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SAAS STREAM

Artist's rendition of the SAAS STREAM building. (Photo copyright The MillerHull Partnership.)

Artist’s rendition of the SAAS STREAM building. (Photo copyright The MillerHull Partnership.)

We’ve all heard about STEM education by now – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – and the importance of today’s students pursuing and excelling in these subjects in order to be leaders in the local and global economies of tomorrow. In the coming decades, more and more jobs will require these areas of expertise and more teachers of these subjects will be needed to ensure the knowledge continues to expand to future generations. And yet today, only sixteen percent of American high school seniors are proficient or have an interest in STEM careers. How, then, do we prove to students that STEM subjects are interesting, important to their future, and that they shouldn’t be intimidating?

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Profiles – David Ridgen

I like ideas. What they can do. Anytime an idea grows into something that makes a tangible progressive impact, even if only on an individual basis, it makes me proud. From abstraction to completion. As a filmmaker, the proudest moment is when the idea leads to something that has a life of its own, that will continue after you die.

-David Ridgen

David Ridgen wins 2007 Gemini for Best Director of a Documentary Program for "Mississippi Cold Case." (Photo courtesy of Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television ©2007)

David Ridgen wins 2007 Gemini for Best Director of a Documentary Program for “Mississippi Cold Case.” (Photo courtesy of Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television ©2007)

He’s an award-winning filmmaker whose documentary work has taken him to, among numerous other places, the Middle East to follow his subjects, into the Deep South to investigate Ku Klux Klan members and their involvement in decades-old racial killings, and to the outskirts of Ontario to confront suspected child murderers. His investigative work has resulted in cold-cases being reopened and murderers being convicted, and at one point put him down the road for what many thought would be a well-deserved Oscar nomination.

But when I first met David Ridgen he wasn’t chasing murderers in search of justice, he was sticking his camera into a truck full of watermelons that several of us volunteers were emptying out at an elephant sanctuary in Northern Thailand and generally getting himself in the way. A bit of posturing and a few grunts between us and I still wasn’t sure what he was up to – unless it was work on a sequel to one of the all-time great watermelon films – but over the course of the next several days we warmed to each other and spent a fair amount of time discussing conservation, motivation and, of course, gear fetishism. That is, when he wasn’t insisting that I randomly shovel dirt into a wheelbarrow for his camera as some means of replicating the wholly inaccurate notion that shoveling elephant poo is romantic. It’s not. Elephants, however, very much are.

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Woodland Park Zoo Announces Elephant Exhibit Expansion Because “Conservation”

On March 28th, Woodland Park Zoo finally announced its long anticipated “strategic vision” for the zoo’s aging elephant exhibit. The five-year plan, based in part on feedback the zoo received from the hand-picked task force it convened last year on the heels of growing public pressure from a series The Seattle Times published on elephants in captivity, would see the zoo transfer its one female African elephant, Watoto, to another facility and bring in a third and possibly fourth Asian elephant to complement their remaining two Asian elephants, Bamboo and Chai, presumably in the hopes of restarting their elephant breeding program. The zoo would also commit between $1.5 to $3 million “to strengthen the Asian elephant program at the zoo, as well as play a key role in multiple elephant conservation arenas.”

While the details of the announcement were unsurprising, the news was still unwelcome by those who’ve been petitioning the zoo and the City of Seattle to close its elephant exhibit and retire the elephants in it to a sanctuary, and it goes against a growing body of evidence that says the earth’s largest terrestrial mammal – extremely intelligent, shown to be self-aware, and who by nature would live out their normal lives in tightly bonded matriarchal herds – fare poorly in confinement. Woodland Park Zoo’s decision to expand its elephant exhibit also contradicts a growing trend among other zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Twenty-seven other zoos have already shuttered their elephant exhibits, or have plans to do so.

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Winter Wonderland

Our favorite snowshoeing spot hidden away in the Cascade Mountains

Our favorite snowshoeing spot hidden away in the Cascade Mountains

Some have their favorite fishing hole, others a favorite campsite, or trail, or a quiet place to lose themselves in the sunset, kept secret from the public at large and whose location is known only to them. We have our favorite snowshoeing spot, and for the four years that we’ve been climbing up and down this part of the Cascades I can count on one hand the number of people we’ve run into along the way. For the past two years that number would be zero. A few backcountry ski tracks here, some scattered snowshoe tracks there. Finding those who made them has proven more elusive than the hares and other wildlife we share the snowy woods with, and is not something we’re exceptionally keen on doing. It’s the perfect escape, and at times a much-needed one for us. Out of the city and up into the snow, quiet but for the sound of our snowshoes breaking trail. With a late winter resurgence happening here in the Pacific Northwest we’ve been enjoying as much time as possible out at our little getaway in the mountains. I won’t tell you where this wonderful winterland is exactly, but I will share a few of the pictures we’ve taken over the past two years.

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Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand: Not Guilty!

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand: Not Guilty!

For over two years we’ve been following the legal developments in the wake of the raids and subsequent charges filed against Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand. WFFT is an organization committed to the rescue of wildlife suffering in captivity due to neglect and abuse. They do important work providing medical care and a permanent home for animals that are sick and injured, as well as rehabilitation and release back into the wild when feasible. So it was shocking news to read that on February 13, 2012, government officials raided and confiscated ninety-nine rescued, endangered animals on charges that the animals were illegally obtained and undocumented. We wrote about the raids which spanned a period of ten days. Supporters were kept up to date as founder Edwin Wiek wrote about the day-to-day events, while videos documented incompetence by government officials as they tried to put frightened animals into cages, leaving some injured before they were even taken from the premises. To this day, WFFT has not been told where their animals are being held or their condition; meanwhile officials have gone on record saying they don’t have adequate facilities or funding to properly care for animals in their charge.

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Oliver Mtukudzi + The Black Spirits – Live at Jazz Alley, January 29th, 2014

Oliver Mtukudzi + The Black Spirits

Oliver Mtukudzi + The Black Spirits

Touring behind his release Sarawoga, Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits paid a two-day visit to Seattle recently, dispelling the late January wet and gloom with songs and dancing, and bringing a bolt of Zimbabwean warmth and color to an otherwise drab, gray winter. It had been over a decade since I’d seen “Tuku” last, back when he was touring with Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival. I remember in particular being struck by Oliver’s sincerity and earnestness while reporting on a panel he did with fellow musicians Joan Baez, Lolo Beaubrun, and Cui Jian, titled “Music, Activism, and Society.”

“It’s self-discipline,” Tuku said, in describing how music allowed him to escape his impoverished upbringing. “You are the only way out.”

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Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

Great Blue Heron at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

Great Blue Heron at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

A short distance north of Olympia, Washington, lies the Nisqually River Delta, where the freshwater of the Nisqually River merges with the saltwater of Puget Sound to create an estuary rich in flora and fauna. As I-5 drops down and crosses the approximate two miles of tidal wetlands before rising back up and entering Olympia, it’s probably the most scenic, albeit short, stretch of highway between Seattle and the state’s capitol.

In 1974 the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge was established to “to protect the delta and its diversity of fish and wildlife habitats.” It’s a beautiful and, at $3 per vehicle, inexpensive way to spend a day exploring the delta’s rich variety of animal and plant life. There are several trails traversing the refuge, including a two-mile long boardwalk with several covered viewing platforms that allow visitors to watch the tides come and go directly underneath them, along with the wildlife that follows.

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A Tale of Two Cities

Hong Kong street market

Hong Kong street market

Back in Chiang Mai from our stay at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, we had a little over twenty-four hours left in this wonderful city before flying out to Hong Kong for a few days on our way back to the States. Instead of returning to the U Chiang Mai hotel in the heart of Rachadamnoen Road, we opted to stay a short distance away at the Rachamankha; a beautifully appointed hotel whose well-heeled, mostly aging European, Polo shirts and sockless penny loafers guests unfortunately lacked the same style that the hotel’s décor wore in spades.

It was an interesting contrast coming off a four-hour bus ride from Sukhothai on a coach containing mostly working class Thais and soldiers on leave. The down side of the bus ride? Broken seats, no air conditioning or toilets, and zero idea if, when, or where we’d be stopping so we could use a bathroom and grab a bite to eat. “Next time we’re upgrading to the $15 bus!” I told Kim. The upside: stopping at a random roadside market where we finally were able to relieve ourselves, grabbing some random food, and enjoying an unexpectedly delicious bag of chili and sweet basil chips.

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The Dogs and Cats of BLES and ENP

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That’s the essence of inhumanity.

-George Bernard Shaw

Morning walk at BLES with Lotus, her mahout, and the usual canine suspects.

Morning walk at BLES with Lotus, her mahout, and the usual canine suspects.

Even before the truck came to a stop we were completely surrounded. Backing up towards the start of the pathway I was worried for the worst should we unwittingly hit one of them, and I wasn’t sure what to expect once the doors opened and we stepped out. They were an anxious lot, and there was nowhere to go but straight into their ranks. Would we be greeted as friend or foe? Welcomed warmly or despised? Hoping for the best, I took a deep breath, opened the truck door and stepped out. That’s when the mob surged forward.

When I came to my clothes were soiled with their dusty prints and my face wet from their insistent interrogation. But we had survived. Satisfied with our answers we were allowed on our way while they dispersed in various directions. Rossanne back up to plant herself in the middle of the roadway, Hugh to the main house, Honey and several of her young siblings accompanying us up to our cabin. We had passed the litmus test and could finally meet the elephants. The dogs of Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary considered us part of the pack.

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Elephant Profiles – The Gossip Girls

The most important thing in your life is family. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.

-Carrie Bradshaw, “Sex and the City”

The Gossip Girls - Lotus + Wassana + Pang Dow

The Gossip Girls – Lotus + Wassana + Pang Dow

Each morning while we were eating breakfast, Wassana, Lotus, and Pang Dow, aka the Gossip Girls, strolled past us on their way to eat the banana feast we had gathered for them earlier that morning. When these three lovely ladies get together there is much squeaking and trumpeting because, like all close girlfriends, they enjoying sharing secrets, laughing, and doing a bit of gossiping while they eat a great meal together. The only thing missing were the martinis and cosmopolitans. But life was not always so blessed for these three best friends.

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