Five Best Tuesday Columns

George Packer on the reach of Silicon Valley, Tim Shorrock on consolidating our spies, Leigh Alexander on the future of video games, Noreene Malone on Michael Bloomberg's composting plan, and Ramesh Ponnuru on the coming judgment of the Supreme Court.

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George Packer at The New Yorker on the reach of Silicon Valley Should we be as wary of Silicon Valley as we are of the National Security Agency? George Packer thinks so: "PRISM, for all its breathtaking reach and intrusiveness, is less creepy to me than all the trillions of bits of information that commercial companies have stored up on all of us," he writes, adding, "It's sinister when Big Brother is watching you, but it’s even more sinister when Big Brother is you, sharing. PRISM is designed to prevent terror attacks on Americans. Advertising algorithms are designed to increase Google's and Facebook's profits. Which involves more of a public benefit?" Laurie Penny at New Statesman counters that the impact of state surveillance is far more subtle: "It's far less trouble to modify your behavior so you don't ever say anything that might give the wrong impression. It's easier, in short, to behave," she argues. "Fighting for the basic privacy that our grandparents took for granted is exhausting, so, instead, we might change how we speak and act, subtly, without even knowing that we're doing it."

Tim Shorrock in The New York Times on consolidating our spies Tim Shorrock implores American spy agencies to shuck private contractors to ensure agency loyalty — and encourage better behavior among operatives. "If the N.S.A.'s mass surveillance programs are unlawful or unconstitutional ... does it make any difference whether the work is done by a government analyst or a private contractor?" he asks. The answer: "It is dangerous to have half a million people—the number of private contractors holding top-secret security clearances—peering into the lives of their fellow citizens. Contractors aren't part of the chain of command at the N.S.A. or other agencies and aren't subject to Congressional oversight. Officially, their only loyalty is to their company and its shareholders." It may be too soon to judge, however. Joshua Foust on Medium writes: "A common thread in the flurry of reporting around the NSA revelations was a seeming misunderstanding of the technology involved, leaving reporters susceptible to dubious claims they did not know how to verify."

Leigh Alexander at The New Inquiry on the future of video games What kind of games are we going to play in the coming decades? Leigh Alexander inspects the coming shifts in power and demographics that will shape the gaming market: "A significant portion of gaming’s founding fan base has quietly turned into grown-ups and parents, more hesitant than they might have once been to put war simulations and high-resolution breast physics in front of their colleagues and kids," she writes. It will be hard, she says, for the industry to adapt: "Risk-taking and creative innovation are receding amid a destructive feedback loop in which appealing to a niche audience becomes ever more critical the more that audience’s contribution to the bottom line shrinks. As a result, the games currently lining store shelves are increasingly impossible to distinguish from one another." Jordan Shapiro at Forbes takes a wider view, writing that games "offer an experiential lesson in cultural literacy. They teach us ways of thinking about right and wrong whether they mean to or not. In short, they function like mythology, folklore, and scripture. They shape our ways of thinking about the world."

Noreene Malone at The New Republic on Michael Bloomberg's composting plan Is composting conservative? Noreene Malone makes the case while discussing Bloomberg's ambitious plan to implement the practice in New York City: "Stereotypes aside, composting might just represent a move back to Bloomberg’s conservative roots. Consider, first of all, how much money a successful composting program might save the city over the long run. One estimate puts it at as much as $100 million per year in savings, surely something fiscal conservatives would cheer." She continues: "And then there's the cultural angle. It's no accident that the city's composting rollout began in Staten Island, the borough that is both the city’s most Republican, and its most suburban. Composting is a smelly business, tough for those who live in tiny New York City apartments to imagine." About those smells, writes Rebecca Hiscott at The New York Observer: "We're all for eco-friendly initiatives, but we’re really not enthused about the stench of day-old meals wafting through our shoebox-sized, un-air-conditioned apartment, thanks."

Ramesh Ponnuru at Bloomberg View on the coming judgment of the Supreme Court Ramesh Ponnuru predicts that nobody — in particular the most partisan — will be that happy when the Supreme Court soon rules on voting rights, gay marriage, and affirmative action. He offers a salve: "There are, of course, occasions when the court has the duty to overturn democratically enacted laws. In those instances, the court doesn’t disregard the public’s will. Rather it sets aside the public’s transient will, as expressed in a law, in favor of its durable will, as expressed in the Constitution." Be prepared for some surprises though, as evidenced by yesterday's voter-ID ruling. Emily Bazelon at Slate singles out Justice Antonin Scalia, who joined the majority opinion: "It's heartening to see seven justices [standing] behind a simple federal form for voter registration and tossed out Arizona's more burdensome alternative.  In other words, they made it easier for people to vote and sided with federal over state power. At his next Federalist Society event, Scalia will have some explaining to do."

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