Genetically Modified Foods

All human foods that come from plants are genetically modified (GM).  What do I mean by this statement?  I mean that all plant foods that are mass-produced throughout the world for food (wheat, corn, barley, rice, vegetables, fruits, etc.) have been selected by humans over time and/or modified by chemical or other procedures.   The simplest form of genetic selection is that a farmer will select seeds from the most productive plants or fields to grow a more productive crop (i.e more tons per acre).

Another way that farmers have used from the beginning of farming is to supply various fertilizers and even more recently to add various bacterial strains that produce greater yields.  The current crops of cereal plants are so removed from their origins that they can be unrecognizable, with much larger edible sections and hundreds of times more nutrients and they are unable to reproduce themselves, with no viable seed dispersal means without human intervention.  Thus, the current development of GM crops using methods of molecular biology is merely a more efficient way of selecting crop seeds for greater yields with superior insect resistance.

This article is based on a talk that Irwin Weintraub, an agronomist, gave at the English Speaking Seniors Discussion Group in Beer Sheva, in which he showed a short video (at by Nina Fedoroff, a leading geneticist and molecular biologist, who has written a book entitled “Mendel in the Kitchen.”   In this she points out that the prediction by Robert Malthus, a British scholar who wrote a book in 1798 entitled “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” that the exponential increase in population growth would outpace the ability to grow enough food to feed them, has not come to pass.  In fact, as time has gone on, the selection of plants, improved fertilizers, improved irrigation and mechanized agricultural production have produced more food than is needed by the current world’s population.  All over the world supermarkets are packed with a huge variety of foods because of the wonderful advances in production and distribution.  The main current problem is not the lack of production of food but rather that the cost is too high for many people to be able to afford it.

In other words, we need to produce food more efficiently in order that the price does not rise, but goes down, so that more people can afford the food.  This requires not only the most efficient selection of food seeds, but also the use of more efficient means to prevent the decimation of corps by bugs and micro-organisms.  For example, if there had been a means to prevent the potato blight that caused great famine in Ireland in the years 1845-49, then millions of lives would have been saved and the history of Ireland would have been quite different.  Now this can be done with genetic modification.

Similarly, massive famines in the far east, particularly China, were caused by failures in the rice crop.  There are two ways to avoid this, prevent the population from increasing so fast or increase the yield of rice per acre.  The Communist Governments first used the population control method, now they are using the production of improved yield rice.  The Green Revolution that occurred between the 1930’s and the 1960’s resulted from the development of high yield varieties of cereal crops.  Norman Borlaug is credited with pioneering this approach, which saved billions of lives, and he received the Nobel Prize in 1970.  These crops were selected genetic hybrids.

There is a current fad of eating only organically grown (OG) food.  This is a retrogressive step often taken by so-called progressive people in the belief that these foods will be superior to those grown with advanced selected varieties, modern fertilizers, pesticides and even GM.  But, there is no evidence that these OG foods have any advantage as far as nutrition and safety are concerned over regularly grown crops.  Further OG requires old-fashioned manure that is far less efficient than modern fertilizers and with less pest control, much more of the OG crop is wasted.  Given the rapid increase in the world’s population the move to OG products would result in more people dying of famine.

There is no evidence after 30 years of production, testing and use that any GM product is dangerous for human consumption.  In fact, one wouldn’t expect it to be, because the genes that are transferred from one organism to another to produce an improved crop, either for greater yield or pest resistance, have no direct effect on humans.  The changes are so selective and minute that such dangers are highly unlikely.  Furthermore, genes are transferred between organisms all the time.  Portions of the human genome is now known to have originated from viruses and bacteria, and indeed there are such things as “jumping genes” known as transposons discovered by Barbara McClintock who won the Nobel Prize in 1983 for her work.  The fear that genes from GM plants will spread to other organisms is misplaced, since genes do transfer between species as a natural process in evolution.  So to conclude, GM is the only way to increase the yield of crops in order to feed the world’s growing population.


Bolshevik Revolution Centenary

Of all the centenaries that occur in 2017, that commemorating the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 is perhaps the most significant historically.  Actually the so-called October Revolution occurred in October according to the Czarist calendar, but was on Nov 7 according to the western calendar.

Many people are not aware that the insurrection that removed the Czar took place initially in February, 1917, and resulted in the formation of a provisional government in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) led by Alexander Kerensky, a moderate socialist.  But, the leaders of the Socialist Revolutionary Party (SRP) of Russia, namely the Bolsheviks of Vladimir Lenin, were not satisfied with this outcome and sought to overthrow Kerensky’s Government, that they succeeded in doing in the October Revolution.

“Bolshevik” means majority in Russian, and the split between the Bosheviks and the Mensheviks (minority) goes back to the first international congress of the SRP that took  place in 1903 when the Jewish Bund Party that was affiliated with the SRP were persuaded by Lenin to side with his interpretation that the SRP must be a truly revolutionary party, while the minority who voted against (the Mensheviks) were in favor of more constitutional and opportunistic means (such as forming coalitions with other socialist parties).  At the time this seemed like a reasonable difference, but no-one could envisage that it would lead to the death of all those who opposed the Bolsheviks.  This included the Mensheviks  and the Bund who later had separated from the SRP, who were all murdered by Stalin.

Lenin (born Ulyanov) owed a lot to Stalin (born Djugashvilli), who had robbed banks for  the SRP.   He was also one of the few non-Russians in the leadership of the Party, so Lenin promoted him and put him in charge of the nationality policy of the Party.  After the Bolsheviks took power in the coup of October, 1917, they instituted the “terror” that engulfed millions of people.  Stalin was so ruthless in carrying this out that he was once again promoted by Lenin to be editor of the Party newspaper.  But, then in 1922 and 1923 Lenin suffered two strokes that left him paralyzed, and when he died in 1924 Stalin took over control of the Soviet Government as General Secretary of the Communist Party.

The rest, as they say, is history.  It took another 70 years until Communism in Russia was overthrown.  Robert Conquest, a brilliant historian of the USSR, calculated from later census statistics, from the discrepancy between men and women, that Stalin had murdered ca. 80 million (!!) people during his various reigns of terror over 70 years.  Every evening he was given a list of those hundreds to be executed by a bullet to the back of the neck in the cellars of the Lyubyanka prison, and he approved them.  We should not forget how Stalinism devolved into a ruthless murderous dictatorship, like that of  North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, because people gave up their liberty to a Party.


It seems axiomatic that each clearly distinguishable national group should have the right to self-determination.  But, it may not be as simple as that.  As an Israeli it seems clear to me that both the Catalans and the Kurds deserve the right to self-determination  They both have the basic requirements, they have an existing governmental organization that is both working and somewhat transparent, they have a distinct language and culture and they have the means to defend themselves.  At least the Kurds do, their Pesh Merga forces have been the most effective at fighting IS and they are the main US ally in Iraq.

So I was disconcerted when I read a letter in The Jerusalem Post (from an Arab) saying that if Israel supports self-determination for the Kurds, why not for the Palestinians.  At first sight this might seem a reasonable comparison, but then you see that it clearly breaks down.  The Palestinians do not have a distinct language or culture that is distinguishable from the Arabs living around them (say in Jordan and Syria), they do not have an effective governmental organization, and they do not have the means to defend their territory if they were independent.

But, perhaps more important, they are not really a distinct people, their “independence” was first declared by the PLO (an organization that was founded by the Egyptian secret service) in 1964, just prior to the 1967 Six Day War.  Whereas the Catalans and the Kurds have truly ancient origins.   Catalonia was conquered by the Spanish Castilians in medieval times when Spain was first unified and the Kurds were conquered and divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and in fact are considered the largest minority without a sovereign country of their own.

So just because you can name a group does not mean that they deserve self-determination or in fact could achieve it.  It will not be easy for the Catalans and the Kurds to gain their independence against the opposition of the Spanish State and the Turks and Iraqis, respectively.   Furthermore, there are many minorities whose independence cannot be foreseen, such as the indigenous Americans (Indians), the Welsh, the Bretons, the Chechnians, the Ossetians, the Maoris, the Australian Aborigines, Irian Jaya (the part of New Guinea taken over by Indonesia), Kashmir and the Palestinian Arabs.


The North Korea Imbroglio

The situation with North Korea is coming to a head and the prospects do not look good. Dictator Kim Jong-Un is continuously raising the stakes, first developing a nuclear weapons program after signing an agreement (with Bill Clinton) that he would not do so, then developing and testing ICBM’s to deliver the nuclear weapons.  Finally he has gone one step too far by threatening to fire 4 nuclear tipped ICBM’s at the American territory of Guam in the Pacific, which is largely a US military base.  This has resulted in very strong fiery responses from Pres. Trump and his Secty. of Defense Gen. James Mattis (known affectionately as “Mad-Dog” Mattis).

The big problem is not so much North Korea itself, which the US military could wipe-out in a few weeks without any other interference, but the big problem is China.  Just as South Korea and Japan have been acting basically under the American defense umbrella, so N. Korea has been operating under the Chinese umbrella.  Until now, all previous US Administrations have been content to live under the illusion that China is willing to help ease the situation and prevent Kim Jong-Un from going too far.  That strategy has clearly failed.  Not only has China failed to rein in Kim Jong-Un, but it has also failed to show any intention of helping the US avoid a confrontation.  It is in China’s interests to show that the US is not as powerful as it thinks it is, and in that respect, testing a new President is a time-honored political custom.  But, China voted with Russia in favor of UN Security Council resolution 2371 to sanction N. Korea for its recent ICBM tests that are against international agreements.  So they seem to be giving the nod to American reaction to N. Korea’s provocations.  Whether or not this has anything to do with China’s own provocative actions in militarizing islands in the South China Sea that resulted from Obama’s policy of cowardice masquerading as liberal policy is unclear.

This all looks as if it could light the proverbial match that could lead to WWIII (or is it already IV or V).  If there is such a conflagration between NOK and the US, the two nations that would bear the brunt of the casualties would be not only NOK but also South Korea and Japan, with potentially millions of casualties.  Also, it is unlikely that China would allow NOK to be defeated and have US troops on its border, so China may find the US reaction to be a casus belli for them.  It all stinks of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo and Hitler’s march into the Sudeten Land.

Further, Pres. Trump is not Obama.  By now Obama would have gone on TV and given an articulate speech explaining why for a dozen reasons the US will step back and allow Kim Jong-Un to do whatever he wants.   Trump hopefully will not do that.  This is brinksmanship and it cannot be seen that the US backs down in the face of a petty tyrant like Kim Jong-Un.  If it does then every bully in the world, including Putin, Assad and Maduro will take their chances.   So we are headed for a classic “who blinks first” situation.  Let’s hope its the petty dictator who prefers his western luxuries to really facing the onslaught of US weapons.



Venezuela is a disaster

If you want to destroy a country elect a socialist government, as they did in Venezuela. Venezuela may have had its problems, the gap between rich and poor was great and there was a need for greater transparency in government, but it was a fairly prosperous country, with a large petrochemical industry.  Now, it is a disaster, with the highest inflation rate in the world, a nationalized oil industry that has collapsed, no food, no money and almost continuous rioting.

Hugo Chavez, a left-wing military officer with political ambitions, was imprisoned for leading a coup attempt in 1992.  After two years he was released and formed a political party and was elected President for the first time in 1998.  He was elected President four times and during that time he changed Venezuela to a socialist system.  He nationalized the oil industry, which was by far the major earner of foreign income, he aligned his foreign policy with that of Cuba and was very anti-American and he gradually changed Venezuela from a democratic to an authoritarian system.

When he died of cancer in 2013 he passed the reins of power to his protegé Nicolas Maduro, who seems unable to run the country.  The situation inside Venezuela has rapidly worsened, with long food queues and empty supermarkets and many banks closed and little currency available, reminiscent of the Soviet Union.  This has led to demonstrations and rioting that has spread throughout the country.  Whereas the left started out with a little over 50% of the vote, now it is estimated that 95% of the population are against the current government. Yet, Maduro refuses to have elections and is trying to organize a new Congress that will consider his propositions for a new constitution that will give him unlimited power.  He will become the dictator of Venezuela, with full military support.

In clashes between civilians and military at least 200 people have been killed and the number may be much higher.  The Venezuelan government failed to diversify its sources of income and the reduction in the price of oil caught them napping.  Its anti-capitalist policies caused most rich Venezuelans to transfer their capital out of the country and its anti-Israel and anti-Semitic policies caused many of the Jewish community to flee. Its anti-American policies resulted in sanctions against Venezuela and the UN has also voted to impose sanctions against the country as a result of the anti-democratic policies of the socialist government.  If ever their was a poster-boy advert against socialism, Venezuela is it.  Enlightened democratic capitalism with a free market economy is the best system yet devised by man.  Communist China has reinvented capitalism with a market economy.  The fact of the matter is that socialism doesn’t work. .



Fantasy world

You start to think things are improving, and then you realize that strange things are happening and that things are pretty much the same as they always have been. For example:

  1. Every six months UNESCO passes an anti-Israel resolution.  The latest one passed this week denies Israel sovereignty over Jerusalem, even though you can go there and see for yourself that Israel does have control and sovereignty in Jerusalem.  The fact is that this resolution has no legal standing, but they pass it anyway.   This time Israel declared a Pyrrhic victory because the number of countries voting for the weakened resolution was reduced.  Only 22 countries voted for the resolution, including the usual culprits, all the Arab and Muslim countries, plus a few enlightened progressive European ones, such as Sweden, that always support the rights of the oppressed, even if they are terrorists.
  2. A new President declared a new “peace process” in the Middle East to resolve once and for all the Israel-Arab dispute.  Haven’t we been here before, with Carter, Clinton, Bush and Obama.  But, this time Trump is supposed to be different because he is a businessman and is looking for a pragmatic solution, any solution that is acceptable to both sides.  And there was Pres. Abbas of the PA standing next to Trump repeating the usual lies, he is against terrorism (lie: he actively incites terrorism against Israelis), he wants peace (lie, he wants to destroy Israel), he educates his children for peace (lie: in the schools they teach children how to stab Jews).  Of course, many people will accept his statements at face value, but lets hope that Trump and his advisers know better.
  3. In Germany, a politician Sigmund Gabriel is running on a platform that includes anti-Semitism. What else is new.  And in France, the final two candidates are a middle of the road conservative Macron and the far right Marine Le Pen.  Who knows where the votes of those who lost in the first round will go.  This wave of populism that brought Trump into the White House and Britain to Brexit is gathering steam.  The National Front now has twice the support that it had in the last Presidential elections.
  4. Hamas in Gaza issued an underwhelming new protocol in which they said they will no longer call for the destruction of Israel, but they recommitted themselves to the armed struggle as the only way to defeat Israel and attain their goals.  Also, they did not formally modify their Charter, that still calls for the destruction of Israel.  So it’s mere double-talk, smoke and mirrors.

With these fantasies going on in the world it makes one wonder what is in store for us.


Turkey and Europe

There is a lot of resentment today in Turkey against Europe, particularly because the EU has deliberately dragged its feet in considering Turkey’s application to join the EU.  The application was made 30 years ago, and in 2016 the European Parliament suspended the Turkish application.  Once Pres. Erdogan took power in Turkey, he has gradually changed Turkey from the secular State that was founded by Kemal Ataturk to an autocratic Islamic State.  

Now Erdogan is trying to change the Turkish Constitution so that he has more Presidential power, and since there are hundreds of thousands of Turks living in Europe, who can vote in the upcoming referendum on the constitutional changes, Erdogan has been actively soliciting their vote.  He was even going to Germany to address the Turks there. But, because of previous experience of such crowds, the German Government quite rightly refused to allow him to enter.  Instead he sent a representative, who riled the crowds up into an anti-German and anti-European fervor, and they then trashed the location. The riot police went in and there was fighting and arrests.  But, while Germany does not want Erdogan stirring up Turkish nationalism in Germany, nevertheless, Chancellor Merkel does not want to antagonise them either, because she is coming up for an election very soon too, and most of the Turks in Germany have been there for a long time and have the vote there too.

A similar thing occurred in Holland at the same time, with similar consequences. But, the anti-Dutch themes of the Turkish Muslim immigrants caused a patriotic backlash. Instead of helping the right-wing candidate in the Dutch elections, Geert Wilders, it helped the more mainstream conservative People’s Party for Democracy and Freedom leader Mark Rutte to retain his position as PM.   So the attempt by Turkish leader Erdogan to undermine the European countries where there are large number of Turks backfired.  But, Turks themselves are not usually Muslim terrorists, and in fact there is a wave of terrorism in Turkey by both IS and Kurdish militants.  In any case, the idea that now, with Erdogan’s anti-democratic actions and anti-European stance, that Turkey could ever be accepted into the EU is almost certainly dead.