Month: June 2014

Two multi-billionaires’ visions in concrete, stone, and steel

The two principal co-founders of Microsoft Corp., Paul Allen and Bill Gates, have both left a huge mark on the region and the world because of the concentration of personal massive wealth and their willingness to use that wealth to express their passions, quirks, and visions. Allen is reportedly just the 26th richest man in America at 61 years of age. He has spread his cash, and a lot of it, in things beyond his mega-yacht, two professional sports franchises (the Blazers and Seahawks), University of Washington buildings, spaceships, foundations, and lots of prime real-estate in the Seattle area. A guitar enthusiast, he helped to fund and build the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum. Located next to the Seattle Center, this wildly shaped interactive museum, designed by Frank Gehry, pays homage in its name to Seattle’s favorite native-son guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix, as well as Allen’s love of all things science and science fiction.

Gates, at 58, has a net worth of about $76 billion, according to press reports. He remains atop the list of the United States’ mega-billionaires. As many know from countless sponsorship promos, he launched his vaunted and sometimes criticized Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 1997, in no small part due to his very savvy wife’s influence. The Foundation reportedly has assets now valued at nearly $39 billion. It remains focussed on global health initiatives, technological innovations to improve global and maternal health, poverty reduction, information technology access, and education. The Foundation’s world headquarters literally sits across the street from the EMP.

For us normal and not-so-wealthy folks in Seattle, we are in the shadow of these very rich and influential super-rich billionaires many times over. I recommend any Seattle visitor check out both facilities. In a short walk, you can gaze upon the manifestations of these two mens’ very large egos that continue to shape not only Seattle, but in the Foundation’s case, quite literally direct the global health agenda. Now that is true power beyond the software running on my desktop and laptops.


Who is that big dude down front?

One of the hallmarks of a photographer is to be bold, and let no thing or person stand in your way of taking that great picture. Right? Or not? That depends. How important is that picture? That is a topic that I have debated many times in the past with other practitioners. The National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics claims that professionals should “treat all subjects with respect and dignity.” Really? Anyone see a lot of that at events?

Most news videographers I have seen in practice could care less about anyone when they walk in front of live audiences, obstruct views, disrupt paid events, and generally make jerks of themselves to get the 30 seconds of film for whatever broadcast. That is their business, and that is their product. But I personally find their behavior the absolute worst. I have seen my fair share of photographers demonstrate the same winner-take-all mentality. I am not sure if professionals and especially many more amateurs care about these guidelines. Most individuals likely adhere to personal ethics and standards. How important is your need to prioritize yourself over others, just for a picture of a cultural performance, or sporting event? That seems very subjective.

These days, it seems there is always that “big dude” down front, completely destroying the moment onstage so he (or she) can take something away and leave nothing in return. Today, I saw that in full play at the Iranian Festival at the Seattle Center. There was the proverbial big dude, and also big woman, and family members and friends, and many more. Lots of people were filming and running up to the stage and leaning on the stage with their filming device, including monster zoom lenses, camcorders, smart phones, pads, and more. So, I turned the lens on them from my seat.

Hey, big dude, would you please just get out the way, just this once? Thanks.

Seattle’s 2014 Fremont Fair, getting ready for the solstice parade

The Fremont Fair is now an annual tradition in Seattle, made famous by nude bicyclists. No, I am not going to show photographs of nude bikers. If you want to see those, you can use Google images, and you can find plenty of them. Instead, I wanted to highlight a number of the groups who put on this show for free every year, including kids, dancers, and lots of really good horn players and drummers. It is not quite Carnival in Rio, but for this place, it is what the locals do to fly their exhibitionist and performing artists flags and welcome summer.

Getting around in Indonesia: trains, planes, bemos, buses, kecaks, and ferries

I posted this video online five years ago to highlight the often chaotic world of public transportation in Indonesia. As worried as I was about the large number of jet crashes and ferry sinkings there, the hazards of riding local public transportation gave me more concern. And, these concerns are well-justified.

Road injuries are ranked 10th of all contributors to the global burden of disease–more so in developing nations. In Indonesia, approximately 49,000 people die annually on the roads. Having seen in person several fatal road accidents there, usually involving small motorcycles and larger vehicles, I can say unequivocally that these are horrific ways to die. In fact, the United States Department of State offers this warning to would-be American visitors to my very much beloved Indonesia: “Air, ferry, and road accidents resulting in fatalities, injuries, and significant damage are common. … While all forms of transportation are ostensibly regulated in Indonesia, oversight is spotty, equipment tends to be less well maintained than that operated in the United States, amenities do not typically meet Western standards, and rescue/emergency response is notably lacking.”

However, it is cheap to move around. Train travel was super easy, as was hopping on a bus, or the smaller bemos. I just would not advise getting in a taxi late at night during the seasonal typhoons and have the driver then tell you that his headlights are not working, in broken English, as you navigate back roads in a city you know nothing about. Ah, the memories of travel. Priceless.

By all means, please do visit Indonesia, support the local businesses there with your money, and use a bit of common sense. Or your can stay at home, thinking you are safe and cozy, and never really understand how things work in places as dynamic and important as the largest Moslem-majority country in the entire world. For that is what corporate greenwashing campaigns like the Rainforest Alliance’s Follow the Frog want us to do: never ever leave home and never ever learn about the world first-hand. The choice is truly yours. I say, be curious, be friendly, and definitely be mobile.

See my picture gallery of Indonesia photos on my web site. (Ed. Note: I legally changed my name to Rudy Owens from Rudy Brueggemann after I had produced this film, so that is why you will see that name on the video.)

Look around and you might find art about American Indians


I took a drive from St. Louis to Seattle in 2013, with the goal of visiting a few places with historic significance to the story of American Indians/Native Americans. Oddly enough, the first thing I took a picture of was an electric box in St. Louis, by the light rail station, which had been painted with scenes of a buffalo hunt. I thought this must have been a locally supported art project, and I really liked these pieces. The same day I visited the Museum of Westward Expansion, under the Gateway Arch, which has a superb exhibit of the story of the West, including the loss of lands, conquest, and cultural collapse of bands who once called the American West their own.

This summer, I was passing through The Dalles, Ore., and saw the side of a local store that was painted with a mural telling the story of the treaty signed by the U.S. Government and Oregon tribes, which ceded much of the state to the United States. Large mural art by Alaskan Natives and American Indians can be found throughout the United States, but also in Canada and Mexico (by their first nations and indigenous artists). When you see something bold and creative, stop for a moment and think about the story. The art tells the tale of the land you are standing on. And the story is long, complex, and continuing.

(Please click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Crowded bike racks are always a welcomed sight

Slowly, and painfully slowly at that, efforts are underway to get more folks biking shorter distances in the United States. The biggest barriers, and rationally so, are safety and poor infrastructure that makes it unsafe for anyone but hardened cyclists to share the road. And the lack of places to lock a bike can be a barrier too.

Even in supposedly bike-friendly Seattle, less than one in 10 people ride daily. A 2012 survey found the top two reasons people did not ride were because of weather (in our case, rain) and safety. In this city, quite literally, you can be seriously wounded or killed at almost any time by inattentive drivers who are texting, talking on the cell phone, or simply hostile or oblivious to bikes. So that is why I always play it safe. Research also shows that conditions also can become safer when more people ride their bikes. Safety in a pack. I will keep doing all I can to keep those numbers growing. You can also read my blog post I write on bike safety and health in the United States.

I took this snapshot at the Fremont Fair, in Seattle, on June 21. My bet is a majority of people took their cars to the fair, but this is great to see. (Please click on the photograph to see the picture in a separate picture page.)

A tribute to all of those race day volunteers

I love running. I have run numerous marathons, half marathons, mountain races, and even an ultra. So I support running and races. Always.

However, I am a bit dubious about massive marathons these days and who they benefit, like the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Seattle today, June 21. They clog city streets by closing major arterials for hours, outside companies who do not report their earnings pocket profits using public property and disrupt local businesses, and no proceeds from the event go to support local community sports events that cater to lower-income people who can’t afford race fees that are now $75 and even more.

I think cities need to support healthy events, like races. However, they can and should establish memoranda of understanding with companies, like the organizers of the Rock n Roll Marathon Series, and require that these companies share some of the earnings made from public resources to support sports activities for the general public. Perhaps there can be a fund to support trail development and safer streets in areas that do not have nice parks for people of all ages. That way those inconvenienced by for-profit events can get future health benefits and the city can show its residents that the public inconvenience contributes to a public good.

Always these for-profit events have volunteers. These are the unsung heroes of any race. Anyone who has hit the last water stands loves those smiley faces, oranges, and water. The Mayor’s Marathon in Anchorage, which is almost entirely off-road and on trails and dirt roads at Joint Base Elmendorf-Fort Richardson, is my model of a great marathon. It is locally run (albeit supported by large corporate benefactors), supported by fund-raising groups like Team in Training, and well supported by local volunteers. Go Mayor’s. Here is a photo I snapped while running at about mile 9 as I ran the half marathon at Mayor’s in 2009, when I had a nasty pulled muscle and had to pull the plug on the full distance. I loved those cheery volunteers who lined the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to make my race day a memorable experience. Thanks volunteers!

(Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)


Rural King County, Auburn to Enumclaw


I live in King County, the most populous in Washington state, home to Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, and other major global corporations. Billionaires by the bushel live here, and private wealth abounds. But there is also another King County, just outside those urban areas and in semi-rural communities that are unincorporated. The bustle of Seattle is not found here. In fact in some places, it is quite the opposite. Here are a few scenes on Highway 164, on a drive from the city of Auburn to the city of Enumclaw.

The beauty of a World Cup meme, starring goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa

I am a soccer fanatic. Yes I am. I played all my life, back on defense, until I tore my ACL for the second time in 2005. But I still love “el jogo bonito,” as the Brazilian hosts call it. And I love great sportsmanship, great team efforts, and great displays of soccer excellence (yes, I will use the Americanism, not the universal term futbol, as I am writing mostly for an American audience).

On June 17, the Mexican keeper Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa put on a  show that dazzled the world soccer community at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Mexico tied Cup host Brazil to a heart-thumping 0-0 draw. Miraculously, every time the yellow jerseys looked certain to score against the Tri, the defiant Ochoa said with a block and deflection, not today, you shall not score. I would say nearly every Brazilian old enough to watch television regrets that this amazing, young Mexican sports star had ever worn the Mexican jersey, and every Mexican knows who he is and why he suddenly became a national hero.

Ochoa showed that a great defense can beat even the best offense. You do not play like this every day. You have to be in the zone, when everything happens slowly, deliberately, as if in pre-ordained fashion. And so it was written, 0-0, with both teams grabbing a single point and left to wonder at what happened on the pitch at Fortaleza, Brazil. It was magic, and thanks for the show Memo.

A day later, of course, or likely in real time, the social media world was ablaze with Ochoa memes. Here were a few I found online, and to me they represent a brilliant form of creativity and enthusiasm for a game that, well, is more than a game. Also, this is one of the rare times I am going to republish material that I did not create. These images are by their instant distribution and fusion of different forms collective art, and now part of the global media landscape. (Last I checked, they also are not copyright protected. I’ll take them down if someone points out these are.)

Open water swimming, sweeping the world


If you have not noticed people swimming in lakes, rivers, and oceans, there is a significant global movement embracing this really old sport. Open water swimming as a competitive sport is taking place everywhere, it seems, and you can find a race and plan a trip just about anywhere to time your travels with a race. I took this race shot in Kent, Wash., at a half, mile, and two-mile contest in August 2012 (the Friday Night Swims at Meridian Lake). Where I live, in Seattle, certain areas of lakes are even protected as swimming areas from boat traffic (smart idea). My only regrets about this great sport are the cost to get wetsuits if the water is too cold, meaning mostly higher-income athletes pursue this sport, and the culture of swimming has yet to penetrate a more diverse group of Americans. The key is to get all kids in the pool as early as possible and show them how great this activity is. I love it. (Click on the photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)