Archive for the ‘thursday posts’ Category


The Midwives of Hell

2008 August 21

This week the BBC aired a documentary on pedigree dog breeding. The documentary, two years in the making, looked at how breeds today were suffering. It claimed that their suffering was a direct result of breeding methods.

The problem, the documentary suggested, was that breeders selected offspring on the basis of appearance at the expense of health. It highlighted the major cause of this as inbreeding.

Before show dog breeding, dogs tended to be bred as working dogs. The artificial selection mimicked natural selection. Fit and healthy dogs make better working dogs. This means that fit and healthy offspring were also selected for breeding from. The prevalence of genetic disease was kept low, as in natural selection. But in show dog breeding it is appearance that is stressed over fitness and health. This removes the natural barrier to genetic disease. The result is that today pedigree dog owners spend over £10m in vet fees weekly.

The programme highlighted Kennel Club breed standards that included inherent health problems. It also suggested exaggerated traits bred into dogs trying to win rosettes as a causative factor. The Kennel Club continues to register dogs bred from mother-to-son and brother-to-sister matings.

Scientists an Imperial College, London, looked at the population of pugs. They found that the population of 10,000 was the same as just 50 distinct individuals. This makes the breed more genetically compromised that the giant panda.

The result of this behaviour of human beings is the suffering of individual dogs. As a result responsible owners also suffer. Here are some examples of problems found in pedigree breeds:

  • Pugs cannot breathe easily. Their faces are so flat that they are prone to eye damage from bumping into things.
  • King Charles spaniels are prone to a painful disease called syringomyelia. This happens if their skulls are too small for their brains.
  • Boxers are prone to epilepsy, heart disease and high cancer rates.

But the final cause of this scandal in dog breeding is human fashion. Dogs are selected on cosmetic grounds. The demand for show dogs that flatter their owners drives breeding. Champion show dogs continue to father puppies despite serious genetic disease. Some breeders cull perfectly healthy puppies because they are cosmetically “wrong”.

The Kennel Club far from being open to change defends its position. It insists that “the vast majority of dog breeds are healthy”. This despite scientific evidence that, for example, up to one third of King Charles spaniels suffer syringomyelia. The programme showed a disturbing video of one dog writhing in agony due to this condition.

If the dogs were human beings, we may have little difficulty describing some of them as being in Hell. The breeders, and the people who buy from them, are directly responsible for this suffering. While some continue to turn a blind eye to the problem they remain the Midwives of Hell. Many owners do not even realise they are buying dogs whose genes are compromised.

One vet said that if a human being beat a dog to cause it the pain some suffer, he would be prosecuted. Yet they can breed dogs into a life of such pain legally.

Continuing in this way is not even in the interest of those involved in the business. Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics, UCL, said, “If the dog breeders insist on going further down that road, I can say with confidence really that there is a universe of suffering waiting for many of these breeds – and many if not most of these breeds will not survive.

“They will get so inbred that they will be unable to reproduce and their genes will come to a dead end.”

Links and sources

Warning! I have not checked all the videos included on these pages. It is possible they may contain scenes you may find distressing.


The Georgian-Russian Conflict

2008 August 14

One of the big news items in this last week has been the conflict between Russia and Georgia. But what is the background to the conflict?

The fighting erupted over the status of two Georgian regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both regions have majority populations favourable to independence. In the war of 1992-3, more than 250,000 ethnic Georgians were “ethnically cleansed” from Abkhazia. The Abkhaz separatists were aided by North Caucasian volunteers, including Chechens. More than 25,000 Georgians were expelled from Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. At the same time many Ossetian families were expelled from Borjomi to Russia. In effect, both South Ossetia and Abkhazia are independent of Georgia. Though their independence has no international recognition.

Since the Russian operations against Georgia, hundreds of civilians are reported to have been killed and tens of thousands displaced. It is still unclear who broke the ceasefire between Georgia and South Ossetian separatists on the 8th August that began the crisis. Leaders have criticised Russia for over-reacting in its attack, as well as Georgia of being foolish in their shelling of Tskhinvali, capital of South Ossetia.

I have researched the conflict and the history behind it. I include this below. Just click on the “continue reading” link. I include a list of sources at the end.

Whether Russia’s claimed intentions of protecting South Ossetian and Abkhazi civilians is genuine or not is debatable. Even if true, Russia does appear to have left itself open to accusations. These accusations are that its aims are to bully Georgia and the Ukraine into withdrawing NATO membership applications. Whatever their aims, they have risked relations with the West.

Avaaz has organised a petition for a Georgian ceasefire:

Read the rest of this entry ?


Me New China?

2008 August 7

This week, the BBC’s Panorama programme looked at China’s promise to let Western journalists report freely from inside the country in the build-up to the Olympic Games. Reporter John Sweeney followed the Olympic torch as it made its way through China.

He found that there were signs of China’s new economic boom in cities like Shanghai. China has pulled 300 millions out of economic poverty. The Chinese are rightly proud to be hosting the Olympics. But he also found that China was not showing these signs of openness when he tried to speak to those campaigning for democracy and human rights.

He found problems asking questions not about only recent events like the earthquake, but also about the Tienanmen Square massacre in 1989. He spoke to former para-athlete Fang Zheng. In an Internet search inside China, the site said Fang had lost his legs in a traffic accident. Panorama went to interview Fang, accompanied by their state minder. Fang said that he actually lost his legs at Tienanmen Square. A tank chased him as he tried to escape the crack-down, crushing his legs. The minder then stopped the interview, claiming Tienanmen was still part of the “sensitive history of China”. Fang was disqualified from the Olympics because of the sensitivity on how he lost his legs.

China was initially open during the recent earthquake. But When Panorama visited the quake-hit area two weeks later, a phone call to the Beijing appointed minder questioned the validity of the trip. The minder also stopped local people speaking about corruption and poor building construction. To one grieving mother the minder said her talking to Panorama “won’t be good for the country, particularly before the Olympics.”

Villagers of Tai Shi, had been trying to oust the local party boss since 2005. They accuse him of corruption and stealing land. Police had earlier broken up a demonstration. When trying to speak to them the Panorama team were followed. They heard about Guo Feixiong, a legal activist, who was arrested, beaten and convicted of writing subversive literature. They gave the minder the slip to speak with his wife. He is still in Guangzhou prison, where his wife says he is tortured.

Amnesty International too criticise China’s record. They say that the full media freedom in China that was promised has still not been honoured.

They highlight the case of Shi Tao, serving ten years for sending an e-mail about media restrictions to a foreign website. Amnesty International say that unblocking media access while keeping the Chinese people’s freedom locked down “simply doesn’t respect basic standards of free speech”.

One site still blocked is one of Amnesty International’s own. It was set up to encourage debate about China’s human rights record:

Amnesty International is campaigning against the “Great Firewall of China”, blocking and filtering Internet content. They say this is set up with the aid of Western-provided technology from IT companies like Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft.

Worldaudit currently rank China in the middle of their “fourth division” at 120th of 150 world countries in their democracy audit: