Friday, December 30, 2011

Stop Ohio’s Puppy Mills

There is an evil thing happening in Ohio right now – the reckless breeding and exploitation of canines via puppy mills. Such mills have existed for decades in America, but have become an epidemic problem in recent years. Ohio currently ranks sixth nationally for high volume breeders, and Holmes County is Ohio's epicenter for dog auctions. The vast majority of puppy mill operators in Ohio are Amish.

Before I proceed, let me make it plain that there is a sharp delineation between puppy mills and legitimate breeders. In puppy mills, female dogs are constantly bred – delivering litter after litter nearly without pause. They spend their entire lives confined to cages. Typical puppy mills can have literally hundreds of breeding dogs, which give birth until they are no longer able to carry. At that point, the dogs are removed from their cages and shot. These dogs are never properly socialized to humans – and the litters they give birth to are not properly cared for in the first weeks of life. The puppies are auctioned off to pet stores or, increasingly, sold via the Internet to unsuspecting buyers.

This is not the case with legitimate breeders, where the health of the mother dog* is paramount, stud dogs are carefully selected, and puppies are closely monitored in the earliest weeks of life. There is a place for dog breeders in our society, particularly in the creation of service dogs.

Puppy mills were common in Pennsylvania – with Lancaster County called the “puppy mill capitol of the world” – until Governor Ed Rendell signed legislation that clamped down on such practices. Following that, a portion of mill activity found its way to Ohio. There is currently an effort underway to outlaw dog auctions in Ohio either through legislation or a ballot initiative - such a ban would deal a major blow to puppy mills.

Some people have opposed this initiative based on a rose-tinted image of the Amish: simple folk who live in harmony with nature and God. But in recent years, a truer picture of the Amish has arisen, one in which cruelty toward animals and even fellow humans is common. Others oppose it based on the false idea that we should not be worrying about dogs when there are so many humans who live in misery. My response is that human problems are generally caused by humans – either by themselves or through the actions of others. The problems dogs face, including the tragedy of puppy mills, are also caused by humans – and require a human solution.

Recent evidence indicates that the human/canine bond has existed far longer than previously thought – as long as 31,000 years – and that man’s domestication of wolves may have been reciprocated. The presence of dogs in our lives may have been a critical factor in the evolution of human society from loose groups of hunter-gatherers to stable communities. To this day, dogs continue to be of service to humans in war and in peace. How have we repaid canines for their service to man? By ignoring the need to spay/neuter, we’ve allowed them to overpopulate – to the extent that millions are euthanized each year. We’ve created designer breeds in a manner that has placed appearance above health. For example, the English Bulldog, once a great breed, has been inbred to the extent that cardiopulmonary problems are common and their lifespan has been reduced. The posture of the German Shepherd has been adversely affected by breeding for an aesthetically pleasing appearance – resulting in epidemic hip dysplasia. Is this any way to treat Man’s Best Friend, a creature WE created, and which aided us in our own formative era?

Legislation to outlaw dog auctions is only part of the solution. The more critical element is raising the awareness of those looking for canine companions. Far too many people have been so caught up with dogs of specific breed that they are unaware that dogs of mixed breed can often be a preferable option. I hold the American Kennel Club responsible as the primary perpetrator of this snob appeal. More often than not, a mutt will carry the best traits of each breed in its mix – this is known as hybrid-vigor. I’ve seen it personally in my Labrador/Collie/Shepherd mix Mason: He has the friendliness and playfulness of a Lab, the intelligence of a Collie, and the watchfulness and protectiveness of a Shepherd.

Dogs are not accessories - they are living, beathing, feeling creatures!

I urge all my readers, both in Ohio and out, to support this effort.

* I refuse to use the term “bitch”, which is more commonly a pejorative term in America

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fitness Update: The revenge of Christmas dinner

Despite the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I have been managing to keep up with my workouts. I worked out every day this past week, including Wednesday which I usually skip. I even managed to get in a Christmas Eve (well, the afternoon of Christmas Eve day) workout at Progressive’s gym, which was nearly devoid of people. I wish I could say I was being as vigilant about the diet end of things. Between the food offered at various project and seasonal work events, and the treats shared by coworkers, I’ve put a couple pounds back on.

Dan had to work overnight, so while he slept Christmas morning, I began work on dinner: Candied Yams and Stuffin’ Muffins (muffins made of stuffing). After he awakened and we opened presents, Dan made Pasteles and arroz con gandules, and we washed our meal down with coquito. A traditional feast, but one that mixed several traditions.

Making the Stuffin' Muffins - note the time on the stove.

12/24/2011 214#

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beethoven's deafness and his compositional style

The British Medical Journal has published a fascinating article about how Beethoven's increasing deafness may have influenced his compositional style.

Click here to read the full article.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Nutcracker

When counting the years on the modern calendar, we often refer to BC and AD (or the more politically correct CE). When considering ballet, one could easily refer to BT and AT – before and after Tchaikovsky. The Russian composer put ballet music on the map. For those who doubt that assertion (and there are some who will merely so they can “dis” Tchaikovsky) consider this: How many memorable ballet scores - that can stand on their own in the concert hall, and away from dancers – were written before Tchaikovsky? And how much did that change after Tchaikovsky put his stamp on ballet music? Probably the most noteworthy original ballet score before Tchaikovsky was Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus. The score, to be blunt, it not particularly interesting or memorable, except for a serviceable overture, and a theme he used several times – as the finale of the Eroica Symphony and in the Eroica Variations.

I’ve seen The Nutcracker more times than I can recall. Dan and I went to the Saturday matinee at the State Theatre. The production, by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet had a particularly Canadian flavor. The Nutcracker is flexible enough that in can withstand changes in tone – even the cutesy-poo addition of a dancing bear. But I found much of the choreography cautious and not up to the standards present when Cleveland had its own ballet company (albeit shared with San Jose). This was Dan’s first live ballet and I wish the dancing had been more virtuosic and the staging more imaginative.

The RWB production took some liberties with the music: the arrangement of pieces in the second act was altered and the Waltz of the Flowers was early on rather than near the end. They even added a piece (the Marche Miniature from Tchaikovsky’s Suite, Op. 43) to the second act – being less harmonically advanced it didn’t really fit into the score. Tempos were cautious during the faster pieces – whether this was to accommodate the dancers or the players I do not know. The playing by the pick-up ensemble was accurate but small scaled.

I learned a lesson: when attending a cultural event which may involve children, always opt for the evening show - never the matinee. Young children simply do not know proper etiquette. Appallingly, too many parents don’t know how to behave either. There was a man in front of us reading a pro-Newt Gingrich blog on his brightly-lit smart phone drawing our attention from the performance.

But for me, the marvel of The Nutcracker, after seeing it live many times, is and will remain Tchaikovsky's score. It shines through even in a less than stellar production. All the more remarkable is that Tchaikovsky composed the ballet’s score under very restrictive conditions imposed by the producer (and some say choreographer) Marius Petipa. The composer was told: "I want seven bars in 3/4 time, then ten bars in 6/8 time, then twenty bars in 4/4 time, at the following tempos..."

It has been said that art thrives on restrictions, and The Nutcracker score is an extreme example of that. I wish I could go back in time and tell Tchaikovsky, who was notoriously insecure about his work and was disappointed in this ballet, that a century later there would be annual productions of this ballet in nearly every major city, that audiences would enjoy the Nutcracker Suite in concert halls and on recordings without even the need to watch the ballet, that even a musical novice would recognize a tune from the score and it would bring a smile to his face - and a tear to his eye.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A New Musical Direction

My love for classical music (by which I mean the repertoire from baroque to the moderns and even some minimalism – along with orchestral film scores) goes back 35 years. The classical repertoire is so vast that one can barely acquire a deep knowledge of it in the course of a lifetime. Consider, for example, the many fine works by otherwise well-known composers that are rarely played, various pieces by Schumann and Liszt. It occurred to me early on that if I was to know enough repertoire, I would have to limit my time with other genres. That’s OK, because much of what I heard from the pop world didn’t appeal to me – particularly what is referred to as the Top 40, to say nothing of Rap and its various offshoots. True, there are a few things in my collection that are nowhere near the Classical repertoire: dance mixes, some Madonna, even some 70s disco. But those are exceptions and as often as not, only serve the purpose of speeding up my workout. Also, I don’t really care for music with lyrics of any kind (opera is a relative blind spot for me, although choral music is not). I’m more interested in the melodic/harmonic lines which often contain emotions too deep for words to convey.

But I’ve spent so much time studying scores and listening to music that, I must confess, it seldom makes a direct connection to me on an emotional level anymore. Instead, my emotional response is filtered through my intellectual understanding of the music.

By happenstance, I put a documentary called Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, into my Netflix queue – mostly based on the fact that he was shown singing Jacky. It arrived last week, and I watched it Monday night. For someone who started off singing in a boy-band, Walker has taken a remarkable journey. Songs such as Big Louise and Two Ragged Soldiers are melodically ambiguous, harmonically complex, richly orchestrated, and utterly heartbreaking. It has been a long time since any music made such an immediate emotional connection with me.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fitness Quest: Illness and recovery

As mentioned in my previous post, I was ill with a sinus infection and sore throat for most of my vacation. Even at this point, I have not fully recovered – although I have been able to resume workouts. I had already decided not to schedule training sessions the week of my vacation since I didn’t know where I would be in my home improvement. But I planned on working out on my own – which illness put the kibosh on. So, from November 20 – 27 I didn’t work out at all. The most exercise I got was pulling the carpet and walking the dog – neither of which amounted to very much. When I resumed training last Tuesday, my weight had upticked. But I have tapered down and my weight is at its lowest point since I began training. How much of that loss is due to atrophy and how much is due to fat loss I don’t know. But I felt energized enough to combine two workouts into one on Saturday.

12/3/2011 212#