Five Best Tuesday Columns
On Eminem, Shakespeare, and fighting malaria
- Peter Suderman on Medicaid State budgets are hurting, and despite recommendations from Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius on how to trim Medicaid costs, the insurance program, which swallows about 21% of state budgets, remains a bear. Suderman says easing state burdens comes down to two options: forcing states to scale back on what Medicaid covers (i.e. dental services and speech therapy) or pursuing alternatives such as turning Medicaid into a temporary benefit that requires recipients to prove that they are trying to find work. Suderman points out that there isn't much time for the Federal government to sit and ponder whether or not to allow states to find ways to tackle Medicaid, because as much as they are struggling now, the addition of approximately 20 million people under the Affordable Healthcare Act will turn a dire situation into a disastrous one.
- Stephen Baker on IBM's CPU Jeopardy Contestant If you haven't heard, an IBM supercomputer named Watson is in the middle in a three-day challenge against two other human opponents on Jeopardy. Stephen Baker assures us that regardless of Watson's success--or failure--"there's plenty of room in the work world for the still-peerless human mind ...Outside of its specialty of answering questions, the computer remains largely clueless." While computers can excel in rigidly defined systems where they're able to mine through vast amounts of data, like searching for answers on Jeopardy, or plotting chess moves, "this should free us up to do what remains uniquely human," Baker says: "generating fresh ideas."
- Scott Turow, Paul Aiken and James Shapiro on Shakespeare in the Digital Age Writing today in the New York Times, Turow, Aiken and Shapiro argue that both compensation and protection for artists is integral to the creation of great works. Noting that the construction of a literal "paywall"--the first walled theater built in Europe since Antiquity--lead to the rise of playwrights like "Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson and Shakespeare," the authors conclude that "literary talent often remains undeveloped unless markets reward it." Unfortunately, today the "markets are unraveling," through global piracy; the authors note that books are increasingly trafficked illegally online. While many argue that decreasing copyright protection will encourage creativity, the authors say this is simply false. When artists can't be supported, the art doesn't come.
- Michael Gerson on the Importance of Foreign Aid The Washington Post's Michael Gerson takes on the House GOP budget cuts which slash funding for programs providing, for example, bed nets for Senegalese malaria prevention. Life changed for the Senegalese people when it was discovered that if a mosquito "stops on a wall sprayed with insecticide, or on a treated bed net, it does, breaking the cycle of transmission." Senegal became "the first African country to set the goal of universal bed net coverage, which it is likely to reach by the end of the year," and since implementing bed net coverage, the incidences of mortality from malaria have dropped significantly. But Gerson notes that this amount of protection would not be possible without the help of key American programs, those that stand to be de-funded by the House GOP budget cuts. The efforts to fight malaria and AIDS were actually started by Republicans, reminds Gerson--and if the U.S. pulls out, he suggests, the place will be filled by friend-hungry China. "If the goal of House Republicans is to squander the Republican legacy on global health, they are succeeding."
- Michael Jeffries on Inequality at the Grammys Michael Jeffries takes to the Guardian today to air some grievances about the Grammys--particularly, Eminem's win. Jeffries acknowledges Eminem's talent but is also disturbed by the fact that unabashed anger and violence are acceptable components of a Grammy performance by Eminem, but not anyone else. The rage that is characteristic of Eminem's music is mostly directed at himself, women, and gays--"disempowered people"--yet few object. "Conversely, it remains unacceptable for non-white performers to be visibly angry, especially if anger is articulated as a response to racism and racial inequality," he writes. Jeffries argues that Tupac Shakur is perhaps "the only black commercial rap superstar who approached Mather's public emotional persona," but that all other black winners have, on the other hand, been characterized by "smooth, eccentric and stylish hip-hop pride." This forces Jeffries to ask whether Grammy awards consider whether or not the winner's music may incite disturbance to the social order. Attacking already-marginalized societal groups doesn't upset the social order, but raging against white supremacy and racial injustice does.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.