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More false dilemmas

16/11/2004

Environmental discussion in Tasmania is plagued with false dilemmas. As I described before in Conservation or production: a false dilemma, prescription the reduction of environmental issues to ‘two unpleasant mutually exclusive propositions’ shows either dishonesty or lack of imagination (maybe both). In that case, I pointed out that the false dilemma was being presented by environmentalists.

This time around the false dilemma comes from the pro-forestry camp. It is now phrased as ‘pulp mill or woodchips’. Considering the diversity of forests and of their management in Tasmania (species, ages, silviculture, etc), it is conceivable to feed a range of industrial processes (e.g., pulp mills, sawmills, veneer mills, energy production, etc) to obtain, again, a range of products. However, the discussion is presented as we either build a large pulp mill or keep transforming part of the forests into woodchips. Either you support a pulp mill or you support woodchipping; bollocks!

There are, of course, many possible alternative scenarios: large pulp mill, no pulp mill, small pulp mill and other mills, etc. When searching for optimal solutions for Tasmania there is no point on discarding options a priori just because they do not boil down to a simple message or slogan.

I know. I may expect too much from politicians…

Filed in environment, forestry, politics, tasmania 1 Comment

Boring election and loonies

6/11/2004

Watching the coverage of the USA’s presidential election reminded me of García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Crónica de una muerte anunciada). The end of the story was known from the first pages — well, symptoms unless you were a die hard Democrat, but the flavour was in the details. Is the world any better because George Bush won? Probably not, but Kerry winning would not have made much of a difference. As The Economist put it, the choice was between the incompetent and the incoherent.

Given that the election was not that interesting, and that I was confined home with a cold, I decided to do something ‘useful’. I went through some old fan and hate mail for this blog and my Forestry in Tasmania site in an attempt to select the ‘all time classic’. The winner was the chap from the United Kingdom, claiming that there was a conspiracy to hide the environmental problems in the Stix Valley. He would look for it in Google and could not find any references to the problem. Surely the forest industry was exercising undue pressure on Google to hide the truth. Hint: look for Styx Valley, with y, and get over 6,000 hits. What can one say about that? Illiterate comes to mind. He added ‘what can we do about this? Maybe we should boycott Circus Oz, which is financed by Forestry Tasmania’. Of course Circus Oz has no relationship with the forest company, except for participating in 2001 in the Ten days on the island festival, which at the time was sponsored by Forestry Tasmania. The festival had dozens of artists participating, and none of them would claim that they were financed by a forest company. Loonie.

Continuing with loonies, I just read a letter written by a Rambo wannabe representing Doctors for Forests, explaining that the ‘civil war to defend Tasmanian forests’ must continue. I hope he uses a different definition. Should we now start shooting each other over some trees?

Filed in environment, forestry, politics, tasmania No Comments

The last pending forest policy

8/10/2004

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:

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.

P.S. 2004-09-28
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.

Meanwhile, web
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:

Item Labor Party Liberal Party
Area reserved (ha) 240,000 170,000
Type of forest reserved Sizeable proportion of production forests Mostly not planned for logging
When After enquiry, September 2005 Immediate
Maintains RFA Unknown Suppossedly
Budget (million$) 800 50
Supported by Greens 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.

Filed in environment, forestry, politics, tasmania 2 Comments

Electoral promises and plans for the forests

6/10/2004

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:

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.

P.S. 2004-09-28
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.

Meanwhile, web
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.

Filed in environment, forestry, politics, tasmania 1 Comment

Water problems are back

30/09/2004

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:

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.

P.S. 2004-09-28
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.

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Sponsoring a child or a tree?

17/09/2004

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.

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WWF’s Blueprint for Tasmania

5/08/2004

This has been an interesting week if you care about the environment. During the last two days I read WWF’s ‘A blueprint for the forest industry and vegetation management in Tasmania’ document. I have to say that, stomach although I disagree with some points, it is a commendable effort. This is the first time that I read a document coming from an environmentalist organisation about Tasmanian issues that shows good use of available information and willingness to negotiate.

The blueprint tacitly acknowledges that many environmental issues hitting the headlines in Tasmania have either no substance or have been blown out of proportion (at least from a biological point of view, and I am leaving room here for cultural values, for example). That may be heresy, blasphemy and anathema for many, but it is certainly how I perceive large proportion of the environmental debate in Tasmania.

Not surprisingly, local activist groups took no time on ditching the document and claiming that WWF has no knowledge of Tasmanian issues. However, in the past that never stopped the Wilderness Society, for example, on joining forces with the WWF on forestry issues, as a customary web search of the Society’s site will show. If you read the blueprint, it covers not only forest ecosystems but also things like grasslands, which are much more endangered than forests but are rarely mentioned by local environment activists, probably because they are not ‘cute and furry’.

The usual fringe elements will claim all sort of conspiracy theories and dark deals between WWF, the government and the forest industry. We will surely soon see some commentators involving the Tasmanian Conservation Trust in seedy deals too. Any willingness to negotiate is treason (’sell out’ was used too), because ‘we’ own the truth and ‘they’ are evil — a certainly fine example of George Bush’s view of the world. Opposing negotiation has the virtue of maintaining conflict, a situation that makes small groups look much more important than they really are.

It has also been interesting to see many environmentalist organisations trying to stifle the debate, putting pressure on WWF to delay the release of the blueprint. Furthermore, the ‘Dear Leaders’ of the environmental movement are trying to present an ‘all the community is outraged’ view of the report, as well as a monolithic opposition to it. Many readers will realise that monolithic and environmentalism are words that rarely go together.

I do not know what the forest industry will do (I am just a researcher), but I would like to see industry studying the proposal and trying to find common ground with WWF. This would certainly help to reduce, if not eliminate, some of the worst tensions present in Tasmanian society. Call it an early Christmas wish.

This post expands on a compelling invitation.

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A compelling invitation

3/08/2004

At the end of July, health the Australian branch of WWF released ‘A blueprint for the forest industry and vegetation management in Tasmania’ (available here as PDF, 1.47 MB). I have to acknowledge that, despite of some errors, the document seems to be a genuine effort to provide a feasible alternative to Tasmania’s never ending environmental discussion. I always appreciate positive contributions to the debate, particularly when it will put the author(s) in a difficult position. Good on you guys!

However, some environmentalist groups have already expressed their opposition to the document, giving all sorts of excuses. The fact of the matter is that the WWF’s proposal has the potential to deactivate a big part of the environmental conflict, and many of the organisations opposing the blueprint depend on the existence of controversy and disagreements (see my previous post on the conflict industry).

A big unknown is the position that the forestry industry will take with respect to the blueprint. I hope that the industry will see the light and support it, if not in its current form, at least in a revised, consensual form. However, I will not hold my breath: there is too much mistrust in the environment.

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We are right, you are wrong

29/07/2004

Once again I have been admonished by environment fundamentalists. This time my sin was to question the usefulness of that sacrosanct ideal of all things green: the precautionary principle. I could start questioning the existence of THE principle; in 1999 Pers Sandin found at least nineteen vague formulations of the principle (Dimensions of the precautionary principle. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment 5: 889-907), more ranging from strong risk avoidance — making technologically advance impossible — to weak versions equivalent to motherhood statements. However, buy I will not go there, herpes because the reason for this post is a broader discussion on the quality of public debate in Tasmania.

It seems that many people struggle to deal with the concept of genuine dissent and intellectual honesty. They are so convinced of their stories — repeated just too many times — that they find not possible to honestly differ from the ‘blatantly obvious truth’. The dissenters must be paid for their opinions, they have to be unethical and any attempt to point to flaws on the believer’s discourse is an attempt to silence them.

This dualistic point of view, where there is only good and evil (à la George Bush), does not accept compromise or negotiation. In this framework there are only winners and losers, and any attempt at a ‘middle of the road’ agreement is considered treason. A clear example of this point is the reception of Peter Garrett’s candidacy as a sell out in some green circles. May be Peter Garrett is being used by Labor, most likely there is a symbiotic relationship, where both the party and the candidate see an improvement for their respective positions. Not that I would even consider voting for him in an election, but it seems reasonable to give the guy a chance.

I shall ascribe the nastiness of the debate to parochialism rather than to malice. It may well be that people here has never had the opportunity to participate in a real discussion. It is possible that targeting people rather than ideas is just a left over from more isolated, colonial times. It is likely that people are just repeating old examples and following some bizarre models of conversation.

Independently of the reason, what is the consequence of this style of ‘discussion’? I think that it will alienate everybody but the most patient or recalcitrant people and will end up with an apologia rather than a debate. Maybe that is the idea: to create the perfect echo chamber effect, without dissenting voices, where all of ‘us’ know that all of ‘them’ are wrong. Good luck with that.

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Oysters and trees: coda

22/07/2004

After being flamed in Tasmanian Times due to my previous post, tuberculosis I sent the following reply:

I am sorry to disappoint some of my correspondents, but the precautionary principle is not one of the pillars of modern science, despite its Often Capitalised Name. In addition, I did provide a link with a proper definition and discussion of the principle, actually, one of the plethora of definitions that populate internet. My interpretation of the principle was used to characterise the no-to-whatever attitude so prevalent in Tasmania.

I am also familiar with the principle; in fact, I even contributed to write part of the page that I linked to, particularly the mention to ignoring opportunity costs. As such, the principle is favoured by many people with a static rather than a dynamic view of the world, who put a large emphasis on the potential negative effects without consideration to the potential again benefits of a technology. Some people would like to have proof that [insert your pet topic here] does not have a negative effect. Sorry, it is not possible to prove that, and even our legal system uses not guilty rather than innocent when dealing with evidence. You will also find many scientists, not only in industry, who are not big fans of the principle.

I would propose the following thought exercise for supporters of the principle. Let’s suppose that we are in the 1940s and that we need to decide if we should go ahead with the green revolution, i.e., the increase on the use of fertilisers, pesticides and genetically improved varieties for food production. If we had applied the precautionary principle, we would still be waiting to see if we should implement the revolution. As a result, we would have had hundreds of millions of people dying of starvation and much larger areas of land converted from forests to agricultural land in a vane attempt to feed them. Some may argue that this is the wise way to go but, of course, they are not part of the people struggling to survive. The green revolution had both positive and negative effects, but judging technology based only on its negative effects ignoring the cost of making a decision certainly does not sound wise to me.

Going back to the Scammell report, it seems that many people participating in the debate confuse correlation and causation. The fact that two variables are associated does not mean that one is causing the other. An exercise for the reader would be to plot house prices on year or number of interstate visitors on year. You will get a similar relationship to the one on number of plantations shown in the report. I do not see anybody suggesting that tourism or real estate prices are responsible for the fate of oysters. Returning to the Percival report, is it too painful to read and understand its conclusions?

P.S. 2004-08-06: On 2nd August, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment (DPIWE) released a Review of the Scammell Report (PDF 234 KB). The executive summary starts:

The Scammell report is an unscientific report that provides no evidence of a link between aerial spraying of chemicals in the George River catchment and either oyster deaths in Georges Bay or Devil Facial Tumours. Furthermore, the report provides no evidence of contamination of water supplies and no evidence to support its alarmist calls for a ban on aerial spraying either in the catchment, or more generally.

This is the second review of the report with the same conclusions, and even yesterday’s The Mercury editorial comments on the low quality of the report.

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