Monday, April 30, 2018

A Shocking Situation: Electric Dog Collars, by Wiggia

I came across this article from the Countryside Alliance the other day, in itself not exactly prime cause for concern for the average voter, yet as the article says, it has crept in under the radar along with other animal welfare issues pushed by the animal charities with no doubt PETA  leading the way.

The concern over this by the Alliance is justified as explained, for it reaches further than electric dog collars and will mean the end of electric compounds regularly used for small mobile enclosures to ensure horses and cattle do not stray into what could be dangerous areas.

Electric collars have a battery in the collar activated by a remote control, NOT a lead plugged into the mains! The animal rights groups will howl in protest; I must make it clear that I do not advocate the general use of these collars - they should be available for a few specific situations.

I have a little knowledge of this as when I was training dogs for competition during the seventies and eighties I was also chairman of the committee in the Kennel Club that was responsible for competitive obedience competitions and was there when this item first surfaced.

The collar in question was an American import and, along with another totally cruel collar - the inward choke collar that had blunted barbs that opened inwards when the choke was pulled - was rightfully condemned. Well the latter was and very little was heard about them afterwards.

But of course the KC is not a law maker except within its own boundaries so as the government did nothing about the collars and they remained on sale.

The latest chapter in this has been instigated by animal charities as the usage of electric collars has become more widespread and once the charities have made the right noises in the press all “God fearing politicians” jump on the bandwagon without further thought and shout barbaric, cruel, etc etc probably in the hope that some old pensioner who votes Labour and owns a guinea pig will change sides after hearing how caring the incumbents are.

The fact is that in certain cases the electric collar has a place. Anyone who has owned dogs will know that there are circumstances where a dog however well trained can override that training with a base instinct that will ignore commands and if the dog is away from you off lead you have a problem. Naturally if the dog has a propensity to repeat such moves then he should be on lead as much as possible.

In cases where sheep worrying can occur there is a big problem and the electric collar can quite simply save lives and stop the aggression before it happens. I know, because I have seen and spoken to sheep dog handlers, there is a fine line between being a great sheep dog and a sheep worrier: the dog has to have enough ‘bottle’ to face down troublesome sheep but not to harm them. Yet I have seen some of the best dogs at trials actually lose it and attack the sheep; they were ordered off and did so.

The likelihood of the aggressive family pet being ordered off is virtually nil if he has the bit between his teeth, and the electric collar has in those instances a role to play as there is no other way at distance to get the dog to desist, which is why the collar was invented in the first place.

The alternative remedy is twofold: if your dog worries sheep or cattle then the farmer has every right to shoot it' in a domestic environment, if a dog shows aggression towards family members, the collar has limited use because of close proximity and if a dog does not respond to training should if the owner is right minded be put down - the risk is not worth it, and re-homing simply shifts the problem to someone else.

I must admit when this matter came up I had no idea how easy it was to get one of these collars. I have been out of the loop for some time, but there they are on Amazon and elsewhere. The downside of them is that in the general public's hands they are simply another way of training a dog rather than a remedy for a specific problem and there lies the rub: used as a method of general dog training they are a crude and potentially damaging training aid rather than a deterrent in a one-off situation, so legislation will cure one problem but will also prohibit the real reason for these collars' usage.

It appears since starting this piece that the government is having second thought on any ban as the implications re electric fencing cannot be resolved so easily; we shall see.

Of course the government could do something more useful regarding dogs and implement the Dangerous Dogs Act properly. The rash of ridiculous chav breeds that can cause and do cause damage to the person has reached epidemic proportions in some neighborhoods. Why anyone would want to risk the lives of family members never mind anyone else by having one of these breeds in the house simply so they look “right hard” is beyond me, but then so much of the modern world is now.

Amazingly, the prong dog choke collar is still available on Amazon and eBay !

Sunday, April 29, 2018


Still with us in the 20th century:

"Ratcatchers during a 1900 outbreak of the Bubonic Plague, Australia" (From Historium)
"Australia suffered greatly from the effects of bubonic plague in the first two decades of the 20th century. The Australian colonial government had been wary of plague arriving in Sydney via shipping trade routes since the 1894 outbreak in Hong Kong. When plague did reach Australia in 1900, the response was one of panic and dread, fuelled by the knowledge of the history and ravenous potential of the disease." - Sydney Medical School

... and in the 21st century also: "Although plague is now rare in Europe, it recently sickened more than 10,000 people in Congo over a decade, and cases still occasionally emerge in the Western United States, according to a study published Sept. 16 in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene." - LiveScience (2013)

and even in America: "This review documents plague in human cases in the 1st decade of the 21st century... In the United States, 57 persons were reported to have the disease, of which seven died... Two United States scientists suffered fatal accidental exposures: a wildlife biologist, who carried out an autopsy on a mountain lion in Arizona in 2007, and a geneticist with subclinical hemochromatosis in Chicago, who was handling an avirulent strain of Y. pestis in 2009." - The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (2013)

Saturday, April 28, 2018


From the nuclear war satire"Doctor Strangelove":

General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless *distinguishable*, postwar environments: one where you got twenty million people killed, and the other where you got a hundred and fifty million people killed.
President Merkin Muffley: You're talking about mass murder, General, not war!
General "Buck" Turgidson: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.

And now we hear what real American war planners thought in the 1960s:

Daniel Ellsberg ("Pentagon Papers" scandal) asked, "If your plans… are carried out as planned… how many people will die in the USSR and China?"

The answer was in the form of a chart… rising over six months because radioactive fallout would increase the deaths… 325 million people if we struck first…

Another 100 million would be killed in the captive nations [Soviet-linked nations in Eastern Europe]… from their [US] air defences attacks on those air bases… And then another 100 million in contiguous areas… like Afghanistan, Austria, Finland, Japan… from radioactive fallout.

The whistleblower also heard what the expected death toll would be for US allies in Europe:

And without another warhead landing on West Europe, naturally, from our attack, 100 million of our allies would be killed by radioactive fallout from East Europe and the Soviet Union, depending on which way the wind blew…

But that added up then to 600 million, or 100 holocausts.

Meanwhile, Ellsberg said the USSR at the time had the ability to “annihilate” Western Europe, which it would likely do in the event of a US attack.

It gets worse:

The US, however, didn’t include how many further deaths would result from the fires its nuclear bombs created. It also didn’t include how many people would die because of the smoke, which would cause a ‘nuclear winter’. Ellsberg says the smoke, which would block much of the sun and kill all the harvests, would last a decade or more.

And although Ellsberg asked the question in the 1960s, he said:

"People have now told me, who are insiders on the plan, quite authoritatively, the plans have never reflected this, never taken [smoke] into account any more than they take fire into account, which means that our own attack… would kill nearly everyone…"

Friday, April 27, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Cuba's Musical Ecosystem, by JD

This week's musical offering is from Cuba which has a very rich and varied musical heritage-

In last week's post, the Buena Vista Social Club musicians played alongside Ry Cooder in New York's Carnegie Hall but Cuban music arrived in the USA in the 1930s with the popularity of the song El Manisero (the Peanut Vendor) which I think everyone knows!

In the 1940s jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie adopted the rhythms into BeBop to create 'Cubop' and from then on such styles as mambo, cha cha, rumba etc became part of mainstream US 'showbiz'.

This could have been a very long post indeed so just a small selection of Cuba's best is offered here. (Mostly of the more recent music because the earlier recordings and fims suffer from poor sound quality plus it is difficult to find them.)

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Julius Caesar, mass murderer

Robert Harris' novel, "Dictator" depicts Julius Caesar as a cold psychopath:

"A vast but peaceful German migration of 430,000 members of the Usipetes and Tencteri tribes crossed the Rhine and was lulled by Caesar into a false sense of security when he pretended to agree a truce; then he annihilated them."

The Ancient Origins website gives a different figure (150,000) but notes his ruthlessness, killing the women and children first:

“I sent the cavalry behind to them.
“The Germans heard screams behind them, and when they saw that their wives and children were slain, they threw down their weapons and ran headlong away from the camp.
“When they had come to the point where the Meuse and Rhine rivers flow together, they saw no good in further flights.
“A large number of them were slain, and the rest fell into the river, where they died overwhelmed by anxiety, fatigue and strength of the current.” —  Caesar, De Bello Gallico Book 4, 14-15

Naturally, Caesar puts a different slant on the migrating tribes, telling how they killed members of another tribe in their way on the far side of the Rhine, and claiming that the requested truce was only a ruse to make time for the Germans' cavalry to return to their horde.

Caesar also alleges that they attacked an advance party  of the Romans, so his genocidal massacre was merely a pre-emptive (or preventive) strike to save losses to his legions. Coincidentally, I read today a review of a book about American neoconservatives who took this line with Iraq's Saddam Hussein:

"Saddam was not seen as a rational actor that could be deterred. Therefore a pre-emptive war was necessary to remove him from power. Fukuyama argues that America actually carried out a preventive war. Pre-emption is to stop an imminent attack, which was not the case in Iraq. Preventive is to stop a long term threat, which was what the administration thought Iraq was."

In Caesar's case, the use of the sword was not to spread democracy - he was soon to subvert the half-thousand-year-old democratic Republic of Rome itself - but to get greater power and the glory of a "triumph", which was only awarded to those who extended Rome's territory.

Frankly, I think the Senate couldn't have stabbed him soon enough.

Friday, April 20, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Ry Cooder, by JD

This evening, Friday, BBC4 will be showing the Wim Wenders film "Buena Vista Social Club". Ry Cooder was responsible for bringing all of those venerable Cuban musicians together and getting them into Carnegie Hall and he performs alongside them in the concerts.

Cooder also wrote and played the music for another Wenders film, "Paris, Texas" and most people will be familiar with the haunting sound of that soundtrack and his other music is well worth exploring.

 After nearly sixty years of performing with a wide variety of musicians he is about to release another album next month and from what I have heard of it he still has that spark of creative energy!


Saturday, April 14, 2018

Hooray for evil!

Robert Harris' "Imperium" describes Cicero's prosecution of Gaius Verres for what the latter did during his reign as Governor of Sicily: theft, extortion, collusion with pirates, and the judicial murders of many including two Roman citizens.

Verres is confident of beating the rap, since he has powerful friends and bribees among the jury; but against the odds, Cicero damns him so overwhelmingly that Verres' aristocrats are forced to abandon their support for him.

Is Verres summarily beheaded, like one of his Roman victims? Or is he flogged, branded and crucified, like the other? Not a bit of it: he is exiled to Marseilles and fined less than a tenth of what he stole.

I had to look up what happened next. Was Verres' life cut short, in misery? No. He lived on for another 27 years, as a multi-millionaire in the South of France.

It would never do for a powerful man to face justice like an ordinary citizen. Where should we be then?

Give in, whispers a voice. Give up hope. You will be so relieved when you stop struggling.

Blair will get away with it forever. So will the supposedly stupid George W Bush, who played the needy Brit like a fish - pretending to accept Blair's am-dram advice on how to walk like a bigger man, jollying him along in a phone call ("cojones!").

Nothing changes. The war between good and evil is endless, and most of the battles seem lost.

And yet.

Friday, April 13, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Ryuichi Sakamoto, by JD

You may not know the name Ryuichi Sakamoto but you will almost certainly be familiar with the music in the first video. And I hope you will enjoy the others also.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Railing against rail, by JD

In 1829 Robert Stephenson entered his steam locomotive, called the Rocket, in a competition called the Rainhill Trials. It was to be held east of Liverpool and the winner would receive £500. There were 10 other locomotives entered in the contest and Stephenson had to transport his engine and equipment there, by horse and cart, from Newcastle. This is a folk song about this famous competition.

Read all about the event here:

The thing that caught my attention was the fact that Stephenson and his team took The Rocket by horse and cart to Lancashire. Now that must have been quite an adventure in itself. Remember this was long before there was a network of roads or railways. The first macadamised roads in this country were laid in the 1820s although whether the road between Newcastle and Liverpool was one of them is unclear. To get to the Trials it would have been necessary to disassemble their machine, load it onto the carts, arrange overnight stabling and feed for the horses (and themselves) travel the 150 miles or so to their destination. Then would come the job of reassembly and testing and other preparations for the contest.

Stephenson won and this is what 'state of the art' locomotive engineering looked like in 1829; the video is of a replica of the Rocket (not quite) full steam ahead -

I have the greatest admiration for Robert and his father, George Stephenson, the pioneers of the railway age. Their artistry and engineering skills were outstanding.

Having said that, I am not a fan of rail travel and never have been. In the early 19th century the railways were a wonderful alternative to the stagecoach; more comfortable, faster and much safer. But they declined in the 20th century and not entirely because of Dr. Beeching. They were superseded by the growth of personal transportation in the form of the motor car.

Now, in the 21st century they have long outlived their usefulness and the idea of building more of them in the form of the high speed rail link should be abandoned. They are a very inefficient way to move people around. I live very close to the main east coast line which connects London to Edinburgh. This is a 400 mile transport corridor between two capital cities and it is empty for most of the day. For the majority of the time there are no people being transported along it. Occasionally there is a train and for maybe 10 or 15 seconds once every hour our little stretch of line is doing its job.

Scrap the railways and put the land to better use. The Stephensons would approve, they were forward looking engineers of vision. Modern transport problems will not be solved by 19th century thinking.

Friday, April 06, 2018

FRIDAY MUSIC: Foy Vance, by JD

Foy Vance is a singer songwriter from Belfast. He is not well known to the public at large but he has quietly built up a great reputation for himself both in the UK and in America. One of the videos here features Martha Wainwright and Pete Townshend and you do not share a stage with artists of that calibre unless you are very, very good.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

A River in Darkness

If you have a Kindle and £1.00 to spare, Masaji Ishikawa’s A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea is well worth reading. It is fairly short but covers an interesting aspect of North Korean history – the repatriation of Koreans from Japan. From Amazon -

Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

Mr Ishikawa escaped back to Japan during the nineties famine after Kim Il-sung died. Here are a couple of quotes, the first being a recipe for pine bark cakes.

First, boil the pine bark for as long as possible to get rid of all the toxins. (Many people botched this stage and died in agony as a result.) Next, add some cornstarch and steam the evil brew. Then cool it, form it into cakes, and eat it. This was easier said than done. The pine oil stinks to high heaven and makes it almost impossible to consume it. But if you wanted to live, you choked it down. That’s when the real fun began. Crippling gut pain that brought us to our knees; constipation that you wouldn’t believe. When the pain became unbearable—there’s no delicate way of putting this—you had to shove your finger up your anus and scoop out your concrete shit. I’m sorry. You didn’t need to know that. Except you did. It’s the only thing that shows how desperate we were.

The second quote sounds almost familiar.

People in North Korea spend so much time in study meetings and calculating the number of hours they’ve worked that there’s no time to do the actual work. The result? Raw materials don’t arrive in factories, the electricity doesn’t work, and farms are overrun with weeds.

Mr Ishikawa has a grim story to tell and he tells it well. To my mind he brings out the corruption, the crazy lies and the bureaucratic insanity Kim Il-sung implemented.