Tuesday, September 30, 2008

National Banned Books Week

The last week in September is Banned Books Week, a holiday instituted by the American Library Association in 1982. The week long commemoration highlights censorship as well as some of the challenges that have been issued to libraries across the county to restrict access to certain books.

It's hard to believe that censorship still exists, but it does. In 1982, when the holiday started, "Hundreds of books were being removed from shelves in any given year," notes Judith F. King, director of the Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom. "Last year 40 books were removed in some library somewhere in the United States."

Now you probably thought I was going to suggest that some of these books might have been taken off the shelves in Alaska, but I'm not. Instead I'm going to let you know what some of the most "controversial" titles are:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Beloved by Toni Morrison
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

Reasons for the challenges include language (profanity), nudity (In the Night Kitchen has a naked little boy), sexually explicit scenes (this includes Maya Angelou's work--you might remember her as the poet who wrote a moving commemoration for Bill Clinton's inauguration), and violence.

Regardless of your personal tastes, in a free society we should respect the free expression of ideas. If you don't like a book, you don't have to read it. But someone else can.

We don't all have to listen to punk rock or hip hop, but that doesn't mean that those recordings shouldn't be available to those who like the sound.

Check out your local library this week. Chances are there will be some sort of display indicating which books in their collection have been challenged. You might be surprised.

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Crazy" Is A Relative Term

I am in the middle of writing a brief article for our local newspaper about pampered pets--the high end pet industry seems to be fairly recession proof--and I can't help but contrast it with the reports still coming out of Galveston, Texas about pets left behind when their owners fled Hurricane Ike. Reports of nearly 100 dogs and cats per day being turned into local SPCA's are fairly widespread even after federal legislation made it possible to take your pets with you on that last bus out of town.

Lest we forget, pets were left behind during evacuations from Katrina because the government said they had to stay. Pets were left behind during evacuations from Ike because their owners left them there.

Pretty grim, especially when you contrast it with the services like massage, "pawdicures" and indoor swimming appointments that pets in my neck of the woods seem to be "treated" to on a fairly regular basis. Forget designer duds and birthday parties--these are pets for whose owners "doggie day care" is an essential line item on their family budgets. They would rather skimp on themselves than on their pets.

For all the talk about pets as members of the family, what does it say about those who leave their family members behind to deal with a hurricane? That they probably should never have had pets to begin with and that if these pets are found, they should NOT be returned to their owners without finding out why they left them in the first place.

Say what you want about pampered pooches, but I don't think they would have been left behind.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

NTRA Marketing Summit

So the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Marketing Summit, held Sept. 21-23 in Las Vegas, was, according to the NTRA, a rousing success. With emphasis on reaching a new generation of fans, the session with the same title led by John Della Volpe (director of polling for Harvard's Institute of Politics) heard suggestions from independent racing bloggers as to how to best recruit newcomers to the sport.

Many of the suggestions were very tech heavy and focused on how to link the internet to live racing. Virtual racing, the use of widgets, ring tones and mobile alerts were all proposed and all sound promising. So does the use of "ambassadors" as guest hosts at race tracks to introduce new fans to the sport up close and in person.

While all of the ideas were certainly forward thinking, I could not help but notice the lack of attention paid to the marketing of the actual horses as attractions. It seems that a lot of the focus is on developing a new generation of racing bettors rather than racing fans. After all, if you love horses, you can love watching them without betting on them.

Note that Alex Waldrop outlined his "vision" for racing in the publication Horseplayer Magazine, not say Equus. Now I'm sure Horseplayer Magazine is probably a better venue for the strategic plan, than Equus, but my point is that the information is being directed at the bettor not http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifthe horse lover.

On one level, I certainly understand that the financial future of the sport is directly tied to luring more handicappers to the game, BUT I also think the NTRA is seriously missing the point by ONLY appealing to those players. Not everyone who goes to Las Vegas gambles. Not everyone who goes to the races bets.

It seems to me a multi-pronged marketing approach is what is needed: one that appeals to sports fans, horse lovers and handicappers. Of course before you can do that you have to make sure that there are no skeletons in your closet. And in my opinion, the NTRA has a bit of "cleaning up" to do before it lets the casual fan get too close.

Let's hope that some of the proceeds from this new generation of bettors actually end up benefiting the horses.

You can read the full report here.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Modern Day Fable

Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? When a wolf really did threaten him, no one in his community would come to his aid because his previous alarms had all been false.

I can't help but see the connection to our current president and his cries of doom and gloom that will befall us unless the $700 billion bailout bill makes a speedy trip through Congress. There is no doubt in my mind that some kind of bailout will have to be crafted, but the heavy hand of a president, who forecast the end of the world as we know it based on the existence of weapons of mass destruction, is hardly the endorsement the bill needs.

If anything, George W's track record should be reason enough for him to keep his mouth shut and stop looking like someone deeply concerned about his legacy. There is probably truth to his alarms--but let's just say he shouldn't be the one sounding them.

And in all honesty, neither should the candidates for his office. If this truly is a national crisis (and it may very well be), then it must not become a political football, but rather an opportunity for the present administration to fix what it, in part, created and in the end, take responsibility for its actions.

I seem to remember that may be an underlying theme in Aesop's tales. It's called growing up.

Friday, September 26, 2008


So the prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, H. R. 6598, the legislation that the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (as represented by president Alex Waldrop) did not endorse, has made its way through the House Judiciary Committee and onto the floor of the full House of Representatives. This is a significant victory, no doubt helped along by a powerful letter written by Josephine Abercrombie, a longtime owner and breeder and signed by many of her anti-slaughter constituents in the racing world, including Staci and Arthur Hancock and Gretchen and Roy Jackson.

The letter in part reads: "As Thoroughbred industry leaders who have long supported all Congressional actions to end this cruel industry [slaughter], we were disappointed that the NTRA voiced unfounded concerns to those who support the slaughter of horses thus jeopardizing the passage of this legislation. We and so many others in the Thoroughbred breeding and racing community strongly support all legislative initiatives including H. R. 503, S. 311, and H. R. 6598, which will bring horse slaughter to a swift end. We want you to know that the NTRA's position is not representative of the larger community."

Among other things, this wonderful statement makes very public the dissension that exists in the ranks of the thoroughbred community, a position that does not speak highly of the regard they hold for their presumed spokesperson, Mr. Waldrop. Though not presuming to speak for any of them, I think the the image of "ship without a captain" is made even more apparent by this action and demonstrates once again the need for a Commissioner of Racing who truly does speak for all factions within the sport.

No easy task, to be sure, but clearly needed so very desperately. When the "rank and file," if you will, can override the "president," it is an even more telling gesture than simply ignoring the party line. Abercrombie and her pals have overturned the party position--indication of the relative weakness of both the position and the organization that endorsed it.

What does it say about the sport of racing when the "official" position of its national organization is overruled by members of the same organization? That the ship is going down fast and the crew is hopefully starting to take control.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Waldrop Waffles

Never being one to say "I told you so," I will simply point out that I was not surprised to learn of NTRA president Alex Waldrop's recent refusal to out and out support the current bill (HR 6598) trying valiantly to make it to the floor of the House of Representatives. The Bill, which would actually amend a current chapter of the enforcement codes of the U. S. legal system, would make it illegal to transport horses across state lines for slaughter.

While we all know that slaughter has been effectively outlawed in the United States, horses are still being transported to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered. Of course, this bill is not without its problems--transporters could say they were hauling horses to shows or breeding farms, but the chances of any inspector with a brain believing that when they see horses crammed into conditions beyond horrendous, are hopefully pretty slim.

Anyway, it's a new tactic and worth a try since it is slowly gaining bi-partisan support. That is, it was until Waldrop wrote a letter to the Judiciary Committee noting that his organization had "concerns" over the legislation. "Essentially, it's an unfunded mandate, unlike the prior bill that had significant dollars in there for retirement and retraining or horses, and would help to address the problem of unwanted horses," Waldrop told Thoroughbred Times reporter, Jay Hovey. "It also puts enforcement in the hands of the wrong group," Waldrop continued. "The attorney general is not the place to be dealing with animal-control issues. Clearly the Department of Agriculture is the right place."

Right--that same Department of Agriculture that permitted downed cows to be slaughtered for meat and got its hand slapped in the recent spinach fiasco. That same Department of Agriculture that is inexorably tied to the very strong farming/ranching lobby--you know the ones that want to feed cattle corn and hormones to fatten them up more quickly so they can make more money, regardless of what it does to the cattle or to us.

That same Department of Agriculture that is tied to all the farmers who worry that if they outlaw the slaughter of horses, that their livelihoods could be next. Never mind that horses were never part of the human food chain in this country. Never mind that the existing horse slaughterhouses are not even on American soil.

Certainly this "no-position" position of Waldrop's--this feigning of concern and refusal to out and out support the bill--is not very good for his image to say nothing of racing's image. You might think that Mr. Waldrop, who seemed so eager to make things right with the fans after the demise of Eight Belles earlier this year, might bend over backwards to demonstrate his loyalty to the animals that make his job possible. But no--he's hedging his bet and in so doing, continuing to give the sport a bad name.

Honestly, if he had supported this legislation is still might not have made its way through Congress before the end of the year and at least he would have gone on the record as being pro-horse instead of pro-pocketbook.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Am Not Alone

After my recent rant about the death of publishing as we know it, I read the following rejection letter that writer Mark Terry posted on his blog on Sept. 18:

"John passed along to me HOT MONEY by Mark Terry. I liked it a lot, but ultimately, I couldn’t get the kind of support that we would need to successfully publish it. I found the pace to be very quick, and I had to force myself to put down the manuscript when other things came up because there was always a new twist to keep me glued to the story. I also really loved Austin’s voice, his debonair sense of style, his camaraderie with BB and Shelley, and his dry wit. Unfortunately, though, the Sales Department thought this was more of a caper than a political thriller, and they haven’t sold very well for us in the past. And without the layers of novels by bestselling authors such as Flynn and Baldacci, I just couldn’t convince them to take a chance on HOT MONEY, so I reluctantly must pass as much as I enjoyed reading it."

Substitute Something About Barbaro for Hot Money and you might be reading the type of rejections I received for the proposal. In fact, as my agent told me repeatedly, not a single editor at both big and small presses, did not like the work. It was the sales department that had the final say and they always said "No" based on the elusive fact that "horse books don't sell."

Just wanted you to know that I am not making these things up. They happen across the board to published and unpublished writers and give you a clue about who is calling the shots in the industry.

So maybe what has to happen is for both Barnes and Noble and Borders to go under on the same day with nobody to bail them out......

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Who's Minding The Store?

Last week I heard Thomas Frank, author of The Wrecking Crew speak. Frank, who has a Ph. D. from the University of Chicago in history and writes a weekly column in The Wall Street Journal, is a fabulous speaker. In this latest work he outlines how the conservative system of governance is so deeply entrenched in Washington that is going to take more than just the election of a "liberal" to "fix" things.

One of his big bones of contention is the lack of government oversight (i.e. deregulation) in so many industries and certainly last week on Wall Street played out his concern that no one is indeed "minding the store." Other areas in which this is equally apparent are the airline industry in which "oversight" is exceedingly lax (remember those routine maintenance issues recently in the news?), the Department of the Interior in which key government officials were literally found "in bed" with representatives from the oil companies and the Department of Agriculture (need I say more than "downer cows" and spinach?).

Frank's thesis is that these oversight jobs are handed out to cronies--most of whom have direct ties to the industries they are supposedly policing. Hardly impartial and as we have seen, hardly effective, especially when substantial profits can be made if they just change the rules.

So it was with great trepidation that I read about the government's plan to consider the sale of genetically engineered animals as food. A Boston area company called Aqua Bounty Technologies is banking on winning government approval for its faster-growing salmon and hopes to market it by 2011.

Now I don't know about you, but I want anything that has been genetically altered to grow faster, stronger and more disease resistant to be labeled as such and more importantly I want to know who is doing that labeling. Even more importantly I want to be sure that lobbyists from these genetically altered food source companies are not paying off the scientists at the FDA and then grocery store executives to gain shelf space. And most importantly I want PROOF (as in long-term studies) that this stuff is SAFE to consume. Never mind what would happen if God forbid, a genetically engineered animal started to reproduce with one that wasn't?

"They are talking about pigs that are going to have mouse genes in them and this is not going to be labeled?" said Jean Halloran, director of food policy for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. "We are close to speechless on this."

I guess nothing surprises me anymore, especially nothing that has to do with making a profit. And as long as the oversight committee is predominantly overseeing what goes into their own pockets, we are not going to be safe from anything.

A few years ago we had a terrible storm that rendered us powerless for over four days. It was horrible. We couldn't take a shower or flush a toilet--never mind the food in our freezer that went bad. In the aftermath, we got a generator so that we would not be dependent on the power company to exist. That's when I got this great idea to somehow divest ourselves from everything else on which we were dependent--cable, water, you get the picture.

Of course, it was a fantasy, and an impossible one at that, but there are times when I wish it wasn't so.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Shelter Makeover

Here's your opportunity to help the animal shelter of your choice win a "makeover" worth up to a million dollars! Zootoo.com is sponsoring its second pet shelter makeover contest and the winner will be decided upon a number of factors, including public votes from America.

The makeover program is open to any animal shelter that is located within one of the fifty United States, is an actual "bricks and mortar" business establishment that actively facilitates pet adoptions on a regular basis and is a registered 501 (c)(3) non profit organization.

The shelter must register with Zootoo.com to participate. Shelters earn points when their respective supporters also register on zootoo.com. Points are accrued in various ways and all the details are listed on the website.

The program producers at Zootoo will "tour" the top 20 shelters that are selected as semifinalists and then determine the 5 finalists. These finalists will be listed on the website and eligible for votes by the general public on which is the most deserving and in need of the makeover. This makeover can take the form of cash, services or in-kind contributions and can include things like remodeling, new computers and software and even food donations!

So alert your favorite animal shelter to the contest and start accumulating points! You can keep track of how your favorite shelter is doing on the website. And be sure to let me know if one of your nominees makes it to the finals!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Numbers Can't Talk Unless They Exist

It has been said that information is power and if the national racetrack injury database is going to be powerful it is going to need good information. The problem is that the concept is meeting with resistance from owners and trainers.

While Dr. Mary Scollay, the Kentucky equine medical director who is overseeing the database effort with support from The Jockey Club, maintains that "there would be a high level of confidentiality involved with the program" it is understandable that few trainers would like the names of the horses injured "on their watches" divulged.

Currently 64 racetracks (representing about 75% of all flat racing) have agreed to participate. According to Scollay, 17 tracks are currently providing information--including the names of the horses injured--and 29 more will be reporting in their upcoming months.

I can see both sides of the issue here but I also can see the importance of having accurate and reliable data on which to make rational decisions going forward that impact the health of all race horses. Lack of data has seemed to be the stumbling block on so many occasions when it comes to drafting new safety legislation for horses, that anyone who values horses should be willing to help generate this data.

The key element to this database is that it would document those injuries suffered not only during actual races but also those incurred during training hours. Real injuries suffered in real time are the key to real data that is meaningful.

Scollay's suggestion is to require licensed veterinarians to participate in gathering the information but I don't think this will solve the problem. This solution relies on vets to be honest and unbiased, which you would like to believe comes with the territory of caring for animals, but which we all know is not always true.

Perhaps the answer is to guarantee anonymity for the first three years just to generate numbers and then require that the horses' names be included in the reports. If all we are after is numbers, then lets get those numbers as quickly as possible without pointing fingers.

After all, horses lives are at stake.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Death Be Not Proud

September 20 begins Animal Week and I'm guessing there are lots of events in your neck of the woods celebrating our kinship with beasts of all types. Here we have lots of events surrounding the Pennsylvania legislation on puppy mills that is going through "growing pains" as it makes its way through the state government.

The local outrage that surrounded the recent news that two Bucks County kennel operators had shot 80 dogs rather than pay for their veterinary care, resulted in renewed support for the legislation as well as the usual vigils that pop up when random acts result in the death of innocents. More than 100 people in Lancaster (site of the kennels in question) turned out in an impromptu candlelight vigil to demand that the new law be passed.

Yet it seems that not all people are on the same page when it comes to public displays of sorrow for "innocents." TalkBack, the online forum of Lancaster Newspapers carried comments such as: "This is pathetic. You don't even have that kind of turnout when kids are killed" from those who questioned the mourners priorities.

Of course it is possible to care about both issues just as it is possible to become "numb" to repeated episodes in which random, innocent children are killed. Sherry Wolfe of Lancaster noted both points in her letter to the editor: "The public becomes numb to the constant news stories about murder....Every day someone's murdering someone."

Something, however, about animals being killed cuts through the noise and numbness and it's not just about dogs and cats. It happens with horses too. Witness the tremendous public outpouring of cards, letters, gifts and food for Barbaro after his injury. Witness the public display of mourning at the Memorial Service for Eight Belles. Visitors regularly pay homage to the horses buried at the Kentucky Horse park as well as those interred at Churchill Downs's Kentucky Derby Museum. Stonewall Jackson's horse, Little Sorrel, was "officially" buried at Virginia Military Institute in 1997 in a ceremony replete with mourners dressed in Civil War garb.

There is something about the plight of animals and their demise that strikes a chord in our souls that cuts to the chase--not that the death of children does not do the same thing--but I think the fact that it does it at all is what makes us stop and take notice.

I do think you can be affected by the death of everything that breathes and that paying respects to one species over another does not diminish the importance or depth of loss equated with each one of them.

And if public displays of mourning lead to public action to prevent the tragedies in the first place, then far be it for me to pass judgment.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I Got a Horse Right Here...

Psst. Here's a hot tip. Seasons with The Green Monkey are really cheap. Have a stakes winning broodmare looking for a hot date? It just might be worth $5000.

Now I am far from being well versed in pedigree and/or the science of equine breeding, but sometimes a dud on the track can beget runners. Because we all know it works both ways.

The Green Monkey, you might recall, sold for $16 million, the highest price ever for a horse sold at public auction to Coolmore Stud. He raced three times, finishing third once and fourth twice. He was retired this year having never won a race.

But he is a magnificent animal, the son of Forestry out of the winning Unbridled mare Magical Masquerade and these days $5000 is dirt cheap.

And it would be such an amazing story if his progeny turned it all around...

You know there's a lot of luck as well as a lot of science involved in this sport. If I had a decent broodmare, I'd go for it. Because you never know....

Of course, there's a sucker born every minute so take your pick.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Obamas Dog House

Remember Barack Obama's promise to his kids to get them a dog no matter what? Well Ellen Degeneres is taking matters into her own hands on this clip from her show. Michelle Obama was her guest last Monday. Watch it through to the end to see where the Obama pooch will reside, courtesy of "Aunt" Ellen.

Hint: There are lots of lawns.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Is It The End Of The World As We Know It?

On the heels of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, one of the world's oldest and most well respected financial houses, New York magazine has published an article about the demise of publishing. Coincidence? Purely. And since the demise of publishing has been predicted for at least fifty or so years, on the surface seemingly nothing new other than another doom and gloom scenario. But look a little deeper and the similarities are remarkably unsettling...

For one we have the decline of book sales, the mega mergers at the top of the industry that have all but swallowed the mid-size and small guys and the entry of media giants into what was once a semi-scholarly and presumed-intellectual enterprise. Read that another way and you have the underpinnings of the Wall Street collapse: GREED.

"So publishing ends up looking like a mini-Hollywood, but even more dependent on sleeper hits and semi-reliable franchises," says Boris Kachka. "Forget literary taste; everything is cost-benefit analysis."

Everyone wants the mega-hit that can be followed by mega-sequels that ultimately will become blockbuster movies. Everyone wants the memoir written by the bad-boy celebrity or recently diagnosed with a horrible disease film star. Nobody wants to take a chance on an unknown unless that unknown writes in a copycat style to a known best seller.

And lurking off in the distance is the on-line presence of Amazon that threatens to destroy the two remaining significant booksellers, Borders and Barnes & Noble, even as one wonders how much longer Borders is going to be able to survive.

True, as the last dinosaur of the old boys' network, publishing has been incredibly slow to embrace the new media like on-line sales and heaven forbid on-line marketing for a) fear that everything will take away from their profit margin and b) the "old world" style of thinking that believes books are not sold electronically, some of this is justly deserved. However, the problem is that while publishing may finally be suffering its rude awakening, it is doing so at the expense of those who may never get through the door, through no fault of their own.

Count me in as one of the ones who have been trying for two years now, with two different proposals on two different topics that came complete with their own fan-bases and marketing potential that even a semi-enlightened Neanderthal could see, as well as an agent who is more Hollywood than Harvard and still nothing. Oh sure, praise from editors and even the passing "Great idea" kudo, but no one wants to fork over the dough or take a chance.

So while publishing is going through its identity crisis, readers as well as writers are all suffering. Perhaps no one is buying books because there is nothing worth buying. Perhaps not everyone wants to read sound bites. And even if they do, most televisions these days come with a closed captioning option.

Is is the end of the world as we know it? I'm not sure. But I do know that if publishing falls, the old way of doing business will have forever ended and heaven help us if we have a president in office who doesn't know his way around the internet.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Riley's Amazing Life

Another "miracle" story from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, about Riley, the horse with a prosthetic leg. Station KCSG News in Utah ran the story and there is a wonderful video at the link which shows Riley in action.

And while the report begins with a reference to Barbaro, "perhaps America's most well known horse" who suffered a traumatic leg injury, I do not think that Barbaro was a candidate for a prosthetic limb. First of all, Barbaro's leg did eventually heal while Riley's did not and there were lots of factors that made the "middle age" horse a good candidate for limb replacement.

Not the least of these is the fact that Riley is not a racehorse, bred to earn her keep on the track. As such, comments about her good natured and low key disposition all work in her favor. She was not, in other words, in the middle of training for the Triple Crown when she shattered her leg.

Second of all, amputation was the last resort--after multiple surgeries to repair her leg did not work. In other words, it was amputation or euthanasia. I do not like to hypothesize for other people, but my impression of the Jacksons is that they would have done whatever it took to save Barbaro and limb replacement was never an option on the table.

Riley is not out of the woods yet. She still could develop laminitis or any number of infections between now and the time she is fitted for her permanent prosthetic limb and even after that. But it is indeed amazing to see her walking around on three legs, munching grass in her paddock, leading what appears to be the "life of Riley."

FYI, an anonymous donor paid for Riley's surgery which took place in Wyoming and is estimated to have cost $20,000.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Heeeee's Back!

So Big Brown is back or is he? Pundits are praising his latest victory on Saturday in the Monmouth Stakes, a 1 1/8 turf race created just for him. He broke well, went wire to wire and got a great ride from Kent Desormeaux.

So is he a great horse or one just strategically trained and raced to look like one?

It's a fascinating question and one that I will not pretend to answer. Certainly the fact that he is seven for eight is impressive--with two of those victories coming in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness--and certainly he has demonstrated versatility now over two surfaces, dirt and turf, but somehow I'm finding it hard to jump on the bandwagon.

Maybe its his connections, owners and trainer, that leave a bad taste in my mouth or maybe its the common knowledge about the fragility of his feet, but something does not scream legend the way Secretariat did. (Yes I am old enough to remember when he won the Triple Crown, especially the goose-bump inspiring performance at the Belmont).

I can't put my finger on the elusive quality that to me, at least, is missing--that je ne sais quoi that is often translated as "charisma" because it's not "heart" or speed or determination or even intelligence. I believe Big Brown has all those--he just doesn't have the star quality that puts him in the same category as Secretariat, Man O'War or even Barbaro.

Now, if he squares off against Curlin in the Breeder's Cup Classic and not just wins, but blows away the entire field--and I mean blows away--then I might change my mind. I guess I am looking for that definitive win that establishes with certitude and domination that he is a superstar.

What about you?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Horse Institute

So son #1 started a new job on Monday and things have been a bit rocky. Seems they threw him in to a new situation with very little direction, surrounded by lots of co-workers stressed by impending deadlines and thus no time to bring him up to speed.

The result? He was overwhelmed, felt unwelcome and somehow managed to think the entire botched entry was his fault. Now I know I was only hearing one side of the story (and that side might have been a bit exaggerated as well as exasperated) but I do think that the powers that be at his new company might have benefited from an outing to The Horse Institute in Ancramdale, new York.

The Horse Institute, founded and owned by leading corporate trainer Marie-Claude Stocki and her husband Larry, develops programs for organizations based on equine-assisted learning. They promote concepts like teamwork, leadership, communication and creativity by having the participants work with horses.

No joke. Here's an example. A team of nurses from a hospital had a series of tasks to perform with the horses. The first was to place a halter on the horse they nicknamed Big Brown. The problem was none of them had any idea how to do it.

But gradually they figured it out. Running after the horse only drove him away. Eventually the horse came over and introduced himself to the group. Trying to halter him too quickly after that also drove him away. The eventual solution was to wait for the horse to introduce himself, spend some time getting to know him and then try and place the halter on the horse.

Sounds like a technique that would have worked pretty well on son #1, who, like all new hires, is certainly eager to please. The problem was nobody gave him a chance to introduce himself and get settled before they literally and figuratively threw a rope over him and pulled pretty tight.

What would be your response? Pull harder in the opposite direction, which is just what he did.

It seems that horses have a lot to teach us about human interactions if we just pay attention. "The horses mirror you; the horses mirror your intentions," says Stocki. and in showing you what you think, they may teach you to think twice before throwing a noose around anyone's neck.

Of course if anyone could only get the firm to "pony up" for the training I think everyone would be better off.....

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Animal Heroes

So as the Gulf Coast braces for yet another hurricane (I just checked in via email with my friends in Houston who actually by coincidence are in Rome so I think they are safe!), my thoughts turn to the concept of hero. Surely by the time the waters drain, we will hear about all sorts of heroes that have emerged from yet another traumatic experience in our collective history.

Here's my question for you? What makes an animal a hero? Is it the same characteristics we apply to humans, i. e. survivor, doer of extraordinary deeds, possessor of extraordinary strengths or talents or are animals judged by different criteria?

I can think of several animals who were indeed heroes such as Balto the sled dog who delivered the diphtheria serum to Nome, Alaska in 1925 or Comanche the only survivor of Custer's Last Stand or even Phar Lap who inspired the country of New Zealand during their darkest days but I wonder if the criteria remain stagnant.

The most recent animal hero named by the Humane Society of the United States is a dog who saved its master by punching the speed dial for 911 and then barking into the phone to alert the police that something was wrong. Do "ordinary" heroic deeds (or in this case extraordinary) equal those that make the front pages like Barbaro's "fight" for survival?

Let me know what you think and please let me know of any animals who qualify as heroes in your opinion.

Stay safe wherever you are.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Second Chance for Vick's Pit Bulls

One day while I was hanging around the oncology department at Penn's vet school, in conjunction with the research I was doing for my article on pets with cancer, one of the nurses walked in with a seven week old puppy on her shoulder. Of course everyone had to "Oooh" and "Aaah" over the adorable, ball of fur. When I asked her what kind of puppy it was and she told me it was a pit bull, my face must have registered a bit of disapproval because she shook her head at me.

"It's all in the way you raise then," she said. "It's a shame pit bulls have such a bad reputation."

Of course Michael Vick did little to disprove that reputation. Sent to prison for breeding, training and fighting pit bulls, his despicable actions have seemed to make life worse for pit bulls everywhere. Some towns have even gone so far as to ban pit bulls from their premises.

Well a remarkable organization called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Southern Utah has done wonders to try and restore the pit bull to its once prominent position in American life.(Did you know that Petey, the dog in "Our Gang" was a pit bull?) The dog trainers at Dogtown, the dog-rehabilitation area of Best Friends Sanctuary have taken on the challenge of retraining 22 of Vick's pit bulls, including some of the worst cases.

There is a fabulous documentary on the National Geographic Channel about the project and I was mesmerized by the skill, patience and determination of these animal lovers. Even one of the most "dangerous" pit bulls, which the court determined must never leave the animal sanctuary, has made an incredible turnaround. As one of the trainers says emphatically, "You can teach an old dog new tricks."

The basic tenet of these de-programming sessions is love, patience and routine. And it is truly amazing how far these dogs have come.

So the next time you see a pit bull, please give it an opportunity to win you over. And try and catch the replays of this film. I guarantee you will never look at a pit bull the same way again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eight Belles Memorial

A few weeks ago, I was in our local electric supply store getting hard to find bulbs for a particular fixture and the customer ahead of me was sporting an Eight Belles baseball cap. It's one of those things that you can't help but notice. When she was waiting for the clerk to write up her order, I had to ask her about it. It turns out that she and her family are good friends of Rick Porter and she had been wearing the hat since he gave it to her at the ill-fated Kentucky Derby this past May.

She also told me she had been invited to attend the Memorial Service but prior obligations would prevent her from being there. "I dearly wish I could go," she sighed. "It was such a tragedy and she was such an amazing horse."

Of course these were the overwhelming sentiments that were expressed at the Memorial Service last Sunday, held in the garden of the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs. Trainer Larry Jones held back tears admitting, "It still tears me up as bad as the day it happened," to the approximately 200 people in attendance.

The Fans of Barbaro were well represented and a bouquet of roses from the group was prominently displayed next to the plaque that marked her grave. "Eight Belles touched a lot of hearts," owner Rick Porter said simply.

Both Jones and Porter have borne the brunt of criticism leveled at the sport in the wake of Eight Belles' tragic demise and both have been advocates of change in the rules governing steroid use. Blood tests revealed that Eight Belles did not test positive for steroids.

Both are adamant however about the need for a sport specific commissioner to govern horse racing and are a bit concerned that all the attention that Eight Belles brought to the sport may die down between Triple Crown events.

"I don't think we've done anything really but form some committees, and its already drifted away," Porter noted. "We need a commissioner. We need to have everybody accountable to one (governing body.)"

Public displays such as Sunday's event continue to keep the issue in the news and until we see some actual reforms in place, we need to make sure horses like Eight Belles and Barbaro are not forgotten.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Voice Your Support

I am pleased to pass on the following email regarding the impending vote on H. R. 6598, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act by the House Judiciary Committee TODAY, Wednesday Sept. 10.

It is not too late to voice your support if you are reading this NOW.

The equine advocacy world lost a great champion in John Hettinger who recently passed away (Sept. 6) at the age of 74, Please take a moment to voice your support for this bill in his memory.


Dear Humanitarian:

AWI has learned that the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act (H.R. 6598) will be voted on by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, September 10th. The bill, which was introduced in July by Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), will criminalize the slaughter of American horses. While the vast majority of Americans, the United States Congress and members of the House Judiciary Committee support an end to horse slaughter there are some members on the committee who are staunch supporters of horse slaughter and will attempt to kill the bill through subterfuge.

What You Can Do:

Call and/or email members of the House Judiciary Committee (see full list below) TODAY and ask them “to support passage of the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act (H.R. 6598) out of committee as introduced, with NO amendments”. Please also ask them “to cosponsor H.R. 6598 if they haven’t done so already.” Let them know that:

Every 5 Minutes an American horse is slaughtered for human consumption abroad. Visit www.every5minutes.org for the current number and to learn more about this industry.

Despite the closure of the country’s three remaining horse slaughter plants in 2007, tens of thousands of American horses continue to be slaughtered in Canada and Mexico in the absence of a strong US law banning prohibiting the trade.

Horse slaughter is not humane euthanasia; it is a brutal process during which horses suffer terribly from start to finish. Their trip to Mexico is often on double deck trailers where they are crammed with dozens of other horses for up to 30 hours without food, water or rest. Once in Mexico some slaughterhouses use a “puntilla” or knife to stab the horse to death. The entire process is extremely inhumane.

Despite claims to the contrary, horse slaughter is not a necessary evil through which sick, old and unwanted horses are humanely disposed of. The industry is a predatory one that actively seeks out marketable and healthy horses to be slaughtered at great profit.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 92% of horses going to slaughter are in good condition and could be placed in a new home. Those horses who are truly sick or old should be humanely euthanized on the spot by a licensed veterinarian.

Horsemeat is considered a delicacy in many European and Asian countries where it is consumed by high-end diners.

The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act (H.R. 6598) will end this cruel trade for good. Ending horse slaughter is a positive step in improving horse welfare in the US, which is why so many horse industry groups and leaders, veterinarians, humane organizations and equine rescues strongly support an end to horse slaughter.

Whether you contact your legislator by phone or email, please be sure to provide him or her with your name and mailing address, and if you are a constituent, request a response on this specific issue. Please also share our “Dear Humanitarian” eAlert with family, friends and co-workers, and encourage them to contact their legislators, too. As always, thank you very much for your help.

Cathy Liss

For over 57 years, AWI has been the leading voice for animals across the country and on Capitol Hill. Please join us in our ongoing campaigns to reduce the sum total of pain and fear inflicted on animals by humans. Sign up for AWI eAlerts to receive the latest news on what you can do to help us protect all animals: http://www.awionline.org/joinus.

NOTE: Because of the urgency and limited time we encourage you to call each office and ask for their support. There is no need to contact Chairman Conyers or Representative Scott given their lead on the bill itself. * denotes that the member has a history of supporting measures to end horse slaughter. Bolded name denotes they are a current cosponsor of H.R. 6598.



The Honorable John Conyers, Jr., (MI)*
Tel: 202-225-5126
Fax: 202-225-0072
Email: john.conyers@mail.house.gov
The Honorable Lamar Smith (TX)
Ranking Member
Tel: 202-225-4236
Fax: 202-225-8628
The Honorable Mark Berman (CA)*
Tel: 202-225-4695
Fax: 202-225-3196
Email: howard.berman@mail.house.gov
The Honorable Lamar Smith (TX)
Ranking Member
Tel: 202-225-4236
Fax: 202-225-8628

The Honorable Rick Boucher (VA)*
Tel: 202-225-3861
Fax: 202-225-0442
Email: ninthnet@mail.house.gov
The Honorable John Sensenbrenner (WI)
Tel: 202-225-5101
Fax: 202-225-3190
The Honorable Jerry Nadler (NY)*
Tel: 202-225-5635
Fax: 202-225-6923
The Honorable Howard Coble (NC)
Tel: 202-225-3065
Fax: 202-225-8611
Email: howard.coble@mail.house.gov

The Honorable Bobby Scott (VA)*
Tel: 202-225-8351
Fax: 202-225-8354
The Honorable Elton Gallegly (CA)*
Tel: 202-225-5811
Fax: 202-225-1100
The Honorable Melvin Watt (NC)*
Tel: 202-225-1510
Fax: 202-225-1512
The Honorable Bob Goodlatte (VA)
Tel: 202-225-5431
Fax: 202-225-9681
The Honorable Zoe Lofgren (CA)*
Tel: 202-225-3072
Fax: 202-225-3336
The Honorable Steve Chabot (OH)*
Tel: 202-225-2216
Fax: 202-225-3012
The Honorable Sheila Jackson Lee (TX)*
Tel: 202-225-3816
Fax: 202-225-3317
The Honorable Dan Lungren (CA)*
Tel: 202-225-5716
Fax: 202-226-1298
The Honorable Maxine Waters (CA)*
Tel: 202-225-2201
Fax: 202-225-7854 The Honorable Chris Cannon (UT)
Tel: 202-225-7751
Fax: 202-225-5629
Email: cannon.ut03@mail.house.gov

The Honorable Jim Delahunt (MA)*
Tel: 202-225-3111
Fax: 202-225-5658
Email: william.delahunt@mail.house.gov
The Honorable Ric Keller (FL)*
Tel: 202-225-2176
Fax: 202-225-0999
The Honorable Robert Wexler (FL)*
Tel: 202-225-3001
Fax: 202-225-5974
The Honorable Darrell Issa (CA)*
Tel: 202-225-3906
Fax: 202-225-3303
The Honorable Linda Sanchez (CA)
Tel: 202-225-6676
Fax: 202-226-1012
The Honorable Mike Pence (IN)*
Tel: 202-225-3021
Fax: 202-225-3382
The Honorable Steve Cohen (TN)*
Tel: 202-225-3265
Fax: 202-225-5663
The Honorable Randy Forbes (VA)*
Tel: 202-225-6365
Fax: 202-226-1170
The Honorable Hank Johnson (GA)*
Tel: 202-225-1605
Fax: 202-226-0691
The Honorable Steve King (IA)
Tel: 202-225-4426
Fax: 202-225-3193
The Honorable Betty Sutton (OH)*
Tel: 202-225-3401
Fax: 202-225-2266
The Honorable Tom Feeney (FL)
Tel: 202-225-2706
Fax: 202-226-6299
The Honorable Gutierrez (IL)*
Tel: 202-225-8203
Fax: 202-225-7810
The Honorable Trent Franks (AZ)
Tel: 202-225-4576
Fax: 202-225-6328
The Honorable Brad Sherman (CA)*
Tel: 202-225-5911
Fax: 202-225-5879
The Honorable Louie Gohmert (TX)
Tel: 202-225-3035
Fax: 202-225-5866
The Honorable Tammy Baldwin (WI)*
Tel: 202-225-2906
Fax: 202-225-6942
The Honorable Jim Jordan (OH)
Tel: 202-225-2676
Fax: 202-226-0577
The Honorable Anthony Weiner (NY)*
Tel: 202-225-6616
Fax: 202-226-7253
Email: weiner@mail.house.gov

The Honorable Adam Schiff (CA)*
Tel: 202-225-4176
Fax: 202-225-5828

The Honorable Artur Davis (AL)*
Tel: 202-225-2665
Fax: 202-226-9567

The Honorable Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL)*
Tel: 202-225-7931

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sarah, Get Your Gun

Whatever you think about Sarah Palin, if you care about animals, you should be aware of her position on aerial hunting. Dr. Patty Khuly, on Dolittler, has a great post on this hockey-mom's pastime, but suffice it to say, that it is a sport that does not exactly jive with the animal conservationists among us.

According to Khuly, the practice involves flying low in helicopters and shooting your prey from the air. We know that Ms. Palin can both bag and "properly" dress a moose, so we can assume she is a pretty good shot from above. Aerial hunting is often used to cull large herds, but Khuly is pretty sure that Alaska is about as uncrowded as it gets.

You might also note that helicopters are used to round up wild mustangs into government pens, where they are held until they are ideally adopted. Needless to say, the practice is terrifying to those animals being rounded up. I can imagine it is equally frightening to those are being hunted.

Khuly also notes that Palin's stance on drilling in the Alaska wilderness is in direct opposition to the protection of endangered species as well as preservation of others like the polar bear.

To be fair, Palin does admit to consuming the moose she is capable of expertly filleting, which in theory makes her practice no more barbaric than shooting and eating a deer or wild boar. It is also possible that the wild open spaces of Alaska make the use of a helicopter practical for the weekend hunter, but it seems to me that those moose are in wild open spaces specifically to avoid being hunted.

Frankly, the anti-abortion stance, special needs child and pregnant teen daughter are all Palin's personal business with which I am not going to tamper. Far be it for me to pass judgment on any one's personal beliefs and actions.

Anyway, the gun-toting image is for me, the most frightening. As one who marched in Washington with the Million Mom March, I strongly believe that the only people in our society who should have guns are law enforcement officials and you will have a hard time convincing me otherwise.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Meghan's Take on Her Dad

Want to know why unknowns have a difficult time breaking into the publishing industry? Because "knowns" like Meghan McCain are cranking out "children's books" about their famous father. That's right, timed neatly to coincide with the Republican National Convention last week, potential first daughter Meghan released her take on her father's heroic exploits, in language aimed at the twelve and under set.

For a first hand look at the actual book check out The Huffington Post and see if you can come up with some notable omissions, like say the existence of Wife #1. Instead we learn that since McCain could no longer fly airplanes after his POW ordeal, he decided to enter politics as a new career. Meghan's dad moved to her mom's state of Arizona and met and married her mom. Wow...I wonder what Meghan's stepbrothers and sisters think about that?

To be fair, there are many young adult books about Barack Obama as well as a children's book about him but none are written by a family member. Usually presidential (and hopeful presidential) kids wait until their parents are out of office to do the deed a la Patti Davis or Ron Reagan, Jr. And I don't think any have been timed to come out during political conventions.

Just so you know, I'm not angry at Meghan McCain for writing a book about her dad. He is in every way the quintessential American Hero and his story is worth publishing for any age group. I am angry that Meghan McCain gets her book published without any true publishing credentials while the rest of us, with equally compelling stories to tell, are deemed "unknowns."

I know that's the way the world seems to work these days, but that's why I'm all for a change.....

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Do Animals Grieve?

The New York Times ran a fascinating article on Tuesday in the Science Section about an 11-year old mother gorilla in the Munich Zoo, Gana, who refused to surrender the corpse of her dead infant, Claudio, to zookeepers. The baby died of a heart defect and the "grieving" mother cradled and nuzzled her lifeless infant, apparently trying to breathe life back into him.

According to those who study gorillas in the wild, this is a natural instinct. A mother gorilla will often continue to treat the dead offspring as if it is alive, sometimes for days or weeks after its demise.

And while it is tempting to draw similarities between the gorilla's apparent "human-like" emotional reaction to the death of a child, the reaction is rooted in practicality. If indeed the infant is injured or comatose as a result of a fall, there is the chance that it might indeed "wake-up," so carrying it around in case it does is probably less of a display of grief (as we know it) and more of a practical reaction.

I know that many animals react with what appears to be "grief" to the passing of a companion animal. When our beloved Bentley died, Lucy looked for him for days and then six week later, succumbed to a stroke. Coincidence? Perhaps--she was after all 14 and in declining health--but who knows. I gave her "permission" to go find Bentley and that seemed to make her passing easier. At least I think it did.

I do believe that animals who live in the same home do miss each other when they are gone. When one of mine goes to the groomer or vet without the others the ones at home seem a bit lost and frazzled. But I also am not quite sure if animals have the same sense of time that we do. They may know that one member of the pack is missing, but they may not realize they are permanently gone for some time. After all, we reappear and disappear in their lives on a fairly regular basis so it seems quite natural for them to assume the missing one is coming back--even after some time.

Elephants, as some of you may know, seem to me to display the most human-like mourning and grieving behaviors. George Wittemyer of Colorado State University has studied their behavior and described how elephants reacted to the death of one of their prominent matriarchs: "One female stood over the body, rocking back and forth. Others raised their foot over her head. Others touched their tusks to hers. They would do their behaviors and then leave," he told the New York Times.

Were they saying goodbye or urging her to get up and follow them? Or maybe they were just convincing themselves, she was really gone.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Between the Covers

So want to know how to make it to the top of Amazon's sales list? Re-print the only biography of a previously unknown "celebrity" in four days and flood your distributors with copies.

Apparently that is exactly what happened to the only known biography of Governor Sarah Palin, entitled Sarah by Kaylene Johnson. John McCain's selection of Palin as his running mate put the Epicenter Press presses into overdrive as they cranked out a paperback edition of the tome in an eighteen hour digital printing job.

By Tuesday afternoon, Epicenter had delivered 40,000 copies of the hardcover book to its distributors and was gearing up to print a paperback edition. According to the New York Times, by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, the book had climbed to #54 on Amazon.

Epicenter Press is no doubt laughing all the way to the bank. Known as "a leading trade book publisher of general nonfiction titles about Alaska and a leading publisher of books about sled dog racing and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race," the specialty publisher is suddenly finding itself mainstream.

I know you're waiting for the punch line--and I could suggest many--but in this case, the material seems to speak for itself. Actually what puzzles me most, is not who would want to read about Palin, but what that book could possible say that couldn't be said in a magazine article.

And they said the Barbaro story wasn't "bookworthy....."

Friday, September 5, 2008

Special Needs

I received this email on Thursday from a friend and colleague, a writer, who actually wrote a book about her "special needs" daughter, Cara. Martha worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer for years before going off on her own. She is an accomplished medical writer.

She asked all of the recipients to share it and post it on their blogs, and I am happy to oblige.

To the Editor:
Like Gov. Sarah Palin, I am the mother of someone with Down syndrome. I deeply resent and reject her statement that parents of children with special needs would have a friend in the White House. Using our children as a political pitch is a cheap, insulting, condescending pander.

Does Gov. Palin really expect us to vote for her and John McCain? Why would we support Republicans who, only a few months ago, fought the expansion of health insurance for children? She must recognize that many children with special needs require above-average healthcare services, yet the GOP wasn't willing to extend coverage to children.

This is not surprising. The Republicans have long appealed to our families, then failed to deliver. Only four months after his inauguration in 1981, the Republican's great hero, Ronald Reagan, attempted to repeal the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. After all, the Republicans always argue, we must cut spending. The same has been true of their "No Child Left Behind" act – great rhetoric, little money to back it up.

God bless Trig Palin. May he grow up to be a healthy, happy young man. But let's tell his mom to leave him out of the political limelight. And if she truly wants to be a friend to other parents whose children have special needs, and if she's a reformer who even takes on members of her own party, she can start by shining some light on the GOP's lackluster record.
--Martha M. Jablow

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Celebrity Status

With Curlin's recent victory in the Woodward at Saratoga, he moves into second place as the all-time money winning thoroughbred behind Cigar. Truly Curlin has demonstrated his ability and versatility, winning races all around the globe on different surfaces and under different conditions, including, medication-free in Dubai.

What is a bit perplexing to me is the fact that despite all the accomplishments, Curlin remains a "super-star" only within the thoroughbred world. He has not made the cross-over from "racehorse" to celebrity. What I mean is despite the fact that he has graced his share of Bloodhorse covers, he has not made it into "mainstream" publications like People or Time.

What does it take for a horse to become a "celebrity?" And what animals, besides horses, can you think of that have attained this status?

I'll get the ball rolling with the ones I can think of. There was Comanche, the only horse to survive Custer's Last Stand, who was subsequently revered by all; Dan Patch, the "celebrity" harness racer who made whistle stop tours across America. Seabiscuit, of course and Secretariat, both of whom made front page news with their exploits. And there was Phar Lap, a virtual national treasure in New Zealand.

Lest we forget, Barbaro was a national and international celebrity whose bout with laminitis made the disease a household word. And Man 'O War whose funeral made headlines.

Any others? I'm excluding Lassie, Rin Tin Tin,Flipper and the likes from the list because I think they were celebrities because they were on television and in the movies. I'm looking for animals who "crossed over" from their respective "fields" into mainstream celebrity culture.

I'm curious about the circumstances surrounding their ascendancy into celebrity status and whether or not there are any common events that cause the mainstream press to take notice of these animals. Is it their exploits that make them famous? If so, Curlin certainly has his share and I don't think he is a "celebrity" in the mainstream sense of the word.

Please let me know what you think. Maybe we can puzzle this out together.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Shouting Versus Whispering

For some time now in the world of animal training, the trend has moved away from assertiveness toward one of positive reinforcement. Credit the horse and dog whisperers perhaps with making us aware of the possibility of "communicating" with our animals, rewarding their positive behaviors and earning their trust rather than dominating them into "shape."

It is no small coincidence that these trends mirror those in child rearing--reward the positive and don't use force to get your child to do what you want them to do. Much more communication and less insistence upon the "It's my way or the highway" approach.

Which came first is an interesting question, but my guess is that they probably evolved somewhat simultaneously. All part of a general move toward a kinder, gentler style of asserting control which seems to have become almost routine in our society.

I think it's fair to say that these two trends which tend to separate people into (dare I say it?) red and blue categories, have come to dominate our political parties as well. Think about the "Yes we can!" message of positive reinforcement perpetrated by the Obama campaign contrasted with the images of power, security and force that the McCain camp consistently delivers.

And while Obama has pretty much declared patriotism and service "off limits" (because everyone shares these beliefs), the image of McCain the powerful hero remains. He was strong enough and brave enough and tough enough to survive POW captivity and these are the qualities he will bring to the White House.

At the expense of treading into some fairly complex issues, dare I say as Trudy Rubin pointed out in a wonderful op-ed piece in Sunday's Inquirer, that this is the difference between a Cold War and post Cold War mentality? The images of America and Americans as the dominant players on the world stage versus a more collaborative model.

I'm not sure it is a simple as red or blue or as divisive as one way or the other--as with most trends the ultimate answer seems to be a combination of both--but it is indeed fascinating to see the two behaviors play out on the national stage.

I think this is one of the more fundamental reasons why the Republicans in their current incarnation seem to me to be completely out of touch with reality. The world simply does not operate on that Cold War model any more and trying to perpetrate it will get us nowhere, as Iraq pretty much demonstrates.

Think about trying to put a saddle on a horse's back for the first time. Would you go about it slowly, introducing the new equipment gradually over many days, gently building up the horse's confidence and trust in you as well as in his own ability to tolerate it or would you simply throw it on and stand back until he "got used to it?" Which method do you think inspires more trust on the part of the horse toward you, his trainer? And which method in the end leads to a more productive, harmonious and fulfilling relationship?

I don't think I have to shout to get my point across.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Getting It

"Those who understand about the common bond between man and animal, I don't need to explain it. Those who don't, well, they just don't get it."
Dean Richardson

"I get it."
Barrack Obama

Did anybody else think of Dean Richardson when Barrack Obama told us he "got it?" I did and I find the comparison interesting.

Both are clearly intelligent men, leaders in their field and good communicators. Neither wears their heart on their sleeve, yet both are compassionate, insightful and remarkably consistent. Richardson may be a little more brash than Obama but both men, I think, are self-confident and assured. They know what they can do and sometimes seem surprised that anyone doubts them. It's not arrogance. It's genuine surprise because if they say they can do something, they usually can.

I remember asking Dean if he was confident that he would be able to put Barbaro's leg back together again. "If I couldn't have repaired it well enough so that he could walk on it, then I probably wasn't going to wake Barbaro up," he told me. And while his residents gasped when they saw the inside of Barbaro's leg looked like a bag of ice chips, Dean told me he had seen others that looked as bad. "They only gasped because they had never seen that before," he said.

You can't be a leader without confidence in your abilities to succeed. That is a sure way to get others to follow. And while some people do that with force and flourish, I think Richardson and Obama do it by example. They set the tone in their actions and expect others to rise to their level.

I don't think there is yelling or berating on their part if you don't make the grade; only deep disappointment because they knew, or thought they knew, you could do better.

And that in the end is great motivation. Randy Pausch, in his amazing last lecture, talked about being blown away by his first class of virtual reality students and asking his mentor what to do when the first assignment comes in far ahead of anything you expected. "Set the bar higher," was the response and it worked.

I think Richardson and Obama "get it" on a lot of levels, so much so that they don't feel the need to spend time on how or why they arrived at that insight. It is more important to both of them to use that knowledge to improve conditions for others.

And that, I think, we should all get.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Doing the Right Thing

One day last week my daughter decided to try out a new feature offered by a restaurant in our neighborhood and she ordered our take out dinner on line. She was given a very precise time to pick up our meal and we went together to get the food. When we got there, we were dismayed to learn that the order had not gone through, even though she was under the impression that it had.

The hostess could not have been more accommodating; she was clearly embarrassed at the mess-up and she offered us a free beverage while we waited for our order. We declined her offer and sat outside at a cafe table waiting for our food. About ten minutes later, she brought the order out to us and I stood up to go inside and pay the cashier.

"You're so honest," she gushed. "I thought you had paid the cashier when you re-placed the order. You could have just left." I looked at her like she was from Mars. "Of course I am going to pay," I told her. "I don't think it has anything to do with honesty. I bought two meals and I am going to pay for them."

Her remark really took me aback and I though about it a lot when I listened to Barrack Oabama make his acceptance speech last week in Denver. What kind of world are we living in when a waitress commends you for paying for your meal? What kind of world are we living in when the press makes a huge deal out of the Jacksons' unconditional decision to do whatever it takes to save their horse? What kind of world are we inhabiting when doing the right thing is so unusual that it attracts attention?

It's a scary thought that doing what is right is not the norm. I don't think we can blame it on politics or policies; I think it has to do with being taught by our parents that you don't steal; you don't cheat and you don't lie. The apple never falls far from the tree and in Obama I see a man who clearly wants to set an example for his daughters the way his parents and grandparents did for him.

It is just astounding that he has to do it for the country as well.