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.

Middlebury, Groupthink, and Riots

Thomas Sowell had a few things to say the other day about the fracas at Middlebury College. As always, it is very worth listening to.

Where have all these shocked people been all these years? What happened at Middlebury College has been happening for decades, all across the country, from Berkeley to Harvard. Moreover, even critics of the Middlebury College rioters betray some of the same irresponsible mindset as that of the young rioters.

The moral dry rot in academia — and beyond — goes far deeper than student storm troopers at one college.

Frank Bruni of the New York Times, for example, while criticizing the rioters, lent credence to the claim that Charles Murray was “a white nationalist.” Similar — and worse — things have been said, in supposedly reputable publications, by people who could not cite one statement from any of Dr. Murray’s books that bears any resemblance to their smears.

It seems to me increasingly that book reviews have become a political litmus test, where one writes what one believes about the author, whether or not (usually not) one has read the book in question. Not all, of course, there are plenty of good, useful reviews out there, but far too often.

The professors don’t usually riot against people whose ideas they disagree with, because they can just dismiss those ideas, with some characterization that there is no one on hand to challenge.

Professor William Julius Wilson of Harvard, for example, said of Justice Clarence Thomas, “He’ll say he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. I say I was in the right place at the right time.”

Just where did Justice Thomas say that he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps? The central theme of his autobiography, titled “My Grandfather’s Son,” credits the wisdom of the grandfather who raised him as what saved him.

Nuns who taught him in school were brought to Washington, at his expense, to be present to see him sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court, to see that their dedicated efforts on his behalf had not been in vain.

But has anyone ever asked Professor Wilson on just what he based his claim about Justice Thomas? The central tragedy of academia today is that you don’t have to have anything on which to base dismissals of people and ideas you disagree with.

Of course not, He’s a Harvard professor, which in much of our society, is akin to a demigod. Well, I’d ask, because I learned long ago that Harvard professors believe many things that are just not so.

Why should we expect students to welcome debate about differences of opinion, when so many of their professors seem to think cheap shot dismissals are all you need? Lacking their professors’ verbal dexterity or aura of authority, students use cruder methods of dismissing things they disagree with.

So long as academia talks demographic “diversity” and practices groupthink when it comes to ideas, we have little reason to expect better of student mobs that riot with impunity.

via The Real Lessons of Middlebury College by Dr. Thomas Sowell | Creators Syndicate

And so we get riots, while fools look on from their ivory towers.

Neptunus Lex

Blogging is a very personal effort. NEO is not the same as any other blog, even though I may draw on many of them for inspiration, or even long quotes. It has been so as long as I’ve been around. One of the blogs I read, even before I started was Neptunus Lex, the blog of Carrol Le Fon, a naval aviator. He made me laugh, he made me cry and he made me think, what more can a man do for another. Lex died on 6  March 2012 doing what he loved best: making naval aviators even better. That’s a legacy that any man can aspire to.

Our blogs overlapped, but I don’t think I ever referred to him. I was amazed, reading the Victory Girls last night, that he still appeared on their blogroll. On a nostalgic whim, I followed the link. As I thought, the site disappeared shortly after his death, but what I didn’t know is that it was preserved. YAY!!! It is here, mostly. It’s not the same as having Lex amongst us, but I think it will serve. A sample of why so many of us loved him, and still do.

Well, and I very much appreciate all those who offered their thoughts. They pushed and pulled in many different directions, and apart from those who counselled immediate retirement – sorry, that’s not me – I have shared in all of them, all in a moment. Funny how things can swirl so quickly through your mind, between the moment when you hear unlooked for news, and the moment after, when you are asked what you think of it.

Is there a moment of wounded pride, wherein you ask: What? How can I be offered up? How can I be spared? As busy as I am, and as much as I contribute?

There is. But we are none of us irreplaceable, the wheel continues to turn. And it does not surprise me that I am offered up: I made a decision some time ago that this would be my last tour, which obviated the need for self-promotion. I do my work quietly, accept no thanks, offer it instead to others. It’s really quite astonishing what you can do, when you don’t care who gets the credit.

Is there a moment when the old joy of battle sings again in your heart? When you think of joining the fray rather than reading about it? When you think of qualifiying in weapons whose range is measured in meters rather than in miles? Of strapping on and suiting up once more? Of hurling yourself into the fight?

There is such a moment. A moment only. And then you reflect that no one places super-annuated FA-18 pilots on the deck in order to carry the fight to the foe. You reflect that of all the things you might learn in Sojer School, the most valuable would be to count your rounds as they went down range, in order to save the last one for the end. Because just like in the days when I strapped an airplane on to go to war, if it comes at last to a pilot with a pistol in his hand and dust on his boots, something has already gone horribly wrong, and the odds of it getting any better are vanishingly small.

From Now is the autumn of our discontent Who amongst us older people can’t relate to that? It’s happened to me and I’ll bet it’s happened to you as well. All we can do is try to pass on all those lessons we’ve learned, often to youngsters who think they know it all, but it’s our duty.

I note that Lex died a few days before the USS Enterprise set out on its last tour. Is it connected? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised, legends are like that.

Of Free Speech and #Resistance

Steven Hayward at PowerLine tells us about a Bloomberg column, here, by Professor Stephen Carter of Yale law school. It’s a good one, explaining The Ideology Behind Intolerant College Students. Both links are excellent, and here’s Steve.

Alas, the downshouters represent something more insidious. They are, I am sorry to say, Marcusians. A half-century-old contagion has returned.

The German-born Herbert Marcuse was a brilliant and controversial philosopher whose writing became almost a sacred text for new-left intellectuals of the 1960s and 1970s. Nowadays, his best-known work  is the essay “Repressive Tolerance.” There he sets out the argument that the downshouters are putting into practice.

For Marcuse, the fact that liberal democracies made tolerance an absolute virtue posed a problem. If society includes two groups, one powerful and one weak, then tolerating the ideas of both will mean that the voice and influence of the strong will always be greater. To treat the arguments of both sides with equal respect “mainly serves the protection and preservation of a repressive society.” That is why, for Marcuse, tolerance is antithetical to genuine democracy and thus “repressive.”

He proposes that we practice what he calls a “liberating” or “discriminating” tolerance. He is quite clear about what he means: “tolerance against movements from the Right, and tolerance of movements from the Left.” Otherwise the majority, even if deluded by false consciousness, will always beat back efforts at necessary change. The only way to build a “subversive majority,” he writes, is to refuse to give ear to those on the wrong side. The wrong is specified only in part, but Marcuse has in mind particularly capitalism and inequality.

Opening the minds of the majority by pressing one message and burdening another “may require apparently undemocratic means.” But the forces of power are so entrenched that to do otherwise — to tolerate the intolerable — is to leave authority in the hands of those who will deny equality to the workers and to minorities. That is why tolerance, unless it discriminates, will always be repressive.

Marcuse is quite clear that the academy must also swallow the tough medicine he prescribes: “Here, too, in the education of those who are not yet maturely integrated, in the mind of the young, the ground for liberating tolerance is still to be created.”

Today’s campus downshouters, whether they have read Marcuse or not, have plainly undertaken his project. Probably they believe that their protests will genuinely hasten a better world. They are mistaken. Their theory possesses the same weakness as his. They presume to know the truth, to know it with such certainty that they are comfortable — indeed enthusiastic — at the notion of shutting down debate on the propositions they hold dear.

Excellent articles, but the main thing we must remember is this: Without free speech, there is simply no freedom. How can one have what one cannot describe?

Steve also informs us that The Economist has some questions about that disgraceful episode at Middlebury.

Mr. Murray is left to worry about academic freedom and to note that many of his assailants resembled figures from “a film of brownshirt rallies.” Middlebury’s agitators might ask themselves how a man whose work they regard as racist acquired the right to compare them to fascists. Students everywhere should wonder how free speech, a central liberal value, is instead becoming the banner of conservatives.

Of course, anybody with two brain cells to rub together knows perfectly well that those who shut down such events don’t really resemble “a film of brownshirt rallies.” They simply are fascists, the characters portrayed in those films.

Over at History News Network, an article contains short reviews of four books that are on our topic today, I haven’t read them so can neither agree nor disagree, but the tone of the article is quite balanced and interesting.

This article concerns these four books

● Frank Furedi, What’s Happened to the University?  A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation (Routledge, 2017)

● Claire Fox, ‘I Find that Offensive!’ (Biteback Publishing, 2016)

●  Jonathan Zimmerman, Campus Politics:  What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, 2016)

●  Campus Speech in Crisis:  What the Yale Experience Can Teach America, Introduction by Nathaniel A.G. Zelinsky (Encounter Books, 2016).

Throughout American history, every genuinely progressive reform movement has found free speech to be its friend.  This is notably true of the abolitionist movement and then the civil rights movement.  And it has been especially true of student movements—most prominently, the aptly-named Free Speech Movement at Berkeley in 1964.  Nowadays, however, in the words of more than one observer, students seem not to want freedom of speech but freedom from speech.  How and why did this come about?  And what does it mean?  The four books reviewed here offer some answers.

That paragraph is certainly true, and quite frankly, if you can’t win in the marketplace of freely expressed ideas, you don’t deserve to win, go figure out what you’re doing wrong, or simply admit that you’re wrong, and get on with life.

Then there is this, and it angers me greatly, too. Far too often our leftist friends can’t be bothered to express their ideas (if any) and simply appropriate labels that belong to other, often very brave, people, for example ‘#Resistance’. Sadly these leftists aren’t brave at all, they’re simply snowflakes, running away from debate, let alone real opposition. Joel D. Hirst puts it very well.

Resistance is fleeing from North Korea’s monstrous regime (buy this book!); resistance is a Tuareg man in Gao, Mali boldly going on television to demand that his clan, his people put down their guns; resistance is dousing yourself in gasoline as a final desperate act of violence in protest at a seemingly endless dictatorship, not because you want to die but because the police just seized your entire livelihood and you don’t know what else to do; resistance is joining a pro-bono law firm, running around behind the tens, hundreds of people arrested by Venezuela’s totalitarian regime, trying futilely to bend the regime to the law through the force your will and your righteousness alone – and sometimes even paying the ultimate prize.

No, sorry, you aren’t a resistance, because USA is not a dictatorship. Nobody is persecuting you; none of your rights are being violated; no illegal purges enacted; no tortures and disappearances. You didn’t like the results of an election – and want to pretend it is illegitimate, because you don’t want to do the hard work of rebuilding a constituency alienated, “Because you thought correcting people’s attitudes was more important than finding them jobs. Because you turned ‘white man’ from a description into an insult (…) Because you cried when someone mocked the Koran but laughed when they mocked the Bible. (…) Because you kept telling people, ‘You can’t think that, you can’t say that, you can’t do that’,” as Brendan O’Neill has said. Alas, the only people losing their legitimacy are you; who wear little pink hats and take off all your clothes and wander through public spaces offending friend and foe alike; who vandalize coffee shops and write little slogans misspelled on cardboard. No, you aren’t a resistance, and you don’t get to have that word.

For those who have fought and suffered for their liberties, it is far too sacred to let it – too – be defiled.

Bravo Zulu, sir!

Castel Gandolfo and Economics

giardino_degli_specchi_castel_gandolfo_ii_20141006Interesting story here. Note that I’m not picking this as either pro or con Catholic. For me, today, it is purely an economic story and an example of why equality of income is such a bad idea.

Speaking of Francis, I was told by a priest here that the Holy Father has visited a handful of times but has never spent the night or greeted the staff, only stopping to consult the Jesuits in residence. That’s rather bad manners, I should think. It takes only a little magnanimity to imagine what a papal visit means to the staff here. They keep the place in pristine readiness all year round, eagerly awaiting the pope’s arrival, as their fathers’ fathers have done proudly for generations, and His Holiness won’t deign to stop by for the evening! I mean, he has an image to keep up, but isn’t this a bit snobbish? The poor people there have had to open the gardens and palace to tourists just to find something to do with the place and replace lost revenue.

Father also mentioned that he felt a bit sorry for the townspeople, because with the papal court no longer summering at the palace, the local economy is taking a hard hit. Usually, the entire Vatican is run from the palace from June to October, and the restaurants do good business with the influx of papal staff. No longer. “I guess the papal gardener is in a very enviable position!” “That’s right – it’s actually a hereditary position. Like many of these jobs, they’ve been in the same family for generations.”

These revelations added a layer: the merciless enforcement of mercy under Francis’s pontificate has more concrete ramifications in Rome for those who faithfully serve the papacy. It turns scores of talented people out of their jobs. From the great artists who wove the papal vestments and write the papal masses to the humble village family who has kept his garden for generations, there is a great cadre of people who give their lives in noble service to the Church.

via What ‘Humility’ Means for the Papal Staff |

Interesting isn’t it, that the Pope’s refusal to use Castel Gandolfo costs the neighborhood a goodly chunk of change. Of course, it’s pretty obvious when one thinks through it, and indeed, at least some of that money is likely spent in Rome instead.

But his grandstanding (at least that is what it looks like to me), showing off his humility, which to my mind doesn’t really match his statements, hurts those around him. Who’d a thunk it? Just about everybody with any common sense, which pretty much leaves out anyone who thinks virtue signaling a good thing.

Doesn’t make him any better or worse than anybody else, really. We all do things that hurt others although not all of us believe that hurting other people shows virtue (except maybe as a soldier).

What this really shows is that not thinking deeply enough about your actions has consequences. That’s why we call it ‘the law of unintended consequences’, after all.

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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