Monday, September 05, 2005

From San Antonio: Advocates want homeless treated same as evacuees. Texas is not particularly well known for its efforts to help the homeless living there, making their hosting of Katrina's victims a touch ironic.

This is really quite typical after something like this. American's are generally giving and compassionate, but they sometimes need to be shaken into acting on it.

When they see something like Katrina, they understand the need to help those made homeless by tragedy. It's immediate and dramatic, and points out clearly how easily any of us can be destroyed by forces beyond our control. We can see ourselves in the eyes of the victims and so we reach out without hesitation.

The slow tragedy of economic destruction is not so immediately dramatic. When a community - or even an individual - is dragged down by a confluence of circumstances smaller and open to interpretation, it's easier to look away. Was it the closing of one factory? Was it the over-crowded classrooms? Or was it just laziness?

A hurricane is clear-cut. We know why they were homeless and there's no arguing about whether the victims brought it on themselves. It's easy to give there.

Economic ruination is a little different. If we admit that there are causes beyond the victims' control then we have to recognize the potential for chaos in our own lives. Now that's hard.


On a different subject, yesterday we saw "Grizzly Man." This documentary by Werner Hertzog tells the story of the last few years in the life of Timothy Treadwell, including his violent death. For the last 13 years of his life, Tim had spent late Summer and early Fall in the Alaska wilderness among the bears. In 2003 he and his partner stayed later in the season than usual, when most of the animals entered hibernation, and the salmon had stopped running, and where killed by a hungry bear.

Tim studied the bears, photographed them, and (he claims) protected them from poachers. His detractors say that poaching is not that big a problem, and that Tim harmed the bears by acclimating them to human contact. During the off-season he brought his stories and pictures to schools across the country and never charged a speaker's fee. You watch the movie and decide for yourself whether Tim was a great naturalist, or a crazed fame seeker, or something in between.

Sometimes a movie is not just a movie. What made this so difficult for Leslie and I to watch is that we knew Tim. During his time away from Alaska he was a neighbor of Leslie's parents, and became a family friend. Tim even named one of the bears "Freckles" after my in-law's family dog.

Hertzog relys heavily on Tim's own footage that he shot over the years, and skillfully combines it with new interviews and narration to tell the complex story of this very complex man. I think it's a brilliant and beautiful movie, and it does Tim justice even as it shows the bad along with the good.

Learn more about Tim's legacy at Grizzly People (the foundation he started to fund his work).

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