Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I'm Looking For In 2014

Forget all the pundit wisdom as 2013 ends; the story continues and the end's not in sight so any conclusions others might wish to draw are, well, masterful or maybe not so masterful self gratification.

Since the story goes on, I'll be watching how Governor Jay Inslee figures out how to get something done with a GOP-led state Senate and whether there's any real political muscle in getting rid of turncoat Democrats like Rod Tom and Tim Sheldon.

Watch with me how much more of a threat is posed to Puget Sound and the Salish Sea as oil shipments by rail and pipeline ramp up, and vessel traffic numbers get tossed around for oil tankers and coal cargo ships.

I really don't know what's happening to the star fish and why they are wasting away along the West Coast and in the Salish Sea. Until the biologist figure out what's happening, it's hard to be sanguine about the health of our waters. I hope we figure out what's happening soon in 2014.

Next year is the 40th anniversary of the Boldt decision which recognized Washington treaty tribes as co-managers of fish harvest in their usual and accustomed tribal areas. I'll be watching for some fine words being written and spoken.

I'll also be watching and listening for some news from the Puget Sound Partnership and its Leadership Council on the real work that's being done and needs to be done to make Puget Sound fishable, swimmable and diggable. There's a lot of money being spent and, if making meaningful progress by 2020 is no longer a goal, then let's have a public discussion on what's the real timeline.

Looks like it'll be an interesting year. Stick around and see how the stories unfold. Thanks for reading.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It’s “King” Tide Time Again

If you live in Puget Sound, the first “king” tides will be occurring this weekend, beginning December 6. The Strait of Juan de Fuca shorelines have already had their first round of these seasonal extra-high tides this week. The tides will also be high at the end of December and early January in Puget Sound.

These extra-high tides occur several times a year when the moon and sun enter into a special alignment with the Earth increasing their gravitational pull on the earth’s oceans.

Where and when will the tides be the highest? Check out the regional Washington beaches here and select the dates when the highest tides will occur.

Later “king” tide dates in the Strait of Juan de Fuca are Dec. 30-31, 2013 and Jan. 1-2 and Jan. 30-31, 2014. Puget Sound dates at Dec. 30-31, 2013 and Jan. 4-8, 2014.

The Washington Department of Ecology is again asking folks to photograph and share their “king” tide pictures here.

Properly documented, these photos provide good snapshots of what sea level rise due to global warming will bring the Puget Sound region. It’s been pretty mild this first week of December but, coupled with a storm surge, these extra-high tides can be destructive to low-lying properties and facilities.

California’s King Tides Initiative: Snap the shore, see the future has a nice, robust web site worth checking out.

BTW, readers seem to love the subject. The Salish Sea News and Weather’s blog posting that featured EarthFix reporter Katie Campbell’s story on “king” tides in December 2011 is the blog post with the all-time highest number of ‘hits.’

Of course, that’s dwarfed by visitors who are interested in Watching the Grass Grow. That’s far and away the all-time ‘hit’ leader.

--Mike Sato

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering November 22, 1963

A little over a year before JFK was assassinated in Dallas was the first time I every really prayed.

I was 15, a freshman in an Episcopal prep school in Hawaii. We assembled in chapel and were told that Soviet ships carrying missiles were sailing to Cuba and that we stood at the brink of nuclear war.

Maybe my prayer helped the crisis to pass. A year later we assembled in chapel on Friday, November 22, 1963, and were told that President Kennedy had been killed in Texas. There is a four-hour time difference in Hawaii so we had the entire day after being dismissed from school early to ponder what had happen.

All the championship high school football games scheduled for that Saturday and accompanying festivities were cancelled, and I recall some fellow students complaining. Sitting in chapel hearing the news and recalling the bickering and complaints are two things I definitely remember of that day. I don’t remember praying. The images of the Zapruda film, the black and white photo of Lyndon Johnson taking the oath of office in the plane and the photo of Lee Harvey Oswald grimacing after being shot by Jack Ruby, and the photos of John-John’s funeral salute—are images of those dark days I built later into my memory.

I remember seeing JFK and Jackie Kennedy in Hawaii earlier in the backseat of a Lincoln Continental convertible in a motorcade being driven Ewa bound on South Beretania Street in front of where we lived. He was either running for president or had just been elected president.

I didn’t know much about President Kennedy in 1963 except that I knew I didn’t like him or Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev for taking me to the brink of nuclear war. And I didn’t like how he was escalating the Vietnam War and sending young men like me to a war far away.

There was a lot I didn’t understand about what happened on that day in 1963 and a lot I didn’t understand about what had happened before and after the assassination.  I’ve learned more as I’ve gone along and hopefully will continue to understand more.

In 1964, I put a Johnson bumper sticker on my ’53 Chevy because I didn’t trust having Barry Goldwater’s finger on the nuclear button.

In 1968, I volunteered for Eugene McCarthy because he was against the war and we celebrated after he won the Oregon primary. Right after that and in the summer of 1968, I was sad, scared and angry after 
Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were killed and Chicago exploded.

I haven't been sad like that since those years. I’ve been scared sometimes; a lot of the time I’ve been angry. And I never prayed again.

--Mike Sato

Monday, November 18, 2013

Read A Newspaper Recently?

About a year ago the Bellingham Herald put their online content behind a paywall and was followed by the other McClatchy papers The News Tribune of Tacoma and The Olympian.

Right after the last election, The Herald of Everett took their online content behind a paywall, leaving the Peninsula Daily News— also owned by Sound Publishing— as the last daily paper in the Puget Sound basin without a paywall.

After asking Bellingham Herald executive editor Julie Shirley whether the strategy putting up an online paywall worked to increase paid subscriptions, I got kind of an answer from publisher Dave Zeeck at The News Tribune who said that McClatchy Corp. didn’t release information on a paper-by-paper basis but from the McClatchy’s company third quarter report:

“...year-over-year circulation revenue went up 6.5% or about $5.3 million. I would assume most of that increase is paywall revenue, but that's a matter of interpretation, rather than fact. For the same quarter our daily circulation dropped 5.6%, and our Sunday circulation went up 1.1%.”

That’s for all of the 30 company papers. So did it help the three Puget Sound McClatchy papers?

The circulation figures from the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM) show the daily circulation of The News Tribune went from 74,826 (9/30/12) to 73,557 (3/31/13) and the daily circulation of The Olympian went from 21,876 to 21,621 in the same period. There were no audited daily circulation figures for the Bellingham Herald, which stood at 16,154 at the end of September 2012.

Going to paywall didn’t result in much change in daily circulation where figures were available but seems to have brought increases in Sunday subscriptions. McClatchy Corp. lists Sunday subscriptions for The News Tribune at 98,155 in 2012 and for The Olympian at 27,201. The 3/31/13 AAM report lists Sunday circulation for The News Tribune at 102,080 and for The Olympian at 30,143. Again, there were no Sunday circulation figures for the Bellingham Herald in the latest AAM report.

So, as far as I can tell, daily circulation didn’t get worse for The News Tribune and The Olympian and Sunday circulation got better. Is that good enough to make daily print news with paywalls a good business proposition for these papers in Puget Sound?

Zeeck, speaking again to the overall 30-company McClatchy picture, thinks newspapers have a future:

“If we're taking more money in by charging for digital subscriptions, both for our print customers and our digital only customers, then I think that's good news for print publications. In my opinion, going down 5.3 percent in daily subscriptions when you are charging people more to pay for the digital portion of their news consumption, that's a very good sign. So is going up 1.1 percent in Sunday circulation. I think print has a very long future.  I think it was more in doubt when people could get their news for free on the internet, and drop their print subscription.  Now, however you take the news, you have to pay for it. I think that bolsters print subscriptions in the long run.”

Maybe so. For the sake of daily print newspapers in the Puget Sound basin, I hope so. For McClatchy’s 30 daily newspapers, online revenue from circulation and advertising increased over the previous year’s third quarter; overall net earnings, however, declined in large part due to continued losses in print advertising. The business of newspapers is not to provide the news; it’s business is to provide the space for advertisers to communicate with readers.

The more eyes on your product, the better your chances are to sell advertising and increase revenue. What brings and keeps eyes on your product? Content, news, items of interest to readers.

An important question is whether the print and online content of the Bellingham Herald, The News Tribune and The Olympian has the kind of content in quantity and quality subscribers are willing to pay for. Will more people subscribe so more advertising can be sold— and more revenue generated? Is this the business model that will keep daily print newspapers serving the Puget Sound basin?

I hope so but am feel pessimistic when I read the recent report from the Pew Research Journalism Project: News Use across Social Media Platforms. About half of Twitter and Facebook users say they get their news from those sites, and 65% of users of social media platforms say they get their news from only one social media site. And roughly only a fourth of users of each social media platform say they also get their news from newspapers, about the same as all adults.

And on the revenue side, I learned last week that Google is on course to do $60 billion in revenue this year, almost all of that from advertising. According to, Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget , Google alone is now bigger than either newspapers and magazines. (See graph, above, in Google Is Now Bigger Than Both The Magazine And Newspaper Industries )

Maybe Google’s success and the success of Facebook aren’t necessarily taking away ad revenue from magazines and newspapers but what makes these platforms appealing is their ability to deliver large audiences that can be segmented, targeted and sold to. Daily newspapers are neither search engines nor social media platforms. But, in this day and age— and into the future— what are they?

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Now, What About Puget Sound?

Vital signs status(2013 SOS, Page 70)
It’s pretty obvious that the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency charged with coordinating the recovery of Puget Sound, doesn’t want to be held accountable for what it’s supposed to be doing— namely, having a healthy Sound that’s fishable, swimmable and diggable by the year 2020.

The authors of the 2013 State of the Sound report issued last week wrote: “Puget Sound remains in crisis...It is increasingly likely that we will not reach our legislatively established targets by 2020.” (As reported in “New Report: Puget Sound Still In ‘Critical Condition’ But Don’t Unplug Life Support Yet”)

The 2013 report issued last week reads like the 2012 report: things got better in a few areas, things got worse or didn’t get better in other areas, and, due to a lack of data for some things, the Partnership couldn’t tell what’s going on for the better or the worse.

Maybe the best that can be said is that the goal of 2020 was unrealistic and that the things that are getting worse or not getting better (orca population, chinook salmon recovery, eelgrass beds, marine water quality, nearshore habitat) are too hard to do.

The Partnership’s Leadership Council chair Martha Kongsgaard chose to put it this way: “Indicators like acres of restored habitat and reopening shellfish beds respond more quickly to management strategies if they are given the proper resources. In contrast, herring or orca populations are examples of more complicated indicators for which meaningful improvements might not be seen for decades.” (Puget Sound Partnership E-Newsletter, November 5 )

I don’t think the health of the Sound has decades left. I hope I’m wrong but I don’t get any sense of urgency that the health of Puget Sound is a priority any more. If there is no deadline tied to a goal, what’s a goal worth, really?

I received a couple of comments when I posted the news story last week about this year’s State of the Sound report:

One reader wrote: “"Ecology has already issued regulations (NPDES) that will cause the remaining Puget Sound basin to be developed in (effectively) the same way that the first half was developed. PSP has acquiesced. No amount of protest by the 14 scientists or People for Puget Sound (now deceased) has been able to shift Ecology or PSP. I think that we have already unplugged life support."

Another reader made four points in response:

One: The Puget Sound Partnership and its key, major members should stop doing so much “Good Tidings” publicity and be much more realistic in their bloviating.  What little “Public Relations” they use is way, way off the mark of what the situation is and what needs to happen.  They create no sense of urgency.

“Two:  Probably the 21 Targets are not quite the right way to measure the condition of Puget Sound.  I think the three strategic initiatives of Shellfish, Stormwater and Habitat might, instead, each have a couple of targets that are directly influenced by the various planned actions.  Then we could better assess the benefits of various actions – which we can’t do now.

“Three: The PUBLIC needs some simple, consistent, factual, realistic messages about conditions, causes, and actions needed.  So far those that have been presented are honorable, Pollyanna spits in the proverbial bucket.  I suspect this will need to come from non-profits because the messages will mostly not be very politically palatable.

“Four:  The esteemed, nice, credible, caring Leaders should LEAD.  Pretty much all they do is sit in meetings and mainly nod with the presentations and now and then suggest a change/ask a question.  But they set no goals, they don’t demand changes, they are not out in front championing the effort, they don’t stand for hard things like “Quit approving building permits in flood-ways”, they don’t coach the team members and they are not responsible for anything remotely related to actually improving the Sound.  They just make sure documents get released according to schedule.”

There’s urgency in the campaign to save the Sound right before us— if we choose to see it. For example, the state Fish and Wildlife Department is revising the Hydraulic Code, the permit system that is meant to ensure that no in-water construction (like piers, bulkheads, discharge pipes, marinas, oil and coal and gravel terminals) results in net loss of critical nearshore habitats or destroys or disturbs spawning and rearing fish habitat. There’s urgency to fix the current administration of the permit system and to improve the rules to truly protect nearshore habitat in Puget Sound-- if we choose to see it.

But maybe specifically saving Puget Sound nearshore habitat is too hard politically when private interests are involved; maybe saving Puget Sound in general is too hard. The new urgency today is climate change and ocean acidification, but if you think saving Puget Sound is hard, think about meeting some meaningful targets under real deadlines to reverse climate change and ocean acidification.

How far do you want to take the medical metaphor in applying it to Puget Sound? When the patient is in “critical condition” and in “crisis,” you don’t prescribe vitamins and teach wellness exercises. You do all that’s necessary to maintain vital signs and stability; you triage. For the Sound, that means moratoriums on development, prohibitions to prevent more harm, harvest closures, creating protected areas and reserves-- politically unpalatable and unpopular stuff to gain time to bring the patient back into a state of balance.

You can change the metaphor but not the reality.

What do you think?

--Mike Sato

Sunday, October 20, 2013

News From The Deep— Two Oarfish

Second oarfish in a week (Gary Bussey/AP)
Two oarfish have been found within a week on the Southern California coast. The first was a 18-foot long specimen and the second, a 14-footer. For lovers of the strange and wonderful sea around us, it's a rare glimpse at the world’s longest fish that lives in depths down to 3,000 feet.

For believers in omens, not so good for California: in Japanese folklore, these Ryugu-no-tsukai (Messengers from the Sea God’s Palace) are said to portend earthquakes.

According to the Wikipedia entry, much of what is known about oarfish (four species in temperate waters worldwide) comes from specimens found dead or dying on shore or on the surface of the water. The giant oarfish is the longest bony fish alive reaching 27 feet in length (not the 50+ feet sometimes reported). But big enough to be taken for a sea serpent.

Sex lives? Regalecus glesne in the Gulf of Mexico spawn in the latter part of the year, larvae hatch in three weeks, and larvae and juveniles drift below the surface before dropping down into the depths. Adults feed on zooplankton, jellyfish and squid.

Why “oar” fish? Probably because of the shape of the critter head to tail. It’s not because the fish ‘oars’ itself through the water using its fins. Watch this to see how it swims: Giant bizarre deep sea fish filmed in Gulf of Mexico

Having two oarfish show up in a week might get some folks thinking about what the ocean’s telling us. It made me think that there’s another place on this planet where life is so strange and wonderful that even a few moments thinking about it took me completely outside my everyday self.

Sort of like another ‘oar,’ the one the seafaring Odysseus was told to carry inland until he met a people who did not know what an oar was. Only when he found such a people would he find peace. It took him 10 years to find peace.

These oarfish won’t bring peace, but a sense of wonder’s pretty nice. Go ahead, try it.

--Mike Sato

Friday, October 18, 2013

GOP Should Pay Up For Its $24 Billion Joy Ride

Sure, we’re all relieved for now that the fiscal crisis manufactured by the Republican Party was averted in its final hour and the government went back to work on Thursday and the country’s full faith and credit remained intact.

That GOP joy ride wasn’t cheap:

“$24 billion in lost economic output, or 0.6 percent of projected annualized GDP growth, according to the Standard and Poor’s ratings agency. Similarly, Moody’s Analytics estimated the impact at $23 billion,” according to Josh Hicks, Washington Post (How much did the shutdown cost the economy?).

And I don’t think we’ll ever get the final tally costing out lost scientific data, delayed permits and indirect ripples through local economies.

Maybe the GOP can count on the forgiving nature of the American people to forget the shameful shenanigans by the time the next elections come around. If there were any justice in the political realm, the GOP should pay the American people back at least the $24 billion for their foolish joy ride.

That’s what we make parents of rowdy children do when their mischief gets out of hand and hurts others. Alas, in the case of rowdy extremists, the accountability is in the hands of voters.

Sadly, in this week when the GOP joy ride ends, we mourn the passing today of Tom Foley who led the state’s 5th Congressional District and was Speaker of the House until 1994. It’s a good time to remember how Congressman Foley chose to lead and how he is remembered as a leader. ( Former Speaker of the House Tom Foley dies at 84  )

It’s a good time to examine the kind of leadership shown since Tom Foley by eastern Washington Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Doc Hastings, and what kind of lack of leadership has been shown by western Washington Republicans Dave Reichert and Jamie Herrera Beutler.

Just because these joy riders got to vote ‘aye’ to keep America going Wednesday night doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paying for their joy ride.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Are We Capable of Protecting the Oceans? --Probably Not.

Transforming Earth (New Scientist)
BBC News asked that question to a number of experts at the beginning of the month ( Viewpoints: Are humans capable of protecting the oceans?  ) and, not being an expert, I’ve been grappling with an answer for the last couple of weeks.

According to BBC News:

The health of the world's oceans is deteriorating even faster than had previously been thought, a report says. A review from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) warns that the oceans are facing multiple threats.
They are being heated by climate change, turned slowly less alkaline by absorbing CO2, and suffering from overfishing and pollution. The report warns that dead zones formed by fertiliser run-off are a problem. It says conditions are ripe for the sort of mass extinction event that has afflicted the oceans in the past. Are humans capable of protecting the oceans and preventing a mass ocean extinction?

You can read the answers of some of the experts but take some time to answer the question yourself. For me, these last few weeks since the BBC News article ran was characterized by some dark assessments of our human capacity for spinning our wheels while strutting and fretting amidst looming financial disaster aka shutdown and debt ceiling Russian roulette.

When I think about the ignorance and mendacity demonstated from right-wingnut leaders and their constituents, the oceans and their inhabitants are doomed. Not all of the oceans critters— there will be blooms of jellyfish and blankets of toxic algae to take their places. Nature moves on.

As a rule, ends come with dramatic bangs; they more likely come with whimpers. And the effects of climate change, ocean acidification and marine dead zones will be felt and reported over many more lifetimes than those of us who are here today.

In better moments, I’m heartened when I read about geoengineering solutions like those highlighted in last week’s issue of New Scientist ( Terraforming Earth: Geoengineering megaplan starts now ) because engineering solutions can be pretty cool. The article talks about the well-known bromide of ‘plant a tree’ but on a massive scale. Then there are new technologies like growing crops and burning them to capture their carbon and burying it, sucking carbon out of the air and burying it, fertilizing the ocean with iron to grow plankton to capture carbon (something like what was done off the BC coast), and throwing lime into the ocean.

These are expensive engineering solutions which would change the face of the earth and would draw screams and protests from environmentalists like me. But those are the kinds of engineering solutions it would take to remove the amount of carbon dioxide we currently have in the atmosphere and reverse the climate and acidification trends.

Maybe you don’t like it but it’s at least pretty interesting— and a lot more interesting than listening to Governor Jay’s climate change initiative proposals he presented last Monday. ( Inslee Wants To Explore State-Only ‘Cap and Trade’ Scheme ) Republican legislators immediately objected to his proposals and offered their best alternative solutions, such as Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) wanting nuclear power, no doubt to be sited in his district for job-hungry constituents.

But geoengineering solutions to remove carbon out of the atmosphere and to save the oceans are fruitless unless we humans modify our terrestrial behavior and reduce the amount of carbon we continue to put into the atmosphere.

That’s the part where the darkness settled over me these last two weeks. We used to say that if people understood what was happening to Puget Sound, they would work to save Puget Sound. A board member once tried to slay that by saying, “What do you want? A bunch of educated people watching Puget Sound go down the toilet?”-- meaning it took action, not understanding, to save the Sound. Like in philosophy, the gap between is and ought isn’t necessarily a logical progression.

It gets dark when I think about studies showing how people collect facts to reinforce what they already believe and discount facts that contradict their beliefs. How many Americans still believe we invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein was somehow responsible for 9/11? How come more Americans are against Obamacare than the Affordable Health Care Act?

In the dark times I fault the ignorant— but I will reserve the deeper circle of Hell for the leaders who fan the flames of ignorance to exercise their power. Extinctions happen every day; I think the demise of much of what we know as life in the oceans today will be with a whimper and other forms of life will take their place. So, are we capable of protecting the oceans? Probably not.

What do you think?

--Mike Sato

Monday, October 14, 2013

No, You Shouldn’t Eat The Fish—Not Yet

Fish-consumption rates in Washington state— which has a lot to do with how much toxic pollution in fish people can safely consume— are back in the news, thanks to conservation and commercial fishing groups.  As of today, the state estimates that people consumer on average about 7 oz. of fish a month, about two servings, and has been very slowly considering revisions. On Friday, Earthjustice sued the Environmental Protection Agency to prompt the federal government to require the state to update consumption rates and better protect human health. ( EPA sued over Washington fish-consumption estimates )

This issue applies to ‘resident’ fish that inhabit our bays and estuaries year-round living in the toxic chemicals from our modern lifestyles— not the salmon that pass through our marine waters and estuaries. Everybody has known for years the consumption levels are too low, especially for Native Americans and subsistence fishers. The problem in raising the consumption levels to protect fish eaters is that it would also require tightening pollution standards governing the disposal of toxic chemical into our Puget Sound bays and estuaries.

On one hand, people are at risk eating contaminated fish. On the other hand? According to the spokesperson for the Association of Washington Business in the news article above, it’s a competitiveness issue for industries who care about health and human safety but need to consider regulations that might not allow them to “keep their doors open and people employed.”

As for the state regulator’s point of view, I heard Ecology staff Josh Baldi tell the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council that it’s not a simple matter because saying people eat more fish than two servings a month would mean that less industrial pollutants would be allowed to be discharged— and discharges are already so tightly controlled that it might not be cost-efficient to require industry to control more.

According to Boeing in a story filed by Ashley Ahearn of EarthFix, a higher fish consumption rate would cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades at its facilities to lower pollution discharges into Washington waterways. ( Enviros and Fish Groups File Lawsuit To Raise Fish Consumption Standards http://earthfix.kcts9.org/water/article/enviros-and-fish-groups-file-lawsuit-to-raise-fish/ )

So, do we have to choose? The health of Indians and subsistence fishers or airplanes and jobs? Industries and corporations would like to make it a choice because I’d bet people would choose airplanes and jobs.

But should we have to choose? It’s hard to believe that smart people who run places like Boeing cannot engineer ways to reduce and eliminate pollution to the Sound. After all, they do a pretty good job with airplanes.

Would it cost “hundreds of millions”? I don’t know and I don’t think they do either, and maybe it would create, not eliminate jobs.

But the best part of reducing and eliminating toxic pollution going into our waterways isn’t for the benefit of Indians and subsistence fishers— it’s for all of us who live and work and recreate in the waterways of Puget Sound. The real choice is a cleaner Sound and ensuring healthy human lives.

Let's keep it as simple as possible by thinking about corporations the way they like to be thought of— as individuals, people like you and me. No individual, no matter how rich or powerful,  is above the law. So, if I see an individual putting toxic chemicals into the waterway, I’d say stop and expect the government to do its job to stop the pollution. If the individual didn’t stop, I guess we’d see everyone in court— which seems to be where things are heading now.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I’ve Been So Pissed Off These Last Few Days I Forgot to Celebrate

Today’s meeting of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Science Panel was cancelled due to federal agency folks not being able to attend because the federal government is shut down by Congressional Republicans. The Tea Bagger wing nuts and their spineless GOP colleagues are holding the budget hostage to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It's really a small thing, the Science Panel not meeting, among more major impacts to be felt when many of the government’s environmental and public health services (deemed “unessential”) shut down.

I’ve been so pissed off about the shutdown I forgot on Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the Insurance Exchange and the first day people who are uninsured can buy medical coverage. Sure, the first day was an online fiasco but you know what?-- it’ll get straightened out and the system’s in place to serve the uninsured. For those of us who have friends and family members with preexisting conditions, employed or not, we no longer will worry whether we can get medical insurance. Sure, it will cost money— nothing’s for free — but it will be there for everyone.

That’s not a small thing that went into place on October 1. If I’d had my way, we would have in place a much simpler system of universal health coverage, we'd reign in runaway medical costs
, and we'd improve efficiency and effectiveness of medical treatment. But what we got on October 1 is a step forward, a big step forward--- especially considering where we were four years ago.

And most important, we’re not going backwards. How fast we go forward in making our medical care system work for people depends on how important it is to us and to those we elect to lead us. But after October 1 we are not going back.

Which makes the Tea Bagger cum spineless-GOP-follower shutdown of the government (and what’s next for the debt-ceiling deadline) look nakedly cynical. What is there to negotiate about the Affordable Care Act when we are not going backward?

Maybe the next hostage-taking and act of domestic terror to threaten economic chaos will be to force us to build the Keystone pipeline. Dismantle the EPA? Rescind pollution controls on fracking and burning coal? Drill in the Arctic and off our shores?

The list can be endless and will go on and on until the real Republican leadership stands up to work to govern.

In the meantime, I’ll stop being pissed off for a while and happily celebrate what was achieved October 1. Then move on.

--Mike Sato

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Road to Heaven, the Road to Hell

I wondered if it was tougher last week to be Pope Francis or to be Congressman John Boehner. I don’t give much weight to religious pronouncements but it was heartening to learn that Pope Francis thinks compassion and not censure should be how the Catholic Church should behave in the world. As one commentator noted, the Pope was saying the Church should be more like a field hospital in the world, giving comfort to those in need. That made me feel good, like I used to feel good hearing about Mother Teresa.

Then the Pope a few days later came down hard against abortion, reading the strict rule of church doctrine. No compassion there.

About the same time Pope Francis was preaching compassion, Congressman John Boehner was leading his political party in passing legislation to cut $39 billion from the government’s program that provides food to poor people. A few days later, John Boehner again led his political party in passing a budget proposal that threatens to shut down much of the federal government unless the Affordable Care Act is scuttled. Threatening to shut down the government wasn’t a wise thing to do, John Boehner had said earlier, but that’s what people in his political party wanted, so he led by following what they wanted.

In neither the case of cutting off food to poor people nor the case of scuttling an affordable medical insurance program benefitting most people was compassion an issue, only the politics of anger and resentment.

People in his own political party don’t think John Boehner is mean enough. Unlike Pope Francis, John Boehner has to run for re-election every two years and then be chosen to lead in Congress.

Like I said, I don’t give much weight to religious pronouncements but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to Pope Francis despite his tarnishing welcomed compassion with traditional authoritarianism. After all, I think he already has a free pass to Heaven.

Unlike Pope Francis, John Boehner has to please a lot of angry people who show little compassion. And, unlike Pope Francis, John Boehner and his political party don’t have a free pass to Heaven.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Other Voices: The Dope Diaries

Three marijuana retail stores will be permitted in San Juan County, one each on Orcas, San Juan and Lopez islands, under regulations proposed Sept. 4 by the Washington State Liquor Control Board to implement Initiative 502, which legalizes marijuana production, processing and retailing. The Islands Weekly
Dear Mom and Dad,

You’re probably surprised getting a letter from me and wonder what in the world could be important enough for me to write to you and you’re right, there is something that’s important. My friend Jimmy, you know him—he was the one in the third grade who made those noises with his hand in his armpit which made us kids laugh and want to be like Jimmy. Well, we were doing some heavy talking and, well, maybe it’s best to start from the beginning. You’ve probably heard about how everyone’s going to be able to buy marijuana and not worry about the cops any more, haven’t you? Well, that’s going to change a lot of things and change some of the ways Jimmy is making his living so we’ve been talking about going into business together. We were sitting around and, uh, well, maybe it was Jimmy or maybe it was me who thought that, no, maybe it was me, yeah because I was the one who said we knew a lot of people and where were they going to get their dope and who could they trust. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if it was my idea or Jimmy’s. Not really, I guess. But maybe it was his idea first. Anyway, the idea was we could go into business together and sell marijuana, totally legal now, because Jimmy knew all the ins and outs of the business and we knew a lot of guys, really a lot of guys, who would buy from us. I mean there’s the guy who works on your truck, dad, and the guy who cuts your hair, mom, and the nice lady at the Fred Meyer who always asks about grandma, I mean you’d be surprised to know how many customers we’d have.  This isn’t any back room type of store we’re thinking about. We’re thinking more like those espresso places with dark wood and comfy chairs and clean bathrooms where people come to meet friends, smoke some, take a stash home for their family or friends. And racks and shelves of munchies—chips and candies and nuts— this is where I get really excited because this is the part I really know a lot about., like the best kind of bean dip to go with the Tostitos and even the kind  of organic cashews and celery the coop kind of people buy. I know because I watched this one lady at a party talk on and on about the organic vegetable section at Whole Foods while she had a drop of avocado dip on the front of her blouse and I wondered how long it had been there and how long during the party it would be there but she was gone when I came back to check or maybe she was in the bathroom or somewhere else. Now Jimmy may know a lot more about whether the pot shipment is as good as he’s been told by his supplier and a lot more about the right kind of handguns to use (don’t worry, mom, I don’t touch that stuff) but when it comes to the munchies, I’m the man. I haven’t told Jimmy but I’m telling you that I’ve been working on an idea that is a killer. You know those hot dog warmers you see in movie theaters and the 7-11, the kind where the hot dog is speared on to a spindle that goes around and around like a ferris wheel? If you’re like me, you’ve probably watched those hot dogs go around and around. Well, imagine if every time they go around the hot dogs get dipped in soft cheese and when you get one of these hot dogs it’s warm and covered with warm soft cheese. That would be awesome, something to die for, don’t you think? I still have to figure out how to get the hot dogs dipped into the cheese every time it comes around but something like this would make our store famous. People who weren’t even buying marijuana would come to watch the hot dogs go around and around being dipped into cheese, sort of like how people watch that salt water toffee being pulled by the machine at the store. You know the one I’m talking about, don’t you? Well, now you’re probably really wondering why I am writing this letter. It’s because Jimmy and I are going to be partners but we need to have some money to apply for one of the licenses to open a store and show we could start a business. Of course, it would be a loan and I’d pay you back as soon as the store started making some money, which I think would be pretty quick. I know you’ve been concerned about me and my future and I thought this would be a good opportunity to show you that I do think about my future. I think my opening a store to legally selling marijuana would have some personal benefits to our entire family because the stuff is medicinal and I’m sure you and dad will need it some day and you can be sure that I’ll give you a big discount. Also, our store would be a lot safer place for little sis to get her stash, much safer than the way she now deals with that Jose or Hue or whomever she hangs out with after middle school. And, finally, at my age, it would be time to move out of your basement and you could rent it out and make some money which would be like not having loaned me the money at all. This would be a good deal all around, don’t you think?

Your dear son, Johnny.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Stupid, Ugly Way to Die

(Cindy Russell/Star-Advertiser)
In December 1985, the oil tanker Arco Anchorage went aground near Port Angeles spilling 239,000 gallons of Alaskan crude oil. That and the industry’s record of oil spills in marine waters have made oil spill prevention a top Salish Sea priority. Alas, this past Monday, Matson Navigation spilled an estimated 233,000 gallons of molasses from a broken pipe into Honolulu Harbor, sinking to the bottom and suffocating sea life.

Matson, which regularly loads molasses to be shipped to the mainland, had no spill prevention plan and was not required to have one by the state.

“To my knowledge, nothing of this magnitude on Oahu ever in the past” has occurred, said Gary Gill, the state Department of Health’s deputy director for environmental health, according to the Star-Advertiser.

Over the few days since the spill, thousands of fish have died and the magnitude of the damage isn’t known. Fish die-off is expected to accelerate and a ‘dead zone’ created that may last for months. No recovery of the spilled molasses is underway since, unlike oil, the molasses isn’t floating but has sunk to the harbor bottom.

University of Hawaii oceanography professor David Kari said recovery would come about sooner than from an oil or toxic chemcial spill. A “smorgasbord of bacteria” will feed on the sunken molasses. And, according to Gary Gill in the Star-Advertiser, the spill also threatens a coral colony in the area.

A Matson senior executive said they were “truly sorry” for what happened. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife agency is collecting its evidence. Clean Water Act violations can be assessed up to $25,000 a day.

“Anywhere where you might have a sugar industry which is loading molasses as part of the sugar refining process onto ships, there’s a potential for this kind of spill,” Gill said, according to the Star-Advertiser report.

So, where was the diligence? Here is an operation that a company does regularly over water and, while it isn’t in itself as toxic as oil, molasses turns out to be just as deadly when sunk and coating the harbor bottom with 1,400 tons of sweet death.

What an ugly way to die for people’s stupid negligence.

(Sources: Underwater video uncovers mass kill from Matson molasses spill ; Molasses spill killing fish in Hawaii ; Star-Advertiser coverage may be behind a paywall: Molasses damage predicted to linger )

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Samish River Chinook and the Nanny State

PHOTO: Mike Malijan, Skagit Valley Herald
The state Fish and Wildlife Department last Friday announced extension of the hatchery Chinook sport fishing season to November 30-- if the sport fishers are good boys. (Samish River salmon fishery extended with warning to anglers)

At issue is "whether anglers fishing the river are heeding the department's warnings about illegal snagging, trespassing on private property, littering and other unacceptable behavior."  Those issues have been a problem for a number of years, fish manager Annette Hoffmann said.

"We don't want to punish anglers who act responsibly and follow the rules, but the length of this season still depends on our ability to maintain an orderly fishery," said Hoffmann.

This is the time when I stand up and cheer for what's derogatorily called the "nanny state," an appellation wingnuts picked up from the Brits to describe what they consider an overbearing government presence in everyday life.

But if anglers act like spoiled brats -- trespassing, shitting, littering, snagging -- who else but the fish cops are there to take away their playthings?

In years past some "sport" fishers left massive messes on the Puyallup, prompting the tribe to threaten closure actions and a local fishing club to organize cleanup actions.

This year, the fishing frenzy over returning pink salmon have led to enforcement against "sport" fishers who snag their catch rather than use baited hooks. (Seattle salmon snaggers nabbed by WDFW)

Of course, there will never be enough fish cops to go around all fishing locales so it will have to be up to the real sport fishers to self-police fellow anglers, self-support placing trash containers and toilets, and provide education on best angling practices.

Or do you expect the nanny state to do that, in this day and age?

Let's license and treat sport fishing as a privilege, not a God-given right. Let's have sport fishers step up and do what real sportsmen do: be good sports. If not, close the playpen.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Godzilla’s Revenge

On Wednesday BBC News  reported that radiation levels around tanks storing contaminated water at Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have risen by a fifth to a new high. I don’t know what millisieverts are but Tuesday’s reading near one set of tanks was 2,200 (mSv), a rise from the weekend’s 1,800 mSv reading. ( Radiation levels hit new high near Fukushima water tanks )

The problem is that the fuel rods in the plant have to be cooled with water but the radioactive water stored on site cannot be contained from entering the sea.

The same day as the BBC news item was posted, m colleague Laurie MacBride forwarded to me a pretty alarming commentary by Gary Stamper in Collapsing into Consciousness titled, “At the Very Least, Your Days of Eating Pacific Ocean Fish Are Over”.

“The heart-breaking news from Fukushima just keeps getting worse…a LOT worse…it is, quite simply, an out-of-control flow of death and destruction,” writes Stamper. “It now appears that anywhere from 300 to possibly over 450 tons of contaminated water that contains radioactive iodone, cesium, and strontium-89 and 90, is flooding into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima Daichi site everyday. To give you an idea of how bad that actually is, Japanese experts estimate Fukushima’s fallout at 20-30 times as high as as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings in 1945.”

I can’t judge how much of his alarm is justified but it is alarming: seal and polar bear deformities, dead and starving sea lions, increased thyroid problems, elevated radioactivity levels in U.S. waters, radioactive plankton, a precaution against eating Pacific seafood.

Laurie need not have apologized for sending such horridly depressing news. But, she said, “It puts everything else into a rather different perspective....and makes me wonder what the heck to make for dinner (tonight or for the rest of my life).”

It is depressing news and not being covered well by the media. On the other hand, I follow the news enough to know what is happening but, unlike most of the other things I get involved in, I feel pretty powerless to do anything about the situation.

I’m old enough to have grown up “in the shadow of the bomb” and learned about cow’s milk contaminated by radioactivity from atmospheric testing carried aloft and deposited on pastures grazed by dairy cattle. People demanded “Ban the Bomb” and governments didn’t but they did stop testing in the atmosphere and, finally, stopped testing all together.

I don’t know how Fukushima’s radioactivity will be stabilized and how the radioactive water will be contained and kept out of the Pacific ecosystem. I do know that we humans may not be very wise in some of the things we do but we are very good at engineering solutions: the only hope I see is for an engineering solution to stop the leakage to keep the radiation from becoming any more harmful.

Every since the first time I saw the Japanese science fiction movie Godzilla, I’ve cheered for the monster. He arose out of Tokyo Bay as a result of radiation and mutation and wreaked havoc on man and his civilization. This time, at Fukushima, I’m going to cheer on the engineers. Get the best minds together, spare no expense, stop the destruction.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When Good Seafood Goes Bad

Jacques White of Long Live the Kings reminded me about a March 18 article in Ocean Natural Resource Governance (“Gulf Seafood Deformities Alarm Scientists”) detailing the deformities found in fish, crabs and shrimp in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon mega-spill and use of dispersants in 2010.

His reminder brought to mind how much of the urgency in cleaning up and restoring Puget Sound was prompted in the early 1980s by Dr. Don Malins whose research (and promotion of that research) detailed the liver tumors he found in Elliott Bay and Duwamish River English sole.

(You’ll enjoy listening to Dr. Malins, the former Director of the Environmental Conservation Division of NOAA Fisheries, in a recent interview about his work discovering the tumors. Go to Puget Sound Voices: Don Malins interview.)

In the Gulf, Dr. Jim Cowan of the Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science has found cancerous lesions on red snapper. Fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have found mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, and eyeless crabs and shrimp.

Dr. Cowan believes that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the spilled oil are likely to blame for what he is finding. Dr. Riki Ott, a Prince William Sound toxicologist, points to the dispersants containing solvents as a cause of seafood deformities.

These are the immediate effects. The longer-term effects on the spill and the dispersants aren’t known but may prove more devastating. Dr. Andrew Whitehead at Louisiana State University has shown an adverse effect of spilled oil on the reproductive capabilities of a major marsh prey species, killifish.

Almost a decade after Dr. Malins and researchers established a link between the liver tumors in English sole and the toxic sediments they lived on, research by Dr. Usha Varanasi’s NOAA team pointed to how juvenile salmon passing through the water column above sediment contaminated by PAHs could suffer genetic damage, weakened immune systems and slower growth. (“Troubled Waters? -- Puget Sound's Pollution Seems To Be Damaging Young Chinook”  and “Fish Study Finds Dna Damage From Pollution”)

Fast forward 20 more years and we’re facing not only declining native salmon runs but also an onslaught of increased import of crude oil into the region’s refineries and an export of finished products. Meanwhile, the state can’t update its fish consumption standards to reflect the true amount of fish eaten out of the Sound because, well, it would require tightening up a whole bunch of discharge standards affecting businesses and industry. And, thankfully the incidence of liver tumors in bottom dwelling fish in Elliott Bay has decreased, but the latest research shows a significant decline of benthic organisms that live in the sediments of our urban bays.

The Gulf has big problems, for sure. Where’s the urgency in Puget Sound?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Happy Birthday, Salish Sea News and Weather

With this September posting, Salish Sea News and Weather celebrates two years of weekday news postings— and thanks you for reading and being involved in protecting and restoring the Salish Sea. In our short history, there have been 51,536 visits to the news web page and 36,599 visits to the commentary web page. We’ve made some good friends and we’d like to share them with you here.

There are a lot of fine blogs and news sources and nobody with a life can peruse them all of them but here are a few I’ve come to enjoy and hope you will, too:

Photographer and writer Laurie MacBride is always a treat with her posts on eye on environment.

One of these days I will get out of my armchair and join Jill who blogs on her outdoor and urban adventures at Pacific Northwest Seasons.

Like whales? Check out photographer and writer of wildlife musings Monika Wieland’s blog, Orca Watcher.

I enjoy going deep with engineering geologist Dan McShane in his observations of Washington landscapes, geology, geography, ecology, history and land use at Reading the Washington Landscape.

I still get to read one of the best environmental reporters in the region when the Kitsap Sun’s Chris Dunagan blogs at Watching Our Water Ways on the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.

And I unabashedly love listening to stories about birds, the environment and more at BirdNote.

If you tweet, check out Elliott Smith @soundslikepuget, Eye on Environment @LMcB, Paige Heggie @GreenBuckaroo, and Georgia Strait Alliance @GeorgiaStraitBC

And on Facebook, definitely Sound Action and San Juan Islands National Monument.

Good reading! And now for the news...

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Next Steps to the San Juan Islands National Monument

President Obama established by executive order the San Juan Islands National Monument last March and this week activists on Lopez Island met Bureau of Land Management Interim Monument Manager Marcia deChandenedes (pronounced, she says, like the white wine we all enjoy.)

It’s good to see that the BLM is committed to keep up the momentum of the public push to establish the monument. Marcia’s job is to kick start the process of developing a management plan for the monument and, to that end, the BLM is hosting three island ‘listening’ sessions to gather the public’s vision of what the monument’s protection should accomplish.

There's also the opportunity to work out better coordination of state and federal resources for protection of lands and waters in the islands. 

The meetings will be held on:

Orcas Island - Thursday, September 26, 6-8pm
Senior Center, 62 Henry Road, Eastsound

San Juan Island - Friday, September 27, 10am-noon
Friday Harbor Grange, 152 N 1st Street

Lopez Island - Friday, September 27, 6-8pm
Woodmen Hall, 4102 Fisherman Bay Road

One good way of keeping abreast of monument news and the management plan developments is to check in with Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Monument.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Revisiting “Extinction Is Not An Option”

Quinault fishing (Edward Curtis, 1913)
Remember Gary Locke? He gave a fine speech in 1998 as governor after our Puget Sound Chinook salmon were listed under the Endangered Species Act. He talked about the challenge facing us in recovering the species. He ended with the dramatic, “We cannot fail. Extinction is not an option.”

I’d been thinking about then-Governor Locke’s dramatic oratory (it’s a good speech— you ought to read it) this week while scanning the news and lamenting the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run, cheering the anticipated arrival of the Puget Sound humpy (pink salmon) run, and learning from Bill Sheets in The Herald that “Snohomish County waters still rich with salmon, trout.”

So, glass half empty or glass half full? On the road to recovery or on the road to extinction?

Of course, what Governor Locke was referring to was recovery of wild Puget Sound Chinook. And there’s been a lot of money, time and effort spent on restoration projects large and small. We’ve been guided by a Statewide Strategy to Recover Salmon and, in Puget Sound, by an Action Agenda.

The Puget Sound Partnership’s Vital Signs Indicator for Wild Chinook Salmon reports that “Chinook salmon in the Sound now are about one-third as abundant as they were in 1908” and “For the 22 remaining populations of Puget Sound Chinook salmon, one increased and one declined in abundance from 2006 to 2010... The total number of Chinook salmon has not increased, and most populations remain well short of their recovery goals.”

The best that can be said? “Nonetheless, the fact that we have any natural-origin Chinook left is testament to the success of our restoration and harvest reduction work so far.”

Do we know what we’re doing, what we’re supposed to be doing to recover our salmon? Maybe not.

This Wednesday there’s a ceremony at the Seattle Aquarium launching a Washington-British Columbia effort called The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project spearheaded by Long Live the Kings and the Pacific Salmon Foundation bringing together “US and Canadian federal, provincial, state, tribal and academic scientists and managers for an ambitious, precedent-setting new initiative to improve understanding of salmon and steelhead survival in the Salish Sea.”

Why? Because, as their media advisory says, “Something alarming is happening in the shared inland marine waters of the Salish Sea: salmon and steelhead are dying. What's the cause of this mortality? We don't know. The research hasn't been done. Without that knowledge, our substantial efforts to recover these populations and provide sustainable fishing may be for nothing.”

Honestly, I don’t know what I don’t know. What I do know is that Washington state propaganda about salmon recovery can be found in a very polished, 10-minute film, State of Salmon: Restoring a Washington Icon, produced for the state’s Recreation and Conservation Office.

I know there must be more to salmon recovery than what’s shown in the film, although there is some reference to “making the tough decisions every day,” whatever those decisions are supposed to be. The words “regulation” and “growth” and “pollution” are never mentioned.  Even Governor Locke and the state Joint Natural Resources Cabinet knew in 1999 that tough decisions would have to be made and carried out regarding hydroelectric dams, fish hatcheries, reduced harvest, and protection and restoration of critical spawning and rearing habitats. And the real big ticket item would be reducing the flow of toxic chemicals from our homes and businesses into the estuaries of the Sound.
Regarding salmon recovery, your lifestyle most likely isn’t much different than it was in 1999  when extinction was not an option. Maybe we’re living like how we lived in the madness of an Iraq War that never touched our daily lives unless our family was serving our country there. What was the point of that awful war anyway, what was accomplished for the good? When it’s business as usual while we go about saving our iconic wild Pacific salmon, when there’s no sacrifice required, what can you expect to be really accomplished? That salmon populations may not get better but hopefully they won’t get any worse?

C’mon, we can do better than that.

--Mike Sato

Friday, August 9, 2013

Ban the Bomb

Nagasaki, August 9, 2013 (PHOTO: AP)
Today marks 68 years since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The bombs and the aftermath of radiation killed 90,000 to 166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000 to 80,000 people in Nagasaki. I wish the bombs that were dropped had not been named “Little Boy” and “Fat Boy.”

Today is a beautiful August day in the Salish Sea and a bit difficult to think deeply about something that happened 68 years ago in another time and to another people. Most of the world probably has come to feel the same about our 9/11.

There wasn’t much news or commentary today about this 68th anniversary but that’s understandable since we don’t tend to follow up on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy or the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, although the woes of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant continue to worsen.

But unlike those natural disasters alleviated by human heroism or compounded by human folly, the atomic bombings, like the 9/11 terror attacks, were planned and carried out by our fellow human beings.

Maybe I’m not alone in having a difficult time putting myself into a mindset that allows me to plan and execute the killing of tens of thousands of people. There’s been a lot written about the building of the bomb and the political and military reasons for using them to end the Pacific war and ultimately to save more lives. The victors get to write the history. In the case of 9/11 and terrorism, the fight goes on with little understanding of the mindsets of terrorists. Instead we are frisked and listened in on as the “war” goes on.

But consider that for 68 years we’ve managed not to drop another atomic bomb and for that, many of us who grew up during the Cuban missile crisis and nuclear diplomacy based on “mutual assured destruction,” should be thankful. But just like with all these guns around us in the hands of the good guys and the bad guys, somebody’s finger is on a trigger and sometimes accidents happen, sometimes things get out of hand. Consider which ones of your elected officials or candidates you’d trust with a loaded gun or the firing code to our nuclear arsenal.

Those who advocated “Ban the Bomb” were sneered at by the “hard-headed realists” as being cowards and dupes. Hell, ban the bomb. Beat them into plowshares. Not the “hard-headed realists;” the nuclear arsenals. And throw the guns in as well, and ammo, too.

Need a reminder about nuclear weapons? Around every August 6 and 9, take a look at the 1964 Peace Little Girl (daisy) political ad and gather some friends and family around to watch Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Bring popcorn.

--Mike Sato

Monday, August 5, 2013

Animals as Friends, Animals as Wild Creatures

Monk seal at Sandy Beach (V. Eleganza)
A few weeks ago our loyal and good friend Joe Spike the Dog was suffering in his infirmities too much and I made the hard decision to say good-bye and having him euthanized.

Losing a good animal friend might have made me a bit more sensitive to animal news and encounters these last few weeks— and made me reflect on how we humans stand in relation to animals and to the wild.

There’s been a happy conclusion to the plight of an orphaned baby seal crying for a couple of days which prompted a shoreside resident to demand some kind of rescue effort. The NOAA Fisheries advised against any human “rescue” of a marine mammal and the baby seal ended up nursed by an adoptive mother.  (Seal pup finds a mother's love)

A notable exception to the “no rescue” rule was the rehabilitation of the orphan whale Springer and reuniting her with her Northern resident pod ten years ago. Last month, we learned that Springer gave birth, adding to Northern resident numbers. (Springer the orca is a new mom)

On the other hand, Luna, separated from the Southern resident L-pod seven years ago, was not “rescued” and died after being hit by a boat in Vancouver Island’s Nootka Sound. (Luna’s legacy of love and loss)

As a lover of animals of most kinds, I don’t think I’m much different from most folks who are moved by stories of animals in jeopardy and have an impulse to do something to help.

But unlike a dog who, for whatever reasons, may choose to live by my side and give to me what he will in exchange for what I may provide him, these are wild animals and our relationship to the wildness of animals is much more complicated.

We can “save” them by leaving them alone. Giant Pacific octopus will remain wild in the state’s Puget Sound marine reserves and not end up as sport or on anyone’s dinner plate.  (After diver kills octopus, new rules in Puget Sound)

But there are wild animals in our zoos and aquariums. There are wild orcas and other marine mammals who are trained to perform for our entertainment. Maybe we won’t be as entertained after seeing the movie, Blackfish and Tokitae will be set free--but really, there’s no accounting for taste. (Do Six-Ton Captives Dream of Freedom? ‘Blackfish,’ a Documentary, Looks Critically at SeaWorld)

In our wilds, there are now only 82 orca whales in our three Southern Resident pods (Where Are The Whales?) and, while NOAA Fisheries recently reaffirmed their distinct genetic status that justifies their protection under the Endangered Species Act, the requirement to effect the orca’s recovery by recovering salmon prey and reducing toxic contamination has not moved beyond the easier requirements of minimizing human contact. (Orcas still ‘endangered’ as next steps contemplated) As Fred Felleman once said, the point isn’t to list them as endangered but to recover the species.

While orcas and seals and sea lions have not been traditionally the fisherman’s friend, both now stand on the short side of the equation: no fish, no blackfish; no fish, no fishermen. On the other side of the equation: our civilization with its toxic chemicals, bulldozers and cement.

And bullets.

The recovery of the Hawaiian monk seal, described by NOAA Fisheries as “one of the rarest marine mammals in the world,” is especially complex and frustrating, as recounted in Jon Mooallem’s detailed New York Times Magazine article, “Who Would Kill a Monk Seal?”  The species is endangered, declining at a rate of about four percent annually and is down to about 1200 individuals. Those individuals who frequent the main Hawaiian islands encounter more human competitors for fish resources as well as non-traditional allies in their recovery.

The recovery of the honu, the Hawaiian green sea turtle, seems to be going much better and on Oahu’s North Shore’s Laniakea Beach there are often more folks on the beach looking than turtles resting and the real danger is the roadside traffic rather than endangering behavior.

We can get close but not touch the honu, respect the red tape set up around the resting monk seal, and establish 200-yard, no-go viewing zones around the orcas but we have a hard time doing real important things like reducing toxic pollutants and protecting and restoring critical habitats for their real recovery and survival.

They’re wild; they are not our friends and we are not their friends. We’re fellow creatures sharing with them a world, an ecosystem, of limited resources. And unfortunately we’re not doing a very good job of sharing.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Returning to Their Heaven: Haleiwa O-bon and Toro-nagashi

One of the reasons to return to Hawaii this time of year was to attend the annual O-bon celebration at the Haleiwa Buddhist Church and participate in the toro-nagashi.

The annual celebration is in memory of one’s ancestors and the Haleiwa ceremony features in addition to the prayers and dancing the floating of paper lanterns lighted with candles on the waters near the church.

It’s a celebration I took part in with my good friend during our college years and taken up again in recent years as a time to renew our acquaintance on an annual basis. This year was more poignant because my friend died suddenly in the last year.

In recent years the O-bon celebration and  toro-nagashi in Haleiwa have become quite popular and many folks gather after dark, waiting for the entourage of priests to descend from the church, clanging their bells and leading the way to the waters beyond the sandy beach. Each lantern has a flat bottom, six sides of decorated colored rice paper and a slender candle at its bottom.

My lantern carried my deceased father’s name and I also carried a lantern with the names of my friend’s grandparents, parents and deceased brother.

I’ve not been to India or to Mecca but that’s the feeling I imagine I would experience performing a religious rite in such close quarters with so many young and old fellow pilgrims. Following the priests and buoyed along by the crowd, we work our way down to the dark waters, our candles lit by people with lighters, our feet sinking into the soft sand as we head downward and seaward. At the water’s edge we meet others returning to shore and we step into the water and walk in to knee depth where we place our lanterns on the water among the tens of hundreds floating out on the currents. We turn and return to shore, then up the soft sandy beach and turning, watch the hundreds of points of light bob and float away on the dark waters.

In this way last Saturday the spirits of my father, my good friend’s family, and that of my good friend returned to their heaven.

--Mike Sato

In Flossie’s Aftermath

PHOTO: Keola Donaghy/Star-Advertiser
It’s hard to take seriously a tropical storm named Flossie but Hawaii state authorities made sure everyone paid attention before Flossie reached the Big Island on Monday.

In Honolulu, we were treated to high humidity, no breeze and torrential downpours beginning late Sunday night and throughout Monday as Flossie made landfall on the east shore of the Big Island, then passed over Maui and Molokai. Heavy rains, thunderstorms and some wind damage. Power outages and one person suffered a lightning strike on Maui but otherwise no one was hurt.

By the time Flossie reached Oahu, she’d been reduced to a tropical depression and rain. Late Tuesday, the trade winds had returned as had the blue skies.

Were all the warnings warranted and the storm preparations necessary? On Monday, the news stations devoted live coverage and repeated warnings. United and Alaska Airlines cancelled flights. There were lots of parking spaces at the beach at Waikiki; people were buying lots of toilet paper, bottled water and bags of rice at Longs Drugs and Foodland.

Of course the precautions and preparations were warranted. Most of the time we walk around enjoying the sun and surf, connecting up to the ‘net, shopping and eating like normal folk and don’t think about how fragile it is to live on islands in the middle of the Pacific. Many folks remember the big ones like Hurricane Iwa and Iniki when electricity wasn’t out for an hour or two but for days. Farther back, older folks remember long dockworker strikes which resulted in shortages of toilet paper and rice.

Storm tracking has come a long way and the state is much better prepared when it comes to informing folks about hurricanes and tsunamis. We’ve come a long way from the days when I was a youngster following my father down to the beach to see what we then called a ‘tidal wave’ arrive onto the south Oahu shore.

Being prepared for an emergency isn’t a bad thing, especially since an emergency is, well, an emergency and you really don’t know when it’s going to happen. I’m sure the bottles of water will be drunk, the toilet paper used, and the rice and spam and Vienna sausages eaten.

It shouldn’t be any big deal, but every once in a while, it’s good to be reminded how tenuous the threads of civilization are.

--Mike Sato