Aren’t all plants genetically modified?

The evolution of corn or maize (Zea mays) over roughly a thousand years

Interesting article about how a certain pest is adapting to genetically modified corn created by Monsanto. The little critter has developed resistance to the pesticide engineered into the plant:

What the rootworm’s evolved resistance to Monsanto’s crop says about the future of genetically modified agriculture depends largely on your opinion of GM crops. Those who are fundamentally opposed to the practice of crop biotechnology as a whole — i.e., the individuals quick to decry GM crops as “Frankenfood” that will spell the demise of the human race — are probably liable to assume a position of “I told you so.”

There’s a whole group of people who are convinced GMO foodstuffs are evil or harmful. I’m sure it’s possible to produce a variant that’s bad for you or outright poisonous in some way, although that would sure defeat the profit motive purpose. But on the modification point, aren’t all plants genetically modified? Descent with modification?

Plants and their ancestors have been modified since the end of the Hadean eon roughly 3.8 billion years ago. Over billions of years a sort of bacterial collective developed that uses sunlight to make simple sugars. Thru the Cambrian, past extinctions and meteors and who knows what else, the plants evolved. Then, we came along and intensely modified the shit out of a few of them for millennia until most can no longer reproduce or survive in the wild without our constant nursing.

They’ve already been about as genetically modified as they can be. Hard to image how anything Monsanto does is somehow more modification than all that. If companies were cooking up corn that commits genocide, if they are engineering a corn-stalk that chows down on raw human meat while playing chess, then yeah, there might be cause for concern. But until something like that happens, I have to admit, I just don’t get the skepticism about GMO food.

Update 11:10 AM CDT: Some great comments below, including this one by Kewball, “I think I can speak for the agriculture producers: it’s not about the scary genetic DNA hoodoo, it’s about the damn patents. That’s a real and growing *cough* problem as I’m sure you well know. All it takes is some wild oat pollen floating about the county and before you know it, your field of organic, artisan cotton is “owned” by Monsanto and the burden of proof is on you to show that you did not steal seeds from the Corporationperson.”

Press release from the Texas Space Alliance

Reprinted in full below — DS

AUSTIN, TX, AUG 30, 2011 – The Texas Space Alliance (TXA) urged Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and the rest of the Texas Congressional delegation to give their full support to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s call for transferring funding to American spacecraft companies and end plans for a giant “pork” rocket being promoted by the Senator and others. On Wednesday, 24 Aug 2011, Rep. Rohrabacher (R-CA) boldly called for an emergency funding transfer of NASA’s unobligated funds into their commercial crew program in response to the failure of a Russian Soyuz rocket to deliver a Progress supply freighter to the International Space Station (ISS).

“This funding transfer will rapidly accelerate the progress of American companies currently developing innovative crew and cargo transport vehicles here in the United States – all of which are based in or have significant and expanding operations in Texas,” said TXA’s Rick Tumlinson. “These companies; SpaceX, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, and Blue Origin are leading a revolution, and they need to see our legislators fighting for them – not against them.”

The TXA believes Congress should cancel plans for what many are now calling the Senate Launch System (SLS), a $38 billion dollar earmark to produce a giant government rocket not due to fly until 2021 – if ever. SLS would cannibalize funds previously intended for other projects, including many based at Johnson Space Center. It would also gut the aforementioned commercial crew programs intended to create a new US commercial space fleet to carry astronauts to the space station rather than outsourcing the job to Russian government vehicles.

“While it is well meant attempt to save jobs, it seems doomed to fail in the end – something our workers, space program and taxpayers cannot afford…literally.” said TXA’s Wayne Rast. “SLS may even starve the space station – a Houston based program – eat exploration technology dollars that would be spent right here, and force our Texas-based Astronaut corps to fly to space on Russian rockets. SLS would be better off de-funded so that money can be spent on true American innovation and progress. Let’s keep our Texas workforce on the leading edge of tomorrow, and build that future in Texas.”

Concluded Tumlinson: “Senator Hutchison, you and others can continue to force funding for dead-end white collar “jobs” programs like SLS down NASA’s throat and continue exporting US jobs to Russia or you can support space exploration and our own private companies – who will preserve American leadership on the frontier, lead to the birth of a Texas NewSpace industry and progress for the state and for the nation. The people of Texas are watching.”

Obama wins 2012 according to never wrong analyst

So sayeth Allan Lichtman, a professor whose analysis has picked the winners in seven presidential contests in a row:

Lichtman developed his 13 Keys in 1981. They test the performance of the party that holds the presidency. If six or more of the 13 keys go against the party in power, then the opposing party wins.“The keys have figured into popular politics a bit,” Lichtman says. “They’ve never missed. They’ve been right seven elections in a row. A number that goes way beyond statistical significance in a record no other system even comes close to.”

Relief may be in sight for Texas

Tropical Storm Edouard near the Texas-Louisiana coast in 2008

As Texas politics heat up, there may be some cooling relief in sight for the blistering local weather and record drought. Via Jeff Masters:

One other area we need to watch later this week is the Gulf of Mexico. A significant shift in the atmospheric circulation is predicted for the region, with the ridge of high pressure that has brought Texas its record heat and drought predicted to shift eastwards and allow a flow of moist, tropical air into the state. A low pressure region is forecast to develop in the Gulf near the coast of Texas on Wednesday or Thursday, and this low will need to be watched for tropical development. The shift in the large scale weather pattern does not signal a permanent end to the Texas drought, but it should bring welcome rains and cooler temperatures to the Lone Star state beginning on Thursday. This will be a relief to the residents of Austin, where the temperature topped out at 112°F yesterday–the hottest day in Austin’s recorded history ..

That would be great. It’s awful here, not just baking hot, but dry as a bone too. I was out at a local lake over the weekend and it looked more like a narrow desert river snaking through the bottom of an impressive limestone canyon. We need rain desperately. The one thing that worries me about that quote above is the part I put in bold.

Tropical waves coming off of western Africa aren’t the only way hurricanes form in the Atlantic. Any low pressure system over warm ocean water a few degrees of latitude away from the equator can turn into one. This is what happened in 2008 with Tropical Storm Edouard. The disorganized system formed in the gulf, and wandered west near the Texas coast. In a short burst, the storm went from tropical disturbances to a strong Tropical Storm. Had Edouard not been a couple of hours away from landfall when this happened it could easily have blown up into a major hurricane and caught the nearby coast completely off guard. The year before a similar system popped up and did reach Hurricane status. Humberto came out nowhere and intensified faster than any storm I’ve ever seen before striking east Texas as a category 1.

Right now the gulf is so hot almost any disturbance could become a depression. And in these conditions, any depression could bloom into a major hurricane with little in the way of warning. That would probably mean great relief for much of Texas, at the small risk of disaster for a section of coast.

It’s Texas shootout!

So right now the race for the Republican presidential candidate is between Millard “Gordon-Gecko” Romney and Rick Perry. And today and tomorrow Mittens is taking it to Perry’s home turf:

Romney speaks this morning to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in San Antonio while Perry is elsewhere in the state raising money. The former Massachusetts governor has avoided taking direct swipes at the man who is now his chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, but that’s starting to change.

It’s about a hundred and ten degrees in the shade down here Millard, enjoy.

Really, what difference does it make which one of them wins in the end? Both these creeps are going to do the same thing, trick the faithful into bowing their heads and closing their eyes in pious prayer while an army of conservative hit men cut taxes on zillionaires, run every social program they can get their hands on through a Koch owned chop shop and hand out the severed parts to more zillionaires, and continue with the right-wing class war against the rest of us any way they can. Because make no mistake, the kooky conservative rich and powerful are not satisfied with millions and billions, they want it all, every last cent, and there’s a long line of enablers whispering in their ear that God wants them to have it all. They don’t just want your social security – which is luring them like a giant over funded pension plan to a corporate radier – they don’t just want your unemployment benefits such as they are, or your worker’s comp and your vacation time and your two fifteen minute breaks. No, they feel they are entitled to all of it. This is what God wants.

It’s just despicable.

Someone help me understand what goes through the mind of a likely Republican voter with any critical thinking skills whatsoever? We tried conservative foreign policy in Iraq; it was a spectacular bloody failure costing a trillion dollars, thousands of lives and limbs, and still counting (And Obama’s efforts have been far more effective and literally magnitudes of order less expensive in every way measurable). We’ve tried conservative economic policy, slashing taxes and deregulating virtually every type of business. The end result of that was record deficits and the worst economic cluster-fuck since the days of Hoover.

What mental process is it that leads from those undisputed empirical facts of recent history above to the ineffable conclusion that the best way forward is to elect people promising to those very same things again and again?

What price for failure?

Great article in the WSJ about Hewlett-Packard. And boy, does it deliver on the title and lead: Let’s say you were given a year to kill HP. Here’s how you do it:

Announce plans to maybe sell the PC business. Or maybe spin off PCs as a stand-alone company. Uncertainty will damage the price. Never mind the years of effort H-P spent — including a controversial merger with Compaq — becoming the world’s largest PC maker. .. From former CEO Carly Fiorina’s spectacular flame-out, and former chairwoman Patricia Dunn’s illegal spying scandal, to Mr. Hurd’s alleged sex scandal that apparently didn’t involve any sex at all, this sort of dysfunction has become “the H-P Way.”

It’s a fun read! Well, for me anyway, I was once a portfolio manager for a large Wall Street firm. It brought up fond memories of other companies, Novell for example, who somehow managed to languish even as their field was exploding. But what strikes me these days is stories like the one unfolding at HP aren’t unique. They seem to be more common than ever. People build a company into a giant success; new people come in and shoot themselves and everything nearby in the head endlessly. And yet they never seem to get fired.

Meanwhile, mid-level managers and entry-level employees are penalized if they’re five minutes late. Miss more than a couple of days in one month and superiors become cool and aloof, you could be fired in a ‘right-to-work’ state for that kind of absenteeism! It’s a weird system, one that guarantees sub par performance and failure. But I guess it pays a tiny sliver of influential people really, really, well.

Bachmann-Perry overdive: it was just a harmless joke

Via Politico (With my apologies), crazy-eyed Michelle Bachmann has clarified her comments that God was sending disasters because he wanted less government spending on the middle-class and poor:

Of course I was being humorous when I said that. It would be absurd to think it was anything else,” Bachmann said on Monday on a campaign stop in Miami. “I am a person who loves humor, I have a great sense of humor,” she said.

So there you have it, Bachmman just has delightful sense of humor which happens to include speaking for the sacred deity known as Republican-Jesus whom she openly adores and defends.

This incessant yammering from the Rick Perry’s and Bachman’s about what God[s] wants is so blatantly transparent, so clearly and intensely political in nature, and so very misleading. It’s particularly annoying to hear Christians, who ostensibly believe in a divine being which commands generosity, help for the poor and sick, being led into serfdom by the town criers of today’s greed-crazed neo-medieval lords. And yet it’s been a staple of politics since the Hittites went mano-a-mano with Rameses the Second. You’d think people would see through it by now. But no, there always seem to be enough insecure, gullible peasant class foot soldiers to keep it going.

You know what would make it even more insufferable? If Bachmann scored a wingnut-welfare high-dollar book deal making her a premium Fox News grifter. Do’h!

Ron Paul and evolution, the sequal

I thought this was old news, my spin-doctor detection meter is going crazy seeing it hit the headlines again. I suspect someone is trying to make a political hit of some sort. But I have no evidence, and apparently it’s an actual topic of discussion in the media today. So, Ron Paul announces he doesn’t accept evolution, at least as far as humans are concerned:

“Well, first i thought it was a very inappropriate question, you know, for the presidency to be decided on a scientific matter,” he said. “I think it’s a theory…the theory of evolution and I don’t accept it as a theory. But I think the creator that i know, you know created us, every one of us and created the universe and the precise time and manner and all. I just don’t think we’re at the point where anybody has absolute proof on either side.”

Face/palm. Huckabee made a similar evasive quip about science not being important to the presidency on one of his debate appearance back in 2008. Which is disturbing: a president of a nation that depends critically on science for basically, everything, should either understand that science doesn’t run on “absolute proof,” or have someone at hand who can explain that to them in as much detail as necessary.

Back to Ron Paul, I’m in Texas, in the heart of what used to be called Bush country, and have a good friend who is a big, big fan of the good Dr Paul. We’ve talked about it a bit, and the thing I try to get across is I love some of the stuff Paul says. He was the first sitting GOP politician who cast doubt on the Iraq War, he’s against drug prohibition and the insane laws and breaches of rights that go along with it. Paul’s view on evolution is more nuanced than the quote above, at least as represented in his writings and statements elsewhere.

But he also seems to believe some bug-fuck crazy shit that forces me to question the man’s judgement, and casting doubt on whether or not humans evolved like every other living thing is just the tip of the iceberg. Moreover, this has gotten worse, not better, with the rise of the know-nothing right. I think Paul has been affected by that; its human nature, he likes the attention, applause and celebrity can be quite seductive. One of the biggest strike against him, in my view, is his son Rand Paul, a full on ignorant anti-government sociopath who seems hell bent on stealing the Social Security and Medicare I’ve paid into for almost 40 years and feeding it to Paris Hilton as tax cuts, and who claims to believe we can really run the world’s greatest super-power on a loosely confederated state government system that doesn’t work anywhere else in the world and didn’t work here for more than a few decades.  Ron Paul the senior has not intervened in that crazy talk, not in any way that I’m aware of. Ron Paul would have to change quite a bit before I would vote for him over a generic democrat, much less volunteer for his campaign. Starting with denouncing his own son’s core beliefs as bat-shit insane.

A galaxy in a computer

A simulated top-down view of the Milky Way galaxy


After many and tries by several teams, one group of astronomers have succeeded in developing a fair facsimile of the entire Milky Way galaxy using the known laws of physics and a few ideas from leading theorists:

“Previous efforts to form a massive disk galaxy like the Milky Way had failed, because the simulated galaxies ended up with huge central bulges compared to the size of the disk,” said Javiera Guedes, a graduate student in astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and first author of a paper on the new simulation, called “Eris.”

How’d they do it? Well, first you need nearly unlimited access to NASA’s state of the art Pleiades super computer. Then it’s simply a matter of:

To perform the Eris simulation, the researchers began with a low-resolution simulation of dark matter evolving to form the haloes that host present-day galaxies. Then they chose a halo with an appropriate mass and merger history to host a galaxy like the Milky Way and “rewound the tape” back to the initial conditions. Zooming in on the small region that evolved into the chosen halo, they added gas particles and greatly increased the resolution of the simulation. High resolution means tracking the interactions of a huge number of particles.

Crazy pastor wants to register atheists?

He’s not a real influential fella from what I can tell, but this is still weird — if it’s not some kinda sick joke:

Brothers and Sisters , I have been seriously considering forming a ( Christian ) grassroots type of organization to be named “The Christian National Registry of Atheists” or something similar . I mean , think about it . There are already National Registrys for convicted sex offenders , ex-convicts , terrorist cells , hate groups like the KKK , skinheads , radical Islamists , etc..
This type of “National Registry” would merely be for information purposes . To inform the public of KNOWN ( i.e., self-admitted) atheists.

Known and self admitted … And there’s lot more crazy at the link that stuff came from. Yes, yes, I know PZ and others probably saw this a day or two ago, but I just got wind of it.