Feeding the World, Disrupting the Markets, That’s America, Too

Norman Borlaug should be one of the American heroes of the world. Instead, many revile him. Why?

Borlaug’s life was one of extraordinary paradoxes: A child of the Iowa prairie during the Great Depression who grew up on a dirt-poor farm, attended a one-room school and flunked the university entrance exam but went on to become one of most renowned plant breeders in history – and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for averting malnutrition, famine and the premature death of hundreds of millions.  (That was at a time when the award meant more than political correctness.)

Borlaug introduced several revolutionary innovations.  First, he and his colleagues laboriously crossbred thousands of wheat varieties from around the world to produce some new ones with resistance to rust, a destructive plant pest; this raised yields 20% to 40%.

Second, he crafted so-called dwarf wheat varieties, which were smaller than the old shoulder-high varieties that bent in the wind and touched the ground (thereby becoming unharvestable); the new waist or knee-high dwarfs stayed erect and held up huge loads of grain.  The yields were boosted even further.

Third, he devised an ingenious technique called “shuttle breeding”– growing two successive plantings each year, instead of the usual one, in different regions of Mexico.  The availability of two test generations of wheat each year cut by half the years required for breeding new varieties.  Moreover, because the two regions possessed distinctly different climatic conditions, the resulting new early-maturing, rust-resistant varieties were broadly adapted to many latitudes, altitudes and soil types.  This wide adaptability, which flew in the face of agricultural orthodoxy, proved invaluable, and Mexican wheat yields skyrocketed.

Similar successes followed when the Mexican wheat varieties were planted in Pakistan and India, but only after Borlaug convinced politicians in those countries to change national policies in order to provide both improved seeds and the large amounts of fertilizer needed for wheat cultivation.

In his professional life, Borlaug, who died in 2009 at the age of 95, struggled against prodigious obstacles, including what he called the “constant pessimism and scare-mongering” of critics and skeptics who predicted that in spite of his efforts, mass starvation was inevitable and hundreds of millions would perish in Africa and Asia.  His work resulted not only in the construction of high-yielding varieties of wheat but also in new agronomic and management practices that transformed the ability of Mexico, India, Pakistan, China, and parts of South America to feed their populations.

How successful were Borlaug’s efforts?  From 1950 to 1992, the world’s grain output rose from 692 million tons produced on 1.70 billion acres of cropland to 1.9 billion tons on 1.73 billion acres of cropland — an extraordinary increase in yield per acre of more than 150 percent.   India is an excellent case in point.  In pre-Borlaug 1963, wheat grew there in sparse, irregular strands, was harvested by hand, and was susceptible to rust disease.  The maximum yield was 800 lb per acre.  By 1968, thanks to Borlaug’s varieties, the wheat grew densely packed, was resistant to rust, and the maximum yield had risen to 6000 lb per acre.

via Norman Borlaug: The Genius Behind The Green Revolution

Think about that for a while, Borlaug efforts saved the lives of nobody knows how many millions, who otherwise would have starved to death. The doomsayers who wrote about the population explosion in the sixties were (perhaps) correctly reading the trend lines. We were producing people we couldn’t feed. Until an Iowa farm boy came along.

And while they themselves don’t realize it, many in Europe, in those elites (for lack of a better term) and many who desire power for its own sake, would have rather those millions starved to death, than that a humble guy, and especially an American should find a way to feed them.

Yes it still goes on, Out here on the fruited plan, which 150 years ago was the Great Ameican Desert you used to be lucky to get 30-40 bushels of corn/acre, now 200 is average, using less water, less pesticide, less fuel, and not working the farmer to an early death.

The Biotechnology or BT, as it is referred to is exactly the same thing that plant breeders have always done, cross-pollinating plants, it’s just a much more elegant method, producing faster results.

And those results, are feeding the world, except where they are banned by narrow political interests, there poor people still starve.

Such is the way of man.

Icons Receeding

As many of you know, I’ve worked all my life in the electrical/electronic industries, especially where they intersect. But my hobbies are also mostly in that area, especially radio communication. But much of that field is one of those that has been outsourced. One doesn’t really think of full-on engineers being amongst those who lose their jobs to immigrants, and in fact, they do, although somewhat rarely. What mostly happens is that their wages are suppressed unreasonably. The professional organization of those engineers is the Institute of if electrical and electronic engineers or IEEE. They say this,

IEEE USA says H-1B visas are a tool used to avoid paying U.S. wages. “For every visa used by Google to hire a talented non-American for $126,000, ten Americans are replaced by outsourcing companies paying their H-1B workers $65,000,” says the current IEEE USA president, writing with the past president and president-elect. The outsourcing companies, Infosys, Cognizant, Wipro, and Tata Consultancy in 2014 “used 21,695 visas, or more than 25 percent of all private-sector H-1B visas used that year. Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Uber, for comparison, used only 1,763 visas, or 2 percent,” they say.

There is a bit more at Slashdot, and some further links. This matters both because of the people, and the impact they have on the future, and because it is indicative of the damage that immigration can cause.


Speaking of the end of an era, International Crystal Manufacturing (ICM), a company that any of us who dealt with radio since 1950 has probably dealt with, have announced that they will go out of business around the end of May. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL, the association of American amateur radio operators) has the story. Sad, but I know from my experience that we have other (perhaps) better, and certainly cheaper ways of doing the things we used to do with crystals. Kind of the ‘buggy whip syndrome’, I’m afraid.


Our friend, the Unit, the other day in comments called this to our attention. It’s quite a story.

It was originally called “mistake out”, the invention of Bette Nesmith Graham, a Dallas secretary and a single mother raising a son* on her own. Graham used her own kitchen blender to mix up her first batch of liquid paper or white out, a substance used to cover up mistakes made on paper.

Background – Bette Nesmith Graham

Bette Nesmith Graham never intended to be an inventor; she wanted to be an artist. However, shortly after World War II ended, she found herself divorced with a small child to support. She learned shorthand and typing and found employment as an executive secretary. An efficient employee who took pride in her work, Graham sought a better way to correct typing errors. She remembered that artists painted over their mistakes on canvas, so why couldn’t typists paint over their mistakes?

Invention of Liquid Paper

Bette Nesmith Graham put some tempera waterbased paint, colored to match the stationery she used, in a bottle and took her watercolor brush to the office. She used this to correct her typing mistakes… her boss never noticed. Soon another secretary saw the new invention and asked for some of the correcting fluid. Graham found a green bottle at home, wrote “Mistake Out” on a label, and gave it to her friend. Soon all the secretaries in the building were asking for some, too.

Bette Nesmith Graham – The Mistake Out Company

In 1956, Bette Nesmith Graham started the Mistake Out Company (later renamed Liquid Paper) from her North Dallas home. She turned her kitchen into a laboratory, mixing up an improved product with her electric mixer. Graham’s son, Michael Nesmith (later of The Monkees fame), and his friends filled bottles for her customers. …

Keep reading at Thought Co. And as you do, if you’re like me, you’ll also wonder if people do things like that these days or simply go on welfare. Well, I’d bet Bette would do it all again. But, I suspect that Liquid Paper is another company that unless it diversified (I haven’t a clue) has suffered from progress, as well.


I like melons. I bet you do too!

Cardboard boxes did this sort of labeling in. Too bad.


And my vote for best video of the season.

And some companies just seem suicidal.

Paraplegic British Cop Walks

nicki-rewalk-at-cstWhat a remarkable story! But in a way, it’s not. It’s what happens in societies that are free to develop new ideas and revolutionary concepts. Remember, there was a day when the steam engine was just as remarkable. From Jewish News via Weaponsman

Nicki Donnelly was confined to a wheelchair after being seriously injured in the line of duty in 2009, but thanks to Israeli technology, she can independently move again.

Addressing an audience at the Community Security Trust (CST) on Tuesday night, the former West Midlands policewoman was presented with her personal ReWalk exoskeleton by sponsors, the Gerald Ronson Family Foundation and CST.

Speaking to Jewish News, Nicki, who started using the suit in April 2016, and who was moving independently in just seven weeks, paid tribute to the Israeli inventor, before thanking the Jewish community.

She said: “I’ve received a great awareness of the Jewish community. The more I tell the story about the Israeli inventor, who’s quadriplegic, the more it’s created an awareness that good technology comes from Israel.”

Nicki added: “It’s a number one goal to meet the Israeli inventor, Amit Goffer. I am truly grateful for his role in this.”

Hognose adds,

It made us curious, first, about medically-retired British police officer Nicki Donnelly. Turns out, she is also a photographic model and has a bio page at an agency for models with disabilities, in which she describes the cataclysmic career change imposed on her in a few violent seconds.

Do follow that link, this is one seriously impressive lady. To continue with the story

Just when my career progressed in the police force, specialized Firearms training, I was hit in a Road Traffic Collision, leaving me paralyzed waist down, complete paraplegia, t4 including limited fingers & hands function due to degenerative bone and joint disease.

My independence was gone and I was no longer in control. Now, after 5 years, I accepted myself and new opportunities came my way. I have also accepted I do require care needs and have helped when needed, but I am no longer afraid. I am so proud to use wheelchairs; they are my legs, an extension of me. My wheelchairs represent me.

The battery-powered system features a light, wearable exoskeleton with motors at the hip and knee joints. The ReWalker controls movement using subtle changes in his/her center of gravity. A forward tilt of the upper body is sensed by the system, which initiates the first step. Repeated body shifting generates a sequence of steps which mimics a functional natural gait of the legs.

via Paraplegic British Cop Walks, Thanks Israeli Inventor | WeaponsMan

Best story I’ve read all year!

50 Years Ago

apollo_1_patch-768x773last Friday, Apollo 1 burned on the pad at Cape Kennedy, lost with it were  Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom as Command Pilot, Edward H. White II as Senior Pilot, and Donn F. Eisele as Pilot. I was a disaster that all Americans, and in fact, the world shared with us. And as the details became known, it only became worse. From NASA

“Something about it just doesn’t ring right”:

One week prior to CM-012’s arrival at KSC, the crew and Apollo Spacecraft Program Office manager, Joseph F. Shea, participated in a meeting at which the crew expressed their concerns about the amount of flammable material in the CM.

Shea ultimately passed CM-012, over the crew’s specific concerns, through inspection.  In response, the crew sent him a photo of themselves in prayer over the CM, inscribed with the words: “It isn’t that we don’t trust you, Joe, but this time we’ve decided to go over your head.”

Shea subsequently ordered the manufacturer to remove all flammables from the CM, and CM-012 was moved to Kennedy with a “conditional Certificate of Flight Worthiness” – with 113 “significant, incomplete, planned engineering changes” needing to be addressed at KSC.

Subsequent to delivery, a further 623 engineering changes were ordered to CM-012 – significantly compromising simulator engineers’ ability to provide an accurate representation of the craft to the crew during training.

Nonetheless, the CM and SM were mated together in September, and the CSM underwent a series of altitude chamber tests, first unmanned, and then with both the prime and first (then second) backup crews between September and December 1966.

But technical issues with the CSM persisted.

An Environmental Control Unit in the CM had to be sent back to its manufacturer twice for design changes and operational leaks.

Moreover, the mated CSM had to be de-mated for inspection of the SM’s propellant tank after a tank on another SM ruptured during testing at its manufacturer.

In the latter part of 1966, Apollo 204’s backup crew was changed to Walter M. Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, and R. Walter Cunningham.

There’s lot’s of technical information in the article, and it’s fascinating. So is how it affected NASA, and provides a clue as to why it was so long until the next, the Challenger disaster.

Moreover, with all of these changes came new practices and manufacturing standards for Apollo and NASA.

But the culture change began far earlier.

On 30 January, just three days after the fire, Gene Kranz held a meeting with his staff in Mission Control.  Addressing his team, he said, “From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: Tough and Competent.

“Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do.  We will never again compromise our responsibilities.

“Competent means we will never take anything for granted.

“Mission Control will be perfect.  When you leave this meeting today, you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write “Tough” and “Competent” on your blackboards.  It will never be erased.

“Each day when you enter the room, these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee.  These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

With this message, Kranz guided his team through numerous test flights, shakedowns of the lunar equipment, and successfully – and as safely as possible – landed the first two men on the moon on 20 July 1969, fulfilling President Kennedy’s goal.

Resonance with today:

Launches are exciting.  For many, they are the main event in spaceflight – the most visible aspect to missions that are otherwise unnoticed.

But a desire to launch – as Apollo 1 showed – should never be driven by schedule pressure from a company/agency or from the general public.

Nor should such a desire suppress a need to speak toward things that don’t seem, look, or feel right.

As SpaceX now prepares to return east coast launch capabilities via historic LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center, it’s easy to clamor for a launch – to be excited for it – and become verbal as the launch slips due to pad readiness.

But a desire to launch should never override a calm, measured return to launch capability – whether that launch is a crewed or uncrewed mission.

For as much as NASA learned the lesson of what can happen when schedule pressures override safety with Apollo 1, they learned that lesson again 19 years and one day later when schedule and mounting delays overcame judgement and the advice of engineers – for which the Challenger seven paid.

So too was this lesson painfully re-learned again 17 years and four days after Challenger, when an unspoken but building schedule desire to launch Node-2 Harmony to the ISS led – perhaps subconsciously – to a “dispensation” of the External Tank foam debris problem, to which the crew of Columbia was lost.

(Images: NASA)

via 50 years on, reminders of Apollo 1 beckon a safer future | NASASpaceFlight.com

While our failures are not as spectacular as Appolo 1, this catastrophe is a reminder to us all that we need to do it right, no matter the time it takes. Brave men’s (and women’s) lives may well depend on our decisions. I’ve had a long career in technical fields, and you know, one of my proudest boasts is this: Nobody ever died because of what I have done wrong or wrongly left undone. Part of that I learned from Apollo 1. So did many others, at NASA, and many other places as well. It crossed my mind often as I walked into Grissom Hall at Purdue. There are many lessons to take from the American space program. This may have been the hardest, losing brave men always is.

199548main_rs_image_feature_747_946x710-467x350

von Richtofen Day

hev43nen_originalWell, we missed this one yesterday, but GreatSatan’sGirlfriend reminded us.

Gott Mit Uns!
100 years ago today, Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen was awarded Imperial Deutschland’s highest military award – Pour le Mérite – often informally referred to as the “Blue Max.”  Pour le Mérite was awarded strictly as a recognition of extraordinary personal achievement, von Richthofen earned his for shooting down 16 confirmed French and British fighters and observation planes (not counting two unconfirmed kills).
With Red Baron as his nom de guerre, von Richthofen in his all red fighter wrecked havoc on Allied Air Forces for the next 15 months, shooting down 80 aircraft in very close combat.

For comparison, the highest-scoring Allied ace, the Frenchman René Fonck, achieved 75 confirmed victories. The highest-scoring British Imperial fighter pilots were Canadian Billy Bishop, who was officially credited with 72 victories, Mick Mannock, with 61 confirmed victories, Canadian Raymond Collishaw, with 60, and James McCudden, with 57 confirmed victories.

via GrEaT sAtAn”S gIrLfRiEnD: von Richthofen Day Fair amount more at the link, and well, you know.

 

But who killed him, really? Well, that argument has gone on for a solid 100 years now. This sheds some light on it.

Is there any real importance in the event, or in who shot him down? Probably not. But it is well for us to remember that once upon a time, our enemies were honorable men, who lived and died by the same code as did ours. Knights of the Air seems simplistic, in a way, but like knights, they were warriors who did their duty for their cause. That will have to do.

Freiherr von Richthofen was above all an able tactician and leader of men, as well as a superb marksman, and his heritage is still celebrated. Last I knew there is still Jägdgeswader Richtofen in the German Air Force. That too is as it should be.

 

Reality is Real

sometimes-people-talk-about-conflict-between-humans-and-machines-and-you-can-se-403x403-nk3qtqSomething a bit different today, but it still follows our long running themes. Both you never had it so good as well as reality is real. The world we live in was built by men who understood reality and found ways to harness it for our benefit.

That harnessing has led to the world we live in, from the guy that noticed that fire is hot, and started looking for a way to harness it to his purposes, to the guy who watched a rounded rock roll downhill and went on to make the first wheel. This goes right to the people who learned to split (and then combine) the atom, first as a weapon of war, but then as an appliance of peace and plenty.

The same in all fields, we started as little more than apes with imagination, and we built it all, and it’s all about reality. If 2+2 ≠ 4 our world is over, no matter how many wish otherwise. That is why so many in flyover states detest the liberal coastal elites, we can see that they have never learned this fundamental lesson – They cling to their unsupported theories (wishes really) about how things ought to be. We know better, what is, is. It has never, is not now, and never will be, different. Reality is real.

We have built on the shoulders of giants, from Prometheus on down, and the world of today is the result. If we follow those fools, the result will be the end of civilization, not western civilization, or eastern civilization, or any other subset, but civilization itself, a return to the primordial mud.

Well, you know, I’ve never been all that fond of “Nasty brutish, and short”. I think for me, I’ll stick with civilization, like you, it hasn’t given me everything I want, but then it was long ago when I was a child writing letters to Santa Claus, and I have earned everything I need – and then some.

Kipling touches on some of this in one of his poems The Secret of the Machines, and here it is.

 

Happy Saturday

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