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 1 April 2002

Plenty to occupy me at the moment: renovating the cottage, working on The House of Steel book, email correspondence on the Global Warming controversy to read and follow up links...


Pass The Camera Project: Photographers from all around the globe united by four disposable cameras: Just one frame each, just one chance, just one expression ...


From What Pseudoscience Tells us About Science by Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay:

Applying Scientific Methods Elsewhere 

It's considered hubris -- probably rightly -- to think we will ever apply the methods of science to all human affairs, but we can go much further than we presently do in testing ideas. A couple of examples:

Does gender-free language reduce sexism? 

We might try looking for languages that have, for example, a single pronoun for he, she and it. Turkish does: the single word "o" means he, she or it. In fact, Turkish has no grammatical gender at all. Anyone care to argue that Turkey has gender equality? Going further, it turns out that most languages lack the concept of gender; Indo-European and Semitic (Afro-Asiatic) are the two great families with gender, one of the reasons linguists suspect they share a common remote ancestor. Now it may or may not help our own society to reduce gender-specific terminology (in most cases it can be done so smoothly it's not even noticed) but it's also clear that the most shrill advocates of gender-free language have, at best, a superficial knowledge of language. 

Was Piss Christ meant as an attack on Christianity? 

The work Piss Christ generated a firestorm of controversy when it was exhibited, in part with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Defenders of the work, a photo of a crucifix in a jar of urine, claimed it was not intended to insult Christians. Bypassing the rich question of how anything so juvenile came to be taken as serious art, the intent of the work strikes me as eminently testable. Create a similar work, a photo of Martin Luther King in a jar of urine, and call it Piss King. See if defenders of Piss Christ react in the same way. Exhibit the work in a black community. Can you predict the response? Would it be justified? 

Some key questions we can apply just about anywhere:

What would it take to falsify the belief? What would someone demand as proof that his opponents are right? Failure to deal honestly with this single issue identifies a person as superficial at best, a charlatan at worst. 

What happens if you stretch a line of reasoning to its limit? There's a widespread tendency to deny the validity of this method, but if an idea is stretched to the extreme and yields absurd results, you'd better have a convincing argument why the idea as a whole is sound.

Thought for the day:

At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Current Listening

The Who -- Who's Next


Tuesday 2 April 2002

I spent most of the day working on The House of Steel hypertext book.

Teoma is a new search engine that adds some new refinements to searching. Well worth a look.

If you want to improve your page ranking in a Google search, Google has Zeitgeist.

New Scientist has some evidence that organic vegetables are better for your health than conventionally grown. "Eating organic food may help reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes and cancer. The finding will reignite the debate over its health benefits and may force regulatory agencies to reconsider their position." Story here.

Thought for the day:

The more unpredictable the world is the more we rely on predictions.

Steve Rivkin

Current Listening

Mackenzie Theory -- Out of the Blue


Wednesday 3 April 2002

I found a very interesting job to apply for and with my usual penchant for such things, spent several hours researching the organisation and preparing a thorough and comprehensive application for the position. It has left me feeling somewhat drained.

Thought for the day:

If something is exceptionally well done it has embedded in its very existence the aim of lifting the common denominator rather than catering to it.

Edward Fischer

Current Listening

Brian Eno -- Another Green World


Friday 5 April 2002

I am suffering from a slight cold. Busy recording some cassette tapes of Leo de Castro and editing them to improve the sound quality. Software is GoldWave and Steinberg Clean.

Thought for the day:

People must not do things for fun. We are not here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any act of Parliament.

A. P. Herbert

Current Listening

Leo de Castro -- The Basement Tapes 2


Saturday 6 April 2002

A most enjoyable day. It was the Franklin Apple Festival and time for relaxing and listening to a variety of folk music and conversing with friends.

Thought for the day:

Music, the greatest good that mortals know, And all of heaven we have below.

Joseph Addison

Current Listening

Tim Buckley -- Hello and Goodbye


Sunday 7 April 2002

Quite a few years ago, I was invited to participate on Tasmania's Aerial Spraying Implementation Group. The reason for the invitation was my being on the board of directors of The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia Ltd (NASAA), an organisation involved in the certification of organically grown food and that I was a market gardener and organic smallholder.

Before the first meeting of the Aerial Spraying Implementation Group, I was invited to have a coffee and a chat with the representative from the conservationists, Sandra Tiffin. She made it clear that she wanted me to support her in a political agenda against several other members of the Group and I made it clear that I had no interest in the politics and that I was going to listen to what everyone had to say before making up my mind.

Part of the conservationist agenda was to prevent dissemination of a document about chemicals in agriculture to schools. After having read it, I understood a lot more about the conservationists' agenda. Among other things, the booklet recommended the students purchase organically grown food and compare it to conventionally grown food. Presumably this could be a scientific experiment -- comparing storage life and I knew from my own and other work, that organically grown food keeps much longer in storage. Or the experiment could be to compare flavour and here again organically grown food usually possesses superior flavour.

The conservationists were in favour of organically grown food, but for some reason not clear to me against making up one's own mind. One of the scientists on the Group was Dr Morley. Dr Morley represented the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Association and we had crossed swords several times in the press. I had used common sense and the results of scientific research to counter some fairly wild and exaggerated claims he had made.

I expected Dr Morley to be more than a little antagonistic toward me, but instead we had a rollicking good chinwag during the breaks. He directed my attention to research supporting the claims of organic farmers that I had not yet come across. This intrigued me and I suggested to him that he was contradicting what he had said in the press. "Oh, that!" he said, laughing, "That's just what I'm paid to say!" He went on to say how much he enjoyed reading my responses.

As we worked toward a better understanding of the issues involved in aerial spraying, it became clear that there was a divide between Sandra Tiffin and another member of the Group that was similarly inclined and the rest of us. Despite Ms Tiffin's references to the "clear dangers" of agricultural chemicals, she could only refer to press releases for evidence and much to her chagrin, we elected to have a literature search done before we decided anything. Dr Morley volunteered his employer to pay the cost and that led to Ms Tiffin declaring the results would be "polluted", showing little understanding of the integrity of the organisation we had chosen to conduct the research.

The results of the literature search managed to find a study showing some minor health problems for agricultural workers, but there was, and to the best of my knowledge never has been, any proper research linking agricultural chemical use to the health of consumers. Also, I dropped a bombshell (for Ms Tiffin) by pointing out that organic farmers spray materials from aircraft for the same reasons conventional farmers do. One of the big reasons, in the main part of Tasmania where aerial spraying is common, is that paddocks get too wet for tractors. There is nothing worse for soil structure than compacting it when wet and this is precisely the time to spray for potato blight and other fungal diseases, whether it's an organically acceptable material or agricultural chemical.

This was all too much for Ms Tiffin's conservationist brigade and after I received a series of obscene phone calls, too much for me. Once my stint on the Aerial Spraying Implementation Group was over, I decided that Green politics was something I wanted no involvement with. I had earned the respect of a couple of scientists, though and went on to learn much from them in the field of agricultural research.

What brought on this recollection from a little over a decade ago? Reading Bjørn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist

Thought for the day:

We are all selfish and I no more trust myself than others with a good motive. 

Lord Byron

Current Listening

Chick Corea -- No Mystery


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© Jonathan Sturm 2002


© Jonathan Sturm 2002