Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Let’s Talk About Sex For A Change

He/She/He Limpet (Jan Delsing/BioLib)
How about that Bruce Jenner? Makes that trans-sex transformation to female and gets the exclusive and the cover of Vanity Fair which is then picked up by every major and minor news outlet in the world. Reminds me of the time a few years back when the ribbed Mediterranean limpet (Patella ferruginea) was found to be able to change its sex from male to female and back again.

Mr./Mrs. Limpet had neither the vanity nor the desire to try for the cover of Vanity Fair but was described by John R. Platt in a Scientific American blog as nearly extinct and the subject of efforts by scientists to learn how it breeds and reproduces to save it from extinction. (The Incredible Mr./Mrs. Limpet: The Endangered, Sex-Changing Sea Snail)

Most limpet species possess both male and female characteristics and change gender in their lives due to external environmental factors; Patella ferruginea, however, is unusual in changing gender then back again, scientists discovered. When and why still remains a mystery.

The scientists wrote in a paper that, this discovery provides "new direction for research into the mechanisms and factors driving sex change and its effects on the population dynamics" for the species, which may help to inform conservation strategies to keep it from extinction.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to ride the media frenzy on June 1, the endangered smalltooth sawfish muscled in on the news with the discovery that they are resorting to “virgin births” in the wild— perhaps in an effort to survive.

According to The Washington Post, “Female sawfish in Florida estuaries were found to have produced living offspring without the help of a male. Researchers found that 3 percent of sawfish in their study were the result of this unusual reproductive strategy.” (On the verge of extinction, female sawfish resort to ‘virgin births’ to survive)

In rare instances some vertebrate females have been known to switch between sexual and asexual reproduction depending on the availability of a mate. Reproducing without mating is called facultative parthenogenesis where an egg absorbs a genetically identical cell to create offspring about half as genetically diverse as the mother. These offspring often don't survive but enough are around in Florida to be counted.

OK. You read it here and in Scientific American and The Washington Post.

Vanity vanitatum, omnia vanitas.

--Mike Sato

Monday, May 4, 2015

Whither Puget Sound Starts Here?

Governor Inslee proclaims the month of May as Puget Sound Starts Here month. The Puget Sound Partnership laments that, due to funding cuts, Puget Sound Starts Here needs to find another home. Do you care?

A reader last week pointed out that the Puget Sound Partnership home page announced coming changes in staffing and program focus as a result of earlier EPA funding decisions. (Hard to tell when this was “announced” by the Partnership since the home page entry isn’t dated, nor is there any news release associated with the “announcement.”)

Earlier in the year, the Partnership sent out a news release expressing its support of EPA’s “new framework for distributing federal funding directed toward Puget Sound recovery.”

According to the Partnership’s web page, upcoming changes include:


  • Realignment of staffing: some positions will not be funded in the future and other positions will be added to meet new demands.
  • Transition of programs funded by the expiring Stewardship Grant: the end of this grant requires the transition of many of these efforts to sources of support outside the organization.
  • Enhanced board support: for the Leadership Council, Ecosystem Coordination Board, Science Panel, and Salmon Recovery Council to meet increased responsibilities under the new model.

At the end of last week, Skagit County’s EcoNet coordinator posted an email from Partnership executive director Sheida Sahandy. Sahandy said that the end of the Stewardship grant required finding other sponsor “homes” to take over stewardship programs like Puget Sound Starts Here, that the EcoNet program would be integrated into county Local Integrating Organizations, and that, for now, two positions in the Partnership’s Stewardship and Policy Integration section were eliminated.

According to Sahandy, there are many details to be worked out but, “Most of the operational changes will be in place by July 1.”

Do you care? Maybe the legislature in its special session budget deliberations has already taken care of Puget Sound stewardship funding. Maybe Microsoft and Amazon and Starbucks are ready to step up as new program “homes.”

“I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to be able to swim in Puget Sound, catch a salmon to roast over the campfire, and enjoy shellfish grown right here in Washington. I want them to inherit an economy that is thriving. When it comes to a sustainable environment or a sustainable economy, it’s not one or the other,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Join me in creating a Puget Sound legacy we can be proud of.” ( Governor Inslee proclaims May as Puget Sound Starts Here )

Puget Sound: swim-able, fish-able, dig-able. An educated and engaged constituency. Who cares?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Last Week in Baltimore, Charm City

I spent last week in Baltimore, Charm City. I returned home late Friday before the first outbreak of violence on Saturday, for which I would have had a front row seat around Camden Yards. Now more rioting on Monday, National Guard on call, law enforcement moving in from around the region. What does the rioting solve, Baltimore’s mayor asks? What happens to the charm, I ask?

I’ve come to like Baltimore, the parts I see as a visitor downtown and around the inner harbor.

I’ve spent a lot of time at the National Aquarium and see what some folks in Seattle meant when they said they wanted a first-class waterfront like Baltimore’s. The guy at the visitor’s center wanted to know how Big Bertha was doing; I just shrugged.

There are restaurants I like: The Thames Street Oyster House and The Point, both within walking distance at Fells Point; the B&O American Brassiere in downtown’s restored Monaco Hotel; and great kabobs, eat-in or take out, at Maiwand Kabob behind the Marriot Renaissance.

I also figured out how to get to Washington DC and the Smithsonian on the MARC out of downtown paying the geezer fare of $7 round trip. Cheap out-of-town entertainment.

My favorite ride is the Charm City Circulator, Baltimore’s free bus service (Orange, Purple, Green and Blue) running round trips in four directions through the downtown core.

Last week, I took the #11 bus from downtown on Charles to get to the Baltimore Art Museum (free admission!) near Johns Hopkins. I got on and asked the driver whether he went to the Art Museum and he said he did; he also refused to take my reduced fare of $.55 because the fare box was broken.

As we rode away from downtown, the bus filled up with black people, old and young. I was looking to get off at 31st Street but bus turned right on 29th. I got up to the front to the driver as he turned left on Calvert.

“Are we near the Art Museum?” I asked.

“I thought you knew where it was,” he said quite matter-of-factly.

“Uh, 31st,” I said.

“Get off next stop on 32nd,” he said. “Walk that way (he pointed left) and go back to 31st and go right.”

You have to get off the bus at the rear so I need to make my way through all the black men standing to get to the back door and wait for the door to open.

Nothing happened.

“You have to push the handles,” the man standing next to the door said to me, softly.

Alright! I pushed the handles, the door opened and I said, “Thank you!” and exited the bus.

I had read all week long about Freddie Gray’s death and the circumstances of his questionable pursuit, arrest and “nickel ride” transport in the police van. I’d followed the mounting protest.

Maybe it is simple naïveté that allows me to feel safe among a group of people. I’ve never felt unsafe in Baltimore or in any city as long as I’m around other people. I have no idea what they must have thought about this guy wandering around on the #11 bus or even if they noticed. But I thought about my fellow bus riders when I heard about rioting breaking out. I think about my fellow bus riders and want justice to be done for them and Freddie Gray.

I think about my fellow bus riders and want the charm put back into Charm City.

(The larger issue of what’s at stake for Baltimore and this country is addressed in Sunday’s Baltimore Sun editorial, Why Freddie Gray ran )

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Eating Together… Can We Talk?

I’m anticipating the day when the waitperson serving my chicken pad thai sits down and wants to talk about eating. I guess I’d have to start off with the one thing I don’t like:

It’s papaya, the fresh luscious tropical delicacy my granddaughter can eat halves and halves and halves of until stopped by her mother, the jewel of the farmer’s market offered to me by my late mother with the query, “You still don’t eat papaya?”, the papaw, "fruit of the angels" according to Christopher Columbus and “deliciously sweet with musky undertones and a soft, butter-like consistency,” according to Whole Foods.

No, thanks.

Some people don’t eat some things for health reasons, some for religious reasons, some for philosophical reasons. The list of what one doesn’t like to eat is hopefully shorter than the list of those things one will eat, because it will be hard to find that McDonalds Happy Meal or KFC chicken while in India, Peru or Mongolia, not to mention in Hana or Lopez Village.

I’ll eat just about anything. Well, not the fermented soybeans called natto prized by many. I’ve seen it eaten with relish in mochi cakes, on hot rice and even served on pasta.

No, thanks.

The island comedian Frank DeLima had a stand-up routine where he said that every group that came to Hawaii brought some kind of “stink food.” The Japanese brought natto, the Portuguese brought bacalhau, the Koreans brought kim chee, the Filipinos brought bagoong. And, Frank said, every one thought that their stink food was the best kind of food.

That’s probably true around the world. In Sweden there’s surströmming (source of a near-international incident when British Air demanded that a Swede not bring a can of the delicacy on board). Go to Iceland and natives will tell you about the sublime pleasures of eating their fermented shark, hákarl. Like cheese? Like Limburger for its smell?

There’s a popular reality television show hosted by Andrew Zimmern called Bizarre Foods.  “Bizarre” seems a bit overblown since foods in their cultural context don’t seem that unusual.

My mother would soften the dried, strongly fragrant bakalhau just enough to get pieces of it into jars of pickling sauce with pieces of green and red peppers and chunks of onion. We’d vacation spear fishing and shore fishing on Kauai and my aunt would immediately clean and pickle the young goatfish, oama, after getting home from the beach—and we couldn’t wait to eat them whole, head, tail and all. When Mr. Dan from Maui visited, he’d bring the Hawaiian waters version of the puffer fish and clean the fish free of its venom sack and prepare the rich, oily fugu soup. Not stink and certainly not “bizarre” by my tastes.

“That will put hair on your chest,” my father with hairless chest used to say to me, who to this day is without a hairy chest despite eating most everything.

Now, let’s eat—together.

You can have my papaya.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Talking About Race, With or Without Coffee

It’s OK to talk about race if you have something to say about it and you’re not just talking about talking about race. I’ll start with a personal disclosure:

I am a Japanese person born in Hawaii and identify myself as a Hawaii Japanese. That sometimes confuses people who think that I am saying I’m part Hawaiian and part Japanese, which I am not. But I am not Japan Japanese nor am I mainland Japanese, a distinction that means a lot when you grow up Japanese in Hawaii. In any case, being Japanese makes me part of the Asian “race” as it were, or, as I would have been quaintly called in less enlightened times, an “oriental.”

My spouse is Caucasian. When in Hawaii, my spouse is a haole or white, the same kind of “white” I assume Esther Borg of Lopez Island meant in the ‘70s to describe me as “that fellow with the white woman.”

My two children are part Asian and part Caucasian. My grandson is one quarter Asian and three-quarters Caucasian. Folks say he looks like me but he’ll outgrow that. My granddaughter was adopted from Nepal. I carried her as an infant in the Hilo Hattie store in Honolulu and the Filipino sales women thought she was Filipino; a merchant at the farmer’s market complemented her on having a nice suntan. These days she’s fluent enough in Spanish to run around the playground and chatter away with her Hispanic playmates. These are the citizens of the new Pacific Century.

When I grew up in Hawaii there were more Asians than other “races” so I never felt like a member of a minority. It wasn’t a melting pot of fondue with different cheeses; it was a stew with different ingredients that I lived in. It was the norm. The “Japs” I watched in the war movies were the enemy, not the heroes. Our parents expected me to do well, to excel in school—and I did as I was expected. My best friends in school were Japanese and Chinese and Hawaiian; I dated a Japanese girl (didn’t like the way she kissed) and went steady with a hapa girl, part Hawaiian, part haole. The first black person I met in Hawaii was at a Quaker meeting.

The “mainland” is not Hawaii. In my first month away at college, the clerk at the college business office pondered cashing the check my parents had sent me, first wondering out loud what the exchange rate might be, then saying, “Oh, I guess it’s part of the states now.” First I thought that was stupid, then I thought it was ignorant. You know the difference, right?

I sat in a northern California restaurant in the late ‘60s with my girlfriend and her mother and heard a stone-faced woman sitting at a table across the way say in a voice loud enough for maybe only me to hear, “That poor woman, her heart must be broken.” Maybe it was my shaggy long hair and Fu Man Chu mustache that was breaking a heart, maybe being Asian, who knew?

Traveling across the country, I was refused service in Wyoming by a waitress who said, “We don’t serve Indians in here.” Stupid? Ignorant? 


I once stood around with some old white veterans in Sedro-Wooley as they chewed the fat and listened to them refer to chinks, Japs and niggers. I didn’t say anything, just thought, “I don’t know about the niggers but the chinks and Japs are going to kick your asses.” I thought the same thing when some Republican senator forgot his mic was hot before a Watergate hearing and called Senator Dan Inouye the “fat Jap.” His friend, Richard Nixon, got his ass kicked.

As a Hawaii Japanese I grew up knowing I was in the majority and knew I was expected to be as smart if not smarter than those around me. In Hawaii, I grew up with all the racial, ethnic and cultural stereotypes but it didn’t affect my behavior or how I treated anybody else. I couldn’t.  We played on the same team, went to the same schools, lived in the same town, on the same island.

Living on the mainland, I still think of myself as being in the majority. Seattle bookseller David Ishi wanted me to know that we, meaning us Japanese, had to stick together because we were like a Third World country. I told David I never felt like a besieged minority. But others have. The pain and shame of the World War Two internment injustice was still raw for many mainland Japanese Americans.

I was expected to be as smart if not smarter than others; I never had problems of self-confidence or self-esteem. But I sat in a Japanese-American Citizen League meeting with Lori Matsukawa talking about mentorship to build the self-esteem of Washington Japanese kids and to encourage them to enter the news media.

In Seattle my daughter was bused and, as a member of a minority group, I got a job with the City of Seattle as a “minority fill,” meaning the position was open only to non-Caucasians. Mayor Charlie Royer’s administration had set a policy that city departments should racially reflect the communities they serve. That’s still a good policy to follow today.

When environmental groups decide to define issues in a way that is relevant to groups other than white, college-educated liberals, their staffs, their messengers, will begin to reflect the communities they serve.

While it’s a good first step to learn Spanish and Mandarin to live in the Pacific Century, there’s no understanding without knowing the difference between Mexicans and Guatemalans and between Beijing Chinese and standard Chinese speakers on Taiwan.

In Hawaii, it’s good to know the difference between Hawaiians, Tongans and Samoans because, as with Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, it’s easy to offend by not understanding the differences. Like me being a Hawaii Japanese.

Talking about race, with or without coffee, is easier than talking about religion. I think it begins by telling one’s story and taking the time to listen to the stories of others.

What say?

--Mike Sato

Friday, March 20, 2015

Skunk Cabbage Welcomes Spring

Today’s vernal equinox in the neighborhood was celebrated under breezy gray skies and sporadic rain. Let the early bloom’d cherry blossoms, daffodils and tulips droop; the real harbinger of spring is the skunk cabbage.

Lysichiton americanus (western skunk cabbage) is a familiar springtime sight if you get out of your house and your car and frequent bogs, swamps and stream sides. You can’t miss the bright yellow, petal-like sheath in which tiny flowers are found on a stem. Blooms of the western skunk cabbage stink like rotten flesh and attract flies and beetles that serve as pollinators.

Famous forager Euelle Gibbons, author of Stalking the Healthful Herbs, describes his attempt to eat skunk cabbage (the eastern variety) boiled and served with salt, pepper and butter. He reported, "It tastes exactly like it smells, and burns your throat like red hot pepper as it goes down." And, if you can believe Wikipedia, “its roots are food for bears, who eat it after hibernating as a laxative or cathartic. The plant was used by indigenous people as medicine for burns and injuries, and for food in times of famine, when almost all parts were eaten.”

Another harbinger of the real spring: Have you already seen dandelions in their yellow blooms? No woosy plants these.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Get Smart With Phone, Rockfish Rebound, Fight IS By Shooting Back

When we get smart, smart phones can change the world; rockfish rebound so now let’s eat; why don’t gun-rights activists go to Syria and Iraq instead of wasting their time trying to get arrested in Olympia?



If you have a smart phone and are a ding-dong who talks or texts while driving, consider the recent development of being able to do a test in 15 minutes on an iPhone for HIV and syphilis. Yes, it does require a pin-prick worth of blood and an low-power attachment called a “dongle,” but this follows equally remarkable advances in being able to do remote testing for other blood-borne diseases like malaria. In any case, it helps to get smart with these smart phones because the state legislature might make cell phone use when behind the wheel a violation that would go on a driver’s record. Want to see what State Patrol would say when you say you were only fooling around with your dongle?


The news about rockfish along the west coast is good: conservation and fisheries management brought stocks back far enough for us to eat them again. Well, I’m not sure anybody noticed that rockfish were not available in local markets but the problem, according to the story, was that, unlike the iconic salmon, Sebastes goes by so many different names that confusion reigns over what’s been really saved. In Puget Sound, yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish and bocaccio came under federal protection and recovery last year in 590 square miles of near-shore habitat for young rockfish and 414 square miles of deepwater habitat for adults. Of course, since you don’t know the name of the rockfish you may have hooked and rockfish don’t do well after you land them, we might just as well keep our line out of the water, wait until Puget Sound Sebates recover, then get the dinner plate ready.

Now, in the spirit of public health and safety, a modest suggestion for gun-rights activists who went to Olympia last week with their armaments to get arrested for carrying firearms into the legislature’s viewing gallery. The State Patrol locked the gallery and no one got arrested. "What's the world coming to when there are people who want to break the law and they won't let you do it?" one activist complained. Now, now: instead of pledging, “I will not comply” and wearing identify apparel emblazoned with “Fight Tyranny – Shoot Back,” these patriots should go to Syria and iraq where, according to the Associated Press, 20,000 foreigners are headed to join up with the Islamic State. Take your guns, fight IS, shoot back!

--Mike Sato