Monday, June 30, 2003

Davis plans sustainable agriculture research center.
Dairy farmers turn to petting zoos to survive, as 200 prepare to go out of business in VT alone (see also the latest Art of Eating) and dairy prices plummet to 25-year lows.
I can hardly wait:
France is trying to repair the damage with a maladroit public relations campaign whose tagline is, 'Let's Fall In Love Again,' featuring a video in which the aging comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen talks about French kissing his young wife.
Slavoj Zizek's lacanian reading of the Matrix is amusing, but this story is the best part:
...I saw The Matrix at a local theater in Slovenia. I had the unique opportunity to sit close to a man in his late twenties who was so engrossed in the film that he repeatedly disturbed other spectators with loud exclamations like: �My God, wow, so there is no reality! So we are all puppets!�
Did you know that the army of our ally Pakistan is effectively a feudal landlord? This is crazy.
A Winnipeg organic inspector claims he's being blackballed after going to the papers last year.
Bee writer bites the hand. (Snarky report on Alice Waters's dinner for the delegates). Despite being so busy, Alice found time to suggest to the Chron that a lack of sit-down meals has caused the California budget impasse.
Chapela is camping out in front of California Hall in protest. Maybe I'll bring him a bagel.

Here's his email.

AP interview: "Fraley and Horsch have spent nearly all their professional lives, a combined 45 years, at Monsanto creating the very products now at the center of a bitter trans-Atlantic trade war. "

Friday, June 27, 2003

el niño strikes: wind destroys entre-deux-mers vineyards.
Welcome to the Machine
Don't miss today's Krugman, or Nick Confessore's article in the Washington Monthly that inspired it.

[I wonder, thinking about Thurmond's incredible, and unfortunate, longevity, how long today's oldsters will continue subjecting us to Pink Floyd references. I probably have no chance of outlasting them. Guess I'll just smoke up and head down to the laser show.]

As far as ol' Strom goes, Tom posts the best epitaph.

Bouvier et al., "Biosynthesis of the Food and Cosmetic Plant Pigment Bixin (Annatto)," Science300 (5628): 2089: scientists engineer E. coli to produce the pigment in achiote/annato. They only discuss the industrial utility of the pigment, not its use in food.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Bailey, et al., "A comparison of energy use in conventional and integrated arable farming systems in the UK, " Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 97 (July 2003): 241-53
However, when energy use comparisons are made by weight of output, there is little difference between the two systems because of the generally lower yields per hectare under the integrated systems. Thus, initially, at a national level, it appears that a wide-spread adoption of IAFS would mean a reduction in energy use, but it would also result in less overall output. However, if national output was to be maintained under a regime of IAFS, it is clear that a larger area would have to be cultivated using more energy, with the probable result of a neutral energy effect. Furthermore, the surplus land at a national level under the current mainly conventional system, set-aside land, has an increasing value in environmental terms or as a land resource for the generation of bio-energy.
IAFS are like organic lite: they try to use fewer chemicals, reduce tillage, and so on, but they don't have to. There are so many variables in this survey that it can't be conclusive, but it is not very encouraging.
Secret "frankengrape" tour for visiting dignitaries. This is why we'll see GE wine grapes before long.
SCLM alert
Some genius put this headline:E.U. Criticized at Biotechnology Meeting

on this story:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - An Italian agriculture official criticized the United States for the notable absence of the European Union at an American-sponsored international conference on biotechnology."

The L in this case stands for "literate."

Incredibly, someone let Bush talk to Pascal Lamy about GM food.

Meanwhile, EU announces farm subsidy "reforms" [BBC | FT]

This is what I would have eloquently written about yesterday:

Archibald, et al., "Lateral gene transfer and the evolution of plastid-targeted proteins in the secondary plastid-containing alga Bigelowiella natans," PNAS 2003 100: 7678-83 -- also commentary by Raymond and Blankenship. Demonstrates multiple horizontal gene transfer events in the evolutionary history of this alga.

Bresnahan, et al., "Glyphosate Applied Preharvest Induces Shikimic Acid Accumulation in Hard Red Spring Wheat (Triticum aestivum)," J. Agric. Food Chem. 51 (14), 4004-7: Glyphosate applied preharvest resulted in 3x "normal concentration of shikimic acid in flour (shikimic acid is an important precursor of some aromatic phenolic and amino acids).

Saladin, et al., "Effects of Flumioxazin Herbicide on Carbon Nutrition of Vitis vinifera L.," J. Agric. Food Chem., 51 (14), 4017-22: herbicide inexplicably had opposite effects on vine cuttings and field-grown plants.

NCFAP released a study claiming EU adoption of biotech crops would increase annual yields by 7.8bn kg, cut pesticide consumption by 9.7m kg and increase farm income by�$1.22bn (see FT article).

Subversion at the Ag conference, from the Bee and the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Finally, Nature tore a rotator cuff trying to pat its own back:

Earlier this year, Australian activists noticed that a 2002 paper on the spread of herbicide resistance from transgenic canola to nearby fields (M. A. Rieger, M. Lamond, C. Preston, S. B. Powles and R. T. Roush Science 296, 2386�2388; 2002) did not mention that two biotechnology firms � Monsanto and Aventis Crop Sciences (now owned by Bayer) � paid nearly 20% of the costs of the trials.

Alerted to the fact by a reporter for an Australian television programme in early May, Science contacted the authors for an explanation. Science requires contributors to declare financial ties that might be construed as influencing the outcome of their research.

The authors responded that they did not view the company funding as a conflict of interest. Industry co-sponsors don't participate in the design or conduct of the study, nor are they permitted to vet the findings or stop publication, claims co-author Christopher Preston, a molecular ecologist at the University of Adelaide. "I refuse to participate unless I can call the shots," Preston told Nature.

Although Science concluded that the funding did not amount to a conflict of interest, it has now revised its disclosure policy as a direct result of the incident, according to a statement provided to Nature on 23 June. Now, all funding sources must be revealed in the paper's reference section, Science says.

Many journals ask about conflicts of interest, but some authors don't realize that they have them, says Nicholas Cozzarelli, editor-in-chief of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For instance, one contributor didn't feel that his position as chief scientist of a firm that was supporting his academic work needed to be mentioned as he didn't think the paper would affect the company's stock price, Cozzarelli says.

Nature has requested and published details of competing interests for every paper accepted since October 2001. Despite the rising number of researchers with ties to industry, of the 1,300 or so papers published under the policy, only 50 have declared competing interests.

Monday, June 23, 2003

KBR/PBR, from the Times Magazine. Don't forget about the Export-Import Bank:
In 1992 the Defense Department, under Dick Cheney, hired Brown & Root to write a classified report detailing how private companies could help the military logistically in the world's hot spots. Not long after, the Pentagon awarded the first five-year Logcap -- to Brown & Root. Then Bill Clinton won the election, and Cheney, in 1995, became C.E.O. of Halliburton, Brown & Root's parent company. A lot of Halliburton's business depends on foreign customers getting loans from U.S. banks, which are in turn guaranteed by the government's trade-promoting Export-Import Bank. In the five years before Cheney took the helm, the Ex-Im Bank guaranteed $100 million in loans so foreign customers could buy Halliburton's services; during Cheney's five years as C.E.O., that figure jumped to $1.5 billion.
Star-struck meat freak runs into Steingarten
[via J/JP commentator. If you don't know Steingarten, you won't get how awesome this is].
Read the Bee or the Chron for more on the Sactown conference.
Hey, we forgot to mention that Paxil makes kids suicidal. Sorry about that. But Zoloft prevents heart disease!

Friday, June 20, 2003

We're keeping the WTO in business. Next victim: our friend, Mexico.
Everyone is full of shit, including uspirg. Their report brings up the fucking Monarch butterflies. That is so 5 years ago.

On the other hand, they have some interesting numbers:

From 1987 through 2002 inclusive:
USDA authorized 15,461 field releases of genetically engineered organisms on 39,660 field test sites spanning 482,226 acres....
USDA generally has served as a rubber stamp for requests to conduct field tests. USDA has rejected only 3.5 percent of applications; USDA denied these requests for reasons such as incomplete applications or other minor paperwork errors.
The percentage of field tests being conducted with introduced genes considered to be Confidential Business Information has increased nearly every year, from 0 percent in 1987 to more than 69 percent in 2002.
[Of course, just because they're full of shit about the butterflies doesn't mean the rest of it is useless. Just trying to be fair after I accused the nuffield report of being full of shit for fucking up the Nature-Quist/Chapela story.]
Wilkinson et al., "Risk assessment of GM plants: avoiding gridlock?" Trends in Plant Science 2003, 8:208-212
Overall then, we expect more GM cultivars grown over a wider area and containing a broader array of transgenes, expressed in various ways. These developments should radically increase the adaptability of farming, with benefits to farmers and, in some cases, to the environment. Conversely, there are legitimate concerns over possible environmental consequences arising from some GM cultivars. Predicting detrimental impact becomes more challenging as the diversity of GM releases grows and will be particularly difficult for transgenes that fundamentally change plant physiology (e.g. lignin content and drought tolerance). However, it is important to distinguish between unwanted environmental changes attributable to a transgene and those caused by other aspects of a dynamic agro-environment. Indeed, the absence of quality 'baseline data' on environmental change caused by farm practice, land use, conventional or mutation breeding or by the importation of exotics for gardening is something that warrants attention. The purpose of this article is to draw attention to forthcoming problems relating to the release of future GM crops and to propose a more generic strategy for risk assessment.
Back to school
Michael writes in to school me on the international baccalaureate, which I was too lazy to look into yesterday:
While I quite agree with you that measuring the quality of a school solely by the number of advanced placement/IB tests it gives is absurd, My son (who is too smart for his own damn good) received a quality education in high school in the IB program - (far better than I received in the 60's and early 70's in Livermore, CA - back when that town had the highest number of PHD's per capita of any town in the US, and California schools were actually worth a damn). As a brand new high-school graduate, he has been exposed to concepts, ideas, and culture that I ended up gaining through self-education in my 20's and 30's.

One of the specific classes taught in the program is one called 'Theory of Knowledge.' It examines epistemology, the examination of how we can know what we claim to know. In an American educational system that seems to all too often focus on creating fact filled fools who can't think themselves out of a paper box, my son actually learned a lot about how to think, not just how to regurgitate facts.

It does sound like a good program, if somewhat vague. My point was not about how good it was, but how relevant to a national public school ranking -- it still seems more arbitrary to me than AP tests. I wonder how admissions offices deal with the IB.

Michael has touched a bit of an epistemological nerve with me. In my (very brief) experience teaching college students, I noticed a profound inability to regurgitate. Intelligence, in terms of the ability to think critically, varied but was generally impressive. But it was largely wasted: minds adrift on a sea of ignorance. Critical thinking isn't worth much if you have nothing to think about.

Of course, smart and ignorant is a lot better than dumb and ignorant. And recent events suggest a certain, uh, epistemological nonchalance on the part of the American people. It just doesn't seem to me that they're particularly fact-filled.

Above the fold: EU GM talks break down.

Also in the Times, "the McDonald's Corporation said today [yesterday] that it would ask its meat suppliers around the world to reduce their dependence on antibiotics."

[Thanks to "Borges"]

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Larry Doby
He told me about the moment the manager, Lou Boudreau, who didn't want him, introduced him to the players who wanted him even less. He had just joined the club:

"I walked down that line stuck out my hand and very few hands came back in return. Most of the ones that did were cold-fish handshakes, along with a look that said, 'You don't belong here.'

"I grew up in a mixed neighborhood in Paterson. I ate in my classmates' homes and they ate in mine. I was the only black on the football team, and when we were invited to play segregated high school bowl games in Florida, the team voted to stay home rather than play without me.

"Now, I couldn't believe how this was. I put on my uniform and I went out on the field to warm up, but nobody wanted to warm up with me. I had never been so alone in my life. I stood there alone in front of the dugout for five minutes. Then Joe Gordon, the second baseman who would become my friend, came up to me and asked, 'Hey, rookie, you gonna just stand there or do you want to throw a little?'

"I will never forget that man."

The next day, Boudreau told him he wanted him to start at first base. He had no first baseman's glove. Eddie Robinson, the regular first baseman, refused to lend him his. The team's traveling secretary had to walk over to other team's dugout to borrow one. A week or so later, Boudreau sent him up to pinch-hit for a guy who was already at bat with an 0-2 count.

Chicagoans may want to consider fasting.
obedience school
A few days ago, Jim Capozzola noted that the best schools in an especially stupid MSNBC high school ranking seemed to be located in rich suburbs [further commentary at tbogg and uggabugga]. I wrote him to elaborate on how back-asswards the methodology [number of AP tests taken per student] was, and he told me to post it. In shortened form, this is why MSNBC sucks:

Each AP test costs $78, $54 with a need-based fee admission. At that reduced rate, students at MSNBC's top schools are still taking over $200 worth of tests. Poor families obviously can't afford that, so some schools* make up the difference. Think poor school districts can spend that kind of money on their gifted students?

Furthermore, the exclusion of schools that accept students based on grades or test scores is doubly retarded, because those schools are where the "smart" [i.e., AP-taking] kids go in urban districts with multiple high schools -- Stuyvesant in NYC is the best-known example, but any urban magnet fits the bill. So MSNBC is telling people to get rich and move to a gated community lest they venture near a city where their kid is too stupid to go to a good school. It is an anti-meritocracy.

The more I think about it, the stupider it is. Good schools, suburban or otherwise, teach specifically to the AP test starting in the 10th grade. They don't have the resources for that in poor districts. Actually they do, if it's a big urban district that sends all the "smart" kids to a magnet school -- which is, naturally, excluded from MSNBC's list. Seems a little more efficient than making every kid in a suburb take 6 tests, doesn't it?

Of course, MSNBC also fails to account for the score of the test, which is the whole point, after all.

Finally, if anyone has ever heard of the "international baccalaureate" (another useless component of MSNBC's methodology), let me know.

*Schools that want to be competitive in the college admissions game do this, because colleges, though much more sophisticated than MSNBC, take AP tests (and scores) into account when calculating how good the school is. Yet another thing that poor schools don't have the resources to worry about.

black is white [Salon premium]
There are too more fish in the sea -- and we're taking good care of them. Really.

That's the message that American marine fisheries managers are trying to send to a fish-eating, environmentally conscious public in the wake of a series of recent revelations about the sorry state of the overfished oceans.

more fish stories here and here.
Strangling the baby in the bathtub [NYT]
An April 29 memorandum circulated among [EPA] staff members said that after the changes by White House officials, the section on climate "no longer accurately represents scientific consensus on climate change."
What do they know? They're all probably union members anyway.

In other strangling news, CSPI claims that 20% of farmers don't even bother to observe the EPA's already watered-down Bt corn refuge requirements. This is a bad idea. [Also see Gillis's Post article].

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Carol Ness in the Chron
The National Meat Association has led the fight against COOL with scenarios like this hypothetical ground beef label: "Beef (born in U.S., raised in Canada, slaughtered in U.S.); Beef (born and raised in Canada, slaughtered in the U.S.); Beef (born and raised in Mexico, slaughtered in the U.S.); Beef (product of Australia)."
COOL background here and here
Nature updates Steve Jones's story
In March, some farmers -- encouraged by local seed suppliers, according to several growers and officials -- started a campaign to get Jones's core funding of some $200,000 a year cut. They wanted money spent on projects that would involve commercial partners and develop crops containing patented genetic mutations. If a seed contains a patented trait it can't be legally replanted.

Jones claims that some farmers were misled. "They didn't realize that they would be destroying the public winter-wheat breeding programme at WSU," he says.

After weeks of political manoeuvring, the Washington Wheat Commission, which helps to fund WSU research programmes, voted last month to underwrite Jones's studies for the next year. The board of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, a 3,000-member group that strongly influences the commission, voted six to five in favour of Jones's research.

gene flow:
DNA from samples from plants harvested in the three areas was extracted and purified and individuals genotyped using height molecular markers to establish the extent of gene exchange. There was clear evidence of weedy beets originating from the commercial crop field in the riverside "contact zone" some 1.5 kms away from the field.

"Contrary to classical expectations we found that gene flow through pollen was limited," explains Dr. Arnaud. "However we found that weedy beets can act as a crop-to-wild bridge by escaping from commercial beet fields to wild populations via accidental seed flow. Our results highlight the likelihood for transgene escape resulting from seed dispersal events."

forthcoming in Proceedings B
Greg Palast is on fire
Koppel's team got on the case, flying down to Florida to find out why thousands of black votes were never counted. They talked to experts, they talked to important white people, and Koppel reported this: Many blacks are new to voting and, with limited education, have a difficult time with marking the sophisticated ballots. In other words, ABC concluded, African Americans are too fucking dumb to figure out how to vote.

Hey, if true, then you have to report it. But it wasn't. It was a fib, a tall tale, made-for-TV mendacity, polite liberal electronic cross-burning intellectual eugenics.

Here's the real scoop: All races of voters make errors on paper ballots. But in white counties like Leon (Tallahassee), if you make a stray mark or other error, the vote machine rejects your ballot, and you get another ballot to vote again. But in black counties like Gadsden, you make a mistake and the machine quietly accepts and voids your ballot.

in case you forgot about that.

Monday, June 16, 2003

SciDevNet editorializes on still more reports on GM food, with links. this one looks good...
15 minutes later: well, they're full of shit too. too bad.
catch up
just got around to reading the rather anodyne proceedings of Pew's biotech/media conference from last fall. the money shot:
The New York Times Cornelia Dean said the need for science journalists to carefully explain what, for them, are basic scientific terms and concepts every time they write a story can be frustrating. She likened it to requiring sports reporters to "define third base" whenever they write about baseball.... "You want it to be comprehensible to someone who has been in a coma for the last five years."
Minimelons [NYT]
It makes you wonder what problem they were trying to solve...
Ercolini, et al., "Bacterial Community Structure and Location in Stilton Cheese," Applied and Environmental Microbiology 69 (2003), p. 3540-3548 reveals the presence of many bacterial colonies in Stilton, some unidentified, despite the use (since 1989) of pasteurized milk. [also see nsu story]
agribusiness
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced yesterday that the state would abandon rules that hold such poultry giants as Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms Inc. accountable for pollution caused by chicken waste flushing into the Chesapeake Bay.
[Post above; Atlanta Journal-Constitution below; both via ABE]
The 1997 union drive sparked violent retaliation from Smithfield management, according to testimony from workers who said they were beaten and arrested for supporting a union.
[SCLM alert: note how the reporter elides the "reaction of the management" with arrested workers: last I checked, the cops take care of that. Move along people, nothing to see here. We're just using your tax dollars to pay police overtime for beating the shit out of illegal immigrants.]
Germany drops out of the Sactown ag expo. Starbucks is scared, scientists skeptical.

In a different context, someone from Greenpeace said something intelligent:

"Years were spent in a lab trying to lever protein into potatoes, while cheap, protein-rich pulses grow abundantly all over India," one said. "It makes you wonder what problem the scientists were trying to solve."

Friday, June 13, 2003

Much has been said of the air guitar contest, but just in case you didn't read it:
"I think you were robbed, Dan," I say, and his buddies, also in long-sleeve polo shirts and jeans, nod in solemn agreement.

"It's all costume at this show," Dan replies. I nod. "It's as though the air guitar itself didn't exist.

[is it me, or does that quote seem a little, uh, blairish?]
Journal roundup
Xie Biao, et al., "Critical Impact Assessment of Organic Agriculture," Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 16 (2003): 297-311:
Based on its production guideline, organic agriculture has set for itself the goals of minimizing all forms of pollution and maintaining sustainability of the farming system. By striving for these goals, organic farming meets the demands of an increasing number of consumers who are critical of conventional production methods. This paper gives an overview of the present state of the art in the different issues. Possibilities of and limitations in performing the self-aimed goals under the basic standards of organic agriculture are discussed. Concerning environmental protection, in general, the risk of adverse environmental effects is lower with organic than with conventional farming methods, though not necessarily so; with reference to soil fertility and nutrient management, organic farming is suited to improve soil fertility and nutrient management markedly on the farm level; regarding biodiversity, comparison studies show that organic farming has more positive effects on biodiversity conservation; in relation to product quality, under the basic standards of organic farming, there is no sufficient evidence for a system-related effect on product quality due to the production method.
Also: Myhr and Traavik, "Genetically Modified (GM) Crops: Precautionary Science and Conflicts of Interests," ibid., 227-247.

Fulton and Delany, "Poultry Genetic Resources -- Operation Rescue Needed," Science 5626 (2003), 1667-1668:

With billions of domesticated poultry hatched annually to meet global food production needs, it can be difficult to appreciate the magnitude and significance of the current drain on poultry genetic resources and overall loss of genetic diversity among industrial and locally adapted breed stocks. But, it is a crisis....
June 2003 ISB News Report has two articles on chloroplast DNA [background here and here.
EU files another WTO complaint as they prepare to eviscerate CAP reform.
Broken Record
The North Sea is the new Newfoundland. If they stop fishing for 12 years, cod stocks might recover.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

"Hundreds of French winemakers are protesting against field trials of genetically modified vines planned for Alsace." You'd think someone would have come up with a better place -- it's not like we're growing livestock feed here, people.

The Confédération Paysanne has some better ideas.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Nature on the comical British GM food debate
When Nature attended the second debate, held in Swansea in Wales on 5 June, things got off to a shaky start. Those who arrived for the advertised 18:00 start found they had missed the introductory video, which had begun half an hour before. And attendees were split into groups and presented with a series of fact sheets, rather than being allowed to question a panel of experts. "There isn't anyone here who can tell us the facts," said one participant.
Why bother, if the decision is already made?
OECD concludes "few emerging economies are in a position to benefit from agricultural biotechnology due to limited research capacity, low levels of investment, lack of a regulatory framework and poor functioning markets for biotechnology inputs and products."
Dittrich et al., "Maillard Reaction Products Inhibit Oxidation of Human Low-Density Lipoproteins in Vitro," J. Agric. Food Chem. 51 (2003), 3900-4 "shows clearly that Maillard reaction products can prevent oxidation of human LDL in vitro."

The Maillard reaction is what happens when you "sear" or "brown" food. Oxidation of LDL causes heart disease.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Rice is the world's most important food crop and a model for cereal research. At 430 megabases in size, its genome is the most compact of the cereals. We report [Science] the sequence of chromosome 10, the smallest of the 12rice chromosomes (22.4 megabases), which contains 3471 genes. Chromosome 10 contains considerable heterochromatin with an enrichment of repetitive elements on 10S and an enrichment of expressed genes on 10L. Multiple insertions from organellar genomes were detected. Collinearity was apparent between rice chromosome 10 and sorghum and maize. Comparison between the draft and finished sequence demonstrates the importance of finished sequence.
ISGRP | Science perspective
here we go
California is the state with the most to gain from widespread adoption of the 32 biotech crop varieties under development and eight that already have been introduced, according to a study last year by the National Center for Food and Agricultural Policy.

Introduction of those biotech crops -- including apples, broccoli and lettuce -- would reduce California's pesticide use by 66 million pounds a year, according to the study, which was paid for partly by the biotech industry. Between lower bills for agricultural chemicals and higher yields, economic benefits for California were pegged at $207 million annually.

Friday, June 06, 2003

World Pork Expo discusses COOL and antibiotics.

Also from @g online, USDA now tracking 11 Montana bulls with links to the Canadian BSE herd.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

The Atlantic has posted flashbacks from its archives on American beef, inspired by Kummer's recent article on grassfed beef. Having made my share of both in the past year, I have to correct Corby: nothing beats the taste of quality cornfed beef. The Niman Ranch burgers I grilled on Memorial Day confirmed it. Grassfed's good, but it's something different. Bill Niman knows, and so does the Chron. New Yorkers can go to Peter Luger if they don't believe me.
Canadian farmer explains why privatized blant breeding is disastrous for everyone [cropchoice].
you don't care about baseball, but I do
I sent the following to the suburban guerrilla, becuase she was so distraught about Sammy Sosa's corked bat. She quoted a good peice at pandagon about the stupidity of sports commentators. I was so taken with myself that I decided to post it... actually, the important thing is Brantley's comment, which reveals what these douchebags really think about the whole thing:
Anyway, I was going to say the same thing about Sosa you posted today. (my only problem with the piece you quoted is the idea that the BP pitcher might bust sammy inside and saw off his bat: not likely). the sanctimoniousness is shocking. some asshole who was doing the "color" for the espn reds-yanks game yesterday, said something like:

"I believe him, but I can't get over what a stupid mistake it was. after everything sammy's done for himslef, his family, his country..."

Un-fucking-believable. I think it was Jeff Brantley, but I'm not 100% sure [also, on reflection, it was probably the espn2 rangers-braves game]. like the D.R.'s soaring economy is going to plummet now that american 10 year olds figured out santa's not real. the real point is precisely the opposite, which is that MLB will suffer because of their sanctimoniousness on this (and every other issue), because Sammy, in fact, has been very, very good to baseball, not the other way around. at least we won't have to watch any more animated pepsi ads of superhero sammy...

note also that a corked bat adds 1% to the distance of a batted ball. So all those 550' HRs are "cheapened" because they would only have gone 544 1/2 feet if he wasn't cheating.

6/11 from Nature:

Physicists say, however, that Sosa gained almost no advantage by using the bat, which was hollowed and filled with a small amount of cork. Using a lighter bat would help Sosa swing harder but would actually lessen the energy transferred to the ball, according to Alan Nathan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who recently studied ball?bat impacts (Am. J. Phys. 71, 134?144; 2003). "If there is a net advantage, it would be small enough that it wouldn't be worth writing home about," Nathan says.
Thus, unsurprisingly, disproving Rod Dibble. However, I wonder if they arene't missing the point, which is not force but time. If you can swing the bat faster, you have more time to pick up the pitch, and more time to hit it precisely where you want it. Pop flies become big flies...
You know, pharmaceutical companies just want to help people -- just not poor people.
GM crops are costing you money; Danish robots explain how to externalize costs:
In tests on fields of sugar beet, Christensen and his colleagues at Aalborg University have found that selectively spraying weeds identified by robots reduces overall herbicide use by 70 per cent. Herbicide is so cheap that even reducing its cost by that amount will not make much of an impact on farmers...
[both links via corante].

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Invisible hand
The evisceration of the world's fisheries explains why Alaskan fisherman are getting the lowest price in history for their salmon. It has nothing to do with price-fixing; scarcity means lower prices. Black is white.

Luckily for you the consumer, our advanced understanding of the endocrine system means we are further reducing fish populations with estrogen runoff.

GM food will save starving africans [NYT]
In the past 20 years, the [Rift valley] lake shores have exchanged any lingering memories of the past for a booming industry in the cultivation and sale of out-of-season vegetables like snow peas and trimmed beans, and cut flowers like roses and carnations -- virtually all of them exported to distant markets in Europe. Paradoxically, the huge expansion of fancy food for export has come in a land that, because of sporadic drought and not-so-sporadic economic mismanagement, cannot grow enough of its own staple, corn.
Oh, by the way:
The price of GM foods in the market, and hence the cost of production for farmers, is also a contentious issue. Extensive research into the cost effectiveness of using GM seed has been inconclusive. While it is true that GM production saves on labour costs and herbicides and pesticides through their resistance to certain chemicals or insects, there is no notable increase in crop yield. Savings for farmers are also offset by the increased cost of GM seeds and restrictive contracts from biotech companies, which can forbid seed-saving, a common agricultural practice.

In harvests where GM protection has provided an advantage over non-GM crops (an infestation of "corn borers" for example, from which GM corn is resistant), farmers still gain little because higher-than-expected yields will drive down grain prices. But even if GM production is a factor in lowering corn prices from the Americas, there is no doubt that the real advantage over the EU is based more on economies of scale, with larger land holdings benefiting from cheaper labour and fewer agricultural restrictions.

[Economist "executive briefing" via AgBioView]

See also this Post article on venetian nostrane produce:

Italians aren't so much against "Frankenstein food," as newspapers call the genetically modified products, as they are opposed to a general homogenization it represents.
This seems to be difficult for some people to understand.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

US wheat already contaminated:
"If we can't keep the corn and soybeans out of the wheat, how are we going to keep the GM wheat out of the wheat?"

Monday, June 02, 2003

invisible hand
So US beef prices have gone up in response to the canadian mad cow. Whether or not that makes sense [hint: not], these numbers are instructive:
wholesale beef prices have risen from $142 per cwt. to $148 per cwt., a near-record, while packer beef cut-out margins have climbed from $44 per head to over $100 per head.
Ranchers get $6 a head, packers $66.
Makarevitch, et al., "Complete sequence analysis of transgene loci from plants transformed via microprojectile bombardment," Plant Molecular Biology 52 (2003): 421-32
full-length and partially truncated copies of the delivered DNA were integrated in different orientations, interspersed with regions of extensively scrambled transgene and genomic DNA sequences, and, in two cases, flanked by rearranged genomic DNA. These observations indicate that even loci that appear to be perfect transgene insertions based on Southern analyses may be complex and contain scrambled regions of transgene and genomic DNA.
Too technical for me to say much about, except that it demonstrates much more extensive DNA "scrambling" than is normally claimed to take place in transgenic plants. [It is possible that this paper lends support to Quist and Chapela's disputed findings in the mexican maize.] They also note that the transgenic DNA is most likely to be deliverd in "gene-rich" regions of the target DNA -- where all this scrambling is more likely to have serious effects.
The Post claims that someone is getting ready to do something about the collapse of the world's fisheries. One can only hope.

Plus, Canadian research on sea lice.

Times profiles Monsanto as they name a new CEO.
The sky is falling [Newsweek]
Today, fewer and fewer farmers produce massive quantities of super crops that smother the land in a seamless carpet. Intensive irrigation and synthetic fertilizers pump up yields. But these vast spreads are sitting ducks for pests and pathogens, which farmers fight with ever-growing doses of insecticides and weed killers. The most powerful new tools to defend the gains of the green revolution -- namely, genetically modified crops -- are taboo in many nations. That leaves farmers with a handicap. If some kind of solution isn't found, many scientists say, food crises will grow more frequent and disruptive. Eventually we may find that the food supply we take for granted may falter. "How long will it take before we have an ecological disaster?" says David Tilman, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota and a longtime scholar of monoculture farming. "We can't afford to have a SARS in agriculture."
Turns out tristeza isn't so sweet.
Say hello to your intestinal microflora [Science News].

6/4: Nature on the impending demise of Heliobacter pylori:

But should we be in such a rush to finish Helicobacter off? Blaser argues that H. pylori may have been such an evolutionary success because it offers some advantages to its host. For one, it may protect against childhood diarrhoea -- still a major killer across large parts of the developing world -- by boosting the immune system and producing peptides that kill other bacteria.

Blaser also notes that H. pylori's wane has corresponded to an increase in acid reflux diseases -- serious forms of heartburn -- and cancers of the oesophagus. This may be because H. pylori can damp down the stomach's production of acid.

But this view is controversial. Most medics view an H. pylori infection as an unambiguously bad thing. Some believe that infection with the bacterium may even make childhood diarrhoea worse, as the lowered acid production may allow other bacteria to survive passage through the stomach. "H. pylori infection is a serious disease," says gastroenterologist David Graham of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. "To say it has protective effects is a play on words more than anything else." Graham goes so far as to advocate pre-emptive eradication in regions where gastric cancer is common.

But even without a campaign against it, H. pylori seems to be doomed. "In the United States, it's disappearing faster than it would if we had a public-health drive to eradicate it," Parsonnet says.

H. pylori's fate has been easy to track, because it is by far the most dominant bacterium in the stomach. But many of the other 500 or so species of bacteria in our gut might be experiencing population changes without our knowledge. At the moment we can only guess at what the consequences will be. For instance, could shifts in our gut flora have anything to do with the Western world's epidemic of chronic conditions such as allergies and asthma? "Our indigenous organisms are part of our own physiology," says Blaser. "Their extinction may play a role in some of our post-modern diseases."

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