Archive | May, 2011

Just ask

19 May

I’ve been subscribed for a while to Amazon Watch, an organization that works to save the rainforest. They’ve been lobbying Chevron for quite a while to clean up their operations in Ecuador, which has effected the environment and health of many of the indigenous and local residents there. Here’s an article related to Chevron’s resistance to be accountable:

So recently I signed a petition calling for Chevron to clean up their operations. <; While doing so, I noticed that my country was listed as Taiwan, Province of China. Annoying when that happens. I felt offended. While I don’t usually like argue about nationality in the face of much bigger issues (environmental crisis, war…etc), I felt that in the many areas Taiwan was having our territory sequestered by name, efforts like the Amazon Watch had no reason to join the game in demeaning the reality of our national situation. So I wrote them this letter.

12:00 May 18, 2011

Hi Thomas,

I noticed that you are the Technical Manager for Amazon Watch, so you might help me out on this. I just signed the petition for Telling Chevron to clean up the Ecuador, but was slightly turned off by needing to list my country, Taiwan, as “Taiwan, Province of China”. A lot of other online registration and petition sites I’ve been to simply list “Taiwan”. Could you please fix this? If I didn’t feel strongly about the issue, I probably wouldn’t have signed it due to the fact that the listing disrespects my origins.

This is not a pro-independent/Nationalistic agenda I’m trying to put forward, nor do I wish to rock the boat in any way for your organization’s admirable efforts in helping the indigenous people of Ecuador. It’s simply a matter of feeling slighted.

Thanks so much!


And very quickly I got this reply.

05:04 May 19, 2011


Grace, thank you very much for bringing this to our attention. My name is Michael Zap, and I’m the website coordinator for Amazon Watch. For our country drop-down lists I just used a standard list that I gleaned from the internet, and I didn’t review all of the countries in the list. I have changed your country’s name to “Taiwan” on all of our forms now. The actual data that we store is only your two-digit country code in any case (TW), so you won’t be receiving anything from us mentioning “Province of China.”

Thanks again, and have a great day!

Michael Zap

Amazon Watch

Yay. I’m glad it’s sorted out. If you go to their petition site here <;, you’ll notice that the name is now correct!

This gives me more faith in the goodwill of Amazon Watch. Here is their website:

Also, if you’re living in Taiwan, there’s an opportunity to show your support for the amazon forest whenever you buy coffee! I always buy UCC’s coffee that uses 30% Rainforest Alliance beans. Rainforest Alliance coffees are farmed under permaculture conditions that allows the rainforest to retain its biodiversity, and also tries to protect the interests of farmers. For more info on rainforest alliance coffee:


List of edible fish!

12 May

The color graph in <> is lovely, but just to make it easier for myself (and anyone who’s interested) to see which fish is okay to buy or order in this marine-depleted age, here is a sorted list:




Pouting or Bib

Red Mullet


If unavoidable:

Alaska or Walleye Pollock





Cod (Pacific only, NOT Atlantic!)

Coley or Saithe






Monkfish (Anglerfish)


Pollack or Lythe

Prawn (cold water/northern, NOT King and Tiger)

Sardine or Pilchard


Scampi or Langoustine

Sole (Lemon, NOT Dover/Common)


Skipjack Tuna (NOT any other tuna!)


All others? Not okay!

Update May 19th: My friend Kevin also mentioned that this guide from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is also useful:

You can download a printable fish list from their link and put it in your wallet! How awesome is that?

Neurology Class: Fun vids

12 May

As I’ve promised Bella I would send her the links to the really cool vids we’re watching in neurology class, might as well post them here for everyone’s perusal.

So here goes:

In our second class we talked about the evolution of the brain, which involved our human perception of what makes humans ‘superior’ to other species. This distinction blurs when we look at Bonobos, a chimpanzee living in the Congo and facing extinction due to the very human war going on there : (

Bonobo: our closest relatives?

More about Kanzi

Chimp makes plan

Flossing monkey

Joshua Klein, this super cute geek obsessed with crows, offers us a look into our future symbiotic relationship with this incredibly intelligent bird:

Vending machine designed for Crows

The smartest parrot Einstein

And could this be ‘Ant empathy’?

Ants rescue entrapped relatives

There is the isolated jungle theory for our evolution into standing humans, and the aquatic ape theory about our uniquely hairless state. See Elaine Morgan read charmingly on our origin.

Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes | Video on

2011 3/23 The World’s Most Dangerous Drug: Meth (National Geography documentary)

2011/3/30 Cannabis, the Evil Weed? (BBC)

Pubmed article Cannabis reward: biased towards the fairer sex?

2011/4/13 Our sensory systems. Beau Lotto will change your perception of what you perceive… and the possibilities in synethesia-ic reading.

Beau Lotto: Optical illusions show how we see

Keith Barry Does Brain Magic

omg I think this person is evil. Reminds me of ‘the invention of lying’


On loving your mother, phantom limbs and our favorite synethesia

Ramachandran on Your Mind

Your mirror neurons shaped our civilization

VS Ramandchandran: The Neurons that Shaped Civilization

And, the TED vid that got me into TED

Jill Bolte Taylor’s Powerful Stroke of Insight


Again, Ramachandran


Considerations for activism: on the U.S. Conflict Minerals Act

1 May


Since the Enough Project has successfully recruited me as one of their heartfelt fans, I’ve paid attention whenever the issue of conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has come up. In writing a study guide for SHSMUN on this topic, I have come across some interesting information regarding the current status of the movement to ban conflict minerals.

Apparently, the U.S. Senate has passed something commonly called the Conflict Minerals Law within the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which has been signed by President Obama on July 21st, 2010. Subsequently on April 27th, 2011, Rwanda passed a law banning the export of Conflict Minerals from DRC, the minister stating that they “have placed instructions with our immigration department not to allow any uncertified minerals, and also to carry out rigorous due diligence on any ores entering Rwanda from conflict areas.”

Bravo USA! Bravo Rwanda! So Enough has achieved its goal here, right?

Apparently, the situation is much more complex. Upon closer scrutiny of the wikipedia article (, it seems that this law is going through some ‘public comments’. Why? Hasn’t it already passed in Senate? So implement it already!

Not so simple. I asked my lawyer friend Mike what was going on, here was his response:

The reason why it’s going through this public comments period (finalization has been pushed back to sometime between May and August of 2011) is because senators aren’t so smart – a separate body, the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), has to be there to define how the law should be implemented. Senate puts down the ‘intent’ of the law, and the SEC tries to make that intent performable. So in this case the SEC are accepting public comments, possibly from the industry, on what possibilities the industry has in making this law effective. For example, certain IT companies may feel that it is difficult to trace the source of their materials that just came from ‘the free market’ and this law is putting undue burden on their workings. So here the law might either be weakened or specified to allow workability for the IT companies.

Fascinating stuff. A sound system of checks are what makes a mature democracy! So I looked up the comments that were being proposed by the public. Among the comments was this very interesting letter from Générale des Coopératives Minières du Sud Kivu (GECOMISKI), a mining cooperative from Sud Kivu, a part of eastern DRC.

The basic gist of it being that there are legitimate mining operations in the region that are people’s initiatives with very little means to be certified, and to ask the Americans to please defer the law until they could find means to be certified conflict-free. Otherwise many people would lose jobs and this may contribute to the unrest in the region.

The situation is definitely not cut-and-dry.

Update: Here is the Enough Projects’ response to accusations of impeding livelihoods:

Of course, in the short term the local miners have no good alternatives and without being able to work in the mines their families suffer real hardship. That’s why Enough supports industry and government efforts to mitigate their situation and work toward the creation of alternative livelihoods. In the longer term, only real reform of the mining sector to allow for jobs with good working conditions and acceptable compensation will fully address the needs of the local population.

So there is more behind the letter to the US government than I’d suspected. According to Eric Hoffer in his book talking about how mass movements are formed, those who are in extremely bad situations (extremely poor) are very unlikely to seek social change because they fear that any change would only make a bad situation worse. It may be very hard for the miners in the area to see a better future with their subsistence paying jobs gone – but what is needed in these areas are what we expect in Nike factories in China – reasonable pay, work and living conditions! That is not too much to ask for us sallow skinned Chinese, and it’s definitely not to much to ask for the Congolese! An even more long-term view would be to allow a sustainable economy to develop in the region, besides mining, which Enough’s article addresses.

I am very glad that the Enough project is thorough on this human rights campaign.