Mohammed Rahman doesn’t know it yet, but his small farm in central Bangladesh is globally significant. Mr. Rahman, a smallholder farmer in Krishnapur, about 60 miles northwest of the capital, Dhaka, grows eggplant on his meager acre of waterlogged land.
As we squatted in the muddy field, examining the lush green foliage and shiny purple fruits, he explained how, for the first time this season, he had been able to stop using pesticides. This was thanks to a new pest-resistant variety of eggplant supplied by the government-run Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute.
Despite a recent hailstorm, the weather had been kind, and the new crop flourished. Productivity nearly doubled. Mr. Rahman had already harvested the small plot 10 times, he said, and sold the brinjal (eggplant’s name in the region) labeled “insecticide free” at a small premium in the local market. Now, with increased profits, he looked forward to being able to lift his family further out of poverty. I could see why this was so urgent: Half a dozen shirtless kids gathered around, clamoring for attention. They all looked stunted by malnutrition.
In a rational world, Mr. Rahman would be receiving support from all sides. He is improving the environment and tackling poverty. Yet the visit was rushed, and my escorts from the research institute were nervous about permitting me to speak with him at all.
The new variety had been subjected to incendiary coverage in the local press, and campaign groups based in Dhaka were suing to have the pest-resistant eggplant banned. Activists had visited some of the fields and tried to pressure the farmers to uproot their crops. Our guides from the institute warned that there was a continuing threat of violence — and they were clearly keen to leave.
Why was there such controversy? Because Mr. Rahman’s pest-resistant eggplant was produced using genetic modification. A gene transferred from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (more commonly known by the abbreviation “Bt”), produces a protein that kills the Fruit and Shoot Borer, a species of moth whose larvae feed on the eggplant, without the need for pesticide sprays. (The protein is entirely nontoxic to other insects and indeed humans.)
Apparently, those of us who think well of Jeb Bush–and might even formally endorse his soon-to-be candidacy for the presidency of the United States–are supposed to be deeply upset by the fact that he sometimes has nice things to say (gasp!) about the Obama administration. I recognize that candidates and campaigns get nitpicked all the time, but this latest critique against Bush borders on the absurd, and in the past, Bush himself has ably explained why: [Read more…]
Richard Holbrooke was always one of my favorite Democrats–brilliant, dynamic, a fascinating personality, and a diplomat with actual, substantive accomplishments to his name (unlike a certain former secretary of state who is currently trying to convince us that she should be the next president of the United States). If life were fair, Holbrooke would have served as secretary of state in a Democratic administration (again, unlike a certain presidential candidate who actually did serve as secretary of state, despite the fact that she has no substantive accomplishments to her name), but alas, life is not fair.
I bring up Holbrooke because there is going to be a documentary about him that will be released this fall on HBO. The film focuses on his many disagreements with the Obama administration regarding foreign policy. I don’t take Holbrooke’s side when it comes to some of the disagreements, but that is not the focus of this post. Rather, I want to focus a little bit of attention on how the Obama administration treated Holbrooke: [Read more…]
Comes now the part of the year when attention turns to the ethnic cleansing of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Turkey in the aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Back in 2008, candidate Barack Obama pledged that he would call these massacres what they were–genocide.
So sayeth James Pethokoukis, and his argument is convincing. It may look as though unemployment is low, but that is only because those who are not actively searching for work, but would if their prospects were brighter, are not being counted, and underemployment (featuring those who are working part-time jobs, but who want full-time jobs) is not being factored into the picture. According to Pethokoukis, all of this “puts the ‘true’ jobless rate about 1.9 percentage points higher the official rate. So figure around 7½ percent.” [Read more…]
The tentative nuclear agreement with Iran was initially hailed as a triumph of diplomacy on the part of the Obama administration. But the more one examines the deal, the more one ought to be concerned about its terms. [Read more…]
In the ongoing skirmishes between public health officials and vaccine skeptics, I’m scoring this one for the pro-immunization forces. A Canadian woman who had declined to have her children immunized against pertussis, better known as whooping cough, has changed her position now that all seven of her children have come down with the disease.
Yes, Tara Hills was stuck in isolation at her Ottawa home for more than a week with her sick children and her regrets about refusing to vaccinate them against the highly contagious respiratory disease. Whooping cough, a bacterial infection, causes violent, uncontrollable coughing and is best known for the telltale sound victims make as they try to draw breath. Occasionally, it can be fatal, especially in infants less than a year old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Hills kids completed a course of antibiotics and were released from isolation Tuesday.
“I set out to prove that we were right,” Hills said in an interview with the Washington Post, “and in the process found out how wrong we were.”