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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Time to "Buck Up"

"One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.... 
We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.

If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up."
The October 15 issue of Rolling Stone is out: "Obama in Command" is worth the read. The man is presidential and intelligent: you have to give him that.  To be quite frank, I don't agree with President Obama on everything, but I find him inspirational nonetheless. 

Damn. I love it when my progressive President tells me to "buck up".  Yes sir, Mr. President. I will not waste my October sitting on my hands! Go, Obama, Go!! And I get the e-mails from Joe Biden. There has got to be $40.00 somewhere in my broke-ass budget for your team somewhere. Go, Joe, Go!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cancer Rates in Whatcom County: Part II

In my original post Cancer Rates in Whatcom County, I suggested some environmental sources that might be contributing to Whatcom County's high cancer rates and talked about how those cancer rates have touched our neighborhood quite personally in the last five years.  The more I examined the graphic below, however, the more concerned I became that the problem of high cancer rates in Western Washington extends beyond Whatcom County.


This chart, from the NCI's excellent state cancer profiles site, shows an arc of cancer in Western Washington starting in Skagit County (looping over San Juan county) and ending in Gray's Harbor County. All of these counties have incidence rates for all sites of over 517.4 per 100K (e.g. more than 1 in 200) . The only one of these counties that does not border either Puget Sound or the Pacific Ocean is Mason County. Most of these counties are "timber counties" of some historical import.  All of them receive substantial rainfall, especially Clallam and Jefferson counties, which may well be among the wettest, darkest counties in the contiguous 48 states.

However this "arc of cancer" may well have something more in common than hard, cold rain.  Most observers of the United States military know that the state of Washington is a heavily militarized state.  Military facilities of all all branches exist up and down the I-5 corridor, in eastern Washington, and in the south eastern corner of the state we have the Hanford complex - still polluted, still requiring millions of dollars to suppress the leakage of any more radioactive isotopes.

There are two nuclear submarine bases in the United States: King's Bay, Georgia and Bangor-Kitsap, WA.  Nuclear submarines are powerful, dangerous creatures armed with a substantial percentage of our nation's nuclear strike force. They are powered by nuclear reactors that use  HEU (highly enriched uranium) at a percentage much higher than territorial nuclear power plants.  The Navy claims that there has never been a serious nuclear submarine reactor accident in its history. In reality these claims would be difficult to independently verify. (1)  No publicly available information exists that monitors the level of anthropogenic or natural radionuclide levels in Puget sound.  My local Department of Ecology had no references or information for me when I asked them about such monitoring.  Still a look at these recent graphics is enough to generate concern in my mind. (I have added the approximate location of Bangor-Kitsap naval submarine base.):


The right hand graphic is  from the NorthWest Training Range Environmental Impact Statement (final) that was released on September 10.  This large and comprehensive document details the impact of Naval training and testing particularly in the Olympic National Park MOAs (Military Operation Areas) where the Navy has apparently been firing depleted uranium (DU) shells into the Ocean for some number of years, among the other explosives and hazardous waste their testing may have contributed to the Olympic MOAs.  I cannot find any discussion in the Impact Statement that attempts a correlation between  NorthWest Washington's high cancer rates and the NorthWest Training Range use of toxic materials. One would think the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense might be engaged in joint monitoring of health statistics in regional areas, but I see no evidence of such joint monitoring.

If we are to continue to face high cancer rates in the NorthWest, we need to have frank discussions about the impact that continual or intermittent releases of anthropogenic radionuclides would have on the water cycle, locally grown produce, soil, citizen health etc.  This would require a public monitoring program of radiation levels and cancer profiles in the areas most likely affected by such releases.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"The Most Dangerous Man in America"

Analyst Daniel Ellsberg shakes LBJ's hand. From "The Most Dangerous Man in America"
"I learned that McNamara's grave doubts about the war continued to deepen... What I learned was that it was an American war from the start... It was a crime from the start. And now a fifth president was doing the same...Murder had to be stopped...Keeping silent in public about what I had read and heard made me an accomplice. It was not only they who had kept all these decisions quiet, hidden from the American public. I had kept them quiet....Having expressed my objections, I stayed in place,observed, took part -- in short, I did the jobs assigned to me. Henry David Thoreau  said "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence."  What if I were willing to give up my top secret clearance, my career, my privileged access to decision makers?...What if I were willing to risk prosecution?"
-Daniel Ellsberg from  "The Most Dangerous Man in America"

Possibly the most inspiring, dramatic film I have seen this year is "The Most Dangerous Man in America", the story of Daniel Ellsberg, Tony Russo, Mort Halperin, Robert McNamara, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and a host of others involved in the prosecution, dissent and ultimately dissolution of the Vietnam War. The film, available at "Film is Truth" in Bellingham, Wa is a gripping, secretive, emotional tale of the life of Dr. Ellsberg and his wife Patricia and the politics and controversy surrounding the release of "The Pentagon Papers", a 7000 plus page document that describes the United States long time historical involvement in Vietnam dating to back to President Truman.

In each chapter of this film, the main characters of this real life political drama examine their roles, their decisions, and the impact of the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam War, Watergate, Freedom of Speech, the rights of the Press, the American Presidency.  The film is laced with shots from Vietnam, LBJ's political speeches, trenchant taped conversations between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger (including a discussion of the possiblity of using nuclear weapons in Vietnam), and a discussion of the "Whitehouse plumbers" secret attacks on Ellsberg.

Clearly, this film should be seen together with Robert McNamara's biographical mea culpa "The Fog of War" (also available at Film is Truth in Bellingham, Wa). McNamara ordered the Pentagon Paper study shortly before he left for the World Bank.  Apparently, McNamara and his fellow Pentagon officials structured the study to keep it secret from Johnson and Nixon.  After McNamara and LBJ left, Ellsberg stayed on at the Rand Corporation where analyst Tony Russo, representative Pete McCloskey, and Senator Mike Gravel eventually helped Ellsberg, Russo and Ellsberg's wife Patricia publish the study.

Powerful stuff. Relevant right here and now.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

100th post: Admiral Hyman Rickover

This is my 100th post in nearly one year of writing for this blog. During this time, Google analytics tells me I have received 4,760 Pageviews from 3,227 visits initiated by 1,405 Visitors in 387 cities in 47 countries. I am so grateful. In some of my recent research, I came across these quotes below from an inspiring speech by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. I have added part of them to the title of my blog.

"Aristotle believed that happiness was to be found in the use of the intellect. In other words, ignorance is not bliss; it is oblivion. The inspired prayer does not petition for health, wealth, prosperity, or anything material but asks, "God, illumine my intellect." Man cannot find purpose in his life without expanding and using his intellectual qualities. By liberal learning I refer to  discerning taste, wise judgement, informed and critical perspectives that transcend specialized interests and partisan passions, the capacity to understand complexity and to grow in response to it. You don't go to Heaven if you die dumb."...
"A nation, or an individual cannot function unless the truth is available and understood. No amount of good by our leaders or the media will offset ignorance and apathy in the common citizen. Since the United States is a democracy, the broad answer is that all of us must become better informed. It is necessary to learn from other's mistakes. You will not live long enough to make them all yourself. Reading is one method of accomplishing this purpose. A house without books is like a room without windows. A parent who brings up children without surrounding them with books wrongs his family."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Table (in Bellingham, WA)

"The Table at Night" (in Bellingham, WA)

There are remembrances I have in my life (almost all before child) of the near perfect night in a relaxed bistro tucked away in some corner of paradise, urban or not.  I remember many times hiking the day in Pt. Reyes, CA and then finding some elegiac ending to the day  at a small cafe in Fairfax, Marin County.  I have memories of long walks through Portland's  northwest corner only to end up dining in style at a some wonderful brewpub or Indian restaurant.  There have been days spent walking around the Green Lake or Ballard or Fremont neighborhood in Seattle or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or college ave in Berkeley. All these days eventually ending at some small place that was informal, wholesome, welcoming, hip, full of the vitality of youth...and (most importantly) reasonably priced.

You can find such culinary experiences here in Whatcom County, but they are bit limited, hard to find and not always open late for dinner.  "The Table" (in Bellingham, WA) is such an experience and IT IS open late for dinner. Located right next to Mt. Baker theater, "The Table" boasts food so wholesome, your soul glows with happiness for at least a couple of hours after you consume their ($8!!) half portion of spaghetti that features Katie Hinton and Anna Rankin's Bellingham Pasta with pork/bison meatballs.  The fresh tomato sauce tastes like the chef composed it from hand picked fruit seconds before serving. I had with my meal a "lemongrass" soda, one of the lightest, least over-sweet, and most refreshing drinks I've ever consumed.

A great meal in a brilliant cafe gives the soul something it can't necessarily find elsewhere: a singular pause of some sort, perhaps a clear, elicit memory of youth staring back at you through the reflection of  lights in the surrounding downtown.  Marriage, parenthood, and middle-age bring us many gifts, but it is especially good to seek out experiences that make us remember the spirit and hope of our youth, even if they come wrapped in a pork/bison meatball!

The Table. 100 North Commercial Ave, Bellingham, WA.