Thursday, February 22, 2007

Greyhound racing now incorrect

The article below is from Britain's Leftist "New Statesman". This attack on the working-man's sport shows how far the Left has drifted from its old claim to represent the worker.

As a former registered dog-breeder myself, however, I think I should confirm the correctness of two facts mentioned below:

1). Greyhounds that do not win races (i.e. most of them) ARE often put down while still young.

2). It is a great pity that so many are put down as they makes excellent pets -- particularly for less active people and those who live in small premises -- for the quite surprising reason that they do NOT require much exercise or activity. They are happy to lie around all day with only a short walk for exercise. Confinement that would distress most dogs bred for hunting is no problem to a greyhound. They are more like cats than dogs in their need for activity.

I greatly deplore the cruel way many large dogs are inappropriately accomodated and insufficiently exercised in city conditions but for people who must keep a watchdog in the city, a greyhound is the kind solution. And when you do exercise it, people will often stop to admire and discuss your greyhound!

More than 25,000 greyhounds are discarded every year by the racing industry, and most of them get killed. This sordid cruelty must not continue. Cleopatra had hers. Queen Elizabeth I had hers, too. And I've got mine - Molly Kay, a shy, sleek, blue, aerodynamic wonder of the world. But the journey from the pyramids to the asylum where our eyes met and we fell in love is a lamentable narrative. It's a story of not rags to riches, but riches to rags and even unceremonious death.

On 16 February, David Smith, a local businessman, appears before North Durham magistrates facing an unprecedented prosecution: he has been killing thousands of greyhounds for years. He won't be prosecuted for that - it's not illegal - but has been summonsed in a private prosecution by the Environment Agency for illegally dumping thousands of unwanted greyhound carcasses on his allotment. How did it come to this?

Greyhounds are reckoned to have been around in their contemporary form for about 8,000 years. Their relics appear in the tombs of pharaohs. Their prowess streaks across the vases of Mediterranean empires. The greyhound diaspora stretches from the Middle East, along conquering trails through Europe, to the royal houses of our own monarchs, from the Tudors to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

These fleet sight-hunters who target rabbits and hares and squirrels have been petted as accessories to the aristocracy. They are admired for a peculiar faculty: greyhounds have been known to surpass 40 miles per hour, and yet they lie around all day, like Mae West, resting. That magnificent greyhound chest is for breathing and extreme acceleration. They dash, like springs; they soar. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer describes them as "fowels in flight". Their heads and hips are perfectly engineered for spasms of speed. They run for joy; there's even a notion that they smile, and then they spend the day prone.

The Normans banned the common people from owning greyhounds. Royal dynasties colonised them, and they made house room for greyhounds much as, sometimes, they admitted clever black slaves: as exceptions and adornments. In some societies, including our own, the greyhound was prized above a woman. The history of this dog is stitched into narratives of empire and class, of country and city.

They have been bred not for killing but for running. In less than a century, however, the greyhound has been transformed from an emblem of luxury to a victim of capitalist exploitation. In the 20th century the greyhound was proletarianised; the dog became a working-class man thing - like allotments and football and pubs, an excuse to get away from their women. This happened, however, only after the industrialisation of its spectacular prowess, with the creation of a mass spectator sport and a billion-pound betting industry.

This modern crisis begins there. The effort to release the greyhound from rural sport to urban stadium triumphed in the invention of a mechanical lure early in the 20th century. That allowed the greyhound to hurl itself around the oval stadiums that then proliferated in Britain, Ireland, America and Australia. Britain's first was Belle Vue, built in Manchester in 1926. The industry proliferated until the 1980s, when stinky, scruffy stadiums were closing down en masse. London now has only two - Wimbledon and Walthamstow.

But the decline in the live audience did not lead to a decline in either the number of dogs or the betting. The betting industry offered a fresh opportunity for you to part with your money when it invented the Bookmakers' Afternoon Greyhound Service (Bags). That means afternoon racing where the dogs sprint round empty stadiums. So, although live spectatorship declined, betting flourished. But Bags needs more dogs, and that means more surplus dogs.

Tony Peters, founder of Greyhound Action - the direct-action wing of the greyhound welfare movement - reckons that you need only study the stud books of the British and Irish breeders (most greyhounds in Britain come from Ireland) to see the source of the problem.

Greyhounds are bred to race. If each track needs 400 new dogs a year to compete, behind those racers are all the siblings who don't make the grade. "Every year more than 30,000 are bred to race," says Peters. "The industry is churning out all these dogs." Even those who do triumph on the track have relatively short racing careers. Injury or exhaustion can finish off a racer by the age of four. Then they join the armies of the discarded - it is believed that between 25,000 and 30,000 greyhounds are discarded every year. Most of them get killed. "No one was tackling this problem," says Peters.

Stop the sport altogether

Certainly not the bookmakers' industry, which is estimated to have an annual turnover approaching 2 billion pounds. Bookies are becoming interested in virtual racing - punters, it seems, will bet on anything, even the illusion of a greyhound. That appears to be an attractive option, too, to Greyhound Action, which wants to see an end to greyhound racing altogether.

The bookmakers' alibi against the growing abhorrence of greyhound destruction is the historic and necessary separation between the breeders and the bookies. This, of course, masks the symbiosis between all the players: the bookies are largely the owners of the tracks, and it is the bookies who have generated the demand for the beasts. The bookmakers tasted the first scent of pressure in 1991 when Norman Lamont, the then chancellor, introduced a voluntary levy of 0.4 per cent as a contribution to a greyhound fund for the industry, to be run by the British Greyhound Racing Board. The board was described by the racing commentator Jim Cremin as "a sham democracy", set up "in the hope of gaining control of government funding".

Many bookmakers did not contribute - including the intransigent chair of the Association of British Bookmakers, Warwick Bartlett. Unsurprisingly, little had changed by the new millennium, when the industry came under growing scrutiny from a convergence of animal welfare campaigners, corporate concern about the decline of the stadiums, and a government that was worried about the unseemly evidence of excessive gambling profits and the sordid state of the business. Cremin warned of growing government disquiet while bookmakers sat "on both sides of the negotiating table" as owners of tracks and as businesses profiting from the racing.

The Gambling Bill concentrated the mind. The government's greyhound man in the Lords, David Lipsey, took over the board, restructured it, and brokered a deal with the promoters to increase the levy to 0.6 per cent by last year (2006). But much of that fund is invested in reinventing the industry and marketing greyhound racing as a classier night out before hitting the clubs. It has not dealt with the killing fields and the dogs bred to die.

Ten thousand dogs are retired from racing every year. Some are put to sleep and disposed of by local authority pounds. Some go into rescue sanctuaries, and the number that find a new home is increasing - up from 2,000 a year to about 3,500. Molly Kay is a lucky one - she is living happily ever after among doting human beings. But she is in the minority: most of her generation lived a life brutish and short, only to be discarded by a corporate culture that depends on people like David Smith. His prosecution draws attention to the industry's total failure to take responsibility for the gap between surplus value and surplus to requirements.


Britain: It is time to be honest about black crime

So is society fractured or isn't it? Politicians' views on this seem to depend on whether they are in office at the time. When you are in opposition, a spate of street shootings - or even the distinctly atypical murder of a toddler (James Bulger) by two maladjusted children - can be a sign of endemic social breakdown.

But when your party is in power, gang members killing one another with apparent impunity is a "specific problem" in a small minority of the population. Not surprising, then, that David Cameron opts for the societal meltdown analysis while Tony Blair prefers to see the latest eruption of gun violence as an isolatable phenomenon which should not be taken as a "metaphor" (I think he meant "symbol") for the country as a whole.

They are both right, and they are both missing the same crucial point. Mr Blair is clearly correct when he says that most teenagers are not members of armed gangs, and that the majority of young people in Britain are not even involved in low-level anti-social behaviour. The problem of gun crime is, as he says, almost entirely limited to what he calls a specific small sub-culture.

But while the actual crimes with which we are all so concerned at the moment are characteristic of a very small, identifiable minority in clearly locatable parts of our inner cities, the fact that they are occurring is not unconnected to the social and political philosophy which his party has endorsed (and which Mr Cameron's party is failing to repudiate).

The sub-culture to which Mr Blair alludes in his coded way is that of black delinquency (the mores of which have drawn in quite a few non-black participants). That neither he nor Mr Cameron will say precisely this (although they both go so far as to refer to the influence of rap music) is central to our failure to cope with it. Just as using the word "black" in this context is to lay oneself open to the smear of racism, any perceptible targeting of black youths for particular attention by the police lays officers open to career-ending disciplinary procedures. The "sus" laws, which allowed officers to stop and search people on suspicion of carrying weapons or drugs, were scrapped because they were said to be a form of racial harassment.

That was the beginning of what became a systematic programme of denial, the ultimate consequence of which was that blameless black people were left unprotected in effectively unpoliced neighbourhoods, and that many black mothers were left to grieve for their sons.

When your child has been shot, having droves of police combing the scene for forensic evidence after the event must offer little comfort. What you and your neighbours need is the kind of fearless, effectual police presence that will prevent these crimes from happening in the first place - and that does not mean "social outreach" or "working with community leaders".

For the police to be nice to the most conscientious people in the neighbourhood is all well and good, but getting through to that small, specific minority of armed drug gangs involves something quite different - and it is often not "nice" at all. The women in those communities who campaign against gun crime know this, but their courage is almost never matched by political spokesmen, for whom the fear of being labelled racist is rather more urgent than the fear of having their children shot in cold blood. (And, in Mr Cameron's case, maybe the drugs question helps to make this an untouchable issue on another level altogether.)

But this is not all about gun crime in the black community. Most anti-social behaviour is a white youth problem but it is still, in Mr Blair's terms, "specific". So Mr Cameron's argument for society being fractured is - forgive the condescension - perhaps more right than he knows. When he talks of the family breakdown, the failure of paternal responsibility, and the collapse of parental authority that seems to be epidemic in Britain, he is describing a minority phenomenon. In affluent, middle-class life (which now constitutes a much larger proportion of our society than it did a generation ago), parenthood has never been a more conscientious vocation. In my experience, today's young parents are devoted to the welfare of their children to the point of obsession: a devotion which, perhaps to an unprecedented degree, involves fathers as much as mothers.

It is not British parenting as a whole that is failing. It is a segment of it: a noisy, belligerent, feckless, disruptive segment, the consequences of whose behaviour can wreak havoc on the quality of life of inordinate numbers of people in its vicinity. Society is indeed fractured: it is broken into different parts which are growing more and more dissimilar to one another. The failing part is living in a parallel universe where irresponsibility is a way of life. Isolated by welfare dependency from the need to come to terms with what has traditionally been considered the role of adults, which begins with the obligation to provide for a family, that part of society is being left behind in a morass of hopelessness and futile bitterness in which alcohol and drugs, and the anarchic thrill of delinquency, are ready diversions.

So it is literally true, as Mr Cameron says, that we have too many "adults behaving like children", but I doubt somehow that he will recommend the radical reform of a welfare state which has made it possible (and even economically advisable) for fathers to abandon their children and for teenage girls to choose single motherhood as a lifestyle. He talks of restoring support for marriage in the tax and benefit system, but would he actively dismantle the benefit support system which has created welfare ghettos?

What about Mr Blair? Will he acknowledge the role that has been played in this mess by his party's commitment to non-judgmental permissiveness - which has left communities unable to defend themselves and the police afraid to protect them? And will he ever say a word about the greatest retreat of his premiership: the abandonment of welfare reform that he once rightly believed was essential to restoring Britain's moral health?

The whole country may not be going to hell in a handcart. But that does not diminish the problem we face with some parts of it, which we have no chance of solving unless politicians speak frankly about the existence of an underclass and the part they have played in creating it.


Tangle of NHS red tape brings on thoughts of early retirement

Working for the NHS may once have been a decision that lasted the length of a doctor's career but many of today's medics are now considering early retirement or work abroad, The Times/ poll reveals. While few are openly contemplating a move to the private sector, almost half of respondents said they were planning early retirement or taking up positions outside Britain. Just over a third said they expected to work for the NHS until normal retirement age.

Many said they still felt that the NHS was one of the best health services in the world but their loyalty was being sorely tested by what they viewed as excessive bureaucracy. Only a minority believed the Government's reform agenda would maintain or improve standards of care. These are not doctors disillusioned with the NHS per se (although a minority are) but with the direction it has taken under Labour.

Nowhere is this shown more clearly than in the answers to questions about the National Programme for IT, a 20 billion plan to put every patient's medical record on line and provide doctors with access to it. Asked if they were optimistic that it would change the way the health service is run, 91 per cent said no, and only 9 per cent yes. More than three quarters (76 per cent) agreed that "overall it has been a frustrating project", but only 14 per cent believed it should be abandoned.

However, few favoured pouring more money into the scheme to ensure success. A massive majority (93 per cent) opposed that idea, with a mere 7 per cent in favour.

Asked what they would like to see changed, doctors voted for less bureaucracy (49 per cent) and less administration (13 per cent). No other changes, including more doctors or more funding, claimed more than 7 per cent support.

Individual comments spelt out the frustrations. While some asked for the sky - "better politicians" - many more backed the idea of keeping politicians out of the NHS altogether, and running it with a nonpolitical governing body like the one that sets interest rates for the Bank of England. Once even suggested that Richard Branson should be recruited to run the NHS. Depoliticisation was a recurrent theme, while many doctors called for greater medical involvement in decision-making, and fewer changes from the top, or for political ends. "Devise a plan and stick to it" one doctor said.


Must not Laugh at Anything Black

From the Unhinged Kingdom:

"'Celebrity Big Brother' winner Shilpa Shetty has been accused of racism. The Bollywood star - who was said to be the victim of racist bullying in the Big Brother house - starred in a TV comedy sketch, laughing at an actor with a "blacked-up" face and afro-wig on....

Shilpa appeared on Asian network Zee TV's etc music channel, laughing at the sketch which echoed the 'Black and White Minstrel Show', which was axed in 1978 in Britain after protests against it's alleged racist undertones.


I mentioned Indian actress Shetty on Jan. 19th. It seems that Shetty might have been laughing AT the 'Black and White Minstrel Show'. The 'Black and White Minstrel Show' consisted of popular music sung by white men in black makeup. In less paranoid times it might have been seen as a compliment to the undoubted popularity of black singers.

British bureaucracy at work again: "The government agency created to seize the assets of criminals is condemned today as a mess, having spent 65 million pounds on collecting only 23 million pounds. The Assets Recovery Agency has received 700 files linked to 274 million. But it has seized money from only 52 of these cases, according to a report by the spending watchdog. Millions of pounds paid in fees to receivers to manage criminal assets are expected in 12 cases to be more than the cash and assets being looked after. The National Audit Office report also found that the agency, which is to be merged with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, has no effective case-management system and had experienced high turnover of staff. A third of the financial investigators trained by the agency either retired or left soon after qualifying. The scale of the agency’s failure is highlighted by the estimated 20 billion annual cost of organised crime in Britain."

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