Beautiful, Interesting and Ooo Shiny! Images From Various Places

Plants & Insects

Are GMO’s Really That Evil?

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 800 • f 11 • 1/30 sec

A cursory Google search will return pages upon pages of arguments for organic produce and fears against GMO’s (genetically modified organisms). Why is that? Most debates in the public sector have had equal representation of both sides of the argument, but in this one, only one side is well heard. For the sake of discourse, I thought I would write this blog from the other side.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against organics or the people who encourage others to grow them. One of the great things about living in the USA is our freedom of choice, including being able to choose what we eat. This blog, however, is about other places around the world.

GMO’s were originally developed with the world’s good in mind. Scientists saw problems such as famine in Africa, malnutrition in Asia, and children dying of preventable causes in many areas, and they wanted to do something about it. Using what they knew best, they began to develop agricultural solutions to these problems. For example, the poor in Asia eat rice as their staple diet, but often do not have access to other essential nutrients needed for healthy development. To improve their overall health, scientists spent years working on “golden rice” – a crop with additional vitamin A. Meanwhile, in Africa, strong weeds or a drought could cost a family their entire crop for the year. So they dealt with both a lack of food and a lack of income. Some even had to sell off children they couldn’t feed. As a result, several crops were developed to be more resistant to weeds, insects, and drought. There are many more examples.

Much of the concern has been over the health risks of GMO’s. Does playing with the genetic code cause cancers or other health issues? Thousands of other scientists have worked to answer these questions, and many regulations have been put in place. While there are occasional mistakes that aren’t foreseen, most testing will find any problems long before a product makes it to the market.

Regulations also limit the amount of work that can go into this research in the first place. For example, those who work with the genetic code of plants are limited to only changing certain amino acids in a strand of DNA. In nature, entire sections of DNA can be moved, cut out, or duplicated, causing major changes. It’s like the difference between people of different nationalities. Naturally, they have different hair and skin colors, different bone structures, and even different susceptibility to health issues. Using this comparison, a GMO would be like changing people’s eye colors.

Some companies have become known for shady business practices, but not all operate that way. Some people are allergic to certain food additives, but that doesn’t mean they are bad for everyone. The excuse “I won’t eat anything I can’t pronounce” often forgets the fact that any substance on earth can have a long complicated scientific name, and that certain natural ingredients are extremely toxic. The point is: proper balance is needed. We need to evaluate things one at a time based on their own merit, not paint the entire thing with a broad brush.

Are you particular about where your food comes from? What are your eating habits?

Are You a Survivor?

Location: Indonesia
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/60 sec

“Check this out. We call it a vase plant,” our tour guide said. I stared at the green and red growth, making a mental note that they carried fresh water. In our mini jungle survival course, our guide also taught us some good sources of food – like termites (they really don’t taste that bad)! So, I thought I’d share the wealth and include a few more jungle survival tips for all you crazy adventurers out there, just in case you lose your way.

  • First, don’t panic and run in circles. It doesn’t help. Keep calm, and try to find a trail. If you can’t, pick a direction and travel that way consistantly. Eventually you’ll find something useful.
  • One very useful thing is rivers. Small streams will lead to big streams, which lead to rivers, which (more often than not) lead to settlements. They also create a break in the treeline, which may make you easier to spot from above.
  • WATER is the most important thing you can find. Several plants (like the one in the photo) can collect water. Bamboo is a good source, as are some types of vines (avoid the ones where the water is red, yellow, or milky). You can also collect it from a fast-moving stream and boil it, or start digging!
  • FOOD is next. Many plants are edible, such as palm hearts, but unless you know for sure which ones, be careful! Avoid most red berries, plants with milky sap, and anything with sap that irritates your skin. When in doubt, follow some monkeys. Most of their diet is compatible with ours.
  • The biggest dangers in the jungle are falling trees/branches and insect/reptile bites. Use your various forms of insect repellant, don’t touch the plants when you don’t have to, and build your hammock or shelter above the ground
  • Don’t forget the all-important things – how to build a fire and tie a good knot. It’s also a good idea to carry a machete. They’re just so useful!
  • Don’t forget to pack the essentials before you travel! Things you may consider beyond the usual stuff: salt (for drying, santization & diet), foot powder (the humidity makes fungal infections common), or condoms (not for what you think… they can protect from waterborne pathogens when crossing rivers)
  • Finally, keep a good attitude! The will to survive, fight off fear, and find humor in tough situations is the key factor in most survival stories.

P.S. There’s way more tips than I can summarize on just this short blog. Check out these sites for more.

Have you heard any other survival tip you find interesting? Let us know!

Peace Park Prayers

Location: Japan
Camera info: Fuji Finepix A303 • Automatic Point & Shoot
ISO 100 • f 2.8 • 1/640 sec

At first I was confused: why would someone want to make a monument full of dead flowers? On a tour through Peace Prayer Park in Okinawa, we came across a large Buddhist temple on the grounds. Inside was a wall full of flowers, most of which were dried up. However, there were a few that remained fresh and pretty. Our tour guide told us these were prayers visitors had left for the victims of the war.

Japanese Ikebana, or the art of flower arranging, is apparently how Buddhist devotees offer prayers and help others connect with the universe. There are several schools of thought as to what elements in the bouquets symbolize and how they should be arranged. Even the flowers themselves have symbolic meanings, and are picked carefully. Many offerings include a fancy vase as well, but these arrangements in the picture often had paper scrolls with written prayers attached instead.

As for why most of these are dead? I can only surmise someone didn’t pay the housekeeping staff enough. 🙂

What’s your preferred way to pray?

Random Acts of Kindness

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 200 • f 2.8 • 1/500 sec

I love flowers. They’re beautiful and can brighten my day – especially when I get one by surprise! One day, after a long day at work, I went out to my car and discovered a rose hiding on my car. 😀 This wasn’t the only time I was the “victim” of a random act of kindness. I was once part of a large group at a restaurant, and some stranger paid for our entire table. Then, one time I had a flat tire. A few people were helping me change it, and one lady noticed my tires were old and needed replacement. I had been saving up to do that, but was still $100 short of what I needed. To my surprise, the woman handed me a check and told me to get new tires.

It’s fun to pass on the kindness. My family likes to pick a single person in a restaurant or get a car behind us in a drive-thru and anonymously pay their bill. A friend of mine got the idea to take flowers to forgotten service people, like gas station attendants. She also joined me in putting flowers on cars at our hospital’s emergency room parking lot. Another friend likes to go downtown to visit the homeless, armed with a pair of toenail clippers.

In a day where most of the news is filled with people hurting others, the strong taking advantage of the weak, and all kinds of disasters and greed, it’s nice to hear stories of kindness from time to time. Personally, I think it’s even more fun to be part of those stories.

What about you? Have you committed an act of random kindness or had one done to you? What happened?

Trying to Feed the World

Location: Thailand
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
ISO 400 • f 3.5 • 1/1600 sec

Cruising the streets in Thailand, I kept seeing these flooded fields everywhere. I thought it was just the after-effects of monsoon season, but soon I learned the flooding was intentional. These Thai people we saw were rice farmers.

Rice is an interesting and essential crop, second only to corn (maize) in production worldwide. It is so important to some Asian cultures, that they even have annual celebrations or gods devoted to rice. Growing rice is such a labor-intensive process, it is most common in countries where workers are cheap and easy to come by. Many Asian communities still harvest rice by hand, though machinery is become more commonplace.

What makes rice-growing unique is the need for lots of water. Rice plants thrive in wet and hot environments, so part of the growth process involves keeping the seedlings under water for most of their early life. This also minimizes the amount of weeds and pests that can attack the young plants. Most of the rice paddies I saw did not need a complicated irrigation system to pull this off. They just built dirt walls around sections of the field, and let them fill up with water during the heavy rains. I got the chance to walk out on one of these walls, and was amazed at how strong it was, even though it was only about a foot thick.

Ok, fess up! What’s your favorite flavor of rice?