Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Three Sisters: Corn Beans and Squash

By Kristopher Hite

Planted together corn, beans, and squash form a "holy trinity" of cooperative growth. By living in close quarters they provide each other with physical protection and nutritional abundance. As the corn emerges high above the others the stalk provides a living scaffold the beans can coil their vines around as they seek the sun. Meanwhile at ground level the squash act as living mulch by preserving moisture under shady leaves and monopolizing sunlight that might otherwise go to nefarious weeds. The prickly stems of the squash provide a defense system against raccoons and other pests that might otherwise "help" harvest the corn.

Underneath the soil the balancing act continues. The beans are legumes - famous for their ability to reduce nitrogen to nitrates by using their root nodules filled with nitrogen fixing bacteria. Corn is notorious for sucking nitrates from soil at a high rate. In the context of large scale farming, corporations get around this by dumping tons of nitrate fertilizers on the corn fields. To fix nitrogen artificially fertilizer producers need to use copious amounts of fossil fuels. This demonstrates that our current food supply relies on ever-evaporating cheap fossil fuels. Another pressing reason to remember and respect the wisdom of the three sisters.

The origin of this wisdom is not a university laboratory but the pre-Columbian fields of present day New York State. The Iroquois or Ho-de-no-sau-nee stumbled upon this beautiful triumvirate sometime during the millenia they lived and played there. So central was this horticultural combination to their sustenance that it became intertwined with their spiritual world-view.

Lewis Henry Morgan writes in League of the Iroquois (First published 1851).

"These plants were regarded as a special gift of Ha-wen-ne-yu (The Great Spirit); and they believed that the care of each was entrusted, for the welfare of the Indian, to a separate Spirit. They are supposed to have the form of beautiful females, to be very fond of each other, and to delight to dwell together. This last belief is illustrated by the natural adaptation of the plants themselves to grow up together in the same field, and perhaps from the same hill. Their apparel was made of the leaves of their respective plants; and in the growing season they were believed to visit the fields, and dwell among them. This triad is known under the name of De-o-ha-ko, which signifies Our Life, or Our Supporters. They are never mentioned separately, except by description, as they have no individual names."

Depending on where you live the time to plant these varies but on average the span between April 20th and mid May marks the optimal planting window. As an added bonus cultivating a garden in your yard or containers in your apartment with your children boosts their veggie intake and physical activity.

For a much more in-depth look at the practical aspects of cultivating the three sisters see this article by the homesteader John Vivian.

Tom Vilsack can't be all bad if he appreciates this wisdom.

HERMANN, J., PARKER, S., BROWN, B., SIEWE, Y., DENNEY, B., & WALKER, S. (2006). After-School Gardening Improves Children’s Reported Vegetable Intake and Physical Activity Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 38 (3), 201-202 DOI: 10.1016/j.jneb.2006.02.002

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

James Lovelock has a new book

We have summoned the thoughts of this skeptical prophet before within the pages of Tom Paine's Ghost. At ninety years of age his wit remains nimble. The Vanishing Face of Gaia a Final Warning by James Lovelock is reviewed this week in Nature. Watch an interview with James Lovelock here on Nature video archives.

Earth Day 2009

A small thing we all can do right now is bookmark ENERGY.GOV. By coming back to this site periodically we can make sure we walk the walk.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Why has "UNION" become a dirty word?

By Kristopher Hite
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

...and on and on, as most people who attended grade-school anytime in the later half of the twentieth century probably know. This classic ballad of the American landscape was written by good old Woody Guthrie. But there is a song, most people probably do not know, that was written by this same brilliant American - the ballad of the Ludlow Massacre.

On April 20th, 1914 twenty men, women, and children were murdered in Ludlow, Colorado by the Colorado National Guard. The men in these families were part of the mine worker's union that were staging a labor strike. This struggle represents the roots of the American labor movement and unfortunately has been forgotten in recent years.

In his penetrating dissection of the recent financial meltdown and subsequent corporate power-grab Matt Taibbi makes a subtle point regarding unions and their political decline in recent decades. Taibbi describes how Bill Clinton's administration turned their back on unions simply because the Democrats were sick of loosing the fund-raising game during campaigns. Of course there has been a concerted effort by Republicans to undermine the philosophical concept of a union for the better part of the last century, but this relatively recent change in Democratic attitudes towards unions has further eroded any remaining traction unions held in the minds of the electorate.

Cornell University has an entire college dedicated to the study of industrial/labor relations. Much work here focuses on giving workers the tools they need to use leverage when undertaking collective bargaining. The college helps the research process of unions so they might identify weaknesses in corporations and exploit them in order to gain the basic rights they deserve - health care, decent pay, respect.

This is where, I think, there is a fundamental misunderstanding amongst the general public. What is the purpose of a union?

To guarantee basic rights - health care, decent pay, respect.

This is the reason I am writing about this on Tom Paine's Ghost.

People have been made to believe that unions are filled with fat lazy socialists who don't want to work. This is part of the distorting barrage of information that oozes from broadcast corporations such as the Sinclair Broadcast Group who have their tentacles wrapped around the visual cortices of the American Midwest. Some unions may have behaved improperly and over-stepped their bounds when considering the United Auto Workers Union and others. But this is no reason to disband the concept of unions altogether!

Again. The main purpose of a Union is to guarantee basic rights - health care, decent pay, respect.

Upon recommendation from a friend that attended the college of Industrial Labor Relations I began reading a book titled Global Unions. This book is the distillation of a conference held in February of 2006 regarding the past current and future role of unions on the international stage. Video of each talk given can be found here.

The main point made here, through historical perspectives and contemporary examples, is that in order for unions to be effective, from now on, they need to operate on the same scale as the multinational corporations they serve to balance.

While we approach the anniversary of the Ludlow massacre I feel obligated to breath onto the embers of understanding unions. It will be interesting to see how ideas about unions evolve in the recently bluing state of Colorado. This state has maintained an anti-union err up until very recent history. Traveling to Pueblo, CO in fall of 2008 I heard many first-hand accounts of scabs blocking the efficacy of a steel-workers strike at the Oregon Steel Mill there in the early 2000s.

On the birthday of Clarence Darrow I feel it appropriate to reignite an understanding and passion for core union precepts; basic rights - health care, decent pay, respect.

It was THAT bad

If there are any psychological handbooks out there that help rape victims cope I suggest they be handed out to every American citizen. As a country that metaphor is sadly quite apt for what happened to us over the last eight years. From the administration of a man elected on the premise of restoring morality to the white house came a clear sanction of torture. If you have not read the memoranda released by President Obama last Thursday please consider reading them to form your own opinion of whether the practices described within constitute torture.

I had heard of and even skimmed The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein, I had seen previews for Taxi to the Dark Side, but I had always maintained a hope that the US government really did not use these torturous practices. I wanted to believe that this was not possible. That age of innocence ended for me yesterday as I read the last of the torture memos released by President Obama. I realized finally that it really was THAT bad.

I began the move from denial to anger.

At once I wanted justice served to individuals. I wanted to see George W. Bush in front of an international court of justice being tried for war crimes. If not George Bush then at least the person who made the legal decision to allow these practices to be carried out on our enemies, namely ninth circuit court judge Jay Bybee. After calming and talking with friends I realized that even if the person that wrote these "permission slips" for torture was convicted of sanctioning torture what justice would come of this for future generations faced with these same questions?

After ruminating on the most effective cascade of events to ensue in the wake of these memos being made public I came to one solid conclusion. A case should be brought to the supreme court, the people of the United States vs. Jay Bybee. The desired result of such a hearing would be to make clear to the world the exact definition of torture. Our supreme court justices would have a monumental task of using language to build a threshold barrier on the slippery slope between interrogation and torture. In this manner we would both serve justice and clarify the guidelines for what a civilized democracy can and cannot do under universal circumstances.

In the meantime it is our duty as a self-informing citizenry to carefully read these memos and think about their implications. One conclusion I have made is that it really was as bad as I had suspected.

If you happen to have 3 hours of extra time you might want to watch this

John Yoo - this is the name of the author of some of the torture memos. Though Jay Bybee's name appears at the top of the memos John Yoo admits in this hearing (video directly above 1 hour and 13 minutes in) drafting the document.

Praise for "Not Exactly Rocket Science"

A Blog Review.

Perusing the corridors of the free buffet of information out there precious few minds deliver a steady stream of clear, insightful, and inspiring material to ponder. One shining star has emerged for me. This is Ed Yong, author of Not Exactly Rocket Science.

While reading some background on why Ed writes his blog I came to the following sentence which sums up the way I feel about sharing information over the internet through thought-posting.

And I prefer to talk talking about science than attacking anti-science. Many people already do that very well and I appreciate the need for that approach in order to defend ourselves from nonsciencical rubbish. But I don't personally believe that bashing creationists or homeopathists is going to inspire people to take an interest in science in the first place. The things that have done that for me are popular science books, wildlife documentaries, good teaching etc, things all united by the common theme of making science seem less complicated and more beautiful. That's the approach I fancy.

"Taking on the System" a book by Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga presented one thought that really jumped out at me and stuck in my head. That is that the purpose of a blog is not to tell people what they SHOULD think but to provide people with the information they need to form their own opinions. I did not agree with many other points Mr. Zúñiga made in this book but this is certainly a worthy ideal that I feel Mr. Yong embodies by making statements as I have just displayed.

For individuals who do not "believe" in evolution it is not the duty of scientists to berate them and tell them they are wrong but rather to present the beautiful data demonstrating evolution in action. It is not a climate expert's job to have a screaming match with an oil & gas investor on the message boards of big newspapers but rather to simply clarify their explanation of the data by further refining their delivery of the facts.

On top of these lofty standards Ed Yong has set for himself he also infuses his blog with wonderful mental excursions down scientifically related cultural avenues. His review of the evolution of Ballet serves to bridge understanding by drawing in readers that might otherwise give no care to the thought of evolving cultural elements.

Not Exactly Rocket Science takes a positive tone in diffusing big ideas and intricate data in a most accessible fashion. In a sea of information this is one island I would suggest revisiting over and over again.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bush Torture Memos

A little bird told me that Air Force One has sent a message on the wire saying it will release 4 Bush era memos on excessive interrogation practices. We need to bring Robert H. Jackson back from the dead to preside over the
War crimes hearings!

We are no longer the United States of Amnesia and we all remember reading the US constitution in grade school and the part about cruel and unusual punishment.
And we all remember the Geneva Convention agreements. You will not get away with hijacking our country without justice being served to you Mr. Bush!
Read more at the Guardian.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Everyone wants to be Thomas Paine

First it was Bob Basso now it is Glenn Beck. Why is Thomas Paine such a popular hero with these extremely egotistical right-wing gasbags? What does this say about me as I have named this very website in honor of Mr. Paine? I hope it just says that these racist, chauvinist, and apparently illiterate pundits claiming to be modern reincarnations of Paine never made it past the first few sentences in the Wikipedia article on Paine.

Chris Kelly does a great job at the Huffington Post breaking down the fundamental differences between the real Thomas Paine and all these contemporary personality hijackers.

Here is a brief smattering to wet your whistle.

But before another sputtering doofus claims to be the author of the Rights of Man, he might want to check if they share a single belief.

Do you like estate taxes? Paine was pitching them in 1791.

How about progressive taxation? Paine wasn't just for it, he made charts and graphs.

Welfare? Absolutely.

Government make-work programs? Yep. Pay for them with the estate tax.

Public education? Yes, please.

International organizations? Paine said we needed them. Thought they might be useful for preventing wars after we disarmed.


If a woman were to defend the cause of her sex, she might address him in the following manner ... If we have an equal right with you to virtue, why should we not have an equal right to praise? ... Our duties are different from yours, but they are not therefore less difficult to fulfill, or of less consequence to society ... You cannot be ignorant that we have need of courage not less than you ... Permit our names to be sometimes pronounced beyond the narrow circle in which we live. Permit friendship, or at least love, to inscribe its emblem on the tomb where our ashes repose; and deny us not that public esteem which, after the esteem of one's self, is the sweetest reward of well doing. -- T. Paine

Compare and contrast:

OK, so anyway, I was talking about ugly people. Ugly people, if you're a guy, you can get past it. I don't think you can as an ugly woman. I don't -- no, I don't. If you're an ugly woman, I apologize. Oh, you've got a double cross, because if you're an ugly woman, you're probably a progressive as well. --G. Beck

Animal Rights Nuts?

Everything of cruelty to animals is a violation of moral duty. -- T. Paine


Religion is under attack! -- G. Beck

Priests and conjurors are of the same trade. -- T. Paine

Clammy Tub Toys who Think Putting on a Tricorn Makes Them Thomas Paine?

I'm Thomas Paine. -- G. Beck

The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related, that it is difficult to class them separately. -- T. Paine

Read the entire comparison here.

These comments echo my own sentiments on these unfortunate associations.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Colorado governor Bill Ritter, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Hermann Scheer and the head of the National Renewable Energy Lab spoke at a ribbon cutting ceremony this morning in Longmont, Colorado. The first commercial production of the low cost cadmium telluride solar cells begins today at the ABOUND SOLAR factory.

Read more about the company, its history and vision here and here.

Better Place

Better Place: a company Robert Kennedy Jr. invests in.
The novel concept here is that the car is like a cell phone. The provider gives the consumer the car for free and charges for the energy consumed, how we now pay for minutes in cell phone plans. Revolutionary to say the least.

Another group Mr. Kennedy mentioned was Vantage Point Venture Partners. Interestingly a company my Aunt in Napa California told me about is bundled into this Vantage Point group. They are Bright Source Energy.

Monday, April 13, 2009

LIVE BLOGGING RFK Jr Speech Fort Collins

I'm sitting in the front most public row (3rd)
Stay tuned for live updates...

First off Abound Solar is having a "Ribbon Cutting" tomorrow.

Abound Solar is a low cost solar cell manufacturer predicted to be First Solar's biggest competitor. Read more about Abound solar in our previous coverage of this promising company here and here.

Wirsol - new company to Fort Collins

Dr. Hermann Scheer - gave a most impressive speech! One fact shouts out and should be echoed throughout the United States.
Dr. Scheer reports that Germany produces about 5 giga Watts of energy from solar power annually, while the entire United States generates only about 115 mega Watts. To put this in perspective for the audience Dr. Sheer made the following comparison. The amount of solar power generated in the United States annually is equal to that produced in the city of Munich!
That gives you an idea of how much room we have to grow as a country powered by renewables.

Robert Kennedy Jr. made a powerful argument for our shift to a renewable energy economy. He talked specifcally about seval companies he is involved with including Vantage Point Venture Partners (with a special metion of Bright source energy - one of the many companies VPVPs invests in). Also, he mentioned Better Place and electric car maker and energy grid construction firm. The novel concept here is that the car is like a cell phone. The provider gives the consumer the car for free and charges for the energy consumed, how we now pay for minutes in cell phone plans.

See the Speaker's List.
I recorded the audio of the later two and will try to post them soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday and God

As I walked through the plaza in the middle of campus this afternoon a young street preacher was speaking to a crowd about God and Jesus and the old "us and them" routine. He described what we in the crowd needed to do to attain salvation. How we needed to trust in Jesus so we could live forever in heaven.

When I asked him to describe the creation and tell me whether or not he believed God created the universe in 6 days some 6,000 years ago he got a little squeamish and said he didn't want to to talk about that but instead wanted to focus on discussing Jesus.

After having some discussion with others in the crowd about the semantics surrounding the trinity he got to talking about the holy spirit. I asked him to qualify and describe this human-like god and what "he" was like before the physical manifestation of Jesus. I asked several questions about what the holy spirit is. He had to come back to the same answer in each case: I don't know. The only answer he had a sure idea of was about God looking like a man but not having male genitalia.

I asked "does God have a penis?"

The young preacher replied flatly.


I had some more questions that were discussed with his ilk on the side. These were questions of what God's body looks like and is made of. If God does not need to eat then does he have no bacteria in his gut or teeth in his mouth? If God can be everywhere all at once does he have muscles and bones? The answer was always no, or I don't know. If the physical pieces of a man are stripped away and all the symbiotic relationships that exist between him and the bacteria within him removed then that body can not live. And these folks continued to say that if I went to heaven I would have no need for the bacteria in my gut.

Well I say that the struggle to sustain our bodies on this planet is what makes us human and our drive to pass on our genes and our values is also part of that. So what good is it to go to a place where you are missing all those traits and faculties that make life so entertaining?

When Galileo demonstrated that the earth was not located in the privileged location the church thought it should be he was branded a heretic. When Darwin suggested that humans had descended from "lower" forms of life he was committing the same sin as Galileo. Except this time it was a transgression against every man's ego. Darwin removed humanity from its special ranking among life forms.

Knowing the truth of how our bodies came to exist and house our minds is far more rewarding I would argue. When you sit and think of all the events that had to transpire in just the right way to give you the opportunity to live your life, you can appreciate it far more even if everything is not perfect. The atoms that make up your physical form were generated on the inside of a star billions of years ago. And every single one of your direct ancestors had the fortune of loving every other ancestor you have, even if only for a moment. And all those infinite moments combined to allow you to live and thrive on this intricately decorated blue ball.

As we study life more and more we realize that we are not so alone even in our own bodies. A human body is made of approximately 1 trillion cells, but the number of bacterial cells that live in and on each human can exceed ten times that number. Bonnie Bassler from Princeton University illustrates this well in the following TED talk.

As my father always said. "Never kick a horse ball for it may be your uncle."

It becomes more clear with age.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Big Takeover

In a world of real-time information it is easy to miss journalistic works worth going back to. This is one of them. In "The Big Takeover" Matt Taibbi delves into the etiology of the market meltdown we have all lived through. Here is a primer aired on Democracy Now. Read the epic tale of our dollared demise here.

Michael J. Fox

Of all the topics covered in this conversation a subtle but powerful point is made; that parents need to be honest with their kids. There is a tendency for parents to assign feelings of good and bad when explaining something like homosexuality or race or other physical traits to their children. Micheal J. Fox makes the point that in the case of Parkinson's Disease his brain works differently. This is neither scary nor not scary, bad nor good, it just is what it is. As he said these words I thought I might stand and cheer for him had I been in the studio audience. But then again those that think in sound bites are too focused on the Rush Limbaugh fiasco to be bothered with reason.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Michael J. Fox
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisPolitical Humor

The treachery of which the above speak...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Get yourself a tractor"

Old school commodities guru Jim Rogers talks about bailouts and a global currency amongst other things. This interview has several interesting moments, but the finale really stands out. I would like to quote Jim Rogers from the video below because I think his idea of VALUE is worth echoing within the pages of Tom Paine's Ghost:

“You should become a farmer, we should all become farmers. Farmers are going to be the most successful sector of the world for the next 20-30 years. We’ve all made mistakes on Wall Street. The power is now shifting from the money shufflers to the people who produce real things. This has happened often in history, it’s happening again. Get yourself a tractor…”

Feel free to laugh at Jim Rogers like many at CNBC or on wall street or those AIG executives singing "I'm on a boat..." Jim Rogers understands the fundamental concept of VALUE and for that he is smarter than most Americans. If fiat money propagators just took a small shot of this concept every morning, the world would be a much better place... recession-free perhaps. Should you have to put the concept of VALUE on the back-burner for a bit, at least keep it simmering.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Inherit the Wind - The Monkey Trial on Film

I continue to be amazed by sites like Hulu!

The cinematography is carried out brilliantly in this film. The plot follows quite accurately the proceedings surrounding the famous Scopes trial of 1925 where John Scopes, a high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was imprisoned for teaching the theory of evolution. He had violated the state mandate forbidding teachers from informing students of "any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible."

Two titans of American history came to battle this case out. William Jennings Bryan and Clarance Darrow brought this case to the attention of the world through their arguments. The film you see above debuted in 1960 after it was adapted for screen from a Broadway play that premiered in 1955. The character names are changed but there is particular attention paid to the physical portrayal of the them, especially William Jennings Bryan.

Like other art of the time, such as Arthur Miller's the Crucible, this story was put on screen as a reaction the the McCarthy era. It has long been upheld as a work of art that lifted our nation from the plight of anti-intellectualism. The periodic nature of that anti-intellectual attitude in this country requires that we look back at the record of our recent history and remind ourselves that there is hope.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

People Powered Pillow Protest!

Citizens took to the streets Saturday April 4th to demonstrate their outrage at the ill-handled, tax payer funded, big bank bail-outs. More than 1,500 people converged on New York City to partake in this peaceful exercise of assembly. I'm trying to understand the symbolic significance of the pillows. Any ideas?

Malik Rahim - Black and Green

Former Black Panther - Malik Rahim - speaks softly.
His gentle words were delivered with a jolly smile punctuated by serious pauses to a group of quiet listeners at the Matter Book Store in Fort Collins, Colorado on April 2nd.

He talked about his experience fighting in Vietnam, his participation in the Black Panther movement, time served on death row, and his perpetual activism for environmental peace and justice. Born in Algiers, Louisiana, Malik witnessed first-hand the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina and watched in horror as a whole segment of the US population was decimated by a lack of response on the part of the U.S. government.

He co-founded the relief group "Common Ground" that provided clean water and supplies to victims of the hurricane which later expanding to provide further assistance to those displaced by the disaster.

Mr. Rahim spoke with a twinkle in his eye that resides only in those with the best of intentions. He strove to emphasize the issues front and center in his mind, and those issues were clear. Clean air and clean water. He pointed out that with all the worry and talk about everything going wrong with the economy there are not enough people engaged in the conversation about what is going right. That the movement toward green energy and environmental sustainability should be in the forefront of world discussion. That no matter what political affiliation you have you and your offspring will perpetually need clean air and clean water. He urged that we as a nation move beyond partisan differences to a conversation where tolerance reigns and cooperation converges on these issues.

He also spoke about the status of Martin Luther King's dream; the perception and the reality of that dream. Mr. Rahim fears that having a black president merely represents the facade of the dream realized. He speculated that the dream would not be truly realized until "content of character" above all is used as the measure of elected officials, not the color of their skin. He gave a brief history lesson as well while telling the story of FDR and Upton Sinclair.

"A lot of people have been saying that Obama is the modern incarnation of FDR. Well I sure hope he is not."

At this point the crowd looked confused as their progressive hero from history was being questioned. Then he filled us in. In the 1934 gubernatorial race in California the Pulitzer prize winning author Upton Sinclair was running as a DEMOCRAT with the platform of ending poverty in California (EPIC). For purely political reasons Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled to California and campaigned for the REPUBLICAN rival Frank F. Merriam. Sinclair lost and the race went down in history as one of the most propaganda-filled elections of all time.

The point Mr. Rahim was making was this; by allowing a leader to become too heroic, the citizenry looses sight of a leader's motives and is unable to objectively judge their character. This is no way to have a functioning democracy. He followed by saying that "a weak people need a leader, a strong people need a representative."

"Mr. Obama doesn't have no magic wand, but we do. Obviously you all are awake because you are here tonight. Now go wake up others."
And that is why I share this with you.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Common Ground

Motivated by Barnabus' comment in the "Second American Revolution" thread below and TPG's thoughts on globalization, I decided to post some thoughts on these topics in a new thread. Indeed, trying to find common ground between people is a truly noble trait. Often the only way to peacefully rectify disagreement is to first identify common ground, as progression hinges on mutual compromise. Progression is also dependent on interaction and participation of all parties involved.

January 13, 1777, Thomas Paine wrote a letter entitled American Crisis II, in response to Admiral Richard Howe's announcement that King George III offered pardons to all in exchange for reconciliation. Within this letter the phrase, "The United States of America" would be published for the first time. The following is the introductory paragraph:

UNIVERSAL empire is the prerogative of a writer. His concerns are with all mankind, and though he cannot command their obedience, he can assign them their duty. The Republic of Letters is more ancient than monarchy, and of far higher character in the world than the vassal court of Britain; he that rebels against reason is a real rebel, but he that in defence of reason rebels against tyranny has a better title to "Defender of the Faith," than George the Third.

Indeed, Thomas Paine envisioned a universal empire for all mankind. It seems to me that history... destiny... has bound the United States of America to globalization, to global democracy. The internet is the new Republic of Letters and a powerful ally of globalization. By sharing ideas, news and perspectives directly, many barriers to reconciliation amongst earths people can be circumvented. Ultimate global reconciliation will only be possible through the process of globalization. Global democracy is far from reality but the seeds are being planted, the seedlings nurtured, perhaps one day we may find ourselves in a deep, beautiful forest of global common ground?

First things first. The United States of America must look into the mirror and into the pages of history. Democracy can not be "spread" with force and war, these instruments will return opposition and war! Only reason can spread democracy through the process of education. The state of democracy in the USA is sickly and ragged. The superficial government of the USA is of grave concern. Our congressional representatives are now so far "removed" from the people they are supposedly representing, that many people don't care about politics anymore. More bad things will happen with a populous continually relinquishing power and caring even less. Corruption, greed, tyranny, war... Within American Crisis II Thomas Paine writes:

"The UNITED STATES of AMERICA," will sound as pompously in the world or in history, as "the kingdom of Great Britain"...

While pride is an desirable quality, it must be tempered with absolute humility. Further into American Crisis II Thomas Paine writes:

It has been the folly of Britain to suppose herself more powerful than she really is, and by that means has arrogated to herself a rank in the world she is not entitled to...

How about returning the house of representative to the people?

One word, two meanings - "Globalization"

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Freedom of expression: gene expression that is

By Kristopher Hite

Life is written in a language of chemical sentences. In 2006 a group of researchers began the process of engineering new letters to be incorporated into the genetic alphabet. The naturally occurring genetic alphabet is made up of 20 chemical letters (amino acids). These letters are arranged in the correct order by molecular machines, called ribosomes, into words that make sense (proteins). There are words of all sizes that perform key functions in all organisms, from two letter hormones to the epic 26,000 lettered titan titin muscle protein.

Each of the 20 naturally occurring amino acids is known by the translating machinery to correspond to a sequence of three specific nucleotide bases (codon). Because there are four nucleotide bases and they come together in groups of three (4x4x4 = 64) there are 64 different combinations of these base pairs. Because there are only 20 naturally occurring amino acids and 64 ways to code for them that leaves 44 options left open to code for other things.

Nature uses most of these extra codons as redundant codes for the same amino acid so some letters will have 2-6 different codes all calling for the same letter. But there are some of these extra codons that are nonsensical and do nothing apparently useful. What this research group did was take advantage of these extra three letter codons and engineered a special translator molecule known as transfer RNA or tRNA that they attached to new unnatural letters - (man made amino acids).

The mind blowing novelty of this expanded genetic alphabet is only now being realized for practical purposes. With new man-made letters within nature's alphabet of life researchers are taking this patented technology and using it to create Frankenstein proteins with diverse and useful features like hemoglobin mimicry and in-cell localization. This process will be at the heart of synthetic biology.

The question stands... Is a patent for an unnatural letter allowed? Apparently it is, according to the US government's patent office. But does that mean that I could invent new letters for the English alphabet and patent them to make a profit if others eventually use them? How do you think the ethics surrounding this technology will be considered when the future of human gene patents is decided?

Xie, J., & Schultz, P. (2006). A chemical toolkit for proteins — an expanded genetic code Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, 7 (10), 775-782 DOI: 10.1038/nrm2005

Note: I have posted these thoughts before but I thought the topic relevant to current discussions stemming from last weeks issue of Nature. Also, TPG has experienced a large increase in its viewing audience since last I mused on this topic.