New Year’s Eve

Friday night – siblings and I went to see the Holiday Lights at the Bronx Zoo (thanks in part to two complimentary tickets courtesy of the Daily News Sweepstakes that I entered – so cool to have won something, even if it is one of those random drawings!). The lights were very nice stuff. The music playing in the speakers had weird stuff – a sort-of jazzy/R&B version of the Rudolph son, an extremely hard-to-recognize version of Mariah Carey’s Christmas song sung by a male singer, and a not-very-good version of Jingle Bell Rock. Weird to visit the zoo at night; although it was nice to visit the zoo at all, since I hadn’t done it in years. The animals in the zoo didn’t seem to care to see people – one tiger sat with his(her?) back to the protective window barriers; the snakes and turtles all seemed asleep. The camels certainly seemed happy to see people, posing just so perfectly; but they (or the neighboring boar) were smelly. Oh, well. A nice holiday thing.

Some notable newspaper reading:
NY Times reports on the re-opening of the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. The pictures from the accompanying slide show on the Times’ website looks nice.

Awhile back, I watched this Nova episode about dogs on PBS, where the evolution of dogs and why we love them were nicely explained – and the episode didn’t hold back on the perils of dog-breeding and how in-breeding can be perilous if the goal is to produce the purebreed but not done safely. The Times had this sad article on how the excessive dog inbreeding in Japan is problematic. Sure the tiny chihuahua with blue eyes is adorable; but apparently, his siblings may have died because they were hideously deformed. It gets nuts, and then one wonders – do you want to extrapolate as to what kind of values your country has by allowing this to happen:

Rare dogs are highly prized here, and can set buyers back more than $10,000. But the real problem is what often arrives in the same litter: genetically defective sister and brother puppies born with missing paws or faces lacking eyes and a nose.

There have been dogs with brain disorders so severe that they spent all day running in circles, and others with bones so frail they dissolved in their bodies. Many carry hidden diseases that crop up years later, veterinarians and breeders say.

Kiyomi Miyauchi was heartbroken to discover this after one of two Boston terriers she bought years ago suddenly collapsed last year into spasms on the living room floor and died. In March, one of its puppies died the same way; another went blind.

Ms. Miyauchi stumbled across a widespread problem here that is only starting to get attention. Rampant inbreeding has given Japanese dogs some of the highest rates of genetic defects in the world, sometimes four times higher than in the United States and Europe.

These illnesses are the tragic consequences of the national penchant in Japan for turning things cute and cuddly into social status symbols. But they also reflect the fondness for piling onto fads in Japan, a nation that always seems caught in the grip of some trend or other.

“Japanese are maniacs for booms,” said Toshiaki Kageyama, a professor of veterinary medicine specializing in genetic defects at Azabu University in Sagamihara. “But people forget here that dogs aren’t just status symbols. They are living things.”

Dogs are just one current rage. [….]

The affection for fads in Japan reflects its group-oriented culture, a product of the conformity taught in its grueling education system. But booms also take off because they are fueled by big business. Companies like Sony and Nintendo are constantly looking to create the next adorable hit, churning out cute new characters and devices. Booms help sustain an entire industrial complex, from software makers to marketers and distributors, that thrives off the pack mentality of consumers in Japan. [….]

“The demand is intense, and so is the temptation,” said Hidekazu Kawanabe, one of the country’s top Chihuahua breeders. “There are a lot of bad breeders out there who see dogs as nothing more than an industrial product to make quick money.” [….]

The Japan Kennel Club began adding results of DNA screening onto pedigree certificates in April. But that falls short of the American Kennel Club, which discourages risky inbreeding by listing acceptable colors for each breed.

“Japan is about 30 or 40 years behind in dealing with genetic defects,” said Takemi Nagamura, president of the Japan Kennel Club.

Ultimately, animal care professionals say, the solution is educating not just breeders but potential dog owners.

“If consumers didn’t buy these unnatural dogs,” said Chizuko Yamaguchi, a veterinarian at the Japan Animal Welfare Society, “breeders wouldn’t breed them.”

So, you want something rare and unique, but you go overboard in trying to get ahead of the neighbors and wind up with nothing better than theirs, if not worse. Sigh.

NY Times’ Caryn James does a comparison of “Children of Men” the movie (starring Clive Owen) and “Children of Men” book that movie’s premise was derived (written by P.D. James, most famous for her Commander Dagliesh of Scotland Yard mystery series). I had read the book so long ago, and it’s very dark – so I have been wary about seeing the movie. Then again, it has a cool director and Clive Owen, so who knows if I do see it. But, I liked how Caryn James was able to respect both versions as worthy of each other as pieces of art that have their own integrity and commentary on the dark times we live in.

Being a student of American history, and simply a presidential history buff, I watched the Ford funeral ceremonies on tv. The coverage has been a little weird – I feel sad for the Ford family, but the tv coverages push how we’re to celebrate a long and lovely life and, no less important, celebrate America. Or, maybe it’s not the fault of the tv anchors; my cynicism rises when I have to hear certain speakers make it seem like America and Ford were destined for great things (destiny? providence? it got to be a bit much to me). NY Times’ tv critic Alessandra Stanley put it like this: “Death is sad, at least in most cases. But the death of a former president has become an almost cheery television event.”

In the midst of all the sadness and holiday cheer and the madness of our times, let’s wish for a happy New Year.