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Mourners cry outside the scene of a mass shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. The shooter used a legally purchased 9mm handgun in the rampage. (Photo from REUTERS/John Gress)
Mourners cry outside the scene of a mass shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. The shooter used a legally purchased 9mm handgun in the rampage. (Photo from REUTERS/John Gress)

Gun violence is an unfortunate and irrefutable part of American culture.

An American my age can almost mark years of their life by instances of extreme violence committed by armed nutcases, from Waco, to Columbine High School, to the DC Sniper, to Virginia Tech, to Tucson, to last month in Aurora, Colorado, and the shootings just yesterday at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

And of course, gun violence has taken its toll on Seattle, my former home, with the shootings at Café Racer in May.

I say my former home because, after growing up in the Northwest and living in Seattle for over 10 years, my partner and I immigrated to New Zealand two years ago.

And we are currently going through the process of legally obtaining firearms in New Zealand.

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import goods from China, import export, wholesale
Istanbul Imports is having a “closing” sale in preparation for a renovation that will close the store for the entire month of August and give the store the vibe of a Turkish bistro. (Photo by Allison Int-Hout)

With import stores across the country struggling with changing regulations and growing transportation costs, it’s easy to guess why Istanbul Imports in downtown Fremont might have a huge “STORE CLOSING” sign hanging above the door.

But the savvy import shopper might be surprised to find out that, unlike what the signs outside suggest, the owners aren’t throwing in the towel.

They’re expanding.

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Pago Pago, on the island of Tutuila, is the capital of American Samoa. The volcanic island chain is in the South Pacific and has a similar climate to Hawaii. (Photo from NOAA via Flickr)

Imagine being born in a country where you can work, travel freely and even join the military, but you’re not considered a citizen.

That’s the situation facing 56,000 residents of American Samoa, the only one of 14 US territories that does not allow an easy path to citizenship for people who move to the mainland US.

If you flipped open to the back page of an American Samoan’s passport, you would see a stamp that says: “This bearer is a United States national and not a United States citizen.”

But a new lawsuit with roots in the Pacific Northwest is looking to change that.

A girl practices reading the Koran in Jakarta. More than 1,400 children gathered at a park in Indonesia to read the Koran to mark the holy month of Ramadan, which starts Friday. (Photo from REUTERS/Supri)

Fasting for 17 hours a day is no walk in the park. But it’s that much harder when the person sitting next to you is eating a cheeseburger, or a succulent slice of pizza.

Or, for Mohammad Ismail, there’s that tempting looking Starbucks on the way to work.

Born in Pakistan, this is the second time that Ismail will celebrate Ramadan in Seattle. He says on the one hand it’s slightly easier celebrating it here, since it’s much cooler, but it can also be difficult when the majority of people aren’t fasting.

The Farm Bill is a classic democratic-process-headache: a 1,000 page piece of legislation that takes on all things food and agriculture related.

It covers everything from food stamps to farmland conservation to nutrition programs to farm subsidies.

Past versions have mostly benefited big farmers of soy, corn, and other commodity crops, along with large corporations who control most of the food industry (see infographic at right for more).

With the interests of nutrition experts, anti-hunger groups, small and large farmers, agri-business, and politicians vying for their once-in-every-five-year shot at staking claims in the Farm Bill, it comes as no surprise that it stirred up a bipartisan food fight in the House of Representatives last week.

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The 32nd annual Seattle to Portland (STP) Bicycle Classic is coming up this weekend.  Ten thousand riders will set out from the University of Washington and, after some 200 miles and 43,000 energy bars, end up in northeast Portland.

Looking for a unique way to experience a new country? Try it on two wheels. Above, Deric travels with his bike on a trip to Bahia, Brazil. (Photo by Deric Gruen)

Sadly, the trip has been sold out for months, so if you didn’t register way back in March, I’m afraid you are out of luck until next year.

Not to worry. There’s an entire world of road (or off-road) for intrepid cyclists to choose from. Traveling internationally with a bicycle is a low impact way to get a little bit closer to people, land and places you might never visit by any other mode.

As you ponder your first overseas experience with a bicycle, consider the following questions in planning your ride.

The author interviews Rwandan women about the impacts of a volunteer implemented bee keeping project. (Photo by Bryan Kopp)

Every year, more young westerners are traveling to places like Africa, India, and South America in search of meaningful volunteer experiences.

And why not? There’s plenty of valuable work to be done, travel and living expenses are low, and even the most challenging volunteer position might look easy compared to trying to find a job right out of college these days.

At best, it’s opportunity for a broadened perspective on a vast and complex world, and a chance to empower others.

But at worst, it is an overseas frat party gone horribly wrong.

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A woman outside the former U.S. embassy in Tehran, which is now abandoned and covered with anti-American Murals (Photo: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)

This election season Washington has an unprecedented number of candidates who are of Iranian heritage.

Sahar Fathi and Cyrus Habib for are running for State Representative (in the 36th and 48th districts respectively), and Shahram Hadian is running for Governor. Though Hadian isn’t likely to make it past the primary, Fathi and Habib both have decent chances to win and become the first Iranian-American to hold statewide office in Washington.

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A historic picture from pre-internment Japantown, on display in the Panama Hotel. (Photo by Sihanouk Mariona)

In 1942, in a fervor of wartime paranoia, President Roosevelt ordered Japanese-Americans into internment camps for the duration of WWII.

The internment had an especially large impact in Seattle’s Japantown, where Japanese-Americans, many of them US-born citizens, were forced to abandon their homes and businesses almost overnight.

Before they were led away to the camps, some stashed their belongings in the basement of the Panama Hotel for safekeeping. At the time, the hotel served as communal gathering place, guest house, and sento (Japanese-style bath house).

Amazingly, many of those trunks and suitcases are still there and on view, waiting for owners that never came back.

In The Dictator comedian Sascha Baron Cohen once again uses a foreigner's viewpoint to comment on America.

Telling the stories of others is a fraught endeavor.

It’s hard enough when you’re doing it in your own city or community, but interpreting cultures and places that are not your own is especially problematic.

International journalists and travel writers take (often deserved) criticism for superficiality, ethnocentrism or exoticizing their subjects. Not a day has passed since I wrote my first article in another country that I haven’t spent at least some time thinking about this inherent problem of journalism.

During those moments I often return to a conversation I had with a friend and colleague – a Kenyan journalist that had spent years in Ohio writing about everything from the economics of the Rust Belt to the rise of farmer’s markets.

Rattling against each other in the back of a pickup truck headed from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to Nairobi on a reporting project about water resources, we were pondering the value of journalism (that was a very long ride – there wasn’t much we didn’t ponder) when Ernest said, “If nothing else, remember that the visitor always brings the sharpest knife.”

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A Seattle meetup organized through Couchsurfing.org (Photo by Allen Wright)

Casey Fenton was traveling in Iceland in 1999 and decided he wanted to connect with locals. He sent a mass email to the student body at the University of Reykjavik, describing himself while asking for a place to stay.

He was amazed at the number of offers he got.

Inspired, he teamed up with some friends and built couchsurfing.org, a basic website designed to help connect a global community hungry for a human-centered approach to travel.

Today, that community has grown to over four million users in 86,000 cities, providing travelers with local hosts and encouraging a globalist mentality in the city of Seattle and around the world.

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Lila and Betsey at Macchu Picchu (Photo courtesy Lila Kitaeff)

When it comes to packing for an international trip, I’ve always tried to live by the maxim, “if you’d be heartbroken to lose it, don’t bring it.”

That means I’ll never take along my favorite old comfy T-shirt no matter how much I’d like to have it with me, for fear that it would be left behind in some hotel room or stolen inadvertently out of my backpack.

It’s a little harder to apply this packing maxim to technology. Sure, the more techy gear you take with you, the more time you spend worrying about keeping it safe. But our lives have become so technology saturated that it can be hard to let go.

When deciding what gadgets you’ll bring on a trip, ask yourself what kind of a travel experience you want to have. Do you need to completely “unplug” in order to feel like you’ve had a vacation, or is it more important to you to be able to keep in touch with friends and family back home? Do you worry that having a camera lens between you and your experiences will make them less “authentic,” or are pictures important to maintaining and sharing your trip’s memories?

It’s all about finding the right balance of technology for you.

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(Photo by Dave Sizer)

Last week hipster Seattleites shrugged indifferently at the news that our city had been named by Travel and Leisure as America’s best city for hipsters.

Seattle took the prized vegan cupcake for first place, and was lauded by the site for our brains, Mac products, coffee snobbery and unique “buttoned-down” brand of hipster.

We even beat out our ever-quirkier southern neighbors, despite Portlandia. (The ensuing roller derby standoff is bound to be fierce).

But cool knows no borders, so here is a list of global hipster enclaves that might just give us a run for our money: