Tonight I watched the excellent and thought-provoking program featuring journalists Bryan Christy and Aidan Hartley and produced by J.J. Kelley for PBS. As an activist for elephants I was very interested in how the message of elephant poaching would be conveyed to a general audience. Here are some of main points that struck me:
805 of Chinese middle class owns ivory and China does not have a history of valuing the elephant as a live animal. The art of ivory carving has been flourishing in China for over 2,000 years and has become a perverted symbol of Buddhism as many of the elephant tusks are turned into buddhist icons in factories set up by the Chinese government.
The program followed Hartley as he traveled in Africa, mainly in Tanzania, to investigate the ivory trade on the ground with Christy who was stationed in China investigating the demand at the high end ivory shops which often sell pieces worth over one million dollars.
In 1800 there were 26 million elephants in Africa. The early 1900′s led to a large demand for ivory, not only for piano keys and pool and billiard balls and combs but as a symbol of manliness when wealthy men went on safari and killed an elephant. By 1979 there were only 1.3 million elephants left. By 1989 there were only 600,000.
Richard Leakey convinced Kenya’s president at that time to publicly burn the accumulated ivory which then evaporated the demand. With little killing over ten years the elephants rebounded to 1 million but decisions in 1999 and 2008 with CITES allowed two sales of stockpiled ivory. These sanctioned a legal trade in the tusks and has made a cover for all sales of ivory where sellers can claim that their ivory was legally acquired.
Only 16 percent of the ivory shown in China is legal.
The program spent a short segment detailing the wondrous qualities of elephants – that they mourn their dead, that they have rich social lives and communicate through their feet with subsonic sound. They showed elephants fondling the bones of fallen family members.
The program delved into the corruption with high level diplomats who apparently purchase ivory (Rhino horn and elephant tusks) from traders and take it back to China on diplomatic planes that are above being searched.
One of the most poignant moments was an interview with a man in China who owns a huge collection of ivory sculptures. When asked how he felt about the elephants he replied that he believed that the elephant smiled and gladly gave its tusks in the service of Buddhism. An example of the willful blindness that people have to justify their actions in spite of clear evidence of the cruelty and suffering behind them. Brian Christy looked at the camera and said “The elephants are not smiling.”
There were some examples of positive efforts which nevertheless can’t withstand the rising demand for ivory and the illegal encroachments with helicopters and machine guns that have decimated elephant populations in other so-called protected areas. Most recently there were over 200 elephants in Cameroon gunned down in one day in 2012 which were in a protected area.
Hartley managed to convince a Tanzanian ambassador to allow cameras in to the largest stockpile of ivory in the world which houses over 50 million dollars worth of ivory. He suggests that Tanzania which is one of the poorest countries in Africa might be willing to burn its stockpile if someone was willing to donate that 50 million to help Tanzanians regain a financial foothold. The tension is ever present as Tanzania has asked for an exception to the ban from CITES which will be voting March 30-14 in Thailand which has been found to be a nexus for the illegal ivory trade.
In a climate where both the black market price for ivory and its demand are so high, elephants’ lives are put at risk by the mere prospect of a sanctioned sale of ivory. If the poaching of elephants and ever growing trade in illegal ivory is to be seriously addressed, part of the solution to this complex problem must be a return to the full ban on the sale of ivory established in 1989.
The following is taken from www.bloodyivory.org/stop-the-ivory-trade
- Address the involvement of international criminal syndicates by means of strong law enforcement at both national and international levels along the full extent of the supply – demand chain. The effectiveness of this measure should be judged not only by ivory seizures and arrests recorded but also by convictions with proportionate penalties and the disruption of the implicated trade networds.
- Close down domestic (national) markets in ivory, to accompany the trade ban instituted by CITES.
- Educate consumers in order to stem the demand for ivory. A survey in China found that almost 70% of the public thought ivory did not come from dead elephants but that it fell out naturally, like teeth.
The alternative to taking the bull by the horns? Some countries continue to report localised extinctions of small vulnerable elephant populations, a number of others edge closer to losing all their remaining elephants and the larger ‘safer’ populations start or continue their own downward spiral.
About Naturestage’s Elephant Project
We are seeking producers to help create a series of short films that will be geared for viewing by high school students around the globe that use short true stories about people and elephants to evoke emotional reactions and responses in various art forms. These would then be used by the students to start a dialogue about how to manage other species and to look at human nature as a way to start to solve what is the largest species extinction currently underway, not just for elephants but for myriad other species. The series would be a gateway to looking at ourselves as well as finding solutions that stem from a heart connection. You can read more about it on the naturestage website and at www.theelephantproject.com
- WATCH: ‘Battle For The Elephants’ (huffingtonpost.com)
- Battle for the Elephants Episode 4: Massive Ivory Stockpile (newswatch.nationalgeographic.com)
Naturestage is all about using the arts to foster a sense of kinship with other species, but sometimes it feels very satisfying to make a real difference that is tangible and as practical as a cat leaving a cage after months at a shelter and finding a home where he or she is cherished.
That is what we’re aiming for this holiday season, as I use my photographic skills to help make some of the cats needing homes stand out on Petfinder. Your donations help me afford to do more photography like this of animals in shelters, as well as the pursue the other Naturestage projects.
Here are some of the cats I photographed on Monday at the MSPCA Nevins Farm in Methuen, MA and their stories. You can request copies of the postcards of each cat to include inside your holiday cards this season. Samples of the cards are at the end of the post. Help spread the word by sharing this blog and ordering some postcards to enclose that will draw people to the naturestage website to see more animals needing homes and learn about our various large-scale projects like the One Language Project, The Elephant Project and Park Dreams.
Huge thanks to Peter Sward and Jackie Goreham for “cat wrangling” and the descriptions of the cat histories, and to Lensprotogo in Concord for lending lighting equipment, as well as to Susan Hughes of the Greening Touch for lending the orchids and other plants for the session.
Einstein is a gray and white male. He’s living in the staff offices because he doesn’t like cats. He must be the only king in the castle. He’s full of zest and would love to have a real home. He was very scared during the photoshoot as you can probably tell by his eyes.
Salem is a long-haired tabby. Her previous family had no time for her and her two friends. They were both adopted. She is a very smart and curious cat, but a bit wary until she warms up. She loves affection – being petted and brushed. She is very terrified in the shelter and wanted to hide in this apple basket. Please help her feel loved and safe!
Daquiri is a tortoise shell female. She is 3 years old and very talkative. Her ‘Dad’ in her family died and her Mom was allergic so she brought her to MSPCANevins. She has so much love to offer!
Rafiki is a playful and sweet gray cat. He was adopted but returned when the cat in the house was bullying him. He really likes other cats and you can read more about him here:
Tater Tot is a beautiful black cat. She was a stray hanging around someone’s yard for a while and is declawed, so this was a very risky life she was living outdoors with no way to protect herself from raccoons, coyotes, and dogs. Without her claws, she especially loves being scratched and petted and is a big fan of head butts.
Sebago is a loving black and white cat who came from another shelter. He is mellow and the caretakers at the MSPCA at Nevins are worried he’s depressed. He tolerates other cats as well as kids. Please give him his forever home!
Hidz was a stray who hid in someone’s garage for Hurricane Sandy. While in there, she was polite enough to use a litter box. Total lapcat. She is actually sick right now with an upper respiratory infection which is common when cats come into the shelter.
Happy is a black male with a little white on his paws. He came in with his lifelong companion, Chloe, but they weren’t adopted together and he did not get along with the cat in the new family, so they returned him. He probably misses Chloe a lot, but we can see he loves to play. Give him a second chance!
Lupina is a tiny white tabby: She’s about 3 pounds and looks like a kitten but she’s about four years old. She has a heart murmur and they are hoping to get enough donations on her behalf to get her an echocardiogram so we can determine the severity of the problem. She came in with a friend who was adopted. Just as with us, it can be hard on other animals when their companions leave them for whatever reason. Come soon and give this beautiful little spirit a good home!
Almond Joy has Feline Leukemia FeLV. He was abandoned in an apartment and has been waiting such a long time to find a home. He likes dogs. More info here
Sally: Tiger, FeLV cat. Feisty and fun. More info here. What a beautiful cat she is!
The Muffin Man is a Long Haired Ginger cat. He is only one year old, but looks so much older, probably because he has contracted Feline Leukemia Virus from another cat. He is so mellow and sweet, and an absolute purr machine. When I photographed him on Monday, he was getting over a case of the sniffles.
A sample card (there are twelve made for each of the above cats) which you can include in your holiday mailings this season to help raise money for Naturestage projects and make more photoshoots of animals needing adoption possible. They also bring awareness to the wonderful work of the MSPCA. We are about to launch a store on the Naturestage site. If you would like to order cards, they are $50 for 25 and they are 4 x 5.5 inches so that they fit inside a 5×7 envelope and folded card. To order your cards, email me at email@example.com and tell me how many you would like for your holiday mailings or just to share with people you know.
On my way back from Camden, I stopped off in Portland and parked downtown. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Maybe it was because he looked so clean, his shirt and sneakers so new, or because he seemed so open. But it was his small pekingese huddled in the bike carrier, and the way he touched it tenderly under its chin that finally drew me to him.
This is a respost of the latest on the new naturestage blog for the One Language Project. If you’d like the latest videos and audio slideshows delivered to your inbox, please “follow” this new blog for our project closest to home. Your dog (or other pet) can be featured here too. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more or just to make a tax-deductible donation to the project so that more people can participate. We are gathering stories people have about the animals in their lives for a variety of venues – radio and photo essays.
Many many thanks to Caroline from the wonderful pcatsitting and dogwalking company urbanpawprint for sharing her stories in this video.
I opened the New York Times today and discovered a video on Zoos in America. Last week’s Times featured a front page article on the commonalities between human animal diseases and non human animal diseases. Apparently, other species suffer from many of the same psychological and physical diseases as we do and veterinarians are being asked to chime in on human conditions with their solutions. PBS just broadcast two powerful documentaries on the connection we have with dogs and cats (Shelter Me and Why We Love Dogs and Cats.)
I am so heartened by the growing interest in what we share in common with other species. There is a long way to go but social change takes time.
I am so happy to see the mainstream media start to venture into what in past years would have seemed the dangerous zone of anthropomorphizing. I keep envisioning it becoming more profound – nightly newscasters showing animals needing adoption, or weather forecasters mentioning that people should slow down on the roads because of salamander migrations and animals coming out of hibernation or babies being born who don’t know about cars…or of the devastation on our psyche, on the environment, on the unlucky animals in factory farms which wouldn’t exist without our tax subsidies and being far away from most of our viewing. (Factory farms have just lobbied to make it illegal for photographers or videographers to enter their facilities). With every day, I hope to bring this into focus through whatever means I have as an artist.
The One Language Project – The photographs I am taking and the accompanying essays by the owners, will be expanding for use in an App for the ipad and for viewing on the website with hyperlinks and infographics. Check out the page and consider commissioning a portrait of your dog to be used in the installations or donating to the project. This public art project is a powerful way to put other species in front of us and show our interconnections across species divides through the one language of emotion we all share.
The questions I’m including in the next installation June 22nd of One Language: For the Love of Dogs:
“What would we do differently if we referred to all other individuals in other species as a someone instead of a something? Should we be drawing lines or should we instead by drawing circles?”
Next year, maybe cows, or cats, or ferrets or parrots or pigs? Our longing for connection with other species is that longing we have for touch, voice, relationship, belonging. Maybe it is as close as your yard, your rooftop, your living room. There is someone who needs you to listen – whether the cardinal at your window, the dog at your side, the elephants fighting for survival, or your neighbor next door, hidden from view in loneliness and struggle. We are all animals with similar needs and great capacity for bringing joy.
“What if the world embodied our highest potential? What would it look like? As the structures of modern society crumble, where do we find solutions that can help us build the future that serves us all?
Below is a short film that is thought-provoking. Please watch and share!
In line with the mission of the One Language Project, here is the link to today’s Washington Post article.
…and two photos of Gretta, whose owner told me that she rescued her from a puppy mill breeder, and that she hadn’t been adopted because of her wandering eye.
…and Diesel, whose owner told me that the bond between them was so strong, that Diesel wouldn’t let anyone else care for him.
TEN FAVORS A DOG ASKS FROM A MAN
1) My life lasts between ten to fifteen years. Every separation from you means suffering for me. Think about this before you decide whether or not to take me!
2) Give me time to understand what you are asking from me.
3) Instill confidence in me – I thrive on it!
4) Do not be angry with me for a long time and do not lock me up for punishment! You have your work, your pleasure, your joy – I have only you.
5) Talk often to me! Even if I do not understand you completely, I do understand the tone of your voice when you talk to me.
6) Know that, no matter how I am being treated, I shall never forget it!
7) Keep in mind, before you hit me , that my jaws could crush the knuckles of your hand with ease, but that I do not make use of them.
8) Before you scold me when working with me, consider: perhaps I am uncomfortable from digesting my last meal; perhaps I was exposed to the sun too long; or perhaps I have a worn-out heart.
9) Take care of me when I am old — you too are going to be old one day.
10) Be with me when my going gets rough. Everything is easier for me when you are beside me.
One Language: For the Love of Dogs – is phase one of an expanding and ongoing exploration of the one language we share with with other species and one another – emotion.
I am absolutely thrilled to combine my love for photography, video and audio storytelling with the mission of Naturestage in this project which encapsulates much of my most recent work and which I think has the power to engage people in conversations about our role alongside the other species on the planet.
Here are photos from today’s new installation in the Dakota Puffin Dog Boutique on Charles Street in Boston. Many thanks to Nicole, the owner, for giving us wall space for the exhibit, and to the owners of the dogs who wrote heart-felt short essays and allowed me to photograph their wonderful dogs. It brings me so much joy to discover the stories of these animals through the eyes and hearts of their owners, and to involve more and more people and their pets in this project. We hope the idea will attract backers for parts of this project which will help bring the exhibit to different spaces and cover the cost of taking the photos and reproducing them on the canvases.
Here is where you come in. If you have a dog or know someone who has a story to share about their dog, please consider becoming part of this exhibition as it reproduces for the walls of office buildings, dental offices, restaurants, galleries, libraries, hospitals and schools. I will take photos of your dog on location and then work with you to write a short paragraph or two about how your dog has changed your life. One goal of the project is to bring the connection we share with other animals into mainstream conversation and shed light on our conflicting treatment of animals in society and how to build empathy, understanding and respect for those beings which rely on us to take their interests to heart. One Language – For the Love of Dogs, opened today!
Click the link above to see some of the parks we hope to visit for the Park Dreams podcasts and stories…
A discussion in Prospect Park, Brooklyn with painter Gary Dunn about art, urban parks and the value of building a craft.
Government silent as more elephants are slaughtered (Zimbabwe)
January 19, 2012
Chiredzi(ZimEye)Zimbabwe’s elephants continue to be butchered and this week, another elephant was found bleeding to its death, just as the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry remained quiet.
A number of healthy elephants were this week killed in Zimbabwe’s Chiredzi Conservation area which is now gradually being turned into a makeshift farming area by invaders.
Another elephant (pictured) was found shot in the Chiredzi River Conservancy and the herd chased with ‘something like 10 shots being fired’ according to witnesses.
The total number elephants wounded as a result of the shooting to date is not known.
Large trees are still being chopped down to make way for crops that do not do well in the Lowveld.
A Conservationist in the area told ZimEye:
After seeing the 44 wild elephants at our little dam on Saturday 14.1.12 morning and noon we heard 4 shots from our homestead on the western side of the dam at 3.30.
Monday morning at 7am we heard another 5 shots within half an hour. Monday afternoon one young elephant cow carcass was found, probably shot 4 or 5 days earlier on the eastern side of the Mungwezi River on Oscro. One tusk had been removed and the tail.
Tuesday lunch time another adult, lactating cow was found between our boundary and the Oscro ZRP station, tusks removed.
Tuesday late afternoon another elephant probably a young bull, was found lying on his brisket, tusks removed.
Other shots were reported on previous days, but too far for us to hear. How many more are lying rotting in the bush, how many more are running around with bullet holes, how many calves have lost their mothers?
“Large areas that have been cleared over the years are slowly become desertified and destroyed. Maize wilting where it has been planted in CRC, some patches have been completely burnt by the sun.
This is a tragedy on large scale that is taking place, and no one who has been put in positions to protect our wildlife and environment doing anything positive to do something to stop this destruction. The wildlife is being terrorized and traumatised,” a witness told ZimEye.
Efforts to get a comment from the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry were fruitless at the time of writing but earlier communication sent to the ministry in October last year still has not been replied to.
One of my friends has truly the most extraordinary collection of books of anyone I know, and I confess, I’ve photographed her books (with her permission). I thought maybe you’d be interested in some of the books lining my shelves, covering topics from fundraising in the arts, to empathy and compassion, economics, essays by naturalists, poetic writings on nature and animals, etc.
Connecting the presidential pardon of a turkey on Thanksgiving to the need for a educational focus on empathy for other species, might seem a stretch. Then again, after reading much of David Livingtone Smith’s fascinating book, Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, I’m not so sure.
It seems that, according to Livingstone Smith, humans in all cultures and throughout recorded history have prepared for war through dehumanizing their perceived enemy, often equating them with some type of animal or insect. As Smith points out in detail, recent examples of this abound in war reporting and in the language used by people involved in genocide. Inhumane treatment of prisoners of war seems closely tied with animal references – dogs, vermin, rats. Jane Goodall has said that humans are the only animal capable of conscious cruelty, which makes this use of animal imagery to justify cruelty all the more ironic.
In a recent interview which I highly recommend reading, Goodall says “It simply doesn’t make sense that the most intellectually smart creature that has ever walked on planet Earth is destroying its only home, and destroying it so heedlessly. So how do we mend the damaged connection between brain and heart? Through the youth.”
Human activities are causing the sixth greatest extinction known on the planet. It seems as if there couldn’t be a more important moment in history to take action and stop such needless suffering and extermination of other species, whether willingly or unwittingly. Take, for example, the impending extinction of tuna due to overfishing and trawling in the oceans, the impending extinction of the Asian elephant in the wild, great apes and big cats on the decline, countless species that are less familiar to us but are dying from hunger, pollution and dwindling habitats. Although extinction is a part of the unfolding of life in its fluid and ever-shifting forms, it has never happened so quickly and pervasively due to human activities.
Goodall affirms the power of stories and of children’s hope and ability to change their parents but says that behavior change requires a multi-leveled approach. Most importantly, she emphasizes nurturing the hope that children naturally have about the world and giving them tools to implement their compassion. She also makes clear that she is not fighting for animal rights, per se, but for human responsibility. This is also my aim with Naturestage – to create connection and empathy that make audiences and students want to protect other species and ecosystems.
A recent column in The Stone, one of my favorite blogs on philosophy in the New York Times, discusses the link between the practice of pardoning a turkey on the eve of Thanksgiving and the “strange power vested in politicians to decide the earthly fates of death-row prisoners.” If we were more empathic and sensitized to the needs of other animals, might this not extend to how easily we could be manipulated into becoming dehumanizers of other humans?
David Brooks, regular op-ed contributor and author of The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, has also written a thought-provoking post on the new buzzword, empathy. In his October article, “Empathy versus action: Don’t just feel – lend a hand”, Brooks suggests that feeling empathy is not enough; that for empathy to be connected to positive social action, it must be connected to moral codes. As Brooks points out, peoples’ codes often conflict.
He writes “In the early days of the Holocaust, Nazi prison guards sometimes wept as they mowed down Jewish women and children, but they still did it. Subjects in the famous Milgram experiments felt anguish as they appeared to administer electric shocks to other research subjects, but they pressed on because some guy in a lab coat told them to.”
Examining one’s moral values and talking about social codes is a thorny path to pursue as an educator. Enter art, the great means of forming empathy and simultaneously questioning our individual moral codes. Some of the greatest art causes you to examine your own inner limits of where your feeling urges you to act and why you do or don’t follow through on that urge. Picasso’s Guernica depicts the horrors of war, but does it turn the viewers into peace activists? Do people understand it without knowing its context? The painting did indeed raise world attention to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Picasso scholar Becht-Jördens writes,
In his chef d’oevre, Picasso seems to be trying to define his role and his power as an artist in the face of political power and violence. But far from being a mere political painting, Guernica should be seen as Picasso’s comment on what art can actually contribute towards the self-assertion that liberates every human being and protects the individual against overwhelming forces such as political crime, war, and death.
I discovered through my current interest in incorporating animation for The Elephant Project films, that a fellow artist, animator extraordinaire Ed Hooks, has coincidentally read and written about the same article by Brooks. He has this to say, and I agree completely. The most crucial element of the following is that humans can imagine what others are feeling based on what they see others doing. This naturally extends to how other animals behave. He writes,
…The way that empathy is triggered in acting – on stage and in animation – is through action. Emotion by itself is not actable and has zero theatrical value. Acting is doing. It is nice that you can make a character have the illusion of emotion, but that is not enough. The formula you want to remember is this: Thinking tends to lead to conclusions, and emotion tends to lead to action.” The audience sees what your character is doing and then, through empathy, relates to the emotion that led to that action.
Empathy is an innate trait in humans. It is necessary because we are social creatures that organize in groups in order to survive. If a person is unable to empathize, he is a sociopath. There is a lot of research showing that there is a specific section of the brain that is involved with empathy. In sociopaths – serial killers and such – that section is inactive. One of the characteristics of autism is an inability to empathize, which is why autistic children most often do not want to look you in the eye. They are unable to interpret the emotion they see in you, so it is more comfortable not to see it at all.
There are smart people who assert that an ability to empathize can be developed and strengthened, like strengthening a muscle. I disagree. Your ability to empathize is what it is, and it has been with you since birth. The real issue is not how to increase the ability to empathize, but to acknowledge the values that are behind the emotions we express, and the actions we take as a result. As David Brooks observes in that September 30th column, the presence of empathy is no assurance that a person will act responsibly or morally. A human is the only creature that can know something is wrong, and still do it.
One of the implications of Ed Hooks’ discussion of the use of action to evoke empathy with animated characters is that in real non-animated life, our actions do in fact influence how we feel. This is verified by Nick Cooney in his book, Change of Heart. He has been touring around the country speaking to activists of all stripes about how to really cause behavioral change in others and how we often think we believe in something, because it is how we have been accustomed to acting.
One of his insights that fuels my thinking about how music, theater and film can use their emotional and storytelling power to cause compassionate action is this: “people often learn what their beliefs are by looking at their own actions. We typically think things work the other way around…in our advocacy work we usually operate under the assumption that we first have to change people’s beliefs, which will in turn cause them to change their behavior…Behavior creates attitude: in part because we learn more about the issue, but also because we decide how we feel about an issue by looking at the things we say and do.” p. 61, Change of Heart.
In my multi-media presentation, Saving the Elephants, Saving Ourselves: The Role of Art in Social Change, I show examples of the numerous artists who are using their art forms to raise awareness for the human connection to elephants, and to their struggle for survival. Art here is crucial, not only in raising awareness, but in building empathy through action. Here is a photo from the Human Elephant Foundation, based in South Africa, of children making an elephant sculpture which is then exhibited with flower petals.
My wish for The Elephant Project film set and curriculum is that through working with the material using an art form, through actually making art – whether in music, dance, video, poetry or theater – students can truly integrate the heart with the hands and the head and feel their kinship with the rest of the beings on the planet, motivating them more strongly than anything else to be global caretakers in whatever way they can.
Change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right. – Jane Goodall
For more powerful quotes from Jane Goodall, a courageous voice for the non-human animals and for social justice, please visit this page.
I was recently reading a blog post by one of my favorite filmmakers, Patrick Shen, who founded Transcendental Media. His post has links to other sites which socially-conscious-driven filmmakers would find incredibly useful. Instead of writing much today, I will simply pass you on to this informative and thought-provoking post
I followed a few of the links and found three others which Continue reading
I came to the forum on Heroes at the Museum of Contemporary Art because I needed a dose of inspiration and energy from people who take action on their beliefs. Each of the speakers brought the audience to their feet with their presentations about their work. I transcribed part of the forum knowing that even though the video would be available in a few weeks it would be valuable to be able to refer in print to the powerful words from a few of these speakers. The images they showed were a large part of the impact of their talks, but here, at least, are a few of the words of wisdom they shared with us.
Phil Zimbardo – psychologist, founder of the Heroic Imagination Project
(excerpt) Heroes make personal sacrifices for the good of others. What I’ve been doing is creating a program that tries to train, coach and produce heroes. In california I have a hero factory. Heroic action is behavior that is:
- engaged in voluntarily
- conducted in service to one or more people or the community as a whole;
- involves a risk to physical comfort, social stature, or quality of life;
- iniated without the expectation of material gain; and
- is learned, taught, modeled, not inborn
Heroes become special by doing that heroic act. We believe heroism can be trained, coached, taught, especially with the next generation. Each of us has the power to influence unknown numbers of people. When we do the opposite we can become a model for evil. We should be aware of the ripple effect we have. The important thing is to speak up.
Bill Strickland - President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation and its subsidiaries, Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG), and Bidwell Training Center (BTC).
Strickland is nationally recognized as a visionary leader who authentically delivers educational and cultural opportunities to students and adults within an organizational culture that fosters innovation, creativity, responsibility and integrity. Continue reading
Chicago Ideas Week hosted four award-winning photographers, giving them a platform to talk about their work and share some of their spectacular photographs from the National Geographic, Chicago Tribune, and others. I transcribed much of what they said, although without the images to accompany their words it obviously has much less impact. What struck me about all four was their focus on relationships, whether between human and non-human animal, people of different cultures, men and women, people and the earth. Their images are stunning. I encourage you to check out each of their websites and google them to see more of their photographs. A picture says a thousand words.
Jim Richardson: Everyone is a photographer and it’s the language we speak. Out in Kansas, my wife and I have a gallery and every so often people come through and they walk down the wall and they see all the images I”ve taken from around the country and I can see one of two questions coming. The first one is easy to answer – do you actually go to the places you photograph? Honest to God, that is the question. And I go, yes, that’s the way it works. We actually go there.
The second question is more difficult because they say “what’s your favorite thing to photograph?” They mean do you do sports, weddings, nature, wildlife, culture? I often puzzle about that because I do all these things. I do what is necessary to tell the story and particularly I like unsung stories. I like stories no one else would pay attention to if I didn’t. The stories are the leverage by which I take the photography and hopefully do something that in some remote way might move somebody and provide that fulcrum point to help leverage the pictures into action and impact.
I want to start out our presentation today with how pictures tell stories Continue reading
“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.” – Buddha
I landed in Chicago for a week of idea-sharing – participating in the Chicago Ideas Week, interviewing people in Millennium Park for the Park Dreams project for NatureStage, and presenting a version of my talk, Saving the Elephants, Saving Ourselves; The Role of Art in Social Change at the Humanist Sociology Conference in Evanston (Daring to Be Dangerous: A Sociology for Our Troubled Times).
Here is the first installment from Chicago Ideas Week with a synopsis of a few of the talks at the morning session on Social Entrepreneurship which included a tremendously inspiring group of social innovators: David Bornstein: Founder, Dowser; Emma Clippinger: Co-Founder and Executive Director, Gardens for Health International; Robert Fogarty: Founder, Dear World; Dave Gilboa: Co-Founder and Co-DEO, Warby Parker; Scott Harrison: Founder & CEO, charity: water; Leila Janah: Founder & CEO, Samasource; Jeff Nelson: Co-Founder & Executive Director, Urban Students Empowered.
October 10, 2011
The President and CEO of Better World Books, David Murphy, began the session by defining social entrepreneurship as a way to solve social problems on a large scale. When he created his company, he said he wanted it to be disruptive, scaleable, and a game-changer. He conceived of an online bookstore “with a soul” that would donate a portion of all book sales towards non-profit literacy partners worldwide. He pointed out the ongoing need for this type of business model and described the state of literacy in the world today. Almost 1 billion people are illiterate and 2/3 are women. Better World Books is founded on the idea that literacy is fundamental to breaking poverty and the dependency cycle which comes from illiteracy.
Murphy made a strong point of saying that social entrepreneurship is not “kumbaya”. SE is a vital way to harness the potential of business to solve social and environmental challenges at home and around the world. He pointed out that 70% of non-profit funding comes from the private sector and that this must change in order to solve the large-scale challenges we face.
The next speaker at the forum was David Bornstein, the founder of Dowser, which specializes in solution journalism. He described how he started off as a daily reporter wanting to help the world self-correct with his writing. He pointed out that one of the main reasons attempts to solve social issues are stymied is that “we’ve been asking bureaucracies to write poems.” He says that for problems to be solved at a large scale, it takes an extreme level of caring, similar to the way a mother cares for her child.
Bornstein then pointed out the staggering Continue reading
Randall Wood is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and cinematographer based in Brisbane, Australia. I caught up with him near the start of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival sitting outside in front of the Grand Tetons in full fall glory. We talked about protecting journalists in the documentary process, his latest film Worm Hunters, Laurie Anderson and the power of words, and the power of music in shaping a film. He was first trained as a classical pianist and composer. He started by talking about his current film in process called The Grammar of Happiness. You can see the trailer for this film here.
RW This is a great project for the Smithsonian Channel and ABC in Australia and Arte in France. It’s a film about language and a debate that’s occurring at the moment internationally about grammar theory.
ML What is the debate?
RW Well, the debate has been raging for about five years and it’s between Chomsky and his followers, of which there are many, who believe in a universal grammar, and Dan Everett and a number of other people who say his theories are flawed because of Dan’s findings with the Pirahã people in the Amazon. He says their language is so completely different that it flies in the face of Chomsky’s theory. That’s the baseline but the story itself is of a missionary who went up the Amazon to convert a tribe to Jesus and instead got converted by them after many years of working with them, to atheism, after trying over many years to convert the Bible into their language. So he became an atheist and left his missionary work and became an academic and quite well-respected. He wrote a book called Don’t Sleep. There are Snakes.
ML How would you summarize Chomsky’s theory?
RW Ah. Put me on the spot! Basically talking about a universal grammar saying that we are, as humans, born with the ability to speak with recursion.
ML What’s recursion?
RW Recursion is Continue reading
Charles Siebert looks like a movie star, and based on the impersonations he did in our conversation, he probably could be one, but he’s chosen to be a writer, a novelist and non-fiction writer, as well as a journalist. He’s a prize-winner in all these areas. It’s unusual to find a man writing about empathy, and especially about the plight of animals and giving credence to their inner life in major newspapers and magazines. This is just one of the reasons I sought him out. His article in the New York Times magazine back in 2005, An Elephant Crack-up?, moved me to tears and left an indelible mark on my conscience, in fact, such a profound one, that I swerved off of the well-worn channel of solely being a professional musician into a hybrid zone which became NatureStage.
Siebert’s most recent article on elephants appeared in the September 2011 issue of the National Geographic. For a list of Siebert’s writings, please see the end of the interview.
Here are excerpts from our conversation in a Brooklyn cafe in early September 2011.
CS (speaking about a television series in production)…so, we were going to start with the Janice Carter story. Janice Carter being the one who took Lucy from Oklahoma after her parents were done raising her as a human. The first act of hubris was bookended by the second which was ”oh, let’s let her be a wild chimp now” and poor unsuspecting suburban oklahoman Janice Carter agrees to help Lucy make the transition to the wild and goes with her to the Gambia and first Senegal. Well, you know the story, it’s all in Wachula Woods Accord
ML You’ll have to remind me ’cause I read it about a year ago and I’ve seen Project Nim six months ago and…
CS It ends up just as you might expect, totally tragically. Lucy has no experience. Some of the other chimps at least knew other chimps. By other chimps, I mean other chimps in this transition center. Lucy had only known human beings. The only chimps she had ever seen were in National Geographic…so it was impossible for her and she just refused. And Janice, who was supposed to stay for two weeks to help with the transition, two weeks became two months, which became two years, and lo and behold, she’s still there. She’s never come back. But at one point she lived for eight years on this island with Lucy in the middle of the gambia river. And through much of that time, had a cage built for her to live in so that Lucy would be forced to go out and be a chimp. Now how’s that for a total inversion of the whole dynamic? A human being living by herself in the wilderness in a cage to force a chimp to be a chimp?
ML That is the quintessential irony, and also how we find ourselves trying to find our own wildness.
CS Exactly. And Janice became more wild than Lucy. That’s the crazy thing. This suburban Oklahoman girl became like a wild child. I mean, she was climbing trees and eating ants trying to get Lucy to climb trees and eat ants. So anyway, the whole thing, to cut to the chase, just ended completely tragically because Lucy started to seem to be able to fend for herself and was learning to go off and eat…and Janice finally decided it was time to leave. So she leaves the island and would come back periodically, and every time she did come back Lucy would be on the shore of the island to meet her and this time she showed up and no Lucy and she had this really bad feeling. She went back to their old campsite and Lucy was found with no hands, no feet, just her skeleton. There’s been all sorts of speculation as to what happened, but one of the scenarios that the press has fallen in love with is that Lucy, always the first to approach humans, approached, unwittingly, poachers who just served her up. But no one knows what really happened, but obviously it could have gone no other way but tragically, given the circumstances. But the weird thing is, Janice stayed on and she’s been there for thirty-three years on end. We still talk and she’s very hard to get to know, as you might imagine. A woman who’s just retreated from civilization as we know it. But she’s very sweet, and I sort of won her good graces. She agreed to be part of this documentary that Christopher and I wanted to do, but long story short, when we heard that Marsh was working on Project Nim…
ML Speaking of which, I really think you should go to the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Have you been to one of these?
ML If you can find a reason to come, my sense is that it’s an incredible opportunity to network with…you’d be a superstar
CS I don’t know about that. I’d just like to go to Jackson Hole. I’ve always wanted to. Sounds like it would make a good story, covering it
ML I’m sure
CS When I was writing essays for Harper’s Magazine years ago I did a series of cover essays for them and one was about t.v. nature shows and how we’ve always framed nature. It actually got me on a very funny radio show with Sir David Attenborough. So, he was coming from England, someone else from Australia, and me from Brooklyn. It made for the oddest conversation. He started out not liking me. I think he thought I was way cynical, but in the end, we ended up agreeing with each other on a lot of fronts. He was always one of my favorites ’cause, you know his famous transitions, where he’d be like in Patagonia and climbing some mountain and then going (british accent) there is of course, you know, only one other creature with exactly these characteristics and it is…” and boom, he falls through some trap door, and the next thing you know he’s somewhere like New Guinea and then it would be “the New Guinea lemur!”
I just love that he kept falling through those nature trap doors. Nature as opera…
ML I just think if you’re trying to make a movie, you should just go to the source because theoretically there will be lots of funders there and there will be photographers and videographers and cinematographers
CS there will be all kinds
ML plus, just as a writer as you said, you could be observing too
CS Yeah, one foot out the door. Yeah, even at Sundance, I was amazed ’cause I helped sort of present as a favor the movie One Lucky Elephant
ML Oh I haven’t seen that yet
CS Yeah, they contacted me because they had read some of my elephant stuff and they asked if I would come out to the LA film festival and lead a Q&A after that, and so I did that and that was quite fun. Then I did one here in New York at the film forum. I hadn’t seen those guys for months, and sure enough I go to Sundance and they’re the first people I run into and they were there to see Project Nim and also to screen One Lucky Elephant which even though it’s not perfect, is a very affecting movie, especially on that frontier of elephants in captivity and the quandaries it gives rise to
ML Is that about Flora?
CS Yeah, the circus elephant
ML who basically didn’t want to go to the sanctuary because she missed her owner. Did she eventually get used to it?
CS Yeah, she had some real issues. She became quite obstreperous after Continue reading
August. Blue Hill, Maine.
Little did I know that my quick trip to the Blue Hill library to do some emailing would lead me to one of my mentors in humane education, Zoe Weil. Two women were sitting at the study table and we started talking. One of them mentioned that there was a center for the sorts of things I was writing about just up the street in Surry and she knew the founder. I sent Zoe an email and two days later we were face to face, sitting on the rocky beach with the waves of Penobscot Bay rolling up to our toes and Zoe’s two dogs galloping over the boulders in search of sticks.
Zoe is full of energy and ideas, as one might expect from a ground-breaker in calling for humane education to be a cornerstone within our current education systems. Here is an overview of our hour-long conversation. Continue reading
It is the power of a free press which can help keep the sense of morality and justice afloat in a world in which denial and diminishing sea ice are often found in the same sentence. Thank you Op-Ed for a clear opinion on Continue reading
A trailer describing the Park Dreams project, a NatureStage initiative seeking funding which involves asking people in different parks around the U.S. about their visions for a better society and covering the following topics: arts education, environmental stewardship, our relationship with other species, building more trusting neighborhoods, among others.
Produced and edited by Miranda Loud with music by Scott Joplin (The Strenuous Life) performed by Miranda Loud. Photographs by Erika Sidor, Ami Wang, Ana Caras with permission from all the participants to use their words and images to further the project which will be a podcast. Learn more at http://naturestage.org/projects/park-dreams/
Every few weeks I feel the urge to hit the road and seek out other artists, visit new locales, and get away from the ever-present work of having my office-in-home. NatureStage ultimately benefits from these occasional physical flights of fancy which always spawn new networks of people who inspire me, who are excited by the work of NatureStage, and who refill my well with their ideas, artwork, courage and sense of humor.
Within a span of four days, I managed to visit a farm sanctuary, take a boat ride down the Hudson, visit the Vanderbilt “summer cottage” with a tour guide who should be in theater (maybe he is), make new friends with people at the B and B in Kingston, hear Strauss in the Frank Gehry concert hall at Bard College, learn a new, albeit take-no-prisoners card game, play through some beautiful Chopin Mazurkas I’d never seen before, catch up on sleep, rediscover an old children’s book about the emperor and the nightingale which I hadn’t seen since I was six, visit the Kingston colorful farmer’s market, talk to Peter at the B & B about the ins and outs of editing for radio, and forget about the debt ceiling debacle for at least 24 hours.
One of the motivations for this recent trip to the Hudson River Valley in NY was to see my old friend from Manhattan who is a wonderful baritone and in residence at Bard College for much of the summer. The google searching started…Bed and breakfasts near Bard…When I saw the listing for a Bed and Breakfast in a renovated church, hosted by an abstract expressionist painter and a composer and pianist, I knew my search was over. The deal was sealed when they mentioned that they liked to cook omelettes in the morning with herbs from the garden and, “was I ok with dogs?”
But, where exactly IS Kingston?
It turns out that Kingston is a short ferry ride away from the train station in Rhinebeck on the opposite side of the Hudson, and a mere 20 minutes by car from Bard College. It is a remarkably diverse town which has yet to be gentrified, and probably never will be, according to my host (infrastructure challenges). The town is home to many artists who have done time in New York City and want space and quality of life that is more affordable. Apparently there are several churches in Kingston which artists have renovated into live/work spaces. I look forward to my next visit, hopefully this fall…Thank you Julie and Peter!
To see some of Julie’s work, you can visit her site at www.juliehedrick.com
Peter’s radio show of composers talking shop is on
And for more information on other artists in Kingston:
The following photos are all taken with my new lens which I am getting used to, a 50 mm 1.8. Music is by my friend Jed Parish.
In April I was interviewed by journalist Christina Farr about my work as an independent artist and my vision for strengthening cross-species empathy through the arts, which is the work of NatureStage. I am excited and grateful to share this very interesting article, “Can art save the planet? New eco-cultural movement has its roots in the peninsula.”
There are a few things that I feel need clarifying: my talks around the country are more about how we can become better global stewards and the power of arts in education than about animal cruelty specifically. My work is more about our relationship to other species as a whole, currently using the Asian elephant as a mirror to looking at ourselves more closely. I still work as a classical singer and organist (as well as pianist) in addition to my work as a filmmaker and public speaker.
Miranda Loud spends her days touring the country to educate people about animal cruelty and the environment. The former classical pianist embraced visual arts after reading about climate change, and the impact of species lost. Her goal is to promote empathy training to teach respect for nature, and to introduce mandatory art programs in schools.
“Would we have quieter oceans?” she asked, voice faltering. “Would we turn off the lights in skyscrapers so birds wouldn’t circle them, dying of exhaustion in their millions? If we had empathy training and an early introduction to art we’d be trained to take other species into account.”
Loud’s current focus is to preserve Asian elephant populations, and she travels on a shoestring budget presenting her short films. Similarly to Chalmers, her original intent was to de-stigmatize insects, primarily bees, but she changed course after hearing about the atrocities committed in Thailand.
Loud said art prevents people from watching to their comfort level or attention span. They must sit, and take it all in. After screenings of her films, she is often approached by well-wishers saying, “You have lit a fire under my apathy!”
Loud cannot quantify the effect of her work in helping elephants, but said she remains optimistic. “It’s hard to know what impact you’ve had as an artist, but half the people who watch my presentations are usually in tears,” she said. “And that’s got to count for something.” Read the full article…
Joy – with her toys in Zurich
The One Language Project European Edition is now in progress! Today’s adventures started in Zurich, Switzerland – one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. My goal was to find a few farmers to interview over the next few days about their cows, and I was working on a few leads thankfully prepared for me by a local landscape architect who will be traveling with me to the countryside on Friday.
My first stop was the Landes museum which was conveniently hosting an exhibit called Animali – animals used to inspire the imagination throughout the ages. The exhibit focused on the mythology of animals and the way humans have woven human longings, characteristics and physiology with other animals to create the unicorn, the griffin, the dragon, the satyr and mermaids. The video installation was the most compelling, with five large screens seamlessly projecting across the entire side wall of the exhibit with German-sounding mysterious electronica underlying the slow undulations of the various animals against timelapse clouds, milky waters and tree-filled glens. All desaturated colors and focusing on the animals that had become hybrids over the past centuries – the lion, the eagle, the deer, the stag, the snake, the horse.
To watch the video about the exhibit
After coming out of my near hypnosis from the video installation, I retrieved my precious bag of camera equipment at security and went back to my mission. Cows! En route, I decided to add a couple of dog portraits and their stories, since they all fall under the One Language Project, and how could I resist?
Joy’s story was told to me by her owner Ursula, who runs a beautiful boutique in the old part of Zurich. Here is what she told me:
I got her as a puppy eleven years ago from a farm. She was a mix. She is absolutely crazy about men. She goes to them as if she is in heat. Children love her and she loves them. What touches me most about her is her sensitivity. I could put glasses on the floor and she would carefully walk around them. She’s very careful with everybody, especially babies. You know, she’s a Pisces; she feels a lot. I like that she is still playful, even at eleven years old. She has her toys and they help when she rides in the car. She’s so easygoing. It won’t be easy when she goes.
Joy, eleven years old
I strolled along the cobblestone streets in the sun, admiring the beauty of the storefronts and the beauty of a walking city without cars everywhere. I love the cafe culture of people being accessible, sitting still, talking, enjoying the view, the sound of birds instead of cars.
I looked down a long street towards the sun-filled waterfront and saw a black dog lying in the middle of the street. I wandered down and started talking to the owner about her dog. This is what she told me about Santos:
Santos is 4 years old and I’ve had him since he was 8 weeks. He is the third black labrador I’ve had. He’s not castrated and isn’t in the slight bit aggressive. No troubles with anyone. He loves children, especially when they are running and playing. Every day we go in the forest for walks. We have our places.
The One Language Project European Edition is now in progress! Today's adventures started in Zurich, Switzerland - one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. My goal was to find a few farmers to interview over the next few days about their cows, and I was working on a few leads thankfully prepared for me by a local landscape architect who will be traveling with me to the countryside on Friday.
As I get ready for my trip to Europe, I think how Jesse would climb into my suitcase when I was getting ready for a trip. He would lumber over and climb in and look at me. He wanted me to take me with him.
Jesse was so present. Always. He was never checking his cell phone, ipad, he was never looking away as if thinking of someone or something else. He was steady and only vocal with rich, loud purrs, which started to be less frequent as his heart disease progressed.
I used to talk about him as a feline tractor, his purrs were so loud.
His big beautiful heart just grew to be too big for his body.
He didn’t need witty repartee or active conversation. He seemed fairly content to roll on his back and hold my smelly socks in his paws like a river otter does with a mussel. He came to met me at the door without fail until he could no longer walk without too much pain or exertion.
Jesse loved to eat. Until a year ago he finished every bit of his food as if it was his last meal. He relished it licking his lips and sometime grunting with sheer pleasure. When I let him outside in the yard, he would amble towards the catmint and lie on top of the tender green leaves as if smothering them with his vast orange and white body was somehow symbiotically important. The catmint is flourishing now, so it must have been true. Jesse had very clear expressions and when he really wanted something he could look at me with eyes that seemed so wide that they reminded me of the Disney cartoon eyes jiggling with intention.
Sometimes Jesse would climb his staircase to sit on my lap on the couch and would squeeze my finger with his paw. I would squeeze back and he would squeeze me back again. He didnt’ care how I looked. He loved me no matter what, when I was sick, coughing, when I was lonely and feeling boring, when I was rushing and stressed, and when I came back from a trip. He never made me feel bad for leaving him.
In fact, he welcomed me home and then wanted to lie on my shoes.
He loved his catnip rainbow with an intensity only imaginable for a catnip addict.
He was happy riding in the car, showing great interest in the surroundings and looking calmly out the window.
As a tag team, he and George had it down. George would go outside and bring in the mouse and Jesse would execute it quickly, often scuttling across the floor much faster than seemed possible for his weight.
When I gave him baby food on my finger he would lick it with immeasurable gentleness.
He was always loving rolling from one side to the next and since he could not groom himself below the chest, would start rapidly licking his paw when I would clean him. When I brushed him and voluminous fur would come off in the brush, he would dig into the fur and try to eat it as if it were essential.
He was so loving.
And so loved.
Some good news finally on the elephant front!
Behind the sanitized world of fast-food, everyday grocery shopping and culinary delights—all meant to satiate to our basic pleasures and needs—is an extraordinarily vast realm of brutality as normal and routine as our mealtime habits. I am referring, of course, to the often ignored truth of slaughterhouses: that billions of animals raised and slaughtered every year for food are forced to endure unimaginable suffering.
The One Language Project exhibit of my dog portraits with essays by the owners opens officially today at Mass. General Hospital’s Yawkey Clinic as part of the Illuminations program at the hospital. I was told that I could make a few remarks along with the other artists during the reception and, although I think art should speak for itself, I delved for more inspiration into my treasure-trove of Naturestage books on animals, the environment, eco art, poetry and mind shift. The first page I found in David Abram‘s book, Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology, was about our kinship with other species as Darwin had discovered and cultures long before ours knew intrinsically.
I found the passage that I thought would be worth sharing on the next page:
Despite all our giddy technological dreams, this vast and inscrutable land–drenched by the rains and parched by the summer sun–remains the ultimate ground, and the final horizon of all our science. It is not primarily a set of mechanisms waiting to be figured out, this breathing land. It is not a stock of resources waiting to be utilized by us, or a storehouse of raw materials waiting to be developed. It is not an object.
It is, rather, the very body of wonder–a shuddering field of intelligence in whose round life we participate. And if, today, this dreaming land has been forgotten behind a clutch of flowing screens that intercept the fascination of our focused eyes–if it has been eclipsed by styles of speaking that deaden our sense, and by machinic modes of activity that stifle the eros between our body and the leafing forests–then it is time to listen, underneath all these words, for the animal stirrings that move within our limbs and our swelling torsos. It is time to unplug our gaze from the humming screen, walking out of the house to blink under the river of stars. There are new stories waiting in the cool grasses and new songs.
To reconnect with our kinship with other species and to find a compassion, humility, eradication of loneliness, and an inspiration for harmony and balance is the goal of this ongoing project of gathering animal portraits and stories of interspecies connection.
I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.