13 May 2008

Fair trade

A young friend of the Resource Centre (9th grader, I think) had some questions about "unfair trade" so I just sent him a long-ish but fairly basic explanation, with links to more materials. I hadn't thought about those broad policy issues for a while, so it was fun to flex those particular brain cells a bit. But I assume that most of my huge readership knows the basics of fair trade and how US & European agricultural policy harm poor farmers, so I won't rehash it all here. If you're interested though, let me know, and I'll be glad to email or post it.

07 May 2008

Burma disaster relief

In some ways, this is worse than Katrina because it's a poorer country, as bad as the tsunami -- maybe worse because Burma's isolation and its insane junta make helping people much more difficult. A US diplomat is estimating that 100,000 may have died. If you want to help, but want to avoid strengthening that regime, the US Campaign for Burma has a donations page where you can designate your donation for cyclone relief. And EarthRights International, another great organization, recommends supporting World Vision, UN World Food Program, Red Cross, UNICEF, Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF), Islamic Relief, Save the Children, Direct Relief International, Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres. Please be generous.

01 May 2008

"Burma: It Can't Wait"

Really not. I mean, if Will Ferrell gets that this is serious... Not sure what they'll ask us to do, but the campaign is a good way to keep informed for a month now that Burma has fallen off the headlines.

29 April 2008

Listen to your Elders (and then dress them up, or down)

It's the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights* this year, an amazing document that Eleanor Roosevelt helped to write & get adopted. The Elders, a recently established group of, well, elder statespeople with several Nobel Peace laureates among them, have launched a campaign to get people worldwide to commit to the UDHR. Agree that "Every Human Has Rights", as their tagline goes? Then go sign up.

I'm not sure if I should be disturbed that the third hit on a Google Images search for "elders" is "white lace lingerie for elders" from pimp-my-sims.com. Who knew?

* interesting "plain English" version -- not superbly written, but thought-provoking, and possibly useful as a teaching tool.

23 April 2008


A meme from dr:

You Are a Question Mark

You seek knowledge and insight in every form possible. You love learning.

And while you know a lot, you don't act like a know it all. You're open to learning you're wrong.

You ask a lot of questions, collect a lot of data, and always dig deep to find out more.

You're naturally curious and inquisitive. You jump to ask a question when the opportunity arises.

Your friends see you as interesting, insightful, and thought provoking.

(But they're not always up for the intense inquisitions that you love!)

You excel in: Higher education

You get along best with: The Comma

Politics & rights

There's a meme* that burns me, amid the protests over the Olympics & human rights.
[Cartoon courtesy of The Independent (UK)]

It's this one: "The Olympics are an event of athleticism first, and then of cultural exchange & world peace. In any case, they should not be politicized." It's one of Beijing's favorite lines, its (and our) less savory allies like Putin and Musharraf are also fond of it, and Beijing claims that even UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is mouthing this stance, although he's also not attending the opening ceremony -- but didn't specify his reasons. Worst of all, the Olympics' corporate sponsors have used this pathetic line.

At least three reasons why this is ridiculous come to mind:**

1. Most obviously to me, China is reaping huge political benefits from hosting the Olympics. What better stage to show off how rapidly the economy is growing, the social harmony it's achieved, etc.? And thereby to argue for its place among the world's foremost powers. Well, if a country tries to show off its strengths and virtues, it should also expect to have its warts examined. Whether we call that political or not, it's logical that the high visibility will have upsides and downsides, no matter what the government would prefer to focus on.

2. It's one thing to argue that, say, athletes shouldn't "politicize" the Games -- although I'm a big fan of the clever, subtle actions of Team Darfur. But when you're talking about attendance at the Games by a foreign head of state, the UN Secretary-General, or the like, how can his/her presence or absence not be political? If s/he attends it's effectively a political statement of support for the Games, and that statement should be made as a conscious choice, with due regard to whether attending or not sends the better message.

3. This may seem like a naive, pedantic, lawyerly point, but the campaigns to press for human rights in China & Tibet, Darfur and Burma aren't about politics. They're about basic human rights, which aren't (or shouldn't be) a matter of political choice. Human Rights Watch made this point well last week:
Several Olympic sponsors claim erroneously that human rights concerns are “political,” when in fact human rights provide the foundation on which legitimate political activity can take place.

“Human rights should be fundamental to any lawful society and serve as the bedrock principles of Olympism,” said [HRW's Arvind] Ganesan.

When the Olympic sponsors make great, sweeping statements about the beauty, honor and purity of the Games, and how they shouldn't be politicized, I have a fourth gagging, cynical reaction: The Olympic ideals of athletic excellence, intercultural harmony and world peace have already been deeply diluted by your crass commercialization, so don't try to appeal to those values to argue against "politicization".

* the sociocultural kind, not the Web kind
** these are somewhat contradictory; we lawyers do that -- we even have a term for it: "argument in the alternative"

Miso soup for the cold

dr was sick a week or two ago. We'd just had a roast chicken a day or two before, so while we agreed that I should make her a healing soup, we thought a big bowl of our usual matzah ball soup* felt a bit repetitive. (Plus, Passover was coming up.) We settled on my totally inauthentic but generally well-loved miso soup, which did the job. The girls loved the noodles & tofu and even the seaweed, but Squiss is anti-mushroom and so slurped around them. I like the way the mushroom broth's earthiness, the salty richness of the miso and the dashi's almost sweet clarity complement each other, but I tend to favor complexity (some say muddledness, and that does tend to be the direction I err) over simplicity. So if you'd prefer rich miso goodness, straight earthiness or a light fishiness, go ahead & omit one or two of the others, adjusting the amounts of liquid accordingly.

To get the kids excited about it, we gave it a rhythmic name (say it aloud):

Tofu miso noodle soup
(for the cold & the soul)
serves 4

0.5 oz. (15 g) dried bonito flakes
2 oz. dried mushrooms**
5 oz. rice stick, soba or udon (optional)
8 oz. tofu
2 sheets nori seaweed (about 0.2 oz., 5 g)
2 scallions
3 tbsp. yellow miso
(other varieties are OK too)

1. Make dashi broth & mushrooms: Bring 8 cups water to a boil, then remove from heat. Carefully scoop out 2 cups into a bowl with the mushrooms. Add the bonito flakes to the remaining 6 cups. Let both stand about 10 minutes.

2. While the dashi rests:
- put a large pot of water over high heat for the noodles (if you're making them)
- dice the tofu and break the nori into 1" by 2" strips (roughly)
- chop the scallions diagonally into little oval rings*** (to be sure the whites come apart rather than staying stuck together in their concentric rings, try cutting the whites in two first, lengthwise)

3. Pass the dashi broth through a strainer or colander to get out the bonito flakes, pressing the solids to extract as much of the flavorful broth as you can. Take the mushrooms out of their soaking liquid & reserve liquid. Slice the mushrooms thinly, cutting out the tough stems.**** Combine the dashi and reserved mushroom broth.

4. Put the combined broth over medium heat. When it's simmering, stir in the miso, making sure it dissolves completely, and take it off the heat.

5. Prepare the noodles according to the package's directions (if you're making them).

6. Combine the drained noodles, the broth, the mushrooms, the tofu and the nori in a big bowl. Garnish with scallions and serve piping hot (especially if it's cold out or you're sick).

* made with chicken broth - recipe from her grandpop's deli, about which more in a future post
** for this recipe, I like mushrooms that look like beefed-up shiitakes; their packaging tends to be in Chinese rather than Japanese
*** Many say to just use the whites, but I prefer to use all of the scallion, being sure to cut off any wilted or dried bits at the top of the greens, and to chop the greens finely since they can be tough. Much more colorful with the greens.

**** You can discard the stems, or if you're an obsessive saver (who are you looking at?) keep them for another time when they can be blended into the base for a thicker mushroom broth/soup.