Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Braille Lego Printer, United Nations Food, and “A Few Stupid Extremists”



Yes, let’s change the world: Last week it was Bill Gates drinking water purified from sewage, this week it’s a 13-year old’s prototype of a simple Braille printer built from Legos.  California teenager Shubham Banerjee, with encouragement and investment from his parents, developed a low-cost machine to print the tactile writing system used by the visually impaired. Intel Corp. is interested enough to invest in his startup, Braigo Lab . Brialle printers currently cost about $2,000. Says Shubham, “I just thought that price should not be there. I know that there is a simpler way to do this." (Boy, 13, builds Braille printer with Legos, starts company) Write on!


I’ve always believed if we’d share and eat each other’s food, we’d fight less. To that end, I’ve been savoring the pages of Lonely Planet’s Food Lover’s Guide to the World. This week, public radio reported on Jesse Friedman and Laura Hadden’s New York City project to have dinner parties featuring the foods of each of the 193 United Nations member states. “As they cooked food from Algeria to Djibouti to Guyana, United Noshes hosted dinners that ranged from just a few friends gathered around a living room table, to dozens of guests assembled in a banquet hall. And the ingredients have ranged as well — from cashew juice to French charcuterie to fermented corn flour.” (United Noshes: Dinner Party Aims To Eat Its Way Through Global Cuisine). Eat on!

And, thus far in 2015 public health, there were “a few stupid extremists” who “handled their firearms unsafely.” French murderers at Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish deli? Nope, Second Amendment gun rights advocates in the state legislature’s public gallery. The quote is from Alan Gottlieb of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms who was working hard to distance the “stupid” from other gun rights protesters. (House bans openly carried weapons in public gallery)

At the same time, sounding not much different than extremist Islamists, legislator Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) was proclaiming: “This is a culture war, folks. They don't like what we do, and they want to control what we do." (Hundreds of gun-rights activists rally at Washington Capitol)

Brian, Alan! Eat first, talk later!

--Mike Sato

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The 12th Man On MLK Day

Hard to sit down and compose a Martin Luther King Day blog after watching the end of Sunday’s Seattle Seahawk game. The 12th Man/Woman in houses up and down the neighborhood street yelled himself/herself hoarse. I hope they yell as hard for justice on Monday but race, civil rights, equal opportunity, domestic abuse, gender equality aren’t as simple as a football game, regardless of how much some people might think of sports as a metaphor for life.

The football league is sponsoring 30-second public service announcements featuring football players who are shown having a hard time talking about domestic violence and sexual assault. I’m not sure who those messages are addressed to. I don’t have any difficulty talking about domestic violence and sexual abuse: I can look directly into a camera and say unequivocally that domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong and that anyone who behaves that way or condones that behavior is a creep, period.

Can we do the same for race and gender? Look directly into the camera and say, unequivocally, that discrimination in employment, housing, policing, health care, education is wrong? That it doesn’t matter what you might think or feel, but anyone who behaves that way or condone that kind of behavior is a creep, period?

Is “creep” too mild? What would you call them?

Yes, I know: behavior like that is against the law. But laws are sand, custom is rock. Unless custom changes, the creeps continue to behave, well, like creeps. As long as someone feels like they have power over another, they will not stand as equals and the opportunity to be a creep continues.

If all you want to do is educate, make more 30-second public service annoucements? I think it’s better to start right now by calling out the creeps, as hard and dangerous as it is, and to talk and keep talking about equal justice for all. Louder. We might even change some behavior and that would make Dr. King happy.

Ready to yell for justice, 12th Man, 12th Woman?

--Mike Sato

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Having A Drink With Bill Gates

Bill Gates
Starting out a new year writing with a blank sheet of paper requires examining the kinds of things I’d enjoy writing about. Oh, there’s the obligatory flogging of elected officials and regulators, black-hatted oil and coal and railroad guys, obscene profit-taking developers and bankers. But we’ll save that for another time because today, at the end of the first week of our national Congressional session and our state legislative session, here are three stories I’d rather tell you about:

What a great photo op: Bill Gates drinking a glass of water which five minutes earlier contained raw sewage which had been converted to clean water, electricity and ash. Thanks to the Gates Foundation and to the engineering prowess of Janicki Bioenergy  (in Sedro Wooley!), here’s technology that can literally change the world. Hello, Victoria! Peter Janicki explains all.

Leila and Miles Landis

This past month I spent time with my cousin who has been hospitalized because of complications arising from renal failure and dialysis. I came to appreciate how difficult life is with failing kidneys and on Wednesday happened upon a rebroadcast of KPLU reporter Gabriel Spitzer’s  Sound Effect interview, What It’s Like To Spend Your Late 20s On Dialysis, Then Be Saved By A Gift . I swear, after you listen to Leila Mirhaydari tell her story, you will feel so full of her energy, happiness, her joie de vivre that you will want to hug someone. I did.

And on Thursday morning I got an email asking whether I’d heard the “Chinese food” story about General Tso chicken. I had not but found a TED Radio interview from this past November with Jennifer 8.
Lee, Where Does General Tso Chicken Actually Come From?  Then by Thursday afternoon, Florangela Davila’s story, How The Non-Chinese History Of General Tso's Chicken Helps Explain Life As A Second-Gen American, had been posted, featuring a preview of Jennifer’s upcoming documentary, The Search for General Tso .

Now, that’s the kind of stuff I want to be writing about: food, healing, changing the world...

Great way to start out the news year. Much more interesting than Congress and the Legislature, don’t you think?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Last Minute Shopping Thoughts

If the 25th is your big day, then you really ought to be done with the shopping. Here’s to hoping you stayed within a reasonable budget in giving gifts that, well, mean something. I think affordable and meaningful over the years has become more and more difficult to achieve.

The little ones are the easiest, despite what expectations might be drilled into their heads by television advertising or other kids at school. The older they get, the harder it gets to match taste, budget and expectation. As for adults, the style nowadays is to eschew ‘things’ in favor of ‘experiences’ but one needs to be pretty brave to gift an evening of candles and amateur massage in lieu of a spa afternoon at the Chrysalis.

The gifts I am giving this year fall within my comfort level of used and new books I know well enough to give and items like guides and language aids that might enable an experience to be had. I’ve always admired people who are able to pick out the perfect piece of clothing, jewelry or pottery as gifts. Maybe the affordable part of gift giving is sacrificed for the meaningful; in any case I can’t be critical of something I can’t do.

By the end of Christmas day we will each have opened our gifts and I hope most are meaningful either because of what the giver meant or what the gift means in itself. I hope we will not be surrounded by different but simply more things. Too many things— stuff-- crowd our lives. I don’t mean gifts have to be jaw-dropping experiences or hand crafted; they can be things off the shelf but let them be imbued with a story that give them meaning: “I got that blue casserole dish for you only after knocking down two old ladies and snatching the last one off the shelf!”

Thinking about the equation of things-- where they are made, who makes them, who sells them, who buys them— I know that my part is in the buying end. When I buy, someone gets a wage, fair or unfair; someone gets a return on investment, fair or obscene.  If I think about it too much, I start drawing all kinds of un-Christmas-like conclusions and family members remind me to get with the spirit of the season.

OK. That spirit for me isn’t with Charles Dickens and the old chestnut, A Christmas Carol, but with Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and one of the parts I like best is about presents, things, gifts, stuff:

"There were the Useful Presents: engulfing mufflers of the old coach days, and mittens made for giant sloths; zebra scarfs of a substance like silky gum that could be tug-o'-warred down to the galoshes; blinding tam-o'-shanters like patchwork tea cozies and bunny-suited busbies and balaclavas for victims of head-shrinking tribes; from aunts who always wore wool next to the skin there were mustached and rasping vests that made you wonder why the aunts had any skin left at all; and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles's pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why." 
"Go on to the Useless Presents." 
"Bags of moist and many-colored jelly babies and a folded flag and a false nose and a tram-conductor's cap and a machine that punched tickets and rang a bell; never a catapult; once, by a mistake that no one could explain, a little hatchet; and a celluloid duck that made, when you pressed it, a most unducklike sound, a mewing moo that an ambitious cat might make who wished to be a cow; and a painting book in which I could make the grass, the trees, the sea and the animals any color I please, and still the dazzling sky-blue sheep are grazing in the red field under the rainbow-billed and pea-green birds. Hardboileds, toffee, fudge and allsorts, crunches, cracknel, humbugs, glaciers, marzipan, and butterwelsh for the Welsh. And troops of bright tin soldiers who, if they could not fight, could always run. And Snakes-and-Families and Happy Ladders. And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo! And a whistle to make the dogs bark to wake up the old man next door to make him beat on the wall with his stick to shake our picture off the wall. And a packet of cigarettes: you put one in your mouth and you stood at the corner of the street and you waited for hours, in vain, for an old lady to scold you for smoking a cigarette, and then with a smirk you ate it. And then it was breakfast under the balloons."

It’s a great piece of writing that is my touchstone for Christmas. Read the whole piece here, A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

Or, listen to the poet himself. Dylan Thomas, 1952: A Child's Christmas in Wales, A Story - Recorded at Steinway Hall, NY 

Merry Christmas.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Got Barotrauma? Watch This.

Barotrauma is what happens to deep water Puget Sound rockfish when are caught and brought to the surface: gases in their swim bladder expand causing their stomachs and eyes to bulge. So what? They’re endangered-- you’re not supposed to catch them. And throwing them back with barotrauma means they most likely will die. We don’t want them to die; we want them to recover from the brink of depletion.

To that end, the federal government last week laid another layer of long-overdue regulatory protection for three species of endangered Puget Sound rockfish — yelloweye, canary and boccacio— by designating about a thousand square miles of deep-water and nearshore habitat as habitat critical for their recovery. Thanks go to the Center For Biological Diversity for pushing the feds after the initial ESA designation in 2010.

According to the Center, the rule  identifies activities that might affect critical habitat, including near-shore development and in-water construction, dredging and material disposal, pollution and runoff, cable laying and hydrokinetic projects, kelp harvest, fisheries, and activities that lead to global climate change and acidification. Those projects would require federal consultations and cannot be harmful to any habitat or life stage of the listed rockfish— deep water adult, larval dispersal in the Sound’s surface microlayer, young-of-the-year rearing in the nearshore. Much of the protected habitat overlaps critical habitats already designated for killer whale and salmon recovery; however, the protected habitats of the three rockfish are similar to other rockfish and protected them as well.

On the fishing and harvest side, the state’s conservation efforts have finally made it unlawful to fish for, retain or possess rockfish in all of Puget Sound and Hood Canal and westward to Low Point in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That’s great but hard to enforce when rockfish are caught as incidental catch while fishing for salmon and other bottomfish like lingcod and halibut— and suffer from barotrauma when brought to the surface.

There are instructions, advice and pictures on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife site, Protecting Washington’s Rockfish describing fishing methods and equipment to reduce bycatch and death by barotrauma. ( “DO NOT VENT! Puncturing the fish’s stomach, swim bladder or other bulging organs is NOT recommended and can cause serious injury or introduce infection.  This practice can lead to death.”)

Isn’t it amazing how torturous solutions have to be to correct situations we humans create? Here’s Kevin Lollar’s news video from the other coast showing some devices that can save the lives of fish suffering from barotrauma. The simple art of saving fish http://www.news-press.com/media/cinematic/video/17723123/  In a longer form, WDFW entertains with, Is Barotrauma Keeping You Up? Try Getting Down with Recompression! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiZFghwVOyI#t=70

(Disclosure: In an earlier life, I installed septic systems on marginal soil and caught many, many rockfish. I consider my current interest in sewage treatment and rockfish recovery small acts of penance.)

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bring Out Your Dead

I thought about Ebola early last month flying at 35,000 feet with a plane full of people I didn’t know. Liberian Thomas Duncan had entered this country by air, took ill with what was diagnosed as Ebola in Dallas, was eventually quarantined and treated, and died. Makes one look around and want to see what all the coughing is about in the seat three rows back.

Over the last two months I’ve followed the news enough to know that protocols are now in place domestically to afford crucial early detection, that Ebola detected early and treated need not be fatal, that doctors and nurses on the front line of treating Ebola are among the bravest people in the world, and that politicians who ignore medical science by closing our borders and imposing mandatory quarantine requirements deserve all the ridicule that can be heaped upon them for their medieval ignorance. ( Bring out your dead )

The Ebola epidemic is serious business and it’s no longer a West Africa disease alone, not when we are in a global economy. Richard Preston’s scary and informative article in The New Yorker ( The Ebola Wars  ) raises the disturbing prospect of various strains of a rapidly evolving Ebola virus that may take as yet-unknown deadly forms.

Despite early missteps, the Center for Disease Control and hospitals have established and trained in equipment and quarantine protocols. Like the veterans we just honored and the armed forces we spend billions of dollars on, first-line doctors and nurses deserve the very best in equipment and training. After all, as Paul Farmer says in the London Review of Books, ( Diary  ) the US “has the staff, stuff, space and systems” to contain any epidemic within its borders.

I wondered after reading Preston and Farmer whether I would have the courage to comfort Ebola patients, even given the proper equipment and training— and I have to say, I don’t know if I would. I can hardly imagine what it must be like to treat Ebola patients in the hospitals of West African nations. Now that the initial panic in the US has passed with the successful treatment of Dallas nurses and New York City doctor Craig Spencer, the news cycle moves our comfort level farther and farther away from the Ground Zero of Ebola in West Africa.

But Ebola and scores of infectious disease outbreaks that risk becoming pandemics won’t simply go away. “Understaffed and undersupplied, front-line health worker in West Africa have good reason to be afraid,” Paul Farmer writes. “We who aim to help them, though better equipped, are afraid too.”

Here in the US, we still argue about affording medical “staff, stuff, space and systems” to all our citizens. Maybe I’m not ready to go to the front line but I’ll share our “staff, stuff, space and systems” with all Americans, West Africans and the people of the world. We're not dead yet.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Chief Business of the American People...

“The chief business of the American people is business.” That’s Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and the quote came to mind right after Hallowe’en when the Christmas (we say ‘Christmas’) decorations began appearing in stores and Black Friday special offers started filling the inbox.

At about the same time, the Republican Party said the American people provided them with some sort of mandate by rejecting the President’s leadership and giving them a Congressional majority and a chance (again) to govern. We’ll wait to see which Republican Party shows up to govern when it comes to immigration reform, climate change, health care and the Islamic State. Or will it be abortion, gay marriage and the right to open carry?

People always say the economy is a primary concern when voting for candidates and issues but who really faults the President’s leadership in our recovery from the economic disaster he inherited upon taking office? The disgruntled are those who wanted to see real change in financial reform and the banks and brokerage houses punished; those folks remain embittered at the President. Democratic incumbents and candidates never rallied around the chant, “It’s the economy, stupid,” tacitly conceding that maybe we weren’t better off today than we were two years ago.  We didn’t see the financial system reformed; we didn’t see tax reform. What we saw was employment and the stock market recovering, wages stagnant, the gap between rich and poor widen. But did people really want “real” change?

After all, this is a capitalist country and “The chief business of the American people is business.” It’s a relentless business: the bizarre coupling of “holiday” (holy day) with “retail” has become an established norm and hawked in the vocabulary of words like “special” and “savings” and “exclusive”-- nonsense, of course, like restaurants that serve “breakfast” all day. Hallowe’en is a big retail holiday; people don’t buy gifts for Thanksgiving, it only makes sense to begin the business of selling holiday gifts right after Hallowe’en.

The church bazaars and holiday craft sales gear up in November and I like those. I think the advertising efforts of the big box stores, Amazon and online spamming are distasteful. But that’s business, isn’t it? What feels so distastefully wrong when experiencing the barrage of every special retail holiday message year round is the lie that all of the American people can fully take part in the business of America. You still drink the Kool Aid that says everyone could become a millionaire? Sure, everyone can and will participate as consumers but more and more people are excluded from doing business as Americans because of their education, immigration status and race. That’s not the way it always was in this country; that’s the way it is now and that is the real sadness of the broken dream of failing to move towards “real change.”

Ring those retail holiday bells; they toll for thee.

--Mike Sato