Monday, March 26, 2012

Baja Travels With Carl Safina and John Steinbeck

Mexican Green Turtle (Photo by Eddie Kisfaludy)
I’ve been enjoying this month two fine accounts of voyages of discovery along the Baja Mexico coasts.

Over the last week, Carl Safina’s been posting reports from Laguna San Ignacio and Punta Abreojos on the Pacific side of the peninsula while filming for his TV series Saving the Ocean.

Grey whales, of course, but also some observations about how whale watching is regulated. “A world Biosphere Reserve, the whale-watching is limited to core areas, with other areas off-limits. Sixteen boats, max, can use the whale-watching area at any one time, and only for an hour and a half. A guard, hired by the tour operators, “to keep it a nice experience,” says Jesus, polices the rules. The boat operators are skilled at letting the whales set their own perimeters. The boats don’t chase or hassle them here.”

At Punta Abreojos, Safina reports on a “60-year-old fishing cooperative so oriented to conservation and sustainable fishing—and to patrolling their area against outside pirate-fishing—that their catch has been certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.” The catches of the day are red rock lobster and kelp bass, and a visit to an abalone breeding program.

At Estero Coyote, Safina describes an estuary “filled with migratory and nesting herons, shorebirds such as curlews, godwits and others, Ospreys, and fish. And Coyotes (we saw 3 on the sand flats in about an hour). And—sea turtles.”

My other Baja travels this month has been with John Steinbeck and The Log from the Sea of Cortez, written in 1941 describing the collecting expedition undertaken with Ed Ricketts in March and April in the other side of Baja, the Gulf of California. The account is a spirited mix of marine science, sociology, sailing, philosophy and religion written in a simpler time but a time on the brink of a second great war.

On March 31, Steinbeck wrote: “Our own interest lay in relationships of animal to animal. [A]ll life is relational to the point where...the feeling about species grows misty. One merges into another...until the time when what we know as life meets and enters what we think of as non-life: barnacle and rock, rock and earth, earth and tree, tree and rain and air.... It is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call really the understanding and the attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable... plankton, a shimmering phosphorescence on the sea and the spinning planets and an expanding universe, all bound together by the elastic string of time. It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”

-- Mike Sato

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Two Cultures of Capitalism

March 20, 2012
The title ‘Two Cultures’ is originally from C.P. Snow’s essay delineating the conflict between science and humanities.

I thought about two different cultures Tuesday evening after returning from an informational meeting about the permitting process for the proposed coal export facility at Cherry Point, then turning on the TV and listening to Mitt Romney after his win in Illinois.

Romney’s message: America’s business is business. When government gets out of the way of business, business prospers. When businesses prosper, we all prosper.

According to Dave Gallagher in the Bellingham Herald, Peggy Zoro, the new executive director of the Northwest Economic Development Council in Whatcom County, sees the role of her council as helping businesses and industries remove large barriers that are keeping them from opening or expanding in Whatcom County— such as infrastructure needs or regulations that hurt different industries.

I’m sure the folks who oppose the coal terminal at Cherry Point aren’t against prosperity. It’s how you get to that prosperity that’s different.

Theirs is a prosperity where it’s a little bit clearer how everybody prospers and how nobody gets hurt in the process. It’s still capitalism but the culture is different.

This clash of cultures is what makes the process of doing a full environmental review before approving the construction of a coal export terminal in Whatcom County really interesting. You wouldn’t have this kind of clash of cultures for the coal export facility review in Longview, Washington, or Coos Bay, Oregon.

In Longview, the clock is still set at a time when this state’s economy was based on extractive industries using the shorelines and waterfronts of the Columbia River. That day has passed in Puget Sound and a proposal like a Gateway Pacific Terminal is like a throwback to another time, another age.

The scoping process and the environmental impact statement process and the decision making process are all regulatory safeguards put in place for approving or mitigating development in an extractive economy.

There are no regulatory safeguards developed yet for a new capitalist culture where everyone prospers and nobody gets hurt in the process.

Remember nuclear power in Washington state? In the ‘70s, it wasn’t a safety issue that defeated the building of a nuclear power plant in the Skagit. It didn’t pencil out economically. In the ‘80s, it wasn’t safety or environmental problems that brought the nuclear program of the Washington Public Power Supply System, or WPPSS or Whoops, to a crashing halt; it was cost overruns and the cost of nuclear power. The bottom line in a capitalist economy is the time value of money. Period.

Yesterday’s headline: “Worldwide coal slump worsening; Prices fall on global glut of supplies, decreasing demand.”

The battle over a coal shipping terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County is a battle between capitalist cultures. Both sides have smart people and financial resources. The process will take a few years. There will be elections of county officials in the meantime where the coal terminal proposal will be a pivotal campaign issue.

I’m betting the new cultural of capitalism wins in Whatcom County— and the old cultural of capitalism, and its coal terminal,  loses.

Stay tuned.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Laws are sand, customs are rock."

KING5 reports that opponents of gay marriage began circulating petitions today in an effort to block the state's new law and put the issue into the hands of voters in November.

“More than 120,000 signatures are needed by June 6 to get Referendum 74 on the ballot. If that happens, the law is put on hold until after the election. On the ballot in November, voters would decide either yes or no on gay marriage.... Voters may also find Initiative 1192 which, if approved, would define marriage in Washington as between only one man and one woman.”

A little over a month ago, McClatchy News Service reported that a Gallup poll in May 2011 “showed that 53 percent of Americans supported gay marriage, in a dramatic shift from 2004, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry and 59 percent of Americans favored a federal constitutional ban.  The states reflect the broader trend: Half of Marylanders support gay marriage, according to a Washington Post poll this week. According to a University of Washington poll in October, 55 percent of Washington state residents said they'd vote yes to uphold a gay marriage law.”

Public attitudes regarding gays have changed. I don’t think the legislature and the governor would have codified these cultural changes in a law recognizing gay marriage if the culture had not changed. Will taking the law to the ballot box change the culture? No. Will a public vote affirming the new law put an end to the opposition? Probably not, but the cultural change has already taken place.

Does legal challenge on social issues ever end, even when it’s clear that a major cultural change has occurred? You’d think it would but, seeing how some politicians have chosen to attack the issue of birth control, there doesn’t seem to be any accounting for bad sense.

In a Bloomberg National Poll conducted March 8-11, 77% of adults believed birth control SHOULD NOT be part of the national political debate. (20% thought it should; 3% were unsure)

To the question: "There has been recent controversy over whether education and health care facilities affiliated with religious organizations, such as the Catholic Church, should provide access to birth control through health insurance plans. Which of the following describes your view on this debate? ‘This is a matter of religious liberty ‘or ‘This is a matter of a woman's health and access to birth control’  62% said “a woman’s health” (33% said ‘religious liberty’ and 5% were unsure)

Our customs, our public attitudes, our values regarding gay marriage and birth control have changed. We are not going back. “Laws are sand, customs are rock.” That comes from a very short parable told by Mark Twain: The Gorky Incident (1906)  You’ll enjoy it.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ignorant and Stupid People Vote, Too

"No, that's ignorant. They just don't know any better."

"I read in the LA Times that last weekend’s poll of Republican voters in Alabama and Mississippi found about half still believe President Obama is a Muslim and about 1 in 4 believes his parents’ interracial marriage should have been illegal.

I usually check my gut response by first reminding myself that polls, like statistics, can be used to show practically anything and  second, that the movie, Nurse Betty, makes a good, albeit rather violent, point about the difference between ignorance and stupidity.

Ignorant is not knowing any better; stupid is...well, stupid.

The world’s changed enough that I don’t worry too much any more about the interracial marriage issue. When I first moved to the back woods in the early ‘70s, Esther Borg used to refer to me as the “guy married to the white woman.” Esther’s dead now; my children are ‘mixed’ and my grandchildren even more ‘mixed.’  Long live miscegenation.

I’m not so sure about the religion issue.  I like when people get spiritual to bring us together, I don’t like when it’s used as some kind of credential to determine who’s in and who’s out.

As far as I’m concerned, the public good is not defined by Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu scripture— not in this country, my country.

Seems to me if someone says being a Mormon won’t determine how he will govern if elected or if someone says he is a Christian, then that should be good enough. So, now you know and to think otherwise would be...well, stupid.

But we also know it’s not what we know as much as what we believe that determines what we think and do. Ignorant and stupid people vote, too.

I might not like it but I wouldn’t have it any other way, not in this country, my country.

--Mike Sato