December 31, 2007

Whole Foods Miami; Jorge Drops the Ball AGAIN

This isn't the first time I've written about the Whole Foods in Miami. Overall, it's a nice place to shop; the staff is friendly and courteous and for the most part, helpful.

But not always as helpful as the could or should be, at least at the management level. Sure, they're polite. They look you in the eye, and promise to "address the situation."

They just don't actually DO anything.

In my review of their opening, I did have one major complaint:
...they have a shelf labeled "WHEAT ALTERNATIVES." They had a shelf of breads from Sami's Bakery, but beware!! Two of the choices actually are wheat breads. They shouldn't be in that section at all, and I've mentioned it to someone stocking the shelf last week, but no change has been made. Hopefully, other people with food allergies know enough to read the labels, but if they don't realize that Sami's isn't exclusively a GF vendor, there could be serious consequences.
In fact, at the bottom of that review, there's an update:
I emailed the store manager, and the problems with the WHEAT ALTERNATIVE shelf have finally been addressed.
And why did I think that? Because I received this email in response to my complaint about that shelf:

Hi Christopher,
Thank you for your detailed email. You are absolutely right with your observations. I will address all your concerns. Please continue to communicate any other concerns.
Jorge Sosa
ASTL WFM Coral Gables
Of course, those concerns were not addressed; wheat-bearing breads kept finding their way to the wheat-alternative shelf. I'd mention it to the person behind the bakery counter, who would vaguely nod and look away, or the stock person, who would promise to ask his supervisor. Finally, I asked to see the store manager.

What I got was Jorge.

Jorge is a pleasant enough guy. He came right over, and agreed that the item clearly didn't belong on the shelf. He even asked the stock person why the stuff was there, and the stock guy replied that Sami's made wheat free products. They do; but they don't make EXCLUSIVELY wheat-free products, any more than Coca-Cola makes EXCLUSIVELY sugar free soda. Jorge concluded that Brooke, the bakery manager, just lumped all the Sami's products together, assuming they were all wheat-alternative. Honest mistake.

I pointed out that the problem wasn't so much that they were keeping all the products together; the problem was that they were all together in a section dedicated to products that didn't contain wheat, an allergen that affects a significant portion of the population. People should read labels, but most folks will trust Whole Foods to label its foods correctly. And if they do that here, that will lead to hives, nasal congestion, airway congestion, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, and joint pain. It's not pleasant to have a wheat allergy.

He promised - AGAIN - that it would be addressed, and that he'd discuss it with Brooke, and that they'd remind staff not to make assumptions regarding brand and food allergies.

I saw no reason not to believe Jorge; he said he understood how serious food allergies were, and that he'd address the problem.

But he didn't. The problem wasn't addressed, it still hasn't been addressed.

I was in there today, and there were the offending loaves, lo-carb wheat bread mixed in with the "Wheat Alternative" products. So I went to the Costumer Service desk, and in short order I was talking to Jorge again.
"Oh, yes," he said. "I remember you. We talked about this before. I'll take care of this."
"Great," I said. "I'll wait."
That stopped him. "What?"
"I'll wait here while you fix it. You can pull the loaves off the shelf, or take down the sign; whatever."
This flummoxed him. "I'm going to address it. I'll meet with Brooke and take care of it."
I pointed out that that is what he told me LAST time, and here we are.
"I did address your problem; I met with Brooke and took care of it." he repeated
"Obviously not," I replied, "because here we are, and there it is."
"I'm sorry sir, but I will take care of it." Very polite, but firm.
"Great," I said. "I will watch you do it, and we can all sleep tonight."
"I'm not going to fix it NOW; we have a system."

Just so you know, we're talking about a dozen loaves of bread; he could have dumped them into a grocery cart and been done with it. That's all I was expecting. A show of faith on his part. But I didn't get it.
"Jorge," I said as patiently as I could, "you've had MONTHS to address it, and you haven't. MONTHS. Does somebody have to get sick before you'll take care of this?"

"No, I don't want anyone to get sick! I will take care of it"

"Great! So fix it. I'll wait, so I know that it's been done."

"Not right now - but I will address it. Is there anything else I can do for you?" his eyes are glazing over, and he's starting to sweat.

"After someone ends up in an emergency room? You are telling me you'd rather let people get sick than actually take care of this problem."

"No, I'm not saying that! I will address it, but not now! Is there something else?" his smile is forced. I'm pretty sure he was wondering if he could have security throw me out.

The thing is, there was absolutely NO reason for Jorge not to fix it right then. What if it had been rotten meat, or moldy produce? The effect is exactly the same; the person who consumes it gets sick. All I was asking was for him to move a few loaves of wheat bread off of the "wheat alternatives" shelf. And he would not do it.

Now I have to wonder, would he pull that rotten meat? I'm not so sure, now. And now I have to wonder what OTHER products are mis-labeled in the store; are all those products REALLY organic? What about the vegan items? Customers trust that their grocers are putting the right products on the right shelves.

With a store like Whole Foods, it's an entirely greater area of responsibility; we make an effort to go out of our way to Whole Foods, because we are trying to lead healthier lives. Sometimes, it's a matter of choice; we feel that "organic" products are healthier, or we're seeking a wider variety of choices to support a diet that meets a moral imperative. And many of us go there because we have special dietary needs that are not met at main-stream markets.

Jorge dropped the customer service ball. And he was stupid about it; having admitted that this was a repeat of a problem that he'd promised I wouldn't see again, he utterly failed to resolve it; not only to MY satisfaction, but to any reasonable standard of service.

It's unacceptable for a manager to fail so miserably at customer service. The fact that he could have fixed the problem inside of two minutes with minimal effort only underscores his utter lack of commitment to meeting his customer's needs.

I accepted his promise that he would "address" the issue on two separate occasions. Since the problem wasn't solved, it was time for Jorge to step up his game. Instead, he made the exact same empty promises, KNOWING that he'd already broken them.

That makes Jorge worse than merely incompetent; that makes him a liar. Either he lied when he told me that he'd addressed it earlier, or he's lying to me now. Or he's lying about understanding the problem.

The bottom line is that Jorge had a chance to prevent people from getting sick, and he chose not to do it. He apparently thinks it's better to risk people's health and well-being than to actually do his job. Maybe he didn't want to offend Brooke; maybe he thought that the store's bureaucracy was more important than the health of his customers. By doing nothing, by putting it off until a staff meeting sometime in the future, he has put his customers at risk of illness, and that's unacceptable.

I find it hard to believe that Whole Foods is a health store that doesn't give a crap about your actual health.

Happy New Year; hope you don't spend it over the toilet. Which is more than I can say for Jorge Sosa.

December 30, 2007

A Maniac ponders his Navel.

Well, great. It's almost 2008 and I'm still not rich, famous, or even a deity. Not only do I not have a rocket car, I don't have any car at all.

It also occurs to me that I more or less started this blog a year ago; yes, some of the posts go back farther than that, but some of them were originally posted in this blog's prototype, and other's came from the MySpace version (which was only ever done in fits and starts, and I no longer even mirror over there anymore.)

It started at work; I was bitching about having to update a website I created for tracking various projects, and one of my co-workers said "You should totally start a blog, man!" I did some research, and started a blog on Blogger. I'm still running it, but it's on another account, and it's really all about business. Boring stuff to outsiders, but the staff loves it.

Then I went up to my sister's for the holidays, and on the way back I passed this cool bridge, and snapped some pictures of it. Then I wanted to share those photos, but I wanted more substance than just a photo hosting site. AHA! I'll put them on my BLOG! I had briefly flirted with blogging when the Herald fired Defede, where did I put it.... AH! HERE it is!

Yuck. Like so many others, I had started a blog with a limited purpose, and when that purpose became impossible, I stopped blogging. Now I had a NEW purpose, so I needed a NEW blog. But I'll keep THAT post, and THAT post. And here's this MySpace posting I like, so I'll toss THAT in. What to call it? Hmm. I have that MySpace blog, I'll just use the same name. Heck, I'll just repost here what I put up in there, mostly.

Then I got my digital camera. Suddenly, I was taking more pictures. But my blog didn't seem to welcome them; thus Camera Ephemera was born. With the onus of photography removed from MoM, it started to become more a place for thoughts and observations. Still more pictures than words...until June.

I'm at work, and we're brainstorming on ways to promote the theater. As ideas are tossed about, my boss grumbles that the local news media don't do enough theater stories, and when they do them, stuff gets left out. Hmmm. Initially, I though about starting a blog to promote out theater. Realized that to be effective, it would need new content at least weekly, sooooo...I started a blog about theater in general, and invited a lot of other people to post to it. Thus South Florida Theatre Scene springs onto the....uh, scene.

So my pictures have a place, and I have a place to write about theatre.

And then the School Board tries to ban a book - AGAIN.

Suddenly, people are READING my blog, and I can sleep at night.

The name comes from a mad rant from Back In The Day; a bunch of us on stage crew were regarded as mad geniuses; Rob Lynch and Dave O'Brien had this "Wright Brothers" shtick: "Will it fly, Orville?" "Not a chance in Hell, Wilbur. Shut up and tighten that bolt." Well, I couldn't be a Wright brother; that was taken. So when MY projects were near completion, and the guys would ask if it would work, I'd reply in my best insane voice "Well, now it's time to see: am I a man - OR AM I A MANIAC!! Bwa - HAHAHAHA!"

Recently, it occurred to me to look up "maniac" in the dictionary. I more or less KNEW what the definition was, but the entry is so much more insightful than I knew:

Etymology: Late Latin maniacus maniacal, from Greek maniakos, from mania
Date: circa 1763
1 : madman lunatic
: a person characterized by an inordinate or ungovernable enthusiasm for something


December 27, 2007

What is it with the Herald, anyway?

So which is it? Don't you know? It's your story. You should have determined which it was before you went to press.

As it turns out, THREE were fired, and only ONE quit. The three who were sacked, while all fired at the same time, were all fired for different reasons, and the guy who quit didn't say why.

We expect more from the South Florida's pre-eminent news journal than a sloppy banner.

Why didn't they put up something, well, accurate?
3 fired from State Attorney, 1 other quits.

Personnel changes at State Attorney's office.
or simply:
3 fired from Dade State Attorney's Office
After all, 99% of the story is about the three people who were sacked; the guy who quit was barely mentioned in the story.

Hey, waitaminute: isn't it the Miami-Dade State attorney's office?


December 22, 2007

CIGNA Healthcare kills someone, and we helped.

The headline on CNN reads "Teen dies hours after liver transplant approved."

17-year-old Nataline Sarkisyan had been in the fight of her life. She had leukemia, one of the most malicious forms of cancer. But she was holding her own in the battle, with the help and support of her family; her brother donated bone marrow.

But complications arose; between the chemo for the cancer, and the imuno-suppressant drug regime meant to prevent rejection of the bone marrow, her liver failed. Fortunately, liver transplants have become much easier to get because doctors have learned that you can divide a liver and not only will it function, it will grow.

So doctors sent a letter to CIGNA Healthcare explaining the need for the procedure; without an immediate replacement, Nataline would die.

CIGNA replied that there was lack of evidence that the procedure would work, and rejected it. Eventually, as Nathaline's health deteriorated, after she slipped into a coma, after she was reduced to a vegetative state, and only after hundreds of protestors rallied outside their Glendal headquarters, they relented and grudgingly agreed to cover the procedure.

Nataline finally went in for transplant surgery, after weeks languishing in a vegetative coma due to her failed liver. She died hours later.

When the doctors made the request of CIGNA, her six-month survival chances were estimated to be 65%. She might well have died anyway; it's no secret that her health was poor.

But without the liver, she had NO chance. WITH the liver, she had a good chance.

We Americans have made a terrible mistake; we've turned our lives over to heartless corporations whose primary purpose isn't our well-being, but paying out dividends to their stockholders. Yes, these huge conglomerates provide healthcare, but only as a way to make money to pay their stockholders.

We pay insurance companies like CIGNA in the belief that when we really need them, they will be there for us. We spend significant portions of our income so that if things get bad, our insurance companies will step in and get us through it.

But it's a lie. Companies like CIGNA will pay - but only if THEY think it's a sound investment. "You'll die without it? Hey, you might die anyway, and our dividends will be less, and that will upset the stockholders!"

We need to stop participating in health plans run by corporate machines that are designed to produce profits for a select few; while a shift to non-profit health plans may not completely eliminate this kind of calculated culling of our ill children, but at least it won't be for the purpose of lining someone's pockets.

CIGNA's delay in approving the procedure substantially contributed to the death of a 17-year old girl. But we put CIGNA in a position to do that. WE decided that our health should be a commodity to be brokered, WE decided that our well-being should be bought and sold like a side of beef.

CIGNA made a life or death decision, without considering either life OR death. And we let them do it.

Last year, CIGNA reported 16.7 billion dollars in revenue. How many people died for that?

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December 21, 2007

More Viral Video from the Striking Writers

I've written before about the Writers' strike.

The bottom line is this: the studios started putting TV shows up on the internet as streaming video. Since there was no internet when the writers and producers created their current contract 25 years ago, there were no provisions for a percentage of income from streaming video on the internet.

Now the studios are pulling in BILLIONS of dollars from streaming video, far more than they get from re-broadcast syndication. The writers do not get a penny of that new line of income.

According to comments made by studio heads over the last few years, streaming video income is phenomenal; it's like they're printing money. All the writers are asking for is the same cut they get for broadcast TV, a tiny sliver of a percentage. The studios basically told the writers to go fuck themselves. Who suffers? We do.

Frank Zappa Is Still Dead (more or less)

A comment by Steve (thanks, Steve!) made me realize that many people don't realize that this, December 21, is also Frank Zappa's birthday.

So here's a little of Frank at his best.

At his best, he's great. At his worst, my god, there's not enough pot in the world to endure it.

December 20, 2007

December the Twenty First

December the 21 is the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year. And forty-four years ago, I was born on this day.

In most of the US, it's usually gray, short, and cold day. Fortunately, my dad was working on the space program, so I was born in Daytona Beach. My parents brought me home Christmas Day, and my mother has always said I was the best Christmas Present she ever got. Well, I was certainly the most expensive ;-)

You might think I got gypped, being born so close to Christmas; but Mom and Dad made sure that I always had a birthday party, and they worked hard to make sure that it didn't feel like it was being combined with the holiday in any way. Except for that one incident with the Egg Nog Ice Cream; but since I love egg nog, Dad got a pass on it from Mom.

Me. Age 22 hours.

While I know about a handful of celebrities who share my date de naissance, I didn't know about all the historical events that occurred on it, at least according to WikiPedia:

Notable Events on this date:

Notable Births on this date:
Holidays and observances:

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December 19, 2007

On Anonymity, the Internet, and Free Speech

I made the paper today. Yep, I was quoted in an article in today's Miami Herald. The quote was lifted from comments I made in response to a blog by Bob Norman over on the New Times website.

Here's what the Herald printed:
C.L. Jahn from the Man or Maniac? blog commented on Norman's site: ``If a blogger chooses to be anonymous, there's no point in trying to unmask them. . .''
Man, that sounds fatuous, doesn't it? I must be some kind of left-wing anarchist; let anyone do what they want anytime for any reason. Let the criminals remain cloaked! To hell with democracy, let's have a free-for-all.

I wouldn't be surprised if you thought that, especially if you also read this story by the Herald's ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos. In it, he discusses the problems of anonymity and freedom it gives some people to post hateful speech. The Herald allows readers to post responses to articles; often, the comments are nothing but a stream of invective carefully crafted to avoid using words that are blocked from posting. Most of those comments are truly anonymous; no way to know who's putting up the libel, or even if it's more than one person or the same drooling idiot over and over again.

But the Herald has edited my quote, at the cost of some accuracy. So here is the full sentence (with the part the Herald omitted in italics):
"If a blogger chooses to be anonymous, there's no point in trying to unmask them unless there's a clear indication that the blogger is using his position towards a destructive end, which Rick nor SOTP has done."
Not so fatuous now, huh?

I understand both the need and the desire for anonymity. While I believe that you have more credibility if you put your real name on the things you write, I know that not everyone is in a position to do that. I work in the arts, where many of my colleagues have created names that they work under in order to ensure that they have privacy in their private lives. No one questions this practice, but they certainly put this poor bastard through the ringer.

"For the record, I HATE anonymous bloggers. They, in my view, are chickensh-- people who don't stand behind their words,''
Miami New Times editor Chuck Strouse
Strong words from Chuck. Complete bullshit, too. Remember, the sequence of events included an "anonymous" blogger standing by his words. And he got bitch-slapped and threatened for his efforts. You know what I hate, Chuck? Editorial morons who can't keep their facts straight, that's what.

You know who was anonymous and yet widely respected and even beloved by the entire world? Ben Franklin. He invented the cast-iron stove, bifocal glasses, started the post service, suggested time zones, mapped out the Gulf Stream, figured out how to prove that Lightening was made of electricity, and helped to write the Declaration of Independence.

Benjamin Franklin also wrote an "almanac," a collection of calendar events, weather predictions, useful articles, jokes, and other things that interested the author; in short, Franklin was an 18th century blogger. He wrote it under the pseudonym "Poor Richard," and maintained a separate identity for years. Why didn't Franklin just put his name on it? Franklin was already a widely known scientist and respected philosopher; certainly people would have bought "Ben Franklin's Almanac."

Dr. Franklin had a reputation as a scientist; while his wit and humor were widely known, he was respected a serious professional. "Poor Richard's Almanac," while it had some useful content, was light-hearted and accessible to the earthier members of society. It was a tabloid, complete with cliff-hanger serializations, astrologies, and political cartoons. And so he published it for 26 years, anonymously. What a chickenshit that Ben Franklin was, huh? Thanks, Chuck. Your "insight" enlightens us all.

We really should clear up what anonymous really means; we all know what we THINK it means; but everyone one of us tends to get lazy (Chuck, quit ogling your secretary.)

From Merriam-Websters' online dictionary:
Main Entry: anon·y·mous
Function: adjective
Etymology:Late Latin anonymus, from Greek anōnymos, from a- + onyma name — more at name
1 : not named or identified
2 : of unknown authorship or origin
3 : lacking individuality, distinction, or recognizability

The thing is, as far as the blogger is concerned, there is no anonymity. We have an identity, and we can easily identify what he writes. While Richard Bachman, Poor Richard, and Rick all have OTHER identities, none of them are actually anonymous. We know them by their words, their associations, and their byline.

The point I was making in my comments to Bob was that we already know enough about Rick. Here's his blog. Here are the articles he wrote. Here are his comments in response to your comments. In the strictest sense, he wasn't anonymous at all.

What Rick was REALLY doing was working under a pseudonym. A "pen-name," or "handle."

Why do it? As I noted above, there's lots of precedent. Actors, writers, and yes, even respected journalists, often have an identity under which their work is known that is distinct from the identity found on their social security cards, drivers licenses and birth certificates. This is done not to defraud the public, but to protect the privacy of the actor, writer or journalist.

It also allows you to discuss sensitive topics without repercussion. And I don't mean simply saying "bad" or "mean" stuff about others. There are topics so private that we are embarrassed to discuss them; and right now you're thinking I mean sex. And you'd be right, and you'd also be wrong.

In society, we have all sorts of taboo subjects; sex, religion, teen pregnancy, capital punishment, polygamy, drugs, and how to hang the toilet paper on the dispenser. These are subjects that require examination from time to time. But there can be costs to that: family spats, personal vendettas, ostracization, and even murder.

It is for this reason we have anonymous balloting at the polls: even your spouse doesn't get to know how you voted. It's the only way we can keep the polls honest. There are places in the world where they hold elections: once a year, everyone comes into town and votes the tyrant back in power while the tyrant's goons watch you fill in the ballot.

Val Prieto ought to know something about that: he writes for Babalu, a blog dedicated to a Cuba free from the oppression of Fidel Castro. There is no free-press in Cuba, and certainly no free exchange of ideas. You can be arrested for speaking critically of the Castro regime, its policies, or even Marxist socialism itself.

Here's a clip from the Herald article:
One person who won't miss it is Val Prieto. His blog, Babalú, which focuses on politics and Cuban issues, has often been critical of Stuck on the Palmetto, and vice versa.

Prieto, whose full name appears on his site, said he thinks readers give more weight to blogs with identified writers.

''Anybody can say whatever they want if they're hiding behind a pseudonym,'' Prieto said in a phone interview.

Yes, they can. That is exactly the point.

December 17, 2007

Shut UP - You're Not Helping!

Some interesting comments in the CNN story about two escaped convicts: in a plot reminiscent of ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ or THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, the escapees dug holes in the walls that they kept hidden behind nude centerfolds, and fooled guards into thinking they were still in their cell by making dummies to lie in their beds.

Union County Prosecutor Ted Romanko tried to wave off any comparison between the prison break and the movies:
"I really prefer not to compare with any movie, although I can understand why you might because it does look certainly very similar to some of them."
Similar? Let's have a look:

Inmates' goodbye note: 'Thanks for tools, officer'A dummy lies under a blanket to fool the guards in the NJ prison break.

A scene from Escape from Alcatraz
A Dummy lies under a blanket in a scene from "Escape from Alcatraz"

Call me crazy, but that's about as close as you can get.

But Romanko digs himself and the prison deeper: the inmates hid the holes in their walls behind "photographs of bikini-clad women." In SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, the prisoner uses a series of pin-up girls, starting with Rita Hayworth. (The full title of the short story the movie is based on was "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption)

Romanko's damning comment:
" 'The Shawshank Redemption' they had a better poster on the wall."
"Better?" "Better" as in "the big ass Rita Hayworth poster did a better job of covering the hole than a magazine centerfold or two?" How is the fact that these inmates did a worse job covering the hole they dug something to criticize when it was still more than enough to let them GET AWAY WITH IT? That kind of "better?" Is Romanko smoking CRACK?

I know what you're thinking, you're thinking, c'mon, how could they know? I mean, WHO tries to pull that movie crap in real life? The prison authorities had no reason to suspect that anyone would ever try such an insane scheme to escape.

Unless, of course, they had tried it before:
"According to police, Blunt tried to escape in September using similar methods."
Oh, sure, how could anyone have POSSIBLY guessed that this guy would try to act out a movie to escape from prison - AGAIN?

No wonder the escapees left a thank-you note. I would have, too. The guards did everything but unlock the doors for them.

Oh, did I forget to mention the thank-you note?
"Thank you officer -------- for the tools needed, you're a real pal, Happy Holidays, :-)" *
Of course, prison policies are as much to blame as lackadaisical oversight; the article also reports that they men had FOOTLOCKERS to hide the peices of brick in. Hey, why not give them a lockbox so they can safeguard their shivs? FOOTLOCKERS?!? Are you nucking futs?

Let's face it, there's no way the authorities are going to come out of this without looking like idiots. But jeez, someone shut Romanko up before he says something ELSE incredibly stupid. Dude, you're only digging the hole deeper. Quit talking. Seriously.

*I'm not shitting you - there was a smiley. Honest to god.

December 16, 2007

We All Lose.

I'm sure a lot of you who read MoM are familiar with STUCK ON THE PALMETTO.

Heck, you probably came here from there, either through their blogroll, or following me back from some comment I've made over there. "What th-? Who the hell is THIS moron?"

Stuck on the Palmetto was usually my first stop of the day, and a place I checked in on during my breaks. Rick or Alex always managed to put up one more thing. Whether or not I agreed with their commentary, it was almost always topical and interesting.

Alas, it's no more.

A lot of blogs die. Most just peter out; the bloggers lose interest, or life takes them to some other endeavour. The posts start appearing less frequently, maybe monthly, then six months go by and they frantically slap up a post or two, and then....silence.

But SotP didn't wither. It was going full steam, with lots of commentary, and pointing out stories we might otherwise have missed. It was in full bloom, vigorous and fresh and full of promise.

I won't re-hash the events that killed it; if you followed Rick and Alex, you know what happened. I won't pin blame; there's enough to go around, that's for sure. But blame won't bring back the blog that New Times readers kept picking as Numero Uno in South Florida. We can hold our breaths until we all turn blue, and it will do no good. They've closed up shop, and not even the archives remain.

They signed off with Pat Metheny's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress." One last tune before they fade into memory.

But I'm sending them off with this one

So long, SotP. We hardly knew ye.

Speaking of Bottled Water...

I missed last Sunday's Doonesberry.

December 9, 2007

A bunch of stuff you never wanted to know about Australian Pines

Shortly after I moved back to Florida in 1985, the county came and removed a line of Australian Pines (Casuarina Equisetifolia) near my grandmother's home in Boynton Beach. I was horrified that a beautiful stand of trees could be removed and nothing planted in their place.

While I was trying to find out who was responsible, the Palm Beach Post conveniently ran an article to explain; apparently, I wasn't the only person seeking answers.

As it turns out, that "beautiful stand of trees" was actually damaging the environment.

Since then, the State of Florida and the various municipalities have launched a formal campaign to remove the trees while it's still possible, and before the damage they cause becomes irreversible.

The program went smoothly until the state discovered a major infestation of Citrus Canker. Citrus trees are NOT harmful, and thousands of Floridians enjoyed backyard access to oranges, grapefruit, limes and more. Until someone decided that if destroying every citrus tree within 500 feet of an infected tree slowed the spread of infection, then destroying every tree within 1800 feet would slow it more. The State started the wholesale slaughter of backyard citrus, trampling civil rights and common sense in the process.

And ultimately, they failed to stop the citrus canker.

On the heels of this dismally wretched program, folks started to question the removal of the Australian Pines. After all, if the state screwed up so bad with the canker eradication, maybe they don't really know that Australian Pines are bad.

I've seen a few blogs and columns and web pages that decry the removal and destruction of the invasive Australian Pine. Michael Mayo's blog entry in the Sun-Sentinel started nagging at my conscience, but it's when I read an entry in one of my favorite blogs that I finally realized it's time to set the record straight about Australian Pines.

Some poorly informed individuals even claim that the reasons for their removal is based on "pseudo-science." There are dozens of studies to support the cause of removal. There are NONE that conclude that Australian Pines are safe. So which is the "pseudo-science:" the side that can produce studies back as far as 1960, or the side that hasn't produced a single peer-review study?

I will use the list provided by Ken Ellis on his "Save the Australian Pines" website, as it is typical of the arguments against the removal of Australian Pines. It's also convenient to refer to it, as it's already set up with bullet points.
Aesthetic value: It provides shade which is in short supply in Florida. Few if any native plants can provide the shade of a mature Australian pine. The "needles" that the Australian pines drop make a perfect matting around picnic tables. Their rustic appearance adds character to the parks. And the wind blowing through their branches gives a soothing sound.

Historical heritage: The Australian pine is a part of South Florida's historical heritage. It is a reminder of the people who first developed the Gold Coast area of Florida. I feel that some of this heritage needs to be preserved, even protected. And what better place to preserve heritage than in public parks?

Where should Australian pines be removed first: Should we start by removing them from public Parks where they are being enjoyed or should we start by removing them from areas that are not used by people and where their removal will be less of an impact. I suggest that efforts be concentrated on first removing Australian pines in areas not used by the public and LAST removing them from the Parks. Actually, after all the Australian pines that are not in Parks have been removed, we should probably declare them an endangered species and preserve and protect the ones in the Parks

Taking over South Florida: The Australian pines... seem to have been "planted" rather than just spreading. As far as I know, they are propagated by roots, not birds carrying their seeds

"MAY" be allopathic: ..several statements ... say Australian pines "MAY" be allopathic, that is, their needles or roots may give off a chemical that discourages other plants from growing nearby. If this is true, why hasn't anyone proven it?

Out compete native species: Since the Australian pine is such a hearty species, highly tolerant of salt spray and the poor soils of beaches, it would seem to me that it would be particularly desirable to have them along the coast line where the salty conditions make it difficult for many plants to grow, especially close to the beach

Roots shallow and wash out easily: It seems to me that the roots of the Australian pine go much deeper and wider than any of the native plants and would therefore tend to hold the dunes in place better than the native plants. Even if an Australian pine is blown over, its roots would still help to protect the dunes from erosion

Wind break: Removal of the Australian pines from the beach areas will remove a wind break that is currently protecting the homes to the west

Disposing of the Australian pines: The people who are currently cutting down the Australian pines in South Beach Park in Boca Raton, Florida are not making any effort to save or use the wood. They are using chain saws to cut the trees into about 2' chunks and then grinding them up to make mountains of mulch. They also seem to be leaving the stumps behind.

1: Aesthetic Value.

I agree that stands of Australian Pines are lovely; I think ALL trees are lovely. And I agree we need more shade trees in Florida; too many palms are planted. Ironically, palms are planted purely for aesthetic reasons; they have no value for shade or wind breaks or erosion control.

The problem is that Australian Pines provide TOO MUCH shade. According to the University of Florida:
"Australian pine's dense shade and leaf litter retard the growth of native coastal vegetation (Schardt and Schmitz 1990)"
There are species that NEED shade to flourish. But they need SOME light. Native trees provide
the right mix of shade and dappled light, or they grow far enough apart for light to diffuse into the shady regions. Australian Pines don't do any of that. In fact, every study notes that stands of Australian Pines tend to consist entirely of Australian Pines. The exact phrase is "monoculture."
So what's wrong with that? Since the Pines have no natural containment, they will eventually replace all other flora in the environment. They will become the sole wind break and erosion control in the ecosystem. But because there is only one species performing this task, it leaves the environment susceptible to disaster. If the Australian Pines ever suffer a blight, they will ALL die, and there will be NO windbreak, shade or erosion control AT ALL.

Historical heritage: (The Australian pine is a part of South Florida's historical heritage.)

So was dumping our raw sewage into the rivers and estuaries. That was destructive; we don't do it anymore because we discovered it was HARMFUL. Surely, no one will argue that we should dump raw sewage into our lakes because it's "our heritage."

3. Where should Australian pines be removed first:

Mr. Ellis proposes removing trees from public parks LAST. But the thing is, the State and various public entities actually OWN those areas, so there's no question of access or civil rights violation. Remember the Citrus Canker fuss about going onto private property?

The State is correct to remove the pines from parks and public spaces; not only because there's no paperwork to do so, but because they can study the process of removing and replacing the trees. This will make the process of removing privately sited trees much easier.

4. Taking over South Florida:

Mr. Ellis argues that Australian Pines
'...have been "planted" rather than just spreading. As far as I know, they are propagated by roots, not birds carrying their seeds.'
Australian Pines' seeds are carried by wind. They have winged seeds for this purpose, and they produce them all year long.

It's curious that Mr. Ellis notes that birds aren't carrying the seeds: birds carry seeds by eating them and pooping 'em out later. He's just admitted that birds don't feed on Australian Pines.

5. "MAY" be allopathic:

ARE allelopathic. There is absolutely no doubt about this at all, it's very widely documented.

The Florida Exotic Pest Council reports:
"Produces allelopathic compounds that inhibit growth of other vegetation (morton, 1980]"
Perdue University reports:
"Asparagine and glutamine accounted for 92% of the total amino acid in the nodules. The bark contains 10% catchol tannin, the root 15%."
Example of the effects of allelopathic soil under Australian Pines

I think the confusion comes from the fact that allelopathic compounds are not solely responsible for preventing undergrowth; most reports cite that lack of native undergrowth "MAY BE due to allelopathic compounds." As noted earlier, the deep shade is also responsible, as are the dense beds of fallen needles. But Australian Pines absolutely change the soil chemistry.

6. Out compete native species:

I've already mentioned the dangers of monoculture. But I will also point out that Mr. Ellis as tacitly admitted that no native wildlife feed on them. The local fauna feeds on the local flora; if there is no local flora, the local fauna dies. At some point, the Australian Pines WILL edge out some critical local plant, and it will have a cascade effect.

According to the Plant Conservation Alliance,
"Once established, it radically alters the light, temperature, and soil chemistry regimes of beach habitats, as it out-competes and displaces native plant species and destroys habitat for native insects and other wildlife."

7. Roots shallow and wash out easily:
8. Wind break: (provides a critical wind break)

Mr. Ellis believes "that the roots of the Australian pine go much deeper and wider than any of the native plants." He doesn't say WHY he believes this. He offers no factual basis for his belief whatsoever.

But plenty of experts disagree with him:

Plant Conservation Alliance;
"Unlike native shrubbery, the thick, shallow roots of Australian pine make it much more susceptible to blow-over during high wind events, leading to increased beach and dune erosion and interference with the nesting activities of sea turtles.
The Florida Exotic Pest Control Council:
"Encourages beach erosion by displacing deep rooted native vegetation"
The Smithsonian Institute:
"The thick, shallow and wide-spreading roots are both disruptive to lawns and pavement and also make the tree prone to being overblown in strong winds (e.g., hurricanes). Casuarina equisetifolia grows too tall to be considered a safe ornamental tree given its tendancy to blow over."
"...the tree's thick, shallow roots actually make it more likely to be blown over in high winds than most coastal native trees. Wind-felled C. equisetifolia can exacerbate erosion on beaches and dunes..."
The Nature Conservancy:
"Very young Casuarina (Australian Pine) seedlings are capable of trapping sand because of their close scrubby growth, but once Casuarina grows beyond the sapling stage, it ceases to trap sand because of the lack of low, shrubby vegetation around the trunk. Casuarina monocultures are usually flat without dune-swale topography and lack diversity in understory vegetation. The shallow root systems of the trees makes them susceptible to toppling during storms (Digiamberardino 1986)."

The University of Miami:
"In areas where the Australian pine establishes, native, dune building species are out competed and the coastline becomes altered from a dune, stable coast to a flat, unstable shore with a recessed coastline, susceptible to erosion (Sealey 2003)."

Evolution of naturally vegetated beaches versus Casuarina sp. (Australian pine) dominated.Neil Sealey, 2003

9. Disposing of the Australian pines
Mr. Ellis complains "The people who are currently cutting down the Australian pines ... are not making any effort to save or use the wood." But he then goes on to say they are "grinding them up to make mountains of mulch." Hey, mulch is a use.

Beyond that, the number one use is as firewood. Not a lot of call for that in Florida. And before you can burn it, it takes 3-5 years to "cure." That's a fancy term meaning "dry out."

10. Replacing what has been destroyed
Mr. Ellis concludes that we'd save all kinds of money simply by not removing the trees. This is akin to saying that you can save money by not treating your cancer, or by not buying insulin to treat diabetes. Sure, you save the initial outlay, but in the end you pay more than you would have in the first place.

Sure, stands of Australian Pines are pretty. But the true cost of those "pretty trees" is higher than we should pay:
  • Destruction of property and endangerment of life and limb when the trees get blown over.
  • Increase in erosion along our beaches.
  • Loss of native habitat.
  • Destruction of native ecosystem
  • Extinction of endangered species.
Oh, hey, I forgot to tell you about the turtles and crocodiles!

I've described the thick roots of the Australian Pine. Here's photo of them along a beach.

Note that the roots create a fairly steep bank above the tide line. These exposed roots prevent turtles and crocodiles from accessing their nesting grounds. Not only do they have a hard time crossing the roots of the stand trees, where the trees have fallen over, the roots prevent turtles and crocodiles from getting to the zone of beach were they dig their nests.

But even if they get over and through the roots and find a place where they can dig their nests, there's too much shade; the eggs never hatch.

The fact of the matter is that Australian Pines really ARE destructive to our environment. I do agree that they should be replaced with native shade trees. It is unfortunate - but necessary - that those trees will take time to grow into the peaceful refuge on a sunny day. But better a few years of inconvenience than the ultimate destruction of habitat that is the only promise of Australian Pines.

Here's a bibliography of additional resources:
Binggeli P. 1997. Casuarina equisetifolia L. (Casuarinaceae), Woody Plant Ecology. Available online.

Duke J.A., 1983 Casuarina equisetifolia J.R. and G. Forst., Center for New Crops and Plant Products, Purdue University.

Elfers S.C. 1988. Element Stewardship Abstract for Casuarina equisetifolia. The Nature Conservancy. Unpublished report prepared for The Nature Conservancy on Australian pine. Winter Park, FL.

FLEPPC. 2005. List of Florida's Invasive Species. Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. Available online.

Langeland K.A., and K.C. Burks (Eds.). 1998. Identification and Biology of Non-Native Plants in Florida's Natural Areas. UF/IFAS. 165 p.

Moler P.E. 1991. American crocodile nest survey and monitoring. Final Report to Study No. 7533, Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Research, Tallahassee FL.

Morton J.F. 1980. The Australian pine or beefwood (Casuarina equisetifolia L.), an invasive "weed" tree in Florida. In: Proceedings,Florida State Horticultural Society 93:87-95.

Snyder S. A. 1992 SPECIES: Casuarina spp., U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Fire Effects Information System.

Swearingen J.M. 1997. Australian Pine. Washington, D.C. National Park Service, Plant Conservation Alliance, Alien Plant Working Group. Available online.

Whistler W.A., and C.R. Elevitch. 2006 Casuarina equisetifolia (beach she-oak), C.cunninghamiana (river she-oak); Casuarinaceae (casuarina family). Species profiles for Pacific Island agroforestry ecological, economic, and cultural renewal. Available online.