Month: March 2018

We Should Have Supported The Science

Sometimes I’m a little slow to react – and sometimes so slow that I find myself commenting on history instead of what should (would) have been current affairs had I been quicker off the mark. It is a fact that since I hunkered down in the Berwick Royal Oak Residence for senior citizens 16 months ago (yes, tempus does fugit) I have quadrupled my rate of procrastination.

Thus, today, I bring you my thoughts on an event that took place a year ago in and on the waters of Puget Sound; an event which would be hilariously entertaining had it not involved a spill of millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater and cost multi-millions of dollars to fix.

Readers of my blog, who reside beyond the provincial boundaries of British Columbia, may have picked up whispers from time to time that BC’s capital city, Victoria, admired for its scenic and floral beauty, disposes of its raw sewage and stormwater into the ocean which rolls between BC and Washington State.

For years, local governments and regional district authorities resisted the cries of environmentalists demanding that the disposal of raw sewage into the ocean end, and a full sewage waste-water treatment plant be built at a cost of millions of dollars. For years local government countered those protests with environmental and scientific studies and reports that the waste being piped into fast flowing deep water currents was being transformed, diluted and returned to nature with pristine efficiency.

The scientific evidence did not impress Victoria protesters. Their voices echoed across the ocean and found common cause in Seattle where USA local governments began to belittle Greater Victoria’s scientific evidence and apply economic pressure to force the building of a full treatment plant. Victoria’s economy depends heavily on tourism and negative media plus political attacks on the dumping of raw sewage into the ocean began to take their toll.

In Canada, provincial and federal governments ignored or rejected scientific studies that claimed ocean tides and currents were taking more than adequate care of any perceived problems. Local environmentalists created a symbolic mascot to wander the streets and attend public gatherings. It was an adult male made up to look like human faeces, aptly named Mr. Floatie.

There is little doubt Mr. Floatie’s vulgar presence was more appealing to an easily led public than the carefully reasoned science stating nature was already controlling the situation; that full treatment was not necessary. The threat that senior governments might withdraw heavy funding required to build the plant weighed heavily in the final equation. In September 2016, a decision was made to proceed with the project at a cost now estimated at more than a billion dollars.

In May 2017, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps accompanied Mr. Floatie to Seattle to triumphantly attend his “retirement party” after two years working for Mayor Helps, Tourism Victoria (and) their Seattle counterparts. The party was hosted by Canadian Consul General James Hill. The flight to Seattle would take the Mayor and Mr. Floatie over the site where four months earlier hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage and stormwater had spewed untreated from Seattle’s West Point sewage and stormwater treatment plant.

There is no indication in the reports on Mayor Helps’ and Mr. Floatie’s flight that the site of the disastrous sewage spill was ever pointed out to them or that they ever got to meet Kim Stark, the lead quality water controller at the King County Environmental Lab. Ms. Stark had assured a concerned public that in the days immediately after the spill caused by a mechanical failure, “some monitoring categories spiked,” but that just a short time later, “everything looks typical.”

Then she significantly added: “There was a reason West Point outfall was put in the location it was. It is a perfect location [because] there are some very high bottom currents. So, the effluent goes out and kind of moves and just becomes very diluted very quickly.”  Which is why in very short order after the West Point outfall disaster occurred “everything was back to normal” – which is exactly what the scientists and environmental engineers had been saying was happening with Greater Victoria’s sewage disposal since the great debate began.

But the people ignored the science and the logic and followed instead the advice of a piece of … well, maybe best not to go there.


Remembering The First Man He Killed

I was cynically amused a few days ago when USA President Donald Trump puffed his bottom lip and pronounced that had he been on duty the day 17 school children and school workers were murdered he would have burst into the school and without hesitation executed the shooter.

I have no doubt the President believed the thought. And, I have no doubt that he has never been in a position where he was required to face the fact that if he opened the door in front of him it could be the last thing he ever did on earth. Others were also critical of police who failed to react as they had been trained that fateful morning. Cowardice was not an unspoken word.

My reaction was a little kinder, although I have never been in a situation where a well-armed man was waiting just beyond a door ready to kill me if I opened it. I have no idea what my reaction would have been or would ever be but many years ago, William Manchester, a writer of great integrity, told me how I might have felt and reacted.

He was writing one of his several classics – Goodbye Darkness, a memoir of the Pacific War. In the opening pages we find him flying across the Pacific to revisit old battle grounds. As he flies through the night, old memories, “phantoms repressed for more than a third of a century come back; (one) with a clarity so blinding that I surge forward against the seat belt, appalled by it, filled with remorse and shame. I am remembering the first man I slew.”

Manchester, in charge of a 19-member squad of marines, takes us to a beach on Motobo where a fisherman’s shack from which sniper fire had already claimed several victims, was barring progress. He was the leader. “Sweating with the greatest fear I had known until then, I took a deep breath,” asked for squad coverage and made a dash for the hut dropping every dozen steps, remembering to roll as I dropped.” He was almost at the door when he realized he wasn’t wearing his steel helmet and “that was a violation of orders. I was out of uniform and I remember hoping, idiotically, that nobody would report me.”

He remembered, too, how his jaw began to twitch and “various valves were opening and closing in my stomach. My mouth was dry, my legs quaking, and my eyes out of focus.” He struggled for control, kicked the flimsy door open, crashed inside where “my horror returned. I was in an empty room!” There was another door, another room which meant that’s where the sniper was – now alerted by the noise.Waiting.

“But,” wrote Manchester, “I had committed myself. Flight was impossible now. I smashed into the other room and saw him as a blur to my right. I wheeled, crouched, gripped the pistol butt with both hands and fired.”

He was the first Japanese soldier Manchester had ever shot, the first he had ever seen at close quarters.

“He was a robin-fat, moon-faced, roly-poly little man … squeezed into a uniform that was much too tight.” Manchester’s first shot had missed “the second caught him dead-on in the femoral artery.” As the sniper slumped down and bled out in a pool of his own blood, Manchester kept firing until his magazine was empty.

He reloaded his gun, and “then I began to tremble, and next to shake all over. I sobbed, in a voice still grainy with fear – ‘I’m sorry.’ Then I threw up all over myself. I recognized half-digested C-ration beans dribbling down my front, smelled the vomit above the cordite. At the same time, I noticed another odour; I had urinated in my skivvies.”

Another member of his squad arrived, checked to make sure the sniper was dead. “I marveled at his courage,” Manchester wrote.”I could not have taken a step toward that corner”. The squad member then approached Manchester but quickly “backed away in revulsion from my foul stench saying: ‘Slim, you stink.’ I said nothing. I knew I had become a thing of tears and twitchings and dirtied pants. I remember wondering dimly: ‘Is this what they mean by ‘conspicuous gallantry?’”

And as I read Manchester again, I wondered if President Trump could read him and identify and confess without shame a true warrior’s tarnished distress;and I wondered how many of the people quick to brand as cowards men who couldn’t cope with fear, would have handled the situation in the beach hut on Motobu.

I ask myself the same question and hope I never have to find out.