Thursday, February 25, 2010

Amazon Vine review

I received the product below gratis in exchange for a review via Amazon's Vine program. I do not tailor my reviews for the program, but remain objective. I have given the book below 4 out of 5 stars.

Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills
Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills
by Carol Bradley

4.0 out of 5 stars Blows the lid off the puppy mill scandal...,
Customer review from the Amazon Vine™ Program (What's this?)

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." - Mohandas K. Gandhi

Saving Gracie tells three stories. It begins with a raid on a puppy mill operation run by the ironically named Michael Wolf. Once famous in the world of show dogs, Wolf became notorious when, in 2004, 337 dogs were seized from his Mike-Mar "kennel" in 2004. Both the puppies and their parents lived in squalid conditions that would turn the stomach of any right-thinking person: 24/7 confinement in small wire cages, which were stacked 4-high - the feces from the dogs in the higher cages literally dropping on other dogs and getting caught in the mesh flooring; no ventilation in the room, leading to unbearable odors; dogs forced to breed non-stop until they were spent. Some 2.5 million dogs are pumped out of puppy mills every year, and 4 million shelter dogs are euthanized each year. Do the math.

The book also details the ongoing problem of puppy mills, most obvious in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a location with a high number of Amish and Menonite breeders who regard the dogs as nothing more than a crop, comparable to an ear of corn. The standard Amish practice of shooting a dog which has reached the end of its pup-bearing life blows the lid off their bucolic image. While Pennsylvania, where reform legislation has been enacted, is the focus of this book, other states with similar issues - Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and I'm ashamed to say Ohio - are also discussed. The American Kennel Club, which lobbied against reform until the publicity damaged its public image, is also briefly mentioned. If there is one weakness in the book, it is the lack of writing on the way the AKC exploits the "snob factor" in pet ownership to the detriment of both canines and their owners - all for the sake of profit. Ultimately, pet owners have to confront their own priorities when acquiring a companion animal (a genetically "pure" breed which may have defects from inbreeding, diseases stemming from unsanitary conditions and lack of socialization versus a healthy mixed breed pup who may have been a "happy accident"). I would have liked to have seen the book discuss this issue in more detail.

Of course, the book is also about Gracie, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and the 132nd dog rescued from Wolf's operation. Gracie's story runs from tragic, to heartwarming, but is ultimately cautionary.

The author, Carol Bradley, is a former newspaper reporter, which shows in her organized and highly readable writing style. This is a must read for all who care about dogs or are contemplating getting one.
Beyond the scope of this book, here are some facts you should know about the American Kennel Club:
The AKC makes money from puppy mills, which comprise 80% of the AKC’s business. In 2003, the AKC registered 917,247 puppies at the cost of approximately $25.00 per puppy. Thus, it's no surprise that the AKC has lobbied extensively against reform legislation.
The AKC does not inspect kennels, and a certificate from the AKC is not a guarantee of health or quality. AKC registered simply means the puppy had two parents of the same breed. The AKC registers dogs and gives them papers which help to sell them in pet shops or at breeders kennels.
The AKC is driven by one motivator: money. Ironically, they are listed as a non-profit, which points out the need for reform legislation dealing with the definition of "for profit" and "non-profit."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Art's final lesson...

The last thing we learn in the arts is that a pure aesthetic pleasure is the rare and right one, especially in music. It is easier in music to lean on "philosophy", than it is to make music.

-Neville Cardus

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: CIM orchestra in Stravinsky and Dvorak

Sometimes, the best things in life are free. Danny and I had the choice of two free concerts last night: Matt Haimovitz playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto at Fairmount Presbyterian Church (where my parents were married in 1956), and the Cleveland Institute of Music Orchestra playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with Mark Baekbum Yee and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring.

There are remarkably few cello concertos by the great 19th Century Composers: Beethoven and Brahms wrote concertos that use the cello, but only in collaboration with the violin, or in Beethoven’s case, the violin and piano. Schumann and Dvorak wrote cello concertos which have entered the standard repertoire. Dvorak’s Cello Concerto is a lovely piece, with many of the hallmarks of his most popular works: memorable themes, beautiful melodies, and wonderful orchestration. To say that Yee is a talented cellist is to say the obvious: No one gets into CIM without talent, and Yee’s technique is assured without being showy. Yee brought to his performance of the Dvorak a soaring lyricism and a youthful ardor that did not conflict with mature musicianship. Yet Yee does not have a particularly large sonority and there were issues of balance at times when conductor Carl Topilow allowed the orchestra to nearly drown out Yee.

The audience riot that accompanied the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has become legend. Less well known is the displeasure voiced by members of the orchestra over the work’s difficulty (frequent changes in meter and unusual tonality make it a real challenge). It says something for the improvement in orchestra playing over the last century that semi-professional orchestras dare to take on Stravinsky’s thorny score. Indeed, the Boston Philharmonic under Benjamin Zander made a memorable in concert recording of the work in the 1990s.

In the early stereo days, The Rite of Spring was frequently recorded and hi-fi enthusiasts often used it to show off their sound systems. This was repeated in the early digital era. There have been a number of great recordings of the work over the years, such as Bernstein’s with the New York Philharmonic, and the 1969 recording with the Cleveland Orchestra under Pierre Boulez. (Stravinsky’s own recording, sadly, is nothing to write home about.) But over the past two decades, there has been a tendency to smooth over this revolutionary work, and recent recordings (including Boulez’s 1990s remake with the CO) have begun to sound relatively civilized, even bland.

That was not the case last night. Beyond the incredulity that a student orchestra, even an advanced one like CIM’s could navigate this work relatively unscathed, I was astonished at the passion they brought to the score. I must confess, though I have heard The Rite in broadcast performances and on recordings more times than I can remember, this was the first time I had attended a performance. Watching the various sections of the orchestra playing the piece was like watching a ballet of its own. Another factor that no recording I’ve heard has been able to capture is the sheer volume an orchestra can generate. This was no doubt emphasized by the rather small Kulas Hall. Percussionists Dylan Moffitt and Derek Tywoniuk are to be singled out for their fearless and vigorous enthusiasm in tackling of their parts. I have not been so swept away by a performance of this piece since the first time I heard it in 1984.

I began by commenting on the audience reaction to The Rite in 1913. Last night the audience was enthusiastic, totally silent during the performance and vigorously applauding at the conclusion -- except for one elderly woman who left midway through the first part. Topilow, who might have sensed this would happen in an audience that was populated by more gray haired people than students, preceded the performance with a brief talk where snippets from the score were played. I hope I never become the kind of old person who shies away from challenging art.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Out of Both Sides of a Big Mouth


John McCain in 2006:
The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, Senator, we ought to change the policy, then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.

John McCain in 2010:

I believe it would be a mistake to repeal the policy. This successful policy has been in effect for over fifteen years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. We have the best trained, best equipped, and most professional force in the history of our country, and the men and women in uniform are performing heroically in two wars. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”

So, what's your stand, John?  Will you keep your word and support the military you never let us forget you served in?  Or will you trumpet your party's line for political points?