World Food Prize Given for Genetically Modified Maize

The $250,000 World Food Prize was recently awarded to a Mexican and Indian scientist for their work developing a genetically modified strain of maize. Mexico’s Evangelina Villegas and India’s Surinder Vasal developed what is known as Quality Protein Maize.

Traditional variants of corn lack key amino acids that are required for human beings to convert it to protein. Villegas and Vasal genetically altered corn to express those amino acids. By delivering high levels of protein in maize, QPM could have a strong effect on world levels of malnourish.

That is if it ever gets a chance — environmentalists from the developed world oppose just this sort of innovation on any number of pseudo-scientific and philosophical grounds. Villegas and Vasal, in fact, lost funding for their genetically modified corn but the two persevered.

As James Glassman wrote in an editorial about the awarding of the prize, “They’ve [anti-GMO activists] succeeded in attracting a lot of public attention, encouraging more government regulation and delaying the introduction of new products, much to the disdain of most of the scientists engaged in agricultural research. Both Villegas and Vasal volunteered to Tech Central Station interviewers at the Des Moines conference that the concerns of the protestors were overblown.”

Hopefully future agricultural innovations such as QPM won’t be held hostage to extremist environmental views.

Source:

Beating Hunger — the Biggest Prize. James K. Glassman, Tech Central Station, October 16, 2000.

Mexican, Indian to be Named Millenium World Food Prize Laureates. World Food Prize Press Release, September 7, 2000.

U.S. Tax Dollars Buy Death in Colombia

The American government plans on sending about $1 billion in aid to Colombia to help that nation fight a war on drugs. Critics complain that the money will largely end up in the hands of the Colombian military, which has a long history of human rights violations and a see and hear no evil policy toward right wing militias within that country. Oh no, counter supporters in the Clinton administration — the aid and weapons won’t be used for anything but fight narcotics traffickers.

Unfortunately an FBI report sent to Colombia in May but only recently seen by the U.S. press, implicates U.S. military hardware in a December 1998 attack on Colombia civilians. While the Colombian military was fighting with Leftist rebels nearby, an explosion in the village of Santo Domingo killed 16 people, including 6 children. The army claimed that the explosion was caused by a truck bomb set off by the guerillas.

The FBI report begs to differ. Its analysis of the damage and debris fingers a US-made AN-M41 bomb dropped on the village as the likeliest cause of the explosion. Shrapnel found at the scene was “consistent” with the use of the 20-pound bomb. The United States shipped the Colombian air force numerous such bombs over the years as part of previous aid packages.

The Colombian air force, meanwhile, sticks to its explanation of a truck bomb and now adds that the bomb fragments were planted at the scene by the Leftist guerillas. The only problem with that conspiracy theory is that a separate report by Colombia’s Medical Forensic Institute found that shrapnel taken from the bodies of victims was inconsistent with a truck or car bomb (the military also dismissed that report).

This is the sort of corrupt military that the Clinton administration wants to get in bed with — one whose basic approach is that killing the right civilians is largely the same thing as killing Leftist guerillas. Not that the guerillas are much better, but it is insanity to subsidize such murder with $1 billion in aid. Let the Colombian government and the guerillas kill on their own dime — there’s no reason to taint U.S. taxpayers with the blood of Colombian civilians.

Source:

FBI report points to cover-up in 1998 Colombian village bombing. The Associated Press, September 26, 2000.

Run for Cover

Yikes. A couple weeks ago while lying on the couch moaning from being sick I thought I’d do something uplifting and watched a History Channel documentary on the space object that exploded over Siberia on June 30, 1908. There is still considerable debate over exactly what the object was — but if you’d been nearby it probably wouldn’t have mattered to you a great deal if it was a meteorite, comet or something else that gave off energy equivalent to 1,500 Hiroshima bombs.

And that was pretty minor all things considering. If an asteroid just 10km in diameter hit the plant at the right angle going 30km/s, the resulting explosion would be equal to about 15 billion Hiroshima’s (i.e. pretty much say goodbye to life as you know it).

Now comes a new report that the number of near earth asteroids has been underestimated by as much as 20 percent. Yikes. Head for cover.

(On the other hand, you have to love the BBC running this self-evident statement, “But no-one knows exactly how many undiscovered asteroids are out there.” Umm, isn’t it impossible by definition to know how many undiscovered things there are?)

Direct Democracy? No Thanks

Jon Katz is upset because our upcoming election in the United States won’t express the direct will of the voters. To that I can only say, thank God. Too many of my fellow Americans are morons and I’m glad the system will subvert their will. Allow me to justify that extreme statement.

I live in an extremely poor neighborhood basically because the rent is cheap and it’s close to the university. Property values for non-rental units are rock bottom in my neighborhood. The city, in all its wisdom, decided a couple years ago that it wanted to reclaim the area and drive up property values so it pushed through a measure to designate where I live as a historic district. Crack dealers on the corner, abandoned buildings with all sorts of animals living inside them, but it’s a historic district.

So my wife and I go down to the hearing on the topic and point out that this is insane, and that the net effect of this would be to immediately stop ongoing repairs of houses and drive the current residents to the north side of Kalamazoo which is crack house heaven (very very bad place to live). To which several of the people get up and respond that that’s fine with them — get these renters out so the neighborhood can become populated by single home owners. Considering probably 70% of the houses are rental now, this was an incredibly obnoxious statement in our view.

The historic district passed and so did my predictions. The guy who owned the abandoned house with all the abandoned animals living in it started to remodel the place to rent it out, and stopped when the city told him the new historic requirements would pretty close to double the costs of the renovations, rendering the whole project unprofitable — except to the wild animals who appreciate the city’s help.

Katz might also note that in some polls large majorities of Americans would gladly restrict First Amendment rights. One poll I saw a few months ago show a majority of those polled felt newspapers shouldn’t be allowed to criticize government officials, for example (and maybe this is just a Midwest thing, but we do get people who will write letters to the editor complaining that the local newspaper shouldn’t endorse candidates for office because there is something improper about it — very bizarre).

Not to mention the large numbers of people who would like to see controls placed on the Internet because of things like pornography. Thank goodness we have many, many institutions in place to prevent such people from being able to convert their will into democratic action.

Katz’s piece represents what I like to call the fetishization of democracy. It ignores the fact that the Founding Fathers of this country did not see voting and democracy as an end in themselves but rather as a means to a separate good (namely reducing the likelihood of tyrannical government).

In many ways, America today is the dark side of the democracy that was envisioned by the framers of the Constitution where voting is now a tool used to pull the levers of state power in order to enrich whichever special interest can muster the most votes. The last thing Americans should do is encourage that trend.

Groovin’

At least from where I am on the net, I’ve had a hard time reaching the Groove Networks site most of the day (at least at reasonable speeds). Anyway, Jon Udell has an interview with Groove Networks founder Ray Ozzie, How Ray Ozzie Got His Groove Back. To quote,

Jon: If the objective is secure, yet spontaneous, collaboration that can work within and across corporate borders, Groove beats e-mail hands down — assuming everybody you need to communicate with runs Groove. The aim, of course, is to make Groove ubiquitous. But for the foreseeable future, it’s going to continue to be e-mail that makes the world go round. Groove can use e-mail as the vector for an invitation into a shared space, but otherwise doesn’t facilitate communication among mixed groups of Groove and non-Groove users. How can Groove best co-exist with the current e-mail habit, while at the same time reforming that habit?

Ray: As you are subtly implying, the best co-existence strategy is one of integration. And, as you say, this is specifically why we’ve embraced e-mail as a key mechanism for invitation into Groove shared spaces. That said, two mechanisms are available — albeit currently in prototype form — that will assist in bringing e-mail-based users into collaboration with Groove shared space users. As Groove matures over the upcoming months, we plan on integrating more and more of this level of function into our base tools.

First, it’s possible to send e-mail directly into a shared space (through a Relay Server) — provided an appropriate method of addressing the e-mail, and a cooperating tool within the shared space. Thus, e-mail users will be able to, in essence, send or “cc” e-mail directly to a group of users sharing a Groove shared space.

Second, if designed to do so, it’s a trivial exercise for a tool implementor to send a copy of shared-space activity to one or more external e-mail users, provided that they can format the content and activities in an appropriate way for the medium. Specifically, it’s easy to copy messages (e.g., discussion items and documents) to e-mail users. It is a bit more challenging to understand how one might copy sketchpad strokes, changes to outline items, or chess moves to e-mail-based participants.

Two comments:

1. The comment about chess moves is a bit perplexing given that there are literally dozens of programs designed specifically to communicate chess moves via e-mail. This would seem like a relatively straightforward and trivial problem to solve, not one that is especially challenging.

2. For some reason Udell doesn’t ask the interesting question — invitations and maybe part of the “shared-space activity” can be sent out via e-mail, but can someone restricted to e-mail send information back into the shared space?

From what I’ve read of Groove, it seems very interesting, but I hope the system can fully accomodate using e-mail as IMO it is the single most important tool in collaboration, and is almost certainly going to be so for the forseeable future (in fact barring ubiquitous extremely high speed Internet connections, I have difficulties envisioning any tool surpassing the usefulness of e-mail).

Groovin’ Part II

Mark Morgan pointed out, in reply to my original Groovin’ message, that the current Groove.Net client is Wintel only, although from what I’ve read clients for other systems are definitely planned.

After installing the program on my system and playing with it, I am impressed but I wonder if the software isn’t a bit ahead of its time.

Before my current job, I worked with a videoconferencing group at Pharmacia & Upjohn. Sharing data in a collaborative environment as easily as we could share video was a very high priority and I saw numerous products that promised this — Groove.Net really blows them all away. If there’s a collaborative process you might want, it’s in there, and it looks gorgeous. It features a very nice user interface.

Somehow in my first goaround I missed the part in Jon Udell’s interview with Ray Ozzie where Ozzie said,

First, it’s possible to send e-mail directly into a shared space (through a Relay Server) — provided an appropriate method of addressing the e-mail, and a cooperating tool within the shared space. Thus, e-mail users will be able to, in essence, send or “cc” e-mail directly to a group of users sharing a Groove shared space.

So users can send e-mail to a “shared space” much as I can e-mail this web site.

Will Groove succeed? I dunno. Even though it looked good I couldn’t help but feeling a lot of the articles were basically Napster-bandwagon hype. From reading comments by users and my own experiments, it seems to have some pretty serious latency problems over the Internet, though works very nice on a LAN making it an interesting option for the corporate environment (as some folks on Slashdot pointed out, all Groove really is, boiled down to its core, is a peer-to-peer version of Hotline.