Monday, January 29, 2007

Running Like the Wind

(Image of Barbaro copied from ad courtesy

I tried very hard not to write this post as I feel I’ve talked so much here at the Garden about my commitment to humane treatment of animals, and quite honestly I don’t wish to be perceived as someone who anthropomorphizes (a curious term as we are all animals rather than vice-versa, and sentience is, IMO, a relative term) and obsesses—but I can’t let the euthanasia of the great horse Barbaro go unmentioned.

My mother says I blurted out the word “horsey” before any others … I think my greatest moments of happiness as a child occurred on the back of a horse. Later, when dealing with the disappointment of divorce, I was restored by the affections of an Arabian mare who would nicker and softly whinny as my car approached the stable. She allowed me to float through the air on the wings of her efforts, and she’d work very hard to do as I asked. At the end of a good ride, I’d carefully groom her, then she’d rest her gorgeous little head in the space between my neck and shoulder.

Back in 1970something I recall the breakdown while racing of the unparalleled filly, Ruffian. Unlike Barbaro, Ruffian continued to run through the break, and was euthanized the following day. But these are high profile instances, ones we actually hear about. The statistics on how many horses break down either while racing, or training, is heartbreaking. Even famous racehorses have ended up in slaughterhouses, or worse (Google Alydar). If they can no longer race or breed, they become expensive pets in an already costly business.

Barbaro was a beautiful creature, vibrant and dynamic beyond belief. I believe he was bred to run, and that the main factor that hastened his demise was haste itself—they start racehorses far too young. If they are racing at 2, they are training long before that. Barbaro fought so hard to overcome his dire injury. After earning more than $2million for his owners, I respect all the work, money and apparent love they put toward saving his life, but the fact remains that if he had been allowed to live as a horse is meant to live, the chances for this kind of injury would have been much lower. Although I am a former horseracing enthusiast, I find myself rescinding my support of the “sport” as it exists today. The fact remains that while horses love to run—most often in short bursts, or at a canter if they must run for longer distances (as when being chased by a predator)—the racetrack is a highly-charged, artificially dangerous forum for gambling that has very little to do with whether a horse wishes to run that day, at that moment, under those conditions—is it worth it?

This excerpt regarding Thoroughbred race horses from Wikipedia sums up my point well:

“Modern thoroughbred racing involves a science dilemma. The horses are bred for extreme speed, and a primary goal of this breeding has been to decrease
bone mass while raising muscle mass, as a horse "carrying" a light skeleton using abnormally strong muscles will travel faster at a gallop than one with a heavier bone load. As a result, modern thoroughbreds are muscularly powerful but osteologically delicate creatures. Three out of every 2000 races result in a career-ending injury to one or more racers, typically due to broken leg bones; a ratio far in excess of almost all other human and animal sports. Of those injuries, more than 60% result in the horse being euthanized. Leg injuries, though not immediately fatal, are life-threatening because a horse's weight must be distributed evenly on all four legs to prevent circulatory problems, laminitis and other infections. If a horse loses the use of one leg, it cannot function; its other legs will quickly break down as well, leading to a slow death.” (

Music, the blues, and Donald Trump

Recognizing that at times music profoundly impacts my mood, I recently googled whether music can treat depression and came upon an interesting article about research into creating a perfect “brain music” based upon algorithms of the personal music emitted by one’s brain. Supposedly the conversion of certain brain waves into music can be used to treat insomnia, depression and anxiety. The cost for the process: $500 (beats the cost of therapy!)

So January is just about finito, and the black cloud that hovered over my creativity (and mood in general) for the past few weeks has abated like the incessant drizzle and chill that characterizes Nov.-June in this capricious Portland, OR. I was born in the dark north of Germany, but my genes must have favored the Mexican half of my ancestry because when weeks go by without sunshine, I wither. In a November Vanity Fair article by
James Wolcott—centering around a red state/blue state comparison on crime, incarceration, etc.—Wolcott noted that Oregon was the only blue state represented in the 15 states with the highest suicide rates. Go figure.

Like many of us here (apparently), I undoubtedly suffer from
seasonal affective disorder, which spells the appropriate anachronism of "SAD." I had never heard of a SAD therapy lamp until I moved to the PNW—they should issue all those crossing the border from the south one of these lamps upon entry, although I suspect the natives prefer that transplants feel the full effects, and hopefully return home! (No love is lost between the Californian and the native Oregonian)

Maintaining the theme of winter blues ... what was all that going on between Trump and Rosie O’Donnell? What an ugly fiasco. I wish I could merely say that Trump hit a new low by publicly eviscerating Rosie’s physical components and be done with it, but both of these media giants used their public clout to sling arrows the like of which I haven’t seen since my days in a High School Girl’s locker room. I admire Rosie’s willingness to be forthright about her opinions, after all she’s a comedian and paid commentator, but I think she may have made a better case for herself after the fact by taking a higher road—perhaps by suggesting her personal self-esteem is not dictated by Donald Trump’s assessment of her attractiveness quotient. Instead I found the volley of insults sadly indicative of the kinds of lows that public figures in this new millennium will stoop to.

And speaking of Trump, does anyone else wonder how Trump seems to completely miss the irony of using the O’Jay’s song “For the Love of Money” as a theme song of The Apprentice? A show in which young, successful individuals happily allow Donald Trump to shout at them, treat them like dirt, and judge them based on a series of unrealistic tasks--which generally involve a giant commercial for one of his products, or media placement for some national brand (can you say Ed TV?). Recently Trump and his two offspring, who were "board" members, reamed a woman who politely quit the show, calling her a “loser,” a “quitter,” and disgustedly indicating (after she QUIT) that "quitters" weren’t what they were looking for. In other words, "you can't quit," we'd have fired you once we found out you were a quitter, ha ha.

The O’Jay’s song is so counter to the project of The Apprentice, specifically lamenting the effects of accumulating capital at the cost of core human values and dignity--a word that seems to have completely disappeared from our current culture. Here are some excerpts from the song (thank you

For the love of money

People will lie,
Lord, they will cheat
For the love of money
People don't care who they hurt or beat


Don't let,

don't let, don't let money rule you
For the love of money
Money can change people sometimes
Don't let, don't let, don't let money fool you

Final thought: On a recent promo for Bravo's The Real Housewives of Orange County (how are they real?!?) one of the wives (who is actually a not, at the moment, a wife) who has just hooked up with a loaded land developer whose character is defined by what he buys her, notes that having lots of money is "just easier." Mull that one over ...

In the meantime, I'm going to find a way to make some money so that I can purchase some brain music!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Year of the Boar

Here it is, a good way into the New Year, and I’m penning my first post!?! Pathetic, and hopefully not an indication of my level of discipline this year. Many things have been churning in the world of late—friends are living abroad, the euro continues to gain on the dollar, the new congress has taken hold (yes!), animals are beginning to “talk” to us, and throughout this planet weather patterns have been highly unusual.

There are many topics a woman of opinions could take on—and I’ve got a serious one in the pike—but here and now I’d like to share with you a variety of happy links to topics that have been occupying my thoughts.

For instance, over the holidays I watched a show on
Animal Planet called When Animals Talk. Hosted by the magnificent Jane Goodall, this program really blew my mind. I’d recommend you watch it if you have access to Discovery or Animal Planet, but in the meantime I’ll share my wonder at stories it told such as these: The wild pod of Orcas that were being filmed and photographed by a Spanish photographer, which day by day drew closer to the photographer standing at the edge of the seashore. These happen to be the same pod of Orcas which have learned to beach themselves in order to grab their sea lion prey. The photographer eventually got into the water with the whales, who allowed him to pet them and learned to respond to names that he gave them. The film of the Orcas swimming around his knees as he plays the harmonica for them is quite incredible. Or the parrot who not only has such an incredible vocabulary that he can speak with his owner in rather sophisticated sentences, but he also exhibits a distinct personality—like when Jane Goodall came to visit him he greeted her heartily, and then said to her: “Hey, where’s your little toy?” while making mocking monkey noises! Amused by his humor, he laughed at himself. He also asks his owner for kisses, and asks her to, “Get closer, I can’t reach you.” Or this one about the pair of pooches that seem to instinctively know when their owner approaches, although he returns at varying times on varying days, and often doesn’t return at all when he travels. No matter how variable his schedule, and long before they could conceivably hear the engine of his car or smell him, the dogs settle at the door of their home and wait for their owner’s return.

If humans evolved into sentience and ethics, is it inconceivable to think that animals might be doing the same thing?

Speaking of things that evolve, how about Mike Sherwood’s extraordinary virtual project,
Sub Rosa—a virtual restaurant he has created on the internet. You can have it all at Sub Rosa, incredible meals at no cost, accompanied by hand-selected music to help create a mood. Check out some of the very cool Indian tunes he has uploaded (for sharing only), particularly my two favorites, Within You Without You and Mausam. I love Mike’s restaurant because you can eat without gaining weight, you can download some of his wife’s incredible recipes, and because Mike has an extraordinary talent for artfully blending the best elements of dining. If only Sub Rosa were a material place, then again some things are best when held in our imaginations, don’t you agree?

In reference to my discussion of animals above, it’s the Chinese
year of the boar this year. Boars are honest, indulgent, eager to gain knowledge and logical. To celebrate this animal representation, Aaron and I saw “Charlotte’s Web” on NYE—very cute! Some people were surprised that I could rope my football-obsessed husband into seeing a children’s story starring Dakota Fanning on such a party night, but we didn’t have any exciting invitations this year. I have a very soft spot for the story of Charlotte and Wilbur (I remember the librarian at the Westchester Municipal Library recommending it to me), and thusly pigs in general. Boars are evidently compatible with tigers, which is my Chinese birthyear. What Chinese year were you born in?

Finally I’ll leave you with this image of our celebration the final night we were in Bavaria last summer. Notice the copious amount of amber-toned beer!