30 October 2017

Monsanto and another example of dirty science

I am not a fan of Monsanto or of any other chemical/biological giant. These corporations do not exist solely for the good of humanity. Profit is their other motivator as well, and thanks for the motivators, I guess.

The story, however, happens to be in favor of the above mentioned corporation, be warned. If you are of an especially baleful disposition and cannot abide that name being presented in a good light, click "out".

In the previous post, The neo-Luddites and their apples, which was dedicated to GMO products and their perceived threat to humanity, I have mentioned two odious characters: Andrew Wakefield and Gilles-Éric Séralini. Each of the two accomplished a serious breach of moral contract a scientist makes with his own consciousness and with his colleagues, when entering the field of research. Each of the two faked the results of his research to fit his own preconception (or misconception favored by an influential group of people for some reason).

Wakefield and Séralini, though, worked more or less alone or in small, easily dominated by them, group of junior researchers. For the purpose we may consider them to be lone wolves. The case in question is vastly different. We are looking at a multinational guardian of our health, financed and managed by WHO (World Health Organization) and purported to be an objective and unbribable defense against all who endanger (knowingly or not) our well-being. I am talking about IARC - International Agency for Research on Cancer. And here we are:
The World Health Organization’s cancer agency dismissed and edited findings from a draft of its review of the weedkiller glyphosate that were at odds with its final conclusion that the chemical probably causes cancer.

IARC, based in Lyon, France, wields huge influence as a semi-autonomous unit of the WHO, the United Nations health agency. It issued a report on its assessment of glyphosate - a key ingredient in Monsanto Corp’s top-selling weedkiller RoundUp - in March 2015. It ranked glyphosate a Group 2a carcinogen, a substance that probably causes cancer in people.
It is a big deal for several reasons. First of all, RoundUp is a popular weedkiller, used by thousands (if not millions) of farmers all over the world, including Europe. Then, glyphosate, its chief ingredient, is produced and known for about 40 (yes, forty) years.
In the 40 or so years since the weedkiller first came to the market, glyphosate has been repeatedly scrutinized and judged safe to use.
Of course, the number of years shouldn't be a factor in the results of the study. After all, people make mistakes, don't they?

Reuters found 10 significant changes that were made between the draft chapter on animal studies and the published version of IARC’s glyphosate assessment. In each case, a negative conclusion about glyphosate leading to tumors was either deleted or replaced with a neutral or positive one. Reuters was unable to determine who made the changes.
So how about IARC coming clean with the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
IARC did not respond to questions about the alterations. It said the draft was “confidential” and “deliberative in nature.” After Reuters asked about the changes, the agency posted a statement on its website advising the scientists who participate in its working groups “not to feel pressured to discuss their deliberations” outside the confines of IARC.
In short:
IARC declined to comment.
A suspicious person would have looked at the effect the results of that suspicious study would have on the RoundUp's chances to be still used in Europe:
But IARC’s Monograph 112 has had great influence. It is weighing heavily on a pending European Union decision – due by the end of the year and possibly to be made next week - on whether glyphosate should be relicensed for sale across the 28 member states. France, one of the bloc’s agricultural powerhouses, has said it wants the weedkiller phased out and then banned, provoking protests by its vocal farmers, who argue glyphosate is vital to their business. A failure to renew glyphosate’s license by the end of the year would see an EU ban kick in on Jan. 1, 2018.
Although - even in Europe IARC's output is not met with universal adulation:
In Europe, IARC has become embroiled in a public spat with experts at the European Food Safety Authority, which conducted its own review of glyphosate in November 2015 and found it “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic hazard to humans.”
But, on the general principle that better be safe than sorry, I guess the fate of RoundUp is sealed, at least in European Union. And the suspicious person, one that is aware about huge chemical corporations of France, Germany, Switzerland etc., would have started to ask some questions, wouldn't she/he? Still:
IARC answered none of Reuters’ specific questions about changes to the draft.
The story smells to high heaven. And it is not the smell of glyphosate, no sir/madam.

And happy Halloween to all, kids and adults!

29 October 2017

A virtual portrait of a virtual stranger

People of the Internet... it is a strange transformation that some of us undergo when posting on the interwebs. Every one of us has at least one friend who, while being a perfect, polite and considerate person otherwise, becomes a bloodthirsty and vengeful dragon when he gets behind the wheel of his car. Something similar happens to otherwise nice and well behaved people when they get to the keyboard. Well, I don't know anything about the person described here, aside of his appearances on the net, but I prefer to think of him as if he is that perfect and considerate man (or woman, but since he presents self as a male...).

My acquaintance with Peter (not his "real" Internet moniker, which is also invented, I guess) is relatively fresh, starting with posting an article on a new for me site, where I was invited. The identity of the site will be not disclosed too. It is my first attempt to document that phenomenon, so bear with me - as far as you are able to.

I don't know much about Peter's real persona. Aside from hinting about some kind of education in economics, not much is known about his background, his current occupation and, indeed, his whereabouts (probably somewhere down under, maybe in New Zealand, but not sure about it). Besides publishing seven short and not very intelligible posts on that site, Peter spends most of his time (literally full days, judging by his prodigious output) by issuing unbridled in its toxicity critique of other people's posts. Of course, you might wonder why have I chosen to describe one of the legion? After all, the murky waters of the 'net are full of this kind of fish. But this was exactly the reason - kind of a case study.

Pegging the interlocutor

In most cases, Peter's appearance on a new post starts with him pegging the author to a political/personal position. Why is it so important for him, I am at a loss to explain. After all, people tend to be of mixed beliefs on a variety of subjects, besides, doing so tends to alienate the person being pegged, but here we are*.
... is a classic fascist.
... is a right of centre liberal.
... is a zionist islamophobic nutcase
(names omitted here, of course)

Criticism style

Peter very rarely extends his critique of other people's posts or comments to more than one or two lines. His efforts to provide a detailed response are very few and drown in the sea of one-liners, of a kind you shall observe below. The examples are not sorted in any special order.
  • Nutter.
  • You haven't made any point worth shit. There is NO PEACE PROCESS you utter clown.
  • Actual arguments seem beyond you and your vile ilk.
  • I have no clue of what your point is anymore. You're just repeating the same ad hominem shit over and over again. Grow up idiot.
  • Well I can't stop you being a knuckle dragging moron.
  • No, this is saying that you and your ilk are like a cancer to any leftist movements...
  • LOLz at that zionist fraud.
  • I was referring to ... gobbledegook response to me. It is unintelligible.
  • Right wingnuts that complain that argument against their talking points are 'only insults' are pathetic cry babies.
  • Genocidal nut jobs like ... [this one is a fave, being repeated frequently]
  • You're an utterly repellent racist scumbag. [another fave]
  • Pathetic scum.
  • You lack ethics, morality and humanity. You are a racist propagandist for a vile ideology [probably Zionism is meant here] every bit as inhuman as Nazism.
  • That makes you a hypocrite. Fascist retard.
  • [In one single comment]:
    ...you are too much of a racist
    ...poor confused chap
    ...it's the combination of all your failings and ignorance
    Indeed you are a grade A moron in so many ways.
I assure you that this collection is an infinitesimal part of Peter's comments, collected in a few minutes and not selected to indulge the reader. It is just a part of typical "stream of consciousness".
His use of labels is quite free and doesn't necessarily have any relevance to the subject at hand. I have seen him pegging a person as a "racist" just for asking why petroleum-rich Muslim countries don't accept fugitives from other, war-torn Muslim neighbors. Just like that - go figure...

Complaints about ad hominem

Seeing the style of Peter's dialog, you might be hard put to believe it, but one of his incessant complaints is about people's responses to his, fairly unique, approach to "criticism". I don't know whether the man fully understands the meaning of "ad hominem", but each time someone tries a more muscular approach to Peter's style of attack, he starts whining about their "ad hominem" answers. Mighty strange.

Personal beliefs

Peter's views on the ideal society aren't difficult to guess. Socialism and people's obligation to seize the means of production are his frequent refrain, although he is very economic with details, not offering his recipe on getting there. His other views, though, including his penchant for conspiracy theories, are a doozy, and here come a few examples.
  • Every socialist movement has created greater equality.
  • Democracy inevitably leads to socialism. That's just a fact.
  • Socialism is a result of democracy and freedom.
  • Zionism is racism.
  • The USA is no better than Nazi Germany.
  • Fascism IS capitalism.
  • US meddling killed about 5 million Russians in the 1990s under the Harvard Boys of Jeffry Sachs (who largely created the oligarchy that Putin has fought to rein in)
  • Russia didn't occupy Crimea.
  • Liberals are the petit bourgeoise. The receivers of crumbs from the capitalist class that have traditionally been the circuit breakers that ensured the oligarchs and banksters didn't get hanged from lamp posts.
  • Saddam was suckered into invading Kuwait in 1990. Bush Sr instructed the US Ambassador April Glasbie (sp?) to tacitly OK the invasion. That gave cover to putting troops and more bases in the ME and the process of destroying all the ME states that could conceivably run independently of the empire and possibly threaten Israeli dominance.
  • 9/11 - of course inside job, with CIA and Mossad leading [no source would be given, the subject is linking to conspiracy videos]
  • Anyone who believes the official conspiracy theory of 9/11 is either asleep or stupid.
  • I oppose all forms of racism and class war. Zionism is both. It is a cancer on the world of people.
  • The US doesn't have allies. It has vassals. Japan is a US occupied vassal state.
  • Just living in NZ brings out childish racist abuse from a number of the crazier fascists that post here.
  • [On somebody saying something about Soviet bloodbath.] Yes, Russia was nirvana prior to 1917. Not to mention the 1990s under Jeffrey Sachs and the Harvard boys.
  • ...CIA believes Israel will collapse and disappear by 2030. One can only hope.
  • I stand for a single state. Don't talk to me about humanity you racist filth.
  • ISIS didn't throw gays from tall buildings, didn't burn people in cages, didn't drown people... All these are the fake Western productions. Those ISIS videos are fakes.
  • ISIS and Al Qaeda were both created and sustained by the USA. They are being protected and transported by US troops in Syria even as the Syrian Arab Army makes gains against them.
  • GMOs are entirely about profits for their elite owners. They are attempting to control the world's food supply. This is an evil that we should all be up in arms about. Unfortunately the brain dead will believe the corporate propaganda.
  • Your problem is that you cling to the myth that taxpayers fund the government. The reality is that government funds the taxpayers. To believe otherwise is irrational.
  • It's because you're a slimy neoconservative who resorts to ad hominem because he can't defend his conspiracy theory about magic muslims in caves. Of course, being an islamophobe, the magic muslim theory is especially double plus good.
  • None of you understand the actual nuts and bolts of the system.
This is a brief (believe you me) glance into the activities of Peter, one interesting character, whose name is Legion**...

(*) I haven't used any of the titles Peter used for me, but you can guess that "racist Zionazi" was some of the mildest...
(**) But, hard as it might be to believe, all the quotes are collected from one single character.

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25 October 2017

Kaya Netanyahu, Bibi and our barking lawmakers

A short time ago I, together with a lot of other Israelis, experienced a jaw-dropping event. A bunch of Knesset members were recalled from their vacation to vote for a new law that will... yes, that will allow Kaya Netanyahu, the First Dog, to stay at home after biting somebody (again).

We'll never know whether it was an isolated event of ridiculous ass-licking by some eager Likud mandarins or a trial balloon, meant to check the limits of that sanity envelope that is supposed (oh well...) to rule the behavior of our lawmakers. In any case, I have written then:

... I can already see a bill granting immunity to the incumbent PM being pushed through the Knesset by Bibi's faithful, whose number is legion. And I sincerely hope this attempt will fail.
And here we are, less than three months after that post was written, and the law is already in the works:
The proposed legislation to shield the prime minister from police investigations would constitute an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law: The Government. The new bill stipulates that criminal investigations against a sitting prime minister cannot be conducted for corruption, fraud or breach of trust.
MK David Amsalem, who proposed the bill, and Prime Minister Netanyahu
And yes, we know that the idea for the law in question isn't exactly new and stems from the so called "French law". The French law protects the incumbent president of France from investigations - while in the office. At least from investigations not directly related to his duties as a president. Why should we adopt a bad law here, remains unclear, though.

As you will be able to see in the linked Ynet article, not all coalition members are happy with the idea. Some MKs realize that it is not the usual left vs. right dogfight and are firmly (for now) against the law. Several amendments that allow a few investigations of Bibi, that are looming, to start, were added to mollify the objectors.

The opposition to the law, outside of the solid ranks of Likud, is quite strong. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is a staunch critic of the disastrous idea.
"A complete bar on the ability to investigate a serving prime minister, such as MK Amsalem proposes, fails to strike a balance between the various public interests and ignores the special mechanism currently stipulated in the Basic Law: The Government," Mandelblit writes, and warns that "the result to which the bill leads is extremely severe and unacceptable – there will be no power to investigate a serving prime minister, even if clear, specific evidence has come to light that gives rise to a suspicion of a serious act of bribery, for example, or other serious offences."
A scathing rebuke to the incessant mad lawmaking was voiced by no one but a loyal Likud member (in the past), president Rivlin.
Rivlin accused political leaders of weakening state institutions by attacking them for narrow political gain. “From the ‘political’ professional bureaucracy to the ‘political’ state comptroller, the ‘political’ Supreme Court ‘politicians,’ the ‘political’ security forces, and even the IDF, our Israel Defense Forces are ‘political;’ the whole country and its institutions – politics,” he said.
This doesn't seem to deter the boiling mad solons of a few ruling parties.
“There are judges in Jerusalem who have forgotten that there is also a government in Jerusalem,” said Bennett
Well, maybe it's time to create a new ministry, something in the line of "Netanyahu family laws Ltd"?

With Kaya Netanyahu as a minister?

Afterword: yes, and read this too.

22 October 2017

No more borders? Imagine that...

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

I guess I don't have to comment or interpret these words, everyone and his cat know where it comes from. Let's all pray for the New World Order where nations, prejudices, religions etc. are eliminated, the lion lies down with the lamb and happy vegan children apologize to carrot or cabbage before partaking of its holy body.

And here comes Gary Younge, the Guardian's editor-at-large*, with this poignant illustration of his revolutionary idea:

End all immigration controls – they’re a sign we value money more than people

It is a very long and somewhat rambling essay, but the gist could be best conveyed by this quote:
The map of my utopian world has no borders. I believe in the free movement of people. As a principle, I think we should all be able to roam the planet and live, love and create where we wish. I could squander the rest of this column parrying caveats and concerns regarding everything from security to wages.
Of course, this article being one of the so called "peak Guardian" products, the author avoided going into such small and insignificant details as "caveats and concerns regarding everything from security to wages". Probably one of the perks of being an editor-at-large. Instead he laid out a highly emotional and thus persuasive recipe for a dream.

On a personal note: I have always have been a sucker for the Utopia. Not only does Gary Younge's proposal resonate quite strongly within my shriveled heart, so does The Communist Manifesto and (especially) the Constitution of the Soviet Union - an unparalleled example of social engineering. Well, at least on paper. The sad fact that the jackbooted "more equal" goons carrying the red Party cards trampled that constitution into dirt, blood and excreta is somewhat different.

But meanwhile

Meanwhile I keep asking myself why did Gary Younge choose the subject of the free borders right now. Because:

The Brexit is only the first, more dramatic, step on the almost assured way of disintegration of that powerhouse of enlightenment called European Union. Other members, like French, Dutch, Czechs, Italians and others, are watching on the sidelines, weighing pros and cons.

But there are more troubling signs of further division, based on ethnicity, that should be of even more concern. Of course, Catalonia is the most recent example of a secession attempt that borders on becoming bloody, but Europe knows several others, such as the late Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union, of course, etc. And the future doesn't bode well for the grand idea of a borderless Europe (to start with). The Scots are not exactly letting go of their thirst for independence, while the Irish are flabbergasted by the idea of a border springing up between them and their northern neighbor. The Northern Italy wouldn't mind having a go at their own country and Bavaria isn't far behind. And nothing will make Flemish and Walloons happier than Belgium split in two... I guess that the Basques, heartened by the Catalonian example, might restart their own saga again, with the usual bloody results.

United States are also showing signs of disunity. And I am not referring to the powerful drive of the identity politics that is threatening to split the nation into about 300 millions separate entities. Rather to the several states, like California, Texas and a few others, raising the issue of secession from time to time.
Canada, with their Mouvement souverainiste du Québec...

But of course, it is not only ethnic issues that facilitate the separatism. Religions are quite busy, doing their thing. Asian countries, including such similarly impervious behemoths like China and India, do have their problems as well: the former with Xinjiang province, with its Uyghur population and the latter with their Muslims in general and Kashmir in particular.
And the smaller countries, such as Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines and others, are struggling with the issues of their minorities' separatist dreams. No one is immune.

And, when it comes to Africa, where both religious and tribal conflicts come together, any words will be superfluous. The blood is flowing too freely for words.

To conclude

So what is the reason for publishing the dreamy and not very coherent article in the midst of the upheaval that, instead of getting rid of existing borders, keeps adding more and more new ones?

Virtue signalling? Daytime dreaming for fame and money?
Just being a Guardianista?
You tell me.

(*) I went for Wiki with this term:
An editor-at-large is a journalist who contributes content to a publication. Sometimes such an editor is called a roving reporter or roving editor.
Unlike an editor who works on a publication from day to day and is hands-on, an editor-at-large contributes content also on a semi-regular basis and has less of a say in matters such as layout, pictures or the publication's direction.
Rather disappointing, I was hoping for something more swashbuckling.

21 October 2017

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14 October 2017

The neo-Luddites and their apples

Just to dispose of some inattentive readers' attacks: Neo-Luddism is defined quite well.

The above diagram (click to enlarge) includes a lot of known pseudo-sciences, superstitions, conspiracy theories etc. It mentions one of the most dangerous: the anti-vaxxers, the people who one of these days could be the undoing of us all, among many others. One addictive religious cult is missing from the list: the anti-GMO folks.

Not many people these days dare to say something in favor of genetic modification of any living thing, be it a carrot or a human being. The snowball of so called public opinion made any defense of this scientific domain an unhealthy business. Not that the work in this field stopped (I hope it never will), but the level of histrionics in the public discourse on the subject is so high, that it doesn't allow defense to be heard.

To state up front: I don't think that there isn't any potential danger in genetic engineering. Like many other sciences, it should be supervised, checked and rechecked. Thankfully, the institutions to do so are in place. In fact, the paranoid attitude of the above mentioned public made these institutions overbearing, increasing tenfold the time and effort in developing new products. Just as in the big pharma, where it takes about ten years and about half a billion dollars to develop a new drug.

Of course, cases like the Nuedexta or, much worse, Thalidomide, will remain as painful reminders of the need for careful study and implementation of every new compound. But making it a cause for Luddites? And no, these two examples don't have anything to do with GMO products. So far there has been 0 (zero) cases of proven deaths by GMO foods.

The fascinating subject of genetic engineering could be a source for a thousand long posts, but I have to be choosy for the purpose of relative brevity. It will be a long post anyway, so I shall start with:

Bad news for Neo-Luddites.

Dear GMO-haters: when you proudly stick your teeth into a certified non-GMO and (definitely) organic apple, brought to you courtesy of your certified organic non-GMO farmer (and paid for thrice as much as one would pay for a regular supermarket apple of same or better quality, of course), you should be aware of one thing. Your apple is a product of a long, probably hundreds of years long, chain of genetic engineering.

And, for the purpose, I am disregarding the genetic engineering as it was (still is) done by the evolution of the apple trees. I am talking about the selective breeding, performed by uncounted generations of apple growers all over the apple growing world. If any one of you, dear neo-Luddites, thinks for a moment that you are partaking of the virginal proto-apple, as it was created by nature/higher being, perish the thought. You are chomping down on a perfect example of genetically engineered fruit - if not of molecular biology with its frightening tools, then of many years of our forefathers selecting the trees with genes* most suited to produce your perfect "non-GMO" apple. Which apple, while being genetically engineered, will definitely keep the doctor away**.

Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons
[Michael Jackson]

I would dare say that when lies carry a negative charge, they tend not just to run sprints but fly like rockets. The pernicious lies produced by one medical charlatan, Andrew Wakefield, literally kill or maim people for life all over the world, where communities of anti-vaxxers keep popping up and condemn their children (as well as innocent bystanders) to many deadly dangers. Debunked? Yes, he was debunked and punished. Forgotten and not believed anymore? Far from it, the vermin is thriving and the followers of his false religion are quite frisky and multiplying...

Back to genetic engineering. Europe this days presents almost wall-to-wall united front against this branch of science. This in spite of a huge investment on safety studies:
In 2010, the European Commission published a detailed report on fifty research projects carried out between 2001 and 2010 through scientific grants from the European Union. 200 million euros were spent on these studies, they dealt with the impact of GMOs on the environment, the safety of GMO use in food, the use of GMOs as sources of biomaterials and biofuels and so on. 400 research groups participated in the project. The main conclusion of the report: "Biotechnologies and, in particular, GMOs do not carry greater risks than traditional technologies for breeding new varieties". The US, Russia and many other countries also financed  the studies of GMOs from their budgets, concluding that these products are no more dangerous than conventional ones.
But here comes another charlatan, this time from the field of biology.
The Séralini affair was the controversy surrounding the publication, retraction, and republication of a journal article by French molecular biologist Gilles-Éric Séralini. First published by Food and Chemical Toxicology in September 2012, the article presented a two-year feeding study in rats, and reported an increase in tumors among rats fed genetically modified corn and the herbicide RoundUp. Scientists and regulatory agencies subsequently concluded that the study's design was flawed and its findings unsubstantiated.
Following widespread criticism by scientists, Food and Chemical Toxicology retracted the paper in November 2013 after the authors refused to withdraw it. The editor-in-chief said that the article was retracted because its data were inconclusive and its conclusions unreliable. In June 2014 an amended version of the article was republished in Environmental Sciences Europe, and the raw data were made public.
Especially worthy of notice:
The journal did not conduct any further peer review; reviewers checked only that the scientific content of the paper had not changed.
And the results:
The press conference led to widespread negative media coverage for GM food, especially in Europe. Le Nouvel Observateur covered the press conference in a story called, "Yes, GMOs are poisons!".
The actions followed immediately:
At the time of the initial release, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said that, if the results are confirmed, the government would press for a Europe-wide ban on the maize and The European Commission instructed the EFSA in Parma, Italy, to assess the study. In late September 2012, Russia temporarily suspended importing GM corn as a result of the study and in November 2012, Kenya banned all GM crops.
As it can be, unfortunately, seen, it takes one politically motivated charlatan to undo the good work of thousands.

These days European leaders not only prevent the entrance of genetically enhanced crops into Europe, they also sabotage introduction of such in Africa, in effect killing people.

The saga of ludicrous accusations, false "discoveries" and dirty politics around GMO issue could continue indefinitely, but there are limits to a post's length.

Strange that...

Suffice to add, that, strange as it is, the paranoid behavior of a good part of the public plays into the hands... of big corporations that produce GMO. What really happens is that the impossibly high thresholds, established for approval of GMO-based products reduce the number of competitors to those whose financial resources allow them to survive long enough to satisfy the necessary checks and controls.

So Monsanto***, which you so love to hate, gets that much stronger when you help to eliminate the competition.

Too bad.

(*) That, of course, if you believe that there are genes in your apple. Because:

According to the sociological survey published on the website of the Analytical Center of Yuri Levada, the question "Is it true that ordinary plants do not contain genes, and genetically modified plants - contain?" The correct answer "no" was given by only 29% of the respondents. By curious coincidence, the proportion of people who do not know the correct answer to the question about genes in tomatoes is roughly equal to the proportion of people who consider GMOs to be hazardous to health and subject to prohibition.

This and other tidbits were picked up by yours truly from an excellent book Summa Biotechnologiae (Сумма биотехнологии) by Dr. Alexander Panchin.
I hope the book will be translated soon enough.

(**) The biotechnology companies are perfectly aware of the nature tinkering with genes of its own babies. To avoid the enforced necessity to mark their products as GMO, several companies do something different: they analyse the plants' DNA, select the seeds that carry the preferable traits and grow and sell the seeds, without introducing any man-made modifications. Clever? Yes. Of course, it limits the ability to add some desired qualities, but what can you do with a hostile market?

(***) And no, Monsanto is not the biggest. Check this.

12 October 2017

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