Monthly Archives: August 2005

Is the Common Banana Doomed?

Popular Science, surely not a crazed/wacked gloomdoggling news source, presents a scary story suggesting that the banana as we know it is doomed.

Can This Fruit Be Saved?: The banana as we know it is on a crash course toward extinction. …

For nearly everyone in the U.S., Canada and Europe, a banana is a banana: yellow and sweet, uniformly sized, firmly textured, always seedless. Our banana, called the Cavendish, is one variety Aguilar doesn't grow here. “And for you,” says the chief banana breeder for the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Investigation (FHIA), “the Cavendish is the banana.”

The Cavendish—as the slogan of Chiquita, the globe's largest banana producer, declares—is “quite possibly the world's perfect food.” Bananas are nutritious and convenient; they're cheap and consistently available. Americans eat more bananas than any other kind of fresh fruit, averaging about 26.2 pounds of them per year, per person (apples are a distant second, at 16.7 pounds). It also turns out that the 100 billion Cavendish bananas consumed annually worldwide are perfect from a genetic standpoint, every single one a duplicate of every other. It doesn't matter if it comes from Honduras or Thailand, Jamaica or the Canary Islands—each Cavendish is an identical twin to one first found in Southeast Asia, brought to a Caribbean botanic garden in the early part of the 20th century, and put into commercial production about 50 years ago.

Anyone who knows about the perils of monoculture could write the next act of this story.

… in 1992, a new strain of the fungus—one that can affect the Cavendish—was discovered in Asia. Since then, Panama disease Race 4 has wiped out plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan, and it is now spreading through much of Southeast Asia. It has yet to hit Africa or Latin America, but most experts agree that it is coming.

And it's happened before, wiping out the precursor to the Cavendish and inspiring the song “Yes, We Have No Bananas”.

The only cheerful part of this story is that I like the sound of some of the other varietals. We have a choice of apples (and tasteless Red Delicious are being pushed out of the market); maybe a diversity of bananas next?

Posted in Science/Medicine | 4 Comments

Amnesties Are Good–Usually. Then There’s Kentucky…

OK. Imagine a place where the ruler and key staff members are suspected of some crimes relating to the administration of government. Rather than face the music, the ruler just pardons everyone in danger of being indicted.

Even Richard Nixon rejected the pardon-everyone strategy. Even Ronald Reagan waited until after they were convicted to pardon constitution-subverters Oliver North and Admiral Poindexter.

But in Kentucky it seems they are either more stupid, more desperate, or more arrogant: via TPM we learn Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) is going to pardon all his aides who are suspected of patronage hiring in violation of state law.

Gov. Fletcher did not, however, pardon himself. Due to appear before a grand jury tomorrow, Gov. Fletcher said he wouldn’t testify, although he didn’t say whether he’d take the Fifth or simply be in contempt (full text of speech). And there’s talk, although it’s hard to know how serious, of impeachment.

This incident shows how the power of pre-conviction, and especially pre-indictment, amnesty can work harm (here, by removing a way for the public to get at the truth of the accusations). Nevertheless, I remain persuaded that on balance giving the executive branch the power to declare amnesties is a good and necessary thing, a power perhaps not used enough in our over-criminalized society.

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | 7 Comments


The electricity went back on around 6:45 pm. So far the temperature in the house has dropped about three degrees, down to 88 (31 Celsius). I guess there is a lot of specific heat in all those books we used to line the walls.

I think it may take a couple days for my brain to cool down to a functioning temperature. A good night’s sleep would help too.

Posted in Personal | Leave a comment

Scottish Cop: “Lockerbie evidence was faked”

Wow this is a weird allegation: Police chief- Lockerbie evidence was faked.

There’s something about this that sounds highly implausible. The Scotsman is a reputable newspaper, but without the name of the person making the allegation, I’m suspicious. For starters, why would the CIA have an interest in placing the blame on Libya at the risk of letting some other terrorist go undetected? Then again, if you had told me the CIA was discussing whether to try to make Castro’s beard fall off, I’ve have laughed, too. After stuff like that, it becomes very hard to know what’s too nutty to believed. Then again, the beard thing was only brainstorming, not actual action.

(Spotted via Cryptome).

Posted in Politics: Tinfoil | 3 Comments


Still no power. The house is now thoroughly saturated with heat and humidity. The books are curling. We are drooping. The generator made strange I-think-I’m-gonna-die noises (like before it runs out of gas, but the tank was full) until we gave it a three-hour rest. During which the freezer temperature rose six degrees.

Much of the area has power now, but we’re in the middle of a big dead zone running from at least Blue road north of us to US 1 south, and starting at least at 62nd Ave to the west, running to the university to the east. Even the traffic lights, repaired most other places, are dead in this area. Occasionally we see a power truck rolling by, or doing something mysterious and ineffectual on one of the larger streets. The only cheerful note has been a tree trimming crew coming down a street, surely a precursor of the electric crew, right? Right?

In past storms, FP&L has had a pretty nifty system by which you called their computer, and they told you how long it would be before you had power. This time, perhaps due to the size of the damage, they just said “90% of customers will have power by Tuesday; the remainder by Friday.” Today’s paper said they were going to get more specific, and give us predictions on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis. Well, if so, the prediction for my neighborhood is grim:

This is Monday’s update on restoring power after Hurricane Katrina.

Power in your area will be restored by the end of the day on Friday, or sooner.

This is the most current and complete information available for your area.

I trust that they are just being cautious. Right?

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

Jim Morin Hits a Home Run

Generally, I’m not the greatest fan of the Miami Herald’s cartoonist, Jim Morin, who too frequently draws cartoons that don’t say much, or pretty much illustrate the obvious rather then amusing or provoking. But once in while he does a beaut, and Friday was one of those days:

I’ve tried to pull in the image above, but if that doesn’t work or if it comes out too small on your monitor, please use this link to view it.

(Title typo fixed, sorry.)

Posted in Iraq | 3 Comments