Thursday, October 30, 2008

Home Demolitions at Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills

The following is from Christian Peacemaker Teams:

AT-TUWANI URGENT ACTION: Home Demolitions at Um al Kher, South Hebron Hills
29 October, 2008

At 9:10 am on the morning of Wednesday 29 October, 2008, the Israeli military demolished 10 dwellings in the Palestinian village of Um al Kher, in the South Hebron Hills, leaving around 60 people, including young children, homeless.

The military arrived without warning shortly after 9am with a bulldozer. They gave the villagers little time to remove their possessions before demolishing four stone homes and six metal dwellings. Um al Kher is situated close to the illegal Israeli settlement of Karmel and the demolished homes were those closest to the settlement.

Palestinians and internationals from At-Tuwani attempted to reach Um al Kher in order to prevent or at least witness the demolitions. The Israeli military stopped their vehicle on Route 317, and told them the area was a closed military zone. However, Israeli vehicles were allowed to travel freely in both directions.

By 11 am the villagers were left with the wreckage of their destroyed homes. At 11:40 there was a heavy downpour of rain and the villagers rushed to move their possessions into the cover of their friends tented homes.

A villager told CPT, “The children are not here, they were frightened and ran away.” Another villager, a 21 year old social work university graduate, told how relieved she was that her mother had been out with the goats when her home was demolished. The young woman had complained to an Israeli military officer that a soldier threatened to hit her. The officer’s response was, “If he went to hit you that’s nice. If he hit you, it’s very nice.”

A young mother, holding her baby as she sat outside a neighbour’s tent, said, “My baby in rain. Where my baby sleep?”

Within an hour of the army’s departure assistance arrived in the form of CARE International, International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations Works and Relief Agency. The latter will supply blankets and kitchen utensils. At present the villagers know of no organization able to help them rebuild their homes.


These homes were demolished in violation of article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory. We urge you to write to the Israeli Embassy or Consulate in your home country to demand an
explanation of:

· Why were these homes demolished?
· Why did the military choose to demolish them at the start of the winter rainy season?
· Where will the young woman’s baby and the other villagers sleep?

Photos of the demolished homes can be viewed at gallery/Israeli- military- demolish- Um-al-Kher- homes

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Gator pics

I have finally uploaded some of my alligator videos and photos from my trip to Louisiana. You can see them here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Motorists impede cycling traffic

I whipped off this weakly written missive today in response to an article in the Wisconsin State Journal about motorists who are impatient with child cyclists going to and from school in Cottage Grove:

I don't know if the writer or the editor was responsible for the oversight, but I was disappointed to see a list of complaints at the article's end that children should be riding on the sidewalk, while no mention was made that children are not required to ride on sidewalks according to Wisconsin law. (In many municipalities, they are forbidden from doing so.) Cyclists are always permitted to ride in the road unless the road specifically prohibits such traffic (such as marked highways).

In any case, sidewalks aren't actually safer than roads. In fact, they may be more dangerous because drivers are less likely to see them as they approach driveways and intersections. The League of American Bicyclists has a lot of info about this; here is one example from their "biking myths" list.

Not to mention that cycling on sidewalks presents a hazard to pedestrians.

Children certainly need to learn the rules of the road and how to conduct themselves safely and predictably in traffic. They also need their governments to build bike paths before their schools are built, just as roads are built before construction. Teaching kids to ride on the sidewalk is not the answer.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Apple craziness

I am glad to report that I am finally done processing the 250 pounds of apples that Dekalb and I picked a week before my birthday. (I am sure that Dekalb would like me to note here that they were all free or he wouldn't have found any thrill at all in harvesting them.)

This is what 250 pounds of apples looks like. We crammed 50 pounds in each of two bushel boxes, 40 pounds in each of two 4/5-bushel boxes, and miscellaneous amounts in various sacks. The stuff that went in the bags was mostly Golden Delicious, while the stuff in the boxes was a small reddish-green apple of unknown name. The former made fabulous dried fruit and applesauce; the latter made good canned slice apples and (unprocessed) is an excellent accompaniment to peanut butter, but quite unimpressive dried.

N took this picture of me while I was processing apples. The bucket on the floor was for compost. I ended up filling three of those with seeds, rotten fruit and bruised bits over the course of processing. Closest to me on the stove top is my Finnish steam juicer, which consists of three stainless steel tiers, flexible tubing, and a lid. The bottom tier is a pot that holds water, the top tier is a steamer basket that holds the fruit, and the middle tier is a juice collector. You bring the water in the bottom tier to a boil, and the steam rises through an inverse funnel at the center of the juice collector, heating the apples. The heated apples exude juice, which drips into the collector. Once you have enough juice, you uncap and unclamp the flexible tubing at the side of the juice collector, empty is into sterilized jars and cap. In Scandinavia, they consider that the end of the process, but USDA guidline-abiding citizens of the United States then put the jars in a boiling water bath for the USDA-specified period.

The contraption at the far side of the stove is an aluminum pressure canner which some liken to a military tank. (If that be so, it is the only such tank that a respectable Amish or Mennonite will be caught using.) It is quite heavy, with solid walls about 1/2-inch thick and a lid that screws on with six separate nuts. Apples don't require pressure canning, but I use The Tank for boiling-waterbath canning, as well, because I gave my grannyware boiling-waterbath canner to someone who had no canning equipment (how could I let her be without?).

The box by the sink and the bag on the floor contain apples.

And now, the gallery of mutant apples:

Cod: love 'em.

After reading that Atlantic cod have been endangered by overfishing, I started to feel bad about my daily dose of cod liver oil. I went to Community Pharmacy, which has a big-ass selection of fish oils, and found that you can also get fish oil from small and plentiful (for now) fish like sardines and mackerel, but all of it is in gelatin capsules -- not a liquid in capsules, which I prefer. I mean, do I really want to be ingesting a bone-marrow byproduct from cannibalistic cows? The USDA currently forbids processors to conduct broad-based routine tests for BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease), so it's hard to know if the bone marrow in a particular batch of gelatin is rife with BSE prions or not. Besides, I don't like the idea of eating factory-raised cows. Cruel and polluting.

Back to cod. Entrepreneurs in Norway are developing a way to farm cod. If this happens, would I have free license to suck all the cod livers I wanted, with no guilt? Would the quality of the livers be the same, given that farm-raised cod would have a different diet than wild cod? Would cod farms be as polluting as Chilean salmon farms? Should I just start eating six cans of sardines a day?

Good dog!

A very cute Jack Russell mutt in Australia reached across party lines to protect a litter of kittens from a house fire. The link takes you to the video. Good boy!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The other California ballot measure

The New York Times had a well-written article this weekend about the strategy of Californiai's Proposition 2, which would ban battery crates for hens, veal crates for calves and gestation crates for sown in the state of California. Interesting tidbit: the guy who currently heads the Humane Society of the United States founded the Student Animal Rights Coalition, which I remember from my Sassy-reading days. Except that I associate it with a black-and-white photo of a pale white girl with straight dark hair and dark lipstick (which could describe me too at the time, come to think of it). I think she was a Sassiest Girl in America finalist. I know she was a vegan. And I guess she started a SARC chapter in her school, or expanded it from colleges into high schools, or something of the sort. It was obvious that she was artsy and serious and she probably listened to the Cure a lot. Because back then, if you were a teenage vegan, these things were required.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Platypus power

I so want this t-shirt.

At my last job, the picture on my computer desktop was of a mama platypus and her two pups, or hatchlings, or whatever they call those infants. To the untrained eye, it looked like a groundhog wearing a soiled Donald Duck souvenir beak over its snout and holding a jumbo shrimp in either hand.

I became totally obsessed with monotremes for a while, as much for there inherent interesting-ness as for the fact that I didn't have a whole lot of work to do at my job. My coworker Johnny Mumbles insinuated that my interest was peculiar. Clams Casino, a cohort known for her fondess of all non-human mammalian babies, had her reservations about the two pieces of shrimp. She argued that perhaps monotremes should not be classified as mammals for her purposes.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Speading the wealth

I am continually surprised by my continual surprise at McCain's utter lack of political savviness.

This past week, he seems to have decided that the best way to evoke fear in the American public is to say that Barack Obama wants to "spread the wealth." But I honestly can't imagine that anyone outside of his rallies is booing at that news. Are the living rooms of America filled with people screaming out, "Dear God, the last thing I want is a stronger economy and an improved tax code that help me make more and save more money!"

I mean, other than me. I scream it every day as part of my morning exercise routine, but that's just to get my neighbors to stop hitting their snooze alarms and get out of bed finally.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Big oil, er, controversy

Here's an ad that ABC refused to air during 20/20 because it was "controversial." I don't know, but I find all the car-promoting, beer-drinking and election-related ads they run controversial. This article tells you more. You can write to ABC and ask them to reconsider here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Pictures, finally

I have finally finished posting photos from the ACT Ride in early August. I managed to raise about $2,000 for the AIDS Network, south-central Wisconsin's AIDS service organization. I also managed to bike 320 miles, along the way building deeper friendships with people affected by HIV/AIDS and other cool people. To find the pitures, you can go to the August page in my blog to find them, browse entries labeled "Wisconsin rocks ," or click on the following links:

ACT 6, Day 1 - ACT 6, Day 2 - ACT 6, Day 3 - ACT 6, Day 4

Friday, October 10, 2008

For Bloggers Against Drunk E-mailing (ForBADE)

I am not prone to e-mailing while drunk, since I'm not all that prone to getting drunk, but I have friends who have run into this problem. If you are one of them, get a Gmail account and activate the Mail Goggles feature, which makes you solve a series of basic math problems before you can send messages.

Of course, if you're generally bad at math, or if you're good at math even when your drunk, this won't help you. Maybe a simple Sudoku game would be a better screening tactic.

Now, they need to add this option to their blogging program. Although I probably wouldn't activate it. That might prevent all my delirious-with-a-head-cold-or-migraine-or-anger posts. And those are my best, don't you think?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Grocery stores growing their own groceries

I read in the San Francisco Chronicle about a grocery store that is growing some of its own produce. The reporter and copyeditor are under the impression that this may be the first case of a supermarket in the United States trying this gimmick, but Wegmans Food Markets in the northeast beat San Franciso's Bi-Rite Market by at least a year.

Yes, when I said "gimmick," I meant it. I suppose one would expect a local foodie like me to be all in favor of this idea. But I'm not. Now, don't make the logical leap to assuming that I'm vehemently opposed to it (see previous post about my disdain for illogical leaps disguised as logic). But there are problems with this model -- primarily, that the farmers become employees, rather than business owners. Life as an employee farmer generally doesn't pay well. (On the other hand, being a business owner often doesn't pay well, either.)

I also wonder: does a store farming its own vegetables boost overall demand for local produce, thus benefiting other farmers; or does it reduce the market for existing local farmers, thus harming them? If these stores are in it to produce warm feelings about local self-reliance, they should research their farms' effects on the local economy to make sure those warm fuzzies are warranted.

Just my thoughts.

The FDA says what?

Poor Food & Drug Administration. Underfunded, understaffed and overburdened. Perhaps that's why it's often advisable to believe the exact opposite of what the FDA tells you.

The FDA says, for example, that there is a lack of evidence suggesting that plastics ingredient and endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA) can cause harm at common levels of exposure, and therefore should be recognized as safe. (Apparently the people who can up with tnis particular "if, then" formula did not pay enough attention to their logic lessons in school -- lack of proof of danger is not proof of safety, and that's what the FDA and the American Chemistry Council have been implying.)

Meanwhile, the federal National Toxicology Program has found that it's reasonable to be worried that BPA poses dangers to children and the matter needs further research. A study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences finds that the presence of BPA in the body makes it harder to effectively treat breast cancer.

What's so hard for the FDA about saying, "Caution is warranted"? And why are the American Chemistry Council's members so tied to BPA that they don't want to make alternative plastics? Isn't ingenuity supposed to be part of that science?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Beer that I could drink

I like the taste of a good beer but, going down, the alcohol feels like musketballs dropping into my stomach. Poor me and my sensitive stomach. So I'm stuck drinking Guiness Kaliber (0.50%), which is really quite good -- like drinking pumpernickel bread -- but not offered at many bars.

The New York Times had an article a while back about a new trend of low-alcohol craft brews. The ones that really piqued my interest have around 3% alcohol. I think my stomach might do okay with that -- it's like eating an overripe banana, right? But what are the chances that a Wisconsin microbrewery would aim for lower alcohol content? If you've heard of one, tell me. Otherwise, I might have to figure out how to brew my own, although they might chase me out of the Wine & Hop Shop if I tell them my goal.

Horrifying hybrid

I was glad to see that the Cap Times has published an article on the abomination of a bike lane on Winnequah Road in Monona. I first encountered this lane-path hybrid (perhaps more frightening than the human-animal hybrids that W. Bush warned us of so many years ago) on the last day of the ACT Ride this year.

The experience was truly discombobulating. The bike lane was interrupted at regular intervals by several yards of sidewalk. Or you could say that the sidewalk was interrupted at regular intervals by several yards of bike lane. The woman I was with rode up and down the walks, but I said, "No way in hell am I riding that way." Anyone who has studied collision patterns knows that cyclists are far more likely to be involved in collisions when they are on sidewalks, and when they are entering a road from a sidewalk.

Sidewalk transitions are also a good place for cyclists to crash without hitting or being hit by another vehicle, especially in cold climes like Wisconsin. That's because water works itself into the cracks in the asphalt and, over the winter freeze-and-thaw cycles, causes concrete to heave. So, over a few years, you no longer have smooth curb cuts, but concrete jumps, fissures and potholes perfect for catching your wheels.

I used to commute on Winnequah frequently and am glad that Monona hadn't implemented this stupid idea back then. Yes, the road was riddled with potholes, but it was wide enough that you could avoid potholes and motor vehicles at the same time. I agree with the sentiment expressed in the article: If Monona wanted to slow down motor vehicle traffic and make the road safer for cyclists, why not just repave (to eliminate the potholes) and paint bicycle-only lanes?

And this threat by Monona authorities to ticket cyclists for not using the sidewalks is absurd. In other parts of Monona, they've posted signs saying "No bicyclists on sidewalks." ( I am generally not in favor of cyclists riding on sidewalks, either, but Monona has taken the extra step of prohibiting cycling on an uninterrupted sidewalk (it's next to a park, so there are no driveways to pose dangers to cyclists and no buildings where cyclists would pose a threat to exiting pedestrians) nest to a road where the average motor vehicle speed is 45 mph.

Now Monona wants to force cyclists onto sidewalks? Too bad for Monona; Wisconsin law says that cyclists may use any road that is not specifically prohibited to them by local authorities. If Monona wants to keep cyclists on the Winnequah sporadic sidewalks, it would have to prohibit cyclists from using the sporadic bike lane on Winnequah, too. Which would kind of defeat the purpose of the whole project. No to mention encouraging cyclists to pedal on people's lawns on the inter-sidewalk stretches.

Okay, so I had a lot to say about that. But often the things I read speak for themselves. I want to share them, but I don't have much to say about them. So I've added a new sidebar to the blog called "Things I've read lately." Enjoy.

Precarious balance

Interesting article in The Seattle Times about a woman who has started a fur company in hopes of making a dent in the population of Australian brushtail possums in New Zealand, where they have become an invasive species. (These possums, like all other mammals, are not native to New Zealand.)

I just fear what could happen if humans are declared an invasive species in New Zealand, although I suppose some would not mind. I'd hope they'd come up with a more humane solution, like deportation.

Yes, let's deport the possums to Australia!

Photos by Peter Firminger, used under an attribution-only Creative Commons license.

Update to "Food Politics Update"

People are acting surprised that mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, which went into effect yesterday, doesn't apply to Spam. See this article from Bloomberg.