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What’s a “GMO,” Anyway?; Enter the Dragon Boats; By the Numbers; Worth Quoting

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014
photo courtesy of UMass
Elizabeth Vierling

What’s a “GMO,” Anyway?

It’s one of the greatest difficulties for consumers these days: basic elements in our lives, from cars to computers to food, require more and more technical, highly specialized knowledge to understand. As controversy rages about genetically engineered food and the law before the state Legislature that would require such foods to be labeled, most of us lack the vocabulary to discuss genetic engineering, the background to understand how many forms it takes, and the theoretical and applied knowledge we need to understand when it differs from traditional plant and animal breeding. A unusual opportunity to get information from an expert on the genetic engineering of plans will be offered the public on April 15, when UMass biochemistry professor Elizabeth Vierling will give a lecture, Inside the Science of Genetically Modified Plants, at the Amherst town hall. Vierling is a seasoned specialist on, among other things, proteins that exist across species and the ways in which some proteins contribute to the heat tolerance of certain plants (as a practical matter, making them better candidates for growing in increasingly dry, hot areas). The meeting, in the Town Room at Amherst Town Hall, begins at 7 p.m. and is free and open to all. “Come ready to learn and leave with the vocabulary and a basic understanding of genetic modifications of plants,” reads the invitation extended by one of the lecture’s sponsors, Grow Food Amherst. Other sponsors are Sustaining Amherst, the National Science Foundation and the Amherst League of Women Voters.

 

Enter the Dragon Boats

Dragon boats will be out on the Connecticut River beginning April 15 as the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club starts practice for its Springfield Dragon Boat Festival June 28. This year, racing will be on the program. 

The 2014 Dragon Boat Team is open to men and women aged 21 and over who are breast cancer survivors or their supporters, and the Club is looking to build up its numbers so that by next year—2015—it can put a very special set of rowers into the event: a crew made up entirely of breast cancer survivors. Contact Coach Betsy Powell at betsy@pvriverfront.org for information about joining the team. To enter a community team in the Festival, email Jim Sotiropoulos at Jim@pvriverfront.org.

 

By the Numbers

40%

The amount of increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (all figures are for increases since pre-industrial times)

150%

The amount of increase in methane

20%

The amount of increase in nitrous oxide

These levels are “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years,” according to a newly released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicts massive climate-based hardship, likely beginning with food supply problems, if the increase in global warming continues unabated.

4,907

The number of signatures, as of last week, on a petition started by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood calling on the Girl Scouts of USA to end an agreement it made last year with Mattel, which paid the Scouts a reported $2 million in exchange for tie-ins promoting Barbie in Girl Scout materials, including a pink Barbie “Be Anything, Do Everything” patch. The petition praises the Girl Scouts for having “long been a powerful force for good in the lives of girls,” but says the relationship with Mattel “harms girls. In addition to encouraging sexualization, the Barbie brand idealizes a dangerously impossible body type.” Scout officials have defended the deal, calling it a fun way to convey to girls positive messages about all they can be.

“In this disturbing era of testing and data collection in the public schools, I have seen my career transformed into a job that no longer fits my understanding of how children learn and what a teacher ought to do in the classroom to build a healthy, safe, developmentally appropriate environment for learning for each of our children.  … Each year I have had less and less time to teach the children I love in the way I know best—and in the way child development experts recommend. I reached the place last year where I began to feel I was part of a broken system that was causing damage to those very children I was there to serve.”

From the resignation letter submitted recently to the Cambridge public school system by Susan Sluyter, a veteran kindergarten teacher. Sluyter’s letter has drawn attention internationally after being published by the Washington Post.

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