23 April 2018

More thoughts on "GMO"

The science of genetic modification is proceeding apace. It's public perception that's lagging. I understand people's justifiable anger at Monsanto for its monopolistic tactics and its blindness to the dangers of things like GMO to make plants "roundup ready..." with all of the unintended and adverse consequences that entails (for example). But the fact remains that directed adaptation through gene science is already a functioning scientific endeavor. There's no stopping it. What needs to be done is to figure out how to make sure it's done right. Just ignorant rejection of all genetic modification of food plants isn't going to do it; in fact it will play into the hands of those who would manipulate the science in the interests of nothing but greed. 

Turns out the main differences between GMO and ordinary, undirected evolution by natural selection are: (1) the obvious, that there actually IS intelligent design involved, for better or worse; (2) the ability to introduce genes that nature would have had no realistic opportunity to bring together; and (3) speed. Artificial variation is several orders of magnitude faster than natural variation. With these fantastic abilities comes great responsibility. As with other areas of human endeavor, we are being put to the test. If we fail, it will be spectacular, and horrible. But if we succeed, the sky is no limit. 

21 April 2018

C4 photosynthesis and GM


Science types may be familiar with C4 photosynthesis (look it up in Wikipedia). It evolved about 30 million years ago and has in the last 5-7 million years become important in, especially, grasslands, where drought tolerance and efficient carbon fixation are important adaptations. Essentially, it's a major upgrade in one of the most important "Good Tricks" in the evolution of life, namely photosynthesis, the ability to turn sunlight into food.

Several important food crops, including corn (maize) and sorghum, use C4, but rice, wheat, rye, barley, and oats do not. There is now important and very promising research going on to introduce the genetic modifications to these grain species that would enable them to make use of C4 photosynthesis to (1) fix carbon from CO-2, thus helping to ameliorate climate change; (2) survive with much less water; and (3) greatly increase their efficiency at producing human usable food (their seeds). Kneejerk opposition to genetic modification aside, this is very promising for making sure the Earth is capable of feeding the 9+ billion people who are expected to inhabit it before the population peaks sometime in this century or early next.

20 April 2018

Fighting Dirty

I respect David Faris a lot. I haven't read his book, It's Time to Fight Dirty; How Democrats can build a Lasting Majority in American Politics, but I've heard him interviewed by Sam Seder and Ian Masters, and I think he's right on. The Right, McConnell as much as Trump, have thrown out all norms (think filibuster misuse, which was their doing, think the Merrick Garland heist). And we've just taken it. Faris advocates getting back control by aggressive politics (and Trump is a gift in this respect), then hitting them with some stuff that we haven't been able to do before. DC and Puerto Rico statehood. End the filibuster entirely. A new National Voting Rights Act that makes gerrymandering illegal. Split up California and some other Blue states to get more senators. Hell, pack the court. The Constitution says almost nothing about the Supreme Court. Legislation alone could impose 18 year term limits (his idea), with a guarantee that every president gets to name two justices every term. And they could insert rules that if the nomination isn't approved or rejected within say five weeks, it's automatically approved; if two justices in a row are rejected, the third and all subsequent ones can only be rejected by 2/3 vote. Stuff like that. These reforms can be made by majority vote. The Republicans would be unable to undo all of them, because I think they would end up being very popular. The Demographics are on our side. Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, and consistently get more votes in House races than Republicans, but still lose because of gerrymandering. It really is high time we take back our democracy. 



Kaine, AUMF 18, and Clinton's loss... a rant

 Farflung correspondents, 

If you kinda wondered about Tim Kaine (a horrible Veep choice in '16 who helped Clinton lose, just a little, but maybe just enough). He just co-sponsored a bill, the AUMF of 2018, that essentially reverses permanently the Constitutional provision for war powers, giving the war power fundamentally to THIS PRESIDENT (!!) and all future presidents, with only very unlikely Congressional veto as a check. What a horrible, terrible, really bad idea, Mr. Woulda-been Vice President! Sheesh. With Democrats like this no wonder we've been losing everything. But the winds of change are upon us. No one like Kaine will be running in 2020, I'll guarantee that.

Y'know, contrafactuals are dumb, OK, sure. But I SWEAR. Clinton made a LOT of mistakes. And it's she, not Comey, who is primarily responsible for losing the election to Trump. But I honestly think if she'd chosen Bernie, or Sherrod Brown, say, as a running mate, that alone would've been enough, and this national nightmare would've been averted. Yes. I DO blame her. We would not be in this mess if she hadn't been so ineffective a campaigner; hadn't been so unwilling to embrace the Progressive energy of the party base. Kaine sent exactly the wrong signal. Having good policies on a website is not enough; you have to live and breathe progressive ideas and be truly invested in the well being of your constituency. And people just did not believe that about Clinton. 

But that's all water under the bridge. Now we must pull together, vote for people even like Conor Lamb, and form strong coalitions that will defeat this existential threat to our republic. So I'll shut up about blaming Democrats. But I just had to get that off my chest.

11 April 2018

Ryan will not run

News: Ayn Randite from Janesville, WI, Paul Ryan, will NOT RUN for reelection. Being reported on NBC. 


Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves that they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.