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the column of lasting insignificance: October 5, 2013
by John Wilcock

WHAT OUGHT TO BE the last word on genetically-engineered foods is outlined in a 16-page forum in Boston Review whose editors, Deborah Chassman and Joshua Cohen proclaim: “The evidence is clear: they are not harmful to our health”. Food production will need to rise by 70% by mid-century, writes plant geneticist Pamela Ronald, to satisfy a demand brought about by from changing diets and as many as three billion more people. Genetic engineering, which can help to meet this demand, has been approved by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and a wealth of other scientific bodies. In truth it’s not particularly new. “Virtually every crop grown for human consumption today has been genetically modified in some way…(GE’s process) has led to reduced insecticide use and enhanced productivity of farms large and small…to combat pests and diseases, but also to enable farmers to use less harmful chemicals to control crop-choking weeds”.
    Despite this, writes Ronald, a UC Davis professor, genetic engineering is anathema to many people, related to “a general distrust of large corporations, in particular Monsanto, which produces a large proportion of the world’s seeds”. She avers that anti-science campaigns can have devastating consequences, such as the allegation of a link between vaccinations and autism which has resulted in a drop in vaccinations and the resultant worldwide outbreak of measles and whooping cough which had been previously reduced to low levels.
    The nearest to a dissenter among the BR’s panel is Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists which, she says holds no philosophical objection to genetic engineering but suggests that “its overhyped promises will divert resources from the pursuit of more promising technologies”. If GE was presented more modestly, she suggests, rather than a be-all-and-end-all solution, “the public might be more willing to give it another look”.

SOMETIME THIS MONTH the telephone will ring in three different homes around the world and Professor Staffan Normark will be on the line from Stockholm. For the recipients the “magic call” will usually come as a surprise and then, says the caller: “A lot of things can happen. Sometimes they are completely silent. I don’t even know if they are still there. You can just hear him breathing”. For Professor Normark is head of the Swedish Academy of Sciences and what he tells them is that they’ve won the Nobel Prize. The vote—of 500 members of the Academy—is held that morning; The calls follow within the hour.

THE LATEST NEW direction for Las Vegas, following its drive to be family-friendly, is to aim squarely at the affluent under-40 generation. Prompting this approach was a report that 45 was the median age of last year’s 40 million visitors, ever-more youthful and a record low. “They gambled less and stayed in cheaper hotel rooms” says Fortune, which observed that although about 30% of Americans will visit a casino and gamble in any given year, a much higher percentage are shopping, drinking and eating. Central to Vegas’ latest concept is a $550million outdoor mall centered on the largest Ferris wheel on earth, with glass circular cabins big enough to hold 40 passengers.

WOODY HARRELSON, a lifelong environmentalist, is pouring his star power and money into a Winnipeg-based company that plans to make paper out of agricultural waste. “The paperless office is a myth” he says, emphasizing that there’ll always be a need for paper but maybe if it was made from leftover wheat straw it would eliminate the need for cutting down hundreds of thousands of trees. Prairie Pulp and Paper already exists, but Harrelson and his partner are trying to raise $600million to build a mill in Manitoba which could process straw—usually burned as waste—from nearby farmlands. Even when still in school Harrelson, now 52, wrote essays bringing attention to the destruction of natural habitats, and in 1992 he was arrested for hanging banners on the Golden Gate Bridge protesting the logging of ancient redwoods.

TOO MANY TREES is one of the reasons why we suffer so many disastrous fires and why forests don’t go through the cycles that nature intended. That’s the view of the Environmental Defense Fund whose spokesman, Jamie Workman, says that ideally forests would contain only a few dozen trees per acre with the rest burning in occasional wildfires started by lightning. “Deprived of naturally occurring low-intensity fires” he writes in Mother Nature Network, “aspen, lupen, sequoia, and fireweed can’t reproduce. Deer lose edge habitat. Threatened owls and raptors can’t navigate through increasingly dense thickets”. Current policies, allowing up to 172 trees per acre, also intercept rain and snow from entering the groundwater supply and fuel huge fires that cost us $2bn a year to fight.

FROM THE CATALOG of Hammacher Schlemmer: Bicycle with a rearview camera…Drink-dispensing golf club….Tangle-free dual dog leash….Wearable mosquito net….Single-handed barber….Cyclist’s laser-projecting safety lane….Water and light show sprinkler….Heated shaving lather dispenser….Headache-relieving wrap….Frozen fruit soft serve processor….Solar-powered cat tantalizer….Over-the-ear book light….Sandalwood watch….Pet ramp and staircase….Solar pool heating rings….Glofish Shangri-la….Body heat mimicking mosquito trap….All-day gel seat….Floating obstacle course….Sleep improving pillow wedge…Arthritis pain-relieving gloves….Personal oxygen bar…. Superior stainless steel wallet….Talking hand strengthener….Alarm-sounding beach safe….Insect and sun-repelling hat…. Stainless steel ofuro…Posture-improving saddle seat….Backpack vacuum….Wind-defying packable umbrella….Pet mess furniture protector….Genuine Whac-a-mole arcade game….Serenading pool gondolier….Child-piloted tumbler…Canine splash pool….Spring-loaded walking shoes….Pen-sized scanner.

IT’S UNLIKELY THAT Rob Rhinehart, 25, has many gourmet fans but he’s been promoting a drink which he claims provides enough nutrients to live on without having to waste time eating anything, naming his liquid Solent, which takes a minute or two to prepare. Rhinehart, an electrical engineer, says it costs him about $155 a month to prepare the four ‘meals’ each day that once cost him four times as much. He doesn’t release his complete allegedly balanced recipe but the ingredients of Solent include oat powder, whey isolate, lycopene, sodium chloride, maltodextrine, potassium gluconate, calcium carbonate, and vanadium.

THE COSTS OF TERRORISM is the subject of Trump’s center spread with some not-so-surprising statistics such as the fact that the $1.2bn annual cost of the U.S. Air Marshall program resulting in zero saved lives and more than another billion spent on the body-scanner program, a cost of $11.33 per passenger going through airport security. The feature adds that the U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far cost $2 trillion with an expected two to four trillion more needed for the medical care and disability benefits to American veterans of those two conflicts. “Attacking the enemy with smaller but more frequent operations” boasts Al Qaeda, “will bleed the enemy to death by a thousand cuts”.

PLAYING VIDEO GAMES does wonders for the brains of older people according to an experiment conducted at UC San Francisco. A group of oldies (60-85) were given a game to take home and their multi-tasking abilities were tested on their return, an improvement that lasted for weeks afterwards according to the Economist which explained that the effect was attributed to the pre-frontal cortex, “a region of the brain responsible for attention.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: More than 20,000 people from 140 countries have applied to be on the 2023 expedition to Mars which, on arrival on the red planet, will be the subject of a television reality show. It’s a one-way trip….A 92-year-old man in jail for life for a drug offence, just died there. Obama could have pardoned him as he could pardon so many others. He’s pardoned 39 people in five years; Reagan pardoned hundreds…. The FDA may step in to check the booming craze by manufacturers to inject more and more “energy-boosting” caffeine into dry goods such as waffles... New Zealand’s Martin Aircraft is offering (for $150,000) a jetpack you can strap on your back and fly for half an hour without refueling….….One way to disrupt the far-reaching influence of imprisoned gang bosses would be to shift them around to different jails…And California wouldn’t have its contentious (and expensive) prison overpopulation problems if it didn’t jail so many victims for minor drug offenses….As part of its new layout, the New Yorker doubled (to two pages) its space devoted to readers’ letters. Sadly, the same unfunny cartoonists such as BEK still take up space…. ….Unsatisfied with the $350,000 each they get for every episode of TV’s The Big Bang, its greedy stars now want it boosted to $500,000… Are these multi-millionaires proud of being part of the one per cent?...

Billionairess Isobel Santos
The Week

... The Russian minister in charge of “gay propaganda” has confiscated a painting by Konstantin Altunin depicting President Vladimir Putin, dressed in a pink and white nightgown fondling the hair of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev….Columbia Journalism Review, whose humdrum academic orientation reflects its university sponsorship, devotes 18 pages in its current issue to defining journalism. (Who is this magazine for?).... British politicians are arguing about whether God is a Liberal or a Conservative ….… A 99p store (about $1.53) in the London suburb of Dagenham lowered its prices to 97p after a neighboring 99p rival dropped its price to 89p….The armrests on the new Gewos chair open as rowing handles so you can relax and exercise at the same time…Forbes shows pictures of the five different homes of that avaricious hedge fund founder Steven A. Cohen and reveals that the Bloomberg Tower Duplex he bought for $24million six years ago he’s now trying to sell for $115m…. Drive-in “sex boxes” with alarm buttons, lockers, bathroom and a security presence have been set up Zurich for customers seeking prostitutes…. The number of health club members aged 55 and older has climbed five-fold in the past twenty years reports the AARP magazine…. Is Bitcoin a Ponzi scheme? Federal agencies are investigating it…. The clueless Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s boss who ought to be in jail, headed the company as it lost six billion dollars, so why is he such a hero to the Wall Street crowd?.... “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”—Edward Abbey (1927–1989)



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