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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Cloned Bananas

There is a movement afoot to label foods - particularly meat - that result from cloning. This results, in part, from a non-scientific phobia that replaces evidence and logic with irrational fear. I suspect most of those people insisting that cloned foods are dangerous would never suspect that the world's most favorite fruit (actually a berry that grows as an herb), the banana, is cloned. It cannot reproduce on its own and has no seeds.

The variety we now eat is the Cavendish, which is immune to the devastating fungal blight that destroyed the Gros Michel, an earlier variety with seeds and a much softer flesh. Each Cavendish is its genetic twin, tastes exactly the same, ripens in exactly seven days, and is very predictable.

The Cavendish was exported to Asia where it became quite popular, but now the same fungus that wiped out the Gros Michel - that is a slight variant of the Central American fungus - is devastating the Cavendish plants. So far it has yet to jump hemispheres - only a matter of time -- and unless plant geneticists can splice in a gene that makes the banana resistant, the banana may no longer exist in a decade.

These interesting little gems are from a fascinating book entitled Banana: The Fruit that Changed the World by Dan Koeppel.

Iran Encounter Grimly Echoes ’02 War Game - New York Times

Iran Encounter Grimly Echoes ’02 War Game - New York Times

There are two very important lessons in this piece that appear to have been ignored by our government and military to our great peril.

1. Low-tech attacks, cheap and easy, can often easily beat high-tech expensive defenses; and most disturbingly,
2. Notice that the military command changed the rules after they lost so the Blue Team could win. Rather than learn from the important lesson and adjust to face its implications, they changed the rules! That's a recipe for disaster!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Tax cuts

I am sitting here listening to the Republicans debate which of them is better at tax cuts and how we can bring in so much more money if we would just cut taxes even more. The question I would ask is then why not cut the taxes to zero. Then the government would bring in huge amounts of money. The logic is lost on me somewhere.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Snow, Audible, Cold Reading

Now why would someone who generally hates cold weather and snow become so intrigued by books and videos about mountaineering? I was fooling around with my IPODs (have one of each generation being an addict to electronic devices) that plays video and just for laughs downloaded The Discovery Channel's Everest series from iTunes and watched it on my little iPod. Clarity and resolution are astonishing.

That got me back into Jon Krakauer's Eiger Dreams: Ventures Among Men and Mountains.
It's outstanding. I had already read Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, both excellent. So here I am blowing snow off my long (800 ft) lane, knocking back drifts, trying to keep my glasses free of snow, enjoying Audible's Eiger Dreams, read quite credibly by the author. Bizarre scene, but very enjoyable. I'm also listening to the Boys of Everest; also outstanding.

I am more than a little surprised that no one has forced the climbers to clean up after themselves, What a mess on the Everest summit; and apparently, according to Krakauer, it's difficult to find clean snow to melt on Mt. McKinley there is so much excrement from previous climbers. Time to send some cleanup expeditions.