Does anyone like beer? I do. Does anyone like beer with human proteins in it? Uh... A proposal in Missouri to plant 200 acres of rice enhanced with synthetic human genes -- a crop intended for medicinal uses -- has Anheuser-Busch up in arms. The company is threatening to boycott all rice produced and processed in Missouri if the state OKs this latest "biopharming" venture. If the project is approved, it would be the largest such in the country. Ventria, the company behind it, is relocating from California, due in part to opposition there. Missouri's governor and Farm Bureau stand by the plan, despite a petition signed by 175 local farmers. "Anheuser-Busch is a company that certainly uses technology for their product," a spokeswoman for the Biotechnology Industry Organization told the Sacramento Bee (which painted Ventria as "tiny" and "hounded"). "It's very disappointing to see them turning away from another technology." The logic of that argument aside ("hey! technology is technology!"), it raises an interesting point. God knows what they do to that beer -- yet they draw the line here. That's saying something.
According to an AP report, two Cornell University scientists -- who, it must be pointed out, were apparently not snickering at the time -- paid tribute to Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld by naming three new species of slime-mold beetle after them. Slime-mold beetles. We can't make this stuff up.
We chuckled when Bill McKibben mentioned the new Flat Earth Award on this site in January, and now we're positively whooping with anticipatory glee. The winner of the prize -- which was devised by a handful of Middlebury students to spotlight a public figure in deeeeeeep denial of global warming -- will be announced next week. The three nominees are: oh-no-he-didn't author Michael Crichton; oh-yes-he-did gasbag Rush Limbaugh; and oh-give-me-a-break naysayer Fred Singer. So go on, cast your vote now, and give one of these fatheads -- uh, flatheads -- his due! P.S. Got any thoughts about who else should have been nominated? We're all ears.
Funny thing: We thought about writing something like this and slipping it in as one of our April Fool's stories. But we knew no one would buy it.
Last night, mindless TV called. An ad came on that I've seen before, but never focused on. It's for the KIA Sportage (which I really want to pronounce with a lovely French accent), and shows a series of people driving the same car, tossing the keys to each other as they go. Wow: car sharing hits prime time! This is almost as good as hybrids on Alias. I know, I know, I'm being too literal. KIA's point is simply that this vehicle works for all kinds of different people. But along the way, the company makes sharing a car look pretty darn zippy. Maybe it'll get viewers thinking ... (naw -- see first line).
As I was waiting for the bus this morning, I glimpsed this headline: 'Is that Dandruff in Your Air Pollution'? It's such an unsurprising concept -- that particulate matter in the air includes stuff like dandruff and fur -- that it hardly seems newsworthy. And yet. The image of all of us wading through a haze of skin chunks is somehow tough to, er, swallow. I can't help but think of all those salmon swimming through each other's lice -- and how I had the temerity, when we reported that the other day, to think it was strange.
With a drop in recycling rates, Chicago is wondering: how come no one cares anymore? The city's "blue bag" program, introduced in 1995, sells bags for recyclables that are collected alongside regular trash. Last year, 90,000 tons filtered through, compared to 126,000 in 2000. The Chicago Tribune reports that Mayor Richard Daley says it's not working because Chicagoans are apathetic. (Way to inspire 'em, Dick!) Critics, meanwhile, say the method is inconvenient, the bags break, and people think their goods -- and goodwill -- are just bound for the trash compactor. Oh yeah, and much of the waste has been recycled right into a field in Indiana. One Chicago TV station offers an interesting comparison between recycling in the Windy City and the Big Apple. How's it going in your neck of the woods?
In more strange news from nature (see: pandas peeing, bats running): It seems that plants store genetic information from generations past, and can use it to fix oddities they've inherited directly. Scientists -- who began to cotton on to the phenomenon when a weed expected to produce mutant flowers bloomed normally instead -- aren't entirely sure what to make of this news, but they think it could help fight diseases in plants, and might give a hint of human possibilities as well. As genetics professor Gerald Fink told the Washington Post (in a quote that has made me love him), "something weird is definitely going on."
Here in the Northwest, this winter's lack of rain and snow has people muttering about two things: the inevitable drought this summer, and the lack of good skiing right now. Welp, enterprising ski bums in countries including England, Japan, and the Netherlands have found a way around this exact problem: indoor slopes. Oddly, the U.S. has managed to survive without this concept -- until now. Xanadu, an impossibly gigantic indoor theme park planned for New Jersey's Meadowlands, will include such a hill (and also a chocolate waterfall, but I digress). Despite critics who say the project will damage wetlands, increase traffic, and cause air pollution, the complex got a go-ahead permit last week. Life is never simple in Jersey, though. A whole brouhaha having to do with nearby Giants stadium might slow things down, giving opponents another chance to howl. Stay tuned.