Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pertinent Pachyderm Humor?

I guess you could suggest this cartoon is apropos of the portion of my recent conversation on "Talking Animals" with writer Charles Siebert in which we were discussing elephants--both captive and in the wild--that exhibit behavior akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, attacking other animals and trampling humans.

Or you might attempt to tie it to circus elephants, who endure a miserable existence, including oppressive travel conditions in cramped train cars, as well as often-vicious ankus beatings and other forms of horrific treatment...and have been known to attack their "trainers" and other circus personnel.

Me? I just thought the cartoon (appearing in the current, Aug. 31 issue of The New Yorker) was funny...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Thrilling Symphony Of Anime Sights And Sounds: You Can Tune A "Ponyo" But Can You Tuna Fish?

I couldn't begin to claim profound expertise about the work of Hayao Mizazaki, but I can certainly suggest that the latest offering from Japan's anime wizard, "Ponyo," will constitute a profound bonanza for lovers of wildly inventive animation--and animal lovers.

Of all ages, in both cases.

And although at the screening I attended, the audience was about 70% kids, "Ponyo" should in no way be confused with warm, cuddly child-flick fare. Sure, the film is nominally about a young female fish, Ponyo, who wants to be a little girl and the little boy, Sosuke, who plucks her from the sea--and their (sometimes) cross-species, uh, friendship.

But "Ponyo" is a rich, flavorful bouillabaisse of images and ideas, where parental figures seem sometimes puzzling for their misanthropy (Ponyo's underwater-wizard dad, a Peter Max-ish figure voiced by Liam Neeson) or lapses in judgment (Sosuke's mom, depicted vocally by Tiny Fey drives like a bat out of hell on twisty roads with him in the car and leaves her son--and Ponyo--alone at home in the midst of a huge hurricane), and good/evil issues swirl around environmental questions of varying stripes.

And that ain't the half of it. The film seemed deeply compelling on each of its myriad levels. Most of the kids in the theater watched "Ponyo" in rapt silence.

Same here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another Installment In The "A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words" Series

We've done a few shows on "Talking Animals" over the years focusing on the issue of feline de-clawing--which as our periodic guest and perhaps foremost expert on this, Dr. Jennifer Conrad, has explained essentially involves amputation--so we were quite struck by this billboard at the center of the new campaign by Dr. Conrad's organization, The Paw Project.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Vick Story Has A Weird Wrinkle That Hits Close To Home

When it comes to the ongoing Michael Vick story, recently turbo-charged in the media world (most notable, Sunday's interview on "60 Minutes") and blogosphere by the double-barrel news that he was released from prison and signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, I think it's safe to say there's been no shortage of opinions--many quite emotionally charged--being expressed...well, damn near everywhere.

For the record, my own view is closely aligned with that of Humane Society Of The US honcho Wayne Pacelle, who obviously feels that this particular leopard not only can change his spots, and did, but having done so is in a uniquely potent position to influence and guide young Vick types away from the dogfighting subculture--and Alec Baldwin, whose Vick-deserves-a-second chance piece on Huffington Post was, I thought, spot-on.

But as has been made abundantly clear since the first bit of Vick news broke--and was underscored on last night's edition of "Larry King Live," which did a nice job of capturing some of the chief facets of the current Vick brouhaha, featuring a key exec from PETA, a key exec from HSUS, a Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter and James Brown, who conducted the "60 Minutes" interview--animal welfare groups, including the most notable ones, are sharply divided on the matter.

We've already outlined the Pacelle/HSUS position, whereas the PETA stance is squarely opposed to Vick--and vehemently opposed to Vicks' new Eagles contract. Part of PETA's campaign to make this displeasure known, loud and clear, is to urge PETA supporters to boycott Eagles sponsors, and otherwise communicate just how unhappy they are with the Eagles, and anyone affiliated with the Eagles.

Here's where the plot thickens (or sickens): One of those sponsors is an organization called The Strauss Foundation. Now, I don't know what this Strauss Foundation does, but I will tell you I'm part of something called The Strauss Foundation--full name: The Donald A. Strauss Public Service Scholarship Foundation--which, as the longer name suggests, provides public service scholarships.

Our Strauss Foundation is based in Newport Beach, CA, was founded more than a dozen years ago by Mom, the late Dorothy Strauss (to pay tribute to my Dad after he died, the titular Donald, and cultivate interest in public service) and provides those scholarships to juniors at more than 15 California colleges and universities, including Stanford and all the UCs.

My Mom's vision for the foundation has proved to be pretty remarkable. We're now mentioned by administrators at prominent schools in the same breath as big, venerable, national scholarships like the Rhodes. Our alumni include a slew of impressive young adults (among them, multiple Rhodes Scholars)--one is a member of the Obama Administration, working in the West Wing.

So the administrator of that Strauss Foundation--my Strauss Foundation, as it were--rolls into the office Monday, fires up the computer, and there's a zillion e-mails, virtually all with the subject heading "sponsorship"...all quite peeved about our support of the Eagles.

But, of course, we don't sponsor or support the Eagles. We aren't that Strauss Foundation. Weird.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Writer Siebert Discusses His New Book—Which Was Re-Titled 11th Hour (And I’d Subtitle “Simian Roger & Me”)—And Animals In Crisis

I was greatly privileged to speak on Wednesday’s show with writer Charles Siebert, whose new book is “The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward A New Understanding Of Animals.”

The book chronicles his extended encounter with a retired circus chimp named Roger at The Center For Great Apes, a chimpanzee sanctuary in Wauchula, FL, but widens out considerably from the personal reportage of that encounter.

But as Charles made clear in our on-air conversation, his time spent with Roger had a profound impact on him (he originally intended to call the book “Humanzee”; it’s probably too late to consider my proposed sub-title: “Simian Roger & Me”), while serving as a jumping off point for addressing what he found at other chimp sanctuaries across the county he traveled to, and musings about scientific research and literature on the man/ape connection, as well as observations and reporting from other pieces he’s written.

Indeed, over the years, Charles Siebert has written a number of New York Times Magazine cover stories about animals and animal issues, most recently his July 13 piece on whales—a sizable portion of which was devoted to the phenomenon of “friendly whales,” the focus of the May 13 “Talking Animals.”

Other celebrated Siebert NYT Magazine cover pieces include an Oct. 2006 article on elephants experiencing something akin to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and, perhaps most disturbingly, as Charles and I discussed, this didn’t apply merely to captive elephants, but ones in the wild, too; and the story on chimps, the reporting of which led to his pivotal meeting with Roger and, ultimately, the new book.

In briefly addressing his career path, he explained that he came to writing about animals from a background as a poet. That makes perfect sense: "The Wauchula Woods Accord" and his Times Magazine pieces reflect the heart of a animal lover and advocate, and the soul of a poet.

Or maybe vice versa.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Blog Sloth Becomes New Animal!

Pictured at the left is a cartoonish depiction of 10-toed sloth.

By which, I mean that it's been nearly five months since my last blog post--for reasons too boring and pitiful to explain, though they largely involve...yes, sloth.

But I am ready to return to regular posting, mindful that the blogosphere is absolutely clamoring for yet another person with lots of fuzzy opinions, and even fuzzier grammar...