Here, in 10 minutes, 100 iconic moments in film.  Naturally, five of them are from “Casablanca.”  Inexplicably, the “true love” clip from “The Princess Bride” is not included, nor any of the others.  And for my money, they took the wrong clip from “Moonstruck.”  Where was, “Old man, you give those dogs another piece of my food and I’m gonna kick you til you’re dead”?  Where was, [Ronny Cammareri, anguished:] “I’m heeee-ya!” [Loretta Castorini, not missing a beat:] “Yo late!“?

I have actually met people who’ve not seen “Casablanca,” “Moonstruck,” or “The Princess Bride.”  (No: really!)

Well, that’s why God invented Netflix.

Buttercup: I fear I will never see you again.
Westley: Of course you will.
Buttercup: But what if something happens to you?
Westley: Hear this now: I will always come for you.
Buttercup: But how can you be sure?
Westley: This is True Love. You think this happens every day?

And yes, they got in “Dr. Strangelove,” another of my top ten — President Muffley: “This is the War Room!  You can’t fight in the War Room!”  But where was, “Of course, the whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost, if you keep it a SECRET. Why didn’t you tell the world?  EH?!”

And for that matter, where was “Dr. Zhivago?”  (“Oh, look, Uri — Verikino!”) (Or, simply, as pen begins to scratch at the top of the blank page with near-frozen fingers . . . “Lara!”)

Engineer: If they were to give me two more excavators, I’d be a year ahead of the plan by now.
Gen. Yevgraf Zhivago: You’re an impatient generation.
Engineer: Weren’t you?
Gen. Yevgraf Zhivago: Yes, we were, very. Oh, don’t be so impatient, Comrade Engineer. We’ve come very far, very fast.
Engineer: Yes, I know that, Comrade General.
Gen. Yevgraf Zhivago: Yes, but do you know what it cost? There were children in those days who lived off human flesh. Did you know that?

Well, did you?  I say again: Netflix.  Have a great (very) long weekend.


Earlier this month I posted a remarkable letter by a young, idealistic entrepreneur defending his decision to sell his company, The Climate Corporation, to Monsanto.  

Here, in the New Yorker, Michael Specter continues the theme, profiling a renowned Indian environmentalist.

. . . Shiva, along with a growing army of supporters, argues that the prevailing model of industrial agriculture, heavily reliant on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fossil fuels, and a seemingly limitless supply of cheap water, places an unacceptable burden on the Earth’s resources. She promotes, as most knowledgeable farmers do, more diversity in crops, greater care for the soil, and more support for people who work the land every day. Shiva has particular contempt for farmers who plant monocultures—vast fields of a single crop. “They are ruining the planet,” she told me. “They are destroying this beautiful world.” . . .

But guess what?  As you keep reading, you begin to realize that she may not be the Mother Teresa of agriculture.

. . . Hundreds of millions of people, in twenty-eight countries, eat transgenic products every day, and if any of Shiva’s assertions were true the implications would be catastrophic. But no relationship between glyphosate and the diseases that Shiva mentioned has been discovered. Her claims were based on a single research paper, released last year, in a journal called Entropy, which charges scientists to publish their findings. The paper contains no new research. Shiva had committed a common, but dangerous, fallacy: confusing a correlation with causation. (It turns out, for example, that the growth in sales of organic produce in the past decade matches the rise of autism, almost exactly. For that matter, so does the rise in sales of high-definition televisions, as well as the number of Americans who commute to work every day by bicycle.)

Shiva refers to her scientific credentials in almost every appearance, yet she often dispenses with the conventions of scientific inquiry. She is usually described in interviews and on television as a nuclear physicist, a quantum physicist, or a world-renowned physicist. Most of her book jackets include the following biographical note: “Before becoming an activist, Vandana Shiva was one of India’s leading physicists.” When I asked if she had ever worked as a physicist, she suggested that I search for the answer on Google. I found nothing, and she doesn’t list any such position in her biography. . . .

Not at all.

“It is absolutely remarkable to me how Vandana Shiva is able to get away with saying whatever people want to hear,” Gordon Conway told me recently. Conway is the former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and a professor at London’s Imperial College. His book “One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?” has become an essential text for those who study poverty, agriculture, and development.

“Shiva is lionized, particularly in the West, because she presents the romantic view of the farm,” Conway said. “Truth be damned. People in the rich world love to dabble in a past they were lucky enough to avoid—you know, a couple of chickens running around with the children in the back yard. But farming is bloody tough, as anyone who does it knows. It is like those people who romanticize villages in the developing world. Nobody who ever lived in one would do that.”

Indeed . . .

“She is very canny about how she uses her power,” Lynas said. “But on a fundamental level she is a demagogue who opposes the universal values of the Enlightenment.”

It may be that the current Monsanto is mistakenly despised and that there is something to be said for genetically modified organisms.

The all-encompassing obsession with Monsanto has made rational discussion of the risks and benefits of genetically modified products difficult. Many academic scientists who don’t work for Monsanto or any other large corporation are struggling to develop crops that have added nutrients and others that will tolerate drought, floods, or salty soil—all traits needed desperately by the world’s poorest farmers. Golden Rice—enriched with vitamin A—is the best-known example. More than a hundred and ninety million children under the age of five suffer from vitamin-A deficiency. Every year, as many as half a million will go blind. Rice plants produce beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A, in the leaves but not in the grain. To make Golden Rice, scientists insert genes in the edible part of the plant, too.

Golden Rice would never offer more than a partial solution to micronutrient deficiency, and the intellectual-property rights have long been controlled by the nonprofit International Rice Research Institute, which makes the rights available to researchers at no cost. Still, after more than a decade of opposition, the rice is prohibited everywhere. Two economists, one from Berkeley and the other from Munich, recently examined the impact of that ban. In their study “The Economic Power of the Golden Rice Opposition,” they calculated that the absence of Golden Rice in the past decade has caused the loss of at least 1,424,680 life years in India alone. (Earlier this year, vandals destroyed some of the world’s first test plots, in the Philippines.)

It’s a long article, but if you eat food, worth reading in full.

. . . In a recent speech, Shiva explained why she rejects studies suggesting that genetically engineered products like Pental’s mustard oil are safe. Monsanto, she said, had simply paid for false stories, and “now they control the entire scientific literature of the world.” Nature, Science, and Scientific American, three widely admired publications, “have just become extensions of their propaganda. There is no independent science left in the world.”

Monsanto is certainly rich, but it is simply not that powerful. Exxon Mobil is worth seven times as much as Monsanto, yet it has never been able to alter the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels is the principal cause of climate change. Tobacco companies spend more money lobbying in Washington each year than Monsanto does, but it’s hard to find scientists who endorse smoking. The gulf between the truth about G.M.O.s and what people say about them keeps growing wider. The Internet brims with videos that purport to expose the lies about genetically modified products. Mike Adams, who runs a popular Web site called Natural News, recently compared journalists who are critical of anti-G.M.O. activists such as Shiva to Nazi collaborators.

The most persistent objection to agricultural biotechnology, and the most common, is that, by cutting DNA from one species and splicing it into another, we have crossed an invisible line and created forms of life unlike anything found in “nature.” That fear is unquestionably sincere. Yet, as a walk through any supermarket would demonstrate, nearly every food we eat has been modified, if not by genetic engineering then by more traditional cross-breeding, or by nature itself. Corn in its present form wouldn’t exist if humans hadn’t cultivated the crop. The plant doesn’t grow in the wild and would not survive if we suddenly stopped eating it.

When it comes to medicine, most Americans couldn’t care less about nature’s boundaries. Surgeons routinely suture pig valves into the hearts of humans; the operation has kept tens of thousands of people alive. Synthetic insulin, the first genetically modified product, is consumed each day by millions of diabetics. To make the drug, scientists insert human proteins into a common bacteria, which is then grown in giant industrial vats. Protesters don’t march to oppose those advances. In fact, consumers demand them, and it doesn’t seem to matter where the replacement parts come from.

When Shiva writes that “Golden Rice will make the malnutrition crisis worse” and that it will kill people, she reinforces the worst fears of her largely Western audience. Much of what she says resonates with the many people who feel that profit-seeking corporations hold too much power over the food they eat. Theirs is an argument well worth making. But her statements are rarely supported by data, and her positions often seem more like those of an end-of-days mystic than like those of a scientist. . . .



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