A Daily Diatribe by a Pompous Git

Who is that fat bastard? A Sturm's Eye View, Guaranteed Free of Harmful, or Potentially Harmful Chemicals -- but Watch Out for the Ideas! Some of them are Contagious! 

A journal of sorts to record Jonathan Sturm's (and others') thoughts and observations on things worth thinking about. Feedback welcome, but be aware that unless you prominently say you want your communication kept private, I may publish it.

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Monday 6 August 2001

My son Thomas was given an assignment to write an essay on the pros and cons of GM food. He was frustrated that his research on the Internet revealed only two diametrically opposed viewpoints, both obviously grinding their respective axes. So, what are the facts and how do I perceive them in relation to our social needs?

  1. Genetic engineering does increase food yields, but not by much. Most crop yield research I have seen indicates that yields can be dramatically increased by better management of the water and nutrient needs of the crop and water is the major limiting factor by a country mile.
  2. There is no food shortage, just a shortage of money in the poorer countries to buy the food that is produced. If production was close to the limit, attacking the problem of 30% plus losses between the farm gate and the consumer makes more sense than fiddling with minor increases in yields at enormous expense.
  3. Australia's major clients for farm produce don't want genetically modified food. Regardless of whether the buyers' reasons are right or wrong, it makes more sense to produce what the market wants than what it doesn't. Selling farm produce at a profit is much harder than producing.
  4. Bees are promiscuous creatures and they will carry pollen (genes) from plant to plant regardless of our needs. This has the potential to damage our markets and presumably leaves the farmer who is an unwilling recipient of those genes open to demands for money from the owners of the genes.
  5. Currently, most farmers can save their own seed from the crop without having to pay for the privilege. GM seed comes with a license agreement. Can you spell M-O-N-O-P-O-L-Y?
  6. Since the cost of producing a GM variety is so high, fewer varieties are produced than by the conventional plant breeding methods. The dramatic decrease in plant varieties will presumably accelerate. We already know the effect of a narrow genetic base on crop yields when a suitable plant pathogen comes along to take advantage.

Potato Politics

The potato arrived in southern Europe from Central America several hundred years ago. Only a few tubers of a small number of varieties arrived and it took quite a long time to breed varieties from them that were adapted to the colder environment of Britain. Ireland has a very damp climate that is much better suited to potato production than cereal crops, so it became an "overnight" sensation there.

The long process of selecting varieties suitable for Irish growing conditions led to a much smaller genetic base. The arrival of a climate change and a suitable mutation in a bacterium led to the massive reduction crop yields called the Irish potato famine. It is interesting to note that due to ever increasing plantings of potato crops, Ireland's exports of potatoes during the famine continued to increase. It was politicians that decided to starve Irish peasants, not crop yields!

In its native environment of Central and South America, the potato occurs in bewildering (to Europeans) variety. Farmers grow some varieties for freeze drying, some for fresh, some for storage, some for their shape, or colour. The potato plots of these farmers are edged all around with semi-wild, self-sown potatoes, so if pestilence affects a variety, the farmer selects a similar, unaffected variety from the edge of the field for reproduction.

Tasmania produces most of Australia's potatoes and currently the potato growers are on strike. The multi-national companies Simplot and McCain that purchase their crops haven't given the farmers a price rise for a decade despite soaring profits for them and the retailers. Their offers to date have been laughable.

All of which reminds me that it's time to plant my early spud crop.

Thought for the day:

The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

Friedrich Hegel


Tuesday 7 August 2001

Well, I didn't get around to planting my spuds today, but I did sow a second lot of broad beans and peas. I sowed two varieties of peas, Greenfeast and Onward. Both are similar in yield and flavour, but differ in their time to maturity, so the harvest is spread over a longer period. While that would be a pain for a commercial grower, it's better for the home gardener. The broad beans are an old variety, Windsor, that doesn't yield as heavily as the more modern sort, but the beans stay tender longer and have better flavour. I will make three more sowings of peas in September, October and November. I could continue with sowings into January, but the later sowings don't yield so heavily, and there's so much else to eat we will have finally become tired of the taste of fresh peas.

We all eagerly look forward to those first fresh peas of the season. There is nothing to compare to their flavour. If the season is kind, we will be eating this crop in October, but I have had to wait until December in a bad one. As I have lightened the garden soil with sand, I expect that these will crop somewhat earlier than if I had left my heavy silty clay soil unameliorated.

When I decided to lighten the soil with sand, I was a little concerned over a potential loss in flavour. I expected a reduction in yield of some crops, but when yields are several times the average there's a lot of leeway. Due to circumstances beyond control, last year I sowed only about half the carrots we would need through the winter months and they, like the peas, respond to compost with vastly better flavour than those grown on artificial manure. So I left a few carrots for comparison purposes and we ate those last week. They made the carrots from the grocer seem like a pale imitation.

Around a third of the garden has yet to be treated with sand, so the soil is still heavy and wet. Tilling that soil would produce something resembling rocks that would take a couple of years to break down to crumbly soil again. It's a mass of weeds, mainly grass, and I will need it to be ready for the major plantings of November. The remnant of black builders' polythene from The House of Steel almost covers that area and is held down with scraps of lumber and steel.

The garden surrounds are crying out for weed control also, so I knocked down the worst of those with the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup). To counter the howls of protest from the organic camp that this is a hypocritical betrayal of organic principles, I respond that you probably don't have a fucking farm to run, a house to build and a living to make. I don't use herbicide on my food growing ground and in fact use very little herbicide at all. I would have run stock where I sprayed yesterday, but it's against the law now that it's the drainage area for the effluent from the house.

In any event, the produce of the garden is not sold as organic. The often considerable surplus is given away to those who appreciate fine food. As far as hypocrisy goes, I note that one not very distant certified organic producer and Greenpeace wanker shoots hawks (a protected species) that predate on their chickens. One of my "nasty, evil, chemical-using farmer" neighbours said he had lost a few ducks to the hawks and eagles, but that was small price to pay for their beauty. Guess whose side I'm on!

Hopefully, the perennial plants that Margie puts in the effluent area over the coming months will take off sufficiently that further herbicide is not needed, or at least the need is minimised. In time past, we used to get cardboard from the local tip and use that for mulch. Taking things from the tip is against the law now, too. And the local bicycle shop that was an excellent source of large cardboard cartons has closed down.


I note that VMWare has reduced the price on its Express Linux product. This allows Linuxen to run their favourite Windows apps in a Win9.x virtual machine. I haven't used VMWare Express, but I do use VMWare for Win2k to run Linux (among other OSs) in virtual machines. Given the excellence of this product, I suspect that VMWare Express is worth a look if you need such a product.


Some time during the last week or so, this website passed the 20,000 page reads mark. Not bad considering that it didn't exist this time last year. Of course it's not just page reads that feed back to me your opinions about my writing. There has been lots of encouraging email with only a sprinkling calling me a complete fuckwit. And a special thanks to those who managed to visit and tell me in person that it's not the complete waste of time She Who Must Be Obeyed believes.

Thought for the day:

The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.

Gerald Burrill


Wednesday 8 August 2001

An interesting email from Don Armstrong:

From one complete f-w to another, you may find this of interest. I'm not as completely resolutely true-blue organic as are you, but there are arguments for it, and the arguments against are by no means waterproof. This addresses the subject of G-M plants, but doesn't limit itself to just the Canadian case. I'm a regular on the forum, and they're not always sensible, but then neither am I.


Regards, Don Armstong

I recommend you read the first part of the above link before continuing.

The story gets worse. Percy Schmeiser's canola is now resistant to both Roundup and 2, 4-D. Monsanto claims that Roundup Ready Canola can be controlled with 2, 4-D and maybe it can, but it appears to be creating a herbicide resistant strain of canola when crossing with canola resistant to neither. This is the Frankenstein type of scenario predicted by the alarmists on no particularly good evidence. However, it was always a possibility. What possible good can come from a totally herbicide resistant crop?

While I advocate the widespread adoption of organic principles into farming, I do so not from an anti-chemical perspective. Rather, I am in favour of an approach that has the potential to be indefinitely sustainable. We know that the over-use of certain materials, synthetic pesticides and herbicides, is detrimental to the ability of the land to produce useful crops. Limited use of those same materials when circumstances warrant I find perfectly acceptable.

A parallel is found in modern medicine that presumably most readers are more familiar with. There is little doubt that I wouldn't be writing this had penicillin not been available. Overuse of penicillin and other antibiotics has created a race of harmful (to humans) bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Get one of the new superbugs and you are a goner!

In the example of Percy Schmeiser versus Monsanto, we see Monsanto using genetic engineering to develop herbicide resistance in one generation instead of hundreds!

Thought for the day:

Everything you are against weakens you. Everything you are for empowers you.

Wayne Dyer


Saturday 11 August 2001

A busy couple of days working on The House of Steel and decision-making have left me feeling exhausted. There are new pictures of the house.

Today, we went to an environmental home exhibition. Little fresh information came to light -- the current fad for building with straw bales covered with cement render continues apace. There was a display of books, mostly about the latter, but many about the dangers of modern building materials, especially PVC. Why Greenpeace et alia have singled out PVC for their attention remains a mystery to me.

Their main thrust is that when PVC burns, it emits dioxins. Dioxins are toxic materials produced by burning organic compounds in the presence of halogens, usually chlorine. What Greenpeace neglects to mention is that they do this themselves on a regular basis. The diesel motors in their ships burn fuel oil in the presence of salt (sodium chloride) laden sea air. Mysteriously, this simple fact of chemical life rates no mention in any of their literature!

Burning PVC is somewhat more difficult than burning timber as PVC cannot sustain a flame. Remove the heat source and it stops burning. I have yet to come across a campaign by Greenpeace to have wood-fires in regions adjacent to the sea banned. Rather the reverse; I have seen film of members on the beach around their own personal dioxin manufacturing plant (driftwood fire).

When selecting materials for constructing The House of Steel, I took account of many alternatives: the human safety aspect, total lifetime cost, energy cost, impact on the environment, availability, recyclability etc. No material was without its downside as well as upside. If time permits this weekend, I will add a piece to The House of Steel story about why we chose what we did.

Thought for the day:

Example has more followers than reason. We unconsciously imitate what pleases us, and approximate to the characters we most admire.

Christian Nevell Bovee


Sunday 12 August 2001

This morning I slept in until nearly midday. mainly because I got up to do some writing for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. The phone call that awoke me was from a friend with an Internet connection problem. The machine is an NT4 workstation I set up to prevent another problem they are having. A "friend" decided to install The Sims on it and it crapped on the video driver, so they have been running in VGA mode for a while. The last time I was there I didn't have the Ark video driver for the Hercules Stingray in the machine.

Today, I asked for their Administrator password, but they can't remember it or where they put it. It's a combination of letters and numbers, so I can't get at it with a password cracker. How The Sims installer managed Administrator access is a mystery. The Internet connection problem is not so difficult to solve. Outlook has been set to use a blank connection to the Internet, rather than the one I set up. It's just a matter of choosing the connection's friendly name. Why people want to fiddle with these settings is another mystery. As is why MS makes it so easy for users to do so. It would be so nice to set up a Linux box for them and lock all that stuff completely out of their reach.

Thought for the day:

Many people think that by hoarding money they are gaining safety for themselves. if money is your ONLY hope for independence, you will never have it. The only real security that a person can have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability. Without these qualities, money is practically useless.

Henry Ford


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Jonathan Sturm 2001

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Jonathan Sturm 2001