Friday, December 21, 2007

Children of the Corn

Our friend Dan, writing about trade policy in Korea, linked to this story about the impending coup de grace about to be administered to Mexico by NAFTA:

Mexico is to scrap import duties of U.S. corn on January 1, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in a move that will allow the world's No. 1 producer to expand its market in the country that claims to have discovered corn.

It's that last line that gives me an excuse to pass on the Neat Factoid of the Day, which I learned from Charles Mann's 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus: Corn, as any University of Nebraska alum can tell you, is surrounded by a husk, which means, unlike Nebraska's starting line-up, it has great difficulty reproducing. It's one of those things that seemed really obvious to me after it was pointed out. Anyway, the point is that Mexicans (actually, primitive Mesoamericans) didn't discover corn - they invented it, in what the journal Science described as "man's first, and perhaps the greatest, feat of genetic engineering." Scientists today are still at a loss to explain exactly how it was done, according to Mann.

A work of staggering genius, no doubt. On the other hand, these same people also invented the wheel but used it for no practical purpose other than children's toys, which goes to show you how fine the line is between clever and stupid. Whereas we took the wheel and combined it with the internal combustion engine to make the tractor trailers that will start hauling cheap, subsidized corn down here the week after next. U! S! A!

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