Listening Guide: In The Moment Episode #24


Episode #24 of In The Moment brings us a conversation between Chief Correspondent Steve Scher and Seattleness co-author Natalie Ross (2:50). She details the things she loves about Seattle, and reveals her history as a Geography major and how it morphed into a focus on landscape architecture and interest in maps. Together, Natalie and Steve discuss the fascinating new insight that comes from examining information from a topographical perspective—and an opportunity to see the place we live in a different light.

Steve also sits in with Dr. Marie Wong (13:04) about the upheaval of land value that’s happening in Seattle’s International District. Wong explains how developers are swooping in and purchasing one-story buildings with the intent to redesign them for newer (and more expensive) purposes. Wong outlines the harmful effects of this practice and explores the potential consequences of this new wave of developments—whose rise may precipitate an exodus of local businesses who can no longer afford to remain in the International District.

Town Hall Correspondent Grace Hamilton interviews David Hu (15:45) about cutting-edge research in the field of animal locomotion and behavior, and how new discoveries are yielding benefits in a vast array of fields, from robotics to food conservation. Hu enlightens us on the topics that are intriguing scientists the most, including the water-storage capacity of cat tongues and the rapid food waste breakdown capabilities of the black soldier fly larvae.

And Edward Wolcher (28:01), Town Hall’s Curator of Lectures, offers us an update on the November calendar. He talks about upcoming Town Hall programs surrounding the rapidly approaching mid-term elections, including our Election Night Viewing Party. Edward also highlights a handful of more lighthearted Town Hall events taking place following the elections—in case audiences need a break from intense political discussion.

Still Curious?

  • Want to see some of the maps and charts in Seattleness for yourself? Visit the book listing on the publisher’s website and take a look with their nifty Browse Inside feature!
  • Interested in the history and future of Seattle’s districts? Last season Erik Molano, one of our Inside/Out Neighborhood Residents, put together events about two of Seattle’s neighborhoods. Check out out recordings of these events about the history and future of both Capitol Hill and the Central District.
  • Last year, Grace Hamilton interviewed Yale Ornithologist Richard Prum about animal mate choice and the evolution of beauty. Listen to her interview here.
  • Edward Wolcher has appeared on In The Moment a few times before. You can hear him again in Episode #10 and Episode #22 (or onstage giving introductions at many Town Hall events!)

Check out previous In The Moment episodes or subscribe to our series podcasts.

Two Quick and Easy Ways to Give to Town Hall

Roughly 100,000 people walk through our doors each year. With more than 400 programs spanning the arts, sciences, and civics, Town Hall cultivates an engaged and empathetic community. We produce half of these events, while the other half of our calendar represents the work of 90+ other nonprofits and cultural producers who call Town Hall home. There are plenty of ways you can give to Town Hall and help create a home for this vibrant network of community organizations across Seattle. Whether it’s through volunteer time, tax-deductible donations, or even as an exciting side-effect of your online shopping, there are so many exciting ways for you to support Town Hall.

Give While You Shop

AmazonSmile is a simple way for you to support Town Hall every time you shop on Amazon, at no cost to you. Smile.Amazon.com offers the same products at the same prices—but with the added bonus that Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price to a charitable organization of your choice. And from October 29 to November 2, AmazonSmile is increasing their donation rate, meaning your AmazonSmile donations will have an even greater impact! This is the largest AmazonSmile bonus donation window to date—so if you’re doing Amazon shopping, be sure to donate during this window to make the most of this incredible offer.

Employer Matching

To ensure your gifts have even greater impact, you can potentially double (or even triple!) your donation to Town Hall through the generosity of your employer. Many companies offer matching programs for charitable donations, matching your gifts for certain organizations dollar-for-dollar—and sometimes more. What’s more, your employer may also provide donations to match your hours volunteering time at Town Hall events! If you or your spouse work for a company that offers matching donations, send in the employer’s matching gift confirmation to Town Hall so we can credit you for enabling this matching gift. All volunteer hour matching donations are invested back into our volunteer program—to learn more about volunteering at Town Hall, visit our volunteer page.

And because Town Hall Seattle is a 501c3 non-profit organization, your donations are tax-deductible! Check out our support page for more info.

Our organization relies on the generosity of our community, and it’s never been easier to support Town Hall. Your donations help us keep our tickets radically affordable and our rental rates low, ensuring that everyone can afford to be a part of Town Hall—whether onstage or in the audience.

Listening Guide: In The Moment Episode #23

In episode #23 of In The Moment, sit in with our correspondent Lesley Hazleton as she talks with Michael Hebb (2:05) about her memories of one of his Death Over Dinner discussions. She shares her feelings of freedom and the depth of the kinship she felt at being able to talk openly about death with complete strangers. Hebb and Hazleton explore the philosophy of such deep and meaningful conversations, and how they have the power to transform our understanding of our mortality and ourselves.

Chief Correspondent Steve Scher brings us back-to-back interviews. First he meets with acclaimed journalist and former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges (16:35), who insists that resistance must become our education if we are to fight the collapse of American society. Then, Steve speaks with David Reich (25:18), Harvard Medical School’s Professor of Genetics, about his work with ancient human DNA. Reich illuminates us on modern DNA research and the ways it is changing our understanding of ourselves as a species.

Host Jini Palmer highlights a Q&A from the conversation between Jose Antonio Vargas and Ijeoma Oluo (27:18). An audience member asks them “How do we go from the microcosm of life to the macrocosm of the country?” To answer this question, Jose and Ijeoma explore the idea that we are all activists in our own way, and address the question of taking action in our communities in order to bring about change on a larger scale.

Still Curious?


Check out previous In The Moment episodes or subscribe to our series podcasts.

Talking About Death Over Dinner

How do we want to die? Where do we want to be when our lives end, and what do we want to happen to us after we’re gone? It’s a topic we go to great lengths to avoid, from our hospitals to our homes. But for Michael Hebb, creating an environment for us to join our families at the table and have a conversation about the end of our lives is at the core of his work. Michael Hebb will be speaking on Town Hall’s stage on 10/11/2018 to explore ideas in his book Let’s Talk About Death (Over Dinner). He sat down with Town Hall’s Copywriter Alexander Eby for a deeper dive into the most critical conversation we’re not having.


AE: Your Death Over Dinner project is fascinating. Can you tell me a little bit about where it all started?

MH: For the last 20 years I’ve been gathering people to reinvigorate how we eat together and spend time together at the dinner table, and to make it as impactful as possible once we get there. In many ways we’ve lost the art and the knowledge of how to gather people at a table—not just go out to a fancy restaurant, but actually really use the table as a site of culture and engagement and joy.

This has ranged from bringing Presidents together—working with the Clinton Global Initiative and the Obamas—to working with people that are unsheltered or homeless or suffering from chronic illness. In these contexts we often work our way to the topic of death, and that layer has really morphed the table into a site of healing. Death Over Dinner was a way to get people back to the table to have this conversation and create healing on a larger scale, hopefully to reach millions. If we are our own best healers and our community is the second best, what are the tools for us to help deeply engage with each other and work on the issues that we repress?

AE: And the tool you decided to start with was something that’s commonly present in our homes. We can all get our heads around the idea of sitting down at the table with family or friends and talking over a meal.

MH: Right. Death Over Dinner was a way to cultivate a warmer and more inviting environment to have a conversation about this very complex and weighty topic of death. It’s provocative and it gets people’s attention, but in many ways our approach to death is very broken. 75% of Americans want to die at home and only 25% of us do. So when it comes to end-of-life, half of America is not getting its wishes fulfilled.

Often the reason for this is that people’s wishes haven’t been communicated in the proper way. Families don’t feel emboldened to honor those wishes, and they don’t know what decisions to make for a loved one when dealing with a tragedy or a crisis or a terminal illness. The cost associated with not having that conversation and not talking about death—you can’t even put a price tag on it. The number one cause of bankruptcy in America is medical expense, and the number one line item in those medical expenses is end-of-life expense. It’s literally bankrupting us to continue not having these conversations. Not to mention the emotional toll. If something tragic happens to your parents, your spouse, your friends, and you don’t know what they want, there’s such an additional emotional weight that settles if you’re not able to have these open conversations.

AE: I imagine you could learn a great deal about the people you’re closest to in your life by hearing from them what they would want their last wishes to be.

MH: I’ve never done a death dinner with a married couple that hasn’t said to one another “I’ve never heard that before,” or “I never told you this before.” In a good way. I’ve seen families build compassion and reveal hidden depths to one another. I’ve seen strangers become lifelong friends. We know it’s a critical conversation, but almost no one takes that next step with us, holds our hand or opens the door for us. I wanted to walk into these canyons and help people find the pathway, I wanted to take them through the labyrinth.

And I wanted my book to act as a guide us to start thinking about death and preparing to have this conversation in general.  It’s meant to act as a resource to get people thinking about how to talk with the people we love, and also to look inward at our own lives through the lens of death. Death meditation has been around since the birth of philosophy, and is one of the best ways to actually identify how you want to live, to create your own personal mission statement for life. It’s the oldest, strongest medicine for knowing thyself and connecting with others—and it’s also practical as hell. It’s extraordinary that death, the topic we avoid talking about the most, has this much impact.

AE: When you say this is a conversation that we’re not really having, do you mean we as in all of everyone humanity or do you mean just American culture?

MH: Well, I can speak to a certain measure of authority that we aren’t having this conversation in the United States, but this is also true all over the world. In America, it was not until recently that doctors and nurses and social workers had an established code for end-of-life conversations. There’s an emotional weight that comes with those professions due to the fact that many of these doctors and nurses don’t have a healthy way to talk about the deaths that they’ve witnessed. There’s a very large percentage of our medical profession suffering from PTSD, with the highest burnout rate of any industry. There have been improvements, but we’re still at the very beginning.

And this isn’t a problem unique to the United States. I recently worked with the leadership of the Australian healthcare system, the Australian Center for Health Care Research. They discovered our initiative and reached out to us after they did a three year study which concluded that conversations about end-of-life would be the most effective way to improve healthcare in Australia. They were very clear that they had repressed the conversation, and as a result they did not have an especially robust system for living wills, power of attorney, advanced care directives—none of these notarized documents anywhere near the level they would have liked. I told them these documents are great and we should all have them, but it’s the conversations—the living, nuanced, personal conversations—that really help family members to know how to honor somebody or how to make decisions for them if they’re incapacitated.

AE: Do you recommend people organize their own Death Dinners?

MH: Having this conversation over dinner is the context that I introduced, but the book is meant to be for anybody. The goal was to increase people’s literacy and comfort around this topic and their ability to have their own end-of-life conversations with the people in their lives. You can have them in person, over phone, over E-mail. The project is for people who gravitate towards the comfort of dinner as a setting, to remove that barrier to entry. All you have to do is roast a chicken.


Michael Hebb will be speaking on Town Hall’s stage and signing copies of his book Let’s Talk About Death (Over Dinner) on 10/11/2018.

“Timefulness”—Thinking Like a Geologist to Save the World

What does it mean to think like a geologist? Geology professor Marcia Bjornerud gives us a window into a field that studies the literal history of the Earth. She will be joining us on September 17 to discuss “timefulness”—her newly coined concept that encourages a drastic (but, she says, necessary) shift in our 21st century perspective. In the meantime, Bjornerud spoke with Town Hall’s Alexander Eby about the geologist’s mindset and the explanatory power that comes from reading the rocks.

AE: What gets a person interested in geology?

MB: Many of our students—and I think this is true across the country, not just at our university—discover geology almost by accident. Many of them first sign up simply to fulfill a lab requirement, thinking that geology doesn’t sound as scary as physics or biology.

AE: And then they realize they love it?

MB: Exactly. The field has a powerful capacity to convert people who don’t think of themselves as “the science type.” I think that’s because, for me, geology has this huge explanatory power and that’s really addictive. I sometimes say geology is the etymology of the world. Once you get in the habit of thinking that way, you want to understand how things came to be. For a lot of people that’s the attraction.

AE: And unlocking that explanatory power, was that the goal of some of your earlier books? To make geology more accessible?

MB: Definitely. This is the world we live in, and it’s really kind of shocking how little the average earthling knows about the planet. I think geology has a PR problem, if people are aware of it at all. It’s linked in their minds, understandably, with the oil industry, the mineral industry, or with this perception of dusty musty museum collections. There aren’t too many opportunities for people to get the big picture. That’s what I’m trying to achieve. I want to give people a window into this longer view, and help them engage with the logic of geology. Over the course of my teaching career I’ve learned that people are hungry for that big picture. They hear about dinosaurs once in a while, but they don’t really have a chance to see the grand overview.

AE: So is that the goal with introducing this concept of “timefulness?”

MB: Yes. It’s not an attempt to tell the whole story of the earth. It’s more about demystifying how geologists think about time. It’s about communicating how we’ve gone about constructing the geologic timescale and why it’s relevant. There’s a misconception that geology is all about the past. While that’s partly true, we also study the past because it’s the only thing that we have that can allow us to make intelligent inferences about what might happen in the future. So geology is increasingly as much forward-looking as backward-looking.

I think it’s an underappreciated intellectual accomplishment that humans know as much about the deep past of the planet as we do. And it’s not just one person who won a Nobel Prize for figuring it out, it’s two centuries worth of people from all over the world. Many different cultures, personalities, and kinds of scientists have contributed to this amazing history of the world.

AE: Accomplishments formed by standing on the shoulders of giants?

MB: Right. The logic of it is comprehensive. You can spend a lifetime learning all the details, but I think at least appreciating how we, collectively, have gone about understanding the past is a step in the right direction.

AE: How do you help a student learn to think this way?

MB: Well, it certainly helps to go out in the field and learn from first principles. One of my favorite metaphors for the way geologists see the world is that of a palimpsest manuscript. In the past, before paper was widely produced, documents were written on parchment. But parchment was expensive, and often used and reused. Old ink would be scraped off, leaving vestiges of the earlier writings underneath. That’s a good way of thinking about landscapes. If you can get out in the field and start seeing these ‘re-inkings’ then it becomes a kind of habit of mind. We can abandon our peculiar 21st century mindset that the past is burned up behind us and instead recognize that the past is in fact everywhere. Our own bodies and cells are narratives of evolution; everything around us has a backstory.

I had a math professor who would often say there are many sizes and shapes of infinity. I think that’s a useful way of thinking about the geologic past too. There are things that happened a long time ago, a long-long time ago, a long-long-long time ago. It’s central to the “timefulness” idea that we get some depth of field and get a sense of the distances between some of the big events in Earth’s history.

AE: Now, also contained in the title of your newest book is the notion of saving the world. How does this expanded depth of field and knowledge of the Earth’s history relate to saving the world?

MB: It speaks to a perceptual shift that we need to make. We need to think of ourselves as earthlings and not as somehow having outgrown the natural world. We’re deeply embedded in the natural world. Things that have happened in the past are going to continue to unfurl, like it or not, into the future. We need to think of ourselves as part of that continuum and set things in motion now that may not bear fruit until we are gone. We have to change our view of who we are in time—and our sense of obligation to future generations.

There are models for doing that here and there, so it’s not an entirely new idea. Kurt Vonnegut famously suggested there should be a new cabinet post, Secretary of the Future, who would provide counsel on behalf of the unborn. I’ve done some work with the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission, which is a consortium of tribes in the Upper Great Lakes region that works to protect treaty rights around Lake Superior especially. The treaties that they protect were signed back in the 1830’s, and they’re trying to make plans for the next century or so. So there are models for how to do this, but we need a collective shift in consciousness and self identity.

AE: What can we do on an individual level to model our lives for this way of thinking?

MB: Get curious about the natural world. Get children in particular engaged—tap into their innate scientific curiosity, early and often. And just try to instill in people a sense of their connectivity to the natural world—to the geologic past and the geologic future.

AE: What do you think of the old adage, to say something is “set in stone” or “written in stone?”

MB: That means it’s temporary. Mountains come and go, and erosion prevails.


Don’t miss Marcia Bjornerud’s talk on 9/17 at The Summit on Pike.

Restoring Our Iconic Stained Glass

The Great Hall’s signature oculus has returned from its extensive restoration! After nearly one year offsite with the experts at Seattle Stained Glass, the oculus has been revitalized and reassembled—and the transformation is stunning. The oculus won’t be installed until the renovation is nearly complete, but our skilled construction team has afforded us a glimpse at another of our building’s restored windows.

Where once stood a wall of scaffolding, we can now see the Great Hall’s iconic arched window on the south side of the building, complete with weather proofing and storm windows. These tall and stately panes add a characteristic burst of color to the gleaming terracotta facade, and we can’t wait to see how the assembly looks from the inside! Red weatherproofing material has been applied to exterior window framing, and new storm windows will protect from the elements to extend the life of the glass (don’t worry, the red won’t be visible when construction is complete).

The restoration of Town Hall’s stained glass oculus was generously funded by the Committee of 33.


Learn more about the renovation, and please consider making a donation in support of the project.

A Space For Us All

We often say that Town Hall is more than just a venue, and this is true in many ways. But our organization wouldn’t be the same without our historic home. For twenty years, our institution’s values have been reinforced by the features of our landmark building. Simultaneously austere and welcoming, the marriage of civic-inspired architecture and community-focused construction combine to create an inviting space where our city comes together. The pillars along the building’s face lend the structure a political severity reminiscent of a government building (no wonder we’re so often confused with City Hall!), while the radiant terra cotta façade seems to manifest the warmth inside this bustling gathering space. There’s nowhere else quite like Town Hall, and we certainly wouldn’t be the same without this building. Anyone who’s been to an event inside our venue can attest—our home helps make us who we are.

Preserving the qualities that define each of our performances spaces is a critical goal of our renovation. It’s a delicate balance to achieve as we outfit the building with upgrades that will allow us to continue hosting our city’s inspired conversations. We’re upgrading the Great Hall, overhauling our Downstairs, and adding a new space on the lobby level, the Reading Room. Between these three performance venues we can accommodate events of every size—from a crowd of nearly a thousand seated shoulder-to-shoulder in the pews, to a cozy circle of a dozen chairs. We’re excited to re-introduce you to these spaces, at once familiar and transformed, when we re-open in February of 2019. But until then, come with us for a look behind the cloak of scaffolding at the three performance spaces coming to life inside Town Hall!

The Great Hall’s character is striking from the moment you enter. The curved oak pews radiate out from an unassuming stage, and on a full night you’ll see nearly 900 people packed into those benches. The voices of every discussion carry all the way up to the vaulted ceilings to mingle around the iconic stained-glass oculus. We’re keen to preserve these elements of the space that are so core to the identity of the Great Hall as a place where communities can gather to speak and be heard. That’s why the first item on our list for the Great Hall is a suite of acoustic upgrades. Our architects at BuildingWorks are working in tandem with master acousticians from Jaffe Holden to create a state-of-the-art acoustic program. A custom-designed acoustic reflector will hang above the stage, tuned specifically to the contours of the room to evenly distribute sounds from the stage to every seat in the house—with or without a microphone. We’re also permanently installing our Hearing Loop system to benefit audience members with T-coil hearing aids, as well as special sound damping materials between the floors of the building to prevent the uproar from a lively “kindie-rock” concert from interrupting a measured science panel just down the stairs. Combine all this with a face-lift of restored crown molding and the addition of cushions to our 98-year-old antique pews and the Great Hall promises to perform well, look sharp and feel comfortable every night—whether it features an international virtuoso, a civic leader, or the screening of a classic film.

While the Great Hall is holding tightly to the qualities that lend the space its characteristic warmth, the Downstairs space is transforming dramatically—so much that you might not recognize the room from one night to the next! Downstairs is becoming the Forum, a completely modular 300-seat space designed to keep up with Town Hall’s fluid calendar. One night the room might be configured as a three-quarter thrust stage for a civic lecture, the next it may become a runway for a queer fashion show, or a corner-round platform for a series of Bushwick jazz performers inspired by a heady science-fiction novel. The beauty of the space’s design is its ability to become the best possible version of itself, re-forming to fit the needs of each event and completely transfiguring the energy each night. Add to that a library and bar flanking the space’s ample 5,000-square feet, and the Forum is tailored to invite the community at large to make this space their own—an ideal complement to the aplomb and applause of the Great Hall.

The newcomer to Town Hall’s performance spaces—the Reading Room—resides between the two on our lobby level. This flexible 90 seat space provides the perfect accompaniment to the thunderous applause of the Great Hall and the mid-sized adaptability of the Forum. Ideal for intimate poetry readings, local policy discussions, and events by grassroots community organizations, the Reading Room embodies the promise that this is your Town Hall: a place where you can stand eye-to-eye with an icon one night, and mobilize your neighbors the next. We encountered this kind of energy on numerous nights during our 2017-18 Inside/Out season, when our calendar included more locally rooted events than ever before. The Reading Room is our way of creating a dedicated home for these discussions in our building—a close-knit environment where curious minds can engage directly with impassioned activists, inspired artists, and groundbreaking scholars from our region and beyond.

This building makes us who we are. Each room in our venue has witnessed decades of community congregation around the inspired ideas that infuse our region, ideas that are the pillars of our institution. We haven’t seen these new spaces yet; they’re still taking shape in a whirlwind of concrete and plaster. But when the tarp drops and the scaffold comes down, we hope you’ll be there with us to bring these new performance spaces to life—to fill them with our collective energy and shape them with the values of our community.

Fearsome to Friendly:
Our History with the Orca

 

Many in the Northwest consider the orca to be our region’s unofficial mascot. But how did we come to love orcas so much in the first place? Environmental and International History Professor Jason Colby will be joining us on June 5 (just in time for Washington’s Orca Awareness Month!) to take us on a deep dive into our society’s intricate history with killer whales. In the meantime, Colby sat down with Town Hall’s Alexander Eby to discuss all things orca—from etymology to questions about captivity to the rituals of our resident orca pods.

 AE: I wanted to ask you about the title of your book, Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator. Can you tell me a little bit about that moniker, ‘the ocean’s greatest predator?’

JC: Well, the orca is really the undisputed apex predator of the ocean. When it comes to prey, they’re specialist hunters. You’ve got so-called “transient” killer whales that focus on marine mammals: seals, sea lions, and even some smaller baleen whales. You have the salmon-eating specialists that are famous in our area and others that focus on sharks or stingrays. But everywhere in the world orcas eat what they want and nothing preys upon them.

AE: Are there any reported cases of orcas harming humans?

JC: There’s one case of a young surfer who was bitten on the leg by a killer whale, but it was probably a case of mistaken identity—the whale probably thought he was a seal or sea lion. There was also a famous Arctic expedition in the early 20th century where a photographer was on the ice and a pod of orcas approached him and started breaking the ice apart. It’s possible they were just curious. It’s possible they were investigating the expedition’s dogs, thinking they were seals or sea lions. The photographer ran across the ice and got away safely, but that account was then published all over the world. It created this perception of the killer whale as an extraordinarily dangerous and formidable predator. There were certainly stories among sealers in Seattle and Victoria of dangerous encounters with killer whales, but no documented attacks that seemed intentional.

AE: If they don’t typically harm humans, what earned them a name like “killer whale?”

JC: The origin of the name almost certainly comes from the Basque and then Spanish and Portuguese assassino de baleias, or “whale killer,” which was likely transposed in English as “killer whale.” That name would have originated among fishermen and whalers who saw orcas attacking much larger whales. If you step back to a period prior to when we saw these animals with affection and imagine what they looked like to the humans who had never seen them before—immense predators with jet-black skin and wolf-like teeth—it’s understandable that we would find them frightening. Humans have a long history of being unsettled by sharp-toothed predators. It must have been pretty easy to imagine that we could wind up on the menu.

We use the name orca now, and we’ve convinced ourselves that it sounds friendlier and more complimentary than killer whale. But the name appears in the works of many 19th and early 20th century writers from a time when we still saw orcas as dangerous. These writers knew their Latin, and dubbing the whales “orca” was meant to convey a much more frightening image. In Latin, Orcinus Orca essentially means ‘demon from the Netherworld.’

AE: That is rather evocative. But we don’t think of them that way anymore. What’s been responsible for the change in public opinion over the last few decades?

JC: Up until the early-to-mid 1960’s this was a species that was still considered a potential threat to human beings. More importantly, this was a species that was viewed as a threat to more valuable resources like salmon and seals, which were being harvested for profit. Orcas were considered a vermin species, much in the same context of wolves, bears, and cougars across North America. It wasn’t until the early to mid 1960’s when the encounters with live killer whales in captivity began to transform public opinion. Seattle is really at the heart of this story. On Pier 56 there was a private Seattle Marine Aquarium, which no longer exists today. The aquarium’s owner Ted Griffin was on a quest to befriend a killer whale.

AE: Was he one of the first ones to see orcas as intelligent creatures rather than just pests?

JC: There were others that were interested in observing them, but Griffin was the one who showed the world that they’re intelligent creatures and potentially friendly to people. Canadian fisherman up north accidentally caught a couple of killer whales in their nets, and Griffin figured out a way to build a floating cage around one of these whales and bring it down to Seattle. This hundreds-of-miles-long journey of this floating cage became front-page headline news, not just in Seattle but across the world. Griffin traveled with this whale, which had been named “Namu,” and they arrived in Seattle right before Seafair in 1965. And there was a massive celebration on the waterfront with a huge crowd gathered to welcome them.

 Namu became the first whale to ever perform for people in public—and perhaps even more important is that Griffin himself became the first human being, that we know of, to swim with a killer whale. This was a revelation to people, to scientists and naturalists and writers. Most people thought that if he got in the water with this animal it would tear him apart. Instead he befriended this animal and started performing with it. This relationship, this connection between Griffin and Namu, was really transformative to the way the world saw this predator.

AE: Because killer whales became such an icon in this context of captivity, there’s a complex discussion still going on about killer whales in captivity today. What’s your perspective on killer whales in captivity?

JC: So the purpose of writing my book was to almost be a prequel to the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which was very successful in focusing people’s attention on orca captivity. But the film was successful in part because people cared so much about orcas already. My aim was to tell the story of why we cared so much about orcas in the first place.

I always like to contextualize this historically. Keeping killer whales in captivity played a critical role in transforming people’s views of this animal, but obviously the context of the 1960’s and 70’s is different from today. I think that most scientists now would say that the research that can be done on these animals in captivity has been done, so it’s hard to make the argument that we need to keep killer whales in captivity to study them. But it’s worth remembering that most of the killer whales in captivity in North America are captive-bred. I don’t say that to diminish the animal rights question. Rather, I say it to point out that what happens with animals bred in captivity doesn’t have a lot of bearing on the survival of killer whales in the wild.

I worry that the focus on the moral question of captivity takes attention away from the overarching threats to wild killer whale populations. Our region’s resident killer whales used to number around 250 and now number at 76—and they’re probably in an extinction spiral. The biggest threats to killer whales aren’t aquariums or corporations in Orlando that are keeping a few orcas in captivity. With the growing prevalence of fisheries and pipelines, even here in the Northwest, there are factors that threaten killer whales on a much larger scale.

Food scarcity is a major issue due to growth of commercial fisheries and sport fishing. We also see pollution from increased tanker traffic contaminating their habitats—and even the noise from the tankers can be damaging. Orcas are acoustic animals, and the louder our waters get the more difficulty they have hunting and communicating. So as compelling as the moral question of captivity is to us, it’s not related to these factors which I believe are a much greater threat to the species.

AE: Is there something that you wish people understood about orcas?

JC: One of the things that struck me as I studied orcas is that they are extraordinarily close-knit socially. Our resident Northwestern pods are multi-generational and matriarchal, with extraordinarily long-lived “grandmothers” who can lead their families for nearly a hundred years. Over that time these killer whale pods have developed their own traditions, memories, and itineraries of this region.

For example, take the northern resident killer whales who travel between mid Vancouver Island and southeast Alaska. When they return to northern Vancouver Island in summer they visit these beaches—”rubbing beaches,” people call them—where they take turns rubbing up against these small round rocks. Their visits to this “whale spa” have been observed for generations.

And of course the southern residents have their own rituals. Probably their most famous one is the “greeting ceremony.” The southern residents have three distinct pods: J, K, and L. When the pods come together they line up abreast a few hundred yards apart and pause for a few minutes, then suddenly bolt forward into this large frolic. It’s really fascinating to watch.

They’re remarkably sophisticated animals with their own cultures, their own rituals, their own memories. And I do wonder how they interpret the changes that we’ve imposed on their ecosystem. It’s been transformed incredibly rapidly in a short period of time, and one wonders what they make of it.


Don’t miss Jason’s event on Tuesday, June 5. Get your tickets here.

Stay in the Loop; Hear it All

As part of the acoustic upgrades taking place during Town Hall’s renovation, we’re permanently installing the Hearing Loop system in all three of our performance spaces. To give us a better idea of how a Hearing Loop works—as well as how this critical system supports members of our community who experience hearing loss—we turn to Mike James, who serves on Town Hall’s Board of Directors. Mike spoke with Town Hall’s Alexander Eby about his history with hearing loss, and shared all the reasons why he passionately supports the Hearing Loop’s installation.

Town Hall’s platform is built on the idea that everyone deserves to be heard—and for audience members like Mike James, this philosophy has never been more literal. Mike has lived with hearing loss since his late 30’s. Though his hearing aids are sufficient for smaller events, he’s encountered difficulty fully engaging with the lectures and performances he loves when they’re held in larger halls. But Mike is still a frequent visitor to Town Hall’s events, and he’s been able to fully experience our programming thanks to our Hearing Loop system.

“I’m fortunate enough to live right across the street from Town Hall,” Mike explains. He regularly attends Town Hall’s programs, and the Hearing Loop has enabled him to participate on any given night in impassioned community conversations, civic discussions, and science lectures. “The beauty of the Hearing Loop system is that it just…happens. You can sit down in the audience along with everyone else, and the sound from the event is transmitted directly to your hearing aids.”

Hearing Loop systems wirelessly transmit sound through microphones on the stage, transforming hearing aids fitted with telecoil receivers—like the ones Mike wears—into in-the-ear loudspeakers. “It’s the quality of the sound that’s the most significant thing. You’re hearing the program with your hearing aids, so it’s adjusted specifically for your own levels of hearing loss. You can clearly hear what’s going on onstage, and at the same time you can be a part of the discussions going on around you.”

From his position on Town Hall’s Board of Directors, Mike has enthusiastically supported the permanent installation of the Hearing Loop system in Town Hall’s performance spaces. For other audience members experiencing hearing loss, this could make all the difference in the world. “A lot of people like me gave up on going to the theater or attending lectures because of the difficulty of hearing. That’s really overcome with the loop.”

To support audience members like Mike, we’re permanently outfitting our Great Hall, Downstairs, and the new West Room with their own Hearing Loop systems as part of Town Hall’s historic renovation. Accessibility is core to Town Hall’s design, and the Hearing Loop is a critical part of ensuring that members of our community who experience hearing loss will remain a part of the discussion.

“I was born in England, and I have relatives there. We’ve traveled together throughout Europe, and found that Hearing Loop systems over there are common. At museums, box offices—you name it, all of that is looped.” Town Hall is inspired by this broad accessibility, and we’re excited to be among the first organizations in our region to offer this technology to our community. “The great thing about Town Hall is that they’re one of the first institutions in Seattle to really pioneer this. It’s a tremendously positive change, and a real asset to Town Hall.”


Please consider making a donation to the project here.

Environmental Luminaries Return to Town Hall

Every year our Distilled fundraiser captures the essence of Town Hall’s programming—the big ideas, the amplification of community voices, and the collaboration with organizations on a local or nationwide scale. This year we’re bringing back two luminaries who have a celebrated history on our stages. Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, former member of the Washington State House of Representatives and current CEO of Grist, will join Annie Leonard, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, to reflect on all the ways which Town Hall embodies the spirit of civic engagement and inspires activists in our city and beyond.

Brady Piñero Walkinshaw is a familiar guest at Town Hall. Earlier this season he spoke with sea ice scientist Peter Wadhams on October 4 about the massive planetary changes he’s observed in the Arctic region. They ruminated on the ways in which sea ice is the “canary in the mine” of planetary change, how it plays a vital role in reflecting solar heat back into space, and how research shows that Arctic sea ice may be in decline faster than ever before. Walkinshaw is the CEO of Seattle’s own environmental media outlet Grist. He served in the Washington State House of Representatives from 2013 to 2017, representing the 43rd district. He is a Fulbright Scholar, and founded a nonprofit in Honduras that fosters youth leadership and prevents urban violence.

Annie Leonard is the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA, and has worked with organizations such as GAIA (Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives), Health Care Without Harm, and Essential Action.  Leonard also has a decorated history on Town Hall’s stages. In 2010, she made a marquee stop at Town Hall on her tour to spread awareness for her film The Story of Stuff, investigating where our stuff comes from and where it goes when we toss it. The film blossomed into The Story of Stuff Project, which works to empower people around the globe to fight for a more sustainable and just future. Leonard also met with Erik Assadourian and Chip Gillers as part of the State of the World 2013 to explore the scientific and political feasibility of a sustainable society. And In May 2015 she joined a panel of climate scientists, filmmakers, and artists to lend them an environmentalist’s perspective in reflecting on the top 10 student submissions to the UW Climate Change Video Contest.

These environmental activist icons join us at Distilled on May 18 at the Canvas event space in SODO—and we would love to see you there as well! Distilled gathers our Members, our friends, and our community for an evening of cocktails, games, conversation, and a chance to raise the paddle in support of Town Hall. You’ll enjoy live music and an inspired conversation from Walkinshaw and Leonard on Town Hall’s role in advancing the work of impassioned change-makers. Their meeting is reminder that the programs at Town Hall elevate our awareness and impel us to action. From Grist to Greenpeace, the people on the forefront of environmental activism congregate on Town Hall’s stages—and their ideas resonate locally, nationally, and globally.

Get Your Tickets to Distilled 2018 here.

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