Wednesday, 13 July 2011 is a website I've just launched that helps you easily tell which fish are sustainable to eat. Why? Well...

This picture terrifies me. In 1900, we can see huge tracts of ocean where there are massive numbers of fish. In 2000, the map is empty apart from a small leftover smudge clinging to the American coast.

There are no longer plenty more fish in the sea.

Where there once were swarms of fish so abundant we could catch them with simple nets, we are using ever more sophisticated equipment to locate and catch what little is left of them. Once innumerable fish like cod have been reduced to a few isolated stocks and majestic creatures like bluefin tuna are nearly extinct.

At the same time, a lot of the fish we pull out of the sea is thrown straight back in or ground into fishmeal, simply because there is no demand for them. They don't taste bad, they're just not the fish we're used to eating.

The thing to do, of course, is to eat more sustainable kinds of fish. We know this. But that knowledge alone doesn't help much when you're standing in the fish aisle in the supermarket and need to buy dinner now.

There are some very good sources on what fish to eat, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Marine Conservation Society. Both have done a huge amount of work collecting and assessing data on sustainability.

I have combined their data, and data from other sources, and turned it into an intentionally simple web page that just tells you which fish are OK to eat. You can view it on your mobile and download it for offline viewing as well. It can help you make a quick decision on what's for dinner.

Give it a spin. It should display well on most mobile phones, and if you have an iPhone or similar, you can also download the site for offline use, so you don't need a signal to be able to use it.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Things to make and do

Here comes a link-post of interesting and worthwhile things, cross-posted from my personal blog. (As such, a couple of points are only locally relevant; sorry about that.)

  • Project V (#ProjV on Twitter) is a campaign to get people to realise the impact that denying Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to those who need it would have, organised by The Broken of Britain. It was designed to coincide with the end of the consultation on reform of DLA, on the 14th February, but the consultation has now been extended until the 18th. You can read contributors' tweet-length stories here. What you can do to help (from here):
  • Whatever the reason, we now have 4 more days of the DLA Reform consultation so let us use it well. Write, e,mail, and send a Valentine to your MPs, MSPs and AMs, asking them to oppose DLA reform, tweet your story at #ProjV, and use the extra time well!
  • Meanwhile in Cambridge, the city council are planning to close the ground-floor, accessible public toilets in Lion Yard shopping centre on very shaky grounds, moving them to smaller and less accessible quarters on the first floor. Apparently they will be debating the subject on Thursday (tomorrow), thanks to the Cambridge Forum for Disabled People's work to raise the profile of the issue. If you're in Cambridge, please do read the text of their leaflet send off a quick email to the council asking them to reconsider (directions at link)!
  • More Cambridge-based stuff: the launch event for the brilliant Think Outside The Box campaign is happening on the 24th February. Details:
    Think Outside The Box Launch, Thursday 24th February, 7:30pm, Cavonius Centre, in the Stephen Hawking Building, Caius' Harvey Court site off West Road.
    The Think Outside The Box Campaign has been launched! It started with the simple idea of not forcing people into the boxes of 'male' and 'female' and now has a range of recommendations which challenge many day-to-day ways in which society tries to force us all into the gender binary. The Campaign focuses on access for and awareness of non-binary-gendered people (including gender queer, polygendered, bigendered, agendered, androgynous people) but the benefits are far wider for anyone who doesn't want to have to constantly declare a binary gender. To find out more see the website at
    We're having a launch meeting, come along to find out about the campaign, ask questions about the reasons behind the campaign or discuss plans for the future, both local and national. There'll be an introduction for people new to the issues and then a discussion so bring your questions, your ideas, your concerns and your enthusiasm and help us get this campaign going both in Cambridge and outside.
  • Via Saranga (see her post for more information), please support the Norwich Eating Disorders Association and the Abortion Support Network, both of which do vital work but are being threatened by lack of funds.
  • Moving to the international, The Godmothers is a way to get involved with helping the UN's new women's agency. I've seen links to it in a few places but The F-Word blog (naturally -- how I love it) has a good write-up here. From the front page of The Godmothers' website:
  • Worldwide more than 60 million girls have been forced into early marriage. Of the 780 million people who can't read, 510 million are female. Women work two thirds of the world's working hours but earn just 10% of the income.
    The new UN women's agency could put a stop to all this. But to fulfil its promise it needs your help.

    They are currently inviting people to take part in their first action, calling on parliamentarians to sign an Early Day Motion calling for proper funding for UN Women.

  • I haven't actually read this article yet (ho ho, I thought posting some links would be quick and it's taken most of the evening), but here is one of my favourite bloggers, Merrick Godhaven, debating Philippe Duhamel on the question: Is property damage in protest justified?
  • If anyone has read through this whole list -- and maybe sent a few emails -- you deserve a reward. Here's some really beautiful art: a billboard replaced by a swingset for two.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Halt the deportation of Brenda Namigadde

Brenda Namigadde is a Ugandan lesbian who fled to the UK in 2003 after receiving threats and having her house destroyed. Now she is due to be deported back to Uganda, despite the extreme danger this would put her in.

Why? Well, a LGBT activist called David Kato was beaten to death in Uganda just yesterday, and there is currently a bill pending in their parliament to make homosexuality punishable by death. The author of this bill himself is aware of Namigadde and has said that she must "repent and reform" or will be "punished".

Yet the Border Agency and Home Office want to deport her, arguing that there is "insufficient evidence" that she is a lesbian. As if that matters. If the murderous homophobes in Uganda think she is, she is in grave danger. And if she sets foot in Uganda, she is certain to be detained, and will probably just vanish, much as many of her friends have.

This is about as clear-cut as it gets. If Brenda Namigadde returns to Uganda, she will probably not survive. So I urge you to sign this petition to Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary, to stop her deportation.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Julian Assange and Rape-Rape

This may be a rather controversial post, so I will have an extremely short temper with anyone who does not actually read what it says on the page. In that spirit, this comes with three disclaimers:

Disclaimer 1: I think Wikileaks' actions are excellent and necessary. The Iraq and Afghanistan war logs show that we cannot trust governments to do what is right in the absence of transparency. They will abuse our trust to cover up killing journalists, spying on the UN, and letting outlawed munitions into the country. I look forward to further leaks, especially to the ones promised early next year featuring the deeds of a major US bank. And they make me hopeful that individuals can in fact challenge those who consider themselves beyond human accountability.

Disclaimer 2: Julian Assange does not equal Wikileaks. One can fall while the other survives. If Assange were to blink out of existence tomorrow morning, the leaks would continue. If he were assassinated, as some US politicians who should really know better have suggested, the leaks would happen a lot faster, courtesy of the infamous insurance file. And if it turns out that Assange is actually a horrible person, this does not invalidate what Wikileaks has done. They are not the same.

Disclaimer 3: Assange has just been arrested in the UK to be extradited to Sweden on charges of rape. (Having walked into a police station of his own accord with the intent to fight the extradition to Sweden, mind). He says that the allegations are false and orchestrated by the US. The two women who have accused him say otherwise. Swedish prosecutors are acting in a strange manner by refusing to actually communicate with him.

It's possible that Assange is right, and that the charges are bogus and a result of US pressure on Sweden. But it's also possible that Assange is in fact guilty of rape. I don't want that to be the case, but we can't just dismiss that possibility because we don't like it.

Now, assuming the charges are genuine:

What exactly is he accused of? Most news sources just recount the unhelpful official arrest warrant. But according to Feministe, his actual deed is this: "in one case, condom use was negotiated for and Assange agreed to wear a condom but didn't, and the woman didn't realize it until after they had sex; in the second case, it sounds like the condom broke and the woman told Assange to stop, which he did not".

At this point, I'm going to make a cruel comparison using a made-up summary:

"Well-travelled man, his work beloved by many, is accused of rape. Supporters rush to side, saying 'it was not really rape, those who say otherwise have ulterior motives'."

When Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland last year, his supporters rushed to his side, voicing their anger that such a great man would be so unfairly hounded. When challenged, they would tend to downplay Polanski's crime. Whoopi Goldberg infamously explained on TV that Polanski's sexual assault of a thirteen year old was not "rape-rape": not actual, proper rape.

Many people now say that what Assange is accused of is not rape but simply a bit of naughtiness, not a very nice thing to do, but not enough to warrant arrest. Sometimes this is because the crucial fact that he did not stop when told to is omitted by many reports, but others simply don't see what he did as rape. "Rape", to many people, is half-human monsters lurking near bus stops waiting to assault total strangers, not a "disagreement in the bedroom".

But if we actually want to clearly define rape, we end up with something like "sexual intercourse without consent". Polanski is definitely guilty of this. So is Assange, according to the women he slept with in Sweden. It makes me wince to see people who were baying for Polanski's blood now refuse to entertain the idea that Assange may be guilty of rape.

As a Swiss, it also makes me extremely angry to see a Swiss bank close Assange's account on a technicality, given that the Swiss government, having nabbed Polanski, ended up releasing him again, on a technicality. It seems such technicalities always crop up whenever there is sufficient political pressure.

But here's the thing: It is possible for Julian Assange to be both a crusader for openness and a rapist. After all, Polanski is both an accomplished director and a rapist.

Famous people are never entirely good or entirely evil. All human beings have flaws and contradictions. Assange can be a maven on political freedoms and a dunce on sexual ones. He can have a sophisticated moral compass in politics and still think "I don't like wearing condoms, and I'm not going to be told otherwise".

This does not excuse his actions. We can't simply offset a person's good deeds against their bad ones and judge them on the result. It may be that the right thing to happen is for Assange to go to prison for rape and for Wikileaks to continue leaking state secrets. After all, they are not the same thing.

We must evaluate Wikileaks' actions on their own merits and not confuse them with those of its figurehead.

Friday, 3 September 2010

What would you do with £20million?

In September, Pope Benedict XVI will pay a state visit to the United Kingdom. The cost of the visit will be at least £20,000,000, not including security. This is a staggering amount to spend in order to welcome the head of a state (the Vatican City) and head of an organisation which have been responsible for:
  1. opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of AIDS
  2. promoting segregated education
  3. denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women
  4. opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people
  5. failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation.
  6. rehabilitating the holocaust denier bishop Richard Williamson and the appeaser of Hitler, the war-time Pope, Pius XII.
 -- as well as resisting "signing many major human rights treaties and [forming] its own treaties (‘concordats’) with many states which negatively affect the human rights of citizens of those states."

Several groups have joined together to organise a protest against the Pope, on Saturday 18th September at 1.30pm, at Hyde Park Corner, London. For more information, see Protest the Pope.

Another website to check out is, where you can see other people's suggestions of what they'd do with £20,000,000 and submit them yourself, if you are on Twitter. Some examples:

  1. rmc47
    rmc47 - If I had #20million... I'd spend it on educating people about scientific principles, and how statistics works.

  2. Simon Carpentier
    SimonCarpentier - If I had #20million, I would invest in renewable energy, technology, and alternative transport

  3. Sarah Benwell
    kalpana_s - If I had #20million, I would start developing a literacy programme that works in favour of African countries!

  4. Joe Knowler
    Joeyfr88 - if I had #20million, I would donate it all to mental health charities.
-- this quote was brought to you by quoteurl

This isn't a matter of the Pope being allowed to visit the UK as a religious leader, which of course he is entitled to do, but of the type of head of state whom the British government thinks it is appropriate to offer a state reception to.
There is a lot more information available at the links above if you're interested in having your say on the issue.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Welcome to the Age of Austerity

David Cameron says we are entering an Age of Austerity. Grant Shapps, our Housing Minister, says we are entering an Age of Aspiration.

Austerity + Aspiration = Asperity, defined by thus:

1. harshness or sharpness of tone, temper, or manner; severity; acrimony: The cause of her anger did not warrant such asperity.
2. hardship; difficulty; rigor: the asperities of polar weather.

— Welcome to the Age of Austerity

We're still on hiatus, though we are accumulating ideas for more posts and hope to reboot the blog once we're no longer busy with moving and its aftermath.

Meanwhile, I'd like to direct you to a blog called Welcome to the Age of Austerity, recently started by a friend of ours who works in UK local government. It's about government, society, and the economy of the UK under its new coalition government.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Not Dead.

As you've probably been able to tell, things have been very quiet at Not Powerless. In the case of my co-contributors, this is because they have become very busy with work. In my case, it's because I have developed a chronic pain in my right shoulder that leaves me unable to write more than a few sentences.

But rest assured that we will be back. We all have posts in our heads we want to do, and we are plotting them and writing them and storing them up for a rebirth.

So stay tuned.