Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dr. Charles Monnett Investigation Ends Strangely. It May Be Shell Oil's Only Arctic Victory for 2012

Late last week, Dr. Charles Monnett, one of most highly regarded scientists in Alaska, was informed by Walter D. Cruikshank, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, that the 16-month long investigation into his scientific integrity has been concluded.  Though there was no adverse finding on Monnett's integrity, he received a written reprimand regarding emails he had passed on to an Alaska tribal agency, and to an environmental activist.  The emails ended up playing an important part in court proceedings which resulted in Shell Oil having to delay their plans to drill in the Arctic Ocean from 2008 to 2012. This has cost Shell several hundred million, if not more.

There was nothing in the reprimand critical of Monnett's handling of information having to do with the 2004 sighting of dead Polar Bears in the Chukchi Sea, which became iconic through Al Gore's use of the imagery in his movie, An Inconvenient Truth.

The organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has been representing Dr. Monnett from the beginning of the investigation.  They issued a press release on his reprimand on Friday:
DROWNED POLAR BEAR PROBE CLOSES WITH A WHIMPER — Unrelated Disclosures from 2007 and 2008 Dredged Up in Questionable Reprimand 
Washington, DC — No charges will be brought against the federal scientist regarding his high-profile research on polar bears, despite a two-and-a-half year investigation, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).   Instead, he has received a letter of reprimand for allegedly improper disclosures back in 2007 and 2008 which helped reveal that Bush administration Arctic offshore drilling reviews illegally suppressed adverse environmental consequences. 
Up until July 2011, Dr. Charles Monnett had directed a multi-million dollar portfolio constituting a majority of research on Arctic wildlife and ecology conducted for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).  He was temporarily suspended due to an Interior Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation into a polar bear research contract managed by Dr. Monnett.  The OIG probe, which began in March 2010, also centered on a 2004 paper authored by Dr. Monnett in the peer-reviewed journal Polar Biology concerning observations of drowned polar bears following a storm. 
The final IG report, delivered to BOEM three months ago, is slated for imminent release.  On Friday, September 27, 2012, BOEM informed Dr. Monnett that no action would be taken against him based on “findings made by the OIG in its report regarding your conduct” with the exception of a series of “improper disclosures of internal, deliberative government documents to a non-governmental entity” back in 2007 and 2008.   These disclosures had nothing to do with polar bear research but they embarrassed the agency and were, according to the letter of reprimand, “cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in making decisions to vacate BOEM’s approval of the Shell exploration plan” for Arctic waters.
PEER executive director Jeff Ruch, who - along with me and a few others - has characterized the proceedings against Dr. Monnett as a "witch hunt," stated Friday:
We are pleased this misguided witch hunt is finally stumbling to a conclusion.  We will push to learn how this abusive probe got started and why it was sustained.  We expect Dr. Monnett to return to work as a scientist. 
We are amazed that Dr. Monnett would be reproved for revealing that his agency was wrongfully withholding information.  For his actions, Chuck Monnett deserves a citation, not a reprimand.  However, if after years of investigation, these stale, stilted charges are the only things these jokers could dig up, Dr. Monnett must be an exemplary public servant.
The reprimand refers to five occasions when Dr. Monnett forwarded emails pertaining to the ongoing Minerals Management Service study on Shell Oil's application to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.  The emails spanned the period between February, 2007 and January, 2008.  The BOEM deputy director states in the letter:
These emails, in part, were cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Court in making decisions to vacate BOEM's (he means its predecessor, MMS) approval of the Shell exploration plan.
Essentially, Monnett is being reprimanded for providing truthful information that shut down an operation that could have caused immeasurable harm to the Arctic environment.

The environmental scientist to whom Monnett sent some of the emails was Prof. Rick Steiner, who has been and still is a long-term thorn in Shell's side.  His criticism of Shell Oil cost his University of Alaska Sea Grant program its funding last year.  He resigned in disgust.  Not a good thing for Shell, though.  Steiner is now devoting more energy than ever to keeping an eye on the company, whose environmental record around the planet is one of the most irresponsible in human history.  Earlier in September, Steiner was interviewed about his discovery, along with PEER, of the inadequacy of the current testing of the capping stack system Shell had hoped to deploy on their hapless, bad luck barge, the Arctic Challenger:
[H]oping for the best when it comes to Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling plans, because the company clearly is not prepared for the worst, at least when it comes to testing critical equipment needed to prevent massive blowouts like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. 
After dragging it’s feet for a while, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement finally released all the information it had on last summer’s testing of a well-head capping stack system. 
All the information on that test was included on less than a single page of typed text. 
“I was shocked,” said Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor who requested the testing report under the Freedom of Information Act. “I was expecting 50 or 70 pages … with pressure tests, detailed engineering info, graphs … it’s a critical piece of equipment in a blow-out,” said Steiner, an oil spill expert and board member of an environmental watchdog group. 
The idea is to lower the capping stack system over a busted well head, a tricky and delicate task in the best of conditions and potentially a significant challenge in the sometimes extreme Arctic Ocean conditions. 
Yet Shell and the BSSE apparently were able to complete the testing in a single day. 
“To say that these tests were rigorous or comprehensive is certainly a stretch,” Steiner said. “A simple emissions test report for my car is far more rigorous than what BSEE has produced for Shell’s Arctic capping stack. From this, we still don’t know that this critical piece of equipment will work if needed.” 
At best, the tests were only partial and cursory and didn’t include any independent analyis of the results, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. which obtained the federal testing data.
Meanwhile, it is interesting to see how Alaska media is covering the reprimand of Dr. Charles Monnett.  Perhaps most troubling so far has been the coverage at The Alaska Dispatch, owned by the wife of Carlyle group co-founder, David Rubenstein.  Their headline on the reprimand reads:
or, at least it did, before they changed it to:
Renowned Alaska scientist reprimanded by federal investigators
which is more appropriate for what the reprimand actually says.  The author of the Alaska Dispatch article on Monnett's reprimand claims to have seen the official report from the Inspector General's Office of the Interior Department.  I haven't been able to find it yet.  The IG's office does not list the report, and they're gone for the weekend.  Jill Burke, in her Dispatch article, writes:
The results of the IG's investigation, published Friday, suggest that Monnett and Gleason were sloppy with their polar bear data and that Monnett was secretly padding the war chest of anti-oil activists with confidential internal government emails pertaining to drilling in the Arctic by Royal Dutch Shell, an oil giant that, after years of delays, now has a ship hovering over a site in the Beaufort, poised to sink its drill. Those emails would turn up in a court case that effectively stopped Shell's drilling plans in 2007 and 2008 -- a problem for Monnett's employer since the Minerals Management Service, the predecessor to BOEM, had been the government agency to approve Shell's drilling plan.
Burke goes on to claim:
It was a volatile political and legal climate, and Monnett's plight as a scientist under scrutiny gave fodder to many conspiracy theories. Global warming deniers used it as evidence that climate change was a false theory put forward by corrupt scientists using junk science to bolster their cause. Others saw it as gross overreach of government into the workplace freedoms scientists are supposed to be able to enjoy in the pursuit of truth, free from political pressure. And still others saw the investigation into Monnett as proof that oil industry cronies would spare no cost to destroy the credibility of a scientist whose work had become an obstacle to exploiting petroleum reserves beneath the ocean.
Put me into the second and third categories, Jill - just not in such a pejorative way.   Burke's article is quite good, though, overall.  Here's the section about what the IG report supposedly says about Monnett and Dr. Jeffrey Gleason's peer-reviewed paper on Polar bear drowning mortality:
When the IG suggested during its investigation that Monnett's underestimation of potential deaths may have actually helped the NGO raise money, Monnett rejected the allegation, and instead said he was looking for the opposite effect. "The reason we understated it is because we wanted to avoid it," Monnett told investigators, "it" being the report’s use as a lucrative tool for NGOs to raise cash. "I am not a climate change campaigner." 
The IG also uncovered dissent within MMS over whether Monnett and Gleason should have ever been allowed to let the article go to print. Some criticized the article’s use a of single year's observations to foreshadow a trend. And others said it was improper to suggest climate change and longer swims were partly to blame for the drowned bears, when the real culprit was a fast-moving, tumultuous storm. 
"I don't think it would have changed anything," Monnett told investigators when asked whether more focus on the storm would have devalued their scientific conclusions. "Because it is clear. Everybody knows the reason the storms are there is related to the retraction of the sea ice. And most people would say that it is related to climate change."
Indeed, that is the case.  And the storms are only going to get bigger, as more water is clear through the late summer and into mid-autumn.

Although Burke's article seems to imply Dr. Monnett, and perhaps Dr. Gleason did something wrong, there hasn't been much other coverage in the Alaska press of what should be considered a major story.  The Anchorage Daily News, once one of the outstanding newspapers in the USA, hasn't yet covered it.  Alaska Public Radio Network, played a small, 30-second report on the reprimand.

There seems to be more interest in the case's culmination outside of Alaska than here.  The Guardian reported on it Friday, with a headline quite different from what the Dispatch initially carried - "U.S.Polar Near Researcher Cleared of Misconduct": (excerpts in snips)
The Obama administration has wound up its controversial investigation of a government polar bear researcher without finding any evidence of scientific wrongdoing, campaign groups said late Friday. 
The investigation was launched in March 2010 just as Obama announced he would open up the Arctic to offshore drilling and expand oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. 
The investigators began their inquiries by examining allegations that Monnett and another scientist had used false data in an article on drowned polar bears. 
Some of the material disclosed by Monnett was later used in court to force the interior department to revoke its approval of Shell's drilling plan, the letter said. 
Arctic researchers and environmental campaigns saw the investigation of Monnett as an attempt to discredit or sideline government scientists – and so clear the way for Shell and other oil companies seeking approval to begin drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. 
Rebecca Noblin, who heads the Arctic programme for the Centre for Biological Diversity agreed. "After years of dredging through Dr Monnett's files looking for damning evidence against the scientist, all the inspector general could come up with is that Dr Monnett disclosed documents that should have been public in the first place," she said in an email. "If there were more people like Dr Monnett in BOEM, maybe we'd see more drilling decisions based on science rather than politics."
I doubt it, but we can hope.

Meanwhile, Shell is trying to get both of their offshore rigs as close to the oil basins in the Chukchi and Beaufort as possible, before they have to wrap up for the season:
[A]s the roughly four-month open water season wound down, Shell announced last week it would limit drilling to "top-hole" work, the shallow but time-consuming preparation for an offshore well. The final straw for the decision: damage during testing Sept. 15 to an undersea containment dome, part of a spill response system that Shell put in place to reassure federal regulators that Arctic offshore drilling could be done safely.
That report by Dan Joling is inaccurate, as Shell has NO SYSTEM in place in the Arctic to deal effectively with any mishap that occurs.

All with the approval of the Obama administration.

image:  Dr. Charles Monnett's 2004 picture of a dead Polar bear in the Arctic

Saturday, September 29, 2012

End of Harvest 2012

Today, I pulled the last major crops from the garden:  the last of the beets, and the carrots.  The only stuff still growing are broccoli, Swiss chard and Spearmint.  We'll see how cold it gets tonight.  It might kill them off.

Above, a golden chard that went to seed, in the afternoon sun.

Below, the last of the golden, Chioggia and red beets:

Noble beast, Strider, behind the harvested carrots:

The washed beets and carrots, ready to be brought to storage:

First Snow

Judy took this picture this morning.  The snow is gone now, and it is fairly warm and sunny.

Two Great Romney Bumper Stickers

Max Blumenthal Discusses Netanyahu's Shifting Red Line on Al Jazeera English

Meanwhile, there have been plenty of reactions ridiculing Netanyahu's speech at the United Nations.

The New Yorker held a caption contest. Here are the winners:

Here's one an Israeli friend shared on facebook:

And here's my favorite, from a collection of parodies at Mondoweiss:

Friday, September 28, 2012

End of the Gardening Season

I was over visiting the Beans, who own Arctic Organics, between Palmer and The Butte, this afternoon.  I was delivering Tom Meacham's E-flat trumpet to Logan Bean, who will be performing the Franz Josef Haydn Trumpet Concerto with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra this November.

The Beans had several young workers, including Logan, pulling some of the last produce from their wonderful organic farm that looks out toward Pioneer Peak and the northwestern dorsal of the Chugach range.  Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of plump cabbages rolled past me, as River Bean showed off some of the fennel bulbs he had harvested and was sorting.  Behind us was a tub of a mixture of greens that looked ready to fill a salad bowl at the finest restaurants in Alaska, or the world.  Tubs of onions, potatoes and herbs surrounded us in the small shed that sheltered us from the pelting rain.  The kids working the field could have stepped from the farm onto any fishing boat in Alaska, with their Xtra-tuffs and HH raingear.

At our much, much smaller farm, the only crops still in the ground are beets, mint and carrots.  Everything else is stored, put up, refrigerated, frozen or being toasted in the oven.

Here's one of the beets - a Cylendra - next to some of the Spearmint:

The last of the purple poppies, amidst some carrots:

Flaming shrubs.  They were a housewarming present from Wasilla Mayor John Stein and his wife, Karen Marie:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bibi's Buddies

Scott Brown's "Macaca" Moment?

Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" - Published Fifty Years Ago Today

When Silent Spring first came out, I was a sophomore in high school.  Within a few weeks of publication, a few of my classmates had read it.  In late spring, I checked it out from the Burien (Washington) library, and read it.  It bothered me that chemicals were so destructive, especially as I was taking chemistry that year.

I re-read the book twice - once in the mid-70s (checking the book out from the Cordova (Alaska) library), and once in the mid 90s, reading it while staying with my friend James L. Acord, at his studio in Richland, Washington.

The book had a profound influence on the environmental movement.  Back in the late 1960s, when many young people were distressed by the growing use of chemicals in everyday applications, there was a wide range of reaction.  My ex-wife became macrobiotic, and I appreciated that approach.  I've since tried to eat as organically as possible, grow our own food as organically as possible.

On Tuesday, Alaska Public Radio's Steve Heimel devoted his weekly program, Talk of Alaska, to Carson's book and its anniversary.  You can hear the program at this link.

Here's the Band Primal Scream's Silent Spring:

The lyrics:

If all the birds have cursed the sky
A flaming fortress, hunting prey
A feathered bird deflowered dies
The flowers die
My knife has turned on life itself
My skin is bathed in poison rain
A room right on an empty shelf
Empty shelf
All the time in the world
And you never changed a thing
All the time in the world
And you stood back and watched
The silent spring, silent spring
The hovering of every breath
A legacy of decay infests
Just let me imagine mother earth
Mother earth

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Anchorage Bumper Stickers 2012: Obama vs. Romney

I took my good camera to Anchorage on Tuesday.  I drove in in the morning darkness, and came home long after it got dark again, but drove around town three times between job locations.  I counted Obama 2012 bumper stickers versus Romney 2012 bumper stickers.

I counted 11 Obama 2012 stickers and zero Romney 2012 ones.  I also noted eight anti-Obama stickers, all on pickup trucks, or on mini-vans with Christian fish symbols on the rear end.

There were more leftover McCain-Palin 2008 bumper stickers on vehicles than new stickers for all  candidates combined.

I never brought out the camera.

Listening to local AM rightwing talk radio, most of the blowhards are dismissive of Obama, and sound sincere when they talk that talk.  But when it comes to touting Romney, they just can't pull off sounding convincing.

Will this apparent lack of enthusiasm for Romney - even though he won both the 2008 and 2012 Alaska GOP Caucuses - translate into marginal advantages for Democratic candidates in our legislative races?  

Let's hope so.

Julian Assange Addresses the UN on Civil Rights

From RT TV:
On Wednesday night, Julian Assange, the creator of Wikileaks, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in an event called "Strengthening Human Rights" from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he has been trapped for several months. The event that was hosted by the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino and gave Assange a platform to draw attention to his case and he emphasized the importance of revealing the truth. Here is that speech.
Discussion on Assange's address: RT TV, with Jessalyn Radack:

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Five September Storms - So Far. Is This Climate Change?

The Matanuska River Friday afternoon, between Palmer and The Butte
I.  The waves of winds and rains that have pummeled Southcentral Alaska since the beginning of September come on top of a fairly moist and chilly summer, and a winter that broke snow records in many places.

The flooding in Seward, the Kenai Peninsula and Mat-Su Borough late this week, the worst in decades in many places, would have been much worse had Friday been as moist as Wednesday and Thursday.  As it is, scores of millions of dollars of damage have been done to private property and public infrastructure:

The Alaska Railroad:
Floodwaters have stopped all train traffic between Anchorage and Fairbanks, washed out the Denali Highway and caused serious problems on the Parks Highway. 
The Alaska Railroad was washed out north of Talkeetna on Friday, halting all northbound train traffic until Monday. 
A 500-foot section of track just south of Gold Creek was washed out and several bridges are at risk between Willow and Talkeetna.

Historic Downtown Talkeetna is endangered:
As morning dawned on Talkeetna, it was clear the flood water had receded, no longer threatening the historic downtown and, while leaving standing water in much of the east side of town, roads there were more easily passable.  
Where the Susitna River briefly seeped through a line of sandbags late Friday, the water had retreated to some boulders about 100 feet back from the barrier by early Saturday. Water from the Talkeetna River still flowed from East Talkeetna through a culvert under the Talkeetna Spur Road toward downtown but at a much slower pace.  
Volunteers had worked into the early morning hours Saturday to line sandbags on D Street, diverting water away from the rest of downtown and an old airstrip.
On the north slopes of the Alaska Range, the Nenana River has flooded buildings in Denali National Park, and some of the coal mines at Healy:
Minor flooding already was occurring at the Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, he said. Employees at the mine reported the boat launch was flooded and that water was over the bank and rising up on the shoulder of the road to the mine. The riverbank was eroding and several trees had fallen into the river, according to a statement issued by the weather service.

The Matanuska River is once again on the rampage, near Sutton , and downstream from the western Old Glenn Highway Bridge, past The Butte: II. Back in the first week of September, a somewhat unprecedented late Summer wind storm tore through parts of Anchorage with more ferocity than I can remember.  The combination of leaf-laden trees, wet soil and snappy gusts over 110 miles per hour, ripped thousands of trees from the ground, from Girdwood to Eklutna.
Anchorage Daily News photo

That was followed by another wind storm over last weekend, that was just as wild in a few locations on Anchorage's south hillside.

Is this a sign that the climate of this part of Alaska has changed permanently, bringing a more hostile weather environment to our area.  Certainly other parts of Alaska have already endured privations and disasters from what has been firmly established to be "climate change."

The North Pacific warms or cools in cycles, largely determined by temperature changes in the Pacific near the equator.  That cycle heavily influences weather in large parts of Alaska, particularly the sections bordering on the North Pacific itself.

But increasingly, the rapid diminution of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean will also influence weather patterns, and most likely, climate in vast parts of Alaska, Siberia, Scandinavia  and northern Canada.  And with it, there is more access to the Northwest Passage, and longer seasons for offshore developments, such as those that Shell Oil is attempting to initiate in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, and other firms, such as British Petroleum and Russian companies are pursuing off the northern Russian coasts.

It is more than ironic that one can Google "sea ice arctic development" and gain access to news articles promoting hyper development of more carbon for burning, in an area so recently freed up because of the hyper use of carbon worldwide for burning.  Some of the headlines are even zanier than this one:

One thing that is being predicted for the near future in the Arctic that is becoming more ice free at a shocking rate, is the advent of the Arcticane:
Whoever said watching the Arctic during the melting season is boring, needs to put his glasses on. After a record low reflectivity of the Greenland ice sheet (with accompanying floodings on the west coast of Greenland), the calving of another enormous iceberg from Petermann Glacier, and the general rapid decline of Arctic sea ice despite adverse weather patterns, we can now add to the 2012 melting season bonanza the appearance of a cyclone the likes of which are rarely seen in winter, let alone in summer. The storm came in from Siberia, intensified and then positioned itself over the central Arctic, reaching sea level pressures of below 965 mb in the storm’s centre, engendering 20 knot winds and 50 mph wind gusts.

Companies planning mineral exploitation off the Arctic coasts are probably ill prepared to handle heavy weather in the summer-fall drilling season.  This is fairly obvious when one takes a look at Shell Oil's so-called "containment vessel," the Arctic Challenger, limping back into Bellingham Bay six days ago, after utterly failing its first and only test of the piece of equipment it is supposed to be able to deploy in hostile conditions.

First of all, the test failure debacle:

The refurbishment was completed last week and the vessel underwent sea trials in Washington’s Puget Sound, and a series of tests were successfully completed on the newly designed Arctic containment system, Op de Weegh said.

"However, during a final test, the containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger barge was damaged," she said.  
Sources familiar with the testing said the mishap occurred when one of several clump weights was placed into about 160 feet of water to mark the area of a theoretical oil spill, to see if the containment dome aboard the barge could be lowered over it.  
"When they came back to find it, it [the weight] was lost, submerged into the silt," said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation.  
Engineers launched a mini-submarine known as a Remotely Operated Vehicle, which is part of Shell's plan for putting any oil spill containment equipment into place, to help get the oil containment dome carried aboard the Challenger set over the "leak."  
"They got some of the weights set to hold the dome, then one of the eight winches on the dome became inoperative," the source said. "They attempted to discover what was wrong by using the ROV, and got it tangled in the anchor lines of the dome and it sank into the silt."  
Divers were then dispatched to the sea floor to try to recover the dome without damaging the high-tech umbilical that controls it, he said.  
It was not clear how much damage the dome ultimately suffered, but it apparently was enough to prompt Shell to abandon its well-drilling plans for the current season.

Secondly, the fitness of the Arctic Challenger to perform in adverse weather.

My only question is "Would you want to be one of the 70 or so people Shell wants to put on this bad luck hulk that was slapped together ineptly, during a major storm?"
Arctic Challenger limping back to Bellingham Bay, towed by tug Lindsay Foss - image by TJ Guiton

I thought not.  It would end up looking much like this house, washing down the Matanuska River yesterday:

This vessel should never be deployed in the Arctic as the first line of defense against an oil spill.  Its chances of performing its job as Shell has so over confidently described it are somewhere between zero and minus 100 %.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Demonization of Solar Power by the American Far Right - Part One

I realize Alaska is not the ideal place for solar power, unless it is part of a mix of renewable energy sources on a year-long basis.  But Germany is not a tropical country.  Its northern border is around 55 degrees northern latitude.  Alaska's southern border is at about the same latitude.

Driving back and forth to work, from home in Wasilla to work in Anchorage, I subject myself to right-wing talk radio on the way in in the morning.  I've never heard solar power mentioned in a positive frame by ANY of these hosts.  Rather it is the other way around - solar power bad, coal good, etc....

Here's a link to some food for thought:  Coal Cares - Solar Power is Evil:
A newly launched web site claims solar power presents many dangers and problems that coal’s million-year buffering is designed to avoid. After all, coal power is solar power it says.       
The logic behind that statement lies in the fact that coal is formed from decaying organic matter - and the sun provided the energy that organic matter needed to grow.      
Such a statement is sure to raise the eyebrows of many familiar with solar technology and perhaps cause some very strong visceral reactions from environmental groups, but everyone can relax - the site in question is purely satire.      Touted as being a goodwill campaign on behalf of a major international coal company, Coal Cares offers fictitious "Puff-Puff" inhalers for free to any family living within 200 miles of a coal fired power generation plant.       
The site also has a section dedicated to revealing the dangers of renewable energy that help "prove" coal production and consumption is one of the safest endeavours on earth.       
In relation to solar power, it says the direct use of the violent fusion reactions occurring within our nearest star is the equivalent to mainlining the sun and we run the risk of overdosing. Concentrating Solar Towers pose a particular threat the page states, with the ability to "instantly fry an entire extended family or even village to death."       
Applying an exaggeration of the "butterfly effect", whereby small changes can have dramatic results, the page claims the knock-on effects from the turbulence a large wind farm creates could unleash the equivalent of 63 million tornados.       
The Coal Cares web site is very professionally presented and all in good fun, but with a more serious underlying message concerning the greenwashing of fossil fuels and the spread of misinformation about renewable energy technologies by parties with a vested interest in maintaining the world's fossil fuel addiction.       
While intended to be humorous, the company the site claims to represent is likely not laughing. Coal Cares could possibly keep some lawyers busy for a while.

Steve Aufrecht's 4'27" for John Cage

Dr. Laura Koenig on John Cage
Anchorage blogger Steve Aufrecht has compiled a four minute and 27 second video of a presentation four University of Alaska Anchorage faculty gave in honor of the 100th anniversary of composer and inventor John Cage, last Thursday at the UAA bookstore.  Had Steve's video been six seconds longer, its length would have mimicked the length of Cage's most famous work.

Steve's video is accompanied by one of the essays he does so well about arts and cultural events he attends around the greater Anchorage area, and elsewhere.  Aufrecht describes how important it is to actually see Cage's music being rendered, as opposed to merely listening to it:
Watching Cage run from item to item to create the sounds in sequence, I realized that seeing the music performed was far more accessible for an audience than simply listening to what, without the visuals, would be random sounds. 
This realization was reinforced when faculty member Dr. Laura Koenig described watching a performance of ball bearings frozen in a block of ice that melted allowing the ball bearings to drop and make different sounds depending on where they landed followed by a violinist responding to the ball bearing sound.
Here's the video Steve compiled, that includes excerpts of Dr. Koenig's, Dr. Sean Licka's and my presentations on Cage. Steve also mentions Rachel Epstein, the UAA bookstore event coordinator, who produced Thursday's event.  Rachel brings in so many speakers to the cozy lobby upstairs in the bookstore, to discuss so many subjects, and does it so well.  One would do well to keep track of these events.

Here's Steve's video:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Seamus is RORLHAO

That would be rolling on the roof laughing his ass off....

Watching Mitt Melt

No doubt Mitt Romney is taking breaks from his seemingly non-stop gaffe-making tour to watch videos of Obama in debates in years past.  Obama is probably doing that too.  There are several past Romney debates on Youtube.  This one - an excerpt - is from 18 years ago, when he was running for the U.S. Senate seat then held by Teddy Kennedy.

Even with a very sympathetic audience, Kennedy manages to miff Mitt into a borderline meltdown:

Kennedy went on to win with 58% of the vote to Romney's 41% Romney outspent Kennedy, spending over $7 million of his own fortune, while Kennedy had to mortgage his home. Kennedy was marginally ahead before the debates, but went on to win by 17 points.

 Watching Romney deal with questions about the 47% of Americans he characterizes as freeloaders on his press conference this evening leaves no doubt he's on a track to be getting less than 47% of the vote in November, unless somebody has Obama whacked.

 Let's hope not!

FACT SHEET: The Sabra & Shatila Massacre: 30 Years Later

Up until the aftermath of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut, thirty days ago this weekend, I was an ardent supporter of Israel and the Zionist experiment.  However, in November 1982, I was taken to an art exhibit in Seattle's Fremont District, of art done by Palestinian refugee children who had been orphaned in those small holocausts.

Speaking to some of the Palestinian-Americans who were there, I made lifelong friendships.  I never thought the same way again about Israel or the Palestinian people.

Here is a fact sheet on the massacres and their context in history, from the Institute for Middle East Understanding:

Yesterday marked 30 years since Christian Lebanese militiamen allied to Israel entered the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighborhood of Sabra in Beirut under the watch of the Israeli army and began a slaughter that caused outrage around the world. Over the next day and a half, up to 3500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, mostly women, children, and the elderly, were murdered in one of the worst atrocities in modern Middle Eastern history.

On this 30th anniversary, the New York Times has published an op-ed containing new details of discussions held between Israeli and American officials before and during the massacre. They reveal how Israeli officials, led by then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, misled and bullied American diplomats, rebuffing their concerns about the safety of the inhabitants of Sabra and Shatila.

For journalists following this story, the IMEU offers the following fact sheet on the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

The Sabra & Shatila Massacre: 30 Years Later

- Lead Up -

  • On June 6, 1982, Israel launched a massive invasion of Lebanon. It had been long planned by Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, who wanted to destroy or severely diminish the Palestine Liberation Organization, which was based in Lebanon at the time. Sharon also planned to install a puppet government headed by Israel's right-wing Lebanese Christian Maronite allies, the Phalangist Party.

  • Israeli forces advanced all the way to the capital of Beirut, besieging and bombarding the western part of city, where the PLO was headquartered and the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighborhood of Sabra are located.

  • Israel's bloody weeklong assault on West Beirut in August prompted harsh international criticism, including from the administration of US President Ronald Reagan, who many accused of giving a "green light" to Israel to launch the invasion. Under a US-brokered ceasefire agreement, PLO leaders and more than 14,000 fighters were to be evacuated from the country, with the US providing written assurances for the safety of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians left behind. US Marines were deployed as part of a multinational force to oversee and provide security for the evacuation.

  • On August 30, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat left Beirut along with the remainder of the Palestinian fighters based in the city.

  • On September 10, the Marines left Beirut. Four days later, on September 14, the leader of Israel's Phalangist allies, Bashir Gemayel, was assassinated. Gemayel had just been elected president of Lebanon by the Lebanese parliament, under the supervision of the occupying Israeli army. His death was a severe blow to Israel's designs for the country. The following day, Israeli forces violated the ceasefire agreement, moving into and occupying West Beirut.

- The Massacre -

  • On Wednesday, September 15, the Israeli army surrounded the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila and the adjacent neighborhood of Sabra in West Beirut. The next day, September 16, Israeli soldiers allowed about 150 Phalangist militiamen into Sabra and Shatila.

  • The Phalange, known for their brutality and a history of atrocities against Palestinian civilians, were bitter enemies of the PLO and its leftist and Muslim Lebanese allies during the preceding years of Lebanon's civil war. The enraged Phalangist militiamen believed, erroneously, that Phalange leader Gemayel had been assassinated by Palestinians. He was actually killed by a Syrian agent.

  • Over the next day and a half, the Phalangists committed unspeakable atrocities, raping, mutilating, and murdering as many as 3500 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, most of them women, children, and the elderly. Sharon would later claim that he could have had no way of knowing that the Phalange would harm civilians, however when US diplomats demanded to know why Israel had broken the ceasefire and entered West Beirut, Israeli army Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan justified the move saying it was "to prevent a Phalangist frenzy of revenge." On September 15, the day before the massacre began, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin toldUS envoy Morris Draper that the Israelis had to occupy West Beirut, "Otherwise, there could be pogroms."

  • Almost immediately after the killing started, Israeli soldiers surrounding Sabra and Shatila became aware that civilians were being murdered, but did nothing to stop it. Instead, Israeli forces fired flares into the night sky to illuminate the darkness for the Phalangists, allowed reinforcements to enter the area on the second day of the massacre, and provided bulldozers that were used to dispose of the bodies of many of the victims.

  • On the second day, Friday, September 17, an Israeli journalist in Lebanon called Defense Minister Sharon to inform him of reports that a massacre was taking place in Sabra and Shatila. The journalist, Ron Ben-Yishai, later recalled:
    'I found [Sharon] at home sleeping. He woke up and I told him "Listen, there are stories about killings and massacres in the camps. A lot of our officers know about it and tell me about it, and if they know it, the whole world will know about it. You can still stop it." I didn't know that the massacre actually started 24 hours earlier. I thought it started only then and I said to him "Look, we still have time to stop it. Do something about it." He didn't react."'

  • On Friday afternoon, almost 24 hours after the killing began, Eitan met with Phalangist representatives. According to notes taken by an Israeli intelligence officer present: "[Eitan] expressed his positive impression received from the statement by the Phalangist forces and their behavior in the field," telling them to continue "mopping up the empty camps south of Fakahani until tomorrow at 5:00 a.m., at which time they must stop their action due to American pressure."

  • On Saturday, American Envoy Morris Draper, sent a furious message to Sharonstating:
    'You must stop the massacres. They are obscene. I have an officer in the camp counting the bodies. You ought to be ashamed. The situation is rotten and terrible. They are killing children. You are in absolute control of the area, and therefore responsible for the area.'

  • The Phalangists finally left the area at around 8 o'clock Saturday morning, taking many of the surviving men with them for interrogation at a soccer stadium. The interrogations were carried out with Israeli intelligence agents, who handed many of the captives back to the Phalange. Some of the men returned to the Phalange were later found executed.

  • About an hour after the Phalangists departed Sabra and Shatila, the first journalists arrived on the scene and the first reports of what transpired began to reach the outside world.

- Casualty Figures -

  • Thirty years later, there is still no accurate total for the number of people killed in the massacre. Many of the victims were buried in mass graves by the Phalange and there has been no political will on the part of Lebanese authorities to investigate.

  • An official Israeli investigation, the Kahan Commission, concluded that between 700 and 800 people were killed, based on the assessment of Israeli military intelligence.

  • An investigation by Beirut-based British journalist Robert Fisk, who was one of the first people on the scene after the massacre ended, concluded that 1700 peopledied.

  • The Palestinian Red Crescent put the number of dead at more than 2000.

  • In his book, Sabra & Shatila: Inquiry into a Massacre, Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk reached a maximum figure of 3000 to 3500.

- Aftermath -


  • Following international outrage, the Israeli government established a committee of inquiry, the Kahan Commission. Its investigation found that Defense Minister Sharon bore "personal responsibility" for the massacre, and recommended that he be removed from office. Although Prime Minister Begin removed him from his post as defense minister, Sharon remained in cabinet as a minister without portfolio. He would go on to hold numerous other cabinet positions in subsequent Israeli governments, including foreign minister during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's first term in office. Nearly 20 years later, in March 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel.

  • In June 2001, lawyers for 23 survivors of the massacre initiated legal proceedings against Sharon in a Belgian court, under a law allowing people to be prosecuted for war crimes committed anywhere in the world.

  • In January 2002, Phalangist leader and chief liaison to Israel during the 1982 invasion, Elie Hobeika, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut. Hobeika led the Phalangist militiamen responsible for the massacre, and had announced that he was prepared to testify against Sharon, who was then prime minister of Israel, at a possible war crimes trial in Belgium. Hobeika's killers were never found.

  • In June 2002, a panel of Belgian judges dismissed war crimes charges against Sharon because he wasn't present in the country to stand trial.

  • In January 2006, Sharon suffered a massive stroke. He remains in a coma on life support.

The United States

  • For the United States, which had guaranteed the safety of civilians left behind after the PLO departed, the massacre was a deep embarrassment, causing immense damage to its reputation in the region. The fact that US Secretary of State Alexander Haig was believed by many to have given Israel a "green light" to invade Lebanon compounded the damage.

  • In the wake of the massacre, President Reagan sent the Marines back to Lebanon. Just over a year later, 241 American servicemen would be killed when two massive truck bombs destroyed their barracks in Beirut, leading Reagan to withdraw US forces for good.

The Palestinians

  • For Palestinians, the Sabra and Shatila massacre was and remains a traumatic event, commemorated annually. Many survivors continue to live in Sabra and Shatila, struggling to eke out a living and haunted by their memories of the slaughter. To this day, no one has faced justice for the crimes that took place.

  • For Palestinians, the Sabra and Shatila massacre serves as a powerful and tragic reminder of the vulnerable situation of millions of stateless Palestinians, and the dangers that they continue to face across the region, and around the world.

Protest Over Shell's Alaska Arctic Drilling at Their London HQ

The Guardian was there, covering it.

Sean Parnell - Killing Alaska One Species at a Time

Last week, Gov. Parnell appointed a committee to deal with the collapse of Chinook Salmon.  About a decade late, and with very little in the way of muscle to get anything done.  Here's the Governor's answer to Wesley Loy's inquiry about who is on Parnell's Chinook disaster science task force:
The team is headed up by F&G's chief fisheries scientists Eric Volk and Bob Clark. It also includes other fishery scientists (Andrew Munro and Steve Fleischman), fishery biologists (Ed Jones), a geneticist (Bill Templin) and staff from the subsistence division (Dr. Jim Fall).  
Sharon Leighow Press Secretary Office of Governor Sean Parnell
One commenter at Loy's blog, Deckboss, notes:
This is a joke. Dr Fall is a subsistence expert. This time around instead of finding out why we do not have more Chinooks, Fall is simply going to argue that there needs to be more Chinooks allocated to subsistence. Look at that new proposal book in the AYK section and you will see what i mean. Volk and Clark are good guys, but know nothing about the biology issues. Asking the ADF&G staff to look for a solution to this problem is like asking the fox to look into the problem of a reduction of chickens in the pen managed by the Fox. Won't happen.
I noted in February, 2009:
Imagine how Alaskans would react if, year after year, a Seattle-based, partially foreign-owned fleet came into the bottom of Cook Inlet, and dragged up over 75% of the salmon coming into Cook Inlet. Imagine if this fleet wasn't even there to fish salmon. Imagine if the crewmen either brought these Anchor, Kasilof, Kenai, Susitna and Deshka River-bound King salmon back to Seattle to go to the Salvation Army, or - if they needed all the space in the hold left, for more Pollock - threw the valuable Kings overboard while the observers aboard their ships were kept out of sight. 
That is what has been happening in the Bering Sea for decades. It has gotten to the point that the Seattle-based trawlers are taking so much of the Yukon, Kuskokwim and other river-bound salmon in their by-catch, that there might well not even be a Yukon River season in 2009. Or 2010. Or - ever again. 
Could this happen to the Kenai River? Not likely. If the salmon runs on the Kenai will die, it will be from other kinds of greed and hyper-development. We've seen how much resistance some user groups of the river and property along the river have taken to sound policies and initiatives designed to improve salmon habitat.
But now, three and a half years later, we have the disaster many had predicted.  

Do I think the Parnell administration is capable of handling the Chinook sustainability problems rationally?  Of course not.  

A better question is - does anyone?

Speaking of Cook Inlet, concern about invasive species coming into Alaska and into Cook Inlet from drilling rigs and other uninspected vessels is growing.  Yesterday, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility issued a press statement:
As the Department of Interior permits offshore oil exploration in the Alaskan Arctic, they may also be “permitting” the introduction of invasive species to Alaska.  Invasive species impacts analyses were removed from federal environmental reviews for offshore exploratory permits, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The prospect of invasive introductions continues to loom as a real danger with experts warning that “many gaps remain in the current strategy to prevent marine species transfers” into Arctic waters. 
Last week, a jack-up drilling rig brought to Alaska’s Cook Inlet from Singapore, may also have brought invasive mollusks attached to the rig’s legs. Alaska Fish & Game officials have requested samples from the drilling rig’s owner, as the state wildlife agency has limited authorities to inspect the rig.  Principal responsibility for preventing non-native species from being introduced by ships rests with the U.S. Coast Guard, but this apparently infested rig passed a Coast Guard inspection.

And today, Cook Inletkeeper follows up with more information (received by me in an email), fairly damning of Parnell administration policy in this regard:
After transport from Singapore, Buccaneer Oil Corporation is storing its jack-up drill rig - the Endeavor - in the state-established Kachemak Bay Critical Habitat Area.  Although the management plan for the Kachemak Bay CHA prohibits the storage of drill rigs, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game changed its policy last year, arguing the rig is not "stored" in the CHA unless its legs are lowered into the substrate. 
The Kachemak Bay CHA supports important salmon and halibut fisheries, among others. Past studies by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center have identified roughly a dozen marine invasive species in the area. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers cited Buccaneer for failing to obtain needed permits for seismic blasting operations around the world famous Kenai River."
"PEER has done important work showing the blind eye federal agencies have turned on invasive species in oil and gas operations," said Bob Shavelson, Director of Advocacy for Cook Inletkeeper.  "Now its time for the State of Alaska to stand up and protect the fisheries and habitats that support countless Alaskans. Independent testing for possible invasives on the rig should occur immediately, and the state should adopt rules to ensure this never happens again."
The Parnell administration will go down in history as the worst of all time, in regard to confronting increasing perils to our resources from a growing array of assaults, some natural, many man-made.

Shell Oil’s Arctic Challenger Containment Dome Fails in Perfect Weather – 2012 Drilling to Oil Called Off

Early Monday morning, Shell Oil announced that its plan of drilling all the way into oil, inside the crust of the bottom of the Arctic Ocean off the shores of Alaska, were crushed.  Their own technology, the vaunted containment dome, said to incorporate all the lessons learned from capping the Deepwater Horizon spill, was severely damaged in perfect late summer weather, while being tested on Puget Sound:
Shell is giving up for the year on drilling for oil in Arctic waters off Alaska after another setback to its troubled oil spill containment barge.
The company announced the decision Monday after testing of the Arctic Challenger, the oil spill containment barge the company has been unable to get ready and certified to support its Arctic Alaska exploration. Shell said that, while it will abandon its effort to drill into oil-bearing zones this year, it will drill “top holes” to get ready for next year.
“During a final test, the containment dome aboard the Arctic Challenger barge was damaged. It is clear that some days will be required to repair and fully assess dome readiness,” the company said in a written statement.
Environmental activists from Greenpeace, and being represented by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, have been pushing for the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to conduct more rigorous tests on the equipment Shell has vaunted as being the best in the world for winter conditions in the Arctic.  That the key spill containment feature failed in lake-like conditions near Bellingham Bay on Puget Sound is an indicator that the concerns of activists such as ex-Prof. Rick Steiner (hounded from his post at the University of Alaska by the Bush and Obama administrations, at the behest of Shell), and Subhankar Banerjee (who was a guest Sunday at firedoglake’s Book Salon) have legitimacy, and that Shell may be setting us up for as bad a record in the Arctic as they have on the Niger Delta.
I’ve been concerned about the package represented by the Arctic Challenger since I found out in late July that Shell was refitting the barge I had worked exactly thirty years ago into a role I knew it was not suited for:
Although the Arctic Challenger was not needed as an icebreaker in 1982, it had been tried in that role earlier, and was found to be poorly designed.  It didn’t draw a lot of water – 4.1 feet empty – so, after having been broken by the bows,  ice would creep along underneath the hull and ultimately foul the props and rudders of the propelling tugs.  Not good when you’re 3,000 miles from Seattle.
Crew members of towing tugs had been injured over the five years since the barge’s completion, and it was not considered to be a “good luck” barge in fleet scuttlebutt.It never really found a niche after the Sealifts were over.  It languished, being shuttled from Seattle to the Gulf of Mexico to Coos Bay, Oregon, where it stayed for a long time.
On August 8th, I attempted to take a close look at the work being done in Bellingham Bay on the Arctic Challenger.  I was thwarted and followed by Shell rent-a-cops out of town:
I’m on my way back from Bellingham.  I visited the Port of Bellingham Dock this morning, where the barge Arctic Challenger is being modified by contractors for Shell Oil, to be used as their oil spill containment vessel for offshore drilling operations in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
I managed to get through two levels of security, being escorted the entire time.  At the third level, as I was explaining I hoped to get definitive information on the nature and extent of the stern modifications, bells and whistles started going off in the heads of the contractor’s people at hand.  I was sequestered away in the office of a fairly anal firewall type guy, until several security people and what appeared to be the project manager came in.
I was told the stern notch is being decked over and compartmentalized permanently.  It will never be pushed again as an icebreaker. Instead, he stated, an icebreaking tug, similar to the Swedish tug Tor Viking II, will be assigned to the Arctic Challenger from the time it leaves Puget Sound until its duties in the Arctic are over.  He stated that, summer or winter, when the vessel is deployed in the drilling areas, it will not be moored or anchored, but will be moving or drifting.
I thanked him for the best information anyone has yet given me, and requested a tour of the project.  He flatly told me “No,” and I was not allowed to take any photographs of the vessel.  He assured me that Shell Oil will be contacting me soon with more information.
The ambience of the work place there reminded me very much of projects in the past where I have worked that are seriously behind schedule and nervous of potential outcomes.
I was followed by private police until I left Bellingham.
Bad luck barge? A project long nervous about potential outcomes?  Incapable of passing dumbed down tests in flat calm weather?  Is this what we will have next year, after Shell cobbles together something that can somehow get certified as adequate?
I hope not!
Look at the image at the top, of the barge, being towed into Bellingham Bay.  It is supposed to have a crew of scores of people, when deployed.  Would you like to be on that thing in an 80-knot blow anywhere, let alone the Arctic Ocean?
Meanwhile, Shell hopes to continue drilling into the crust, to a distance short of where the oil is supposed to be:
Shell is required to finish any drilling operations in advance of the arrival of sea ice that could pose a problem for containing spills. The company had hoped for an extension of its Sept. 24 deadline for drilling in the Chukchi Sea. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he wouldn’t consider the request until the spill containment barge was ready and certified.
Shell is now abandoning for this year the effort to drill into oil-bearing zones. But the company plans to drill as many “top holes” as possible this drilling season in hopes of making progress toward next year.
“The top portion of the wells drilled in the days and weeks ahead will be safely capped and temporarily abandoned this year, in accordance with regulatory requirements,” the company said in its written statement.
Shell has had problems with even such preliminary drilling.
The company last week had to halt the effort the day after it began when sea ice started moving toward the drill ship.
Shell said the drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, is expected to resume its position in the Chukchi Sea and start work again in the coming days. Shell said it also plans to start operations in the Beaufort Sea soon following the fall Inupiat whaling season.
image:  The Arctic Challenger, being towed to its berth in Bellingham Bay, by a Tug (possibly the Garth Foss), after the failure of its spill containment system in a test on Puget Sound. Photo by Todd Guiton, published by the Bellingham Herald