Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I heart Amnesty International

A great idea (via BBC):
The human rights group said it had evidence both Israel and Hamas had used weapons sourced from overseas to carry out attacks on civilians.

It called for the UN Security Council to impose the embargo on all parties.
Well, how is that not fair?

And kudos also to the BBC for that darkly ironic photo-and-caption combo at the top of the story. Chalk it up to that dry British wit.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Don't count your isotopes before they've hatched

The Globe and Mail printed a good reality check on Iran, including some useful history and a cute comparison to Canada. This is apparently in response to a recent round of nuclear-Iran hysteria, which involved some news outlets reporting that Iran has more atoms of U-235 than previously thought. If that bit of information leaves you asking questions about the concentration of those atoms, then you understand one of the fundamental issues in chemistry--and are therefore not in the target audience of such news reports.

More info from a scientician here.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Faffing the assault on Gaza

I am in awe of how the author of Fafblog is able to distill the central points of an issue into a short post, with jokes. As in this post.
Israel's critics will forever bicker over the spilled milk of Israeli policy - a few thousand homes demolished here, a few thousand corpses over there - but we must allow that Israel has a right to defend itself, and we must also allow that defending itself necessarily entails the indiscriminate bombing of thousands of screaming refugees. After all, if an implacable terrorist enemy had been launching rockets at one of your villages, wouldn't you do everything in your power to stop them? And once those same implacable terrorist enemies agreed to a cease-fire, wouldn't you break that cease-fire by bombing them and their families, reasoning that they are, after all, implacable terrorist enemies, and not to be trusted? And when you went to bomb those terrorists and their families, wouldn't you also bomb everyone and everything around them, reasoning that only a terrorist would live near, go to school with, or be hospitalized in the same vicinity as a terrorist? And when you went to bomb everything around them, wouldn't you be sure to plan that bombing months before the event that nominally precipitated it? And before planning that massive bombing campaign, wouldn't you be sure to cut the entire population off from terrorist food, militant medicine, and jihadist electricity for months in advance? And when that population retaliated against your pre-retaliation retaliation by launching rockets at one of your villages, wouldn't that merely confirm their nature as implacable terrorist enemies who must be destroyed at any cost?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why you should be picky about seafood

When we get seafood, we try to restrict ourselves to ecologically-friendly varieties, using guides like the handy wallet-sized pamphlet from the Shedd Aquarium (pdf), or this one from the Blue Ocean Institute (now with sushi names!).

Most shrimp, for example, is pretty bad, as we see here. At least, when I've checked, most of the shrimp around here has turned out to be of the red-coloured varieties. Or the variety isn't specified, and I assume the worst. You can click around the links to find out why those varieties of shrimp are so bad. And if you want to learn more, there is a whole blog devoted to the issue of the badness of shrimp (and the volume of its consumption): Shrimp Suck.

Or maybe it's not worth the bother. Here's a confession: I've been lax in sticking to the standards of those happy seafood guides. I knew "red" meant "bad", but I didn't always stick to it. Not with respect to shrimp in particular, but some other things. (Long story short: two new sushi restaurants opened up in our neighbourhood.)

So never mind the text and stats; it's probably better just to take a look at this picture:

That handful of shrimp is the catch. The myriad critters underneath are the by-catch, which will be thrown back into the ocean, dead, like so:

I can't even stand to leave a single grain of rice in my bowl (a success for my mother). The thought of the amount of waste seen in those pictures makes me feel slightly ill. So now whenever I'm tempted to dip outside of the green column of my seafood guides, I'll just call those pictures to mind, and that should take care of it.

Aside from the dynamics of my personal appetite, the moral of the story is nicely summed up in the this Grist post, which is where I got the pictures from in the first place: "We're loving seafood -- and the seas -- to death."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

John Chrysostom on wealth and poverty

The poor man has one plea, his want and his standing in need: do not require anything else from him; but even if he is the most wicked of all men and is at a loss for his necessary sustenance, let us free him from hunger....

If it is possible for you, remember everything I have said. If you cannot remember everything, instead of everything, I beg you, remember this without fail, that not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth but theirs.
That's from some sermons on the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) delivered back in the day by John Chrysostom, who was apparently some kind of rabid commie or anarchist or lord knows what.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Untrained melody

The spiel for this BBC audio slide show on the Soweto Gospel choir describes the choir members as "untrained singers". They sing in (four part?) harmony, they've won two Grammies, they accompany their songs with choreographed dances, and a good number of them have probably been singing their whole lives. But they are "untrained". They were not taught to sing scales by an elderly caucasian with spectacles and an English accent. What other kind of training could there be?

Which reminds me, Youtube has the entirety of the movie Amandla, a documentary about music under apartheid in South Africa. (It's even legal.) It features some people with amazing voices, probably similarly "untrained".

Friday, February 06, 2009

Generic Asian family wish you happy Asian new year

On the occasion of the Lunar New Year, the local Citibank branch featured a special display including the following fliers. As you can see, one features a Korean family celebrating the New Year, the other a Chinese family doing the same.

These were right beside each other on a table. I think maybe they weren't meant to be together on the same table.

But I'm sure both groups felt properly honoured by these specially tailored promotional materials. (Including the people from mainland China who weren't taught that set of Chinese characters in school.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Write 60 Minutes' Bob Simon a letter of support

Bob Simon of 60 Minutes ran a good piece on the role played by Israeli settlements in the peace process. Part one, part two. Summary: settlements = no peace process. A simple truth about the situation, presented in a straightforward manner, on an American network -- whodathunkit?

Some groups are trying to crack the whip at Simon and 60 Minutes in response. One of these is CAMERA, which I think has had some success in getting media outlets to back off from criticizing Israel.

You can contribute to a counter-campaign by sending off a quick email via J Street.