Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ringing in 2009...

Happy 2009 to you from me and my sidekicks--on the bed of course--Sammy, Phoebe and Amos!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Self-Publishing Reality Check

David Carnoy has written an incredibly insightful piece about the caveats associated with self-publishing that should answer any and all questions anyone has about the nature of that industry. Despite rumors and predictions to the contrary, I don't believe that self-publishing is going to be the panacea for either writers or publishing itself, that many are suggesting. And as Carnoy points out, caveat emptor.

What's interesting of course is that Carnoy went the standard route, only to land where I have--with a good manuscript, in fact a "bigger book" than those published by the independent presses, but one that didn't make it through the entire acquisitions committee. It is important to note that Carnoy decided to go the self-publishing route "against the advice of his agent."

You can probably guess the rest. Although it is easy to actually publish your book and make it look good--not great--(Carnoy chose the print-on-demand service BookSurge), the reality is "Good self-published books are few and far between" AND "the average self-published book sells about 100-150 copies."

This is why you do no want to get stuck with 500 books in your basement. And most importantly why you do not want to quit your day job.

Go read Carnoy's post for yourself. He does not knock the concept; he just asks you to consider your goals. If you want to create a family heirloom--self-publishing is the way to go. If you want to become an author; it is not.

Just some food for thought as the new year beckons. Maybe all those out of work editors and agents will band together and create their own publishing house that caters to first time authors....Hey, I can dream can't I?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Soup Kitchen for Dogs

Word from MSNBC is that a soup kitchen exclusively for dogs has opened in Berlin. Director of the establishment, Claudia Hollm, confirmed that the soup kitchen provides a free meal for the pets of the homeless and the unemployed.

"Nowadays people underestimate dogs, " Hollm continued. "They are incredibly important for those who lack social contact with other humans."

We all know about the therapeutic effects of pet ownership and Hollm may be on to something. "Making sure dogs don't go hungry is just as important as making sure that people don't starve," she elaborated.

No word on whether or not starving people actually eat the food intended for their pets or what that food is but Hollm does get sponsorship from companies, including animal food manufacturers. Similarly no information on whether soup kitchens for humans turn away pets.

If that is indeed the case, then Hollm is doing pet-loving humans a great favor. In fact, one woman who uses the free service, has two dogs, four cats, a rabbit and some guinea pigs. "Without this animal bread line, I'd probably starve to death," she told the German newspaper, Sueddeutsche, which I believe is intended to imply that she would give up her food for her pets.

Ironically, the Berlin pet soup kitchen opens one month after a new bus service that transports dogs to a luxury day-care service, was initiated.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

I don't know who wrote this but I found it on the Sierra Ranch website. Warning: tissues may be necessary. Enjoy!

Author Unknown

To have a horse in your life is a gift. In the matter of a few short years, a horse can teach a young girl courage, if she chooses to grab mane and hang on for dear life. Even the smallest of ponies is mightier than the tallest of girls. To conquer the fear of falling off, having one's toes crushed, or being publicly humiliated at a horse show is an admirable feat for any child. For that, we can be grateful.

Horses teach us responsibility. Unlike a bicycle or a computer, a horse needs regular care and most of it requires that you get dirty and smelly and up off the couch. Choosing to leave your cozy kitchen to break the crust of ice off the water buckets is to choose responsibility. When our horses dip their noses and drink heartily; we know we've made the right choice.

Learning to care for a horse is both an art and a science. Some are easy keepers, requiring little more than regular turn-out, a flake of hay, and a trough of clean water. Others will test you - you'll struggle to keep them from being too fat or too thin. You'll have their feet shod regularly only to find shoes gone missing. Some are so accident-prone you'll swear they're intentionally finding new ways to injure themselves.

If you weren't raised with horses, you can't know that they have unique personalities. You'd expect this from dogs (and even cats), but horses? Indeed, there are clever horses, grumpy horses, and even horses with a sense of humor. Those prone to humor will test you by finding new ways to escape from the barn when you least expect it.

Horses can be timid or brave, lazy or athletic, obstinate or willing. You will hit it off with some horses and others will elude you altogether. There are as many "types" of horses as there are people - which makes the whole partnership thing all the more interesting.

If you've never ridden a horse, you probably assume it's a simple thing you can learn in a weekend. You can, in fact, learn the basics on a Sunday, but to truly ride well takes a lifetime. Working with a living being is far more complex than turning a key in the ignition and putting the car or tractor in "drive."

In addition to listening to your instructor, your horse will have a few things to say to you as well. On a good day, he'll be happy to go along with the program and tolerate your mistakes; on a bad day, you'll swear he's trying to kill you. Perhaps he's naughty or perhaps he's fed up with how slowly you're learning his language. Regardless, the horse will have an opinion. He may choose to challenge you (which can ultimately make you a better rider) or he may carefully carry you over fences - if it suits him. It all depends on the partnership - and partnership is what it's all about.

If you face your fears, swallow your pride, and are willing to work at it, you'll learn lessons in courage, commitment, and compassion in addition to basic survival skills. You'll discover just how hard you're willing to work toward a goal, how little you know, and how much you have to learn.

And, while some people think the horse "does all the work", you'll be challenged physically as well as mentally. Your horse may humble you completely. Or, you may find that sitting on his back is the closest you'll get to heaven.

You can choose to intimidate your horse, but do you really want to? The results may come more quickly, but will your work ever be as graceful as that gained through trust? The best partners choose to listen, as well as to tell. When it works, we experience a sweet sense of accomplishment brought about by smarts, hard work, and mutual understanding between horse and rider. These are the days when you know with absolute certainty that your horse is enjoying his work.

If we make it to adulthood with horses still in our lives, most of us have to squeeze riding into our over saturated schedules; balancing our need for things equine with those of our households and employers. There is never enough time to ride, or to ride as well as we'd like. Hours in the barn are stolen pleasures.

If it is in your blood to love horses, you share your life with them. Our horses know our secrets; we braid our tears into their manes and whisper our hopes into their ears. A barn is a sanctuary in an unsettled world, a sheltered place where life's true priorities are clear: a warm place to sleep, someone who loves us, and the luxury of regular meals. Some of us need these reminders.
When you step back, it's not just about horses - it's about love, life, and learning. On any given day, a friend is celebrating the birth of a foal, a blue ribbon, or recovery from an illness. That same day, there is also loss: a broken limb, a case of colic, a decision to sustain a life or end it gently. As horse people, we share the accelerated life cycle of horses: the hurried rush of life, love, loss, and death that caring for these animals brings us. When our partners pass, it is more than a moment of sorrow.

We mark our loss with words of gratitude for the ways our lives have been blessed. Our memories are of joy, awe, and wonder. Absolute union. We honor our horses for their brave hearts, courage, and willingness to give.

To those outside our circle, it must seem strange. To see us in our muddy boots, who would guess such poetry lives in our hearts? We celebrate our companions with praise worthy of heroes. Indeed, horses have the hearts of warriors and often carry us into and out of fields of battle.

Listen to stories of that once-in-a-lifetime horse; of journeys made and challenges met. The best of horses rise to the challenges we set before them, asking little in return.

Those who know them understand how fully a horse can hold a human heart. Together, we share the pain of sudden loss and the lingering taste of long-term illness. We shoulder the burden of deciding when or whether to end the life of a true companion.

In the end, we're not certain if God entrusts us to our horses--or our horses to us. Does it matter? We're grateful God loaned us the horse in the first place.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Crystal Ball of Publishing

It's that time of year when we are hearing roundups on the Year in Publishing and reports about what to expect going forward. Not surprisingly, this has been the year in which most of the doom and gloom predictions about the industry have come true and have many of the pundits pondering whether or not magazines, newspapers and other forms of "traditional" media will continue to exist in an e-reader populated universe.

On the local front, it is most interesting and certainly confusing. Even as our local paper, The Inquirer, lays off another 65 people, its publisher writes a feel good editorial assuring his readers that things have never been better. I continue to get thick, ad-filled magazines about the Philadelphia region (actually MANY magazines that seem to share readership), all of them glossy and printed on good paper.

Yet, I read such predictions as this one from Bob Sacks of the Precision Media Group, warning that "2009 will be the year that traditional print media looks in the mirror and says, "Hey, my newsstand circulation looks awfully bloated; I think I should go on a serious returns diet." And this one from Steven Kotok, General Manager of The Week, "Many more magazines will lower rate base, reduce frequency, and rebrand in some way."

Most prognosticators are warning of the continued rise of internet publications but none have figured out how contributors to these web-zines will or should get paid. Many web start-ups offer that ubiquitous "exposure" to their contributors but to writers used to getting paid by the word, exposure never bought a tank of gas.

For my part, I am, to a certain extent, feeling lucky because a lot of my business, among the upper end alumni magazines of the world, is both web and print based. I don't think these magazines run the risk of extinction because not all of the alumni who read them are web-savvy--but I do think they may tinker with frequency and start to solicit subscriptions as universities struggle with the downturns in their endowments. I do think they will remain dependent on freelancers as universities enact quiet hiring freezes.

Books, however, in my humble opinion, are an endangered species--not because people are going to stop reading--but because publishers are going to stop taking risks (as if they haven't already). Celebrity tomes will remain the dominant life form until the readers go on strike and refuse to buy them. Until that happens, independent publishers may see an upsurge--but authors will remain under-reimbursed for their efforts. Look to academic presses to make a resurgence--no joke. They are used to operating on a shoestring.

What's the price of all this belt tightening? Less choice in bookstores, less mind-stretching bestsellers, less money all around but chances are you will still be able to find a niche publications if you look long and hard. But nobody is getting rich off of it.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bidens To Get Two Dogs

Hot off the press--Joe Biden is taking some flack for his selection of a purebred German Shepherd. As he told George Stephanopolis on Sunday, he heard from a lot of animal rescue organizations that were not thrilled with him going the "purebred" route.

Well, it seems that to make everybody happy, the Bidens are going to get ANOTHER dog--this second one a rescue, and ideally a Golden Retriever. The second dog will be Jill's; the shepherd will be Joe's. We also learned that in his youth, Biden actually showed German Shepherds and has always been partial to the breed.

Two dogs are certainly better than one--as far as the dogs are concerned--and it sounds like a good pairing, akin to my Collie/Golden Retriever brood. The Shepherd, like the Collie, will assume the role of protector and defender (and probably do a little herding of the new puppy), and the Golden will just be thrilled to have someone to play with.

And I don't think the Bidens will have any trouble finding reliable pet sitters when they are on the road...

Sounds like everyone should be happy. Talk about being a politician....

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Of Scrooge and Marley and Me

Merry Christmas to all my readers! Here's hoping the holidays find you in the company of family, friends and furry ones.

We're big on seeing a movie on Christmas Day and this year's pick is Marley and Me, for obvious reasons. Last week, I heard John Grogan, author of the book of the same name and a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, speak at our Free Library. I was actually prepared to dislike him--no doubt, jealously on my part plays a role in that prior impression of him--but I was charmed by his story telling abilities. He is a warm, funny speaker, who gives you the impression that his success is all still a new, fun experience, even as he admitted there are aspects that are indeed, getting old.

Anyway, he was in town to promote his new book, The Long Trip Home, a memoir about growing up in a very Catholic family in Michigan, his distancing of himself from that family and his eventual return to the fold, but he found himself answering a lot of questions about Marley & Me, the book as well as the movie.

For starters, while he did not write the screen play for the movie, he managed to retain consulting rights on the script--a laudable achievement--and was pleased that they actually accepted some of his suggestions. He also got to hang around on the set in both Miami and Philadelphia, go to the premier (with Clyde, the dog who plays Marley, as his "date"), and experience what certainly has to be an out of body experience--watching someone else act out your life.

For those of you who care, there are actually 22 dogs who play Marley in the movie--including the many adorable puppies--but the chief honcho is Clyde, a rescue lab who retain enough of Marley's "energy" to be incredibly convincing. Grogan now owns one of those puppies--a male named Woodson--who joins Gracie as one of two labs in his life.

Apparently there is also a dog in his new book, so dogs were always an important aspect of Grogan's life. In fact when someone in the audience asked about whether or not their family--kids are 10 and 12--should get a dog--he negotiated skillfully by saying that dogs were wonderful ways to teach children about responsibility, etc. but they were also a lot of work.

Back to that jealousy on my part. While Grogan is a masterful storyteller, and the story he tells is not so much about Marley as it is about he and his wife, I am envious that he hit it big with his "animal" book, while I did not. Pretty simple, really. But actually after meeting him, I am less jealous. Grogan is a great storyteller--I am a great reporter--and there is a difference. He has a gift for telling a story in a way that makes you feel like you are a part of it. I have the ability to tell a story in a way that makes you feel like you are watching it--and perhaps gaining a little insight into what makes the characters tick. It's a subtle difference and both are important skills. He is also very funny.

So off to see the screen version and to be reminded once again about the power of an animal's love--a very appropriate sentiment on this day.

May yours be merry and bright.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Your Chance To Make History

There is a legend about Ernest Hemingway that goes something like this. "Papa" was frequenting one of his favorite watering holes with a bunch of writers when they bet him he couldn't write a story in a mere six words. Hemingway is reported to have scribbled: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.

Hence the popularity of six words. "There is a little magic in six," says Larry Smith, the editor and co-founder of SMITH, a website for writers and artists.

Now you can add your six words to the mix. The National Constitution Center has joined forces with Smith magazine to enlist your six words for Barack Obama's speech writers who are crafting the Inauguration Day speech as we speak. The contest is called Address America: Six Words to Inspire a Nation and you can get to it from the Constitution Center's website.

Think about it. Some of the greatest mottoes of our time are but six words. "Nothing to fear but fear itself." (Roosevelt) "To bind up the nation's wounds." (Lincoln)

What advice to do have for our next president? How would you rally the nation? How do you see the future?

Give it a try. It's only six words.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Curlin: The Next Chapter

Jess Jackson wrote a great piece for about Curlin's pending retirement and what the great horse has come to mean to him and his family. "To me, Curlin is so much more than one of the greats," he writes. "He has also become a bonded and trusting friend."

One of the aspects that I am researching for my thesis--to be finally written this coming semester!!--is the human-horse bond. Surprisingly there is little written about it, especially when you compare it to the human-dog or cat bond, about which there are volumes. Yet I believe that Mr. Jackson has captured perfectly the bond that develops between a horse and its owner, even when that horse is theoretically "working" for that owner.

In fact, Jackson himself notes, "Many a horse owner has undoubtedly experienced what we have: a personal relationship of affection and trust between Curlin, myself, my family, and every member of our team. We gained his trust and he has been eager to satisfy; he has been loyal."

Two interesting points. One, the concept of loyalty, on the part of the horse, has to be earned and two, affection, on the part of the horse, is distinctly separate from trust. Both of these are clearly related to the fact that a horse is big and potentially dangerous--a fact which makes earning both its respect and trust critical to earning its affection.

It is also fascinating to hear Jackson mention that Curlin "ran for the fans, for the sport, for his own pleasure of competition, and, I believe, to express his loyalty and desire to please."

This assessment, to me, is a bit more subjective and probably harder to judge. But it is also a common sentiment among owners of successful thoroughbreds. Most claim that their horses run for the sheer love of running and that they love to compete. How they know this remains unquantifiable.

The end of Jackson's piece expresses his hopes for the future of the sport. "We hope thoroughbred owners will form their own racing league and appoint a commissioner, join with tracks to market races for older horses, and work together to increase their stake of gaming revenue to allow tracks and horse owners to prosper. Otherwise, I fear thoroughbred racing will continue to decline."

Let's all hope that Mr. Jackson remains a significant force within the sport and that Curlin rewards him with lots of healthy, talented and successful offspring.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Calling Madeline Pickens

Madeline Pickens where are you? Federal land managers have announced plans to conduct emergency roundups of almost 2,000 more mustangs in Nevada because of "extremely limited forage."

The government pens are already overflowing with horses that have previously been rounded up and have yet to be adopted. This new roundup will just exacerbate the problem of keeping almost as many wild mustangs in "holding" pens as there are in the wild. In recent months, the Bureau of Land Management officials suggested euthanasia as as way of controlling the population.

"We shouldn't be rounding up any more horses until we resolve the issue of tens of thousands of horses that already have been rounded up and are in holding pens," said Matt Rossell, outreach coordinator for In Defense of Animals, a San Rafael, CA based animal rights group.

According to Chris Heyde, deputy director of government and legal affairs for the Animal Welfare Institute, based in Washington, D. C., there is plenty of food to go around in the horses' natural habitat. "They're not starving, and they're using it as an excuse to remove horses," he said. "They can survive if we keep our little fingers off them."

It is the age old problem of competition for grazing rights between wild horses and livestock. Horse advocates have suggested solutions like reduced livestock grazing, stepping up birth control and removing fences to provide better access to water.

Since Madeline Pickens announced her plans to shelter 30,000 wild mustangs on one million acres--yet to be determined--the Bureau of Land Management has backed off its threats to cull the herd by euthanasia. Last month they announced it will round up fewer horses and try to shuffle funds within the agency to control the rising costs of feeding and caring for the animals.

Heyde is hopeful that things will change in the Obama administration and there will be less need to round up any horses. Hopefully he is right and hopefully Pickens will get her sanctuary land soon so that the horses can be returned to their natural environment.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How Much is Enough?

I've been thinking a lot about excess these days. From Illinois to New York, the papers are filled with stories of people succumbing to greed and bringing others down with them. All of which seems to beg the question of how much is enough and how did we get so far from the place where people were content with what they had?

The Illinois governor scandal is but one example of the greed and corruption that seems to be rampant in politics and business but to me the larger question is one of ethics. Does anyone look in the mirror these days and see scruples or have they become as outdated as rotary phones? I'm talking about more than money--I'm talking about the perception of entitlement that seems to come with achievement. What happened to the notion of doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do?

Everyone is someones role model. And most of ours are drowning in excess. When we have too much of anything--power, privilege, possessions--we become slaves to our need for more. Remember when you could get things fixed, like irons and dryers and microwaves? We used to take care of what we had. Now we just throw them away--everything can be replaced with a newer model that we have been convinced that we need.

I have no brilliant solutions to solve our culture of excess other than to avoid buying in to it as much as possible. And as much as I am disheartened by our national moral crisis, I am encouraged by the possibilities inherent in our new president. I truly do believe he may be the breath of fresh air that our country and our children need.

I just hope it rubs off.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lights! Camera! Nicanor!

News from that Nicanor, Barbaro's full brother currently in training at the Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, is going to be a television star! Apparently Nicanor made the Miami News on Channel 10 during its 11:00 PM newscast on Friday Dec. 19 and again on its Dec. 21, Sports Sunday program.

Interest in Barbaro's brother has only intensified as the colt gets ready to make his racing debut. According to trainer Michael Matz, that start could come in January or February at Gulfstream Park.

How amazing that the general public has latched onto this colt, nearly two years after his brother succumbed to laminitis in January 2007. Usually the public has a very short memory when it comes to racehorses. Clearly Barbaro remains a presence even in his absence.

I'd like to be able to tell you that I think Nicanor will follow in his brother's footsteps, but those are very big footsteps to follow. Let's just hope Nicanor does what is best for Nicanor, that he creates his own destiny (regardless of whether or not this includes racing success at the Grade I level), and that he remains healthy.

It is unusual for lightening to strike twice, which means that Nicanor's odds of both winning the Kentucky Derby and getting injured, less that fifty-fifty.

You can, of course, follow all of Nicanor's exploits on a blog entitled, Tracking Barbaro's Brothers.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Biden's New Puppy

It seems that the Obamas are not the only ones getting a puppy when they relocate to Washington. Last weekend, Joe Biden picked out a three month old male German shepherd to accompany him, his wife and mother when they move into the VP's house next month.

The puppy came from a Chester County, PA breeder named Linda Brown who had been vetted by Mark Tobin, the coordinator of the New Castle County Police K-9 unit. Apparently Biden met Tobin when he was called in with his dogs to conduct a routine search of Biden's home after he was named Obabma's running mate.

Biden, who has had German Shepherds in the past, contacted Tobin to help him find the perfect dog--a family dog that was both social and obedient. In fact, Tobin will pick the puppy up next week and begin his training before delivering him to the Bidens in Washington after they get settled. That way, according to Tobin, the stress of the move will not be a factor for the family and they can devote more time and attention to their new family member.

No doubt Biden may receive a bit of criticism for not selecting a shelter dog, but I think he has demonstrated extraordinary responsibility as a pet owner. German Shepherds have a history of hip issues and buyers need to be uber-informed about selecting one. In addition, German Shepherds respond so well to training that it is advisable to begin early, preferably guided by an experienced trainer.

Certainly Biden recognized the time limits his new job would place on his ability to train a new puppy, let alone research a reputable breeder. Since his grandchildren will undoubtedly interact with this puppy, he was equally wise buying one from a well respected breeder. The most important thing is that he did not buy the puppy from a pet shop.

No word yet on the adorable little guy's new name but I can guarantee that he will be well loved. Rumor has it that Jill Biden pasted photos of dogs on the back of the seat in front of her husband to inspire him through those last days of campaigning. The incentive seems to have worked! You can see a photo of the pup here.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Zoos are Dangerous to Elephants' Health

Lead University of Guelph animal-welfare researcher, Georgia Mason has discovered that elephants living in zoos are less likely to reach old age than their counterparts living in protected populations in Africa and Asia. "Our data suggests there is something going on that is problematic enough that it is bringing their lives to an untimely end," concludes Mason.

In fact, the difference is significant and alarming. Researchers found that Asian elephants lining in European zoos have approximately half the average life span of elephants born into the logging industry in Myanmar, not exactly a "cushy" existence. Not a single African elephant living in a European zoo has reached the age of 50. In contrast, about one third of the African elephants living in Amboseli National Park in Kenya reached 50 or older, according to a recent study in Science.

Mason and his team of international scientists based their findings on data culled from protected populations of elephants in Africa and Asia along with data from 270 zoos in Europe. This represents half of the world's population of zoo elephants and goes back to the 1960s. Not surprisingly, conditions have improved for zoo elephants. Those who arrived at zoos in the recent past were more likely to live longer than those arriving from the wild fifty years ago.

Nonetheless, the data suggests that the existence of elephants in zoos is coming to an end. In fact, until there is a better understanding of why zoo life shortens elephants' lives, researchers themselves have called for an end to transferring elephants from the wild, minimizing inter-zoo transfers and suggest breeding elephants should be restricted to those zoos that exhibit no harmful effects on their captive born elephants.

"We're not trying to go for the jugular of all zoos here," Mason said.
We recognize that there are bound to be some zoos that are better than others. But the time has come to work out what good practice really is."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

That's Not Fair!

If you have two dogs, you probably already know what scientists have discovered: that one gets jealous of the other if they are not treated equally.

Friederike Range, a researcher at the University of Vienna in Austria, published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report is based on a series of experiments that Range did with her colleagues. The subjects were dogs who knew how to respond to the command "give the paw."

In the experiment, both dogs were asked to "give the paw" but only one was rewarded for the behavior. It didn't take long for the slighted one to catch on and subsequently pause significantly before responding to the command. Eventually, the dogs who did not receive the reward did not look at the researcher giving the command. By looking at the researcher, the dogs would be more compelled to obey, according to Range. Turning their heads away gave them more power and they eventually stopped cooperating.

Scientists have known for quite some time that humans pay attention to inequality. What they didn't realize was that animals do as well. In 2003, Frans de Waal, a researcher at the Yerkes National Primate Center and a professor of psychology at Emory, did a study in which monkeys had to hand a small rock to researchers in order to get a piece of food. All were happy to do this when the rewards were the same--a piece of cucumber. But when one monkey got a grape instead, the others became highly insulted.

"The one who got the cucumber became very agitated, threw out the food, threw out the rock that we exchanged with them, and at some point, just stopped performing," says de Waal.

When Range and her colleagues tested the same protocol with dogs--rewarding some with bread and some with sausage--they did not pick up on the disparity. It was only when some got something and others got nothing, that they reacted.

According to de Waal, both dogs and monkeys live in cooperative societies, so he was not surprised that they would both have some sense of fairness. Which is why, in my house, when one gets a little chicken in their food, they all do. And just because Phoebe eats hers the fastest, does not mean she gets any more.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thanks For the Memories Funny Cide

Funny Cide has settled into his new home at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. He became the second Kentucky Derby winner and champion to move in in just over a month, joining Alysheba.

Funny Cide, a 9 year old gelding, owned by Sackatoga Stable (ten buddies from upstate New York) and trained by Barclay Tagg, made headlines in his previous retirement serving as Tagg's stable pony. People were thrilled to meet the former Kentucky Derby winner and delighted to see him in his second career.

Funny Cide's age and recurring bouts of stiffness prompted Tagg to decide it was time to give him the retirement he deserved.

In many ways, Funny Cide was the epitome of the "people's horse." He was owned by guys who each contributed $5,000 to buy horses and they traveled to the Derby in a school bus--the only vehicle large and cheap enough to accommodate their large group. They paid $22,000 for Funny Cide as a yearling. The horse went on to win not only the Kentucky Derby but also the Preakness before coming in third in the Belmont.

Joe McGinnis has written an excellent book called The Big Horse that takes place the summer after Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid. Of particular note are the Funny Cide shops that appeared in Saratoga that summer, selling every conceivable type of Funny Cide merchandise.

Over his six racing seasons, Funny Cide earned $3,529,412 and was named champion 3-year old male of 2003. Jack Knowlton, managing partner of Sackatoga Stable was at the Horse Park to greet Funny Cide when he arrived on December 5.

"He represents hope for the little guy," he told the crowd. "Also racing needs more horses like him who fans can enjoy after their Triple Crown season. He was a huge fan favorite because he ran as long as he did--into his 7-year old season--and because he was an underdog. We still get emails and letters from his fans everywhere."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Greyhound Racing to End in Massachusetts

Years ago when my daughter was playing on the local travel softball team, I became friendly with one of the mothers who rescued greyhounds. One day she turned up at the game with her two wonderful dogs--both of whom were sporting coats in the chilly Spring air--and I fell in love with the breed.

Previously, I had been under the misconception that dogs known for their lightning speed were a handful. The truth is they are big couch potatoes. Sure they can run fast, but they also are not in the least bit high strung or hyperactive "throw me the ball" types. They are true snugglers and do not belong on racetracks or in tight, cramped crates.

There is a great story in The Christian Science Monitor about one woman's commitment to end the sport of dog racing and her thirteen year fight in Massachusetts to get the sport banned. The dog lobby, as her group learned, is a powerful one and not above making their case with evidence of increased revenue for states and jobs.

In the end, Christine Dorchak, the president and general counsel of GREY2K USA, learned that tales of cruelty had to be combined with real live records from actual dog tracks to make their case. "When Massachusetts television viewers saw track video of a greyhound named Cawla Hawley somersaulting and crashing into a wall, they learned how dangerous dog racing can be," she writes. "The injury records of Carolina Alarm, who died of a heart attack; Die Cut, who was paralyzed; and Hibbert, who skull was crushed, spoke volumes. Most important, the kennel photos of dogs confined in tiny cages raised the simple question: Would I treat my dog that way?"

Last month, 56 percent of voters and nearly 300 out of 351 towns in Massachusetts "voted for the dogs" meaning dog racing will gradually be phased out in Massachusetts and officially end by January 1, 2010.

While it is tempting to credit Dorchak's targeted public awareness campaign with the success, there are probably a combination of factors that made 2008 the right time for the bill to pass. Not the least of these is declining attendance (and revenues) at dog tracks as well as the growing trend to treat animals as people, especially dogs and cats. The anti-cruelty campaign found deaf ears in 1995 but passed easily in 2008--an indication of our society's changing view of "humane" treatment for non-human beings.

Hurricane Katrina shown a spotlight on the plight of animals "left behind" as well as the people who refused to evacuate because of their animals. As a result, national legislation mandated future evacuations make provisions for animals. Certainly the Barbaro story continued to shine the spotlight on animal welfare as has the recent trend to adopt and rescue animals.

So timing is everything and luckily for beautiful greyhounds, the end may soon be coming to a sport that is known for its lack of respect for its athletes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Black Beauty Redux

I'm rereading Black Beauty by Anna Sewell as part of my ongoing thesis research and find myself marveling at the foresight of this remarkable author. This book reads like a modern tome on how to properly care for a horse and touches on many of the current animal welfare topics that are still in the news.

For those of you who don't know the story, Black Beauty is a horse in mid-nineteenth century England who passes through a series of owners, many of whom treat him kindly and some who do not. Since the story is told in first person, from the point of view of the horse--a remarkable achievement in itself since at no point does the narrative, in my opinion, become trite or sentimental--we learn how a horse feels about the different roles he was asked to play in a horse-centered society.

We learn early on about the author's opposition to tethers that hold carriage horses heads very high, fox and rabbit hunting (we witness the demise of horse and a hare), non-conscientious grooms and the health problems their laziness can engender and impatient owners and trainers who do not respect their horses.

Anna Sewell herself was a devoted horsewoman. She injured her ankle when she was fourteen and it never healed properly. From that point on she had difficulty walking but she could ride and drive a carriage. In many ways, horses saved her and perhaps this is her way of returning the favor.

Many people have interpreted this work as an early animal welfare treatise as well as a commentary on the plight of working laborers in England at the time. While both of these interpretations may indeed be valid, to me, more than anything, the book is a how-to-manual. Everyone who is thinking of getting a horse should read it to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Horses are delicate creatures who are not afraid of work but who need to be taken care of properly to ensure that they will be able to perform that work.

It is a great read--short chapters and very entertaining. See if you agree.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mental Flexibiity

Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine had an interesting piece by Virginia Heffernan about the changing nature of media content--something we wordsmiths ponder when publishing houses seem to be dying before our eyes.

And that, of course, is Heffernan's point--that by the time we archaic journalistic types recognize that newspapers and magazines are going to become cultural artifacts like 8-track tape players and video and audio cassettes--it it too late to reinvent ourselves. "For ten years journalists have hoped to avoid radical job retraining. And who can blame anyone in any profession, mid-career and set in her ways, for avoiding seminars on writing Google-friendly leads or opening her sources to readers?" writes Heffernan.

Aha, but while we we were further entrenching ourselves in the craft of creating sentences that fewer and fewer people read, the next generation of our profession was blogging, twittering and facebooking themselves into social media proficiency--although someone is going to still have to convince me that all this constant keeping tabs on everybody and everything is somehow related to work or better yet, getting more work.

The bigger threat, however, according to Heffernan, is when advertisers--the very beings who make the existence of newspapers and magazines possible in the first place--become content providers. Poof--the middle man--the article writer--disappears because you can get your content at the source. Why would anyone buy a "women's magazine" to read about budget conscious meals that were organic if you can simply find them on a Whole Foods web site? Better yet, why would anyone read about anything in a women's magazine (health tips, beauty suggestions, fashion advice) if you can get the same info on the respective sites without paying for it.

So what to do? Write for web sites perhaps, but more importantly, at least according to Heffernan, demonstrate "mental flexibility" to explore new media and figure out how to make it work for you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Guilty Pleasures

In these days of layoffs, economic downturns and financial uncertainty, a puppy an really help. Not the kind you have to walk, feed, train and clean up after. The kind you can ooh and aah over long distance. The kind found on

Apparently the six Shiba Inu puppies have four million people melting over them, many of whom log on to watch their antics three, four and five times a day.

They are cute--all puppies are cute--and these six are being raised by an anonymous couple in San Francisco who offer viewing privileges to anyone with web access.

Other sites that appeal to the cuteness factor include and the irreverent with nothing but funny animal photos. In fact this site was so popular they recently released a book which is currently the No. 1 selling cat and dog humor book on Amazon.

Seems it doesn't take much to make us smile. I, of course, have live streaming pet video (usually under my feet) which, I will admit, has often made me laugh out loud. And laughter truly is the best medicine.

What's your favorite pet related web site? And keep it clean, please.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Who's Fixing Your Toilet?

It is always nice to know that I am not the only writer disgusted with two recent very pricey book deals made to people who have no business writing books. I am speaking of course of Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Last Sunday, Timothy Egan weighed in with his opinion of the plumber's tome in The New York Times. Suffice it to say, he wondered if the plumber wanted Egan to fix his leaky toilet.

That is the point of course. Forget sour grapes or deals gone south or stalled indefinitely. This is about people getting paid great sums of money to write books who have absolutely no credentials to do so. As Egan phrases it: "I don't want you [Joe the Plumber] writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor's gate."

Not when publishers are laying off skilled shapers of language by the dozens and independent presses struggle to stay solvent. Of course, there is the argument that it is books like Joe the Plumber's that presumably open the door for those by lesser known mortals. Countered by Egan's observation that "the idea that someone who stumbled into a sound bite can be published, and charge $24.95 for said words, makes so many real writers think the world is unfair."

Especially when people like Joe the Plumber are hogging all the advance money the struggling industry can dish out. Want to save publishing? Stop publishing garbage and making money off it.

I just think we deserve better.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Research on Laminitis

I was listening to a program on our local public radio station about gardening last weekend while running some errands, and was surprised to hear the host interview a vet. The topic? The kinds of trees that are especially toxic to horses.

I am sure all you horse owners know about the dangers of Black Walnut trees, but I did not know that their leaves, roots and wood chips made from their timber are all very toxic--indeed can be deadly--to horses. They are not exactly sure why, but wood chips made from Black Walnut trees can cause laminitis in some horses. In addition the mold from Black Walnut tree leaves can also trigger the deadly disease. Red oaks are equally dangerous--not so much the bark as the mold from their leaves.

All of which points once again to the mysteries associated with this disease. There are so many things that simply cannot be explained. So it was timely that the NTRA announced last week that its subsidiary, NTRA Charities, had disbursed $90,801 in support of one new and two continuing medical research projects on laminitis.

These disbursements were made from the NTRA Charities--Barbaro Memorial Fund. In addition, the Barbaro Fund contributed an additional $60,000 in 2007 toward laminitis research projects and programs at Penn.

The two continuing projects are: "Targeting 5-HT in Equine Laminitis," by Dr. Douglas Allen at the University of Georgia and "Treatment of Equine Laminitis with Doxycycline," by Dr. Susan Eades at Louisiana State University. The new study is "Effect of Digital Hypothermia on Inflammatory Injury in Laminitis," by Dr. James Belknap of Ohio State University and it is a two year project.

It is good to know that Barbaro's legacy lives on in helping to find a cure for this mysterious disease.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Of Women and Horses

According to Jennifer Swanson, at Pure Thoughts Horse Rescue, "the divided Road has now connected and formed a highway that paves the way for ending the cruel act of horse slaughter as well as the abusive components related to horse slaughter."

Swanson credits two women: Madeline Pickens and Victoria McCullough with creating this new highway. On May 23, 2008, Victoria McCullough purchased all the horses at the notorious Sugarcreek Auction that were destined for slaughter. Over 72% of these horses have since been adopted, proving once again that the majority of the horses being sent to slaughter are not old, infirmed and lame, just unwanted.

And Madeline Pickens? Well she personally rescued 30,000 at-risk wild mustangs and plans to relocated them on her million acres of protected land with room for all different breeds, especially retired racehorses.

Victoria McCullough calls her rescue plan the Triumph Project. Madeline Pickens calls hers the right thing to do.

I call it a wonderful example of women doing what they have always done best: taking care of the world.

Monday, December 8, 2008

9 Year old Author

While the publishing industry continues to react to all the downsizing, there is some good news regarding one sale by a very new author. Alec Greven's dating primer, How to Talk to Girls, hit bookstores last week. The book, published by Harper Collins, began as a handwritten pamphlet that the 9 year old Greven sold at his school's bookfair. It was the runaway bestseller.

Apparently his advice was straightforward enough to catch the attention of an agent and then an editor or two. Some examples: "The best choice for most boys is a regular girl. Remember some pretty girls are cold hearted when it comes to boys. Don't let them get to you."

Before you jump to conclusions about whether or not 9 year old boys should even by thinking about girls, let me assure you that Gevens does not recommend dating (which he defines as going out to dinner) until you are "old," say 15 or 16. And you should not fall in love until at least middle school.

The rest of the advice seems to be fairly classic: "comb your hair and don't wear sweats" and the best way to approach a girl is to just say "hi." "If I say hi and you say hi back, we're probably off to a good start," the fourth grader from Castle Rock, Colorado notes.

According to his mother, young Grevens reads voraciously and wants to be a writer when he grows up, with a weekend job in perhaps archaeology or paleontology.

Sounds like a plan. In the meantime, the new author has no current love interest. "I'm a little too young," he said.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cheaters Never Prosper

An alarming study caught my eye earlier this week. It seems that in the last year 30 percent of U. S. high school students have stolen from a store and 64 percent have cheated on a test, according to a study done by the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles based ethics institute.

While educators are noting that the increased pressure to succeed as well as the array of ways in which to achieve this success (not all of them "legal"), have contributed to this alarming trend, I think that there is no excuse for this behavior. OK, life is competitive and OK, there are lots of essays for sale on the Internet, but that does not make it right to plagiarize in order to go to the head of the class.

For one thing, think of the additional burden this places on already over-burdened teachers. Not only do they have to invent new, creative and fast-paced ways to grab the attention of their students, they now must monitor their work to make sure it is their own. Not only do they have to grade papers, they have to police them.

For another, what is the lesson learned by those who get away with it. That they can because a purchased paper makes it past a teacher who may have simply been too tired to check the Internet for variations? And what ever happened to doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do?

Perhaps most telling is the implication that we need to teach our kids ethics--that they simply do not know right from wrong--or worse yet that they do and still choose wrong over right.

When it comes to the honor system, I used to tell my kids it was the same thing as traffic lights. No one is watching you all the time to make sure you don't run red lights. Just imagine what would happen if everyone decided not to follow the rules of the road. Chaos. Injury. Confusion. And surely fatalities.

I think the same thing applies to ethics for life. Just because no one is watching does not mean that it is OK to break the rules because the same consequences apply.

And no, I don't agree with one educator who advocated changing the system. "We have to create situations where it's easy for kids to do the right things," he said. "We need to create classrooms where learning takes on more improtance than having the right answer."

On the contrary. I think we need to make it incredibly challenging for kids--to put them in situations where its tough to make the choice to do the right thing--and then to punish those who don't in significant and meaningful ways. Because hopefully if they realize its their own fault, they will only do it once.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Horse Power

So for all you horse lovers out there looking for equine related books, be sure to check out my advisor's new book, reviewed this past Sunday in the New York Times Book Review. Horses at Work by Ann Norton Greene, refutes the notion that the steam engine brought the era of the literal work horse to an end. In fact, according to Greene, the country's dependence on the horse grew simultaneously with its dependence on steam.

What prompted this revelation, according to Greene, was the Great Epizootic, an event that occurred in the Fall of 1872. Almost all of the horses in the country came down with the flu and cities came to a standstill. As Greene writes of Philadelphia: "Streetcar companies suspended service; undelivered freight accumulated at wharves and railroad depots; consumers lacked milk, ice, and groceries; saloons lacked beer; work halted at construction sites, brickyards and factories; and city governments curtailed fire protection and garbage collection." In short, without horse power, "modern" life came to a screeching halt.

Greene's argument runs counter to our perception that the usefulness of the horse died with the birth of the steam engine, but as she points out, between 1840 and 1910, even as America was becoming industrialized and burning more fossil fuels, the horse and mule population grew twice as fast as the human population. In addition, as she notes, "the states with the most railroad miles also had the greatest increases in the horse population."

Why? Often to pull those trains the last length of the journey since trains were not welcome in cities proper in case they threw off sparks. In addition, trains went as far as the depot and that was it. If you needed to change trains or go into the country, a horse and wagon was your only option. Horses also pulled streetcars as well as plows on farms. The also propelled the earliest threshing machines and pulled the wagon that delivered milk to your door.

In short, the birth of the steam engine simply gave the horse another job until the loads that he was asked to bear simply became too large. By 1888, horses were no longer pulling streetcars and were on their way to becoming obsolete. It was not the steam engine that made them so; it was ultimately the automobile that promised cheaper, quieter and more efficient mode of transportation.

The irony of course is that we see where that has left us. In fact I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read: Stop pollution. Get a horse.

The more things change....

Friday, December 5, 2008

Publishing on the Skids?

The Publishing industry is calling Wednesday, December 3, Black Wednesday, for all the bad news that hit the street.

Random House underwent a massive reorganization with major divisions being consolidated or simply disappearing. Thomas Nelson, the world's largest Christian publisher and the 10th largest publisher of any kind in the U. S., laid off 10% of its workforce.

And over at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which had already announced a freeze on acquiring new titles, the publisher resigns and the executive editor is fired, with more layoffs on the way. And Simon & Shuster has eliminated at least 35 positions.

Not good to say the least but probably long overdue. I have been saying that publishing is probably the last of the old boys clubs to still conduct business according to an archaic set of unwritten rules, but no one likes to see industry giants crumble. What is interesting is the unsaid presumption that people will stop buying books. I'm not sure.

I am a subscriber to the Free Library of Philadelphia's Author Event series and just this past week, it was a standing room only crowd for Toni Morrison. Granted she is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a Nobel Prize winner but still, it was a Monday night in early December when there are plenty of other distractions. And the line for her to autograph her newest book was at least 200 people long. No exaggeration.

Of course, she is Toni Morrison but most of the events this entire season have been very well attended. And at all of them people buy books.

Of course you can still borrow books free from the Library, so if all you want to do is read the book, you can. But the point here is that people wanted to buy the book and have it autographed by the author. And please note that this was not the Sarah Palin Diaries--this was real, fairly challenging, literature, taught in English classes.

My point is that I don't believe people will ever stop buying books, especially those which they view as investments. Perhaps it is a point that the publishing industry should consider, since they don't seem to be publishing too many of that genre.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Springside's Surgery

Barbaro's now famous surgeon, Dean Richardson, is back in the news again, having performed successful surgery on Springside, the 2 year old filly who sustained a fracture in her right front pastern after winning the Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct Nov. 29.

So far so good. "The surgery went very well," owner Jim Sapara told The Blood-Horse. "She walked back to her stall after they put her in the pool to wake up, and she was feeding at the time of the call."

Infection is the biggest threat to her recovery but barring that, the horse is expected to be fine. Probably not fine enough to race again (you never know) but certainly fine enough to procreate.

A couple of things struck me about this story. The first is how "routine" repairs like this have become. Screws were inserted into the bone to stabilize it; the recovery pool was used to lessen the possibility of damage when she woke up, and the horse was, amazingly, walked back to her stall where she ate like it was just another day at the office. Ten years ago, I don't think this surgery would have seemed so run-of-the-mill. Certainly fifteen years ago, it might not have even been attempted.

The other thing is the day off between injury and surgery--that all important day for the horse to regain stability after suffering trauma so that the effects of the surgery--traumatic in itself--are minimized. Perhaps that is one of the greatest lessons of veterinary medicine--that horses do better when they are not rushed from the track to the operating table. Even in Barbaro's case, it was important to stabilize him before subjecting him to surgery.

How amazing that we who followed Barbaro's story know this drill all too well. We can see the images associated with the recovery pool and the walk back to the stall. We know Springside is in the most capable of hands and we understand the day to day nature of her projected 8 week recovery.

Talk about a legacy....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Tragedies at Aqueduct

Some incredibly tragic news from last weekend when two horses at Aqueduct were injured, one fatally.

Wanderin Boy, a 7 year old with a history of injuries, suffered a fatal injury to his left front leg during the running of the Cigar Mile. He was euthanized due to the extent of the injury: shattered sesamoid bones in his leg. Wanderin Boy was owned by Arthur Hancock III, who had nurtured him back from three other serious injuries. To some extent, it was a miracle that this horse was able to continue to race well into his later years. Of course that does not make up for his tragic demise, especially since he was a well loved champion.

Wanderin Boy had earned over $1.2 million in his career, which was extended due to his owner's display of true horsemanship that allowed this horse to recuperate for as long as it took between previous injuries.

On the same card at Aqueduct, the 2 year old filly Springside suffered a fracture to her front right pastern while galloping out after the race. According to the track veterinarian, it was an intact fracture but is nonetheless considered career-ending.

Springside was vanned to New Bolton Center earlier this week. No word yet as to her condition. She had won the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes by 9 1/2 lengths so it is yet another promising career cut short.

Questions are flying about the condition of the outer track at the Big A where racing moves to the inner track for the winter meet.

More than anything, it is a tragic reminder of the frailty of these magnificent animals and the demands we place on them. Even when you do everything right--and there is reason to believe the owners of these horses did--everything can go wrong.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Alex & Me

Any animal lover who is searching for a good read might consider the recently published Alex & Me by Irene Pepperberg. It is the story of Pepperberg's remarkable journey with Alex, a parrot she bought in a Chicago pet store in 1977 and then taught to communicate.

As his obituary in The London Times noted: "Alex, the African gray parrot who was smarter than the average U. S. president, has died at the relatively tender age of 31. He could count to six, identify colors, understand concepts such as bigger and smaller and had a vocabulary of 150 words. To his supporters he was proof that the phrase 'birdbrain' should be expunged from the dictionary."

Pepperberg's relationship with Alex was scientific as well as emotional. The book documents her experiments in animal communication as well as her ongoing struggle to win recognition from the larger scientific community. Through years of hard work and meticulous trials, Pepperberg set out to demonstrate, like Jane Goodall, that animals are smarter than we think and that they do have the ability to "communicate."

"Alex taught me to believe that his little bird brain was conscious in some matter, that is, capable of intention," Pepperberg writes. "By extrapolation, Alex taught me that we live in a world populated by thinking, conscious creatures."

As much a story about animal cognition as it is about the changing nature of how we view animals in general, Alex & Me is high on my must read list. Do post a review if you've beaten me to it.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Slow Blogging

There is an interesting new trend among bloggers as noted by Sharon Otterman in last Sunday's New York Times: slow blogging. According to Otterman, it is a concept related to slow cooking and it is all about back to the basics of what made you a blogger in the first place. That is, the opportunity to write, not necessarily to build an audience or create a brand, but just to write.

"Slow bloggers believe that news-driven blogs like TechnoCrunch and Gawker (I would add Huffington Post) are the equivalent of fast food restaurants--great for occasional consumption but not enough to guarantee human sustenance over the long haul," writes Otterman. They also believe in quality over quantity--that meaty sporadic posts carry more weight than digestible daily nuggets (all food puns intended).

I'd like to think that I am a member of the slow blogging movement, but the truth is I am probably somewhere in between the two camps. Yes, I was attracted to the concept of blogging because it serves as a valuable "warm up exercise" for my writing work for the day. But somewhere along the line, I decided it was also a good way to build an audience if and when my book ever gets published. Hence the necessity of the daily posts.

I feel comfortable in admitting that I do not belong to the camp of those inexorably tied to their electronic devices, cranking out five, six or eight posts a day, but I do feel the need to write something readable every day partially out of fear of losing what small base I may have developed. Yes there is a responsibility that comes with being reliable but I like to believe it is a two way street. You have demonstrated your loyalty. I should demonstrate mine.

So while I mull this concept of deeper, "meatier" posts, you might notice that the topics wander a bit. That too comes with the territory of slow blogging because you will find that my mind often ventures into places where this blog has not been before.

Bottom line: I hope you'll stick around for the journey. It's always nice to know I'm not flying solo.