Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Blackwater and Raymond Davis

I have been captivated from the first by the story of this American contractor who found himself in some trouble in Pakistan. In short, here's what happened.
For whatever reason this man shot and killed 2 Pakistani citizens and directly contributed to the death of a third Pakistani who was struck by a vehicle coming to assist Mr. Davis. According to Davis, although his story is unsubstantiated, he was approached by the two Pakistanis in a way that caused him to believe that he was going to be robbed. Subsequently, Davis was arrested and brought to trial in Pakistan. Before the trial really got underway, secret meetings were held by unknown parties and members of the slain men's families. All or some family members (this is unclear) agreed to accept a sum of money and in return "pardon" Mr. Davis. The murder charges were subsequently dropped and Davis was returned to the states.
At this time, it's also unclear who paid the "blood money" to the families. Hilary Clinton has denied that our government has paid such money. Some reports indicate that the Pakistani government might have paid it, with the expectation of getting the money back from the United States. The amount of the payments has variously been reported to be between 1.4 and 2.4 million dollars.
What struck me most about this whole affair was how similar I thought it was to the killings of 17 Iraqis by the Blackwater contractors, similar but different in some significant ways. How were they similar? Well, both Davis and the Blackwater folks were government contractors, essentially guns for hire. Both parties claimed to have been under attack at the time of the killings. Both caused the deaths of civilians in a foreign country. Both incidents caused a good many hard feelings in the respective countries, even demonstrations. Five of the Blackwater contractors were eventually brought to court here in the US, but the charges were dismissed on the grounds that they had been forced to give statements without benefit of counsel. There does not seem to be any evidence that any sort of restitution was paid to the families of the victims.
How were the cases different? First the Blackwater personnel were operating in a war zone, under rules of war. They were legally carrying weapons. They were in a situation where circumstances such as those they encountered had actually turned out to be attacks in the past. They were acting as an escort and had the lives of unarmed personnel to protect. Mr. Davis was in an ostensibly friendly nation. He was in violation of Pakistan's weapons laws by being armed. Unlike the Blackwater folks, there is no one to verify his version of the events. He was alone, even though he obviously felt threatened enough to be carrying a Glock semi-automatic pistol. He claimed to have diplomatic immunity even though he is not a diplomat.
Where is the moral outrage that we saw in the liberal press over the Blackwater affair? Where are the accusations of cover-up? Where is the talk of Obama's private civilian army of murderers? The truth is the left didn't hate Blackwater...they hated Bush, and all their feigned indignation was simply another big put-on. So come on, let's sweep this under the rug and get back down to business.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Dog solution

My last blog concerned the Pit Bull. This time I'm trying to address the dog problem in this country in general terms. I said in my last entry that I didn't really know a solution for the problems I laid out. The truth is I had a germ of an idea partly based on experience and somewhat on research I've done in the past. As I pondered the concomitant problems of bad dogs, bad owners, bad breeders and the glut of animals that our strained system now has to handle I laid out for myself a sort of paradigm that I thought had some merit.
As one who generally deplores government interference in private matters I stopped several times during my deliberations and asked myself if there weren't some solution or combination of solutions that wouldn't involve new regulation. Time after time I concluded that we're now in such a crisis state that any action, even government action, was better than none.
First I must say I'm not in favor of breed-specific legislation or burdening dog owners with new regulation. I think this is an overly simplistic approach to a complicated problem, plus I wouldn't want to deprive anyone of the right to own whatever breed of dog they wanted provided it didn't pose a danger to others. Certainly, most Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Presas and other formidable breeds don't pose such a threat. Most of these dogs don't do anything worse in their lives than any other dog does.
How then can we address the enormous underground breeding disaster that is flooding our streets with strays and putting genetically inferior dogs into the hands of folks that have no awareness or simply don't care? My plan would have to be enacted on a local or state level. As I see it the federal government really has no jurisdiction except where sales might involve crossing state lines.
But first I'm going to say some words about dog breeding. I'm not a geneticist but I know something about dog breeds and about inheritance in general. The dog is blessed (or cursed) with what some scientists have described as a "plastic" genetic makeup. It's difficult to imagine any other species with such a wide range of size and appearance all capable of breeding one with the other. Aside from the difference in height, there's nothing to prevent the crossing of a Great Dane and a Toy Poodle. What would result from the union is however not so well understood. When one crosses two distinct breeds the results are uniformly unpredictable. Crossing a poodle with a schnauzer might produce something called a "schnoodle". It might just as easily produce something that looks exactly like a poodle or exactly like a schnauzer. If the offspring of these two dogs are bred, the results are just as unpredictable, perhaps even more so. It takes many generations to "fix" traits and to make a breed of dog throw pups that are "true to type". This is actually pretty close to the definition of a breed. Desirable traits are "fixed" by careful inbreeding. When breeds are crossed, these traits are the first to go.  Again I'll hark back to the Pit Bull. The chief characteristic that was "fixed" into this breed was gameness (the willingness to fight to the death). When the Pit Bull is crossed with another breed, no matter how ferocious or tenacious, this is the first trait to be lost- a lesson learned the hard way by many dog fighters of the past.
If you read all this and infer that I frown on the indiscriminate crossing of breeds, you would be correct. This is something that should be left to people far more knowledgeable that I am. Simply having 2 dogs of the opposite sex does not mean that it's OK to throw them in the back yard and let them breed.
It's not OK. It undoes generations of work by folks who care about and are knowledgeable about dog breeding and behavior. Nonetheless, I believe that the present day glut of unwanted animals is more a result of puppy mills and, in the case of fighting dogs, Pit Bull factories. Nothing that I propose would in any way impose restrictions on someone who just wanted to breed a litter of puppies as inadvisable as that might be.
So what would I propose?

1. Anyone breeding dogs and selling puppies who owns or has custody of over 10 dogs in a 6-month period would have to register as a breeder. This would entail paying a fee and taking a class on canine genetics and good breeding practices and subject them to inspections of their facilities and their dogs.
2. Any puppies sold to individuals by those owning or having custody of over 10 dogs in a 6-month period to other than registered breeders would have to be neutered.  A simple, but binding, agreement for the new owner to do so would suffice in order that pups would not have to be retained until the age of neutering. The seller would be required to follow up and ensure that the neutering had been performed. If it hadn't been done, animal control would be notified.
3. Prohibition on owning or having custody of more than 50 dogs at any one time
4. Restricting ear or tail cropping to a licensed veterinarian
5. Making it illegal to supply dogs or other animals for the purpose of fighting or to supply facilities or equipment for such activities.
6. Requiring anyone who owns or has custody of more than 10 dogs in a 6-month period to have bitches certified by a veterinarian to be in good health and of sound disposition prior to breeding.

I guess lots of folks would rail against such regulations, but one needs to ask why. Certainly there would be expense involved in the enforcement of these laws but animal control officers would be freed up by not having to continually deal with the stray and unwanted dog problem. I believe that the net effect would be a savings for the public and minimal or no expense to the casual dog owner or breeder. What do you think?

Friday, March 18, 2011

The American Pit perspective

     The news lately has been rife with new reports of attacks on human and other animals by "Pit bulls" or Pit bull-type dogs. One has to wonder why this breed (or combination of breeds) appears to be the chief offender in such attacks. Some argue that the media is more attuned to reporting Pit bull attacks and is more apt to identify the breed in their reports. While this may be true to a greater or lesser extent, there is no denying that fully half of the fatal attacks in the US each year involve dogs that are described as "Pit Bulls". Rottweilers also account for a lion's share of fatal attacks. These facts along with some unreasoned fears have led some communities to enact "breed-specific" legislation, effectively banning folks from owning, breeding or selling some types of dogs within their jurisdiction.
     Generally, Americans abhor violence. I'm speaking of true violence as opposed to the simulated stuff that is so prevalent these days. As a society, we would never allow, say, an execution to be broadcast in the media. We deplore anything that smacks of cruelty. Dogfighting and the sister "sport" of Cockfighting have both fallen into disrepute here. Both of these activities are now illegal and punishable by significant fines and/or imprisonment in our country. Even a former sports hero like Michael Vick came to be almost universally despised when people learned of his involvement in dog fighting and the breeding of fighting dogs. We seemed not to be able to think of enough epithets to hurl his way.
     The problem with pit bulls, as I see it, is that this is precisely the culture that gave birth to the breed. The dog was developed and honed for the sole purpose of defeating other dogs of the same type in the pit. The qualities the breeders selected for were gameness ( a rather nebulous term that mainly connotes a willingness to fight to the death), endurance (or "wind") and strength. Most breeders back in the day did not breed them to be aggressive, not toward other dogs or toward humans. The fact is a man-biter was generally frowned on by the dog-fighting community and it wasn't uncommon for them to be put down, thereby removing these animals from the gene pool. This was done in part because of the proximity of the people in the pit to the dogs that were fighting. In the course of breeding these dogs, they also became endowed with other secondary attributes including speed, athleticism, and a punishing bite.
     Now we fast-forward to today, where these dogs are bred without any thought to their disposition. Everyone with a backyard is suddenly a Pit bull breeder. What we have seen is the development of dogs that are human and dog aggressive, that have been outbred to Molosser dogs (generally breeds that are human-aggressive)  to enhance their size and physical appearance. Many have freakishly large chests and heads that would have doomed them in the dog pit. I have seen in our own Post and Courier dogs advertised as Pit bulls that were in excess of 100 lbs. No self-respecting dog man of yore would have purposely bred a dog over 25kg (55 lbs) at chain weight or street weight.
     I like Pits very much. They can be playful and comical. But somehow, responsible owners and breeders are going to have to take charge and clean up this underground breeding mess and police themselves before people become weary of the continued carnage and start enacting laws. How can they do this? Frankly, I don't know.  I don't think it will be easy.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Should the strong protect the weak?

     I suppose like most of us I have an opinion on this issue. The question goes beyond the simple "good Samaritan" situation and extends into regional, national and international matters.
     I believe that most folks would agree that in a one-on-one situation as when we witness child-abuse or attempted assault or bullying that we have an obligation to intervene. Could that intervention place us in danger? Absolutely. This fact makes the decision not only one of moral conscience but also of self-preservation. We are conditioned to avoid dangerous situations, but most of us are instructed from youth to assist our fellow man. Many of us are troubled by the question "Why do the innocent suffer?". That question becomes even more salient when suffering occurs because we have failed to intervene.
     In the international sense, one might argue that we have so many problems at home that we simply don't need to add to the mix the problems of others. Another argument might be that conflicts in other countries are often complex and that there are problems inherent in trying to make decisions about who is right and who is wrong. Who will make such judgements? You? Me?
     We elect officials whom we trust to make decisions in our stead. Sadly, we sometimes find that these elected officials lack compassion or courage.
     As to the present administration in Washington, we find that they are lacking. But what is it exactly that they are lacking? Certainly their party has a reputation for being a compassionate entity. If they possess compassion, then they must lack courage. If they are courageous, then they must lack compassion. Either way, the effect is paralytic. It makes them as unwilling to do the wrong thing as to do the right thing.
     As a primarily Christian nation, we often look to the scriptures for guidance on daily matters. Strangely, the Bible is virtually silent on this issue aside from the verses concerning the "poor and the needy". To what can we turn then to give us direction in these situations? I say that we have to turn to our basic human nature, to that which separates us from the beasts. Regardless of religion, almost every man knows that it is wrong to steal, to kill, to lie. This truths are hard-wired into our collective psyche by millions of years of experience and by our unique ability to incorporate such truths into our daily lives.
     If we fail to offer to the Libyan resistance fighters even the most basic sort of support, we will have violated that part of ourselves that always informs us of the "right" thing to do. When we next ponder the question of why the innocent suffer, we can say without hesitation that they suffer in part because of us.