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