Wednesday, July 30, 2008

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Queen Rania takes on stereotypes

How cool is this! Queen Rania of Jordan has a vlog on YouTube. Her goal is to challenge stereotypes of Muslims. This is one neat lady. She's a Palestinian married to a military man who never expected to be king. Apparently, it's a love match. She has the equivalent of an MBA and has worked for Citibank and Apple Computer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Radovan Karadzic arrested... finally

The news this week that Radovan Karadzic was finally arrested on eleven charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and other atrocities made me recall an article that I had read about a month ago about why Karadzic and Mladic were still at large. The BBC's Nick Thorpe wrote about a Dutch journalist who spotted Karadzic at a cafe in Bosnia in 2005. The journalist reported the sighting to the authorities, but nothing was done. He wanted to write a story about the lack of progress in the case. He interviewed a person from the Dutch military intelligence who advised him not to write the story, if he valued his life. Dutch agents had pursued Karadzic and visited the restaurant, and needed protection from the Serbian mafia when they returned to the Netherlands. Other fascinating details about the power and ruthlessness of the network of Serbian nationalists intent on shielding their heroes can be found in the article.

The stories of alleged war criminals living out ordinary lives also reminded me of the long search for Josef Mengele. After the Nazis were defeated, Mengele was actually in custody in an American POW Camp. However, he was discharged using papers belonging to an accomplice, Fritz Hollman. He worked for five years as a farm hand in the German country side. He eventually escaped to Argentina, with the help of more Nazis. He lived out his life in South America until 1979, when he died at the age of 67, from drowning.

I read up on Mengele after hearing about Marianne Grant's quest to have paintings returned to her from the Holocaust Museum in Auschwitz. Grant was a trained artist who was asked by Mengele to paint portraits of the people who he was studying, such as the gypsies, dwarves, and twins. A collection of her personal art has been displayed in her adopted homeland, Scotland.She passed away in 2007, aged 86, without getting her portraits back.

This collection of articles is chilling and amazing. War is just awful. It turns ordinary people into killers. It turns civilians into victims. And through it all, there is the will to survive.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Economics of POW Camp

I was referred to this journal article on "Economics of POW Camp" as a classic paper in economics. I can see why economists get their students to read it. The article describes a number trade arrangements that emerged spontaneously, and as a result serve to reinforce economic principles. It's long, but interesting.

The article was written very shortly after the end of the war, so memories are fresh. The author was a former POW, with first hand knowledge. The diction and prose is very sophisticated. It uses relatively complex sentence constructions, that are surprisingly easy to understand. I don't know anyone who writes like that these days. I know I don't, because I'm always worried about making complex ideas understandable. Consequently, I write wordy, informal text. The writing in the article is formal and preserves the complexity.

It talks about how systems of trade, barter, and commerce were developed around rations in POW camps in Germany during World War II. Note that these are POW camps and not concentration camps, so the residents were actually fed. The soldiers received basic rations from their German captors, so their basic needs were looked after. The Red Cross also distributed rations that included cigarettes, chocolate bars, tea, and so on. Occasionally, care packages would arrive in the post.

These were soldiers who were used to working in a hierarchy and ranks were preserved and respected within the camps. As well, sections of the camp organized nationally, partly due to Germans having separate camps for some countries, but also the military shadow organization establishing chains of command and lines of communication.

While people did initially barter and trade for goods, the cigarette became the basic unit of currency to establish fair prices across permanent camps and limit arbitrage.

The British eventually set up a store and a restaurant! People came to the restaurant for prepared foods and entertainment.

Probably the most interesting POW camp that I have heard about was the one after the Korean War. "They Chose China" is a film about US soldiers who decided to stay in China after the Korean War. Video of the film is available on YouTube
. These men went on to have wives and families. Some went back to the US after some years, but others never returned. Anyhow, the POW camp was run by the Chinese in consultation with some officers were who selected to represent the men. The Chinese asked the representatives about what Americans liked, and for the most part they provided. They had games, sports, crafts, activities... the list is endless. At one point they had an Olympic games. The Chinese treated the soldiers as guests and provided lots of education about communism and Chinese language. After all that good treatment, it's not surprising that some chose to say behind, especially ones who didn't have good prospects back in the US and UK.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cake Wrecks

A post on MetaFilter alerted me to this very amusing blog, Cake Wrecks. The topic is self-described as "When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong."

This cake was especially appealing to my scatological sense of humor. Perusing the comments, I learned that the traditional Chinese characters say Happy Birthday and that in Japan poo is lucky, symbolically anyways. Apparently, the word for poo begins with the same sound as luck, and that when using squat toilets, producing a long coiled poo is an accomplishment indicative of good health.

The wedding cake that didn't live up to the photograph provided by the bride is worth a look too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Petition to Urge the Obama Family to Adopt Their New Dog Petition

Petition to Urge the Obama Family to Adopt Their New Dog Petition

I signed a petition today.

The Obama family is reportedly planning on getting a dog next spring, after the election. The petition urges the Obama family to adopt a rescue dog, instead of buying a purebred from a breeder. This petition, in part, is a response to the American Kennel Club's breed recommendations and member poll.

This is something that I can get behind. I'm a big fan of "Animal Cops Houston" and I have seen so many success stories. Rescue dogs (and cats, and horses, and...) make great pets. They are not damaged goods as many people believe. They have the same personality range as non-rescue dogs. Typically, they are up to date on vaccinations and have been spayed or neutered. Some dogs have behavioral problems when they are rescued, but these issues are worked out before the pet is put up for adoption.

If you're looking for a pet, check out the Human Society or the SPCA.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bomb tossed through window of Halifax-area home

Bomb tossed through window of Halifax-area home

...and no one was harmed, because one resident had the temerity to pick it up and throw it back on the street! The bomb came flying in the window around 1am and police believe that it was not a random act.

This is a very interesting story for a number of reasons. One, that someone had his wits together enough at one o' clock to react. Two, this happened in Halifax, not the Bronx or Compton. Three, it wasn't random. I'm dying to know the story behind this. Who were these people who were awake at 1am? Are they adrenalin junkies with nerves of steel? Are they ex-military? Are they drug dealers?

Why do the police think it wasn't random? Are the residents members of a minority group? Are they refugees from abroad? Are their teenage children involved in a neighborhood conflict?

Who knows?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sexual Healing - News - Broward-Palm Beach New Times - Broward-Palm Beach New Times

Sexual Healing - News - Broward-Palm Beach New Times - Broward-Palm Beach New Times

This article is a really beautiful story about a sex surrogate in Florida. A sex surrogate is a kind of therapist who helps people with sexual dysfunction with hands-on exercises. They work on intimacy far more than actual intercourse. The patients are often people who had been molested, raped, or other traumatic early sexual experiences. Or repressive mothers, no kidding.

I had heard of sex surrogates before, but not at this level of detail. The article is long, and the beauty comes from reading about people making psychological breakthroughs and becoming more at ease with themselves.

BBC NEWS | UK | Maternity leave 'damages' careers

The extension of maternity leave to up to a year may be sabotaging women's careers, the head of the new equality watchdog has warned.

I think having a year for maternity leave (or better yet, parental leave) is great. It's a wonderful thing for the baby to be close to parents, especially mothers, in the first year.

The suggestion that a year-long maternity leave is damaging to careers is a problem with implementation. In Canada, parents are also entitled to take a year AND they can split that year any way they wish. This has had a number of lovely side-effects. A man or a woman can take time off for child-rearing, which hedges against hiring decisions like the one mentioned in the article. Also, we're seeing more and more dads staying home with their babies. It helps to establish a bond and increases the confidence of dads in their child care abilities.

Taking a year off can slow down a career for other reasons. One of them is the "not enough runway" problem. You need to get your career trajectory established early on, otherwise colleagues wonder why you haven't reached the level that you ought to by a certain age. This isn't necessarily a problem just for women or parents, but it's definitely an issue for moms.

Finally, a year of maternity leave sounds like a wonderful thing, and it is. But nuclear families are a recent social configuration. For much of human history, and even current geography, extended family groups are much more common. It's not easy for one or even two people to raise a child by themselves. They really need a social support network around them. So, in this view maternity leave is a kind of modern band-aid for our modern work-life imbalance.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wow-e: Malthusian Fear Mongering Can Be Annoying | MetaFilter

While the latest Pixar/Disney animated film, Wall-E (teasers, trailers and clips) debuted as the No. 1 movie this past weekend and has been met with critical acclaim, including a 97% "Fresh Rating" ...

This thread on MetaFilter was discussing how right-wing thinkers are panning the animated film "Wall-E." This thread links to the original article on

This amazes me. How is this little robot making the radical right so mad? Why does a message to look after our own garbage make the radical right so mad?

Apparently, the "The Incredibles" had the radical left pretty upset too. The movie supposedly espoused the objectivist principles of Ayn Rand. To the point of having a scene where Mr. Incredible shoulders a giant orb-shaped robot to emulate the cover of the book "Atlas Shrugged."

I had no idea.

You can't be both Hindu and Muslim

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Islam and Hinduism's blurred lines

This BBC news story report on a community in Rajasthan that follow both Hindu and Muslim traditions. They are nominally Hindu, but follow three Muslim practices (circumcision for the newborn male children in the community, eating halal meat and burying their dead). They have done this without conflict for hundreds of years. However, tensions are rising because there is a feeling that one must be one or the other, not both. Consequently, there are people who are "converting" to one faith or another. This is crazy.

Whenever categories are formed, there is always something left over at the end. Geoff Bowker and Susan Leigh Star wrote about this in their book "Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences." They described the miscellaneous categories as "residual" and they are unavoidable. So this elimination of the hybrid Hindu and Muslim can be seen as an effort to reduce "otherness." The impetus comes from both outsiders who don't understand or want to co-opt people to their causes, and from the people themselves out of a desire to reduce ambiguity. It's often difficult to live with a queer label that challenges basic notions about how the world is organized.

Friday, July 11, 2008

BBC NEWS | Africa | Cave warning on Uganda bat virus

"The World Health Organization has warned people not to go into Ugandan caves with bats, after a Dutch tourist contracted the deadly Marburg virus."

The warning to not go into Ugandan caves with bats is an educated guess. Despite extensive investigation and monitoring, researchers were not able to find any trace of the virus in suspected caves. The placed sentinel animals (including primates) in caves for weeks and none of even caught a sniffle. However, the have been able to find anti-bodies to the virus in bats. Hence, the warning to avoid caves. But there is little evidence that avoiding caves is sufficient to avoid contracting the disease and that going into caves is sufficient to contract the disease. Avoiding caves would be a pretty conservative course of action.

Interestingly, the Marburg virus is named after a city in Germany, where laboratory technicians came down with the hemorrhagic fever after handling infected monkey tissue.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

No doubt it's torture, says U.S. journalist after trying waterboarding

"Christopher Hitchens, a Washington-based journalist known for his support of the Iraq war and the U.S. war on terror, has subjected himself to waterboarding."

I have often thought about what it would take to convince someone that waterboarding was torture. My idea was to make a video where babies were subject to waterboarding. Of course, some photoshopping would have to be involved.

Then there's trying it yourself. I didn't think that anyone would actually try this. Well-known right-wing author and journalist, Christopher Hitchens did. He's an ardent defender of the war on terror and the Bush administration. After less than 10 seconds on the table, Hitchens now is convinced that waterboarding is torture. Kudos to Hitchens for being brave enough to try it and brave enough to change his mind. His story will appear in the August issue of Vanity Fair.

BBC NEWS | Americas | Group seeks Bush sewage 'tribute'

A citizens group in San Francisco wants to pay an ironic tribute to President George W Bush when he leaves office - by naming a sewage plant after him.

This is cute. I don't think anyone would argue that the world is a better place after 7.5 years of have George W. Bush in the White House. He's done tremendous damage to the reputation of the US.

Let's see if Presidential Memorial Committee of San Francisco are going to be successful.

Black Bean Salad Recipe | Simply Recipes

A fresh black bean salad recipe, perfect for a summer picnic or potluck. Tomatoes, jalapenos, avocado, black beans and corn combined to give this salad it's kick and fresh flavors.

I wanted to share this recipe with you. I found it through a simple Google search. The only ad libbing that I do is adjust the seasoning in the salad to taste once I'm done.

Every time I make this salad, it's a huge hit and people ask me for the recipe. I once made this for a pot luck lunch at church. It sat on a table right next to another black bean salad. At the end of lunch, my huge bowl of salad was nearly empty and the other one was nearly untouched. This boggled my mind, because the other salad looked pretty much the same to me.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Camisole with built-in bra at Athleta

This post is on a much less serious topic. I just wanted to tell everyone about this awesome camisole with spaghetti straps from Athleta.

I have been looking for a very long time for a camisole with a serious built-in bra, not a shelf bra, but a bra with cups. Call me old-fashioned, but I find the exposed bra strap and camisole (or tank top) not an attractive combination. Also, I'm not a spring chicken, so I need a supportive bra. I finally found it.

This top is great because it has finally allowed me to wear combinations of clothing that I have been wanting to try for a long time. I can now wear that lace jacket over a cami. I actually have something that I can wear under my blouses and dresses that are too low-cut. This cami is fantastic for other reasons too. For one, the straps don't fall down. I can't say that for all my bras. Also, it's made out of a synthetic material that keeps my torso warm. I'm one of those people who is cold all the time, so keeping my core warm has allowed me to bare my shoulders. The length is good too-- no bare midriffs and muffin tops.

I can't say enough about this cami. I'm so glad that I found it.