Native Americans and a broken US justice system, Chipotle and GMOs

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Native Americans are the unseen victims of a broken US justice system

A federal panel is finally looking into one of the least examined problems plaguing the US justice system: are Native Americans living on reservations disproportionately dealt harsher punishments for crimes than other Americans?

Earlier in April, The Wall Street Journal spoke with Ralph Erickson (paywall), a chief federal district court judge for North Dakota. Erickson, an outspoken proponent of sentencing reforms for Native American reservations, is spearheading the federal review. Called the Tribal Issues Advisory Group, the panel is made up of 22 judges and law enforcement administrators, 11 of which are Native American.

“No matter how long I have been sentencing in Indian Country, I find it gut-wrenching when I am asked by a family member of a person I have sentenced why Indians are sentenced to longer sentences than white people who commit the same crime,” Erickson confided to The Journal’s Dan Frosch.

Frosch accounts for this disparity by dissecting the process by which certain crimes are prosecuted on reservations. “Native Americans are typically prosecuted under federal law for serious offenses committed on reservations,” he explains. “State punishments for the same crimes tend to be lighter.”

This is not the first time judges have raised concerns over reservation sentencing disparities. The Journal reports that the US Sentencing Committee conducted a similar review over ten years ago—but it resulted in few material changes. In the past five years alone, the number of Native Americans incarcerated in federal prisons has increased by 27%. In South Dakota, the state with the fourth highest percentage of Native American residents, Native Americans compose 60% of the federal caseload, but only 8.5% of the total population.

The trend continues across states with similarly substantial Native populations: they constitute a third of the caseload in Montana, a quarter in North Dakota, 14% in Minnesota, and 13% in Oklahoma, according to Sentencing Commission data.

More and graph found HERE.

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Chipotle can’t get rid of GMOs unless it stops selling corn

Today Chipotle announced that genetically-modified organisms will no longer find a place in its pantry—but taken literally, that means no more corn, a crop that has its origins in human intervention.

The company has long emphasized organic and local foods, and its decision puts it on the side of activists who question the safety of the increasingly sophisticated genetic manipulation that makes industrial agriculture more productive.

Those on the other side of the issue, including most the recent apostate from the anti-GMO ranks, science guy Bill Nye, say the evidence shows that genetically-modified crops are safe—and part of human history. Take corn, one of the founding staples of Mexican food and a key ingredient for Chipotle’s tortillas, chips and salsas. In his fascinating examination of the western hemisphere before Europeans arrived, 1491Charles Mann describes the development of maize by indigenous peoples in Mexico six thousand years ago:

[Maize] is like the one redheaded early riser in a family of dark-haired night owls. Left untended, other cereals are capable of propagating themselves. Because maize kernels are wrapped inside a tough husk, human beings must sow the species—it essentially cannot reproduce on its own. … No known wild ancestor, no obvious natural way to evolve a non-shattering variant, no way to propagate itself—little wonder that the Mexican National Museum of Culture claimed in a 1982 exhibition that maize “was not domesticated, but created”—almost from scratch.

…[Scientists] argue that modern maize was the outcome of a bold act of conscious biological manipulation—“arguably man’s first, and perhaps his greatest, feat of genetic engineering,” Nina V. Federoff, a geneticist at Pennsylvania State University, wrote in 2003. Federoff’s description, which appeared in Science, intrigued me. It makes twenty-first-century scientists sound like pikers, I said when I contacted her. “That’s right,” she said. “To get corn out of teosinte is so—you couldn’t get a grant to do that now, because it would sound so crazy.” She added, “Somebody who did that today would get a Nobel Prize! If their lab didn’t get shut down by Greenpeace, I mean.”

The anti-GMO community argues that selective breeding differs from modern genetic modification techniques, and scientists tend to retort that the only difference is the time-frame. Regardless, if you’re going by the World Health Organization definition that Chipotle cites on its website—”organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally”—then any corn at all should be forbidden. Chipotle proposes to stop using only corn that has been modified with newer methods to fit the needs of agribusiness. (Incidentally, the WHO says GMO foods are generally safe.)

But this really gets at how the debate over GMOs gets both sides talking past each other. Scientists are confident that relying on genetics to encourage useful traits in foodstuffs like corn, whether that’s kernel size or resistance to herbicides, won’t hurt humans that ingest them. But beyond the health concerns, there is the issue of becoming overly reliant on certain GMOs, leading to problems like pesticide resistance and monopolies. Monsanto’s intellectual property rights over its seeds includes 90% of the soybean market. Most of Chipotle’s use of GMOs comes from the soybean oil it used in cooking, and it will now use sunflower seed oil instead.

Scientists have raised concerns about the unexpected consequences (paywall) of growing GM crops at such a large scale. Mann’s book praises the wide variety of maize species cultivated by indigenous Mexicans, and his later work goes on to trace the troubles faced by Europeans who imported another new food from the western hemisphere—the potato—and cultivated only one variety, leaving them vulnerable to a massive famine. No one should be blind to the long history of genetically modified food—good and ill.

From HERE.

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Super strong mini robots can haul up to 2,000 times their weight

Another engineering feat from the nerds at Stanford: Researchers at the school’s Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab designed a tiny 12-gram robot that can pull up to 2,000 times its weight—the equivalent of a human being dragging a blue whale across land.

More video and information found HERE.

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And a female painted nice…

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