May 30th, 2010

helping those poor people in Africa

In case it isn't utterly obvious, that subject heading is sarcasm directed at the would-be help-ers, not the poor victims of the proposed "assistance".

Here's what set me off this time:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/gadgets/backyard-star-wars/0

R. sent me this because he thought it was funny. I guess, in a variety of ways, it is funny. I hope that the participants intended it to be funny. I'm worried, tho.

The short form: some Microsoft guys wanted a new way to kill mosquitos, you know, to help those poor people in Africa. They thought a laser might be a good idea. Some inventors at something called Intellectual Ventures Management came up with what they call a "photonic fence". Look, I checked the date, because I was wondering the same thing, too, but the date seems to be May 2010.

"If it could be done cheaply enough, this might offer the first really new way in many years to combat malaria, as well as other diseases transmitted by flying insects, such as West Nile virus and dengue fever."

I'll grant the "it's new!" part. I'm not gonna argue with that. But the "cheaply enough"? Seriously? If we can't afford to get everyone bed nets, you think you're going to install a bunch of computers, sensors and eye-safe lasers?

Turns out not. The eye-safe laser option that would kill mosquitoes is sufficiently unavailable and/or expensive that even these idiots balked at the price tag for their own backyard, much less those poor people in Africa (assuming they had remembered the nominal beneficiaries. Because let's face it, _no one_ is going to be sympathetic to this as a bunch of rich nerds trying to avoid getting bit during their backyard bbq. They'll just tell them to fork out for the propane-powered skeeter eaters.). Rather than abandon the idea, they suggest goggles all around.

Goggles.

Wow.

I thought the whole golden rice thing was a crock, given the amount of rice that would have to be eaten, vs. the benefits of, say, having a few greens with the rice -- if you are too poor to afford the greens, you cannot possibly afford the golden rice. But this makes golden rice look downright reasonable.

I don't know whether there's a moral here.

llamas

From _More_, p. 119: "(The peoples of the Americas before European contact domesticated only a few animals, and those they did were small.)"

This is a variation on a common assertion. The usual formulation is something along the lines of, the largest domesticated animal in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans was the guinea pig.

Here's an online variant:

http://www.ancientworlds.net/aw/Post/338352

"The Aztecs and Maya kept dogs, domestic turkeys, ducks and bees. The Inca raised alpaca for wool and kept guinea pigs (cavies) for food. Other than that, 'animal husbandry' as such just wasn't an issue, and their main source of meat was game (fish, duck, turkey, deer). The Aztecs were also fond of eating tadpoles, larvae, ants, worms, newts and lizards. Some North American Indians used dogs to pull small loads, and the Incas did the same with llamas."

It's difficult to know how 'animal husbandry' wasn't an issue, given the size of the alpaca and llama (for that matter, you might include guanaco and vicuna populations, since they were at least managed if not domesticated by native Americans) population prior to the arrival of Europeans, and the various uses they were put to. I'm going to ignore all birds and fish, on the basis that lots of people understand "animal" to not include "birds" and I just don't even feel like getting into it.

This would be a much more reasonable assessment of domesticated animals of the Incas:

http://incas.homestead.com/inca_domestic_animals.html

I don't like it when an assertion gets to be so common that it burrows into one's consciousness without inspection. Fortunately, R. caught this one for me.

ETA: If you are wondering about statements you might have seen about Incas/Americas and not having draft animals, I think the trouble involves the definition of "draft". Certainly, with appropriate equipment, llamas can be used to pull a cart or, presumably, a plow. If the Incas weren't using llamas for this purpose, it wasn't because they lacked an appropriate animal.