Archive for January, 2014

The Grammy Theme: Obsolescence or Transcendence?

January 28, 2014

A little shy of a year ago I wrote a blog about (among other things) the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song “Thrift Shop” because 1. I like it, and 2. I was amazed that such an anti-consumerist sentiment could be a hit song.
dangerousS
Not stealing pictures of Grammys so go find your own

Now the Grammys have not only showered the song and its artists with awards, but they gave out other awards to songs that question or outright TRASH the materialistic morality of the industry, like the Song of the year “Royals” which was the absolute inverse of the Lil’ Kim product placement songs that ruled the roost a decade ago. Little Lorde (younger than my daughter) parodied product placement and created a youth anthem in opposition to consumerism.
McDonald's and Mobil @ nite
those prices are as obsolete as a Maybach now…

Throw in the post-apocalyptic Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and Jay Z’s OMG-Fame-is-too-much-what-do-I-do duo with Timberlake (Holy Grail) and you have an anti-consumerist theme that, like I said in my 2013 blog – had been sort of invisible for twenty years. Not coincidentally, Jay-Z name-checks and quotes Kurt Cobain and Smells Like Teen Spirit, so maybe we are being welcomed to a new age, or back to one that questioned the high life.
relive moments
yeah, well

What was the other runaway winner? Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, which lyrically is only a portion of an emotion but sonically is ALL of the 1970s. The striving of the song’s protagonist has a human (sexual) objective and no consumerist reference whatsoever, notwithstanding “Robots.”
do not hammerS
so, like, they aren’t following the rules I think…

One might be tempted to see this as a commentary on the collapse of the recording industry, which has failed to come up with a viable economic model for nurturing musical talent in the digital age. But maybe it is a return to the DIY era of the late 70s and early 80s – that is sort of how Lorde got into the business. And it’s not like there was an era of the music business that was pure and fair and free of payola….
hs of embers6s
but there were eras that were colorful
turntable
and obsolescence rarely lasts forever anyway…vm point 83
On second thought, let’s just leave the 1970s alone….

Recycling Recycling: Symbols of empathy

January 18, 2014

My town is about to join a long list of local communities and counties that are banning plastic bags from stores. LA just became the largest city to do so. Because environment. Like most such actions, the benefits of the ban are primarily symbolic and inspirational, which is how we have approached recycling in the United States for well over seventy years.
starbucks garbg

Humans need symbols, and the most effective ones are visual. When I was in high school baby harp seals, over-the-top cute and cruelly clubbed, became extremely effective symbols for wildlife preservation. Of course, if the animals were less than cute (snail darter) they might become symbols for the opposition.
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like this threatened newt in Yunnan I shot (photographed) in 2008

But back to recycling. Famously, in World War II Americans recycled metal, rubber, newspapers and more to help the war effort. The idea was that we recycled these things into jeeps and tanks and bullets and telegrams or whatever to aid our soldiers overseas. Economists debate the actual economic and logistical impact of these drives, but no one doubts their symbolic ability to motivate patriotic support of the war effort.
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The next burst of recycling started with the oil scare of 1973 and I remember recycling newspapers from at least 1975, which in that case required careful straightening, bundling and delivering to a recycling station 2 miles away. Our hate affair with plastic bags begins at this point as well, since about that time the great question of eternal duality began”: “Paper or plastic?”
PV water bottle store
Please put my plastic bottles in a PAPER bag

I actually never understand that duality: Why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t I have some of both? I would be happiest if I came home from the grocery store with BOTH plastic and paper bags – I can use the one for the little garbage cans and the other for the recycling, right? But the checkout clerks force you into one camp or the other. Paper AND plastic??? what are you, sick??

Which takes us right over the barbed wire into the no-man’s land of NO PLASTIC BAGS. And I understand this too, based on an experience I had 20 years ago in the Illinois River Valley.

IM Canal lasalleS
near here

I was tasked with fighting against a huge landfill in LaSalle County. In the process I visited local landfills and while I remember the earth movers and dump trucks the enduring image of the landfill was PLASTIC BAGS. They would catch in trees next to the landfill and for a mile or more around it. They looked awful blowing in the wind and they hearkened right back to that 1971 environmental commercial where the Italian-American actor dressed as a Native American shed a tear seeing what us consumers had done to the rivers and trees.

The plastic bag is the enduring image of the pollution of the landfill, and the landfill in turn is what we are trying to avoid by recycling. Even though the landfill is mostly yard waste, paper and construction debris, not plastic bags, and the biggest lesson I learned in that (losing) battle was about “special waste.” Do you know what “special waste” is? It can be put in lots of landfills because it is NOT toxic waste. It is diluted toxic waste. Cool, huh?

lawndale forge recyclingS

There are many reasons to ban plastic bags – they end up not only in trees but in the ocean, where they kill the hell out of marine critters, so that is a good reason to ban them. But if you are thinking about landfills, your reusable bags could be taking up more space. The value of the ban is less the direct benefit to the environment than the symbolism of the action.

hs with recyc
I feel better already

The deeper problem is of course how can you possibly use consumption to fight consumption? That is the pernicious logic that renders the paper versus plastic divide nonsensical: which consumer choice will you use to fight against living in a consumer society? Because you can’t win it unless you change it structurally, not symbolically. That means cutting out not just the plastic but the purchases themselves. Interestingly, that actually happened in World War II – I have my grandfather’s ration book to prove it.

Real Life Monuments Men and Women

January 3, 2014

So, the movie with all of your favorite male actors (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, etc.) is finally coming out, kicked into 2014 and out of Oscar contention. It is the story of a World War II platoon dedicated to saving priceless cultural treasures from the Nazi scourge. I can’t wait to see it.
herc nr palais
monument man

But then again, I see it everyday, because saving heritage is the job of the Global Heritage Fund, and we have men and women doing that throughout the developing world (although not in the midst of war, generally). Women as frequently as men, the various architects, archaeologists and anthropologists of Global Heritage Fund may not be risking life and limb, but there is a palpable sense of adventure and exoticism to what they do. Just check out my posts on Ciudad Perdida, Colombia, Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia and Guizhou, China.

At GHF we may not be on the front lines of a war, but we are on the leading edge of heritage conservation in several ways. First, we often seek out sites that are newly accessible: Ciudad Perdida emerged from the paramilitary jungle within the last decade, which is when the landmines were cleared from sites like Banteay Chhmar. Roads have just reached the once-remote minority villages of Guizhou province, China and access to the Mayan sites of the Peten in Guatemala, such as El Mirador, is still by helicopter or lengthy jungle trek.

Avalok wall w empty
The landmines didn’t stop the looters from taking this section of the Avalokiteshvara wall at Banteay Chhmar.

We are also on the cutting edge of the field. If you have read any of the international reports on heritage conservation coming out of UNESCO and ICOMOS in recent years, clear themes are emerging, themes that are infused through GHF’s mission and projects. Culture as a pillar of community development. Cultural landscapes as the most sustainable way to preserve heritage. Tangible and intangible heritage partnerships that save both culture and nature.

CP 69 platforms
there has never been a hard line between nature and culture

In Guizhou we are partnering with a Chinese NGO that works to save local crafts through marketing, business planning, and a host of economic approaches that leave the quaint “tsotchkes for the tourists” paradigm in the dust. In Romania we are saving villages by investing in the tile kilns needed to restore the traditional Carpathian villages in an authentic way.

heshui papermaking3

My last blog touted the capable Dr. Santiago Giraldo in South America, and I could easily include Kuanghan Li, who was directed our China projects for six years. Long ago we partnered with archaeologists like Dr. John Rick at Chavin de Huantar in Peru and Dr. Richard Hansen, who pioneered our work in the Mayan biosphere of Guatemala. More recently we have provided the missing conservation and planning piece to such fascinating projects as Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, discovered and excavated by Dr. Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute. Each of these is a “Monuments” person dedicated to saving priceless world heritage, from poverty, war, climate, neglect and looting.

GT image
world’s oldest ceremonial site, 5,000 years older than Stonehenge, nearly 12,000 years old. Built by hunters and gatherers. And then deliberately buried by them.

I can’t match Hollywood when it comes to CGI, starpower or even storytelling. But I can take you to see some of the world’s least known, most exciting heritage sites and the women and men who are working to save them. Call me.

Lang de village field