5 Best Wednesday Columns

On genetically modified foods, Jeopardy-playing computers, and private police forces

This article is from the archive of our partner .
  • Mark Bittman on the Right to Know What You're Eating  At The New York Times today, Mark Bittman demands that GMO's (genetically modified organisms) be listed on food labels alongside other ingredients such as sugar and MSG. Most people would probably avoid foods containing GMO's if they were aware of their presence, he argues, and should therefore be informed when foods contain them. Bittman notes certain genetically engineered foods are already USDA approved and their popularity is growing. Yet the USDA and the FDA refuse to recognize that genetically engineered foods and different from other foods, presumably because advertising the difference will interfere with the sale of these products. In Europe, on the other hand, importing genetically engineered foods is banned and more than 0.9 percent GMO in a food requires a label. Bittman is suspicious of the testing process for certain genetically engineered foods and what happens when a GMO crossbreeds with a conventional organism or eaten by an organic animal. He concludes that Americans shouldn't forced to be the "guinea pigs" in the GMO experiment and that "without labeling, we have no say in the matter whatsoever."
  • Condleeza Rice on U.S.'s Part in the New Egypt  Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice shares her take on the situation in Egypt in today's Washington Post. She recounts that in 2005, while she was secretary of state, it seemed Egypt was moving ever so slightly towards some kind of political freedom, but it wasn't long after the supposedly "free" elections that Mubarak showed his true colors--fueling the fire that lead to the recent eruption in Tahrir Square. While Mubarak did ensure American security in the Middle East to a degree, he "could never do so fully because he was afraid of 'the street,'" she explains. Though the future of Egypt is uncertain, Rice argues the U.S. can still play a role in the next government "through our ties to the military, links to civil society, and a promise of economic assistance and free trade to help improve the lot of the Egyptian people."
  • Nicola Jones in Why Watson Might Revolution Search Engines  Writing in Nature, Jones' says that the excitement around IBM's Jeopardy contestant--the computer named Watson--is well-deserved: the advanced computer may serve as a model for new types of search engines. "It might sound like nothing more than a stunt," she writes, but "computer scientists say that Watson....[marks] a shift that will create much better search engines and help scientists to keep up in their fields." She notes that the computer's system is set up to understand "natural-language" questions, a "goal [that] is at the core of many computer science-endeavours," but one that remains an issue for Google searches. The ability to search through more, more intelligently, will be of immense value to science and other fields of research as they struggle to find better ways to organize large amounts of existing knowledge and data.
  • Tim Rutten on Birthers  Writing in The Los Angeles Times, Tim Rutten hones in on the key flaw in the birther movement, which is that the manufactured ire over Obama's legitimacy is a shield that GOP leaders are hiding to galvanize the masses rather than uniting them over the real issue, which is far less disruptive: dislike of Obama's policies. The result, Rutten says, is that political discourse has devolved into "cruder expressions of a more generalized assault on the president's legitimacy" and has become an easy way to derailing substantive debate. "What Boehner and the other sober heads in the Republican leadership ought to consider is the difference between questioning Obama's policies and his legitimacy. It's a profound and consequential distinction," he says.
  • Peter Bleksley on Private Police Forces   Writing in The Guardian, Peter Bleksley's take on Britain's austerity measures provides a possible window on what may lie ahead for Americans. For Bleksley, trimming police budgets has forced publicly funded law enforcement to scale back its focus to keeping the peace rather than fuss with smaller issues like fraud, financial scams or threatening text messages. The result, Bleksley says, is that this provides a disastrous opening for private firms and creates a two-tiered security business. When it's private security, Bleksley describes a Blackwater-like scenario in which "completely uncontrolled and unrestrained players"--who are not subject to freedom-of-information investigations--are being paid to keep schools, companies and communities safe.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.