Saturday, July 17, 2004

this article made front page

Bon Odori fest honors Japanese heritage
By Katherine Sather

Seattle Times staff reporter

Spring Snow makes flowers.

The 88-year-old woman — her full name is Haruko Shimizu — takes long cords of Japanese rice paper in her hands and bends and loops them together to form chrysanthemums, animals and ships.

She practices Mizuhiki, an ancient art of weaving paper cords that she first learned as a young woman in Japan. In 1996, instructors in Japan gave Shimizu the name "Shun Setsu," or Spring Snow, in recognition of her efforts to introduce the art to America.

Shimizu's family says she may be the only Mizuhiki instructor in the United States. She's spent the past 20 years traveling up and down the West Coast teaching the craft at festivals such as this weekend's Bon Odori, a celebration at the Seattle Buddhist Temple where members of the Japanese-American community honor their ancestors.

She'll give demonstrations and display her work and the work of her students at the three-day festival.

"It's a dying art, so to speak," said George Shimizu, her son. "She wants to expand this knowledge to other people and keep this tradition."

At her home in Seattle, Haruko Shimizu unties a tightly wrapped bundle of rice-paper cords, sent from Japan, and hundreds of strands of red, yellow, gold, silver and blue flash before her small frame.

She learned the craft while in school in the 1930s in Saijo, Hiroshima.

"I thought, 'That's so beautiful, so I'd like to make this,' " she said.

Shimizu was born in Puyallup, but her family returned to Japan in 1921, where she later married Sengo Shimizu. She and her husband came back to the United States to make their home.

During World War II, she and her four children were sent to Santa Anita Assembly Center in California and then to the Gila Relocation Camp in Arizona. Her husband was sent to Crystal City Internment Camp in Texas, where his family joined him in 1943. After the war, they settled in Seattle.

Traditionally, Mizuhiki creations are given at occasions such as weddings, anniversaries and birthdays. Cranes and turtles, or kame, are given to wish a long life. Most start out with an "awaji musubi," or basic knot.

The steps are outlined in a book Shimizu published in 1998 with the help of her English-speaking students. Before she wrote the book, she couldn't find detailed Mizuhiki instructions in English.

"The book is very unique; you'll never find it in Japan, either," her son George said.

Some of her three-dimensional creations grow to be quite large. In the front room of her home she displays a 3-foot-long "treasure ship" with a gold frame and ivory sails. It took her almost five months to finish.

The craft has become an important part of her life. She keeps scrapbooks full of photographs of her students and her creations. Most treasured are snapshots of her standing next to the governor of Hiroshima. In 2000, Shimiuzu and her students constructed a peace tree of 1,000 Mizuhiki cranes and took it to the Hiroshima Memorial for the 55th anniversary of the tragedy.

"I'm very proud," she said. "The governor said it's the first time the peace tree has been made in the cord."

Shimizu also made a peace tree for the cancer ward of Swedish Medical Center where her husband died in 1986. It is still on display, she said, but it's too hard on her to go see it.

"A lot of people suffer, so I make 1,000 cranes," she said. "Maybe some sick people look around and maybe for one minute not think about the pain."

In 2001, Shimizu coordinated an effort to honor her parents. She traveled back to Japan to mark the 100-year anniversary of the day her father, Tsunesaburo Kato, left Hiroshima for Seattle. She and her family erected a monument near her father's property.

"I'm so lucky," she said. "I wanted to do something for [them]."
Katherine Sather: 206-464-2752

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Two men held in beating outside gay bar

By Katherine Sather
Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle police have arrested two suspects in the attack last month on Seattle resident Micah Painter outside a gay bar.
The two men, ages 19 and 20, were arrested in Bellingham on Tuesday night. They are expected to be charged tomorrow with felony assault and malicious harassment, a hate crime, which carries enhanced penalties.

Capt. Tag Gleason said the police received a tip on King County's Crime Stoppers line from a person who encountered the two men on the evening of June 27, when Painter was beaten and slashed with a broken vodka bottle.

Gleason said the two suspects are part of a group of about 10 Bellingham residents, friends and associates in their early 20s, known as bullies in the area. He said there is no indication that they are a gang.

"They've been described to us as thugs or bullies who go about the community engaging in this behavior," Gleason said.

One suspect is being held at the King County Jail while the other, 19, already was jailed in Whatcom County on a local charge. Gleason said police are expected to arrest a third suspect, a juvenile.

In most cases, The Seattle Times does not publish names of suspects until they are formally charged.

Prosecutor Mark Larson said he will review medical records and confer with Painter, 23, before pressing hate-crime charges. Larson credited the arrest to Painter's willingness to share his story of what happened and the publicity it received.

Painter, a landscaper and personal trainer, was attacked while leaving Timberline Spirits at 1828 Yale Ave., during the gay-pride weekend in Seattle. He is recovering from wounds to his back, shoulders and face.

His friend Michael McAfoose, who has organized rallies and benefits for Painter, said that Painter came forward to prevent more assaults in the Seattle gay community.

McAfoose says Painter was called derogatory names before he was attacked.

"He was afraid this was going to happen to other people," McAfoose said. He will plan another rally if the suspects go to trial.

Katherine Sather 206-464-275
2 or

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

UW lecturer to bring tech gift to Uganda AIDS clinic

By Katherine Sather
Seattle Times staff reporter

Today, he's heading back to Edith.

Former Microsoft executive Frank Schott will visit Africa, and Edith Mukisa, to finish a high-tech volunteer project that's grown close to his heart.

Since leaving Microsoft in 2001, the University of Washington lecturer has traveled to developing countries around the globe, helping equip nonprofit groups with technology. He took on Mukisa's project a year ago, while she attended the UW on a fellowship.

The 41-year-old Ugandan had applied for a UW grant to outfit her teen AIDS clinic in Uganda with software to help track patients. Schott helped Mukisa get the $10,000 grant, and he was so inspired by her work that he has led a volunteer effort to help the clinic grow.

Now he's returning to Uganda to finish installing software he developed along with several local organizations that aim to help nonprofits access technology.

"If you don't start using new tools to tackle age-old problems, the problems just perpetuate themselves," Schott said. "These solutions can make a difference."

Mukisa exemplifies the rewards of his work, he said. He has become a close friend and mentor to her and her family.

"She's a contagious person, very happy," he said. "She can describe what she's doing in such vivid, graphic terms that you say 'Wow, I want to work with this person.' "

In 1994, Mukisa started the Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre in Kampala, Uganda, a country recognized for its success fighting AIDS. An estimated 25 million people are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, but its prevalence is declining in Uganda, in part because of the country's educational efforts.

Mukisa's clinic promotes a motto known as the ABCs: "Abstinence, Be Faithful, and Condoms." During his first visit to the clinic, Schott was humbled to see young people lining up at 8 a.m. and packing into a tiny waiting room to receive counseling, medical treatment and contraceptives.

"You see this clinic and the people it's treating and there's no way you could say no to help," he said.

Until recently, staff members screened each patient at the door, jotting down their demographics and medical history on sheets of paper later stuffed into filing cabinets. Schott and a team of volunteers created software that allows staffers and doctors to access these records on a computer. This allows for faster work and time to treat more patients.

The clinic sees more than 12,000 patients a year, Schott said.

The software helps compile statistical data that will be used to create outreach programs in local schools. It also will be useful in helping the clinic expand, Schott said, because donors like to see evidence of productivity and need.

"The question donors would have is 'How do I know you can support more patients?' " he said.

Schott recruited volunteers through the UW's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, which gave Mukisa her grant, as well as the Marc Lindenberg Center for Humanitarian Action, International Development and Global Citizenship.

Lindenberg, former dean of the Evans School who died in 2002 at the age of 56, helped establish a nonprofit in Seattle called NPower that helps outfit other nonprofits with technology. Frank Ordway, a volunteer with the organization, helped set up computers at the Uganda clinic last year.

Volunteers Ted Palsson and Teresa Hennig, of the Pacific Northwest Access Developers Group, designed the software program. All but Palsson will travel to Uganda next week. Because he won't be making the trip, Palsson created a discreet button on the software program that will link clinic staffers to a page with his biography. It reads: "I'm proud to serve you this application."

"This represents the best of what the Northwest has to offer," said Elaine Chang, director of the Marc Lindenberg Center. "A combination of expertise in information technology and compassion. All it takes is something to bring that together."

Schott became involved in this type of volunteer work in 1999 while working for Microsoft in Paris. He led a team that created a database for refugees in Kosovo that helped them obtain new identity cards and find missing family members.

"Once people have access to these tools, they can do amazing things with them," Schott said. "The software solutions we saw in the last 20 years work pretty well ... you can take these database tools and count on them in the most remote places in the world."

He has other projects on his plate, too. In cooperation with Microsoft and the Red Cross, Schott recently opened a Community Technology Learning Center in St. Petersburg, Russia, to serve refugees from Afghanistan and Africa as well as people with disabilities. He plans to open another center in Africa.

Seeing countries benefit from technology is one of the rewards of his work. He and his team will share their work in Uganda with other nonprofits.

"This becomes superinteresting when other countries adopt what Uganda's done," he said. "There's not money to be made here. The cool thing, the biggest ego boost, is to see these solutions spread."

Katherine Sather 206-464-2752 or

Ballard locks article

Photo student draws attention of authorities

By Sara Jean Green and Katherine Sather
Seattle Times staff reporters

On Monday night, the volume of Internet traffic to Ian Spiers' Web site — — crashed his server. Strangers from Chicago and New Zealand offered him space on their servers to get his story back online.

Spiers, a Seattle freelance graphic designer and amateur photographer, has been amazed at the outpouring of international support he's received since posting a tale of two run-ins, the first with Seattle police and the second with agents from the Department of Homeland Security, for taking photos at the Ballard Locks, one of the most popular tourist spots in Seattle.

Spiers gave this account:

He was taking landscape photos at the Locks on April 5. Someone apparently thought he was suspicious and called Seattle police, giving them Spiers' license-plate number. Two officers later showed up on Spiers' Ballard doorstep to question him.

Spiers showed the officers his notebook — which included a list of shutter speeds and subjects — and explained he had been working on an assignment for an introductory photography class at Shoreline Community College. An officer asked to see his identification, and Spiers complied.

On May 26, Spiers was again at the Locks, this time hoping to photograph boats as a train passed over the trestle in the background. As he was setting up his tripod, he was approached by a man he thought was a security guard.

Spiers says he politely explained that he was a student photographer and showed a copy of his class assignment. The man asked to see Spiers' ID but when pressed, admitted Spiers had no legal obligation to hand it over. Irritated, Spiers this time refused to comply and the man left, but soon returned with seven others, all with guns holstered on their hips. They questioned Spiers and again demanded his ID. One of them snapped a photo of him.

Spiers, 37, who describes himself as half black and half Scottish, suspects he was singled out because of his skin color, adding that other visitors at the Locks were taking photos but no one else was being questioned or detained.

What upsets Spiers most is that during the second incident, after he'd answered a slew of questions and had been told he could go, an agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a branch of Homeland Security, asked to take Spiers' photograph. When Spiers said 'no,' "he told me, 'You really don't have a choice,' " Spiers said.

"I'm still like everybody else, trying to ask all kinds of questions, wondering why somebody needs to see my ID just for being down there with a camera," said Spiers. "As for the photo of me, I don't know if I should be concerned about getting on a plane. Am I now on some no-fly list or something?"

The American Civil Liberties Union is investigating the incidents, questioning officials on Spiers' behalf. In a June 21 letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that manages the Ballard Locks, ACLU attorney Aaron Caplan wrote that at the end of the May 26 questioning, "Special Agent Daniel McNamara of the Department of Homeland Security told Mr. Spiers that he was not allowed to take photographs at the Locks, and that he was not to return to the Locks without advance notice and permission."

ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said yesterday that he is not aware of any law that prohibits taking photographs of government buildings or federal facilities such as the Ballard Locks.

"You've got to wonder why Ian was singled out," Honig said. "The government says somebody made a complaint about Ian. It made sense they would talk to him, but it's quickly obvious he poses no security risk."

Spiers was told he had violated the Patriot Act, but there's nothing in the legislation that prohibits his actions, Honig said. The ACLU wants an explanation for what happened.

"You'd think government officials should be able to distinguish between a student and a spy, or a tourist and a terrorist, when it comes to taking photos at the Ballard Locks," Honig said.

Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said her agency wasn't involved in either incident. "Any member of the public is welcome to come on the grounds of the Locks and take pictures," she said.

ICE Special Agent in Charge Leigh Winchell said yesterday he wasn't aware of either incident; he also declined a reporter's request to interview McNamara, saying that, as a matter of policy, agents don't answer media questions.

Though he declined to discuss protocol for questioning and photographing people, Winchell said "our security, particularly in and around our waterways in the Puget Sound area, is paramount at this time. ... we address all those situations seriously."

Seattle police spokeswoman Deanna Nollette also declined to comment on the incidents, saying she hadn't known about officers' contact with Spiers until reporters started calling about it.

Chris Simons, who taught Spiers' photography class, believes Spiers was racially profiled.

When Spiers showed up in class soon after the May 26 incident, "he was in shock — he was upset, confused and didn't know what to do; he was a little bit afraid, but it hadn't really hit him yet that he was being profiled," Simons said.

"That photograph (the agent took) is going to be attached to a file somewhere, and that's a little scary. When it comes to police photographing you, that's serious because they don't photograph you just for fun."

Friday, July 09, 2004

Seattle school district pays principal to resign

By Katherine Sather
Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle Public Schools officials recently agreed to pay the principal of the African American Academy $89,000 to resign, saying parents had expressed concerns about his disciplinary style.

The school district offered Medgar Wells a buyout after parents repeatedly voiced concern about a lack of disciplinary control at the school, said Steve Wilson, chief academic officer.

Wells attributes his departure to different reasons. He said the settlement stems from disagreements about staffing at the South End, Afro-centric school.

He said he wanted to expand a program called "looping," in which teachers remain with the same students through several grade levels.

"It's something you definitely need with African-American kids. You need to build relationships," Wells said. "The truly courageous conversation that needs to be had is whether the district is going to allocate the resources needed in order to better serve the children they have underserved for years."

Wilson said he was not aware of Wells' concerns about staffing. He said that before asking Wells to resign, district officials had numerous meetings with staff at the academy, as well as parents. The settlement equals Wells' salary, minus benefits.

There were "a lot of concerns" about the school's climate, Wilson said.

Wells, 38, originally is from Mississippi. He taught at the African American Academy, a K-8 school, for five years before he was named principal four years ago.

The 12-year-old school has struggled with low test scores, but has made substantial improvements in the past few years. Last year, fourth-graders at the school had some of the biggest gains in the district in math and writing on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.

Wells attributes that success to looping. The students' instructors had advanced with them from third to fourth grade, and he wanted to expand the program to allow fifth-grade teachers to accompany their classes to middle school.

He said the district wouldn't allow that, because the fifth-grade teachers weren't certified to teach at the middle-school level.

"I needed the freedom to be able to make those kinds of moves," Wells said.

He said parental concerns about discipline were not the reason for his departure.

"You have that at every school," he said. "In a school with 500 kids, you're gonna have parents who disagree."

Wells recently was hired as principal of Zion Preparatory Academy, a private Christian school in Seattle. While he's excited to be a part of Zion's approach, he said he didn't want to leave the African American Academy.

"I loved the community and the parents," he said.

The district is interviewing candidates to replace Wells as the principal at the African American Academy. Principal openings also remain at the Bilingual Orientation Center and North Beach Elementary.

More than 20 principals recently have been appointed to new positions in Seattle. Earlier this spring, the district selected Laura Tollefson as the new principal at Wedgwood Elementary, but Tollefson, former principal at Enatai Elementary in Bellevue, recently accepted a job outside the district. Veronica Gallardo has been appointed in her place. Last year she worked as principal intern at Mercer Middle School and John Hay Elementary

little league article

Little Leaguers taking a big cross-country road trip

By Katherine Sather
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

The boys of the Kirkland City Bombers give everyone a nickname.

There is Christian "the Rocket" Pekich on first base, Dean "Little D" Buchanan on second, and the most recent addition to the team: a 40-foot-long land vessel known as "Da Bus."

Today team members were to pile into the 1978 GMC Buffalo, which has been rebuilt into a dormitory on wheels, for a two-week road trip thrown together by team manger Rick Ockerman, or "Captain Rick." He'll pilot the silver bus across the country on a barnstorming odyssey of baseball. The team will visit sites such as the cornfield featured in "Field of Dreams" and the Baseball Hall of Fame in New York, and play pickup games with other Little Leaguers.

The 11 boys, all of whom will start high school next year, said they are elated to see the country and devote long road hours to playing video games. Ockerman hopes they will remember the trip as a celebration of their friendship. His son Steve "Ock-Man" has played with the team three years.

"Next year they'll all have girlfriends, they'll be driving cars and they'll have jobs," Rick Ockerman said. "This is the only time they'll get to do it."

Until a few weeks ago, team members and their parents were skeptical that the trip would even happen. Ockerman, a Kirkland attorney, bought the bus on a whim through eBay last Thanksgiving. In the past two decades, it logged 1.1 million miles as part of Sun Valley Stagelines in Idaho.

Ockerman stored Da Bus in a horse barn across town as he and another parent, Bob "The Builder" Wilson, began nailing in bunk beds and couches.

"My wife initially was opposed — she thought I was crazy," said Ockerman. "Except for the boys, everyone thought I was crazy."

Teammates began making plans. They started out in the Little League senior division, but when Little League wouldn't provide insurance for the planned 6,650-mile trip, the boys joined the Evergreen Baseball Alliance, a Western Washington league. Since then, they have played as both the Reds and the Kirkland City Bombers, playing twice as many games as usual. As of this week, their record is 18-17.

Pekich, the 15-year-old first baseman, quit his Finn Hill Junior High School baseball team this spring to have time for the Bombers/Reds. "I had more friends on this team that I was closer with," he said.

When Ockerman brought the silver bus out for a test trip to Vancouver this month, it had been transformed into a funky motor home of sorts. Teammates found their names stenciled on 7-foot-long bunks, along with a refrigerator and a lounge area with a TV and video games. The boys even have a roll-out putting green that fits in the aisle.

"We were all surprised at the bus," Pekich said. "We hadn't heard about the progress until we saw the bunks. We all sort of pulled everything together this month."

In preparation for the trip, the boys painted flames on the side of the bus as well as their team name and their sponsor's name. Honda of Kirkland is providing the boys with $1,200 to camp at KOA campgrounds along the way and $3,500 for gas. Team members will buy their own food.

The bus handles surprisingly well, Ockerman said. "It's built like a tank," he said.

Ockerman mapped out a route to hit historical sites as well as baseball landmarks. Their first stop is Yakima for a three-day Little League tournament. Then it's off to Montana for fly-fishing near where "A River Runs Through It" was filmed. From there, Da Bus will roll to Mount Rushmore, New York, Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg, Pa., for pickup games and tournaments.

Ockerman looked up teams on the Internet and called coaches to schedule games. The most anticipated game will be an evening match on the Iowa cornfield where "Field of Dreams" was filmed.

"I don't know how many games we'll win, but that's no longer the point," said Wilson, who is going along to help supervise. Some parents plan to meet the team in Cooperstown, N.Y., where the boys will play in a three-day tournament. But for the most part, they want to give the boys some time to themselves. Ockerman has promised to stay in the front of the bus to give his son some privacy.

"At this age, a lot of young men are trying to figure out their lives — who they are and why they're here," he said. "If you get good set of buddies, you can sit and talk about those things."

The teammates will be assigned duties at each campsite, including laundry and cleaning the bus. For the "gutbuster" portion of the trip — tedious hours of driving across Illinois — shelves are stocked with books and movies: "Sandlot," "Field of Dreams" and the Harry Potter series. The team was more excited about marathon video-game sessions, though.

"We'll be playing (Xbox) all the way," said Buchanan, 14.

By the end of the two weeks, the Bombers will have played about 14 baseball games, depending on how well they fare in tournaments. Win or lose, they agree, the point is to have fun.

And there's a chance there could be some other distractions along the way. "One of the players knows some girls from somewhere in the country," said teammate Pekich. "We don't know if they'll be able to come."

Katherine Sather 206-464-2752 or

article on cats

Kittens overwhelm two shelters

By Katherine Sather
Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Eastside animal shelters are trying to cope with a feline baby boom — one of the busiest kitten seasons in years.

A mild winter may have brought on an early breeding season, and the Mercer Island Eastside Orphans and Waifs (MEOW) shelter in Kirkland is overflowing with about 100 more kittens than normal.

Volunteers are having trouble figuring out what to do with 411 cats and kittens at the shelter or in foster homes.

The Humane Society's Bellevue shelter had to bring in a trailer to house some of its 436 cats. It's sending newborn kittens who need extra care, like bottlefeeding, to MEOW, which rarely turns newborns away.

"We're trying not to panic," said Bonne VeVea, who founded MEOW in 1997. "It's hard to turn people away. When it's our back yard, its especially difficult. Sometimes we can't say no."

Cats typically go into heat in mid-January, said Brian Huntsman, a veterinarian with the Humane Society. But the mild winter may have kick-started some cats' hormones in December. And they'll keep on romancing until next month.

"If we're starting to get busy now, as the season progresses along, it's going to get worse," Huntsman said.

At MEOW, the influx of kittens has meant extra cleaning time for its volunteers. Workers start washing out the cages and litter boxes at 7 a.m. each day. What's usually a three-hour job is taking five, lately.

Keeping clean is important with so many cats in such close quarters, VeVea said. Tuesday the shelter was crawling with 80 felines. About 80 foster parents in the area are housing the 300-plus cats that aren't staying at the shelter.

"It's like a day care," she said. "They get sneezes and colds — all it takes is one."

VeVea founded the organization in Mercer Island seven years ago, and moved it to Kirkland in December. Shelter space, which includes play rooms for the cats as well as stacks of cages, is reserved for felines who need special care from volunteers.

A recent arrival is Max, a 5-week-old kitten that was abandoned at the Redmond Transit Center. Teenage girls found the cat and used an eye-dropper to feed it cow's milk, which will often upset cats' systems, said Rachel Desler, a MEOW staffer.

"At this age, the kitten wouldn't have made it in the hands of someone who's not familiar with them," she said. "They need to be in the hands of someone that can watch for symptoms."

Each day the organization has to turn away cats from people, but with situations like Max's, it's hard to say no. Callers are counseled on caring for strays and on spaying and neutering.

"We help people work through logical solutions so (the cats) don't have to be euthanized," VeVea said.

MEOW has a no-kill policy. Nationally, the number of cats euthanized has dropped. But that may be a reflection of increased spaying and neutering.

Last year, 1,356 cats were adopted from MEOW. Since January, 575 cats have found permanent homes.

Katherine Sather 206-464-2752 or