Educating Girls Like Chrissie Can Save a Nation

In September 2012, I produced an opinion piece authored by President Joyce Banda of Malawi that ran on The piece, which was timed to coincide with the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, discussed the importance of education and gender empowerment in setting international goals for economic development. To read the piece, click here.

Fresh Piracy Off West Africa Highlights Link to Overfishing

Modern-day piracy, it seems, happens at the intersection of global shipping lanes, overfished parts of the oceans, and nations whose governments are troubled or failing. If fishermen have no fish to catch and no rule of law to restrain them, piracy would appear pretty attractive. More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog.

Lonesome Larry: An Unsung Hero

In early August, I wrote for on the nexus between Woody Guthrie and sockeye salmon. The occasion? The folk singer’s 100th birthday, and the 20th anniversary of Lonesome Larry, the only sockeye to make it to Redfish Lake in 1992 (in decades past, the sockeye in the lake numbered at least 30,000). More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog.

Reporting on Bioethics

During the summer, I reported on the August meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues with a series of blog posts. The Commission explored a several fascinating debates on medical data and experimentation, providing the grist for seven posts:

Can Banning Big Gulps have an Environmental Benefit?

Credit: Dan Klotz

At the end of May, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared a ban on “Big Gulps” in the Big Apple. Lost in this public health debate is whether or not cutting down on super-sized sodas will have an environmental benefit–and the answer, while not as obvious as the obesity epidemic, makes common sense. More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog.

The Farm Bill Rollercoaster Gets Ready to Roll

Credit: National Archives no. 514376 44-PA-871

This week, the Senate began debating the “Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012,”the latest name for the Farm Bill. This legislation comes up for renewal every five years, and the back-and-forth always been larger than life and somewhat crazy. More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog.

New options for flood control could help during dry spells

Last year’s record flooding in the Chao Phraya River’s watershed caused $40 billion in damages and left one third of Thailand—including parts of Bangkok, the capital and largest city—underwater for weeks. The prolonged media coverage, however, completely drowned out most recollections of the record drought that the country experienced in 2010.

For Thailand, managing the agricultural challenges presented by climate change means planning to handle both too much water and too little. One solution, Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR), sets aside land in upstream areas of major rivers to “capture” floodwater and direct it into natural underground aquifers. With fully “charged” aquifers, farmers could then maintain rice yields during dry spells.

Matthew McCartney, principal researcher for the International Water Management Institute, and Theerasak Tangsutthinon of Thailand’s Department of Groundwater Resources led a tour of a MAR project 50km north of Bangkok that showed both the potential of this solution as well as the challenges it brings.

This was the subject of a slide show featuring my photos that I created for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).  I also secured coverage of the tour with the Christian Science Monitor and National Geographic.

Where’s the beef?

Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings, AKA “Pink Slime.”(Credit: Beef Products Inc.)

The recent media hullabaloo around “pink slime,” or Boneless Lean Beef Trimmings, brings into question whether it is possible to sterilize slaughterhouse scraps that are “notorious for carrying pathogenic bacteria” — and then serve the product for lunch at school.

Celebrating an Anniversary in the Arctic Circle

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas in Syria. Credit: Global Crop Diversity Trust/Britta Skagerfalt

Rarely do you celebrate an anniversary with raw chick peas and fava beans.

But these seeds, from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), highlighted the fourth anniversary shipment for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault—located on the colder side of the Arctic circle in Norway.  The Global Crop Diversity Trust maintains the seed vault in partnership with the Norwegian government and the Nordic Genetic Resources Center, as a back-up to the living crop diversity collections housed in “genebanks” around the world.

I helped publicize this shipment as part of my work for Burness Communications; click here to read more.

Is Eli the second coming of Tebow?

Lost in all of the hullabaloo about whether Eli Manning is an elite quarterback and all the gazillions of fourth quarter rallies he’s conducted is the ultimate question about his success. Has Eli ascended to the level of Tim Tebow?

It’s not such an outrageous question, given how everyone in New York wanted a new quarterback after Eli led the league in interceptions last year. Eli has certainly played as many stinker games as Tebow has, although Tebow to his credit has played all of his stinkers in one season.

But the real question lies in the fourth quarter heroics. Eli’s stats are very good for the most part, but he knows how to finish. Tebow’s stats stink, but he knows how to finish. How good do your stats have to be as long as you finish?

Maybe we should ask Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers, and Drew Brees for their opinions.

– – – –

One of the points made over and over again is how Eli, like other great quarterbacks, makes those around him better. Mario Manningham, who had the defining catch in this year’s Super Bowl, is the perfect example.

Towards the end of the third quarter, Manningham streaked up the line and Eli put the ball where only he could get it—which was slightly out of bounds. Manning was expecting Manningham to drag his feet and stay in bounds, but Manningham just ran under it and caught it out of bounds without even thinking about where his feet were.

Chris Collinsworth, the color commentator, blasted Manningham for running a bad route, one that brought him too close to the sideline. Collinsworth thought Manningham’s route forced Manning to put the ball out of bounds; the lack of effort by the receiver in staying in bounds was not discussed.

With such a nonchalant approach in the second half of the Super Bowl, do you think Manning lost confidence in his number three receiver?

Fast forward to the start of the game-winning drive, first and ten from the Giants’ 12, and what does Manning do? He comes out throwing a 38-yard strike, with Manningham running the exact same route but this time he dragged his feet perfectly. All of the sudden, the Giants were on the 50 yard line and it looked grim for the Patriots.

Does any other quarterback make the exact same throw to the same receiver with the same pattern after a terrible mental lapse in the championship game? It’s hard to say, as I don’t watch other teams as intently as I watch my Giants. But that sequence struck me as the reason why Eli is elite—he elevates the play of his teammates, never losing confidence in them even when they don’t deserve it.

– – – –

The last two points that I need to make is on how that drive ended. There’s a minute left in the game, it’s third and goal from the six, and it looks like the Giants are content to run the ball, burn the clock or force the Patriots to take their last timeout, and then kick a field goal.

The Patriots had the option of trying to stuff the run, calling their last time out, and then, assuming the Giants make the field goal, field the kick off with a minute remaining and needing to drive part of the way down field to kick a field goal. Tom Brady is an elite quarterback, one of the all-time greats. Piece of cake, right?

The other option would have been to stuff the run, not call the time out, and then field the kick off with about 20 seconds remaining and one time out. This was not feasible, and Bill Belichick was correct in not choosing this option.

But the option he chose was ridiculous. His defense conceded the game winning-touchdown with a minute remaining so that they could field the kick off and still have their timeout. Instead of forcing the Giants to kick a field goal, which is never automatic (just ask Scott Norwood), the hooded genius gave the Giants the game-winning touchdown.

With a minute to play, would you rather need to score a touchdown or a field goal? You would think a “hall of fame” coach would trust his “hall of fame” quarterback to lead a drive that brings the team within field goal range, even without timeouts.

Of course, you could lay the blame on Belichick’s assistants who were in charge of figuring out whether to challenge Manningham’s catch. Belichick challenged whether Manningham stayed in bounds, but right off the bat you could see that this was a bad move. To win a challenge, you need incontrovertible evidence that the wrong call was made. How can Belichick, the king of videotape, not have someone tivo-ing the game who can figure out quickly that this was not a challengeable catch? The blown challenge cost the Patriots time out, one they sorely needed at the end of the game.

Only one quarterback in Super Bowl history has taken his team the length of the field at the end of the Super Bowl when a touchdown was needed to win—and that quarterback was Eli Manning. Manning accomplished this feat four years ago, when he and the Giants spoiled the Patriots’ bid for a perfect season. Brady’s attempt came up short, again.

What does this say about both quarterbacks? Maybe we should ask Tebow.