Category: Activities (page 1 of 14)

Activities are gatherings that occur on a regular schedule, usually weekly, to enjoy a specific pastime.

Book Discussion: ,Paris in the Present Tense by Mark Helprin, June 13, 2018

The magnificent new novel by the gifted, singular #1 New York Times bestselling author of Winter’s Tale and A Soldier of the Great War Mark Helprin’s powerful, rapturous new novel is set in a present-day Paris caught between violent unrest and its well-known, inescapable glories. Seventy-four-year-old Jules Lacour?a ma?tre at Paris-Sorbonne, cellist, widower, veteran of the war in Algeria, and child of the Holocaust?must find a balance between his strong obligations to the past and the attractions and beauties of life and love in the present. In the midst of what should be an effulgent time of life?days bright with music, family, rowing on the Seine?Jules is confronted headlong and all at once by a series of challenges to his principles, livelihood, and home, forcing him to grapple with his complex past and find a way forward. He risks fraud to save his terminally ill infant grandson, matches wits with a renegade insurance investigator, is drawn into an act of savage violence, and falls deeply, excitingly in love with a young cellist a third his age. Against the backdrop of an exquisite and knowing vision of Paris and the way it can uniquely shape a life, he forges a denouement that is staggering in its humanity, elegance, and truth. In the intoxicating beauty of its prose and emotional amplitude of its storytelling, Mark Helprin’s Paris in the Present Tense is a soaring achievement, a deep, dizzying look at a life through the purifying lenses of art and memory

Happy Wanderers: Staten Island, March 20, 2018

Happy Wanderers Staten Island
Joe Spain will lead the Happy Wanderers on their kick off trip this season on Tuesday, March 20 with a trip to Staten Island. Plans are to take the subway from Grand Central Station to the ferry terminal at the tip of Manhattan and then across the
lower harbor to New York’s southernmost borough. The walk will include a tour of several historic districts and a ride on the Islands transit system.

Rise and Kill First by Ronen Bergman

Recommended by Tom Haack

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The first definitive history of the Mossad, Shin Bet, and the IDF’s targeted killing programs, hailed by The New York Times as “an exceptional work, a humane book about an incendiary subject.”

The Talmud says: “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” This instinct to take every measure, even the most aggressive, to defend the Jewish people is hardwired into Israel’s DNA. From the very beginning of its statehood in 1948, protecting the nation from harm has been the responsibility of its intelligence community and armed services, and there is one weapon in their vast arsenal that they have relied upon to thwart the most serious threats: Targeted assassinations have been used countless times, on enemies large and small, sometimes in response to attacks against the Israeli people and sometimes preemptively.

In this page-turning, eye-opening book, journalist and military analyst Ronen Bergman—praised by David Remnick as “arguably [Israel’s] best investigative reporter”—offers a riveting inside account of the targeted killing programs: their successes, their failures, and the moral and political price exacted on the men and women who approved and carried out the missions.

Bergman has gained the exceedingly rare cooperation of many current and former members of the Israeli government, including Prime Ministers Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as high-level figures in the country’s military and intelligence services: the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), the Mossad (the world’s most feared intelligence agency), Caesarea (a “Mossad within the Mossad” that carries out attacks on the highest-value targets), and the Shin Bet (an internal security service that implemented the largest targeted assassination campaign ever, in order to stop what had once appeared to be unstoppable: suicide terrorism).

Including never-before-reported, behind-the-curtain accounts of key operations, and based on hundreds of on-the-record interviews and thousands of files to which Bergman has gotten exclusive access over his decades of reporting, Rise and Kill First brings us deep into the heart of Israel’s most secret activities. Bergman traces, from statehood to the present, the gripping events and thorny ethical questions underlying Israel’s targeted killing campaign, which has shaped the Israeli nation, the Middle East, and the entire world.

“A remarkable feat of fearless and responsible reporting . . . important, timely, and informative.”—John le Carré


NYT Book Review: 

Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West by Tom Clavin

Dodge City, Kansas, is a place of legend. The town that started as a small military site exploded with the coming of the railroad, cattle drives, eager miners, settlers, and various entrepreneurs passing through to populate the expanding West. Before long, Dodge City’s streets were lined with saloons and brothels and its populace was thick with gunmen, horse thieves, and desperadoes of every sort. By the 1870s, Dodge City was known as the most violent and turbulent town in the West.

Enter Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. Young and largely self-trained men, the lawmen led the effort that established frontier justice and the rule of law in the American West, and did it in the wickedest place in the United States. When they moved on, Wyatt to Tombstone and Bat to Colorado, a tamed Dodge was left in the hands of Jim Masterson. But before long Wyatt and Bat, each having had a lawman brother killed, returned to that threatened western Kansas town to team up to restore order again in what became known as the Dodge City War before riding off into the sunset.

#1 New York Times bestselling author Tom Clavin’s Dodge City tells the true story of their friendship, romances, gunfights, and adventures, along with the remarkable cast of characters they encountered along the way (including Wild Bill Hickock, Jesse James, Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill Cody, John Wesley Hardin, Billy the Kid, and Theodore Roosevelt) that has gone largely untold―lost in the haze of Hollywood films and western fiction, until now.

Recommended by Tom Haack

Current Affairs: Blockchain and Crypto Currency, June 21, 2018

Beyond the
Bitcoin Bubble

Yes, it’s driven by greed — but the mania for cryptocurrency could wind up building something much more important than wealth.

Current Affairs: Network Neutrality, TBD

Current Affairs: End of Life Care – Issues and Policies, May 17, 2018

Just because we can extend life, should we? The U.S. is expected to spend $2.8 trillion on health care in 2012. Medicare alone will cost taxpayers $590 billion, with over 25% going toward patients in their last year of life. If health care is a scarce resource, limited by its availability and our ability to pay for it, should government step in to ration care, deciding whose life is worth saving? In other words, how much is an extra month of life worth?

For The Motion
The U.S. spends more on health care than any other industrial nation—in 2012 we are expected to spend $2.8 trillion. We cannot afford our health care system and expensive end-of-life care costs are a major contributor to this problem.
Rationing means getting better value for the trillions we spend every year.
Rationing already happens. Medicare decides what it will reimburse, private insurance decides what they will cover, and individuals go without care and medicine every day when they can’t afford it.
We must ration based on cost-effectiveness, not on an individual’s ability to pay.
If we spent less on those who, with or without treatment, have only a few months left to live, we would be better able to help those who may have decades.
Against The Motion
The government should not have the power to determine who lives, who dies, and who gets treatment based on calculations of quality and quantity of life.
Health care costs can be reined in without rationing care.
Targeting “end-of-life” care specifically would result in very little cost savings.
Rationing care will lead us down a moral slippery slope. How many years of life is enough? Who is productive and worthy, and who is not?

In 1994, Oregon voters passed the Death with Dignity Act, which legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. Since then, it has become legal in 4 more states, including New Mexico, where the state court ruling that it is constitutional is under appeal. Is it, in the words of the American Medical Association’s code of ethics, “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer”? Will these laws lead to a slippery slope, where the vulnerable are pressured to choose death and human life is devalued? Or do we need to recognize everyone’s basic right to autonomy, the right to end pain and suffering, and the right to choose to die with dignity?

For The Motion
The right to die as one chooses—and to decide when life is no longer worth living—is integral to human freedom, liberty, and personal autonomy. Neither the government, nor religious institutions, should impose their own conceptions of morality upon individuals who are not harming others.
As an option in end-of-life care, aid in dying would allow terminally ill, mentally competent individuals to retain dignity and bodily integrity in the face of insurmountable pain and suffering.
In places where assisted suicide is legal—namely, Oregon and the Netherlands—there is no evidence that the law is being abused, that vulnerable populations are being targeted, or that patients are being coerced by doctors and/or their families to choose death.
If physician-assisted suicide remains illegal, lesser and more dangerous alternatives—shooting oneself, enlisting doctors or family to break the law, DIY suicide—will spread in its place.
Against The Motion
If assisted suicide is legalized, we will be led down a slippery slope towards pervasive medical killing, endangering vulnerable populations—disabled, elderly, minority, or poor—whose lives are seen as a burden on society.
If pain is treated effectively, there is no need to treat the patient as if the patient were the “problem to be eliminated.”
Starting with the Hippocratic Oath, medical professional codes prohibit killing, holding the intrinsic value of human life and dignity above all other ethical principles. Assisted suicide erodes the doctor-patient relationship and has grave potential for misuse and abuse.
Many physicians do not want to have God-like power over others, and they should not be pressured, against their own convictions, to assist in a patient’s suicide.

Horse Soldiers : the Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan by Doug Stanton

Documents the post-September 11 mission during which a small band of Special Forces soldiers captured the strategic Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif as part of an effort to defeat the Taliban, in a dramatic account that includes testimonies by Afghanistan citizens whose lives were changed by the war.

Now a movie “12 Strong”


Also, consider Odyssey by Doug Stanton


Recommended by Tom Brayton

The Odyssey of Echo Company : the 1968 TET Offensive and the Epic Battle to Survive the Vietnam War by Doug Stanton

I picked up Doug Stanton’s Odessy of Echo Company a couple of days ago and found it to be a very good read on the life on one soldier, especially during the Tet offensive.  Happened to mention it to Tom Brayton (who is an avid reader, more than myself I believe) and he too had read it and felt it to be a great book.  Not a book for the group but a good story about one persons 12 months there and how he coped with PTSD and life afterward.  Don’t see how he survived some of the stuff he went through.

Taylor Strubinger

Current Affairs: Refugees, April 19, 2018

Discussion leader: David Mace


Here is a good overview piece from the Pew Research Center on refugees

IQ2  Debate:

Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Most have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, but many have risked death to reach Europe and the possibility of a better life. Unlike Europe and Syria’s neighbors, the United States has had the advantage of picking and choosing from afar, taking in just over 2,000 Syrian refugees since the war’s start. The Obama administration has pledged to take another 10,000 in 2016, but there are some who suggest that we are falling well below the number that we can and should accept. What are our moral obligations, and what are the cultural, economic, and security issues that must be taken into account? Should the U.S. let in 100,000 Syrian refugees?

Fact sheet supporting the debate:

And a rebuttal to the fact sheet:



Current Affairs: Inequality and increasing job automation, March 15, 2018

Discussion leader: Bryan Hooper

The American Dream is still alive, but it has been fading into the distance with the growth of inequality of income and wealth distribution over the past few decades. There are some good research guides to help us understand the current situation and provide a basis for discussion of how changes in automation might affect the situation in future. In particular, the economists Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics and Raj Chetty of Stanford University specialize in the study of inequality and its causes and possible cures, and the reading items suggested in these notes draw on their work.

  • The first recommendation is the World Inequality Report, which was part-authored by Thomas Piketty, and released in December, 2017. Download the executive summary from their website below and you will see in pages 4 through 16 a comprehensive review of the global situation, including an analysis of reasons for the rise in inequality and some suggestions to change the situation into a more equitable distribution. The use of well-designed charts is outstanding, and Figure E3 that illustrates the comparison between the USA and Western Europe is a good example. It shows that in the USA over a period of 36 years the share of national income of the top 1% doubled to 20% through 2016, while the bottom 50% saw its share decline from 20% to 13%. In Western Europe, in contrast, the top 1% share grew from 10% to 12%, and the bottom 50% declined from 24% to 22%. Figure E8 shows that the share of wealth (as opposed to income) rose for the top 1% in the USA from 22% in 1980 to 39% in 2014. The report is on:

    For those of you with really limited time go to the review of key findings from the report in a New York Times article from 12/14/2017:

    • The second major recommendation is to pull up The Equality of Opportunity Project website, and look at the second chart on the home page that provides the support for the first sentence of these notes. To quote, “Our work shows that children’s prospects of earning more than their parents have fallen from 90% to 50% over the past half century.” One of the Project Directors is Raj Chetty and a podcast on Freakonomics Radio expands on his research on the American Dream: there is a link to the podcast in the second paragraph of the item on Project Motivation next to the chart. You can either listen to the 40 minutes of the broadcast, or for the time-challenged, try reading the on-screen transcript instead. To save even more time read a summary of his key points below:
    Young kids who move out of a high-poverty neighborhood do much better later on in life because of several factors:
    – Residential integration.
    – Income inequality.
    – Family influence.
    – Social capital.
    – School quality.
    The investment in moving these children is repaid to society by the income taxes they pay back on the higher earnings they eventually make as adults.
    The website is:

    Chetty is also working on a project using Facebook data to help understand better the causes of inequality:

    The Brookings Institution has Chetty in 14 Charts on this site:

    • A third suggestion is to read the key points from the IPPR report titled Managing Automation which is mainly about the UK economic outlook in this area, but contains on page 17 chart 1.6 using data from the McKinsey study cited below indicating that 60% of occupations in the USA consist of activities that are 30% automatable. (Does that mean that 18% of those jobs will disappear?) It also states that occupations with zero chance of being automated include psychiatrists and legislators! The executive summary on pages 2 to 5 is a quick read, but section 2 on pages 24 to 30 covers their forecast for the growth of inequality due to automation. The potential loss of wages associated with automating activities is estimated as $1.1 trillion in the USA.

    • The fourth recommendation is to review the key findings of a McKinsey Global Institute study titled A Future that Works: Automation, Employment and Productivity. Pages ii to iii provide a quick summary. The subsequent executive summary is on pages 1 to 3, and for those with perseverance the full report covers an additional 16 pages of analysis and opinion. Themes/Digital Disruption/Harnessing automation for a future that works/MGI-A-future-that-works-Executive-summary.ashx

    • For the fifth reference point, if you still have the time and energy, have a look at the debate on Intelligence Squared from October, 2014, Income Inequality impairs the American Dream of Upward Mobility. Again, you can download a transcript to read in a shorter time than listening takes – 1:44 hours – and it will also save you having to listen to the self-centered moderator. Note that the motion was judged to have failed by their scoring system, but a majority of the audience ended up supporting it.

    • And for those with even more stamina here is a selection of newspaper articles to browse on this subject:
    From the New York Times 2/28/18: The Unmet Promise of Equality:

    As the World Economic Forum convenes in Davos, the powerful are feeling optimistic because of waning worries about populism and global economic growth.

    From The New York Times: Open Societies Under Siege. Trump is a symptom, not a cause. That is why he will be hard to dislodge.

    Hidden in the middle of this article is McKinsey’s estimate that “roughly half of all jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years.” Increased expenditures on training and development of people is suggested as the answer to the problem.
    From The New York Times: How C.E.O.s Should Spend Their Tax Cuts. Bonuses are nice, but the best investment is in training your employees.

    From The New York Times:The Redemption of Chris Hughes. The Facebook co-founder’s rise was meteoric. He argues that the same forces that helped him succeed have made it harder for others. In a new book, “Fair Shot,” he proposes a bold solution.

Current Affairs Discussion – GMO’s – February 15, 2018

Discussion Leader: Gary Banks

The IQ2 Debate is an excellent introduction to the subject. (One debater is Rob Fraley from Monsanto – I used to work with him)  Spoiler alert – the Pro GMO side won by 28%.

Genetically modified (GM) foods have been around for decades. Created by modifying the DNA of one organism through the introduction of genes from another, they are developed for a number of different reasons—to fight disease, enhance flavor, resist pests, improve nutrition, survive drought—and are mainly found in our food supply in processed foods using corn, soybeans, and sugar beets, and as feed for farm animals. Across the country and around the world, communities are fighting the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. Are they safe? How do they impact the environment? Can they improve food security? Is the world better off with or without GM food?

For The Motion
  • GM crops have been safely in our food system for nearly 20 years. There are currently no known harms or risks to human health.
  • GM crops benefit farmers and the environment by increasing crop yields, reducing the use of pesticides, and reducing the need for tillage.
  • Food security will be improved through the development of crops that can fight disease, resist pests, improve nutrition, and survive drought.
Against The Motion
  • The current regulatory system does not adequately assess the safety of GM crops and we cannot be sure of what the long-term effects of consumption will be.
  • The environmental threats include the possibility of cross-breeding with other plants, harm to non-target organisms, and decreased biodiversity.
  • The world already grows enough food to feed everyone, but it doesn’t get to the people that are hungry. Genetic engineering moves focus away from public policy solutions.


Set of Short Articles from Harvard University These are terrific.
Introduction:Words from the editors:
We all have strong opinions about what we eat and how it affects our health, and with such a large portion of land dedicated to growing our food, many are also concerned about the environmental impacts of feeding billions of people. For this reason, the discussion about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food is a highly politicized topic. When we started this project, we had heard a lot about GMO foods, but much of it seemed to come from people with a mission: the agrotech companies and food safety advocates. As scientists, we believe that the best way to really understand an issue is to go back to the primary sources. So we started with a list of questions we had about GMOs, and we asked members of our scientific community to do just that. This Special Edition is a presentation of what we found.

The articles here start from the basics: what foods are genetically modified, and how long have we been doing this? We next look at the GMO foods available now: how does eating GMOs affect organ toxicity and allergies? And what’s the health impact of the pesticides that we use on GMO crops? We also asked about the environmental effects of growing Roundup Ready and Bt crops, and the potential for GMOs to have an unintentional effect on genetic diversity. We looked at legal and policy issues—how does the patenting process affect companies and farmers? How are GMOs regulated in the US and in Europe? How have GMOs changed farming culture? And finally, we took a look at the future of GMOs: How can GMOs help us to fight world hunger and nutritional deficits in the developing world? And what technologies will we see in the next wave of genetically engineered crops?

So, did we find that GMOs are good or bad? The answer is complicated. The overwhelming majority of scientific evidence suggests that eating food with genetically modified DNA has no effect on human health, but there is also ample evidence that some GMOs have negative environmental impacts, such as the creation of superweeds. And while GMOs have not yet been wildly successful in providing solutions to an ever-growing global population and changing climate, there are certainly promising technologies in the works. It seems to us that GMOs have the potential to do great good, but in order for this to happen, research must proceed conscientiously, with consideration of the environmental risks of introducing engineered plants into our farms. But that’s just our opinion—we encourage you to put aside what you think you know about GMOs and read on to develop your own.

August 10, 2015.

GMO’s and our Food – Table of Contents

How to Make a GMO

The Long History of GMO Technology

Challenging Evolution: How GMOs Can Influence Genetic Diversity

Insecticidal Plants

Why Round-Up Ready Crops Have Lost Their Allure

Nothing to Sneeze at: the Allergenicity of GMOs

GMOs and Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful?

Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them

The Patent Landscape of Genetically Modified Organisms


Same Science, Different Policies: Regulating Genetically Modified Foods in the U.S. and Europe

Not Your Grandfather’s GMOs: An Interview with Dr. Dan Voytas

Epigenetics in Plant Breeding: Hard Science, Soft Tool

Feeding the World One Genetically Modified Tomato at a Time: A Scientific Perspective

Good as Gold: Can Golden Rice and Other Biofortified Crops Prevent Malnutrition?

aka Roundup,  Wikipedia article about its history and chemistry.  Key point – It has low toxicity because glyphosate inhibits the EPSPS enzymes of different species of plants and microbes at different rates.  EPSPS is produced only by plants and microbes; the gene coding for it is not in the mammalian genome.

Bacillus thuringiensis, aka Bt. A naturally occurring soil bacterium used in organic farming. Some GMO’s, specifically corn, have been engineered to contain specific Bt proteins. Hence, they have built-in insect resistance. It was news to me that only certain strains of Bt have insecticidal properties. Further, that specific proteins can target specific insects. The article describes how they contain a crystalline protein that destroys the digestive tract of the insect.

We aren’t as genetically pure human as we’d like to think. Genes move between species both naturally (e.g. virus’s and bacteria to animals) and by targeted genetic engineering. The reason genes can be moved is, at the genetic level, all life has a lot in common.

No-Till Farming and Herbicide Resistant Crops
Widely practiced by farmers and highly recommended by the USDA, no till farming is enabled by GMO’s.
In the spring, weeds will begin to grow on any field. The farmer plows to turn the weeds under –
not to loosen the soil for seeds.  There is an undeserved romance about plowing.  In fact, it is really bad thing to do to land.  Plowing:

  • disturbs the remaining roots of last year’s crop holding soil which leads to wind and water erosion.
  • destroys the habitat provided by the stubble from last year’s crop.
  • disturbs the biome essential to healthy soil.
  • takes capital (specifically a powerful tractor), fuel and labor.
  • the heavy tractor compacts the soil.
  • releases stored carbon into the atmosphere

The farmer then plants the crop.  But

  • weeds will immediately start to regrow.  Some from natural distribution, others from last year’s seeds turned up by the plowing.
  • weeds are more aggressive and will choke out the crop.
  • at least once, and maybe more, the farmer uses another set of equipment for inter-row harrowing.   this works best for fields with deep seeded crops and shallow seeded weeds.

Once the crop is established it will choke out the weeds.

Practicing no-till:

  • in the spring, at precisely (remember that word) the right time and in precisely the right quantity the farmer sprays the field with a herbicide – usually glyphosate.  Weeds are killed, not just turned under.
  • the equipment is much less expensive than that required for plowing.
  • stubble residue, stubble roots, and biome are not disturbed.
  • the crop is planted using a seed drill.  The Indians at Plymouth had it right – a seed drill punches a hole in the ground and drops in the seeds.

But as with a plowed field, weeds will regrow and eventually choke out the crop.  The framer can’t use glyphosate again as it will kill both the weeds and the crop.  However, if the crop is genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate the field can be sprayed with glyphosate and only the weeds will be killed.   Like with inter-row plowing, once the crop is established, it will choke out the weeds.



It is important that government regulators thoughtfully oversee GMO’s.  They must be scientifically capable as the technology is complex and ever changing.   One hopes they are data driven and not pro or con GMO zealots.  That isn’t always the case as the European laws were written without the input of their scientists.





National Academy of Sciences
New technologies in genetic engineering and conventional breeding
are blurring the once clear distinctions between these two cropimprovement
approaches. While recognizing the inherent difficulty
of detecting subtle or long-term effects in health or the environment, the
study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks
to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered
(GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive
cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.
GE crops have generally had favorable economic outcomes for producers
in early years of adoption, but enduring and widespread gains will depend
on institutional support and access to profitable local and global markets,
especially for resource-poor farmers.

Cornell Alliance for Science – the GMO debate is over


GMO’s Globally

Also see article in the Harvard series above: Same Science, Different Policies: Regulating Genetically Modified Foods in the U.S. and Europe

Some African countries have barred GMO food aid based, I think, on the notion that if it’s too dangerous for Europeans it must be too dangerous for Africans and African lives are just as valuable as European ones. Set against that is malnutrition in many of these countries and the availability not only of US-raised food aid but also better harvests in Africa. It’s a lively debate:
GMO’s in Africa



Here’s a report from the buyer at Whole Foods, which is committed to labeling but discusses how difficult it is to ensure transparency. Clearly their Millennial customer base wants to avoid GMO products as noted below.

Why I don’t buy organic – Forbes

Why organic food costs more:

Organic does not mean healthy:

So Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is good but not necessarily good for you. It non-GMO and uses eggs from cage free chickens. But a half cup contains 160 calories, 45 from fat, and not much else.

Retained Identity 

Retained Identity (RI) is a system where an agricultural product is tracked from field to the consumer at a detailed level.  It supersedes labelling. Already, food must state the country of origin may say “Organic”, “Non-GMO” and “Free Range” though those terms can be fuzzy.  Food must state its ingredients but not where those ingredients came from. (Think of the scandals in China.) Food must also state nutritional information. Better than nothing but still superficial.

Already, organic farming requires detailed record keeping of all inputs (fertilizers, pesticides), land maps, and supply chain records.

Food does not have to specify the seed variety or the pesticides that were used to grow it.

Many restaurants, markets and groceries promote “know your local farmer” with pictures of kindly farmers you want to grow your food. At the Stone Barn you can meet the pig or lamb you are about to eat (no thanks). All good.

But some food processing is better done at industrial sites where sanitation, testing and handling is controlled. Even organic farms cannot slaughter their own animals and I worry about local food trucks. And of course not all food can be sourced locally.

Block Chain (Jim – note I finally worked block chain into Current Affairs) is a promising technology to implement Retained Identity – essentially a rigorous lot control system.

Food Security in the Supply Chain



Organic vs. GMO

From the USDA:

NPR Story – Organic Pesticides: Not An Oxymoron

From Scientific American:

From Genetic Literacy:

GMO’s Globally 


Using GMO’s to produce drugs and other products

From the FDA:

What is a biological product?

Biological products include a wide range of products such as vaccines, blood and blood components, allergenics, somatic cells, gene therapy, tissues, and recombinant therapeutic proteins. Biologics can be composed of sugars, proteins, or nucleic acids or complex combinations of these substances, or may be living entities such as cells and tissues. Biologics are isolated from a variety of natural sources – human, animal, or microorganism – and may be produced by biotechnology methods and other cutting-edge technologies. Gene-based and cellular biologics, for example, often are at the forefront of biomedical research, and may be used to treat a variety of medical conditions for which no other treatments are available.

How do biological products differ from conventional drugs?

In contrast to most drugs that are chemically synthesized and their structure is known, most biologics are complex mixtures that are not easily identified or characterized. Biological products, including those manufactured by biotechnology, tend to be heat sensitive and susceptible to microbial contamination. Therefore, it is necessary to use aseptic principles from initial manufacturing steps, which is also in contrast to most conventional drugs.

Biological products often represent the cutting-edge of biomedical research and, in time, may offer the most effective means to treat a variety of medical illnesses and conditions that presently have no other treatments available.

Below is an article from the NYT’s 1/2/18. A Danish company Novozymes, has discovered enzymes that clean clothes in cold water, in less water, using less chemicals and removes stains better. All good.

To make commercial quantities of the enzyme economically researchers started with an enzyme from soil bacteria in Turkey, and modified it through genetic engineering to make it more closely resemble a substance found in cool seawater.

Next, they found a way to mass produce the enzyme. Novozymes implanted the newly developed product’s DNA into a batch of microbial hosts used to cultivate large volumes of enzymes quickly and at low cost. The enzymes were then “brewed” in large, closely monitored tanks before being sold.


Politics, Fake News, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

A question from the audience in the IQ2 debate referenced above was wicked.  She asked the Con team ” If the the scientific consensus and the regulators say GMO’s are safe, what would it take to change your mind?”  Implied answer is they will nver change their mind.  The irony is, many of the anti GMO people are exasperated by people who deny human caused climate change in the face of equally strong scientific consensus.

Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science
With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science
General article on agriculture:


Precision Agriculture – It might be the best way forward

Precision Ag is farming every square meter optimally.

  • First the farm is digitally mapped.  The soil is tested for nutrients and composition.  Streams and lakes are  noted.
  • When planting season nears weather, temperature, moisture and weeds are monitored.
  • On precisely the right day, the farmer begins field management.  A Terragator Sprayer has on-board GPS and the capability to distribute 8 channels of product continuously over a field.  Digital instructions are downloaded.  The mix of pesticides and nutrient can vary so each square meter of land get just what it needs – no more, no less.  This helps  prevent overuse and pesticide resistance.
  • Some products may be restricted to avoid lakes and streams.  The sprayer will automatically turn off near those areas and keep a digital record to prove compliance.
  • For corn, a Deere seed drill can continuously vary the number and spacing of seed plantings based on digital maps.
  • As the crop grows, specific treatments are applied.
  • At harvest, a GPS enabled Deere Harvester can continuously measure yield and quality of the harvest.  Of course, the results are digitally recorded and added to the farmer’s field database.

Organic farming requires this already though records are not available to consumers.

Precision Agriculture


The genetic genie isn’t going back in the bottle.

  • Since life began 3 billion years ago it has depended on natural mutations and selection of the fittest to evolve.
  • About 30,000 years ago there were still only natural mutations but man started to influence selection by selecting that goat or barley plant that seemed more desirable.
  • For the last 150 years man has found ways to increase the number of mutations through x-Rays, chemicals, and the like.  These were random mutations.
  • In the last few decades scientists have used more direct techniques to add genes to a cell.   These include a shotgun blast of DNA coated gold dust and using viruses to a carry a gene into a cell.
  • Very recently CRISPR technology allows the direct editing of DNA without introducing material from other organisms.
  • It appears inevitable that genetic engineering will eventually lead to creating  new or highly altered life from base molecules.    It’s “just” chemistry.

Knowing precise genetic vulnerabilities of disease, weeds and insects enable highly targeted solution with less collateral damage.

Meanwhile natural mutations and selection continues.  Bacterial and viruses are evolving rapidly.  They aren’t malevolent but the results can be an existential threat to human survival.  Consider the Spanish flu, small pox,  HIV, bubonic plague, …  Since antibiotics were discovered in the 1930’s many bacteria have become resistant.  We don’t have good drugs for viruses.  It’s an arms race and genetic engineering is a powerful weapon.

Specific to agriculture, there are threats to our food supply.  Population growth is straining the agricultural system to produce more and better food.  Arable land is limited – and possibly declining due to erosion, climate change and mismanagement.   Creating more farm land by clearing forests creates major problems.  Disease and pests are an evolving threat.

We would hope that the universities and companies doing genetic engineering will be responsible.  In case they aren’t we need even smarter regulators to help them be responsible.   The public has an obligation to understand genetic engineering to make informed choices and set thoughtful policy.  This is a global issue.


Agriculture – An Integrated Solution

Agriculture is an industry that is ripe for big data. In fact, some companies and organizations are already big data repositories. With onboard GPS and sensors, satellites and sampling data from every square meter of farm land, every day can be captured.

  • Soil type, nutrients, and microbiome
  • Weed and insect insect problems
  • Seed varieties and planting method
  • Fertilizer, herbicide and insecticides applied – rate and date
  • Plowing, mowing, harrowing and other mechanical treatments
  • Irrigation
  • Weather – moisture and temperature
  • Harvest date(s)
  • Yield and attributes of the crop

Collect this data over time to show the effects of crop rotation.

Applying analytics this data will optimize the output of the farm with the least amount of treatment.  The data would show certain seed varieties are recommended for this year for this land.  The may or may not be genetic engineered.

We recently heard from a speaker that it makes no sense to take drugs for a problem until diet and lifestyle solutions have been fully implemented.  Farmers can first attempt to farm using minimally intrusive pest control.

These data sharing programs have all been voluntary to date.  However, a case can be made to treat pesticides as pharmaceuticals.  That is, even though it is your body you can’t go the drug store and buy an antibiotic.  Most wouldn’t know what to buy or the dose.  Do-it-yourself medicine is unthinkable.   Why is it any different for farm land – even if you own it?

For agriculture a farmer who had a problem would call a crop consultant (doctor) and they would prescribe a certain treatment (drug) and application (dosage).  The farmer would take the prescription to the ag supplier (drug store) for fulfillment.    There might be a followup to make sure the problem has been solved.

The crop consultant would also police abuse.  Pest resistance is caused by overuse.  Wrong treatment, wrong rate, wrong timing is wasteful economically and damaging to the environment.

As a homeowner most of us are a county mile from scientific management of our yards.  We wouldn’t dream of polluting the Sound but yard run off is a problem.  Have you had your soil tested?  Exactly what type of fertilizer does your yard need?  When you put down crab grass preventer or broadleaf weedkiller do you really need it?  Was it done at the right time?  Is setting the dial on your spreader at “4” for the whole yard correct?    Or was it because Scott’s Turf Builder Plus 2 was on sale at Home Depot and it is “recommended” to apply in early spring?  So you have brown spots.  Might be grubs so you buy Grub Ex.   Despite the label it only works at a certain time and there are many reasons for brow spots.

An article by Robert Fraley whom you saw in the IQ2 debate.



















I read this last year.  Great book.   You’ll need that college biology course to fully understand it.  But to truly be informed about GMO’s you need to understand genetics.  Gary

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies–a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices. Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family–with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness–cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation–from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Thomas Morgan to Crick, Watson and Rosa Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome. As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome, The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.






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