To Mars We Go?

This computer-generated view depicts part of Mars at the boundary between darkness and daylight, with an area including Gale Crater beginning to catch morning lightSpace travel has long been on the minds of the human race. In 1835 the Great Moon Hoax brought us the modern fever of wondering if there is life out in the stars. The Sun, a New York newspaper, reported fake stories about fantastical lifeforms found on the moon observed through earth bound telescopes. Since then of course, we’ve traveled to the moon and back and realized there are no trees, oceans, or anything near what we can call evidence of intelligent life out on the moon. Our attention seemed from that point to quickly swerve to travel to other planets, particularly Mars.

Mars has become Earth’s “backup plan”. Similar in size and with suitable gravity, we’ve seen it as a place that we will one day inhabit—maybe in the event that Earth is beyond saving. Getting there has never been more of reachable goal than it is today; technical readiness, public interest, and political will are finally all aligned to get human beings there. Both NASA and SpaceX have invested interests in getting us to the Red Planet in the next 20 years.

How will humans fare on this new planet however? Mars, while similar in size to Earth, is a much more unforgiving environment. No plants grow in its dry soil, there is no liquid water, and we cannot breathe much needed oxygen in its environment. Our lives on Mars would be limited to being indoors, or in complex space suites whenever we get the chance to step foot outside. We’d battle the fatigue of being constantly being cooped up and surrounded by others. We’ll need to provide shelter to these pilgrims; create ways to grow our own food and provide the inhabitants with clean water. Additionally, astronauts going to Mars will need protection from the extremely high levels of radiation out on the surface of the Red Planet.

In the face of all this, we as humans continue to press forward. Truly the spirit of explorations is shown at its best in these efforts. While only time will tell what will become of our attempts to colonize Mars, we know that the idea of space travel will always light up our minds with wonder and excitement.

The Giant Panda: No longer endangered but still vulnerable

cover-adapt-1190-1Sometimes it is hard to look at the news, it is often filled with disheartening information about our environment and animals. However, every so often we are met with thrilling news; recently the Giant Panda was officially taken off the endangered species list.

For over a half a century an intensive worldwide effort has been made to save these iconic black and white bears native to China. China has long treasured the Panda as an international symbol of its country, and they have been at the forefront of the effort to bring back up the Giant Panda’s numbers. Many breeding centers have been founded, and training methods and styles have been formulated there to help give these captive born bears a higher chance of successfully living out in the wild.

While their native range was wide and expanded past the borders of China, the Giant Panda now only lives in a few mountain ranges in central China, mainly in Sichuan province, but also in Shaanxi and Gansu. Nonetheless the Giant Panda populations in the wild have risen by 17 percent in the past decade, and a few Pandas have even been found outside of their current range.

While no longer listed as endangered they are certainly still vulnerable. Pandas are at risk due to climate change, which will limit their environment and food source as well as contribute to disease. Now only time will tell if we will be able to come together and preserve the hard work that has already been done to save these treasured animals.

President Obama’s visits to Indonesia were not only personal, but political: Part 4


Finally we are brought back to our original inquiry; what would Clinton and Trump do to continue the United States relationship with Indonesia? As expected the evidence behind what each candidate would do is extremely different.

In 2009 Hillary Clinton said “If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.” As Secretary of State, Clinton, made a detour to Jakarta on her trip to Asia in 2009. She held the same desire as President Obama; to recognize the importance of Southeast Asia, a region that the Obama administration believed was neglected by the Bush administration. Hillary Clinton was very global during her years as Secretary of State, having visited over 112 countries.

At this year’s DNC, an Indonesian woman named Ima Matul Maisaroh was invited to speak in front of thousands of attendees. Ima was appointed by President Barack Obama to be a member of the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking in December last year along with her fellow Indonesian and victim of human trafficking Shandra Woworuntu. Hillary Clinton has long worked to try to end human trafficking.  Due to this Ima said she was looking forward to the Democratic National Convention as she really wanted to meet Hillary Clinton in person, praising her work to end all forms of human slavery. These tales bode well, Hillary Clinton would certainly be a global president willing to reach out and continue the bonds set up by Obama with Indonesia, as well as address ways to improve the human condition when it comes to those who have had to live like Ima.

And what about Mr. Trump? Well, he already has a tainted name in Indonesia. Trump as a candidate has not been one to shy away from controversy and the world has not let this go unnoticed. Trump has made it clear he doesn’t trust Muslims, and as a country of mostly Muslims Indonesia has not found this favorable. After all, how do you set up good relations with a country of people you do not trust. This leaves little ground to grow on.

Interestingly enough, Trump has a resort in Indonesia called Lido Lakes One Stop Adventure Hotel. But is investing in the country enough to make up for all of his words? Maybe not, the hotel is now run down–though Trump claims he will be revamping it soon and building an entirely new resort in the country. This investment is at odds with his beliefs about Muslims. “How come he won’t allow Muslim people to enter America while he has money in Indonesia, investment in Indonesia,” asks Indonesian cabinet minister Luhut Panjaitan back in May. It seems that in an interview with CNN, Panjaitan suggested that Indonesia would turn to other trading partners if a future President Trump shut US doors to the more than 200 million Indonesian Muslims.

Simply put, starkly different candidates create starkly different futures for the relationship between the United States and Indonesia.




President Obama’s visits to Indonesia were not only personal, but political: Part 3


Many Americans underestimate the significance of Indonesia—sometimes described as the most important country in the world that people know the least about. With 230 million inhabitants, how has it gone unnoticed by mainstream USA as a whole?

Perhaps the main reason why Indonesia is not well recognized by Americans is that the United States has never gone to war with the country. Largely our collective memory is much more knowledgeable with countries that we’ve fought/allied in the past: like Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, North and South Korea, and the whole of Europe to name a few. Indonesia, while deeply affected by WWII, was never a part of the war like the allies or the axis of evil.

Another reason could be that few Indonesian immigrants and students have come to the USA Compared to other Asian countries, Indonesia today remains distinctly more inward-looking.

Indonesia has rich resources that certainly carry over to the products we can buy here in the states. This though has been more of a curse than a blessing. Over-exploitation is occurring in virtually every square mile of the country, in its territorial waters as well as it 17,000 islands. Insufficient investment in infrastructure has made Indonesia a high-cost production base. A host of impediments to domestic as well as foreign investment are making it harder for the private sector to create jobs at the pace required to absorb new entrants into the labor force. The combination of these clashing ideas could also add to the ignorance that the USA holds when it comes to Indonesia.

What Americans have missed out on because of this lack of knowledge is seeing how raising Indonesia’s profile could benefit the United States by helping to maintain a balance among Asia’s three leading powers: China, Japan, and India. Furthermore, Indonesia’s success in creating a durable system of democratic governance holds great potential benefits for a world struggling to address the problems associated with weak or conflict-ridden nations.

Indonesia would like to see United States economic and developmental assistance scaled up, but it will be difficult to meet their expectations in this area. The most problematical area is military cooperation because Indonesia has yet to articulate, let alone implement, a defense and security strategy that will gain strong support from the United States. Indonesia could learn a lot from American policies, if we partnered with them to help the country figure out the gaps in their governmental policy. Certainly together our two countries would benefit from each other if only we spend the time to learn and engage with each other.

President Obama’s visits to Indonesia were not only personal, but political: Part 2

Before delving into the future of America and Indonesia’s relationship we should take a very quick look at the history of Indonesia.

Indonesia is the world’s largest island country, with more than thirteen thousand islands. It is home to over 258 million people. With a historical connection to the Islamic world starting in 13th century, today the country is over 87% Islamic making it the most populous Muslim majority country in the world. The first regular contact between Europeans and the peoples of Indonesia began in 1512 leading to being colonized by the Dutch by the 19th century. Indonesia was occupied by Japan during WWII and an estimated 4 million people died due to famine and forced labor. Following the war, between 1945-1949, the Dutch tried to gain control of the country again.

Indonesia lived through an armed and diplomatic struggle that united Indonesians on the whole to fight for independence. During this time Sukarno, an influential nationalist leader, came into power. Democracy slowly led into authoritarianism, which led to huge loss of life under his rule. The head of the military, General Suharto, outmaneuvered the politically weakened Sukarno and was formally appointed president in 1968. Suharto himself was also an authoritarian leader who lead a corrupt government and supported the suppression of political opposition.

However, eleven years ago, Indonesia began an impressive transition from 30 years of authoritarian rule by former President Soeharto to become arguably the most democratic country in all of East and Southeast Asia. What makes the transition all the more remarkable is that the majority of Indonesia’s citizens are Muslim, showing how democratic values and Islamic beliefs can combine to build a “just and prosperous society,” the main societal goal specified in the Indonesian constitution.

A set of four amendments to the constitution since Soeharto was forced to step down in 1998 has produced a solid political framework, notably including the direct election of the president. Free and fair nationwide elections have been conducted three times and are now routine at the provincial and district/city level. A sweeping decentralization law was passed in 2001, vesting more power in its 440 districts and cities than in its 33 provinces. Civil society has flourished, reinforced by a remarkably free press.

Currently Indonesia is a multiparty democracy, led by President Joko Widodo of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.

President Obama’s visits to Indonesia were not only personal, but political: Part 1

As the President of the United States, Barack Obama has visited Indonesia twice so far while in office. In 2010 he headed to Jakarta. There he had the opportunity to visit the home where he lived as a young boy for two years, and see the primary school he attended where he learned the local language. A year later President Obama returned to Indonesia, this time staying in Bali. Both visits included meeting with President Yudhoyono among other leader from eastern countries. None of the other 43 American presidents have had this kind of exposure to a non-Western country.

One of the President’s political objectives for these trips was to raise Indonesia’s global profile. Many Americans underestimate the significance of Indonesia—often described as – the most important country in the world that people know the least about. With 230 million inhabitants, it is the fourth most populous nation after China, India, and the United States.

Indonesia is also important because of its strategic location astride the sea-lanes between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to the west and the Japan, China, and Korea to the north. In addition, it is richly endowed with natural resources: oil and gas, coal, copper, nickel, fish, timber, and many more. It is key for America to have a continued positive relationship with this industrious country.

Indonesia is a country we must look to, as our President has, in the coming generations. So how will this upcoming election affect this forwards momentum? With Clinton and Trump vying for the most important job in the country, we have to wonder what each candidate would do to continue this working relationship with Indonesia.

An Orangutan Baby Boom!

I was so excited to hear about the birth of two baby orangutans in two months at the Lowry Zoo in Florida, bringing the total number of endangered orangutans at the zoo to seven. These arrivals remind me of the excitement around the orangutan births at our very own Como Zoo in Minnesota and all the hard work the zoo has put into keeping them safe and healthy. Any increase in the number of orangutans is something to be celebrated, whether it is a new birth, an orangutan saved from starvation or poachers or returned home after being smuggled out of its native habitat. Unfortunately these are all very real dangers facing the orangutan on a daily basis.

In order to make as much headway in the protection and expansion of the species as possible, the Tampa Patch reports that the Lowry Zoo is also active in the Bornean Orangutan Species Survival Plan, working to support the conservation of certain endangered animals that are at risk for extinction. The survival plan for the species includes treating the “entire population of animals as a single unit in order to maximize retention of genetic diversity and to promote cooperation among holding institutions to ensure long term survival of the species in supervised care.” It is amazing to see such a long term, cohesive plan in place to help protect and propagate the species.

Fighting for Survival

It’s been great over the past few weeks to see so many reports of increases in the numbers of multiple endangered species around the world.

With less than 150 birds left, and only 26 pairs of the animals of breeding age, the Taiko bird, one of New Zealand’s most endangered animals, hatched 26 eggs this season, almost double the number of chicks that hatched last season. While these numbers may not seem huge, every little bit counts, especially with animals that have so few numbers to begin with.

It looks like things are also on the uptick for the Hawaiian Monk seal, whose numbers have been declining since the 1950’s. Reports state that the survival rates for new pups are among the highest they have been in decades, and organizations are working hard to spotlight the preservation of the Monk seal and take action to protect them from contact with humans, which can result in everything from disease to entanglements with fishing nets and hooks.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 11.41.12 AMPhoto Via vivtony00

The Edinburgh Zoo has announced that it is building a new enclosure for their Sumatran tigers. The hope is that one of the results of this new enclosure will be the entry of a new generation of this endangered animal into the world.

While there is a lot of good news coming from organizations working to protect endangered species, there is still a lot to be done. So many animals are battling extinction and they need all the support we can give!

Saving the world, one app at a time

With the continual evolution of technology, we as individuals are becoming more and more empowered to make an impact on the world on a daily basis. From the protection of endangered species to weather prediction, citizen scientists are now able to apply their photo abilities and use their personal drones and smart phones to effect the world around them.

In California, citizens have been documenting changes in the California coastline due to El Nino, adding to the data available to researchers and helping them to better and more rapidly understand the environment and perhaps predict future change.

Across the ocean, the non-profit “Planet Indonesia” are working on two apps that would allow anyone with a cell phone to help track the illegal animal trade. One app would allow individuals to “collect data in Indonesian bird markets” and a second lets them identify confiscated Slow Lorises  using genetic data. The Slow Loris is a popular animal to be kept as a pet, and with this type of data, hot spots for trade and poaching can be identified, investigated, and hopefully stopped.

The use of technology to help protect our world may just save the things we love the most, if we are willing to do our part.

Happy New Year!

It’s a new year, a new resolution! This year I’m resolved to keep up with the blog! Sorry for the hiatus over the last few months. The daily grind of life combined with the holidays and a very exciting New Years Eve in Times Square has led me to take a bit of a digital hiatus. But now I’m back and ready to write about the things I love. If you’ve been here before you know I am passionate about food, photography and endangered animals, specifically the red haired orangutan. There are so many great organizations and individuals throughout the world, working hard to ensure that these magnificent animals are cared for and protected. I’ll do my best to keep you updated on all of their great work as well as a potpourri of other topics that interest me. Happy 2016!

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