Monthly Archives: June 2011

Cliff Mass’ weather forecast for July 4…

July 4? Looking good! Friday and Saturday should be sunny and warm. Sunday–clouds and perhaps some showers…and then major improvement on July 4th… just in time for picnics, parades, and illicit incendiary activities.

But let me give you some good news, particularly since the front page of the Seattle Times on Thursday talks about the dangers of snow on our trails.  It really looks that we are going to transition to true summer weather next week. 

Here is the National Weather Service 6-10 day forecasts for temperature and precipitation–higher probability of warmer than normal and drier than normal weather. 



South Lake Union Cinema on the Lawn: Easy A

How will Northwest creatures fare in more acidic seas?

This post is part of the research project: Northwest Ocean Acidification

Inside a cramped Seattle laboratory, the researchers look like fishermen who got sent to a construction job. Wearing orange waders and yellow boots, they thread their way between shelves of tubs filled with what look like giant mason jars.

Overhead, a rainbow of colored tubes bubble gases into tanks, changing the water chemistry to reflect different points in time—past, present and future—as increasing amounts of fossil fuel pollution make the oceans more acidic.

If it’s possible to predict how this process of ocean acidification will affect the Northwest’s marine life, this is where it will happen. Over the next months, the scientists will run experiments on some of the region’s most valuable marine species: geoducks, Pacific and Olympia oysters, pinto abalone, rockfish, crab and tiny shrimp like krill and copepods that are linchpins of the food chain.

They’ll immerse those creatures in baths of acidified seawater and assess their most basic biological functions: how big do they get, can they grow shells, are they developing normally, are they more stressed, do they succumb to disease. And most importantly, do they survive? 

And then they’ll tackle the harder task – trying to predict how those changes ripple through an entire marine ecosystem. It’s safe to say that there will be tradeoffs, said Paul McElhany, lead ocean acidification researcher for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center. And some mollusks, such as oysters, look like the early losers.

Beyond that?

If this is the food web of Puget Sound, once you start looking at shrimp, geoducks, copepods, the indirect effects are really difficult to predict. You’re changing the predators and prey at the same time. You’re altering the abundance of competition. You’ve got physical and structural changes—eelgrass does better and corals do poorly. I feel confident saying it’s going to cause change. Predicting exactly what those changes are going to be—we can identify the most vulnerable species but the indirect effects are much harder.

Understanding how sea life will react to ocean acidification, and to devise systems to help seafood and fishing industries cope with those changes, gained new urgency with the recent discovery of surprisingly acidic waters along the Pacific Coast and in Puget Sound.

As oceans absorb increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from cars, factories and tree cutting, the pH of seawater decreases, making the water more acidic. That process also binds up calcium carbonate ions, which are so widely used to build shells and skeletons that some call them the “soil of the marine world.” And changes in pH may change the nutrients available to phytoplankton, altering the nutritional quality of that basic marine food and favoring some types of algae.

So how will different creatures fare in increasingly acidic seas?

In lab experiments around the world, results have ranged from alarming to head-scratching:

  • Clownfish larvae lost their sense of smell, their ability to find suitable reef habitat and to distinguish their parents from other fish. They also started following potentially dangerous scents they would otherwise avoid.
  • Abalone and sea urchins from Australia’s Sydney Harbor either died or grew abnormally.
  • Antarctic krill embryos, a cornerstone species in the marine food chain, failed to hatch.
  • Brittle stars were able to increase their metabolism and rate at which they built skeletal structures, but that coping strategy was undone by muscle wastage in their arms. (more)



Nuke plant inspections find flaws in disaster readiness

A special inspection of U.S. nuclear plants after the Fukushima disaster in Japan revealed problems with emergency equipment and disaster procedures that are far more pervasive than publicly described by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, a review of inspection reports by ProPublica shows.

While the deficiencies don’t pose an immediate risk and are relatively easy to fix, critics say they could complicate the response to a major disaster and point to a weakness in NRC oversight.

The NRC ordered the inspection in response to the March earthquake and tsunami that crippled Fukushima’s reactors. The purpose was to conduct a fast check on the equipment and procedures that U.S. plants are required to have in place in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

Agency officials unveiled the results in May, stating in a news release that “out of 65 operating reactor sites, 12 had issues with one or more of the requirements during the inspections.”

But ProPublica’s examination of the reports found that 60 plant sites had deficiencies that ranged from broken machinery, missing equipment and poor training to things like blocked drains or a lack of preventive maintenance. Some of the more serious findings include:

Plant officials said they have moved to fix those problems and that none would have prevented them from responding in an emergency. The NRC told ProPublica that all the issues raised by inspectors “fell well short of being imminent safety concerns” and were being addressed.

In a summary attached to the inspection findings, however, the NRC expressed some concern.

“While individually, none of these observations posed a significant safety issue, they indicate a potential industry trend of failure to maintain equipment and strategies required to mitigate some design and beyond design-basis events,” the summary says.

The NRC reported fewer problems at the plants than ProPublica because it only counted those in which a plant had a problem demonstrating how its emergency preparedness plan would work. The agency said that, despite these questions, all the plants could protect their reactors.

The special inspection covered equipment and procedures for use in disasters that are beyond the scope of the plant’s design — major earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and terrorist attacks.

Many of the items covered in the special inspection are supposed to be checked by NRC inspectors on a regular basis. Items that were required after the 9/11 attacks to respond to large explosions and fires — like extra pumps, hoses and generators — are supposed to be reviewed as part of regular triennial fire protection inspections.

David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says the large number of problems uncovered in the special inspection shows that NRC must strengthen oversight.

“I think they need to look at the inspections,” said Lochbaum, whose group monitors safety matters. “Why did they find so much in these inspections? Shouldn’t these have been found sooner?”

Nuclear plants conduct emergency drills every two years, and Lochbaum said that one possible improvement would be for inspectors to check the condition of the emergency response equipment then.

Mary Lampert, executive director of the advocacy group Pilgrim Watch in Massachusetts, said many of the deficiencies uncovered by the NRC may seem minor but could quickly turn into bigger problems in an emergency situation.

“They all add up. They cannot wait for a disaster to start looking around for a screwdriver that is required to open a valve because time is typically of the essence,” she said.

Lampert said it is important for the NRC to keep an eye on the problems they found and not simply assume the nuclear companies will fix everything.

The Fukushima accident has focused the NRC’s attention on the risk that a natural disaster or attack could knock out a plant’s safety systems for an extended period and lead to a radiation release.

Although all plants are designed to withstand natural disasters, U.S. nuclear facilities are aging. Recent studies have shown that earthquake risks are now higher than they were predicted when some plants were built, although the NRC says reactors can still withstand the highest expected quake. Now historic flooding on the Missouri River is testing design limits at two Nebraska plants.

Flood waters are expected to come within a few feet of levels the Fort Calhoun and Cooper nuclear plants were built to withstand. At Fort Calhoun, a special berm providing backup protection collapsed Sunday after being damaged. Operators briefly turned on emergency diesel power but said there was no risk to reactor cooling systems. The plant has been shut down for refueling since early April.

On April 1, the NRC launched a task force of senior agency managers to examine the ability of plants to respond to events that might overwhelm existing safety systems and procedures. The panel is concentrating on disaster preparedness and the ability to survive a lengthy blackout, as at Fukushima.

The six-member group is scheduled to report its findings to the commission on July 19, and the NRC has held two briefings on the subject so far. Until the task force reports back, the NRC said it would not comment on what, if any, changes the agency might propose.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and other watchdog groups have said that Fukushima points to the need for some obvious improvements, such as adding backup generators and moving used nuclear fuel out of cooling pools and into safer storage locations.

The nuclear industry’s main trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, is teaming up with the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations and the research organization the Electric Power Research Institute to develop disaster preparedness guidelines for nuclear companies, said Thomas Kauffman, a spokesman for NEI.

Kauffman said U.S. nuclear plants have survived hurricanes, tornadoes and extended power outages without damage to their reactors, but the industry is looking hard at Fukushima nevertheless. “We want to take the lessons learned and make sure they are applied across the industry,” he said.

Chairman Gregory Jaczko raised the issue of emergency preparedness this month at an International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna. According to a copy of his speech, he brought up the post-Fukushima inspection results.

“While I see nothing that calls into question the safety of our plants, I see areas where performance was not as good as would be preferred,” Jaczko said. Changes are likely, he added, “although it is too early to say right now precisely what those changes might be.”

Jaczko visited the Nebraska plants this week and declared that, while flood conditions were likely to continue for some time, the plants are safe.

“Water levels are at a place where the plant [workers] can deal with them,” Jaczko said at Fort Calhoun on Monday, according to the Iowa Independent. “The risk is really very low that something could go wrong.”

ProPublica intern Ariel Wittenberg contributed to this story, which appeared originally at ProPublica.

Half of pediatricians don’t screen for developmental delays

Screening for developmental delays is a key step in the health of infants and toddlers. If a doctor can detect a delay early, a family can start intervention treatments, which can improve the chances for progress in school and life.

Today nearly half of pediatricians almost always screen for developmental delays during checkups, a study released this week found. The good news is the percentage of these doctors rose to 48 percent from 23 percent between 2002 and 2009, according to the research released by Pediatrics. This is also the bad news, since it suggests less than half of pediatricians almost always screen.



Police investigating day laborer extortion scheme following North Seattle stabbing

Seattle police are investigating a group of men for drug dealing and extorting day laborers outside of hardware stores from South Everett to South Seattle, following a stabbing on Aurora earlier this month.

A day laborer stabbed in front of the Home Depot on 116th and Aurora on June 17th told police from his hospital bed that a group of men “regularly engage in extorting money from the day laborers” looking for work outside of the store.


Seattle Film Guide July 1-7: Tom Hanks Takes Another Shot at Puberty in Larry Crowne

Seattle Film Guide July 1-7


Opening This  Week

Page One: Inside the New York Times    Read Bill White’s PostGlobe Review

Vincent Wants to Sea  Read Bill White’s PostGlobe Review

Larry Crowne  “Directed, co-written by, and starring Tom Hanks in that title role, the film seems to want to be some kind of post-recessional pick-me-up, an “It Gets Better” video for the struggling, aging-out American middle class.”  Mark Olsen, The Weekly 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon  “it’s a spectacle, and  )director Michael) Bay is a genius of spectacle, so you might as well line up now, sucker.”  Paul Constant, The Stranger

Monte Carlo


Limited Runs 

Picnic (Grand Illusion Cinema, July 1-7)  Read Bill White’s Post Globe Review


Uncle Kent (NWFF, July 1-3)

Joe Swanberg made his first Sundance appearance with his most mature film, Uncle Kent, an achingly true-to-life modern comedy about aging, loneliness, desire and the awkward intimacies of online friendship. The film follows 40 year-old Kent (Kent Osborne) who is an unmarried children’s-show writer living alone with his cat in Los Angeles. When one of Kent’s online acquaintances, environmental journalist Kate (Jennifer Prediger), crashes at his house for the weekend, he finds himself attracted to her coquettish manner and frank emotional openness, but sexually frustrated by her fidelity to a distant boyfriend.


 A Useful Life (NWFF, July 1-7)


This tale of the Montevideo cinematheque and its denizens is the latest reminder that venues like our own beloved Film Forum are an endangered species. Shot in beautiful black and white, Veiroj depicts the efforts of a small group of cinephiles struggling to keep open this increasingly antiquated venue. Starring real-life Uruguayan critic Jorge Jellinek, the film is practically a documentary of the effort curators go through to bring works such as this to art houses near you. Much of the story focuses on Jellinek’s Jorge, an employee of the Cinemateca Uruguaya for 25 years.


3:10 To Yuma (July 6, NWFF)

Join Northwest Film Forum in welcoming Peter Ford, son of the great hollywood actor Glenn Ford, who introduces a screening of a new 35mm print of his father’s 1957 classic Western 3:10 To Yuma. Immediately afterword, there will be a sale and signing of Peter Ford’s biography of his father Glenn Ford: A Life, in the lobby of the theater. The second of Delmer Daves’ films with Glenn Ford, following the Othello-based Western Jubal (1956), 3:10 to Yuma is one of the great Westerns of all time. Ford plays the villain Ben Wade, a wanted outlaw who is captured has to be escorted through the wilderness by a small group of men. Wade tries to take small-time rancher Dan Evans (played by Van Heflin) into his confidence with a sweat-inducing cat-and-mouse game between captive and captor, interrupted with bursts of violence from both Ford’s gang (commandeered by Richard Jaeckel) and the vacillating townsfolk. 




Now Playing   

Bad Teacher  “The general argument holds that because studios produce so few films built around strong lady protagonists, Hollywood must hate women. But be careful what you wish for.” Karina Longworth, The Weekly

Beginning of the Great Revival  These Asian movies that have been opening and closing in obscurity at the Meridian never get reviewed because they are not press-screened. 
Bridesmaids   “astoundingly good” lindy west, the stranger
Buck  “as exciting as watching hay turn yellow” mark holcomb, the weekly
Cars 2  “it stays true to its prime function as an advertising vehicle for lucrative merchandise” nick schager, the weekly
Cave of Forgotten Dreams   “Would that the director maintained the cave’s silence, deep enough to hear your heartbeat. Instead there’s a compulsion to fill the void with philosophical vapors (“Is this the origin of the soul?”) and New Age music.” j. hoberman, the weekly
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop  “As fly-on-the-wall as it gets—meaning the camerawork is often sloppy—Flender’s film presents O’Brien in full-on Tortured Star mode, alternately overexerting himself and complaining that he’s being overworked, courting attention and sulking alone.” Karina Longworth, The Weekly
The Double Hour “Director Giuseppe Capotondi whisks us through the plot’s twists — bad guys with guns, mysterious surveillance-camera images, people haunted by their pasts, a reset of time — and lets us emerge, blinking, in the light.” Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times
Green Lantern    “Please please please please please please do not make a sequel.” Lindy West, The Stranger
The Hangover 2  “Because as much as I enjoy Zach Galifianakis saying weird stuff (and I have since before you were born), there’s just no humanity to hang on to here—and, to me, that’s what separates a good comedy from a great comedy.” Lindy West, The Stranger 
Kung Fu Panda 2  “(sigh) it’s disheartening to find little to praise in the frantic, perfunctory sequel” tom keogh, seattle times
Mr. Popper’s Penguins  “Under no circumstances should adults watch —but kids freaking love it.” Lindy West, The Stranger
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides “With its hero a once-inspired creation now far less funny than he fancies himself, the swashbuckling series—from Depp’s fey bon mots to a cameoing ‘ scraggly visage—is showing its age.” Nick Schager, The Weekly

Super 8   “seems bound for box-office glory”  J Hoberman, The Weekly

Thor    “This terrible movie happens to have a sad ending.” Charles Mudede, The Stranger

The Tree of Life  “That title says everything we need to know.” Charles Mudede, the Stranger 

The Trip  ” because the movie is stitched together from several TV episodes, there’s a lot of repetition.” Brian Miller, The Weekly

X-Men: First Class   “I see every summer movie I can. And on some level, I love even the really, really bad ones.” Paul Constant, The Stranger

YellowBrickRoad “This indie horror flick by Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland stands squarely on the shoulders of Blair Witch Project”  Brian Miller, The Weekly

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Inside the shell: Drugs, arms and tax scams

On December 11, 2009, a former Soviet air force transport plane flying from North Korea to Iran stopped to refuel in Bangkok. The flight listed its cargo as spare parts for oil-drilling equipment. Instead police found 30 tonnes of explosives, rocket-propelled grenades and components for surface-to-air missiles, all being transported in breach of United Nations sanctions.

Three months later in a Miami courtroom, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed the country’s largest money-laundering scheme involving billions of dollars from Mexican drug lords.

Then, last April, documents emerged in London concerning Russia’s largest tax fraud, an alleged $230 million heist that led to the untimely deaths of four people and threatens to damage the Russian government.

The story behind the three events is many degrees stranger than fiction, but it includes one common element – a number of shell companies associated with 68-year-old Queensland businessman Geoffrey Taylor or members of his family.

Shell companies – that is, corporations with no apparent operations, no apparent employees and no apparent physical assets – are used by those who register them for a range of nefarious activities around the world.

Thanks to loose laws of incorporation in many jurisdictions, it’s easy for offenders to remain anonymous. And the entities can often be formed in less than 24 hours using online facilities. It is not just criminals that take advantage. The Tax Justice Network, an international group of individuals opposed to tax havens, estimates that about $11.5 trillion worth of assets are held offshore and are therefore beyond the reach of effective policing. It claims this represents about a third of total global wealth.


Which four diseases face total eradication? Bill Foege predicts these…

Smallpox was, until yesterday, the only disease that had ever been eradicated from the planet.

The United Nations yesterday declared that rinderpest, a cattle disease that when prevalent had profound adverse impact on humanity, is now the second disease to have been eradicated.

Bill Foege, one of our local boys made good, is a big fan of disease eradication.

Foege is the world-renowned physician who figured out the strategy that succeeded in wiping out smallpox. He is featured in an interview on disease eradication on PRI’s The World “How to Kill a KIller Disease.”

“I think maybe six diseases will be eradicated before I die,” said Foege, listing the next four as… (more)




Watching TV in the evening and violent shows associated with kids’ sleep problems

Television is part of the daily lives of many young families and a new study shows that watching TV in the evening and violent shows in the daytime can disrupt sleep of preschoolers.

Overall, preschool-age children watched, on average, 1 hour and 12 minutes of television a day, according to the study published in Pediatrics today. Each additional hour of TV watching in the evening was associated with a noticeable jump in sleep problems, researchers found. Watching violent shows during the day also was associated with increases in sleep problems.

These effects were not mitigated by adult co-use… (more)