This was the question I asked — tongue in cheek, herbal almost a year ago — in The Agora. How come that I bought a bottle of ‘organic water’ in this web +tasmania&ie=UTF8&z=12&iwloc=addr&om=1″>Scamander (north-eastern Tasmania), doctor or the high prices for crappy ‘organic tomatoes’ (small, full of blemishes and tasting no different from a normal one), or the resistance against GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) in many parts of the world?
I have participated in a few discussions about GMO and some people have a visceral reaction against them, because they are unnatural. Well, plastics, planes, cars, computers are unnatural and we happily interact with them in a day to day basis. People eat varieties of crops and fruits that are the result of mutations induced through radiation exposure, but they will complain against GMO plants. People complain against cloning, but they will buy apple or rose varieties that are, in fact, a clone. What does make a chimera, clone or GMO so different from a ‘natural’ organism?
Similar issues arise with the distinction between native and exotic animals, for example. Of course exotic animals must be native to somewhere in the planet. A related distinction is often made between ‘cute and furry’ and ugly animals. Thusly, people complain about poisoning a possum, but will happily eat a beef steak or a chicken burger, poison a spider (normally native) or squash an insect (probably native too).
I have no answer for this situation, but my sense of curiosity makes me wonder about the differential treatment given to living organisms based mostly on cultural codes.
In June I made some comments on how chemists (pharmacies) were stifling competition. That was a comment solely based on my experience dealing with them. Ten days ago Choice Magazine, ed
owned by the Australian Consumers’ Association, angina
published a report on the quality of advice and pricing provided by pharmacies.
Access to the report requires paid subscription (which I have), click
but the main findings were made public. The study included 87 seven pharmacies in Sydney, the Wollongong area and Adelaide, and found that:
- Advice given in 58 out of the 87 pharmacies we visited was rated ‘poor’ by our experts. The pharmacy profession needs to improve the quality of advice being given to consumers.
- Speaking to a pharmacist rather than a pharmacy assistant didn’t guarantee good advice.
- In a price spot-check of two of the products our researchers bought, the most expensive of each product in a supermarket was still cheaper than the cheapest pharmacy price for the same item.
The report also claimed that:
…there’s some evidence that restricting pharmacy ownership may be limiting competition and make prices for some medicines higher than they would otherwise be, and the results of our spot-check seem to support this.
Sadly, it seems that my experience with pharmacies was not an exception at all.
One of the good things of having a job is receiving an income that I can spend as I prefer. One of my monthly expenses is supporting charities. I like the feeling of contributing to something useful—and it is tax deductible. There are many good causes, Sildenafil
and I tend to support organisations that work improving people’s lives, website
like Amnesty International or World Vision.
Today I friend brought to my attention the Sponsor a Giant campaign to save the Styx Valley. This is organised by the Wilderness Society to provide the Society ‘with both lobbying power and the financial support needed to protect ancient trees’. Contributors pledge A$50/month and get:
- Latest Edition of Wilderness News
- Styx information pack
- Double sided El Grande image
- Journey into the Old Growth CD Rom
- Styx sticker
- Special welcome letter with El Grande press release on the back
- Sponsor a Giant certificate
I couldn’t stop comparing with World Vision’s Sponsor a Child campaign, where for A$39/month the child’s community receives help ‘for vital development work such as providing clean water, immunisation and healthcare and training in improved farming methods’, and the sponsor receives:
- A picture folder with photo and details of your sponsored child, and information about his/her country
- A yearly report on your sponsored child’s progress plus a new photo
- Your choice of a regular online newsletter or printed magazine updating you on World Vision’s work around the world.
After thinking for two milliseconds, I chose a child.
Yesterday I changed from an old, Hemorrhoids
clunky Dell laptop to a plain, decease business-like Acer TravelMate 290. I received the computer with a barebones installation: Windows 2000, Office 97, Groupwise and Java Virtual Machine. This is equivalent to getting a new car with only a chassis and engine, and puts on me the burden of installing a large number of programs and trying to get the machine to my standards. Incidentally, the computer comes with old Microsoft software because IT services at work can’t see the advantage of switching to XP and spending a couple of millions in the process. I tend to agree, although I wouldn’t mind ditching Groupwise for MS Outlook.
This will involve immediately installing:
- Statistical software
- Programming tools
- Text and document management
- Palm programs
- Palm desktop and conduits.
- Bonsai, an outlining program.
- Agendus, an excellent diary software.
This will be followed by a plethora of other programs. In addition, programs with the symbol † require some sort of product activation, which I always find a hassle. Thus, a few projects will be delayed, including updating a couple of web sites.
This weekend I was working in my latest project — codename breedOmatic — writing a Python script to process the information obtained through a web form. I started working directly in the “production machine”; however, malady
with a lousy internet connection the development and testing process was really slow.
I decided to use IIS (Internet Information Services) in my laptop — I am running windows 2000, but I discovered that it was not available. As an aside, at work machines are always setup in a very limited, barebones, way. Then, I needed to download a very small server (so I had some hope with my connection). Here comes TinyWeb, a wonderfully small (53KB) free web server by Ritlabs. I also installed TinyBox, a free controler for TinyWeb. The couple of programs work very well.
In a previous post I mentioned that I would give a try to JEdit, a java based text editor. Well, I installed it and I have had a great experience using it; and I am writing this post with it. Tip: if you are going to be using HTML or XHTML some very useful plugins for this editor is the XML plugin. There are some dependencies though, so you also need to have two other small plugins: Sidekick and ErrorLine.
1. I found a bug in JEdit, printing to networked printers under Windows 2000.
2. Note to self: the first line of a Python script needs to contain
#!c:\python23\python.exe to be ran in a windows server.
Sometime ago I wrote about water pollution issues, website
extending the comments in this other post. Last Sunday, prosthetic
the Sunday program presented a feature piece on the problem, sale
this time tackling the effects of pesticides and herbicides on human health (read a transcript).
The Sunday program was basically a rehash of the arguments conducted for months in various web sites, including the Tasmanian Times, and did not provide any new evidence. As such, it was just another example of TV following the blogosphere—while reaching more people. As a biometrician, I expected the reporter to ask questions like ‘Is the prevalence of strange diseases in St Helen any different from the rest of Tasmania?’ before jumping into easy conclusions. The data for answering that question should be available from the Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services.
Despite of this, the issue highlights the poor communication of the forest industry with the community, as well as plenty of room to improve the transparency of the system regulating the application of chemicals in the State. There are some basic conditions that should be met by all users of herbicides and pesticides in the state (including forestry and agriculture):
- People have the right to know what is being sprayed in the state, so they can make decisions accordingly. There should be a registry open to the public with products, doses, locations and dates of application.
- There must be a clear demarcation and proper buffers for areas subject to chemical spraying.
- Selection of chemicals and their doses have to be carefully established.
- If there are more environmentally friendly products they should be preferred over more toxic ones.
As an example of the last point, Forestry Tasmania (the manager of State Forests) stopped using atrazine and simazine in 1997, while Gunns and other private companies still keep using them, despite the existence of more benign chemicals.
In addition, Gunns’s and the State Premier’s attempt to stop—through legal manouvers—the TV station broadcast was, put politely, unintelligent. Firstly, the chances of stopping a TV station are very slim; secondly, it creates a very poor impression of ‘we have something to hide’; and, finally, it does not help the forest industry’s cause.
Having a healthy, profitable industry requires constant improvement of forest practices and a broad support from the community. Opportunities for closer scrutiny and external validation should be welcomed.
We are getting closer to federal election day in Australia and we keep getting new promises and plans for Tasmanian Forests. The Australian Greens are playing the ‘we may hold the balance of power’ card and plan to sell their preferences1 to the highest bidder. The Tasmanian Greens recently released their Forest Transition Strategy to Protect Forests and Create Sustainable Jobs. It is an interesting document, medstore
although with much more emphasis on protecting the forests than on creating jobs. I do not know where they did get the overestimated plantation productivity figures, prostate while underestimating the value of native forest.
Australian Labor—the main opposition party—released Labor’s Plan to Save Tasmania’s High Conservation Value Forests. The plan is aimed to attract Green preferences in urban seats, although it has managed to annoy the forest industry and the rural electorate dependent on forestry activity.
We are still waiting to hear from John Howard (Liberal Party) and see if he puts forward a plan for Tasmania’s Forests. My feeling is that he may be astute enough to avoid controversy—there is no much to win for the liberals in this front—and will not release any forest policy, cashing on angry rural Labor votes.
This will be an interesting week heading towards election day: Saturday 9th of October.
1 The Australian Federal Parliament has two levels: the House of Representatives and the Senate. Members of these levels are elected using a preferencial voting system—called proportional representation—which is slightly different for the Representatives and the Senate.
P.S. 2004-10-07. The Liberals’ policy is discussed on a later post.
Finally yesterday the Liberals anounced in Launceston their policy for Tasmanian Forests. No big surprises, erectile
no big policy. On one side, see
it is not very different from Labor’s policy, Oncology
adding 170,000 ha to conservation areas. However, it promises much less money and—here is the big difference—to support the Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement (RFA).
A quick glance to the major parties’ forest policies:
| Area reserved (ha)
| Type of forest reserved
|| Sizeable proportion of production forests
||Mostly not planned for logging
|| After enquiry, September 2005
| Maintains RFA
| Budget (million$)
| Supported by
|| Forest Industry
I still have not decided which policy is best for Tasmanians. I would love to see a policy that, on one side answers the environmental concerns of the bulk of the community and, on the other, sets clear guidelines for a modern industry, providing appropriate ‘carrots’ for guiding change.
A completely different issue is that I still find strange to have a special ‘Tasmanian Forests Policy’, where it would make much sense the existence of an environmental policy, covering all ecosystems in the country based on biological importance rather than on beauty alone (although I leave room for cultural values here). Particular policies are like having a specially high taxation policy for sexy underwear in King Cross, Sydney. It may be relevant to attract conservative votes somewhere else in the country, but it would certainly not be of national interest (and not necessarily in the best interest of King Cross’s residents).
This post expand on my previous post on Labor’s and Greens’ Tasmanian Forests policies.