News from the Department of Good Government

In the US, a Republican in the House of Representatives is fighting climate change, one orbit at a time. At a committee meeting, he asked a senior Forestry Service official if changing either the moon’s orbit or the earth’s would fight climate change.

To which the official said that she’d “have to follow up with you on that one.”

She didn’t mention that the Forestry Service has no authority over celestial orbits. If she kept a straight face, she deserves a raise.


Irrelevant photo: I should know the name of this one but I can’t rattle it loose. Eri-something? It’ll come to me once it’s no longer needed. Erigeron? I think it is erigeron.

As long as we’re airborne and in the US, let’s talk about the New Mexico campaign rally that was interrupted by a flying sex toy.

Now there’s a sentence I never really expected to write.

The drone carrying it hovered beside the candidate briefly, then there was a scuffle for the drone (I’d guess that the owner wanted the sex toy back), and that was followed by a minor punch-up. 

I love an elevated political debate.


In Britain, a member of the public found classified defense papers in a soggy pile at a bus stop in Kent. The Ministry of Defense has said it’s sorry. 

No big deal. 


And now the news from science

E coli bacteria can be convinced to convert plastic bottles into vanilla flavoring

How’d they learn to do that? With the help of a bit of genetic engineering. 

Plastic bottles can be recycled, and a whopping 14% of them actually are, but only a limited range of uses has been found for stage two plastic. If you count that in money, stage two plastic is worth 5% of the value of the stage one stuff. So recycling them into vanilla? It’s a bit creepy, but if it pays, it’ll happen (she said cynically).

Some 85% of the vanilla currently in use is synthesized from–you got it–fossil fuels, and vanillin is used not just in food but also in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products (hang in here, because it gets weirder), and herbicides. Global demand has outstripped the supply of vanillin that comes from vanilla beans and is still growing.

So if you figure that worldwide a million plastic bottles are sold every minute–and somebody with a $5 calculator already has figured that for us–that’s a lot of synthetic vanillin that suddenly becomes available. 

So far, the process hasn’t been scaled up to a commercial scale, so don’t buy your ice cream cones just yet.


Bacteria can also be convinced to recover the rare metals from electric car batteries. The process is low energy and the rescued elements could be recycled indefinitely. The process is also, predictably, still in its infancy and not yet ready to play with the big kids, but it’s something to keep our eye on. We need whatever drops of hope we can find. 


Compared to recycling plastic bottles into vanilla, the creation of vegan spider silk may in the long run be more useful, since it eliminates the plastic and so won’t need recycling. 

Vegan what?

Vegan spider silk. It’s a replacement for plastic film and instead of it’s not made from vegan spiders. No spiders are involved in its creation. The link explains the process in more depth that I had the patience for, so you’ll have to read it for yourself if you’re interested. 

 The process of making it is energy efficient and the product will break down in a home compost heap. Unless you live in an apartment, in which case you just pile it up behind the sofa until you can plant potatoes in it. 

The product was developed at Cambridge University and is being handled by a spin-off company that expects to have products on the market next year–things like replacements for those little plastic pouches that hold dishwashing and laundry liquids. 


In a triumph for womankind and a great leap forward for equality between the sexes, women around the world are now as likely as men to have risky drinking habits. And the US is leading the way, with women in their teens and twenties getting drunk at higher rates than men. 

Yes, friends, there is no idea so good that it won’t find some way to bite you in the ass. 

As a second-wave feminist from the sixties and seventies, I can testify that this didn’t come up in those late-night, let’s-take-over-the-world plotting sessions that (of course) we held. 

Long-term heavy drinking hits women harder than men, and at lower levels of drinking. Women have less body water than men of the same weight, and body water dissolves alcohol. So they run a higher risk of hangovers, blackouts, liver disease, and alcohol-induced cardiovascular diseases and cancers. 

Yes, some people get to have all the fun.