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Articles, Essays and a Blogoir

On Memorial Day: A Reluctant Dragon, Still MIA

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My mom exchanged many letters with Ben while he was serving in the Pacific. What did he miss? Swimming at our summer cottage.

I knew my Uncle Bennett by small mementos: the photo of him in uniform in the library of our summer cottage; letters my mom received when his plane was shot down; my grandmother’s poetry when he died; his purple heart; a fraternity mug from Williams college, which he attended before enlisting.

I also knew him from a photo album that showed him, horsing around as a teenager in summer, swimming in the lake and his tombstone in the local cemetery, on which my grandparents had inscribed a few lines from a Robert Louis Stevenson poem:

Here he lies where he longed to be, home is the sailor, home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill.

My dad said Bennett was the co-pilot of a plane with 16 guys on it shot down over Marcus Island on May 9, 1945, just before the end of World War II.

My grandparents found out on their anniversary. Everyone on the plane died and no one was found. The plane was seen going down and is now likely disintegrated on the ocean floor. It was so long ago. I wasn’t born then.

Nina, my older sister, dug up that his squadron was called the Reluctant Dragons and that he flew a Liberator. Here is a photo she found, too.

Uncle Bennett, second from left, bottom row.

I like to think of the reluctant dragon that was my uncle and not the one who got lost at sea and became a phantom to me and my four sisters. But the latter is sharper in that way that absences have.

My mother never spoke about Bennett to me. I don’t know why. I’d like to replace my memory of him with something living, not just a photo or small objects and lines of verse. But I don’t know how.

Dear New York Times: Please Don’t Forget the 26,600 Slaughtered Thoroughbreds. Thank you.

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Horse in kill pen at U.S. slaughterhouse (Photo: USDA)

It’s been a busy week in equine America.

The racing community’s been debating the breakdown of horses at Aqueduct, on the set of “Luck” and in general. Separately, the equine welfare community’s been fighting new legislation and proposals to open horse slaughterhouses in Tennessee, Missouri and Oregon, while consumer and humane watchdog groups are fighting “ag-gag” rules, one of which was just signed into law by Utah’s Governor.

I hope those interested in fixing what’s broken in horse racing will focus on the larger humane and agribusiness issues, because they are all related. Unfortunately, ag-gag and horse slaughter aren’t on racing’s radar pretty much because racing’s focus is nearly always inward-facing. This is especially true of people and industries whose fortunes are tightly tied to how they’re publically perceived.

Racing’s image is tarnished right now as is PETA’s, the insular animal rights group that is often mistaken as the only group in America with a voice on issues relating to animal welfare, legislation and advocacy.

This has a lot to do with Ingrid Newkirk’s talent for creating spectacles (like her statement about bringing horse slaughter back to the U.S.) but also the manner in which PETA exposes things that do, in fact, need exposing. As it turns out, PETA provoked the racing industry and race fans to fury, first by asking questions about two horses that died on the set of HBO’s “Luck” series, then by demanding changes and third, by dragging the producer, trainer and a vet associated with “Luck” in front of the Los Angeles DA on what many in the racing community say are false and misleading charges of violating a California humane statute.

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What A Seventh-Grader Taught Me About Wild Horses

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Photo Courtesy of Laura Leigh

There are more wild horses and burros living in long-term holding pens today than roaming free. Who thinks that’s a good idea?

Who would have even imagined that 40 years after the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971, that we would even be having this conversation? And yet that’s the state of things today, thanks to the Bureau of Land Management.

Don’t spread this around, but I remember when that legislation was passed. I was a seventh-grader, an avid pony clubber,  and I was outraged by what was being done to the mustangs. I was also rabidly anti-Nixon, mostly because of the Vietnam War and also because my dad liked him and I decided that whatever my dad stood for politically, I was against.

Still, the legislation passed while Nixon was in office and even if I didn’t like him as a president,  the passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act made me feel as though our government stood for some of the right things. It stood for wild horses and it stood for the will of the American people who overwhelmingly called for the mustangs to be protected. For a moment, I thought it also stood for me because, you know, I was a seventh-grader and a horse lover. And who pays seventh-graders and horse lovers any mind?

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I Won’t Watch “Luck.” I’ve Seen Enough Dead Horses Already.

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The legendary filly, Ruffian

I used to love horse racing. I grew up with horses, did Pony Club, mucked out stalls with a pair of rubber gloves and bucket and dreamed about horses, horse shows, horse anything. I even went to college in Saratoga.

Then, the summer before my freshman year, the unthinkable happened: Ruffian broke both sesamoid bones in her foreleg racing Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure, at Belmont Park.

I remember the race, the day, the sight of Jacinto Vasquez trying to pull her up as she galloped on her pulverized leg and later, the news she’d come out of surgery only to smash her cast while thrashing in her stall.  The news she was gone was unfathomable. An estimated 20 million people watched the race. I can’t imagine that anyone wasn’t affected.

Ruffian was the second horse I’d love, but the first I’d lose. She had every gift in life, but length of years, as the late Ted Kennedy would say in his eulogy for JFK Jr. Ruffian, the hope of horses and of one college-bound, horse-obsessed girl, was no more.

College in Saratoga was grand. I lived off campus my last two years in a Victorian townhouse at 176 Regent Street and dated a bartender at the famed racing hangout, Siro’s. We went to the track a lot. It was exciting and then, I saw another horse break down. Not a big horse, not a famous one. An anonymous one.

It lay on the track as the crowd watched a van drive up, erect a screen, and then, minutes later, drive away.

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Is Your K-Y Jelly Cruelty-Free? Do You Care?

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Friends, I’m happy to announce a departure from my regular grim programming with a new Forbes.com post: Is Your K-Y Jelly Cruelty-Free? Do You Care? 

Apparently, the topic is resonating with a lot of people. Are they K-Y users? I think not. Mostly, they’re people like me who caught a glimpse of how much animal testing is still going on. If you haven’t, check out these products from Procter & Gamble that are all tested on animals:

Always, Aussie, Braun, Christina Aguilera Perfumes, Clairol, Downy, Crest, DDF, Dolce & Gabbana, Dunhill Fragrances, Escada Fragrances, Febreze, Fekkai, Gillette Co., Gucci Fragrances, Halo, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Hugo Boss, Iams, Ivory, Joy, Lacoste Fragrances, Max Factor, Mr. Clean, Natural Instincts, Nice n Easy, Olay, Old Spice, Oral-B, Pampers, Pantene, Physique, Puffs, Scope, Sebastian Professional , Secret, SK-II, Swiffer, Tide, Vicks, Vidal Sasson, Zest

Have you bought any? I have. Lots of them.

As it happens, Forbes conducted a survey last year asking consumers to rate CPG companies on a range of attributes, including “trust.” Guess who’s considered among the most trusted companies in America? You got it. P&G. And they’re in good company.

Incredulous, I asked an editor if the subject of animal-testing came up in the survey, and she said “no.” They hadn’t thought about it. This made sense and yet it seemed ridiculously dumb. Consumers care deeply about animals. That they didn’t know what they were buying also made sense to me. How would they? And yet, I felt as though I should have known. The Forbes editors should have known. The companies should have been transparent.

It’s a new day and I’m sharing this experience in the hopes of shaking things up. Please share if you want to join me. Thanks!

Paula Bacon, Mayor of Kaufman, Texas, Kicks Some Ass

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Mayor Paula Bacon of Kaufman Texas with her horse, Hershey

You almost never hear people described as “gutsy,” anymore. Ballsy is popular. Brazen. But neither accurately describes Paula Bacon, the former Mayor of Kaufman, Texas.

Paula Bacon, a two-term mayor of Kaufman, is gutsy. In her last year in office,  she managed to rid the town of a plague it had suffered for two decades: the Dallas Crown horse slaughter plant, which had been dumping horse guts, tainted blood, manure and legal expenses on the town since the ’80′s.

Today’s post on Forbes.com, “Texas Mayor Paula Bacon Kicks Some Tail,” is about that fight.  It’s also about what life is like in a slaughter town: the costly sewage problems, foul smells, legal battles, vermin and falling property values. It’s about the sights and sounds of slaughter, the horses, the humane issues and outspoken residents like Jualine and Robert Eldridge, a nurse and a respiratory therapist, who lived with Dallas Crown in their backyard, preventing them and their neighbors from using their backyards for two decades because the stench was so overpowering.

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In Praise of Horse Heroes

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My hero: Dick, the rescue horse.

War Horse opened this week, an event chronicled in today’s Forbes.com blog post, “Can War Horse Beat Clooney For Golden Globe”?

I sure hope so, not just because I’m a sucker for a good horse movie and fine film making, but because of War Horse’s ability to elevate a simple moral message so easily lost on the red carpet: compassion’s ability to neutralize brutality, compassion’s essence to survival.

Horses are recipients of both compassion and brutality, perhaps no more so than today, when there are people who actually say such things on Facebook as, “For so long feeding a horse for a month was under $50, and now within the last two years it has escalated to over $100 per month per horse. I am so tired of every horse out there being called a rescue. My wish for Christmas this year was that every rescue horse was taken for slaughter reducing the demand for hay. It is now getting so hard to feed the remaining horses I have that I am getting angry at the mere thought of Un-Wanted Horses not being slaughtered.”

It got 13 “likes.” Worse, this is someone’s Christmas wish.

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Who’s Who In Capitol Hill’s Horse Meat Power Posse

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U.S. Representative, Bob Goodlatte

Which state representative puts horse meat recipes like “Filly Filet” on one of her many Web sites? Which former Congressman-turned-lobbyist pocketed thousands of dollars in farm subsidies while writing billion-dollar farm bills? And which prominent Democrat made the request to slip language into a conference report that sent untold thousands of wild horses and burros to their deaths in the 107th Congress?

You’ll find the answers in Who’s Who in Capitol Hill’s Power Posse,  a photo gallery on Forbes.com. It’s a follow-up to my Dec. 21 post on Forbes.com, “How Many Congressmen Does It Take To Screw A Horse?” Now, you can put the Congressmen’s names, photos and actions together.

By the way, the Democrats have been very naughty here. And a republican—Bob Goodlatte—turns out to be both a Christian Scientist and one of the original birthers.

Mary Baker Eddy would not approve.

A Christmas “Howdy” From Capitol Hill’s Pro-Slaughter Gang

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Larry Craig: a key member of Capitol Hill's horse-slaughter power posse

It gives me no joy to feature Larry Craig on my blog just days before Christmas, but he’s here to represent the U.S. Congressmen, horse-slaughter lobbyists, advocates and journalists who are the topic of today’s new post on Forbes.com, “How Many Congressmen Does It Take To Screw A Horse?

You’re familiar with the marginalization of “We the 99%”? Say hello to “We the 70%”. This is the percentage of Americans opposed to horse slaughter who were screwed when Senators Herb Kohl and Roy Blunt, along with U.S. Representative Jack Kingston went behind closed doors to remove language banning slaughter inspections from the recent Agriculture Appropriations spending bill.

A lot of people are wondering how that went down in light of all the widespread support for The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, both in Congress and among average Americans. Today’s post looks at the culprits, the bills they’ve blocked over the years, the tactics used and how many horses have been screwed in the process.

It also reveals the USDA’s dismal record in regulating horse slaughter and the flaws in the GAO Report that President Obama and the U.S. Congress relied on for guidance in deciding to refund USDA horse meat inspections after a five-year ban. Finally, it examines the biased, suspiciously-timed media coverage that has misled and confused so many Americans on what the facts are.

A key part of today’s post is a photo gallery I’m working on putting names and faces to Capitol Hill’s horse-slaughter power posse. It’s almost ready, so I hope you’ll come back and look for it.

Not what I wanted to be working on the week before Christmas. I will celebrate that, good will, and peace on earth even as I continue to probe how our government has been wrapped up and stuck under the Agriculture lobby’s very own, possibly genetically-modified, hopefully cage-free Christmas tree.

Deck the halls.

The Statesman

December 11, 2011

Vickery Eckhoff

For Davey—Washington Square Park, NYC

Original post from March 27, 2010

My sister became a widow yesterday, for the second time. Her husband, David, was very shy in person, so I guess this would be a shock to him, to become the subject of a blog a day after passing on.

He really did his best to remain out of sight, though he was extremely talkative over the phone, happy to discuss recipes, slow cooking and his fondness for making art. He was a big man with a big heart, but he had a tiny footprint. In fact, for the last year of his life, he left basically no footprints at all—not in the outside world. Beside his recent trip to St. Vincent’s, where he passed away yesterday morning, he had not set foot outside at all. Not even into the hallway of their fourth floor walk-up in the West Village.

She said he was like the third Collyer brother. Indeed, in the time they were married (17 years) their small apartment filled up with stuff to the point that there were boxes piled on top of other boxes with cookbooks and vintage comic books and two small dogs (beagle and dachshund) competing for a very small amount of available floor space. You might wonder how one average-sized woman and a plus-sized man managed this in a 400 square-foot apartment, but that, I think, is a measure of their modesty and also a skill that some New Yorkers have for living within their means, but many do not. Neither ever called much attention to themselves; they just quietly went about their business, which is something I aspire to do but have yet to achieve. Read more

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