Sunday, August 21, 2011

Arc de Triomphe


Paris-1001_2_3_4_5_tonemapped (2)

I took this photo Monday evening, August 15, in Paris.

Bill Clinton 3.0

As a fifty-three year old second-term U.S. president, Bill Clinton was known for his love of hamburgers, fries, donuts, and a scandal involving a 22-year-old White House intern. Now, at 66, Clinton is an elder statesman and humanitarian who has shed his former image as an unhealthy eater, along with 24 pounds, and is being rebranded as the face of cardio-vascular fitness in America.

Last week, CNN reported that in an effort to save his life and avoid a fatal heart attack, former president Bill Clinton made lifestyle changes, based on the health philosophy of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. of the Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Dean Ornish of the University of California at San Francisco, that resulted in Clinton’s losing 24 pounds and dramatically reducing his cholesterol levels. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Clinton cited data from 25 years of research that tells the stories of patients with diagnosed heart disease who essentially self-healed by switching to plant-based diets. In the interview, Clinton said, “Several hundred people who have tried essentially a plant-based diet, not ingesting any cholesterol from any source, have seen their bodies start to heal themselves — break up the arterial blockage, break up the calcium deposits around the heart. 82 percent of the people who have done this have had this result, so I wanted to see if I could be one of them."

Clinton’s story is compelling because it points to problems with current health management in the United States, including:
  1. Many of current health-care epidemics in the US may be life-style related.
  2. Current medical practice focuses on treatment rather than prevention.
  3. Americans are comfortable with taking pills to manage health rather than making changes to their lifestyles.
  4. Americans are eating themselves to death.
  5. Food health is out of the hands of consumers and has been given over to business and government.
  6. Self-healing is an alternative to medication and surgery.

I’ve considered making changes to my lifestyle over the past few days and have found that it is difficult to do so because so many meals are consumed outside of my home. Take yesterday as an example, I had two of three meals outside the home and neither meal aligned with a cholesterol free diet.

However, each of the meals could have been adapted, if I had been more thoughtful, because of the variety of foods available.

I applaud Clinton's success and hope that his story will contribute to correcting our unhealthy relationship with food.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Prague Pride 2011

After breakfast this morning, I was sitting at the desk in my hotel room editing photographs when I heard voices coming across a loud speaker. I didn't think much of it, but after a while I decided to go downstairs with my camera and an umbrella. I'm glad that I brought both, because they were needed.

Just outside the hotel I saw a large contingent of policemen in what appeared to be riot gear. They were hanging around and not readied for action. I assumed that they were their in case they were needed. Close by I saw a group of young people in orange safety vests with "Prague Pride 2011" stenciled on the back.

Just down the block, a few hundred people were gathered for what was Prague's first PRIDE event.

I stuck around for a while, but the rain drove me back to my hotel.

Here are photos.

Is it art?

One of the routes I drive to Los Angeles runs up the San Diego I exit onto Slauson Avenue, a four-lane thoroughfare that moves slowly through south central Los Angeles, a collection of neighborhoods which were blighted my riots in the not too distant past. A stretch of Slauson parallels a long block with a large industrial looking building that appears to be abandoned on the one side. The building caught my attention because it is encircled by urban murals created by street artists.

I drive this route at least twice a month. About a year ago, my curiosity directed me to explore the complex and its art more closely. I had my camera with me and set it up on a tripod to take photos of the colorful art. One of the artists drove into the dirt lot on the front side of the building just as I had set up my gear. He drove up to me and asked what I was doing, revealing a tone of suspicion. I explained that I’m a hobbyist photographer who enjoyed the art, and that I sometimes use photographs to spark classroom discussions with students I teach. My explanation brought calm, but I still sensed discomfort because of my professional looking camera equipment.

I hadn’t thought about this interaction, or its significance, until earlier this week when I was on a flight from Los Angeles to Paris. I watched “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” a film that sheds light into the shadowy world of street artists. Using the pretext of making a documentary film on street artists, the main character, Theirry Guetta eagerly seeks and wins the confidence of artists around the world, including the most famous, Banksy. At the conclusion, Banksy and his fellow artists regret their decision to bring Theirry Guetta into their fellowhip. “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” a Banksy film, asks layered questions, including, “Who is an artist?”

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” takes a surprising turn when Theirry Getta recreates himself into Mr. Brainwash and becomes an overnight art-world success in Los Angeles before his first show. Banksy presents him as an artistic caricature who imitates masters such as Zeus, Swoon, Shepard Fairey and Monsieur Andre. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” questions Thierry Getta’s legitimacy as an artist by raising concerns about his values, motivation and talent, because his rise to fame was engineered to be meteoric and media driven, and his for-profit art is mass-produced by hired graphic artists.

The question of who is an artist represented itself a couple of nights ago when I arrived in Prague, where the bridges and underpasses are a canvas for street art. One panel had a character with an uplifted middle finger who yelled, “Fuck Your Film.” The image brought me back to thinking about “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” Regardless of Mr. Brainwash's starting motivation as an art producer, I am drawn to the conclusions suggested by Banksy’s film. Art, particularly street art, is about passion, hard work, risk, and commentary that may inspire personal and societal reflection. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” suggests that work rooted elsewhere lacks legitimacy, regardless of its commercial appeal.

My experience on Slauson Avenue in Los Angeles was the first time I had spoken to a street artist. I sensed that he approached his art with passion and pride, and that he wanted to assure that I wasn’t stealing street art in order to commercialize it. I felt that the artist was schooling me on interacting respectfully with street art, a message similar to what I took from “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” The contrast to Theirry Getta , aka Mr. Brainwash, suggests that to some who make a living through art, this moral high bar equals na├»ve idealism that will not play out well in the real world of bills, mortgages and children to feed and clothe. Nonetheless, it is appealing to think that good art comes from artists with pure hearts.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Surviving Maine

As a newly appointed assistant dean, and fresh arrival to the College, I was honored when students asked me to be faculty advisor to the outing club. Perhaps, I thought, this means that they will no longer be suspicious of my judgment, as they had been since learning that I moved from Santa Barbara, California to live in Waterville, Maine.

My association to the Colby College Outing Club came with benefits. I had free access to a storehouse of outdoor gear, including the canoe that I checked out to use on the river that ran beside my house, and I could sign up for trips to explore the beauty of Maine. Some of those trips rank among the best in my memory of outdoor adventures. The return hike on Mount Katahdin, the terminus of the Appalachian Trail, included a take-your-breath-away trek across the precipitous “Knife Edge” that traverses the ridge between Baxter Peak and Pamola Peak. One morning’s adventure led to Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. We were among the first people in America to see the sunrise that day, since coastal Maine is the easternmost edge of the United States.

A particular spring Sunday afternoon held three adventures that tell three stories of personal survival. That was the afternoon that two students invited me to go kayaking on Great Pond, which sounded like a great adventure since it would be my first time kayaking. Even though we were in open water, we used river kayaks, which are closed hull crafts with a “skirt” that seals the boater in the kayak. Kaj, the outing club president, gave me a rudimentary lesson on using a paddle, and added at the end, almost as an afterthought: “Since we don’t have time to teach you to roll, remember to pull the skirt off your boat if you go over.” With that, we pushed off; I took up the rear as the two students, who were experienced kayakers, led out across the pond.

Kaj’s final instruction proved to be lifesaving because within minutes my kayak flipped over. I was submersed head first in Great Pond without the ability to right myself. My first thought was, “I am going to drown.” The reality of certain death arrived with surprising calm, and with as much emotion as hearing the weather forecast on a sunny day: “slight chance of afternoon clouds.” Then, I remembered Kaj’s lesson, “… pull the skirt off your boat if you go over.” The skirt came off easily, and I bobbed to the surface. I righted my boat when I noticed my dislocated shoulder.

I survived turning over in a sealed kayak, and this story avoids being a tragic tale told by someone else. The students towed me and my boat to shore. We drove to the hospital in Waterville, where adventure number two commenced, since, like me, the doctor on duty had never seen a dislocation, which would make putting me back together an experience of orthopedic speculation. The third adventure followed when we left the emergency room and went to dinner, where I learned not to eat Thai chili peppers.

My years in Maine held many adventures that are, to me, individual stories of grace and wonder. Those stories, however, like survival adventures two and three, will have to wait their turns to be told.

Monday, August 1, 2011