Friday, March 29, 2013

Acts of God, Acts of Man

The massive landslide on Whidbey Island’s Ledgewood Beach neighborhood is national news. The story continues; the area is still unstable.

Thanks to Dan McShane for pointing me to geologist Hugh Shipman and his Gravel Beach blog where Hugh talks about Ledgewood Beach.

A number of places in Puget Sound are similarly unstable when the sand and gravels and clay left by retreating glaciers get saturated by heavy rains and surface water drainage. I’ve lost count how many times the Amtrak line has been shut down this winter north of Seattle because of landslides covering the tracks. But disrupted train schedules are only an inconvenience; losing one’s home and property is a true hardship.

High bluffs erode into the Salish Sea and their materials accrete to build our beaches. it’s the nature of the landscape. In Isaiah 40:4 and Handel’s Messiah, “every mountain and hill shall be made low...”

God gets credit for hurricanes, superstorms, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, landslides... A simple legal distinction is that an “act of God” is an event outside of human control.

An Exxon Valdez oil spill, a Deepwater Horizon blowout, a Chernobyl meltdown are clearly “acts of Man.”

Things get a bit more complicated with an event like the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown after the earthquake: clearly initiated by an “act of God” but screwed up by “acts of Man’s” failure to site, engineer and build the reactor and respond to the crisis.

Those “acts of God” like Katrina, Sandy and Fukushima are terrible and devastating; their aftermaths and the alleviation or prolonging of suffering become the province of the “acts of Man.”

No lives were lost at Ledgewood Beach but property was lost. I assume that the houses that remain threatened by the slide were approved to be built by the county government and, in being approved, makes all of us — the government — a part of dealing with the aftermath of this disaster.

Public and private relief efforts, loss claims and lawsuits usually follow “acts of God” and will continue as long as in our “acts of Man” we are allowed to build and rebuild on terrain that will be swept away by landslides or waters.

Respect those “acts of God;” we can get smarter in our “acts of Man.”

--Mike Sato

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Drinking Ocean Acid

I’m going to the workshop in Bellingham this evening at the Cruise Terminal to hear local experts talk about ocean acidification. I don’t expect to come home feeling very cheerful.

I’ve read the guest editorial written by Northwest Straits Commission executive director Ginny Broadhurst and Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms in the Bellingham Herald,  Threatened Puget Sound marine life shows global threat of ocean acidification.  The guest editorial a good primer on why the changing chemistry of the oceans and Puget Sound is a very serious matter for life as we know it.

A blue-ribbon Washington State Panel on Ocean Acidification last November issued its report and 42 recommended actions. Alas, the guest editorialists write: “The panel recognized that we can do little here in Washington to directly reduce the 70 million tons of carbon dioxide that the world pumps into the atmosphere every day.”

Saying that kind of stuff is exactly what will make me come home feeling glum— because there is at least one thing we can do here in Washington: disallow the shipping of U.S. coal to overseas markets. Here's a second: Stand with Oregon to close their ports to coal export as well. And a third: Work with British Columbia to limit their export capacity as well.

The 800-pound gorilla of proposed coal export facilities was staring the blue ribbon panel in the face when they made their recommendations— and they blinked. Maybe Governor Inslee in working with Governor Kitzhaber will go further with the White House on nixing coal exports.   The state Senate majority? If they want to drink climate change skeptic Don Easterbrook’s Kool-Aid, let ‘em.  I think they’ll find it filled with ocean acid.

See you at the Cruise Terminal at 6 pm.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Eating ‘Local’

I’ve been eating at several different tables these last few months and paying more attention to how menus have become rather elaborate in their descriptions and highlighting their ‘local’ ingredients.

Unfortunately, most of this is lost on me, just like when nice wait staff recite the day’s specials in wonderful detail and lose me after the second item.

I’m happy that we are all cooking with more local ingredients, period. But I wonder if it makes any difference if I know that the mushrooms are Hamakua wild mushrooms, the pork is Shinsato Farm pork, the short ribs are Maui Cattle Co. meat, the oysters are Blau oysters, the steak from Skagit River Ranch?

It does help define your brand and distinguish you from the greasy spoon diners and fast food joints. But if all the big kids are cooking ‘local,’ then it’s the same as nobody cooking local— as far as branding is concerned.

Where can we go from here?

There’s local— and there’s fresh.

There are Chinese restaurants where you can choose for your meal the rockfish fish or the Dungeness crabs still swimming in their tanks. There are sushi restaurants where the fresh water eel is gutted and prepared on the spot-- very local, very fresh.

I grew up skin diving and some of the best times were had coming out of the water, building a fire, and throwing the day’s catch of fish and octopus on the grill at the beach. Local and fresh.

I’m sure I’ll end up one day in a restaurant where I’ll be invited to go out to the hen house in back to collect my three eggs for my omelet and maybe even the basil, parsley and rosemary from the herb garden.

But I think I’ll draw the line if it came to knowing the name of the lamb whose rack of ribs I was eating, although it didn’t stop me from slaughtering two young buck goats a long time ago and eating ‘Gray Goat’ and “Brown Goat.” Never a good idea to name an animal you’re going to eat.

What are you eating these days?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Otto Cake Light and Dark

(Photo: Rid Sevilla)
I got treated on my birthday to the best piece of cheesecake I’ve ever had— a piece of haupia cheesecake baked by the one-named cheesecake baker Otto who does business on the edge of Honolulu’s Chinatown as Otto Cake. Not light. It was like eating light.

Otto moved from New York and gets nearly perfect Yelp and Urban Spoon ratings after opening his small storefront on Smith Street in 2009.

Otto Cake turned out to be near the small underground parking garage between Nuuanu and Smith streets I usually park in when going to Chinatown. It’s a pretty sketchy neighborhood, with an open area playground facing Otto Cake and a corner taken up by the Trinity Broadcasting Network where street people sleep in the building’s shade.

The dark part of Otto Cake is when Otto got beaten up a little over a year ago when he confronted a drug dealer transacting a sale outside his shop. For a while, fearing retaliation, he continued baking but locked his door, asking customers to call in advance or to knock to be allowed in.

Otto Cake’s door was open for business when I visited; on the windows were pasted handwritten letters from kids saying “We love you, Otto.”

Great cheesecake, Otto Cake. Good man, Otto. I love you, too.

--Mike Sato

Monday, March 25, 2013

A True Legacy

Iceberg Point (Wikimedia)
On most days, real issues are painted in shades of gray and we need to tease out the surrounding facts and values in order to come to a clearer position. Some days, we’re blessed.

Today, President Obama will will designate the 1,000-plus acres in the San Juan Archipelago under the Bureau of Land Management as the San Juan Islands National Monument, the third in Washington state.

A lot of folks worked for a lot of years to bring the designation forward and, despite congressional barriers, have succeeded in establishing permanent protection via executive action.

There were never any serious objections to permanent protection of these lands. Some folks on principle didn’t want what they considered more federal government involvement, glossing over the fact that the lands were already under federal government administration. Some folks feared monument status would jeopardize the islands’ ambiance with more visitors, forgetting that innocence was lost many years ago with features in national and international publications and guide books.

A colleague said, “It’s great that he (the President) is doing this before something bad happened.” How often can we say that when talking about the issues we face in the Salish Sea?

Permanent protection of lands like the San Juan Islands National Monument is the true legacy we seek, a legacy in an every changing world rapidly shrinking in wildness. I won’t begrudge anyone’s efforts to push for a coal port or an oil pipeline or anyone’s belief that the few jobs that industrialization provides trumps the natural world— but I’ll fight those efforts and work to find other good jobs for folks because on a day like today, it’s clear that’s not the legacy I value.

I find it better to imagine the children of a future time visiting the lands of the San Juan Islands National Monument than standing in the shadows of a coal export facility.

Thank you, good citizens and President Obama, for establishing a true legacy.

(To add your name to say ‘Thank you’ in ads to run in local papers, send your name (and the name of your group or business you represent) to Islanders for the San Juan Islands National Monument.)

--Mike Sato

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pay To Read: Still Waiting

I’m still waiting to see what difference it makes paying to read the online version of the Seattle Times, Bellingham Herald, Skagit Valley Herald, The News Tribune of Tacoma, The Olympian, Vancouver Sun, Times-Colonist, and Globe and Mail makes— aside from paying for what previously didn’t cost me to read.

I guess I’ve been waiting to see how much more added value there would be with a paywall in place: broader community news coverage, deeper coverage, multi-media formats— things that can distinguish online publications from print publications.

Having addressed this previously, Erecting the Paywall to Save the Product  and Pay-To-Read —What?, I’m disheartened to see that what people pay to read newspapers for — news — shrinks away as newsrooms shrink. I know that newspapers are businesses but to ask people to pay more for less and less seems like going into a death spiral. Less readers, less advertisers, less revenue.

So it’s at least a bit heartening to read the Columbia Journalism Review and to find in a depressing article about the evisceration of the New Orleans Times-Picayune a mention of another business model, a “contrasting vision of a digital future.”

“Consider the Orange County Register, a similar-sided paper that was purchased by the Aaron Kushner-controlled Freedom Communications in June,” writes Ryan Chittum. “Kushner boosted print pages by 40 percent and added a new business section. He’s installin a metered paywall, raising print prices, and even improving paper stock. Most important, he has gone on a hiring spree, expanding the newsroom by 50 percent. From 180 to 270.... Kushner’s idea is that newspapers can’t cut their way to survival, let alone prosperity... Diminishing your journalism means chasing away readers and advertisers who have paid you good money.”

According to Chittum, “The New York Times has preserved the size of its dominant newsroom at the expense of its profit margin, and devised a digital-subscription model that others in the the industry are emulating. As a result, last year the Times’s revenue was up for the first time in six years, despite continued print-advertising declines.”

Maybe in the long run the business model of the Orange County Register and The New York Times won’t work, but I learn something new every time I read The New York Times online because they report news in addition to the staple of sports and entertainment. I’ll continue reading it online and in print when I can. And I’ll keep waiting to see when the local paywalls start paying off for me when I read the local newspapers.

Meanwhile, read former AP reporter Curt Woodward's blog on Newspaper Paywalls: Here's Why They’re Really Doing It.

What are you reading these days?

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Where Did You Stand 10 Years Ago? Where Do You Stand Today?

"Mission Accomplished" 2003 (AP)
Some of us must remember why George Bush and his cronies said it was important to go to war 10 years ago in Iraq. Some of us didn’t agree and thought the reasons were phony and destructive to our country. And the reasons turned out to be phony and destructive to our country.

What puzzled and disturbed me was that many of my fellow citizens believed that Saddam Hussein was connected to the 9/11 attacks— and that connection somehow justified the invasion. It never was true.

In fact, a lot of crap got passed on as truth over the last 10 years. From the McClatchy News Service, which ones of the following are true?

  • Iraqis greeted U.S. troops as liberators.
  • At least women’s rights have improved post-Saddam.
  • The Sons of Iraq project, also called Sahwa or “Awakening,” was a successful strategy to isolate extremist in the war zone.
  • The bombing of the golden-domed al Askari shrine in Samarra in February 20006 touched off the brutal sectarian ware that would engulf iraq for the next two years.
  • Sovereignty was restored in 2004, with the U.S. Occupational authority handing over power to interim leader Ayad Allawi.
  • The “surge” strategy of sending 20,000 additional U.S. Forces to Iraq in 2007 was the catalyst for a turnaround in the war, bringing enough calm to the country for the U.S. Military to stay on schedule for withdrawal.
  • As of the end of 2011, there’s been a full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Alas, none of those are true— but does anyone care anymore? George Bush and his cronies can go write their memoirs; we and the Iraqi people will be paying for the Iraq War for years to come.

Learn anything? I’d have hoped we had after Vietnam.

Just like I hope we’d have learned about assault weapons and high-capacity magazines after the killing of children and teachers in Newtown.

I hope because it’s too hard to stay angry for too long.

--Mike Sato