Class Warfare Blog

November 27, 2019

The Truth About Sodom and Gomorrah

Filed under: History,Religion,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 9:57 am
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I have seen other programs under the rubric of “Buried Secrets of the Bible,” and blogged upon episodes, but this new series stars Albert Lin, the likable new star for Nat Geo programming. The charming Mr. Lin has appeared in a series on the Maya, Lost Cities and a couple of others, I think. In any case, this series is using his tool set to investigate events in the Bible to see if there is any archaeological basis for the stories in the Bible. Very little time is spent on the theology involved. Mr. Lin’s tool set is to use LIDAR (from both plane and drone) and satellite imagery to identify hard to see from the ground archaeological sites, then he goes exploring.

These shows are, I suspect, a gold mine because if they avoid offending righteous believers, they pick up the “see everything in the Bible is true” crowd and at the other end are the curious science types looking to see what advances in archaeology are to be had. NatGeo, of course, blends in a soupcon of beautiful cinematography to make it very tasty to the eye.

Okay, so last night Episode 2 was on Sodom and Gomorrah. Was there any truth to be discovered about that story?

After some scene setting, the final segment was about an archaeologist who had discovered a site, or decided he could identify the site, as the ruins of the city of Sodom. The ruins were properly placed in time, they had the outward characteristics as described in the Bible and as were known to exist at the time. The site was quite near the Dead Sea. This city had been turned into a “pile of rubble” in some sort of catastrophic event, which involved the tumbling down of buildings, extensive fire and then 700 years of no further occupation after the event. Various possible causes were considered, but the archaeologist involved felt that the possibilities were quite limited because of some of the artifacts. These were pieces of clay pottery that had been exposed to extreme heat, to the point that the pottery melted. The only known sources of such temperatures were nuclear explosions or meteor strikes, so the working hypothesis was a meteor strike. Part of the meteor (they seldom are just a single object) could have exploded over the Dead Sea resulting in a giant wave of salt water flowing over the arable fields supporting the city, resulting in fields that no longer supported crops, which would explain the 700 year historical gap. Another part of the meteor, striking the ground or exploding above ground would account for the shock wave causing the tumbling buildings and fires.

Using LIDAR and satellite images, Mr. Lin’s team created a 3-D representation of the city site and using false colors, they picked up what appeared from the ground to be a giant cistern for water, but from above looked exactly like an impact crater from a small, but potent, meteor strike. Ta da. The cistern idea wasn’t very good unless it were underground as water exposed over that large of an area would evaporate too quickly. To confirm that it was indeed a meteor crater, an excavation study will have to be done. If confirmed then a story of massive destruction involving “fire and brimstone” from the heavens will have an historical event underneath it.

Very cool.

And, let’s entertain the idea, for the moment, that this scenario, or one like it, were true.

This is a tragic event. An entire city of thousands of people with their animals were wiped out by an “act of nature.” So, residents of that city who had been away on trading trips or nearby relatives of those living there would be faced with the horrible remains. People from safely far off would describe the fiery death of the city. The survivors would be left with tremendous losses and questions that couldn’t be answered, the primary one was “Why?”

The fact that the “why” question could not be answered didn’t stop some of the religiously minded. They connected dots that existed mostly in their minds, including: this was a horrible destruction rained from above, therefore it must be an act of their god, a godly punishment. And since the destruction was so vast, the reason for the destruction must have been heinous. But in the Old Testament, the only real sin is disobedience. People are punished for disobedience because, well . . . why, boys and girls? Because religions exist to control the masses to serve the interests of the secular and religious elites, that’s why. And obedience is always what they demand and disobedience is what they always punish.

So, the inhabitants of these cities are declared to be depraved because their punishment was so severe. Stories were invented to show how depraved they were including attempts at angel rape. (Which brought to mind Arlo Guthrie’s masterpiece “Alice’s Restaurant” and “. . . mother rapers and, and father rapers, sitting right there on the Group W bench . . .”) How it is that angels couldn’t protect themselves from puny, human angel rapists is beyond me. (Were I one of those angels, I would pull out a fiery sword and lop a few heads off and see if their mood changed at all.)

And, of course, the topper is the story of Lot’s family. Lot, son of Abraham, is the only righteous person in the entire city, so angels come and tell him to get his family the heck out of town and don’t look back. And as they are descending the hill of the city, the destruction began, and one of Lot’s family couldn’t resist the temptation to sneak a peak and got turned into a pillar of salt. (Another example of the punishment not fitting the crime, but that is the norm for the Bible.)

Now, who was selected to be the disobedient one? Ah, Lot’s wife. Silly woman. She might have been righteous and tight with god, but she also made a good object lesson and the topic of the lesson is? Disobedience! (Ah, you were paying attention!) Silly woman. Women are so flighty and undependable. Tsk, tsk. That will teach them to stifle their curiosity.

So, it wasn’t enough for the people of these cities to be destroyed by a random cosmological event, but in the aftermath, religious assholes smeared their city and all of the inhabitants and their families for ever and ever, Amen, with made up stories of their depravity. Well, I guess they just got what they deserved . . . not!

Oh, and if the narrative doesn’t hold up, then we are left with the prospect that the entire story is made up, aka fictional, which makes the religious who wrote it, thinking it a great teaching story, even bigger assholes.

A New Version of “If Their Lips are Moving . . .”

Filed under: Politics,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 9:42 am
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I read that the only Dutch-speaking fact checker working for Facebook has quit in protest in Facebook’s policy that it will not fact-check political ads.

I applaud the decision as one of personal integrity but it will mean next to nothing to Facebook as they . . . do . . . not . . . care. Actually they care about making money, but fact checking, preserving people’s privacy, etc. not so much.

This serves merely to bring up my question: Are there still people who believe that you can learn anything of value from a political ad, enough so that they are worth watching? These “advertisements” are exactly what they are as used in commerce—misleading statements that are trying to sell you something. The whole modern practice of advertizing grew out of what was called at the time . . . propaganda. (I kid you not. And this was before propaganda was seized upon for political use in a major way.) And, ironically, modern economic theory is based upon “buyer” and “seller” having the same information, which means there should be no need for advertising, certainly not the deceptive kind.

I stopped watching/listening to political ads years ago. There is no upside. Well, there is the upside that politicians will waste their money producing the damned things.

So, I recommend to you that you should also eschew political ads as they are misleading propaganda that have very little up side and a big downside. They are hardly worth fact checking as most would not pass muster.

The old joke was: Question: How can you tell a politician is lying? Answer: His lips are moving. Maybe we need an update on this: the modern version is: Question: How can you tell a politician is lying? Answer: When you hear/see him saying “I am <name> and I approve this message.”

 

 

November 25, 2019

Impossible Burger . . . Possibly?

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 11:17 am
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The irony is palpable. The “health industry” is telling us in a loud voice that we should eschew “highly processed foods” in favor of using fresh ingredients, cooked to eat . . . and at the same time we are also urged to consider hamburger substitutes, such as is being served in the Burger King Impossible Whopper.

The commercials for the Impossible Whopper make it look very appetizing. The burger glistens with fat as if right from the grill. The edge of the burger patty is irregular as if it were formed by hand. Yum. So, I tried one. In appearance, not so good. the patty had a very regular edge, as if it had been extruded through a die (which I suppose it had) and glistening fat was nowhere in evidence. The color was closer to grey than the brown and black version (often with a pink interior) shown in the advertisements.

The aroma was minimal and the texture not bad. The flavor compares with ordinary burgers, so quite an accomplishment. If burgers were ranked on a scale from exquisite a la Bill’s Place in San Francisco used to make to dog meat burgers (mostly filler), this one would be near the middle of that scale, so mediocre, but not in a bad way.

I have always felt that vegetarians should be creating their own dishes (Porcini Mushrooms and mashed potatoes, yum!), not trying to mimic meat dishes, but I realize that to get the majority of people to come along with a more environmentally favorable diet, some copycatting is going to have to occur.

So, as copycats go, the Impossible Burger is meh, but a good deal farther along that road than the lamentable “garden burger.” And it is, without fear of contradiction, a highly processed food. I have no idea how nutritious it is.

I think a lot could be done to ameliorate the woeful environmental record of the meat industry, first would be to eliminate factory ranching of cattle and pigs and the like and go back to free range everything. This would not only reduce the carbon footprint of the industry but would save soil and has many other benefits. The increased cost of meat and fowl produced that way would also lower its consumption.

September 24, 2019

The Fermi Paradox and Other Aspects of Wishful Thinking About Aliens

Filed under: Reason,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 12:17 pm
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Famous physicist Enrico Fermi once uttered something along the lines of “Well, then, where are they?” in a discussion of the possibilities of there being alien life. Fermi’s exact quote is uncertain, but the gist of it is plain. Since there are so many other places in the universe in which life could develop, why haven’t we been visited by aliens at this point?

Let’s look at this because there is so much bullstuff circulating.

Let’s consider time first. A recent Netflix documentary discussing this topic pointed out that the universe was 14-15 billion years old and the Earth was about a third of that old, 4.543 billion years old. So, there has been plenty of time for aliens to have visited us. WTF? No!

If aliens had visited us 2 billion years ago, how would we have any record of that? Maybe if an enduring alien spacecraft had crashed here and avoided being subducted below ground, there might be such evidence, but that is a rather far fetched scenario. We need to be reasonable and consider that Homo sapiens have been around for probably less than 300,000 years. Any prior visitation would not be noted in any way. We also have had a written language for less than 10,000 years, so any prior visitation could only have been recorded in the form of petroglyphs or cave paintings, and there are some rather bizarre figures that could represent such visitants, but I don’t see any consensus in the scientific community as to whether these are factual representations or imaginative ones.

And, it has only been in the last couple of centuries that we have had the means of recording images of such visitants and the images we have suggesting that possibility are of relatively low quality. Recently, some higher quality recordings have led to the possibility that we have, indeed been visited, but that enquiry is still going on.

So, when it comes to time . . . we have been in a position to document such a visitation for a few hundred years out of the 15 billion years of the universe’s existence, a very tiny (tiny!) fraction of the time involved. So, the time factor is quite disfavorable to the argument that we should have seen something by now.

Also, as a factor of time, have you seen the tiny blue dot illustration? Here it is.

The tiny blue dot represents how far radio waves (and TV, etc.) could have traveled since their invention here. Aliens traversing this blue zone would be able to pick up those signs of intelligent life. Again, this is about 200 years in time, 200 light-years in space. Look at how small that zone is compared to the volume of the entire galaxy. Prior to that time or outside of that space, those aliens would be looking for “signs” of life as we are doing now: indications of water in its liquid form and things like carbon dioxide or methane in planetary atmospheres. These searches may turn up “signs” but no conclusive proof of intelligent life.

Now let’s talk space. Clearly any aliens in other galaxies are just too far away to consider making a trip here. Our closest neighboring galaxy is the Andromeda galaxy which is 2.537 million light years away. If these aliens could travel at the speed of light, they would be entertaining a trip of two and a half million years . . . one way! If they could do 1000 times the speed of light, they would still be looking at a 2500 year journey . . . one way. So, intergalactic aliens should be considered to be completely isolated by time and space (unless wormholes of some other similar phenomena are proven to exist).

So, how about aliens inside our own galaxy? With hundreds of billions of stars and trillions of planets in our galaxy, surely . . . surely what exactly? Our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy, is 105,700 light years wide. Traveling at the speed of light, currently thought to be impossible, would require 100,000+ years to go from one edge to the opposite edge, but let’s assume that “our aliens” are not that far away, that they are at least on our side of the galaxy, so their trip would be less, less than 50,000 years at the speed of light. Let’s be honest. If the trip takes more than a decade or so, what benefit would there be in making it? Trade is out of the question as the distances are too far. Trading technology with a less advanced species, again hardly worth the trip. So the only motivation would be a voyage of exploration, or maybe a desperate attempt to find a new place to live. Excluding the latter, because it would be problematic in the extreme (I would venture that those aliens no one wants to meet), let’s consider a voyage of exploration/discovery.

It doesn’t seem plausible that on such a voyage there would be just one stop, here. If I were planning such a voyage, there would be many stops, amplifying my chances of encountering something new. This would go a long way towards justifying the cost of such a voyage. Even if profit or money were not involved (say our aliens are a hive mind, to which such things would be incomprehensible) the amount of effort to be put into the creation of such a ship only to send it off on an “iffy” mission, possibly to be never seen again is an additional barrier to such a voyage. Think back on how many billions of U.S. dollars were expended sending astronauts to the moon, just 250,000 miles away. Imagine what would happen if President Trump were to announce an ambitious new project to explore some of the rest of the galaxy. The projected budgets surely would go into the trillions of dollars and the howls of fiscal irresponsibility would be heard on the moon.

So, the answers to the Fermi paradox seem rather straightforward.

  1. They came but were too early to see anything promising.
  2. They came and met some sapient Earthlings, but those Earthlings had no way of leaving an enduring, credible record of their visit.
  3. They came but we do not count the reports of their visits as being credible “alien encounters.”
  4. They are coming but haven’t gotten here yet.
  5. They looked for places to go, but outside of the tiny blue dot, there were only vague signs of life, certainly none of intelligent life, so we were just one of myriad possible sites to check out and they chose other places to visit.
  6. They considered coming but nixed the idea as there was no “upside” in the form of trade or technology transfers to warrant the trip.
  7. They have taken such voyages but we are too far away to travel here or to even communicate via EMR signaling.
  8. We were so far beneath them that visiting us would be the equivalent of us trying to communicate with a slime mold.
  9. They were planning such a voyage but the early cost overruns were too scary and they backed out of the project. (They are more advanced than us, remember.)
  10. They were on their way but had an accident and had to limp home.
  11. And, of course, the old tried and true opinion of many theists: “They don’t exist; we are alone in the universe, because . . . we . . . are . . . special!”

Of course, there is also the “Ancient Aliens theorists” conjecture that they came a long time ago and jiggered with our DNA to help create another sentient species in the galaxy. Would you want to meet such a species, one that would take such liberties with lower life forms, to whom we would surely still be a lower life form?

September 14, 2019

Oh, This is a Really Bad Idea

Here’s the blurb announcing a new video game! Hurry, hurry, read all about it. . . .

“The newly released Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey is an open world survival game where you control a group of “hominins” – our first ancestors – and explore, expand, and lock in new knowledge so your “clan” can evolve. It takes the players from 10 m years ago, and the common ancestor of both chimpanzee and hominins, to 2 m years ago, when you can play as an early version of Homo erectus. The aim of the game is ultimately to evolve to the point when humans began to leave Africa.”

* * *

No matter how much time is involved in the virtual world that has been created, the amount of time in our world that this game takes will be in hours and days, not millions of years. That will leave a subliminal impression. But, too many people now have the impression that evolution should be visible now to us, when in fact it is glacially slow, in fact evolution makes glaciers seem really, really fast. While the process is continuous (some people think that evolution stopped because it had the objective of creating us) being so slow makes it essentially invisible to ordinary observations.

The vast majority of events (mutations, etc.) are either neutral or detrimental, so such a game has to accelerate in the player’s minds the actual causes of positive changes. And the phrase in the blurb “you control a group of ‘hominins’ – our first ancestors – and explore, expand, and lock in new knowledge so your ‘clan’ can evolve” seems to indicate that the game developers do not even have even a foggy notion of how evolution, a mindless unguided process, works. The earliest point at which human “knowledge” might affect our evolution is right about now where we have the ability to modify genes in human embryos. Or possibly, our ability to control our environment will affect our ecological niche and we will adapt over long periods of time to that. (Those who think we can “evolve” to adapt to climate change or our strange new diet are smoking something barely legal.)

Hey, maybe it is part of a Christian misinformation campaign to discredit the theory of evolution. That might explain the existence of this “game.” Hey, if evolution can be guided, then there just has to be a “Big Guider in the Sky,” right?

December 21, 2018

More on GMO’s (Gosh, What Could Go Wrong?)

Filed under: Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 8:46 am
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I have written about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) from the position that these genetic modifications, unlike the ones our artificial selection processes have been created, skip over steps that may produce non-viable results and, therefore aren’t “vetted” by nature. In John Hively’s blog is a report on one case of “what could go wrong” by the generic engineer inventor himself. I think this is must reading for anyone concerned about GMOs, bees, our future survival, corporate bad behavior, etc.

GMO Potato Scientific Founder Says GMO Potato’s are a Pandora’s Box of Troubles

PS I am not saying we shouldn’t investigate GMOs; I am saying we should go slow because the safety protocols needed are immediately obvious.

 

September 8, 2018

Artificial Intelligence—The Promise

I am a big fan of digital technology and someone who is hopeful of the future. It is harder and harder for me to maintain that stance, however.

Currently there seems to be a widespread debate regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Since we know so little the positions staked out are quite broad. At one end is a new future where machines take over dangerous and boring jobs and human beings have more leisure. At the other end, autonomous drones are the first step toward Skynet (the “bad guy” in the Terminator movies) and the extermination of human beings by intelligent killing machines.

There seems also to be many opinions in between the two extremes.

Something I do know is that it will not be the machines that determine the outcome. In every case of new technology impactful enough to change the course of history, the tech has been used to coerce and oppress the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the elites.

Consider the following photograph.

This is an Amazon warehouse. Amazon is a tech company. So, how do those who work in Amazon’s warehouses fare? Amazon uses personal monitoring algorithms to make sure that its employees do not waste time taking short breaks to catch their breath or go to the bathroom. They are to stay on task as long as Amazon wants them to … or else.

Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, makes huge profits by paying his warehouse employees wages that are so inadequate that many of them need public assistance just to get by. Thousands of Amazon workers are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing because they can’t survive on the wages they receive. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is now worth $158 billion, and his wealth increases by leaps and bounds. (And who pays for the public assistance subsidizing Mr. Bezos’ wealth? You and I do, of course.)

If you think back to the first powered looms to make cloth, it was the workers who had to get along with the machinery, not the other way around. Same was true with the assembly line to make automobiles, etc.

I do not argue that there were no benefits from technology that actually accrue to ordinary people. Henry Ford, no friend of workers, paid more than anyone else as a daily wage to pursue his dominance of the auto market. But that was then and now, wage suppression is the favorite tool of the captains of industry. Much of the advanced tech of today is not available to us because, well it is very simple, we cannot afford to pay for it. We don’t make enough money.

As much as people will squander $1000 on a new iPhone, the really impactful tech, such as a liver transplant, is not available to you … unless you can afford to pay for health insurance and many, many people cannot.

So, AI in and of itself will not necessary oppress ordinary people, coercing our labor for the benefit of the elites, but if rich people have any say in the future, my bet is that a sizable amount of AI will be used for just that purpose. (Jeff Bezos has already begun the application.)

September 3, 2018

I Can … Not … Wait!

Filed under: History,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 9:25 am
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I group of enterprising literary researchers decided to apply some modern tech to old problems. The tools exist now to map networks of things, Internet memes, people, you name it. Networks of people and their relationships show some quite common characteristics which can be used to identify them as networks of real people. The researchers decided to apply such a study to The Odyssey. So they mapped out all of the characters and all of their relationships and, well, I’ll let them speak for themselves:

“We found substantial evidence of a ‘real-life’ social structure in The Odyssey. Notably, the characters in each chapter or scene described in the poem’s 24 books corresponded almost precisely to cliques in real-life networks. It led us to wonder: did Homer have a profound understanding of networks, or did he copy key details about his characters and their interactions from elsewhere?

“To examine this more closely, we reran the analysis, this time excluding mythological characters like gods and monsters. The remaining network was even more similar to what you would expect in real life. On the other hand, we ran an analysis that excluded the human characters and kept the mythological ones, and were left with an entirely fictional network. The obvious conclusion is that The Odyssey is an amalgam of real and fictional characters.”

They then went on to say “It is surely only a matter of time, for instance, before someone uses complex networks theory on the Bible.”

Oooh, I cannot wait!

Imagine being able to tell what is hypothetically true and what is assuredly fictional!

May 30, 2018

Great Minds Think Alike!

Filed under: Business,Science,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 7:41 am
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Over at GFBrandenburg’s blog he comments on the Monsanto GMO study I mentioned in my past post and includes a link to an article detailing it. Check it out.

Surprise: GMOs *Reduce* rather than Increase crop yields

 

May 29, 2018

GMO Skepticism

A recent research effort showed than in some areas, anti-science attitudes are strongly correlated with religion (surprise, surprise). In other areas, there were correlations with science knowledge or rather the lack thereof, supporting those who think that science education is an effective way to combat anti-science attitudes.

One such example of the latter involved the safety of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The researchers found that those who possessed more science knowledge favored GMOs and those with less science knowledge did not.

I have a fair amount of science knowledge and I do not favor GMOs … currently. My attitude was bolstered by the release … finally …. of studies that show that, once again, Monsanto Corporation is bilking the public. Monsanto created “Roundup” a weed killer that actually worked. The problem with Roundup is that if you spray it on a weed and accidentally spray a patch of lawn, it dies too. Roundup is a vegetation killer. So, Monsanto created GMO crops (corn, wheat, potatoes, whatever) that would resist the effects of Roundup, boosting the sales of Roundup as a weed-control agent for farmers and by creating a massive market in their new Roundup resistant seeds.

Monsanto promised increased yields using the new seed and Roundup weed control. So, is that what happened. Well, the study is now in and the difference between Monsanto-focussed fields and control fields is zero, zip, nada. Gosh, you spend that much more money and you’d think it just has to be better. well, it is … better for Monsanto’s bottom line.

Now I will not argue that GMOs do not have benefits, that would be silly. I would argue that we need to look carefully at the benefits and the costs, especially the potential costs. In the Roundup study, the costs were high and the benefits almost nonexistant.

When I first became aware of GMOs, the big “product” was a more “machine harvestable” tomato that had better eating properties. The way this was achieved was to splice into the tomato’s genome some DNA contributed by a trout, yes, a fish. My argument to “go slow” on GMOs goes like this:

We have been genetically modifying crops since the beginning of agriculture. We did this first by choosing to use the seed from plants that gave the best harvest or the best quality of produce and eschewing using seed from lesser plants. Further down the road, we learned how plants propagate and learned how to cross breed plants to make sturdier hybrids. (This is how we pulled off the Green Revolution; we made “dwarf” versions of wheat and rice that had shorter, stronger stalks that could support heavier grain heads, then we used chemical fertilizers up the whazoo to boost the seed cluster sizes (and as a side effect, we have polluted our waterways with these chemicals creating dead zones in our seas the size of small planetoids).)

These “traditional” processes allow nature to have veto power over anything we try. Each stage of a hybridization either produces a viable plant or not. If not, it produces no seed and that possibility is vetoed. It is a little like breeding horses. If horses are bred to horses, the offspring are viable and can breed. If horses are bred to donkeys, you get mules which are viable but cannot breed (end of the road). If horses are bred with cats … ? No one has ever tried this you say. Hmm,  I wonder why?

In the modern GMO process, the genetic material itself is changed directly and nature only has a say as to whether the end product is viable. The result has not been vetted by nature other than in this manner.

So, how do you cross breed a tomato and a trout? If you thought a horse-cat hybrid was crazy, what the hell do you think of a tomato-trout hybrid?

Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. What happens to the trout genes in the tomato when the tomato’s genome gets out and interacts with the world at large? But, but, but farmers are used to hybrids that can’t reproduce, you argue. You should take it up with the farmers who are in court suing their neighbors who said the GMO crops they planted couldn’t possibly “get out” and start growing in their neighbor’s fields. (They did.)

Plus, hybridized crops do breed, they just don’t “breed true,” meaning you are much more likely to get the parent stock sprouting than the hybrid stock. I remember my father gathering up the tomato plants that sprouted in our compost heap each spring, replanting them, culling the “bad” ones, but then harvesting “heritage tomatoes” before that term was made common. They breed, just not true.

More info here.

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