Five Best Tuesday Columns

Jeffrey Goldberg on the TSA, George Packer on political journalism, Matthew Kaminski on Middle East democracy, Roger Cohen on employee burnout, and Dana Milbank on Rick Santorum.

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Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg View on the TSA's scanners The Marine Air Terminal in LaGuardia airport sends many flights to Washington D.C., but absent from it are the TSA's "Let's-Look-At- Passengers-Naked-While-They-Raise-Their-Hands-Like-We're- Mugging-Them Machines," writes Goldberg. "Why would the federal government not equip this particular terminal with its most advanced machinery?" He describes arguments for and against the machines, especially surrounding whether their radiation levels are safe and whether they really make us more secure than alternative methods. The machine's absence in LaGuardia undermines the TSA's argument that they are necessary for our security. The LaGuardia terminal doesn't have one, according to the TSA, because of "space constraints and checkpoint layout." Goldberg writes, "The government believes it is in possession of a technology so vital it is willing to dose its citizens with ionizing radiation, but a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks it still hasn't figured out a way to utilize this technology in one of America's most sensitive airline terminals."

George Packer in The New Yorker on Republicans and political journalism In a recent New York Times piece, Rick Santorum is quoted saying Barack Obama has engaged in "absolutely un-American activities," but the line isn't quoted in any other reports. This is notable because "this kind of gutter rhetoric is so routine in the Republican campaign that it's not worth a political journalist's time to point it out," writes Packer. He contrasts the criticism that met similar attacks on Obama during the 2008 campaign to the unblinking response we get now, and uses this to argue that political journalism can't do much any longer but "handicap the race." He says there is room and use for horserace coverage. "But political journalism—unlike war reporting—long ago stopped being about what is true or important."

Matthew Kaminski in The Wall Street Journal on Islamists and democracy Even as the Egyptian military continues to exhibit worrisome brutality, Western watchers worry about the rise of Islamist parties in elections there and elsewhere in the region. "[E]lections and new rulers aren't the primary threat to Egypt's stability or future. But certainly the election rout by Islamists frames the challenge ahead. Democracy's success depends in large measure on how Islam (and its self-styled political avatars) adapts to and coexists with pluralistic, free politics," Kaminski writes. He uses Turkey to argue that nations with freer politics that allow for religious parties tend to see those parties' influence decline as elections begin to be decided on the more secular issues of running the country. Islam can be interpreted to coexist with democracy. "This may also be the best chance for another overdue experiment to reconcile Islam with modern politics," he writes.

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on Rick Santorum In Iowa this week, Rick Santorum, only recently doing well in polls there, closed a speech with an odd and unexciting talk on cloture rules in the Senate. "It's not clear why Santorum thought his final pitch to Iowa voters should include a mention of century-old legislative procedure. More clear from the Polk City appearance ... is that he won't last long as a top-tier presidential candidate if he doesn't improve his game." Milbank uses his decades covering Santorum to note that once he's subjected to media scrutiny, his poll numbers will likely crash. That's because he tends to speak loosely even on topics he admittedly doesn't know much about, and Milbank uses several examples from his Iowa appearances to back this up. "At Santorum's first stop, in Polk City, the coffee shop's maximum occupancy was listed as 49, but at least 200 filled the room and 100 more spilled into the street ... Enjoy it, Senator. They won't be here for long."

Roger Cohen in The New York Times on Blackberries and burnout In Germany, Volkswagon has decided to turn off its e-mail server to employees' Blackberries after their shift ends and until it begins the next day. "It's a start in encouraging employees to switch off, curb the twitchy reflex to check e-mail every couple of minutes, and take a look out at things — like family and the big wide world — without the distraction of a blinking red light," Cohen writes. Worker burnout has become an issue in Germany and elsewhere, and Cohen notes that being connected can increase productivity but also hinder it by causing anxiety and exhaustion. He connects this to the peace he and his kids felt taking a break from connectedness in his father's isolated home over the holidays. "To each his own, but I know this: Nobody will ever lie on his or her deathbed and say: 'I should have kept my device on longer.'"

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