Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gordis on Shalit's return: "A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness"

A Rediscovered Abundance of Goodness
A Jerusalem Post Column
October 28, 2011


We all felt it. 

It was innocent, pure and thoroughly decent. 

We were witness that day to an entire country 

believing in something again. 

Mr. Prime Minister,

Before the Shalit deal fades entirely from view, many of us are hoping that you have noticed what you unwittingly unleashed.  I don't mean the next wave of terror or the terrible decisions that Israel must make before the next kidnapping.  We knew about those even before last week.  But last Tuesday, all of us - those opposed as well as those in favor (and there were persuasive arguments on both sides) - rediscovered something magnificent about this country.  It would be tragic if we returned to business as usual without pausing to take note.

Read the rest of this essay here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ornithorhynchus anatinus

"The bizarre appearance of this egg-laying, venomousduck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate fraud."  I still don't believe in them.  I mean, come on.
Click on the link to see one swim.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Uzbekistan: A Cotton Plantation State

On my trip to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, I learned for the first time about the forced labor program in Uzbekistan.  One-third of the world's cotton is exported from Uzbekistan, and much of the country's population, including children, is compelled to pick it under appallingly harsh conditions:
Instead of using machines to harvest cotton, as is done in other major cotton exporting countries, Uzbekistan's government uses children. Every autumn state officials shut down schools, and send students, together with their teachers, to the cotton fields. Tens of thousands of children, some as young as seven, are forced to undertake weeks of arduous labour for little or no financial reward. Headmasters are issued with cotton quotas and made to ensure that students pick the required daily amount. Children who fail to pick their target of cotton are reportedly punished with detentions and told that their grades will suffer. Those who refuse to take part can face academic expulsion. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Celebrate Estonia

From Wikipedia (I know, I know, but it's a place to start):

Estonia Listeni/ɨsˈtniə/ (EstonianEesti), officially the Republic of Estonia (EstonianEesti Vabariik), is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by the Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation(338.6 km).[8] Across the Baltic Sea lies Sweden in the west and Finland in the north. The territory of Estonia covers 45,227 km2 (17,462 sq mi), and is influenced by atemperate seasonal climate. The Estonians are a Finnic people, and the official language, Estonian, is closely related to Finnish.
Estonia is a democratic parliamentary republic and is divided into 15 counties. The capital and largest city is Tallinn. With a population of 1.34 million, Estonia is one of the least-populous members of the European UnionEurozone and NATO. Today, Estonia has the highest GDP per person among former Soviet republics.[9] Estonia is listed as a "High-Income Economy" by the World Bank, as an "advanced economy" by the International Monetary Fund and the country is an OECD member. The United Nations lists Estonia as a developed country with a Human Development Index of "Very High".[5] The country is also ranked highly for press freedomeconomic freedom,democracy and political freedom and education.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Like peace and quiet? Hate violence? Thank government.

Steven Pinker's new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined has a one-two interpretive punch.  First, he demonstrates that we are probably living in the least-violent period of human history.  Second, the most important cause of this decline is the "pacifying force" of the modern nation-state, with its "monopoly on the use of force."  That makes it particularly alarming that a cluster of forces, from the Tea Party to the billionaires' clubs (Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity) to the NRA and its fellow travelers, are working so assiduously to cripple or kill government--to "reduce it to the size where [they] can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub," as Grover Norquist to piquantly put it.

More on Pinker here (Wall Street Journal) and here (TED talk)..

Monday, October 03, 2011

Race Test

For those of you who believe that race exists, a test:  Can a single couple--one man and one woman--give birth to children of different races?

Who knew? Ruhnu.

Not a Martian from War of the Worlds; the lighthouse designed by Gustav Eiffel on the  Estonian island of Ruhnu.

Saturday, October 01, 2011