Friday, October 26, 2007

Fire and Perspective in California

It's fire season in southern California. Take a look at this CNN News report:

"Wildfires engulfing huge swaths of Southern California have killed at least 14 people and sent tens of thousands seeking refuge. The state's deadliest blazes in more than a decade raged through areas as far north as Simi Valley in Ventura County, east to San Bernardino County and south to San Diego County -- scorching more than 300,000 acres. Weather forecasts indicate more hot and dry conditions that will mix with the Santa Ana winds and could fan the flames that have reached 100 feet tall in places. President Bush declared Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties major disaster areas Monday, opening the way for federal dollars for governments, businesses and people affected by the fires."

You will probably be interested to note that this report is from October 27, 2003. Yes, sad to say, fires are all too common in this area. It's possible that, once again, this year's disaster may have hit a new record for devastation, but the statistics are not yet in -- many fires are still burning. The most up-to-date information is available at CalFire.

Lives lost, homes and buildings in ashes, acres of land blackened. Here in the city, some twenty-five or thirty miles away from the nearest blaze, the sky has been overcast gray from smoke all week long. A thin layer of ashes settles on cars that are left outside overnight. On at least one day, the sun was red; the moon was red that evening.

There have been numerous interviews with people displaced by the fires, some who hope their homes will be saved, some who already know that hope is futile. As they fled, a few managed to grab special possessions, usually photos or small personal mementos.

There may be an occasional comment about the sad loss of property, but in every case, these people come to the same conclusion. They are grateful to be alive and, without fail, say that everything truly important they have with them: their family members and sometimes a cherished pet.

If you were faced with losing your home because of a natural disaster, you'd undoubtedly feel the same way. But why wait for a disaster? Why not re-evaluate your relationship with your possessions right now? Why not be grateful today for what's truly important in your life.

© 2007 Cynthia Friedlob

Friday, October 19, 2007

Happy 108th Birthday, Olive!

By sheer good fortune, I happened to discover "The Life of Riley" blog soon after it launched last February with "Olive's First Post:"

"Good Morning everyone. My name is Olive Riley. I live in Australia near Sydney. I was born in Broken Hill on Oct. 20th 1899. Broken Hill is a mining town, far away in the centre of Australia. My Friend, Mike, has arranged this blog for me. He is doing the typing and I am telling the stories. . . .”

Olive’s friend is award-winning Australian filmmaker Mike Rubbo, who decided to document Olive's personal stories on a truly fascinating blog, or "blob," as she calls it.

There are three reasons I'm bringing Olive's blog to your attention (in addition to a well-deserved acknowledgment of her birthday):

1. There's nothing like hearing the stories of a 108-year-old woman to get some perspective on how life has changed over the course of a century and how our consumer expectations have become so ridiculously inflated.

2. By her second post, Olive was already making a point about the joys of buying local produce and the hazards of a political process gone wrong.

3. Mike's reasons for helping Olive share her history -- and attain the status of the World's Oldest Blogger -- have a larger purpose, too. In his words:

"Olive's blog is dedicated to taking the fear of the Internet away for older folks . . . We believe that the Internet is actually the natural friend of the older person. As personal mobility lessens, it can be replaced by the freedom to roam with this amazing new technology. The Internet lets the older user travel around the world and have friends across the globe, all with the click of a mouse. All that stands in the way for the older person is the fear of technology they don't understand. While Olive does not see well enough to type her own blog, or load the photos or the movie clips, you can see from the blog that she's fully involved with what she's achieving through the aid of others."

Blogging is a fabulous way for all of us who have similar concerns to connect across national borders, cultural divides, and barriers of age so that we can achieve our common goals: a sustainable way of life; mutual respect even in the face of challenging differences; and, most significantly, a peaceful world. Surely a 108-year-old woman can benefit, and benefit us, by participating in our dialogue.

Please take a moment to stop by Olive's entertaining blog and wish her a very happy birthday!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Death and Rebirth of Hippie

This year marked the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love, an event which actually began in January of 1967 with a "gathering of the tribes" known as the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park; then continued to build with the June release of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and the incredible Monterey Pop festival. That summer, thousands of young people literally invaded the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco on a quest for unforgettable music, a communal lifestyle of total freedom and, of course, psychedelic drugs. Heady times -- no pun intended.

But, as Jim Newsom wrote:

"The Summer of Love deteriorated rather quickly out in the Haight. As too many people arrived, the upbeat spirit of optimism and community gave way to despair and disenchantment, the drugs got harder and heavier, free love gave way to STDs. By mid-summer the glow was fading. On October 6, a group of hippies staged a mock funeral on the streets of San Francisco called 'The Death of Hippie.'"

The beautiful summer of the flower child may have turned into a terribly harsh winter, but the cultural impact of those times is undeniable, prompting many celebratory events this year. In New York, there was a 40th anniversary psychedelic art exhibit at the Whitney Museum and "Hair" was re-staged by the Public Theater; on the west coast, an anniversary tribute Monterey Pop concert was headlined by a reunited Big Brother and the Holding Company along with Jefferson Starship.

The hippies were the antithesis of today's consumers, united in a sub-culture of free food, free stores, free love (and the resulting free clinics), second-hand clothing, shared housing, and a bias against large corporations.

Fortunately, it appears that "Hippie" has been reincarnated in this era in a slightly different version, perhaps just as the Eastern religions that took root in the West back then might have predicted. This time around, there seems to be a broader appeal and a more durable foundation than the Haight could offer. Take a look at just a few examples of what's going on -- or still going on:

The Freegans, The Simple Living Network, Buy Nothing Day, The Rainbow Family, The Farm, No Impact Man, The Global EcoVillage Network, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, The Fair Trade Federation, Living Water International -- there are literally thousands of individuals, groups and organizations representing the spirit of the counter-culture movement of the Sixties, a movement that was not just about sex, drugs and rock and roll as detractors like to opine, but was also highly politically motivated and aware.

It's encouraging that there is increasing awareness now about protecting the environment from dangerous exploitation, ensuring decent working conditions for those who make the products we use, and celebrating the inherent goodness of the simple life. We know that we can't sustain, or justify, our society's over-consumption when so much of the world's population is suffering without even such basic necessities as safe water to drink.

I like to think that many of the current worthwhile efforts for social change are a direct result of the Sixties -- and proof that Hippie really is back.

Good morning, Starshine.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The Power of Visual Imagery

"A picture speaks louder than words," according to the old saying and there's no better proof of that than the current exhibit at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles.

I'm a great fan of Seattle photographer Chris Jordan who creates huge ink-jet images of massive quantities of everyday objects that art critic Christopher Knight suggested might be called "Still Lifes on Steroids." Jordan's photos are exhibited along with statistics connecting them to our penchant for over-consumption and the challenges we face to be socially responsible.

For example, the piece "Building Blocks, 2007" is 16 feet tall x 32 feet wide in eighteen square panels, each 62" x 62," and depicts nine million wooden building blocks, representing the number of children without health insurance in 2007. The piece "Toothpicks, 2007" is 60" x 99" and shows 8 million toothpicks, representing the number of trees harvested every month to make paper for mail order catalogues.

Viewed from a distance, the photographs make stunningly beautiful abstract works of art; up close, the effect is just as stunning as we're forced to contemplate the real-world information they convey.

Jordan describes "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait," the title of this recent series, as follows:

"This new series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 426,000 cell phones retired every day. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. My underlying desire is to affirm and sanctify the crucial role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming."

The exhibit continues through October 20th. If you're in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend it; if you're unable to see the work in person, Jordan's website does a fine job of conveying his message.

© 2007 Cynthia Friedlob