Five Best Monday Columns

James Surowiecki on unemployment, Norman Matloff on software engineering, Arthur Hunter Jr. on Arizona's immigration law, Ann Marlowe on the U.S. military's photo scandal, and Karl Ove Knausgaard on the Breivik trial.

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James Surowiecki in The New Yorker on unemployment More pressing than the fiscal crisis that dominates Washington is the unending unemployment crisis; there are still nearly 13 million unemployed Americans. "Unemployment doesn't hurt just the unemployed, though. It's bad for all of us," Surowiecki writes. Too much of the current unemployment is long-term, Surowiecki notes, and before long, that cyclical unemployment could turn into structural unemployment, meaning that when the economy returns to good health, the unemployment rate stays high. Structural unemployment results when the long-term unemployed never return to the job market, and the decreased productivity hurts us all. "You’d think that Congress and the Federal Reserve would be straining every sinew to avoid such a fate ... A long-term crisis, after a certain point, no longer seems like a crisis. It seems like the way things are."

Norman Matloff in Bloomberg View on the fate of software engineers Graduating college with a degree in software engineering often means good job opportunities and relatively high pay. But there's a downside. "[T]he profession has devolved in recent years to one lacking in longevity. Many programmers find that their employability starts to decline at about age 35," writes Matloff, a UC Davis professor. He describes causes for this. Employers, for instance, eventually dismiss aging engineers who either don't know the latest coding language or are too overqualified for entry level work. Aging engineers can sometimes graduate into manegerial roles, but there aren't enough of those to satisfy everyone. "If you choose a software-engineering career, just keep in mind that you could end up working for one of those lowly humanities majors someday."

Arthur Hunter Jr. in The Washington Post on Arizona's immigration law The Supreme Court hears arguments this week over Arizona's immigration law, which allows police to detain and question those suspected of lacking immigration documents. Several other states have similar measures. "I am a criminal court judge in Louisiana and a former police officer," writes Hunter. "I have seen firsthand the onerous burden placed on law enforcement and the judiciary when statutes like those enacted in Arizona and Louisiana criminalize a person’s inability to establish his or her immigration status upon demand." He uses anecdotes to show how admonitions or provisions banning racial profiling are impossible to enforce on the ground or to judge from the bench. "As the Supreme Court considers the constitutional questions raised in the Arizona case, the justices should not overlook the realities of day-to-day administration of criminal justice in U.S. trial courts.

Ann Marlowe in The Wall Street Journal on the U.S. military's photo scandal Last week, the Los Angeles Times published photos of U.S. soldiers posing for photos with the body parts of a dead Taliban suicide bomber. "By now, every bien-pensant commentator has weighed in with self-righteous indignation at this manufactured story. It symbolizes a breakdown in command, the effects of overly long and frequent overseas deployments. And somehow, although it took place two years earlier and under different senior leadership, it is of a piece with last month's alleged shooting spree by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales." Marlowe argues it was nothing more than a lapse in judgement, and one which Afghans themselves, generally opposed to suicide bombers, probably find less morally repugnant than we do. It was also part of a long tradition whereby men pysch themselves up for a gruesome duty. "Sometimes, men do dumb things. This is one of them, and not much more."

Karl Ove Knausgaard in The New York Times on the Breivik trial Knausgaard, the Norweigian novelist, reflects on his experience watching the trial of the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. "He has said that his acts are against human nature and that in order to overcome it, he has made use of various techniques. He severed all links to other people, he desensitized himself," Knausgaard writes. Knausgaard was initially angry that the trial would give Breivik a platform from which to promote his ideology. Why not just sentence him, as he's already admitted to the crimes? But Knausgaard has come to believe that the trial allows Norwegians to confront him with the reality of his actions. "His testimony, his ideas, his conception of the world will turn to nothing. Possibly, he will be able to resist even that, but the trial is for us, not for him."

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