Super weeds pose growing threat to U.S. crops


Purdue University scientist Bill Johnson in soybean field confronting waterhemp

Farmer Mark Nelson bends down and yanks a four-foot-tall weed from his northeast Kansas soybean field. The “waterhemp” towers above his beans, sucking up the soil moisture and nutrients his beans need to grow well and reducing the ultimate yield. As he crumples the flowering end of the weed in his hand, Nelson grimaces.

“When we harvest this field, these waterhemp seeds will spread all over kingdom come,” he said.

Nelson’s struggle to control crop-choking weeds is being repeated all over America’s farmland. An estimated 11 million acres are infested with “super weeds,” some of which grow several inches in a day and defy even multiple dousings of the world’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, whose active ingredient is glyphosate.

The problem’s gradual emergence has masked its growing menace. Now, however, it is becoming too big to ignore. The super weeds boost costs and cut crop yields for U.S. farmers starting their fall harvest this month. And their use of more herbicides to fight the weeds is sparking environmental concerns…

At the heart of the matter is Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed company and the maker of Roundup. Monsanto has made billions of dollars and revolutionized row crop agriculture through sales of Roundup and “Roundup Ready” crops genetically modified to tolerate treatment with Roundup.

The Roundup Ready system has helped farmers grow more corn, soybeans, cotton and other crops while reducing detrimental soil tillage practices, killing weeds easily and cheaply. But the system has also encouraged farmers to alter time-honored crop rotation practices and the mix of herbicides that previously had kept weeds in check.

And now, farmers are finding that rampant weed resistance is setting them back – making it harder to keep growing corn year in and year out, even when rotating it occasionally with soybeans. Farmers also have to change their mix and volume of chemicals, making farming more costly.

For Monsanto, it spells a threat to the company’s market strength as rivals smell an opportunity and are racing to introduce alternatives for Roundup and Roundup Ready seeds.

“You’ve kind of been in a Roundup Ready era,” said Tom Wiltrout, a global strategy leader at Dow AgroSciences, which is introducing an herbicide and seed system called Enlist as an alternative to Roundup.

Then there are countries taking the position that reduction in use of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicide – is beneficial for farmers and consumers alike. Even if it takes a bit longer and reduces short-term profits.

Think North American farmers would stand for that?

As nurses achieve doctorates, medical doctors start to whine


Doctor Patti McCarver meeting with a patient

With pain in her right ear, Sue Cassidy went to a clinic. The doctor, wearing a white lab coat with a stethoscope in one pocket, introduced herself.

“Hi. I’m Dr. Patti McCarver, and I’m your nurse,” she said. And with that, Dr. McCarver stuck a scope in Ms. Cassidy’s ear, noticed a buildup of fluid and prescribed an allergy medicine. It was something that will become increasingly routine for patients: a someone who is not a physician using the title of doctor.

Dr. McCarver calls herself a doctor because she returned to school to earn a doctorate last year, one of thousands of nurses doing the same recently. Doctorates are popping up all over the health professions, and the result is a quiet battle over not only the title “doctor,” but also the money, power and prestige that often comes with it.

As more nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists claim this honorific, physicians are fighting back.

An illegitimate characterization. “Fighting back” implies medical doctors are losing something. The quandary is over their ego-smitten self-worth. Standards for doctorates in most fields, medical or otherwise, allow the term “doctor” for anyone who reaches or surpasses those standards.

For nurses, getting doctorates can help them land a top administrative job at a hospital, improve their standing at a university and win them more respect from colleagues and patients. But so far, the new degrees have not brought higher fees from insurers for seeing patients or greater authority from states to prescribe medicines.

Nursing leaders say that their push to have more nurses earn doctorates has nothing to do with their fight of several decades in state legislatures to give nurses more autonomy, money and prescriptive power.

But many physicians are suspicious and say that once tens of thousands of nurses have doctorates, they will invariably seek more prescribing authority and more money. Otherwise, they ask, what is the point..?

The point is knowledge, skill and understanding. For the nurses. Obviously the point for the doctors is money and status. And money.

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Mr Penguin dreams of eternal rest in the Antarctic


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Belgian pensioner Alfred David dreams one day he’ll find eternal rest in the icy waters somewhere near Antarctica, dressed in his penguin suit and laid out in a coffin decorated with penguins.

The 79-year-old “Monsieur Pingouin” (Mr Penguin), as he is known to locals in his Brussels neighborhood, dons his favorite hooded black-and-white penguin costume as he looks back at more than 40 years of obsession.

My ultimate dream is to be buried in a deep ocean close to where penguins live,” David told Reuters.

David’s life changed in May 1968 when his hip was injured in a car accident. His resulting limp was characterized by his colleagues as a waddle, and they dubbed him Mr Penguin. As a consequence he embraced an interest in the flightless sea bird and began collecting everything he could find that had a link with the animal…

His wife showed him and his collection the door when he told her he wanted to officially change his name to Mr Penguin…

Proud of the international media interest he has attracted to the penguin cause, David has appeared on dozens of TV shows over the years and was invited as a special guest to the 1992 Amsterdam premiere of Batman Returns — which featured Danny DeVito as the hero’s nemesis “The Penguin…”

He is still well-known in the streets of Schaerbeek, the Brussels district where he lives and where the burghers greet him: “How are you today Monsieur Pingouin?”

Good for you, dude. Keep a piquant smile above your obsession and have fun with it – and it’s nobody else’s business. Eating mostly fish probably is helping your lifespan, too. 🙂

Death row chef offers to cook free meals for Texas condemned

A former death row chef says he will pay for and cook every last meal for condemned inmates himself, after Texas announced it was stopping the tradition.

“We should not get rid of the last meal,” said Brian Price, an ex-convict who spent a decade in Texas preparing last meals for the condemned. “Justice is going to be served when this person is executed, but can we not show our softer side? Our compassionate side?”

Last week’s audacious last meal request by killer Russell Brewer was the last straw for some in Texas.
Brewer was executed September 21 for his role in the infamous racially motivated racist 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr.

He made a complex request for his last meal, then didn’t eat it.

“Enough is enough,” said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, a day after the execution. “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege — one which the perpetrator did not provide to their victim.”

Texas prison officials agreed with Whitmire, immediately halting the tradition of letting an inmate about to be executed choose the menu for his or her last meal.

“Texas has always been coldhearted about these type of things,” said Price. “Not to minimize these crimes, the majority of them have earned their place at that dinner table. But with my offer it would not cost Texas taxpayers anything.”

And above all else, Texas bureaucrats care about keeping money for themselves.

But it seems that Texas will not take Price up on his offer.

“While we appreciate Mr. Price’s offer, it’s not the cost but more the concept that we’re moving away from,” said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.

Mr. Clark – like most Texas officeholders – is a liar. He hands out the politically correct answer – like most conservatives.

No word, yet, from Rick “Have a heart” Perry. But, he’s never concerned himself in the past with simpler, easier questions about guilt or innocence, whether or not a trial was conducted fairly. I find it hard to believe he’ll enter into a question of dignity – unless it aids his campaign for Bishop-in-Chief of the United States.

Coppers want Telecom/Internet firms to hand over all your info

Internet companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook are increasingly co-opted for surveillance work as the information they gather proves irresistible to law enforcement agencies…

Although such companies try to keep their users’ information private, their business models depend on exploiting it to sell targeted advertising, and when governments demand they hand it over, they have little choice but to comply…

But the vast amount of personal information that companies like Google collect to run their businesses has become simply too valuable for police and governments to ignore, delegates to the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi said.

“When the possibility exists for information to be obtained that wasn’t possible before, it’s entirely understandable that law enforcement is interested,” Google’s Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf told Reuters in an interview. “Then the issue would be, what’s the right policy? And that, of course, engenders a lot of debate,” said Cerf…

Demands from governments for Internet companies to hand over user information have become routine, according to online privacy researcher and activist Christopher Soghoian, who makes extensive use of freedom-of-information requests in his work.

Every decent-sized U.S. telecom and Internet company has a team that does nothing but respond to requests for information,” Soghoian told Reuters…

Soghoian estimates that U.S. Internet and telecoms companies may receive about 300,000 such requests in connection with law enforcement each year…

“Now, one police officer from the comfort of their desk can track 20, 30, 50 people all through Web interfaces provided by mobile companies and cloud computing companies,” he said.

I realize some of my regular readers are already paranoid about what companies like Google and Facebook are doing with the information they gather about users. Anonymized or not.

Now, it’s becoming more and more clear that the cost to governments of tracking your every movement and thought – is a bargain at any price.

Japanese Noah’s Ark disaster capsule goes into production

A Japanese company has developed a miniature version of Noah’s ark in case Japan is hit by another massive earthquake and tsunami – a floating capsule that looks like a huge tennis ball.

Engineering company Cosmo says its “Noah” shelter is made from enhanced fibreglass and could save users from disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March that devastated Japan’s northern coast and left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing.

The company’s president, Shoji Tanaka, said the capsule could hold four adults and had survived many crash tests…

The company said it had completed the capsule earlier this month and had received 600 orders.

We could just add this as yet another transition for disaster companies in the United States that started out with fallout shelters – then moved on to tornado shelters. This would be a natural except the likelihood of tsunamis on either coast isn’t exactly as frequent as Japan and other island nations along the Pacific’s fiery rim.