The G.M.O. debate

gmo-genetically-modified-organism_50290d5e92a11_w1500An article in the New York Times Sunday Review section from October 25, troubled me this morning, an opinion piece by Mark Lynas titled “Europe Turns Against Science.”

The context is the continuing argument over genetically modified seeds, or GMOs. European countries “announced bans on the cultivation of genetically modified crops.”

I’ve watched this argument, GMOs vs. non-GMO foods, and cannot find a reasonable answer. My nephew, an organic farmer, is vocally opposed to GMOs. I understand and appreciate his position. Here at our house, we buy organic produce and organic chicken and good quality meats. We rarely go out to dinner, but we eat well.

My problem with the furor is two-fold. 1. It reminds me of the furor over immunizations for children and the ensuing measles and whooping cough outbreaks; and 2. my dad was planting GMOs back in the 1950s with NC+ seeds. In other words, GMOs have been in our food chain for sixty years.

Which is not to say there isn’t a problem. But the problems are wide spread and complicated in our complicated world.

From the article: One study found that G.M.O. cultivation has led to a 40 percent reduction in insecticide spraying worldwide.

That’s huge. Insecticide use produced ecological problems throughout the world. Think honey bees and their decline. Weed spraying is also reduced by GMO use. Think monarch butterflies and the milkweed pods they need. Although the reduction of milkweed also has to do with the increase in corporate farming. Drive along most country roads and you’ll see what I mean. Uncultivated fence rows rarely exist anymore. As I said, most answers to problems are complicated.

Following Europe’s lead, no country in sub-Sahara Africa, except for South Africa, permits GMO. cultivation. Lynas writes, “Yet from drought-tolerant maize to virus-resistant cassava, many biotech traits are being developed that could quickly improve the livelihoods of poorer African farmers.”

He goes on to write of visiting malnourished children in Tanzania whose families were hungry because the cassava “were wiped out by brown-streak disease.” Modified cassava has resistance to that virus.

But here’s the line that got to me: because of the ban, “we are witnessing a historic injustice perpetrated by the well fed on the food insecure.”

My family is well-fed. I’d rather not make those who are “food insecure” less secure.

I understand the argument against Monsanto’s wide-reaching dominance, but the argument against G.M.O.s leads me to remember the 1950s yellow NC+ sign, proudly guarding our country farm’s lane.

Our farm family never had much money, but we always had food.






Sunday Morning Reading

I woke entirely too early this morning — or, to be more precise, before “morning” eclipsed “night” — and had time to catch up on last Sunday’s New York Times. Not the news, I get that daily, hourly even, on my computer’s desktop, rather the elegant and time-demanding pages of Sunday Styles and Sunday Review.

In “Statisticians 10, Poets 0,” I learned there’s apps for measuring everything now, including the frequency and length of sex. Now that’s useful information. However, from the same article, I also learned the name Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a statistician, who wrote The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. The combination of the names Nassim and Nicholas alone is pretty improbable. What was I doing in 2007, when the book came out, that allowed me to miss it? Obviously something improbable. If nothing else, my life as been impacted by the highly improbable.

An interesting word, improbable. Far more interesting than unbelievable.

From the Review section, I learned that in this age of digital books, book jacket blurbs are less useful. Now writers wanting to help other writers use Twitter. Okay. I’ll go back to building my Twitter feed. It’s jesunderland@ if you’re interested. Twitter is sort of like digital books — more screen time required.

But even more interesting was learning that alternative medicine, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, is once more being addressed and with more pro-remarks than con. Now I have to look up Dr. James S. Gordon who’s a proponent of mind-body techniques. As a child growing up on a farm and as an adult without health insurance, I relied on alternative medicine. And when I finally had health insurance, thanks to getting old and getting Medicare, I was mostly grateful for the lower cost to seeing my chiropractor. And yes, I have a yearly physical now, and yes, I have yearly blood tests, but no, I don’t take medications. Except for allergy meds to clear my stuffy nose. And a lot of whole food supplements. It would be totally fabulous if those would become covered by insurance.

So that’s the news worth retelling from last Sunday’s paper. I see this week’s lying in the driveway. Maybe it will get read before next weekend. I’ll keep you posted.



Major Richards Mind

For years, I’ve been fascinated with how the brain works and have read various articles and stories on the topic. I’m especially curious about how and where the mind/brain connection works, but to date, researchers have yet to define that and debate flourishes.

Two of my more recent reads on the mind/brain were important enough for me to buy and hold after borrowing them from the library: Muses, Madmen, and Prophets by Daniel Smith looked at the question from more of a psychological/spiritual direction while My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor looked at science of strokes. Interestingly, the science of strokes also had spiritual insights.

One of my other fascinations, if you will, comes from the Sunday NY Times section, “Sunday Review.” Sunday August 12th carried the front page story, War Wounds. The way these pieces come together is the opening line of the article: “It would be so much easier, Major Richards says, if he had just lost a leg in Iraq.” Instead, the Major, whose IQ at West Point was about 148 (i.e. at the edge of the genius level) and now, he’s losing his mind from concussions he received in Iraq explosions. And basically, untreated concussions because he had no outward wounds. Two major concussions within a three-week period.

I recently had a minor concussion. I tripped, fell, and hit my forehead on a 2×4, which in itself was fortunate because I didn’t hit the cement. I ended up kneeling on one leg, propped on elbows and forearms, forehead on a 2×4. What was interesting was that while my mind functioned and I knew what had happened, my brain’s ability to control my muscles had disconnected. Even though I knew I wanted to, I could not lift my head; I could not push myself up with my arms. I wasn’t really scared, just astonished that I couldn’t, for the few moments/minutes it lasted, move.

Over the following days, I rested a lot, saw my doctor a lot, and slowly came back into balance. My “doctor” is a DOC, in other words, a doctor of chiropractic. She is a non-force healer who focuses on the sacral/occipital connection which not only straightens the spine but also gets spinal fluid going again. That’s a very brief outline, of course, but the spinal fluid is vital. I remained some wobbly in the pegs, but in a week’s time, I’d begun healing and writing and was back, more or less, in balance.

But I also learned a lot. I remembered how, when hockey players are hit hard, they often kneel on the ice, forehead down, and can’t move for a few moments; the same is true of other athletes when they have a head hit, only football players usually end up backwards. But they can’t move for a few moments either. And the athlete with a concussion doesn’t play for a while.

If professional sports can finally treat and understand the dangers of concussions, why can’t the military? One could say, I suppose, that in war, soldiers are an expendable commodity just as civilians are “collateral damage,” while in sports, players are high-dollar merchandise. Sports teams have body workers on staff just as they have medical staff. They pay to have their merchandise in top shape.

But in reality, this doesn’t hold up. The cost of educating someone like Major Richards is huge, as is the cost of the equipment that someone in war uses and carries. And has to have replaced or repaired on a regular basis.

Why are concussions treated with psychiatric doctors and not by a bodyworker who understands the mind/body/spirit connection?

What a waste: in dollars, in human values, to spouses, to children, in lives from suicide, and to a country that professes to honor these men and women.  What a terrible, terrible waste. While the Army is so far ahead on so many social issues (the first openly gay woman is being elevated to general), why are they so backwards in the mental challenges that come with war, whether head injuries or PTSD?

I don’t get it. Do you? Is it only the lack of money directed to the VA or is there some other lack of understanding that goes on? There are no simple answers, I know that, but I’m missing something..

What do you think? Fill in the blanks for me. If any of you have had military service, I’d appreciate hearing what you have to say.