Category Archives: Global Corporate U.

Amyris, after fueling around, heads to the HSN

Lo, how the mighty have fallen.

Amyris, the company founded by UC Berkeley’s Jay Keasling and his students with the promise to bring competitive clean-burning cellulose-based fuels to a gas pump near you, is heading the Home Shopping Network.

As we’ve noted endless time before, Amyris failed in in basic promise, despite many millions from Bill Gates, Arab oil royalty, and an Asian government, and has abandoned all plans to make fuel from bacterial excrement.

Instead, the microbes are secreting chemicals to smear on your skin.

From a company press release:

Biossance™, the consumer beauty brand from Amyris, Inc. (AMRS), today announced its anticipated launch on leading live content retailer HSN on February 18th, 2016 during the Beauty Report with Amy Morrison.  The first product to be featured from the exciting new skincare collection will be Biossance™ The Revitalizer, a breakthrough moisturizer that helps skin by using one of the emollients already found naturally within the body. Amyris plans to feature an expanded line of several other Biossance products during 2016, which will also be available for sale across HSN’s platforms, including TV, mobile and online via HSN’s website (

“We are delighted to welcome the Biossance brand to HSN,” said Alicia Valencia, Senior Vice President of Beauty at HSN. “Our customers are always searching for innovative new products that are environmentally friendly and will enhance their current beauty regime. Biossance is a perfect addition to our growing portfolio of top beauty brands and I look forward to debuting it for our customers this month.”

“As a leading industrial bioscience company, we are pleased to join with HSN, a leader in showcasing innovative new products, to celebrate the on-air launch of Biossance The Revitalizer,” said Caroline Hadfield, Senior Vice President, Personal Care, at Amyris. “This marks the next step in our plans to bring the Biossance brand to cosmetics consumers both on- and offline.”

Ah, Berkeley.

And, yes, the Amyris founders, aided by Gates, originally promised to bring the world a bacteria-created version of the world’s leading anti-malarial drug at a price much cheaper than the natural version.

They failed at that, too.

New study: Organic ag better for feeding the world

Here at esnl, we’ve long believed that agroecology, the science of working with rather than against the natural environment, is the best solution for feeding us big-brained bipeds.

While modern industrial agriculture treats the environment as an externality, something of no value in itself other than as a source of profit, agroecology looks at raising living things for our own consumption as an integral process, in which the environment is to be embraced.

Think of the difference between the two system as similar to the difference between war and peace. In one, nature is seen as something to be conquered; in the other, the natural environment is embraced in a relationship of mutuality.

One way to perceive the relationship is embodied in this chart, from a groundbreaking the study from Washington State University, published in Nature Plants, sadly hidden behind a $35 paywall [and click on the image to enlarge]:

An assessment of organic farming relative to conventional farming illustrates that organic systems better balance the four areas of sustainability.

An assessment of organic farming relative to conventional farming illustrates that organic systems better balance the four areas of sustainability.

The lead author learned agroecology at two University of California campuses, Berkeley and Davis, back when Berkeley had a thriving agroecology program. Sadly, Berkeley has radically downsized agroecology while major corporate grants have transformed the curriculum to one which places heavy emphases on creating GMO crops.

And now for details on the new study, via the Washington State University newsroom:

40 years of science: Organic ag key to feeding the world

Washington State University researchers have concluded that feeding a growing global population with sustainability goals in mind is possible. Their review of hundreds of published studies provides evidence that organic farming can produce sufficient yields, be profitable for farmers, protect and improve the environment and be safer for farm workers.

The review study, “Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century,” is featured as the cover story for the February issue of the journal Nature Plants and was authored by John Reganold, WSU regents professor of soil science and agroecology, and doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter.

It is the first study to analyze 40 years of science comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four goals of sustainability identified by the National Academy of Sciences: productivity, economics, environment and community well being.

“Hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic ag should play a role in feeding the world” said lead author Reganold. “Thirty years ago, there were just a couple handfuls of studies comparing organic agriculture with conventional. In the last 15 years, these kinds of studies have skyrocketed.”

Organic production accounts for one percent of global agricultural land, despite rapid growth in the last two decades.

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. The review paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods.

“In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils,” Reganold said.

However, even when yields may be lower, organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. Higher prices can be justified as a way to compensate farmers for providing ecosystem services and avoiding environmental damage or external costs.

Numerous studies in the review also prove the environmental benefits of organic production. Overall, organic farms tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality and reduce soil erosion. Organic agriculture creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s more energy efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

It is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides, like pollination, and improves the ability of farming systems to adapt to changing conditions.

Reganold said that feeding the world is not only a matter of yield but also requires examining food waste and the distribution of food.

“If you look at calorie production per capita we’re producing more than enough food for 7 billion people now, but we waste 30 to 40 percent of it,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of producing enough, but making agriculture environmentally friendly and making sure that food gets to those who need it.”

Reganold and Wachter suggest that no single type of farming can feed the world. Rather, what’s needed is a balance of systems, “a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems, including agroforestry, integrated farming, conservation agriculture, mixed crop/livestock and still undiscovered systems.”

Reganold and Wachter recommend policy changes to address the barriers that hinder the expansion of organic agriculture. Such hurdles include the costs of transitioning to organic certification, lack of access to labor and markets and lack of appropriate infrastructure for storing and transporting food. Legal and financial tools are necessary to encourage the adoption of innovative, sustainable farming practices.

Big Oil, Berkeley, and the politics of power

The latest edition of The Empire Files, Bay Area journalist Abby Martin’s teleSUR English series focuses on the bloody history of Big Oil and its control of the American political process.

Her guests are journalists Antonia Juhasz and Greg Palast, who have devoted their energies to reporting on the hidden agendas of the petroleum industry.

Juhasz has reported extensively on the 20 April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the catastrophic BP offshore well blowout that has wrought incalculable damage to the Gulf of Mexico. Of particular note is that the Obama administration allowed a damage settlement vastly lower than mandated under existing laws.

And that brings us to Palast’s contention that Standard Oil-related companies and the Koch Brothers own the Republicans, BP and Shell own the Democrats, a claim we suggest is fully justified by the evidence.

Pay very close attention to Palast’s deconstruction of the $500 million BP grant to a consortium headed by UC Berkeley under the aegis of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [though he says, in an apparent and natural mixup, that it was Lawrence Livermore that got the cash]. We would also note that Berkeley’s main partner in the largest corporate academic grant in history was the University of Illinois, the state from which Obama launched his political career.

It was scientists from the UC-run national lab who promised the public that microbes would eat up the oil spilled by BP in the Gulf of Mexico — a claim which subsequent evidence has proved utter false — with National Public Radio serving as BP’s shill, reporting on the claims as fact without ever mentioning that the scientists making the claims were BP-funded.

No wonder Palast calls the broadcaster National Petroleum Radio. . .

During our time reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we devoted extensive coverage to that BP grant, a story otherwise given short shrift by mainstream media.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: The Tyranny of Big Oil

Program notes:

The oil industry is a powerhouse with control over land, resources, politics and more. In this episode of The Empire Files, Abby Martin uncovers big oil’s strong-arm reach–its growth, its crimes, its power and its impunity.

Featuring interviews with two investigative journalists who have covered oil disasters on-the-ground — Antonia Juhasz, author of “Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill”, and Greg Palast, author of “Vulture’s Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pig, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores.”

Militarizing academia, a list and an omission

We begin with the latest edition of Days of Revolt, the new weekly broadcast series from Chris Hedges produced by The Real News Network for  Telesur English:

Days of Revolt – Militarizing Education

Program notes:

In this episode of Days of Revolt, host Chris Hedges discusses the militarization of higher education institutions with journalist Alexa O’Brien. They uncover the trail of money and influence from the national security state to college programs. Hedges and O’Brien identify the ways in which this apparatus has long-been in effect, and what it could mean for the future.

While we generally agree with her critique of the military’s increasing grasp on the military, we find one peculiar omission from the list of the 100 most militarized universities she published in VICE News.

Not on the list is the University of California, now headed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

Lest we forget, it was UC Berkeley’s own Robert Oppenheimer who headed the immense World War II scientific research program responsible for developing the atomic bomb. Berkeley is still involved in running Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratory, where new nuclear weapons are developed, and appoints three members to the board of Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the atomic bomb. And it was UC Berkeley’s John Yoo who provided the guiding legal advice justifying torture in the wake of 9/11.

The University of California also provided nearly half of the scientists of the Jason group, the secret, self-selected cabal of academics who provide research and advice to the Pentagon.

Among the Jasons’ “gifts” to humankind are the border patrolling drone and border-installed remote sensing devices, developed for the Vietnam War under the rubric of the Air-Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier [PDF].

A 2007 College Quarterly review of Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite, noted:

She was able to contact a number of Jasons and succeeded in interviewing thirty-six (published estimates of the total roster range from forty to about one hundred). Some refused to be interviewed. Some agreed only on condition of anonymity. Her book reveals that the $850 a day now paid to Jasons, while worthwhile, seems to be among the least of the motives for joining. More important is the sense of self-importance to be had from playing the part of a confident Washington insider. More likely still are altruistic, if naïve, beliefs that the Jasons make positive contributions to society by, if nothing else, exposing strategic errors or technological flaws in government plans and, of course, also solving real scientific problems in the bargain. They certainly have the skills to do so. Nobel laureates and giants of the intellectual community including Dyson, Hans Bethe, Steven Weinberg and the legendary Murray Gell-Mann have been Jasons. Too often, however, Finkbeiner concludes that their bargain is ultimately Faustian.

Jason has applied its collective braininess to such projects as the “electronic infiltration barrier” that did not, as it happens, protect South Vietnam from North Vietnam’s flow of troops (they tunnelled underground). Jason also worked out puzzles in adaptive optics, allowing telescopes to correct for atmospheric interference – information kept under wraps for a decade until the military found a use for it in Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”). Today, they may be providing advice on the occupation of Iraq; but, we won’t get the details on that soon, if ever.

The Jasons have also served as a model for other nations, as noted in a 10 November 2009 report in Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal:

The British government has recruited a group of academics to tackle tricky scientific problems related to defence, Nature has learned.

The programme is similar to a group known as the JASONs, which the US government has consulted on technical issues since the 1960s. “You hear a lot about the JASONs and how much credibility they have in the United States,” says Mark Welland, the UK Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser. Britain needs a similarly “fast-moving, free-floating entity”, he says.

Scientific advice is frequently sought in Britain, but on security-related issues the advice usually comes from inside the government. Scientists at government labs such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston are consulted on sensitive topics, in part because academic researchers lack the necessary security clearances.

Though the Pentagon created the group in 1958, it was only in 1971 that their existence became known to the public, thanks to the leak of the Pentagon Papers.

While the group’s membership remains a secret, some names surfaced in 1972, thanks to the release of the in-depth report on the group, authored by UC Berkeley Professor Charlie Schwartz and colleagues.

According to one published estimate, fully half of the Jasons have come from the University of California, primarily Berkeley.

The Federation of American Scientists maintains a database of declassified Jason reports.

So any way you look at it, the University of California belongs on any list of the nation’s most militarized universities.

Chart of the day: Cal’s astronomers too earthy

UC Berkeley Campus Climate Survey Topline Results

From a previously secret survey [PDF] of the UC Berkeley Astronomy Department by the office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion:

In Spring 2015, Equity & Inclusion administered a survey on the climate in the Astronomy Department on issues of gender and sexual harassment/violence. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni were invited to participate in the survey. Of the 332 invited, 108 responded (33% response rate). Faculty and graduate students were over-represented among respondents, while undergraduates were under-represented. By design, women were over-sampled due to underrepresentation of women in the department. Preliminary findings indicate that among respondents women are less likely agree that the Astronomy department is healthy with respect to sexual harassment/assault and gender issues and more likely to report experiencing a form of sexual/gendered discomfort as a result of department members’ actions.

Geoff Marcy and John Gertz, SETI BFFs

BLOG The two

John Gertz, [foreground left], is the Berkeley-based American-Israeli propagandist who spearheaded the smear campaign to shut down the Berkeley Daily Planet by intimidating advertisers, and Geoffrey Marcy, foreground right right], just-resigned UC Berkeley astronomer and media celebrity and, oh, yeah, serial sexual predator, were having having a grand old time in April at a gathering to raise some cash for the Foundation for Investing in Research on SETI Science and Technology [FIRST]. Gertz is an avid SETI buff and for many years chaired the SETI Institute,

That’s when Marcy grabbed a self and dispatched it as a Tweet via UC Berkeley’s SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] Research Center last April when Marcy decided to grab a selfie and dispatch it as a Tweet.

Here at esnl, we can’t think of two guys better suited to keep each other company.

Headline of day: Oh Marcy me, about damn time

From the Los Angeles Times, Geoffrey Marcy does inevitable given the huge groundswell of blowback:

UC Berkeley astronomer accused of sexually harassing students resigns, source says