Sunday, January 31, 2010

Simple Living Series - Let's talk chooks

Today's post is a crossover between food and backyard livestock. Let's talk chooks, or as the rest of the world knows them, chickens.  Many people are looking at creative ways of bringing healthy food into their homes and even if chooks have never been part of your home before, the time might be ripe now to introduce them.  Chickens may be kept in a variety of climates - from tropical to cold and

Happy Birthday Dearest Post #194

Dearest is 24 today.

Happy Birthday. I am so proud of you and love you a thousand times more. The fact that this is the only recent pic I have of you is proof that you are too far away, and that I need to take more photos when I do see you.

Although you have heard the story a hundred times before, others haven't. You were a huge baby and even after 9 hours of drugs to start labor I did not have one contraction. When we were informed they were going to do a C-section, your Dad and I (OK, only I started to panic), not about the c-section, but because we had no insurance. As I'm being wheeled to the OR I am fretting all over the place about how we were going to pay for you, with your Dad running along side saying "shh now".

Thankfully, all went well, you were healthy as could be, and when you weighed in at 10lbs. 3 oz, I was ever so grateful to pay any of the costs, to not have delivered you in another manner.

You were a wonderful baby, adorable toddler, loving and cantankerous pre-teen, smart and talented teenager, and now an honest, kind and admirable man. Your family adores you. You are surrounded by friends and Sweet Miranda, who love you and support you. You are living a good life.

Now, send me some better photos pronto ;-0

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pimping for Pain at Penn Vet School

Last week, I wrote a post entitled For Veterinarians, Silence Has Been Golden in which I noted that:

The American Kennel Club is moving to co-opt the veterinary trade by forming alliances between themselves and the pet insurance industry.

The goal of this cross-marketing: To make the AKC a veterinary referral and insurance service.

By doing this it is hoped that veterinarians will be beholden to the AKC, both collectively and individually, and continue to "whistle pass the graveyard" as far as the impact of Kennel Club policies that result in diseased, defective and deformed dogs.

Gina Spadafori at Pet Connection (who is also a syndicated columnist for Universal Press Syndicate) weighed in on the comments to say:

Honestly, Patrick, I talk to a great many different veterinarians all the time, and I don't know any who give a rat's ass about the AKC and not many who hold the group in high regard. Their trade group may be involved in some work there, but if you follow anything, you know that the AVMA has a membership that's not marching in lockstep by any means.

She then goes on to explain that real-world veterinary silence is due to vets being "trained to work reactively, not proactively."

Of course, I think this is absolute nonsense, as I pointed out. (I still love 'ya Gina)

The medical profession is taught to be a proactive.

If you smoke cigarettes, pipes or cigars, your doctor lectures you.

If you are fat your doctor lectures you about that.

If you are a teenage boy or girl, and you go to my family's pediatrician, you will get "the talk" from the doctor (whether or not if you had it with your your parents).

And yes, if you are an Ashkenazi Jew who is marrying another Ashkenazi Jew, you will also get the lecture about genetic testing to avoid Tay Sachs.

And, as I pointed out, the veterinarians are pro-active as hell when it comes to suggesting you get year-round heartworm medication (even when it's snowing outside and medically unnecessary), and medically unnecessary and dangerous teeth cleaning, and medically unnecessary vaccinations.

In fact, there is an entire magazine -- Veterinary Economics -- devoted to pro-active billing by veterinarians. Gina's co-author on a number of books, Dr. Marty Becker, is an Advisory Board member.

Want another example?

Here it is: Joan C. Hendricks, the Dean of the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school who seems to be edging close to pimping for pain in dogs.

And why is Joan C. Hendricks edging close to pimping for pain in dogs?

Well here's a clue: She's the "Gilbert S. Kahn" Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

And who is Gilbert S. Kahn?

Well, it turns out he is a wealthy AKC judge living in Newport, Rhode Island (contact information here), who is also a breeder of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (his 2008 Westminster dog is here at #10) and a retired board member of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

It seems Mr. Kahn might have got a wee bit upset that the breed he judges and which he breeds himself (under the "Charing Cross" prefix) has taken the center ring (along with the English Bulldog) for canine dysfunction.

Upset? I would think he would want to take a bow.

You see, without apologist breeders and judges like him, the American Kennel Club could not continue to salute the inbreeding of dogs or the extreme kinds of morphological exaggerations that leave dogs crippled, barely breathing, with serious heart ailments, and with neurological damage that leaves them howling in pain.

It's not like Gilbert S. Kahn is a man to be ignored in the AKC, is it? No. In fact, the gentleman is the "Chairman" of the AKC's "Museum of the Dog," and a Westminster Judge to boot, which means he is at the center of it all, and is a man they would have to listen to.

Take a bow Gilbert S. Kahn; the disease, dysfunction and deformity we see in the world of pedigree dogs today is part of your legacy. Those ribbons? No one will remember. They will vanish into the wind, tossed out into the trash upon your death, same as your old underwear. But the pain and suffering in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels will last forever so long as people like you wink, nod, and look the other way.

Of course Gilbert S. Kahn will say he is doing something.

After all, he is a founder and "Grand Benefactor" of $10,000 or more to the "American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club's Charitable Trust."

I went to the IRS to see what kind of magnificent work the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club's Charitable Trust was up to in 2008. Here's the answer: they paid $45,970 to support the "Ohio State University Rescue Education Survey." This was 100% of what the Charitable Trust did in 2008. And what was this Rescue Education Survey? I have no idea, but it sounds a bit removed from the very serious and pressing health concerns that face Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. There were, it should be said, three more expenses: two checks totaling $27,500 to the "AKC Health Foundation" and one $3,000 check going to the "Rabies Challenge Fund." How any of these donations help solve the very pressing health problems facing Cavalier King Charles Spaniels is beyond me, but perhaps that $27,500 check is for some bit of good.

So what does Joan C. Hendricks, the "Gilbert S. Kahn" Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, have to say?

She writes in a letter posted on the web site of the American Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club that someone at the University of Pennsylvania veterinary school had the temerity to actually discuss dog health to the media and what was said might have reflected poorly on the Cavlier King Charles Spaniel and the wreckage that Kennel Club breeders and show judges (like Gilbert S. Kahn) have left the dogs in.

Well actually, the film footage and the statistics did that, Dr. Hendricks. But never mind....

Now to her credit, Dr. Hendricks does not say the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is not a genetic basketcase. She does not lie.

Instead, she writes to let everyone know that "There was no mention of the efforts by breed clubs and the Kennel Club (UK) to support studies of these health problems in order to find ways to eliminate them."

OK, I'll bite.

Name one thing the Kennel Club has done to suggest eliminating them?

You see, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand the problems in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.

This is a breed that was created wholecloth at the the Crufts dog show out of a gene pool of one, and it is so inbred that more than 80 percent of all dogs now have heart problems, and one-third appear to have some form or other of Syringomyelia.

Has the American Kennel Club suggested outcrossing to breed away from these problems?


Has University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School Dean Joan C. Hendricks suggested outcrossing?

No, she has not.

And, to tell the truth, since she is the "Gilbert S. Kahn" Dean of the veterinary school, I am pretty sure she never will. I suspect she knows where her bread is buttered.

Dr. Hendricks goes on to say that "high-quality scientific studies of mixed breed dogs in comparison to purebred dogs are sorely lacking."


Well maybe she needs to read the literature a little more.

You see the veterinary insurance companies are doing this kind of work all the time, and in fact their business depends on it. For example, here's a pretty nice paper on the relative health of various breeds done by the Swedish pet insurance company Agria which now underwrites the British Kennel Club's pet insurance plan.

Over at Embrace Pet Insurance they specifically want you to know that they cover the wreckage of diseases and deformities created by the American Kennel Club's breeding practices. Just tell them your breed, and they will tell you how high your premiums are going to be!

And, of course, if you want to do a study on inbreeding in dogs, it's not hard, as Imperial College in London has shown.

Has the University of Pennsylvania done a similar study using the AKC's pedigree records? No, of course not. The AKC would never let them.

What the AKC wants is not action to improve the health of dogs -- it wants "paralysis through analysis."

And the University of Pennsylvania is playing along.

The way this works is that academics are paid to "study" a problem for decades at a time. Obvious solutions (like outcrossing or changing breed standards) are not to be considered. Instead the goal is to find a for-profit medication which will allow the disease or defect to be maintained without allowing outcrossing and without changing the breed standard.

Look at the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, for example. Heart problems? No problem at all -- just give these little pills to your dog every day, twice a day, for the rest of its life and make sure it does not stray too far from the couch. Whatever you do, do not do an outcross to produce a healthier dog!

You want another example? Fine, here it is. It turns out that University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School Dean Joan C. Hendricks has herself studied English Bulldogs and even co-authored a paper entitled English Bulldog: a Natural Model of Sleep-disordered Breathing.

But has she come out and suggested a change to the AKC's breed standard which is the cause of all that troubled Bulldog breathing? Nope. Not that I can find.

How can a veterinarian spend time studying canine hypoxia in English Bulldogs and still stands silent, hands in pocket, while millions of dogs all over the world gasp for air?

It is beyond me.

Did a solution not come to her mind?

Or was this another case where her bread was buttered on the other side?

ABC News Nightline on the American Kennel Club


An American Homeplace

I just finished reading An American Homeplace by Donald McCaig, and recommend it to anyone who loves well-written essays and stories about farms, values, and sheep dogs.

I read a lot, and do not effuse about most of it, but there are pieces in here that are as well turned and as tightly carved as a Japanese netsuke. Real art, and those who know me will know what high praise it is that I shelve this one next to John McPhee and Noel Perrin.

Bottom line: A very good read, and it ought to be on your nightstand right now. While you are at it, order a copy of Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men -- another outstanding book by McCaig.

You, me and the kitchen sink

This is Dee's kitchen in Idaho, USA.
Dee writes: "I've been reading your blog for about the last 3 years. I really enjoy your tutorials! In fact, tomorrow I am going to try my first batch of cold pressed soap! I've always enjoyed reading your blog and never once have I joined the discussion - but this new Kitchen Sink idea was fun. Also, my kitchen is my favorite room of our home so don't mind

The Continuing Crisis

Look at the title to this graph and then look at the data itself. See any dissonance?

This is where we are in the world today: Almost everything is getting better all over the world, and very rapidly, but the headlines and the text are still writen as if even good news is all bad news.

Food price are going up?

How is that bad news for the poor in the developing world who actually grow food for a living?

You mean people in the developing world have the money to pay more for locally grown food (as almost all food is in the developing world)?

Again, how is this bad?

Look through the graphs in The Millennium Development Goals Report for 2008 and you will see the same thing again and again: a text that suggests crisis, but actual data that says things are actually getting better, quite rapidly, almost everywhere.

What is going on?

Simple: The developing world still needs help, and though rapid progress is being made on almost every front in every region (in part due to falling fertility rates) the United Nations still wants countries and invididuals to help.

What is going on here is not evil. But the story board being told is increasingly at odds with the data.

The good news is that the bad news is not entirely right.

Are things still awful in much of the world? Of course. That has always been true. That is not news.

The real news is that almost everywhere, things are actually getting better.

A Clown Car of Elk -- Only in America

Watch the whole thing, because you really do not get the full story until you see volume of elk at this road crossing. Is America a great country, or what? A special hat tip to Chas C. who had this up over at his great Southern Rockies Nature Blog.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Generic News of the Day

This is about how it goes on the nightly news. Any wonder why people would rather listen to Jon Stewart?

You, me and the kitchen sink

Good morning everyone.  Today we are visiting Daphne whose kitchen is in Boston, USA.
Daphne writes:"Yes those are dirty dishes in the sink. I figure I usually have some in the afternoon so I ought to be honest about it. My husband does some of the dishes at night, but often not all of them fit into the dishwasher. I make sure it is totally clean and the dishes are put away every morning. If I'm

The Oldest and Most Important Debate

Pardon this short run into the thickets of intellectual history.

At the risk of boring people, I am going to talk about the roots of one of the oldest and most important debates in the world -- human population growth.

Specifically, I am going to talk about one person you have probably heard of (and not read) and another person you've probably not heard of (and not read).

The first person is Thomas Malthus.

The second person is the Marquis de Condorcet.

I am going to structure this little post around 7 questions:

  1. What did Malthus say?

  2. What has really happened?

  3. Where did Malthus go wrong?

  4. What did Condorcet say?

  5. Was Condorcet right?

  6. Why did Malthus Rebut Condorcet?

  7. What does this have to do with the U.S. and the modern world?

And, if you read to the bitter end, I will give a hint (and a link) as to how this all relates to terriers.

The False Promise of Malthusian Misery

Rev. Thomas Malthus's pessimistic 1798 tract on population was a response to essays and tracts previously published by William Godwin and the Marquis de Condorcet (both of whom are named on the title page and quoted by Malthus).

While everyone has heard of Malthus, very few people have heard of either Godwin or Condorcet even though Condorcet's predictions have been far more "right" than those of Malthus.

At their essence, Malthus, Godwin and Condorcet were arguing about the "perfectibility" of humans and the role of class not, as some some believe, about the environment.

To put it bluntly, the question was whether humans were nothing more than rutting pigs doomed to breed like rats and die like flies, or whether we were a species that could learn, pass information across time and space, and exercise self-restraint?

In addition there was another question to be answered: Was a tyrannical class system that exploited the poor part of the "natural order of things," or could social equality and freedom lead to a better world?

These debates are still being waged.

Ironically, while Malthus gets all the attention, Condorcet and Godwin are very much the winners in the real world, as shown by the rise of voluntary family planning and the decline of fertility rates all over the world, the steady improvements in human diet all over the world, the rise of democracy, and the rise of free trade.


Malthus postulates that "Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio"

Curiously, Malthus gives no evidence to support this claim, nor does he suggest any means for "checking" population growth other than "misery" (starvation and disease) or "vice" (war and contraception).

Malthus argues that humans are entirely captive to their passions, noting that "No move towards the extinction of the passion between the sexes has taken place in the five or six thousand years that the world has existed," and that such passion will naturally produce more people, less food, lower wages and misery.

Malthus writes that "Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race."

Condoms, cervical caps and vinegar douches were well known in Malthus's day, but Malthus opposed them, calling them a "vice," arguing instead that men and women should practice abstinence until marriage (i.e. the Bush Administration's family planning program).

Did Malthus think abstinence would work?

No. In reality, he thought death was the only way out.

Malthus was not just a passive observer of death -- he was a cheerleader for the Grim Reaper. In fact, Malthus specifically suggested public policies to encourage a rise in the death rate. He wrote that:

"Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate specific remedies for ravaging diseases: and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders. If by these and similar means the annual mortality were increased ... we might probably every one of us marry at the age of puberty and yet few be absolutely starved."

According to Malthus helping the poor would simply result in more poor people. A growing population would result in falling wages (more people means cheaper wages) and rising food prices (since food can only grow in an "arithmetical ratio"). In the end, everyone would be worse off. Since death was the inevitable outcome, he thought we should get the process rolling early on by cutting off aid to the poor and, in fact, encouraging more disease.


Malthus was wrong on almost every point.

Since Malthus's time, and before, food production has outpaced human population growth, while longevity has increased, disease has declined, income has risen, and voluntary family planning has been widely embraced.

As Jared Diamond has noted:

"We're better off in almost every respect than people of the Middle Ages, who in turn had it easier than cavemen, who in turn were better off than apes. Just count our advantages. We enjoy the most abundant and varied foods, the best tools and material goods, some of the longest and healthiest lives, in history. Most of us are safe from starvation and predators. We get our energy from oil and machines, not from our sweat. What neo-Luddite among us would trade his life for that of a medieval peasant, a caveman, or an ape?"

In fact, there is no question that for humans things are better today than they were even 10 years ago, and that this improvement has been both regional and global.

Not only is the percent of hungry people in the world now in decline, but so too is the absolute number. Contrary to Malthus's prediction, we have fewer and fewer hungry people, not more!

Income is on the rise too: between 1990 and 1999 the percent of people living on less than $1 a day in the developing world dropped from 29% to 23%, while the percentage of people with telephones increased eight-fold!

Maternal mortality and child mortality are also in decline, while across the world people are eating not only more food but better food (i.e. the food they want to eat).

All of this has occurred while, in the last 12 years, the world has ADDED more people to the world than EXISTED during Malthus's own time!

Perhaps most ironically, natural population growth in Great Britain -- Malthus's home country -- has stopped altogether, and that nation is now importing poor people from other nations - a pretty farm cry from a nation captive to unrestrained "passion between the sexes."

According to Malthus, this should be not be happening.

Please note that this decline in hunger is not a new trend -- it extends back more than 30 years and is expected to continue for as far as UN food projections are made.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, malnourishment fell from 37 percent of the population in the developing world (1969-70) to 28 percent (1979-81) to 20 percent (1990-1992) to 17 percent (1998-2000). In absolute numbers, the number of malnourished declined from 960 million people to 798 million people during this same period of time.


How could Malthus have been so wrong?

If we set aside the "original sin" and religious underpinnings that are at the core of Malthus's world view, we find four "stasis" assertions underpinning Malthus's population and food thesis:

  1. Malthus assumed human population growth would largely be driven by fertility. In fact, that's not what happened. Fertility stayed the same, but MORTALITY went down as indoor plumbing went in, deeper wells were dug, rats were exterminated, and trash collection systems were operationalized. If Malthus had been paying attention, he could have anticipated this, as rat catchers and indoor toilets were growing concerns in his own day, and death rates were already falling. Instead of anticipating the future, however, Malthus assumed HEALTH CARE STASIS, and with it an age structure built around childhood dependency rather than increasing numbers of productive adults. Instead of a population getting sicker and less productive, people got healthier and more productive.

  2. Malthus assumed a localized, sustenance-based, agrarian economy. If Malthus had been paying attention he would have noticed the changing nature of his own economy. In fact, rapid urbanization was already occurring, as was the rise of manufacturing and long-distance trading. Malthus's assumption that most employment (and therefore wages) would be derived from agricultural efforts assumed ECONOMIC STASIS. In fact the rise of large farms and increased agricultural mechanization was already occurring (the cradle and scythe, the cotton gin, and the first cast-iron plow were all patented a few years before Malthus began writing), as was international trade. Both phenomenon resulted in a decline in the cost of food and an increase in manufactured products as capital was diverted to better housing, better shelter, and improved infrastructure systems (schools, roads, ports, water and sewage systems, etc.). Instead of people getting poorer as populations rose, people grew marginally richer, and the hardships of previous generations began to ease.

  3. Malthus was hamstrung by an a priori desire to preserve the social order of his day and by his training as a cleric. Denigrating the poor is nothing new. In fact, across time and culture most people think people that are poorer than themselves have "bad values," while those that are richer are merely "lucky." Malthus was no different, arguing that because poor people could not control their "passions" they were doomed -- a kind of "original sin" argument. Quoting the Bible, Malthus quite literally informed his reader's that "the wage of sin is death" and that this was the natural order of things, as was the class system (a sentiment that was music to his reader's ears). To gild this philosophical lily, Malthus tossed out unsupported mathematical assertions about populations growing at "geometrical ratios" and food growing "only in an arithmetical ratio". It sure SOUNDED like science, and no one thought to argue.

  4. Malthus knew next to nothing about agriculture. In fact, agricultural production does not necessarily increase at a plodding rate as Malthus assumed, and agricultural outputs were being boosted in his own day through applications of fertilizer, water, insecticides and the careful selection and creation of animal breeds and plant hybrids. In fact, Europe already had cloning labs in the form of monasteries devoted solely to grafting more productive fruit trees. Instead of talking to farmers about the speed of agricultural innovation in his day, however, Malthus simply assumed AGRICULTURAL STASIS.


Who was the Marquis de Condorcet?

Condorcet was a French philosopher, mathematician, and sociologist and a leading figure in the French Enlightenment. It was Condorcet's last piece, written just before his death in 1775, that sparked Malthus's rebuttal tract on population.

Condorcet's very long essay was entitled an "Essay on the Progress of the Human Spirit," and in it Condorcet argues that science, reason, and education, together with the principles of political liberty and equality, will soon lead humanity into a new era of happiness.

Malthus, of course, argued that Condorcet was wrong.

According to Malthus, a growing population would eat up the benefits of scientific progress and lead to a perpetual grinding up of humans in the maw of misery (war and disease) and vice (war and sinful birth control). In the Malthusian world, we are all Sisyphus, rolling the rock up the hill by day, and watching it roll down on us at night. Trapped by unbridled "passion between the sexes" we can temporarily expand our numbers, but starvation, disease or war will eventually catch up and hammer us down. According to Malthus, there is nothing to be done, or that should be done, to prevent this. Crushing poverty for the majority of the world is the natural order of things, and alleviating it is as hopeless a task as teaching a pig to sing.

Malthus argued that helping the poor only creates more poor people, and that if people refuse to delay marriage and embrace chastity, then not only are they doomed to die in droves, but society should actively take steps to exacerbate misery in order to speed up the process so that people might see the error of their ways ("In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague.")

While Malthus essentially advocated germ warfare against the poor, Condorcet advocated for the creation of a Social Security system and education of women and the poor, and prophesized the end of slavery and the rise of free trade.

Condorcet said he thought economic and social progress in developing countries would spring forward much faster than it had in Europe because these less advanced countries would have the European model of success to emulate and copy.

Writing in his "Essay on the Progress of the Human Spirit," Condorcet argues that:

"The progress of these peoples [folks in undeveloped countries overseas] is likely to be more rapid and certain than our own because they can receive from us everything that we have had to find out for ourselves, and in order to understand those simple truths and infallible methods which we have acquired only after long error, all that they need to do is to follow the expositions and proofs that appear in our speeches and writings."

Unlike Malthus, who believed people were largely doomed to repeat their mistakes, Condorcet thought people could learn across generations and, if given opportunity and liberty, great things would happen including increased trade and agricultural production.

While Malthus argued that "geometrical" population growth would always outstrip "arithmetical" agricultural production, Condorcet argued that science would find ways to dramatically increase agricultural production.

Writing in his "Essay on the Progress of the Human Spirit," Condorcet argues that:

"A very small amount of ground will be able to produce a great quantity of supplies of greater utility or higher quality; more goods will be obtained for a smaller outlay; the manufacture of articles will be achieved with less wastage in raw materials and will make better use of them.... So not only will the same amount of ground support more people, but everyone will have less work to do, will produce more, and satisfy his wants more fully."

Condorcet anticipated this abundance would lead to increased population growth, but he also believed that people would engage in voluntary family planning as incomes, education and knowledge rose.

In the Tenth Chapter, of his "Essay on the Progress of the Human Spirit," Condorcet writes that:

"But even if we agree that the limit [to population growth] will one day arrive ... we can assume that by then men will know that, if they have a duty towards those who are not yet born, that duty is not to give them existence but to give them happiness; their aim should be to promote the general welfare of the human race or of the society in which they live or of the family to which they belong, rather than foolishly to encumber the world with useless and wretched beings. It is, then, possible that there should be a limit to the amount of food that can be produced, and, consequently, to the size of the population of the world, without this involving that untimely destruction of some of those creatures who have been given life, which is so contrary to nature and to social prosperity."

In short, according to Condorcet, people would voluntarily limit the size of their families, with the goal of raising HAPPIER families, rather than simply LARGER families.

Unlike Malthus, Condorcet thought "population enlightenment" would occur as a natural product of freedom, democracy, education, science, and increased egalitarianism. As people did better, learned more, and gained increasing amounts of political and economic liberty, they would also voluntarily embrace one of the most fundamental types of self-determination -- the tools to control their own family size.


As Condorcet anticipated, shared knowledge across time and space has dramatically boosted both agricultural production and personal income, with "each successive generation" amassing "larger possessions ... as a result of this progress."

As Condorcet anticipated, the spread of democracy has increased across the globe, and modern societies across the globe have embraced Social insurance "safety nets" to protect the poor and aged.

Condorcet argued that improving the status of women and making investments in female education were critical to economic and social development. This is now widely accepted all over the world, even among social conservatives.

Condorcet anticipated that increased food production, combined with a rise in international trade and an increase in personal wealth, would result in an increase in the number of people on earth. This too has occurred as he predicted.

Most remarkably, however, Condorcet argued that in time this population growth would slow as people came to understand that the greater good was not in making more people, but in making more happy people. The kind of voluntary slowing of population growth that Condorcet predicted has occurred in Europe, Canada, the United States, Japan, and increasing numbers of developing countries (Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Iran, Brazil, etc.) Indeed, across the globe today, nearly half of all the people on earth are now living in countries that have replacement level fertility rates or less.


Condorcet did not argue that there were no limits to population growth, and Malthus's rebuttal of Condorcet was not driven by a desire to state that there were limits to human population growth.

Instead, Malthus's essay was motivated by a need to rebut Condorcet's dangerous assertion that everyone would do better if everyone had more economic, social and political freedom.

Malthus and the landed aristocracy of his day in England were living at a time of rapid economic change -- a time social historian Karl Polyani has called "a revolution of the rich against the poor."

Poverty in Elizabethan England was not being driven by population growth as much as it was by the process of "land enclosure" which sought to push people off the land in order to enable the already rich to get even richer by raising wool for the rapidly expanding international wool trade.

As the BBC notes,

"Land enclosure meant that the traditional open field system whereby individual peasant farmers could farm their own pieces of land was ended in favor of creating larger and more profitable farming units which required fewer people to work on them. As the wool trade became increasingly popular, these units were often dedicated to rearing sheep. As a result, many people who had lived and worked in the countryside their whole lives found themselves without any means of support and, in many cases, evicted from their homes."

In short, in the "new economy" of sheep, most of the old tenant farmers were "surplus" or redundant, and across England their homes were literally pulled down or torched.

As the "redundant poor" were pushed off the land, more and more poor people were crowded into cities and towns. "Poor taxes" on the wealthy increased by 75% between 1802 and 1818 as the number of people made poor by the enclosure system rose to dizzying heights -- and with it social unrest.

Condorcet's theories of social, economic and political equality were seen a threat to the "new economic order," and Malthus sought to rebut Condorcet by offering a new, seemingly scientific-sounding, rationale for cutting the rapidly rising poor taxes being paid by the rich.

According to Malthus, the poor were not poor because of the enclosure system, but because they had too many babies and because they were not living a chaste life. So long as the poor bred like rabbits, they were doomed to die like flies. According to Malthus, there was nothing society should do to intervene, except perhaps to make it a little more orderly by constructing punitive workhouses.


Students of American history might note some parallels between late 18th Century England and mid-20th Century America.

As southern historian Will Ferris has noted, the "new economy" that began to appear in the American South after about 1935 was built on tractors and mechanical harvesters rather than mules and men. With the "death of the mule" millions of southern tenant farmers were pushed off the land and over the course of several decades millions of poor men and women poured into America's cities where many took factory jobs and others lived desperate lives on the edge of ruinous poverty.

As in Malthus's day, rising urban poverty in the U.S. fueled a push for new laws to help the poor. These new laws, in turn, resulted in a rise in "poverty taxes" on the wealthy elite.

Race and class pressures built up in American until they reached the explosive year of 1968 when riots broke out in dozens of American cities -- Washington, Chicago, Detroit, and over 100 other cities across the nation.

Perhaps not coincidently, the year 1968 was also the year that Garrett Hardin wrote his now-famous essay entitled "The Tragedy of the Commons" in which he somewhat disingenuously couches the enclosure system of the 18th Century as being a parable about the environment. In Hardin's version, fences were erected to protect the land from greedy and overly fecund people who, if left unrestrained, would rip apart the environment upon which all life on earth depended. According to Hardin, the only way to protect the "commons" is to end reproductive freedom ("Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all") and embrace laws which encourage fewer births or, as he refers to it, to "legislate temperance."

Why is such legislation needed?

According to Hardin, the problem is that humans no longer have a "negative feedback" to control their "fecundity" like birds do. If humans ever had it, it was ruined by the rise of the welfare state.

Hardin goes on to postulate a kind of race and class "group think" about population and family planning in which "they" (the poor) think quite differently than "we" (the rich) do.

"In a welfare state," he writes, "how shall we deal with the family, the religion, the race, or the class (or indeed any distinguishable and cohesive group) that adopts overbreeding as a policy to secure its own aggrandizement?"

Notice that according to Hardin poor people have "adopted overbreeding as a policy to secure [their] own aggrandizement!"

Really? Is that how the poor people are getting rich? By making "policy?"

In fact, like Malthus, Hardin's essay appears to be framed as a scientific-sounding rationale for preserving the social and economic status-quo of his day.

Just as Malthus ignored the fact that the enclosure system of his day was driving poverty in England, so too does Hardin ignore the fact that tractors were driving the rise of poverty in American cities.

Just as Malthus ignored subsidies for the large estates of his day and instead focused on reasons to cut the "poor tax," so too does Hardin ignore corporate subsidies and tax credits for the landed rich. Instead, like Malthus, Hardin zeros in the need to cut welfare to the poor.

Like Malthus, Hardin is not passive. He writes that "It is a mistake to think that we can control the breeding of mankind in the long run by an appeal to conscience," and he says that instead we must embrace "mutual coercion mutually agreed upon."

In later writings Hardin drops the notion that coercion should be "mutually agreed on." In his essay on Life Boat Ethics, Hardin (like Malthus before him) argues that aid should be withheld from the poor so that misery will rise and they will be forced to be more temperate and less fecund.

Ironically, while "The Tragedy of the Commons" is still widely quoted, and while it quotes Malthus, very few people know why the enclosure system was really put into place, or what Malthus's essay actually says.

Nor do most Americans know enough about the rise of urban poverty, or the social pressures of the era in which Hardin was writing, to fully understand the undertone of what he was saying or why it was so warmly received by so many social and economic conservatives of the day.

Ironically, like Malthus, many folks have HEARD of "The Tragedy of the Commons," but relatively few have read it and even fewer seem to notice how demonstrably wrong it is.

Remember, according to Hardin, appeals to "conscience" will not work to reduce birth rates and only "coercion" will work. In reality, within 5 years of writing "The Tragedy of the Commons," birth rates in the U.S. had dropped to below-replacement levels and they have remained there ever since.

No new coercive laws were needed.

The same phenomenon of dropping birth rates has occurred all over the world -- in Europe, Japan, Iran, Sri Lanka, and Brazil to name just a few countries. In almost all cases, coercion was not needed -- conscience and persuasion alone did the trick.

For those that have not read "The Tragedy of the Commons," or who want to refresh their memory as to what it says >> click here.

More than "human doom" scenarios attract environmentalists to Malthus, however. There is also a shared intellectual construct - a construct based on STASIS.

Most environmentalists are believers in stasis: trees should not be cut down, dams should not be built, introduced species should be exterminated, climate should not shift, and genetically-modified crops should not be created. No animal or plant species should decline in numbers, nor should they dramatically increase in numbers. If a mountain appears to be "naturally' bald (as in the Smokies) it should not be allowed to reforest. Animals from widely different locations, such as two species of parrot, should not be allowed to hybridize, nor should humans engage in mining or aquaculture. And, of course, there should be no human population growth or increase in natural resource use.

In fact, environmentalists have more than a small point.

Very rapid population growth is forcing very rapid change to the environment -- change that is, undeniably, doing harm to much of the world's wildlife and wild places.

The problem is not that conservationists want to move slowly after fully examining the options (a VERY good and VERY wise thing!) but that they routinely misrepresent the data and fully discount the future in order to arrive at "human doom" scenarios.

Like Malthus, human "die-off" theorists assume stasis arguments about health care (fertility will not fall fast enough), economics (there will be a shortage of water and energy because prices for these commodities cannot rise), agriculture (the farms of tomorrow will be like the farms of today), and social orders (African countries will stay mired in the pit of despotic tribalism).

In fact, stasis never occurs in the natural world, nor does it occur in human society. If you had told someone in 1880 that the U.S. would have a population of 300 million people today, they would have said "Impossible! Where will you pasture all the horses?"

In fact, at some level many of the energy and water crisis arguments we hear today sound very much like the horse pasturing concerns of 125 years ago. Just as Ford and Benz began to build cars for an energy source that was not yet in production, the companies that now bear their names are making hydrogen-fueled cars for an energy source that is still in development.

Whatever happens with gasoline, one thing is for sure: We are NOT going to do nothing. We are going to find an alternative power source for vehicle transport. In fact, we already have several alternative power sources, and today we are simply experimenting with alternatives and efficiencies -- and we are doing this despite the fact that the price of oil today is about the same, in inflation-adjusted dollars, as it was in 1975. We will not be going back to horses or, God forbid, walking.

While no one can predict what combination of nuclear, geothermal, solar, hydrogen, wind, methane hydride, trash-to-fuel, tidal barrages, wave mills, and hydropower (to name just a few options) will power the Next Economy, there is very little doubt that there is no "energy shortage" per se -- only a surplus of options that involve different tradeoffs that we may, or may not, agree to accept.

Similarly, we see no stasis in the field of water storage, transportation, desalinization, and conservation technologies, nor do we see a stasis in water pricing and international trade, both of which have enormous implications for water use all over the world.

In short, though the natural world may get worse, the human world is likely to continue to thrive.

Humans are remarkable animals in the sense that we have shown a marked ability to change ourselves, and our surroundings, at a very rapid rate.

While the pig of 1703 is very much like the pig of 2003, the human is not. Pigs cannot fly, but today humans can. Humans can also communicate to millions of other humans across the globe at the click of a mouse, grow wheat in the desert and strawberries in the arctic, and mine minerals from the bottom of the ocean.

Humans are also capable of changing the way we live. Since Malthus's day we have moved from 100-acre farms to 600 square-foot apartments, we have changed diets, we have rewritten marriage and inheritance laws, and we have changed the basic unit of social cohesion. And, of course, we have embraced the "vice" (Malthus's word) of voluntary contraception -- just as Condorcet predicted we would, and under the circumstance he envisioned (i.e. after a long period of population growth and relative prosperity).

The adaptive nature of humans is almost totally discounted by environmentalists with a strong Malthusian bent. In fact, a nearly complete discounting of the adaptive nature of humans seems to be a precursor to a fascination with Malthus.

It is not accidental that there are do demographers (i.e. experts on human population change) who are Malthusian DOOM-ographers.

Nor is it an accident that most doom-ographic treatises are written by experts in non-sentient life: Garrett Hardin is a microbiologist; Bill Paddock an agronomist specializing in corn; Paul Ehrlich specializes in butterflies; William Vogt specialized in birds. Among the lay public with a fascination with Malthus, we typically find various kinds of engineers, computer programmers, and bug experts who specialize in non-sentient organisms and systems.

Biologists used to working with butterflies, ants, and yeast often draw parallels between barely sentient wildlife and humans, but in doing so they tend to ignore the unique qualities that humans bring to the table.

A deer on the Kaibab Plateau does not have the written word to use as a predictive tool for what might happen when wolves, cougars and coyotes are extirpated from its habitat, nor does it have laws to govern group conduct, nor does it know how to use irrigation pipe, steel plows, and seed to boost habitat production.

Not so long ago humans were not much more sentient that the deer on the Kaibab Plateau. The people of Easter Island, for example, were without writing and were completely cut off from the rest of the world and living on a tiny rock in the middle of the Pacific. Hardin notes that on "Easter Island, they just had too many people and they didn't see the consequences of cutting down all the trees."

This is, of course, correct.

But we do not live on Easter Island anymore. The development of writing several millennia ago, enabled humans to amass experience over time and share it across vast distances (as Condorcet said would happen).

Without writing we could not perfect social codes, and we could not improve technology in a rapid and methodical manner. Instead, we quite literally "reinvented the wheel" again and again.

Quite literally we lived according to "the law of the jungle" instead of the laws of man.

With the advent of the written word and a rapidly expanding vocabulary, everything changed.

A quantitative leap in the human condition occurred shortly after the advent of movable type and the production of low-cost pulp-based paper.

Further leaps occurred with the advent of public libraries, daily newspapers, and indoor lighting.

Still greater advances were propelled by such electronic communications systems as telegraphs, radios, telephones, movies, television, and the internet.

The revolution is ongoing, of course. Saturday's edition of The Washington Times carries a front page article entitled "Google Knows All", while Google itself tells me that the main town on Easter Island (Hanga Roa) has a modern telephone system and Internet service linked by satellite to the rest of the world. There are even two "cybercafes" in town!

The point made here is not a small one, as the neo-Malthusian cannon of doom gives very little standing to the power of communication, education or legislation.

Consider the simple "I-PAT equation" that is commonly asserted to be a mathematical model of the relationship between population growth and the environment. The IPAT equation is expressed as: Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology.

In fact, this "equation" is not an equation at all. Other than population, the components are vaguely defined and nearly impossible to operationalize as meaningful numbers.

Though the I-PAT equation may LOOK like science, it is in fact little more than a rhetorical assertion masquerading as a numerical entity (as was Malthus's assertion that "food grows arithmetically").

The I-PAT equation is also far from complete.

Consider the case of the United States, for example. In the last 35 years we have added 100 million people to our population. During this same period of time our water got cleaner and our air got cleaner. Today we have more forest cover in the U.S. than we did in 1970, and we have more land in protection.

Even as our population grew, and our level of resource consumption soared, the state of the environment generally improved. Today the U.S. has larger populations of whitetail deer, moose, buffalo, coyote, wolf, bald eagle, cougar, manatee, whale, sea turtle, pronghorn antelope, beaver, Canada geese, osprey, ducks, alligators, raccoon, red fox, otters, bobcat, black bear, grizzly, wild turkey and heron than it did just 30 years ago.

How could this have happened?

The short answer is that we passed laws.

In 1864, Lincoln signed an Executive Order protecting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. In 1872, the first National Park (Yellowstone) was created, and in 1900 Congress passed the Lacey Act banning the interstate sale of wild game. In 1911 Congress passed the Weeks Act, which resulted in the federal government purchasing vast tracts of denuded mountains, which paved the way for the National Forrest System, which in turn helped launch the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Other environmental laws quickly followed: the Federal Migratory Bird Law, the Bald Eagle Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Protection Act, the "Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act," and the National Forest Management Act, to name just a few.

The end result, when combined with science-based wildlife management, was a surge in wildlife numbers across the U.S. with many species (beaver, turkey, deer, otter, bear) being reintroduced into areas where they had once been locally or regionally extirpated.

Ironically, this great boom in wildlife protection occurred even as the population of the United States grew by 100 million people.

As quickly as the population of the U.S. grew, however, its food-growing capacity grew even faster. In fact, thanks to new crop hybrids, automation, irrigation, and innovative crop-planting schedules (such as winter wheat), U.S. agricultural outputs are now so high that we, quite literally, do not know what to do with the beneficence of the land.

Not only are we exporting vast amounts of food overseas, we have also taken 35 million acres of land out of production through the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) -- a swath of land larger than Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C. combined.

Instead of being short of food, American taxpayers are now paying farmers to leave land fallow and to plant cover-crops that are beneficial to wildlife -- and we continue to ship vast quantities of food overseas as well.

Does this mean U.S. population growth has not had a negative impact on the U.S. environment?

Of course not.

In fact, the environment of the U.S. might be a great deal BETTER if we had not added over 100 million people to our population since 1970.

That said, there is no doubt that the environment of the U.S. in 2003 is better than it was in 1970, and that this improvement happened DESPITE both a tremendous rise in population numbers and a tremendous increase in per capita resource consumption.

* * *

And thus ends this little exposition on the roots of one of the oldest, and most important debates -- population growth and the future of mankind.

I should note that this piece was written in August of 2003, and so the data are no longer quite up to speed. Suffice it to say that nothing has changed in direction or velocity; the world is still doing better this year than last, and fertility in the developing world still continues to fall like a rock (thank God).

In full disclosure, I suppose I should add that I knew Garett Hardin quite well (we were friends) and he was responsible, in no small part, for my becoming a demographer. I also knew Bill Paddock quite well, and we too were friends. If you want to read a game-changing book, I think Bill would agree (if he were alive) that there are few better books than Garett's Filters Against Folly. Highest recommendation.

For those wondering how any or all of this fits into the world of working terriers, the answer is "quite well, thank you." To understand that, read >> A Pictorial History of Terriers; Their Politics & Their Place.

Want to know even more? Order a copy of
American Working Terriers and find how all of this is linked in to the the rise of the "animal rights" movement, the rise of mounted hunts, and the largest political protest in the history of the U.K. (a protest against a proposed ban on fox hunting!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Conflict of Interest? What Conflict of Interest?

But your vet is not!

Christine Keith has written a very good piece on Conflicts of Interest in Veterinary Medicine (read the whole thing).

I have been talking about conflicts of interest in veterinary medicine for a while.

In a post from 2008, entitled Is Your Veterinarian Clean? Don't Count On It, for example, I note that vets are upcoding, prescribing medically unnecessary services, collecting kickbacks, and engaged in self-referral all the time.

In a post from 2007 entitled Veterinary Trades Say It's Time to Rip-off the Rubes, I note how publications like Veterinary Economics serve as a virtual cheering section for selling medically unnecessary services and bill-padding.

So why was I a bit amused by Christie's piece?

Two reasons.

The first is that the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) News Service initially decided it was going to gauge the depth of veterinary journal chicanery (i.e. "conflicts of interests in veterinary literature") by asking the veterinary journals whether they were (perhaps) a bit ethically challenged and compromised.


And while they are at it, they might ask the fox if it is stealing chickens, and what kind of shotgun the farmer should use to protect his chicken coop.

To his credit (as Christie notes), VIN co-founder and President Dr. Paul Pion comes out swinging and says that whatever the journals say is probably an understatement of the problem.

All good, but I suspect even he underestimates what is really going on in the field of veterinary medicine.

After all, Merck (the maker of the Merck Veterinary Manual, went so far as pay science publisher Elsevier --the publisher of Health News Daily, The Gray Sheet (coverage of the medical device industry), The Pink Sheet (coverage of the prescription drug industry) and The Green Sheet (a publication for pharmacists) -- to publish a fake peer-reviewed scientific journal called Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine.

You think Merck would not pay a veterinary publication for a product endorsement?

Surely you are joking? They would if they thought they could get away with it!

The drug companies already pay the American Veterinary Medical Association outright -- companies like Merial, Idexx, Hill's Pet Nutrition, and MWI Veterinary Supply. Drug, food and device companies underwrite Continuing Medical Education courses at which their drugs are plumped, and they sponsor booths at conventions.

This is all done above the table.

What is done below the table?

I have know no idea, but I can guess.

One clue is as current as this morning's breakfast cereal; it seems the AVMA, is so scared of the world finding out what they are doing when it comes to veterinary school accreditation, that they are threatening legal action against VIN because some "internal documents" may have fallen into a reporter's hands.

Hmmmmmm..... I really do wonder what they are so scared of? I cannot imagine. All we know for sure is that you can smell the stench of terror from more than 100 miles away.

Smoke does not necessarily mean fire, but it's the way they bet down at the firehouse.

So back to conflicts of interest.

How widespread is the presentation of marketing material as "science"?

In human medicine, the practice is so widespread that former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell says "it is simply no longer possible to believe most of the clinical research that is published or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines."

You want some specific examples to brood over?

No problem. The Journal of Bioethical Inquiry recently published a paper entitled, "From Evidence-based Medicine to Marketing-based Medicine: Evidence from Internal Industry Documents" which offers a small window into the scene.

Do you think this kind of chicanery only happens in human drugs and human medicine?

If so, I have some swamp land to sell you.

You see, it's illegal for a doctor who accepts Medicare or Medicaid to take kickbacks.

It's illegal for a drug company or hospital to pay kickbacks for human business.

But you know what? It's not illegal for a veterinarian or a veterinary journal.



But in a self-policing industry, ethics does not really mean much, does it? To use a tired metaphor, the dog here does not bark, much less bite.

So why else was I amused by Christie's piece?

Well, it turns out she thinks the "seal of the prophet" on how the world slithers around like a snake is none other than Dan Rather.

As it turns out, Dan Rather Reports was in my office less than two weeks ago to interview me about how the U.S. health care system has been gimmicked by liars, cheat and thieves. Though the video is a bit long (24 minutes), it's up here for those who are interested.

And yes, Dan Rather is asking all the right questions! He always has.

It's just a building!

I'm taking a break from kitchen sinks and simple living today so I can tell you about what's been occupying my time this past week, and on and off for the past year.  I work as the volunteer coordinator at our local Neighbourhood Centre, and with the help of a grant from our State government, we've just moved into a brand new building.  I often get emails asking me about the kind of work I do as

Best Jeep Ad Ever

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Give Away Clarification POST # 193

In order to be eligible for the giveaway you must be a follower by my 200th post, which is now 7 posts from now. I do not know when the exact date will be, but I would guess sometime in early Feb. I will announce the winner in my 200th post. Hope that clears up any questions you may have, sorry for the confusion. I must remember to put the cart AFTER the horse, Suzan, AFTER the horse. Being an oldgreymare shouldn't I know that?

You, me and the kitchen sink

Today's kitchen belongs to Geodyne who lives in England.  I love this little kitchen and particulary like the old fashioned taps at the sink.  I would feel very much at home in this kitchen.

Geodyne writes:
 "I really enjoy your blog, as I live a similar lifestyle (without the retirement part yet!) and have lived in your area in the past as well, having grown up in Qld.

I rarely indulge in

One Million More Local Residents

Baltimore-Washington area population growth 1792-2100

Today's Washington Post notes that Washington, D.C. is now among eight metropolitan areas with immigrant populations of 1 million or more. The full litany of cities includes New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Washington and Dallas.

There are limits to all good things, and that is true for population growth, wherever it comes from.

Today, the single greatest threat to hunting in the United States is population growth and its attendant sprawl.

As large farms are cut up and atomized into suburbia and exurbia (the rural "farmettes" beyond the suburbs), more and more Americans are having to drive farther and farther to gain free hunting permissions.

The is not a new topic for me. I have written a little about the demographic growth in the greater Washington-Baltimore area in the past, noting that fox hunting in America started in this area, but that the land is quickly being gut-shot by too rapid population growth. Forest has fallen to farm, and farm has fallen to freeway until at last it has become hard to dig very far from the roar of a road.

The graph below shows where we have been -- and where we are growing due to a combination of unrestrained immigration and one of the highest fertility rates in the industrialized world.

Post-1970 immigration now accounts for about 98 percent of all U.S. population growth.

This a repost from the blog circa August 2006.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

French Bulldogs: Unfit for the Most Basic Functions

But don't take my word for it. This is what has to say about the breed:

"The vast majority of French Bulldogs can neither breed, conceive or whelp naturally..."

Right. And they cannot breathe too well either.

Simple Living Series - Food storage

I believe today's topic is one of the most important practical things we learn about in our homes - food storage.  I hope you join with me to share what you do because I am always open improving what I do and looking for new methods.  So let's get down to it, why is it so important and what should we be doing?

Buying food is usually a never-ending expense in the household budget. If you can save

Cat food recipe

This is the cat food recipe I was looking for the other day but couldn't find.  It's from the Choice magazine website and was developed by the professor of Veterinary Science at Sydney University, Professor Fraser:

Adult Cat
250 g boiled potato
600 g lean meat (lightly stewed)
100 g cooked human-grade sheep or beef liver*
20 g corn oil
25 g bone meal**
5 g table salt
Mix all the ingredients

For Veterinarians, Silence Has Been Golden

The American Kennel Club is moving to co-opt the veterinary trade by forming alliances between themselves and the pet insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

The goal of this cross-marketing: To make the AKC a veterinary referral and insurance service.

By doing this it is hoped that veterinarians will be beholden to the AKC, both collectively and individually, and continue to "whistle pass the graveyard" as far as the impact of Kennel Club policies that result in diseased, defective and deformed dogs.

And why not, thinks the average veterinarian?

Yes they got into the vet business because of concern and compassion for animals, but it's a free country and people will do what they want to do.

Besides, taking a stand might cost business. People get easily offended if you talk about their broken dogs and suggest that they might be complicit in the problems, either through omission or commission.

And silence sure has been lucrative!

Pencil it out, and the big money in veterinary care is not in once-a-lifetime vaccines, but in the big stuff: shot hips, wrecked eyes, recurring skin conditions, Cesarean births, and mounting rates of cancer.

Best to shut the hell up and pocket the money!

Do all vets feel this way? No, of course not!

But enough do.

And there's no denying that, taken as a whole, the veterinary profession has been extremely timid at challenging the Kennel Club in the past.

Just go to your vet and ask if he or she has a written list of breeds they actively caution against.

It's not going to be there.

Fact sheets on heartworm? Check. Even vets in Maine will have that in hope of maybe making a sale to a gullible customer.

But a fact sheet that says "avoid these breeds which are walking cancer bombs?"

A brochure that says "just say no to anchondroplastic dogs and brachycephalic breeds?"

Not there.

Yet every veterinarian knows that certain breeds are a sack of trouble with predictable (and generally rising) rates of pain and veterinary expense.

  • Dachshunds have serious back problems; fully 45% end up with herniated discs.
  • Collies have a huge incidence of eye problems (retinal degeneration, cataracts, retinal detachment, progressive retinal atrophy).
  • Bernese Mountain dogs, Scotties, Flat-coated Retrievers, Deerhounds, and all the Setters have jaw-dropping levels of cancer.
  • Nearly every toy breed (and especially Yorkshire terriers) have dental problems from too many teeth crowding too-small jaws.
  • German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and St. Bernards commonly have life-limiting hip dysplasia.
  • American Cocker spaniels are besotted with cataracts, glaucoma, dry eye, and ingrown eyelashes.

This is just a smattering of the common canine problems out there.

Vets KNOW what these illnesses cost in terms of cash, and they know the PAIN these diseases, defects and deformities inflict on the animals themselves.

And yet the vets are silent.

There is no wall poster in your Vets Office indicting breed clubs for embracing exaggerated and contrived standards.

There is no petition or tract being handed out at your vets office advising patients to boycott the American Kennel Club until that organization turns away dogs with high Coefficients of Inbreeding.

The vets are nearly silent about the litany of pain, suffering, shortened life, and rising expense from breeding dogs within a closed registry system.

And yet, in this case, Silence Equals Death.

Why isn't the American Veterinary Medical Association at war with the American Kennel Club?

They aren't.

And I can tell you why; they are too busy "partnering" and "cross promoting" with these folks.

Imagine a computer virus maker sitting down for breakfast every morning with the folks from "Geeks On Call," and you have the idea.

Now add in long term physical pain and suffering on the part of the mute and helpless, and simmer for 30 years. That's the American Veterinary profession and the American Kennel Club: See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

So what if a significant proportion of Doberman Pinschers have a bleeding disorder?

Never mind that a mind-numbing percentage of Dalmatians are deaf.

Who cares if scores of thousands of Toy Poodles with epilepsy are on powerful meds to control their seizures?

Why even mention that thousands of Boxers that are put down every year due to tumors and bone cancer?

You've got a dog with a serious genetic disorder?

Too bad. Bad luck.

No, it couldn't possibly have anything to do with breed standards that monumentalize deformity or small closed registries that result in rising levels of inbreeding.

Not that. Think of something else.

And don't talk about puppy mills either, as the AKC is dependent upon them financially, as they have admitted in their own board meeting minutes.

It must be something else.

It must be nameless, faceless "bad breeders."

It's their fault!

But have no fear, because American Kennel Club breeders are only too happy to sell you another dog just like the one you just "lost."

And have no worries, because the American Veterinary Medical Association is only too happy to tell your vet how he or she can maximize your bill while your dog is being treated.

In the "dash for the cash," both sides have come to the same conclusion: Silence is Golden.


Machete Types, Use and Sharpening

A repost from the blog, circa June 2005

One of the tools I use at almost every dig is a machete. In hedgerows, nothing works faster to cut away multiflora rose, kudzu, wild grape, errant brambles, honeysuckle, wild cherry and poke berry. In the middle of a dig, a stray root can simply be loped off with a stroke of the machete. When dispatch time comes, a hard hit to the top of the skull with the dull back edge of the machete blade ends things pretty quickly.

A machete is not an axe. This tool is not designed to cut firewood or trees, but to hack through thickets of soft, fast-growing vegetation of the sort we generally find in hedgerows. No easily-tranportable manual tool has ever beat a machete for this type of work.

Even an expensive machete is quite cheap for a lifetime tool, so get a decent one which should run you around $30-$40. You do not want a "cane knife", which looks like a machete but is too light, nor do you want a K-Bar knife (too small and light), or any other of the other dizzying substitutes you might come across in a store or online knife shop.

I use an Ontario Machete, and have no complaints. One new style of machete I have seen comes with a saw edge along the back edge, which seems like a good idea if the soft steel of a machete will, in fact, hold a saw edge (I sort of doubt it).

Some people prefer various odd types of machetes, like the khoukri, but I prefer a simple straight blade. No machete should ever come with a pommel guard -- such a thing is real trouble in the brush. A machete is not a sword or a knife -- it is a machete. They are a perfected design, and you want the version that has stood the test of time.

Machetes are made of soft metal and are designed to be sharpened a lot. When cutting a lot of sugar cane or hard brush, they are sharpened once or twice a day.

Oddly, none of the machetes sold in the U.S. come with a sharp blade, and in fact getting one sharp the very first time takes some effort.

Do not use a grinder or belt sander to get a machete sharp -- there is very little chance you will get it right, and a very high chance you will permanently burn the blade.

What you need to sharpen a machete or shovel is called a "flat bastard" file. Put the machete blade in a vise, and draw the file across the edge of the blade at a 45 degree angle away from the center of the knife. Or do it the other way if you prefer -- put the file in a vice and draw the blade across it. As the square side of the machete begins to come down to its first edge, begin to flatten the file down to 25-30%.

Putting the first edge on a store-bought machete will take time -- don't be in a hurry. When you have it right, be sure to oil the blade with a little motor oil.

Once you have your machete edge about where you want it, you can keep it there very easily using a cheap commercial knife sharpener. I got mine at The Dollar Store and its seems to do the job well, and it works on shovel blades too.

When using a machete, always cut away from yourself. Always. Nothing will ruin your life faster than hacking your leg with a machete -- if you survive it at all.

A machete blade has a tendency to glance off thick vines and branches, which can be dangerous. The trick here is to not to try to cut straight across the vine with a single whack of the blade, but to hit the vine or branch with a scarfing blow, designed to cut along the stem in a kind of flat notch. The second whack will generally cut it through, with the blade in good control the entire time.

Your machete should have come with a scabbard of some type. Some are cloth, some hard plastic, some leather. Many of the old jungle machetes (many of which were made in Connecticut, believe it or not!) had light wood scabbards, but these are rarer now.