Thursday, November 29, 2012

Two Minute Drill: Ocean Acid, Coal Exports and Jobs

Here are three more points to raise with the federal, state and local government agencies holding a public meeting today in Ferndale (and in Spokane on Dec. 5 and Seattle on Dec. 13) to gather comments about what should be considered in evaluating the coal export facility proposed for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve:

  1. Take seriously that the Governor of the state of Washington by virtue of the power invested in her by the Constitution and statutes of the state of Washington did, effective immediately, hereby ordered and directed the Office of the Governor and the cabinet agencies that report to the Governor to advocate for reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide at a global, national, and regional level.
  2. Take seriously that exporting US coal to China will increase carbon dioxide emissions and increase ocean acidification. 
  3. Take seriously that increased ocean acidification puts at risk Washington state’s world-leading shellfish industry, which employs about 3200 people and generates revenues of about $270 million annually.

Now, you do your two-minute drills, state officals and governor-elect Jay Inslee.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Some Things Settled: Thanksgiving Turkey, Black Friday

First of all, the standoff between my granddaughter and the turkey was called a draw before Thanksgiving Day.

The turkey that did lose was a 22-pounder brined externally by channeling Molly Stevens, two days before Thursday and left to season in the refrigerator. Two hours to room temperature, four-and-a-half hours at 350-degrees after an initial singe at 450, then an hour’s rest before deboning and carving deli style— all in all, a pretty good eating bird. The only leftover by the weekend was a small portion of turkey soup.

So it’s settled: It is possible to have a simple, tasty turkey...

Despite what Mark Bittman claims is an annual culinary disaster:

“At the hands of all but the most experienced, careful or lucky cooks, the more than 700 million pounds of turkey we’ll buy this week will wind up with breast meat that’s cottony-dry and leg meat that is underdone, tough, stringy or all three. And although a friend of mine claims that this is how people like it — “it’s exactly how our grandmothers did it, and it’s what we grew up with,” he says — I believe this explains why we waste an estimated $282 million worth of turkey each year, enough to feed each food-insecure American with 11 servings.” All Hail the Sweet Potato  

Before going on to extol the virtues of the sweet potato, Bittman concedes: “Thanksgiving is a celebratory feast that has little to do with the harvest or the brilliance of the food but rather family and memories and, usually, obligations.”

His contention that we don’t get together to eat good food on Thanksgiving but are basically celebrating a tradition made me rethink all the messages I got encouraging me to take part in Black Friday and those I got dissing Black Friday.

“It’s a family tradition,” a Black Friday shopper said in one news account.

So that settles it for me about Black Friday.

It’s not one of my family traditions like eating turkey on Thanksgiving. I’d give a polite ‘no thank you’ to an offer to join in a tofukey meal or to join you on Black Friday--- but if tofukey or Black Friday are part of your traditions, go to it. I simply suggest we be polite in going about our traditions. After all, customs are the rocks upon which our societies are erected, but there’s little gained by throwing them at each other.

--Mike Sato

Monday, November 19, 2012

Have You Hugged Your Toilet Today?

November 19 is World Toilet Day, an annual event launched by Singaporean businessman Jack Sim who in 2001 founded the World Toilet Organization. Go ahead and snigger, then wake up: 2.5 billion people – that’s one in every three people worldwide – do not have access to a clean toilet. 

Unmanaged human waste carries diseases which makes people sick. It pollutes drinking water. It affects productivity, hampers economic development and shortens life expectancy.

Pre-industrial peoples like Romans and Egyptians and cities in India and Pakistan treated human waste by connecting toilets to flowing water sewage systems. According to Wikipedia, the  flushing toilet was invented by John Harrington in 1596. Joseph Bramah of Yorkshire patented the first practical water closet in England in 1778. George Jennings in 1852 also took out a patent for the flush-out toilet. No, Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet but did much to increase the popularity of the toilet in the 19th Century.

Here in the Northwest we take care of some household sewage on site by flushing waste into a septic tank which, if properly working, breaks down solids using bacteria in an anaerobic process and distributes liquid effluent to the ground via a drainfield. In large cities, the process of separating solids, disinfecting pathogens, removing metals and chemicals takes place on a larger scale before effluent is discharged into a water body like the Salish Sea.

Over the last 40 years, Washington’s Puget Sound jurisdictions have invested— both willingly and not so willingly-- in sewage treatment plants and technologies. The most recent example of this type of large-scale, water-based sewage system is the Brightwater sewage treatment plant, built at a cost of $2 billion, to handle the waste of King County and its municipalities. Brightwater people, hug your toilets today.

The out-of-sight, out-of-mind technology of our modern waste disposal system in the capital city of Victoria is still stuck in the mid-20th Century where human waste is not treated but simply screened to remove litter then flushed out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. What seemed like a positive forward movement to take responsibility for disinfecting their own shit by building a primary treatment sewage facility for three-quarters of a million dollars has found local politicians and interest groups now in opposition.  Hug your toilets, Victoria— just don’t flush.  

As populations increase and potable water resources diminish, a technology of using clean water to flush away human waste so it can be disinfected in a costly process before returning the water to the environment comes to look more and more impractical and irrational. What next after the flush toilet?

In rural areas with high ground, outhouses and squat toilets and pit toilets work fine to protect human health. It’s in our towns and cities around the world where we need our best and brightest minds to engineer waterless toilets, businesses to market a new culture and installations, and activists and elected officials to push the regulatory envelope forward.

In the meantime, hug your toilet today.

--Mike Sato

Friday, November 16, 2012

Electing Obama, Saving Puget Sound

It might be instructive to take a look at the successful Obama campaign playbook when pondering how to build a constituency around restoring Puget Sound to health.

First of all, people have to know what’s at stake— and then need to know what they need to do to make a difference in what’s at stake. It took many millions of dollars to get that done in the presidential campaign.

And it was smart people spending money very smartly.

“It was called ‘the Optimizer,’ and, strategists for President Obama say it is how he beat a better-financed Republican opposition in the advertising war,” writes New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg in “How Obama Won.”

“Culling never-before-used data about viewing habits, and combining it with more personal information about the voters the campaign was trying to reach and persuade than was ever before available, the system allowed Mr. Obama’s team to direct advertising with a previously unheard-of level of efficiency, strategists from both sides agree.” 
“Through its vast array of information collected via its e-mail list, Facebook and millions of door-to-door discussions conducted by volunteers in swing states — and fed into the campaign database — the campaign devised a ranking scale for voters ranging from likeliest to support Mr. Obama to least likely.”

From those voter profiles and ratings, the campaign developed its advertising campaign targeting specific messages via specific media, timing and frequency in swing states. Combined with volunteers on the ground, they got enough people to recognize what was at stake— and to get them to act — vote -- to make a difference.

Washington wasn’t a swing state so most of the Obama campaigning came to me via email messages from Barack, Joe, Michelle, Jim and a host of others I came to know nearly every day on first-name basis, inviting me to enter drawings to have dinner with the president and to join him election night in Chicago. Nothing out of the ordinary for a small amount contributor.

But the Obama campaign’s use of data mining and using that data moves way beyond even the sometimes amusing promotions I get from Amazon based on past purchases and purchases made by others whom they think I resemble.

The Obama campaign makes the campaign to save Puget Sound— the polling, data collecting, profiling and segmenting-- comically anachronistic. For years, the Puget Sound Partnership has been laboring under early polling that nearly three-quarters of the population thinks Puget Sound is in OK shape. That’s led leaders to shy away from decisive actions until more people see Puget Sound’s health as a problem.

Efforts to change that awareness — if in fact it is so sanguine — have proceeded like a low-grade infection. So how do you strategically go about getting enough people to recognize what is at stake— and to get them to take actions that will make a difference?

We’ll continue to nibble around the edges of the problems in Puget Sound until we take real action.

It costs money but there are smart people who know how to spend money very smartly.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Inconvenient Patriotism

America waved a lot of flags and said many fine words earlier this week about those who serve our country. A day later and a week after our elections, people from Texas, Louisiana and Florida are petitioning the White House to secede from the United States. ["White House to Review Online Secession Petitions"]

I guess that's silly and harmless enough since you and I could petition the White House to disregard those petitions to the same end.

If the presidential election had gone another way, would the petitioners have been satisfied to remain as part of the United States? Would those left-leaning citizens who threatened to move to Canada really have pulled up stakes and left?

People still say the Pledge of Allegiance and it must mean something to say "one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

I don't like the "under God" part because I don't think God has much to do with how we govern ourselves, that's up to us, but I say the pledge, because the important part for me is the "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all" part.

It's too convenient to say you are an American citizen until things don't go your way, then want out. Or then claim to be more of a real American patriot than those you don't agree with.

I think the real tough kind of patriotism is the inconvenient kind the President talked about a week ago when he accepted the second term. The kind of patriotism that doesn't see red and blue states but a United States, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-Election Diversion: Channeling Molly

I can’t think of a better time to share a few thoughts about food and cooking than the day after US Election Day 2012. I'm thinking about Molly. 

That’s Molly Stevens, of course, author of All About Braising and All About Roasting.

But starting from the beginning: My daughter gave me All About Roasting as a Christmas gift last year and I spent most of the week that followed enjoying just reading Molly Stevens.

Where better to start than to make the dish on the cover-- One-Hour Rosemary Rib Roast— and not just to try making it but to cook it in earnest, following Molly's directions step-by-step -- channeling Molly, as it were--  for my daughter’s birthday in mid-January. 

The meat counter at Sehome Haggen had a prewrapped piece at $7 a pound and Molly makes it incredibly simple: Two days before dinner, I followed every direction including getting the right kind of kitchen string to lay under the roast and even using the mortar and pestle to mash the garlic into a paste. This cut already had the ribs hinged, so I rubbed the meat with the garlic paste, generously salted and peppered the roast, and arranged sprigs of rosemary between the ribs and the roast and on the top the roast. Then I tied the sprigs down with the three lengths of kitchen string laid under the roast.

(OK, Molly, it wasn’t that smooth and it didn’t look like the pictures that showed how to do it 
nicely. I cut the strings too short the first time. I got the order mixed up and put the rosemary sprigs on before slathering on the garlic paste. And I had to wash the small baking dish I was planning to use before I could put the roast in the refrigerator.)

But: In went the roast, uncovered, to the refrigerator exactly 48 hours before it was supposed to go into the oven.

For the next two days I was fascinated by how the surface texture of the roast changed beneath the bushy sprigs of rosemary. The surface of the roast contracted from the salt which created a crusty layer. What a wonderful distraction whenever I opened the refrigerator door.

On the big day two days later, we drove the roast 90 miles south to my daughter’s home and got her oven heated to 450 degrees. Two hours after we took the roast out of the refrigerator and having it at “room temperature,” we popped it in the oven.

This is the part that’s filled with anxiety: I wanted it medium-rare and Molly tells me to check it regularly after the internal temperature reaches 100 degrees— and to remember that the roast will keep cooking while it “rests” after being taken out of the oven.

After 60 minutes, the internal temperature is 105 degrees. (OK, all ovens are different.) At 75 minutes, it’s at 110 degrees. Take it out and let it “rest” and it will reach the 125-130 degrees desired?

Five of us are standing around the oven door. "Leave it in for a few more minutes" prevails.

At 80 minutes, the internal temperature is 120 degrees. “Take it out, take it out!”

I imagine that by the time it “rests” for its obligatory 20 minutes, the roast will be well done, dry and spoiled. The rosemary is burned to a crisp. The instant-read thermometer reads 135 degrees five minutes into the “rest.” Ruined? Ruined! No, I had it in too deep and was hitting the rib bone.

After 20 minutes, the first slice of the carve reveals perfection: Crusty exterior, brown then the pink of a juicy interior. The taste? Best piece of meat I’ve cooked. A perfect gift in return for a wonderful present.

Have you Channeled Molly?

--Mike Sato

Friday, November 2, 2012

The ‘Poor’ State of Our Sound

I drank beer with a few folks the other night and talked about saving Puget Sound. The beer was good; the discussion, well, less than satisfying.

Talking about saving Puget Sound is less than satisfying the same way reading about how the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council addressed and approved the latest State of the Sound report. (“Little progress reported in Puget Sound health”)

According to the Sun article, there’s progress on reopening polluted commercial shellfish beds and restoring habitats but many other indicators of the Sound’s health— Chinook salmon and orca populations, herring stocks and eelgrass beds, and water quality— are not improving. The best that can be said is that it would be worse if nothing were being done, and that the problems weren’t created in a day and won’t be solved in a day.

So what do we know?

We know a lot of money has been spent but there’s not enough money to do what’s necessary. In fact, we might not know, exactly, how much money is needed but it’s a lot more than the $230 million a year that’s been spent since 2008.

We know what work’s been done thus far but we don’t know whether the work’s been effective because we can’t afford to monitor effectiveness and decide what actions work, what actions don’t work.

We think we know that people know the health of the Sound isn’t good but that doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in what they do in their lives. And, as Skagit County citizen Pete Haase told the Council, picking up dog poop isn’t going to save the Sound.

Uncap me another beer.

The Partnership and its Leadership Council seems mired in the same rut saving Puget Sound has been in for years and years: not enough money to get the job done right, not enough ways to show that spending the money and doing the work are making a real difference, and not enough people caring enough to insist that Puget Sound be protected and restored to health.

Where’s the leadership?

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that says let’s protect the Sound by first enforcing existing laws that protect the Sound. It’s not an easy task but essential: Do No More Harm.

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that brings together businesses, soccer moms, the hook-and-bullet crowd with whale huggers, tribes and local governments to establish an ongoing revenue source to put real money into cleaning up polluted runoff, restoring habitat and reopening polluted shellfish beds. It’s not an easy task but it has been done: the Centennial Clean Water Fund (the cigarette tax) is one example from the mid-’80s.

We need the leadership, political or otherwise, that gets on the road and into our communities to energize and publicize the many, many local efforts underway protecting and restoring parts of Puget Sound. It’s not an easy task but we need to build awareness of what’s at stake in saving Puget Sound neighbor-to-neighbor, project-by-project— and shape that constituency into one that insists that the Sound be protected and restored to health.

Enough beer for now. Where’s the leadership?

Look, tell me what you think, and I’ll buy the next round.

--Mike Sato