves a somewhat successful model of policymaking being applied in an increasingly inappropriate environment." Meanwhile, there is "America's case, a political system purpose-built to force compromise is increasingly being run by politicians who make a virtue of intransigence," he writes. The increasing polarization of the parties, mixed with the Tea Party's inexperience forging compromise, "now risks putting someone's eye out." Beattle concludes that both Europe and the U.S. will likely escape these particular problems. "But these problems, and others like them, will recur--and Europe and the US will respond poorly as long as there are deep flaws in the structures of their governments that turn challenges into crises."

Eric Alterman on the Non-Revolt From Obama's Left  Senator Bernie Sanders suggested that President Obama is losing his base and would benefit from having to face a primary challenger to his left, writes Eric Alterman in The Daily Beast. "Sanders was undoubtedly correct when he explained that 'there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president, who believe that with regard to Social Security and other things, he said one thing as a candidate and is doing something very much else as a president, who cannot believe how weak he has been for whatever reason in negotiating with Republicans, and there's deep disappointment.'" Alterman notes that for various reasons, Hispanics, Jews, gays, women, and environmentalists are all upset with Obama. Added to this is the fury progressives feel over Obama's willingness to bargain away entitlement programs during the debt debate. But liberals fear the "crazy" Republican candidates and know that supporting a challenge from the left would be a bad idea, Alterman suggests. Indeed, Sanders will not run, nor will other potentials like Russ Feingold, so Alterman classifies this "primary challenge" coverage in the media as "yet another case, as Stephen Colbert put it in another context, of attempting to 'scoop reality' by 'pulling a news report completely out of your ass.'"

David Leonhardt's Final Column  Since David Leonhardt began covering the economy, much has gone wrong, from a dot-com bust to a "Great Recession," he writes in his final economics column for The New York Times before he moves to his new post as Washington bureau chief. Much of the adversity has been out of America's control, Leondhardt admits. "One major cause, however, is entirely our doing. We do not spend enough time focusing on our actual economic problems." Economics is an uncertain field, but there are concrete ways we can isolate certain truths about economics: a market economy with government involvement is the best system, increasing educational quality is essential, we have promised more entitlements than we can afford, and we spend more on health care than other countries with little benefit to show for it. He argues for these and several other "certainties." It "gets murkier" he says, however, when we attempt to solve these many problems. We cannot know whether raising taxes to increase revenue will slow growth significantly. "The real problem with so many of these issues is that the political system is not even trying to find solutions," he says. Leonhardt tries to be optimistic in believing that democracy is simply messy but that we as a nation have improved vastly from where we were decades ago. But he ends on a note of uncertainty: "It would be comforting to have a little more reason to believe that history was going to repeat itself," and that "Americans will do ... the right thing."

Ann Cavoukian Says Facial Recognition Need Not Violate Privacy  "It's possible to have both facial recognition and privacy," writes Ann Cavoukian in The Globe and Mail., touching on an issue now familiar to those following the Facebook privacy saga. Facial recognition technology is making it easier for us to have our facial identity used in ways that violate our privacy. The technology allows an image taken of you to be matched against one in a database, your passport photo for instance, to identify you. Improved high-resolution cameras in public places and software that can index and organized huge databases of photos have increased the potential for privacy-violating photo recognition. "The most serious is the linkage of your biometric template across multiple databases, for uses that were never intended. One's identity may now be routinely shared online by others, as well as one's personal profile and geo-location data." The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., however, provides a counter-example of a responsible way to use facial recognition. Using something called "biometric encryption," it binds your database entry to a cryptographic key, making it harder to share with other unintended users. The system compares people in the gaming facilities to voluntarily registered gamblers so they can be removed from the facility while passing over other visitors. "Not only is it possible to have facial recognition and privacy," Cavoukian writes, "it's now a reality--and it's a win/win strategy."

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