Archive for December 2012

2012 in review

December 31, 2012

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

 This blog got about 11,000 views in 2012.

Click here to see the complete report.

 

My thanks to all those who took the time to read my musings and the trouble to make so many useful and interesting comments.

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Democracy – what does it really mean.

December 26, 2012

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

 ‘One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.’  Plato

‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’  Winston Churchill

I have written many thousands of words about democracy over the years and tried to explain its complexity – for it is not a concept that is as simple as it appears.  Generally speaking and at its most simplistic, the phrase ‘one man one vote’ is thought to sum up the essence of the word but over many millennia it has been recognised that there are many forms of democracy and merely having a vote does not give any individual ‘power’ either in the decisions made by those elected or over other citizens.  A vote for an individual in an election is a very long way from the decision-making process

Throughout this I use the word ‘politicians’ (whether professionals or volunteers) to cover not just those in national government but also those in even small organisations from breed clubs to the Kennel Club or, for that matter, intermediate institutions such as the National Trust or the major charities.  In the UK we vote for ‘politicians’ in national and local government or for committee members of our local interest groups (in the case of readers of  Our Dogs it will be within breed or general canine societies) but it will only be the ‘few’ who get to take the decisions – the ‘many’ just allow and then enable them to do so before, usually, a period of time.  In fact, it would be true to say that the bigger the group and therefore the more important the decision, the fewer people are involved in taking that decision.   In effect, the ‘many’ are often virtually disenfranchised as far as the impact of the decision is concerned.  This is especially true of both national and local government when very often, due to constituency boundaries, it is not always the group (whatever their political colour) given power which garnered the greatest number of votes.  This has been demonstrated many times in the UK (John Major had the greatest number of votes but was soundly defeated on a constituency basis in 1997) and more recently in the United States Presidential election, when although Barack Obama won with a significant proportion – almost two thirds of the electoral college votes, the national vote was much, much closer.

Back at the beginning

I should really begin this article 2000 years ago in ancient Greece (although the process was really begun by the Persians) where we can examine what the original concept of Western democracy meant: where the people (the ‘demos’) actually did the ruling and where anyone could make their views known in their Senate and have an impact on the decisions being taken.

This works under some circumstances and in small communities but the idea of democracy had to change to make larger societies function smoothly.  To this end and over a long period of time, the concept of ‘liberty’ was born.  Our modern, philosophic concept of liberty is relatively new and was first properly defined by French politician called Benjamin Constant in 1819 during a lecture that he called ‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns’.  This was addressed to an audience who had lived through the French Revolution, the subsequent terror, the Napoleonic Empire and the restoration of the French monarchy so they had real experience of a wide variety of ‘power’.  Constant asked what sort of freedom modern people really valued.  He argued that ‘liberty’ meant, primarily, ‘freedom from coercion and interference’.  He said: ‘people want to be free from arbitrary imprisonment, free to speak their minds, free to choose their professions and associates’ and that this was different to that of the ancient Greeks and Romans where ‘freedom’ meant something much more positive ‘freedom to participate in government decisions, to make laws and declare war and judge criminals.’  He argued that this ancient liberty came at a price which those now living would find prohibitively high: ‘the complete subjection of the individuals to the authority of the group’.  For instance, in Sparta, people had to have the permission of the city to get married, to set up a business, to stay at home when others went to war and, in one documented instance, a musician had to have consent to add a new string to his lyre!

Circumstances alter cases – as do communities

Such an approach to government would clearly be impossible in the modern world and in any case would not be practical for those who were members of that society had an impact on everything from lawmaking, the choice of military leaders to judging criminal cases as they came to court: in fact anything that impacted on the lives of their fellow citizens.  This left little time for them to create the wherewithal to eat and live in comfort: the Greeks solved this problem by creating a group of people whose rights were not relevant to the body politic – they called them slaves!

Clearly such a society, though seen as the birthplace of democracy and even though a proportion of the population was ‘free’, was both undesirable and unjust. Constant wrote: ‘The aim of the ancients was to share power among the citizens of a single country – that is what they called “liberty”.  The aim of modern society is to be secure in their private benefits and “liberty” is their name for the guarantees accorded by institutions to those benefits’.  He concluded that true happiness requires combining ancient and modern liberties: the immunities of liberalism and the commitments of democracy.

Early societies were small and essentially tribal so could be governed by a ‘leader’ who was agreed by birth or by force, but gradually, as our society became more complex, the idea of elections came to the fore.  Elections place power in the hands of the ‘few’ the populace trusts to use that power to govern wisely and protect their ‘liberties’, very often through employed staff.  This process and development has taken many years and is, in fact, still evolving.

Several different frameworks have been attempted.  In the UK we are used to the idea that we elected every few years people who are responsible for helping frame laws, by laws and regulations (or opposing them if they are in opposition) and to whom we can turn when we feel the state is not being fair to us.  Some Members of Parliament and local councillors are more effective than others but most do their best for their constituents.  At national level we also have a revising chamber (the House of Lords) which is a group of, in theory, independently appointed members from amongst those who are considered worthy to review legislation (and in some instances initiate legislation) which provides a moderating influence on any extremes.

This is an unusual structure for, in most other democracies which have a second chamber, it is ‘elected’ rather than ‘selected’.  This is the case in the United States.

However, the US has a completely different method of selection for its leader, the President.  Voters elect members of the Senate and the House of Representatives directly but the President is elected via an Electoral College which could, in theory, elect a President who has not been selected by the majority – in a situation very like the John Major example in a previous paragraph. In the UK the Prime Minister, is elected by his or her party members and we as voters have no say.

Alternative political theories – some still in use!

In trying to solve these problems, political theorists at the turn of the last century suggested that small groups elect one of their number to represent them at a larger group (like a parish council selecting someone to represent them on the town council) and then that group selects one of their members to represent them for a larger area (such as a county Council) and that they elect from their members those to go onto the national governing body.  It sounds terrific in theory but as the process did not allow for the establishment of any opposition, the result was a cabal of the powerful – best exemplified by Communist states.  Interestingly the way in which people are elected to Kennel Club Councils uses this ‘democratic’ technique!

In most systems ‘checks and balances’ (and it is one of the failings of Communism that it does not allow checks and balances) have been put in place under pressure from communities to ensure that those they place in power are fully accountable.  These include requirements such as elections, the independence of the judiciary, annual general meetings, the presentation of financial information, declarations of interest and probably, most importantly, scrutiny by the ‘media’. This scrutiny has been hard won, for institutions, almost by definition, are resistant to change.  Recent examples which have had a significant effect on democratic behaviour and freedoms, (because inevitably each section of society tends to put its own ‘interest’ first) are the recent Leveson Enquiry into the press and the restructuring of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority with more and extensive powers over the expenditure of parliamentarians.

These and many other changes have come about primarily because of the computerisation of records.  It has always been possible to track a ‘paper trail’ slowly and painstakingly but now that so much information is held in huge but easily searchable databases, it has become possible, if you know what you are looking for and have sufficient computer access, to quickly see patterns of misdemeanours (for some really good examples I suggest the books Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics).  In many ways this is all to the good:  but there is, as always, a consequence – a downside.

The power of the Internet is likely to change everything

In fact, we may have come full circle, for the power of the Internet is such that even large communities are now able to voice and spread their feelings and opinions (and their errors and prejudices too) like wildfire.  The word ‘wildfire’ indicates that something is out of control and this is becoming increasingly evident in the development of social networking sites such as Facebook.  And a recent conference held by the social networking site, MumsNet, was sold out: the programme was primarily about the social benefits of the Internet but also focused on the negatives such as cyber bullying.

However, the key issue that is that while the media is itself controlled by a relatively small group, it almost always reflects the interests of those that pay for it (the readers of the Telegraph and the Sun clearly have different interests).  But now large groups of people from any strata of society who have similar objectives can get together at virtually no cost and create a momentum which politicians are finding is difficult to resist.  This is the reason why in recent years the number of independent enquiries into various aspects of society have been set up because it is the simplest way for any government to find a route in which society is best served.  It is true that it ‘kicks the can down the road’ but nevertheless it does mean that some real research has to be taken into account before decisions are made.

This does not just apply to national and local government but to other organisations – including our Kennel Club: the enquiries currently being held into the questions of coat testing and registrations provide us with two excellent examples.  I find it interesting to note that these enquiries are going ahead despite regular calls for ‘a more open and democratic KC’ so one wonders whether greater ‘democracy’ could make any difference.

Despite that, I am hoping that another enquiry will be set up after the next Kennel Club AGM where I will be proposing a radical solution to improving relationships between the Kennel Club and those who feel that they are disenfranchised within the world of dogs.

Does democracy work?  As I hope I’ve explained – it all depends!   But at least in the 21st to Century those affected by the decisions of government at any level, have a better chance of putting forward alternatives to the status quo than ever before.  Yes, it is frustrating when the prejudices of minorities are given a disproportionate high profile but in the long run, although I know there are some who believe that the Internet is not a force for good, my opinion is that it is good for ‘democracy’ – however you define it.

 

The Karlton Index

December 6, 2012

A 26th October 2012

 Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple.  But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.  – George Bernard Shaw

Soon after Pedigree Dogs Exposed was broadcast I wrote about it in Speakers Corner, published it on my web log (http:///davidcavill.wordpress.com) and made a video using the text which I posted on You Tube (over 19,000 views) .  The article accepted many of the facts put forward a programme but also made it clear that those facts had been distorted and misinterpreted and unacceptable editing techniques had been used to make some of the contributors look dishonest while the programme itself was in particularly poor taste.   I was contacted shortly afterwards by a lady called Philippa Robinson who felt that my ideas and comments were unfair to Ms Harrison but the points she made seemed to me (although based on what I believed to be mistaken assumptions) to have some validity and I suggested that we meet at Crufts.  It was an extremely interesting conversation which has led to a unique and entirely unexpected dimension to the pedigree dog debate.

Philippa owned a German Wirehaired Pointer which she  campaigned in the show ring for a short while and now lives with a GWP/Weimaraner cross having lost the GWP to familial idiopathic epilepsy in 2006 which triggered her interest in inherited diseases.  Having watched PDE her immediate reaction was to side with the lobbyists but she is an intelligent and very well educated woman and quite rightly did not take all the statements from the programme or the lobby groups at face value.   She decided to do her own research one aspect of which was her contact with me.  I introduced her to senior staff at the Kennel Club who also gave her a different perspective and she came up with an idea that she put in place in 2011.  Although it was initially treated with some suspicion by Clarges Street, it is nevertheless proving its worth.

The Karlton Index

The Karlton Index (www.thekarltonindex.com) attempts to look at the progress being made in breed health on a systematic basis.  I wrote about it in Speakers Corner: I thought then and I think now that it is a superb idea for although measurement of activity against the stated criteria will inevitably be subjective, it nevertheless provides an important snapshot of what breeds are doing about canine health and welfare and measures the progress they are making.  What is more, it is designed to ‘flag up’ the breeds that lag behind – not in a critical way but to identify what is holding them back and assist them in overcoming those barriers.

So Philippa had has already provided the world of pedigree dogs with a new tool are which will help us improve health and quality – but she has not stopped there.  She is about to complete her MSc in Human Resource Management at Sheffield Business School and this research has prompted an interest in ‘systems thinking and learning’.

The result has been what I consider to be one of the most important research papers for our world.  This is not because there is not a great deal of good research available – there is no dearth of reports and articles about pedigree dogs written by both individuals, groups and committees over many years, but beginning with the reasons behind the establishment of the Advisory Council of the Welfare Issues of Dog Breeding she reviews the assumptions on which it was formed, shows and explains the mistakes made by past commentators, researchers and reports, and suggests a way forward.  Given that so very little has worked in the past, this new thinking could be immensely important.  Before I review the paper I should emphasise that it has been sent to the Kennel Club and the Advisory Council for their comments and suggestions. These have been incorporated into Philippa’s paper where appropriate.  I should also make it clear that there are two pages of detailed scientific references which back up the points she makes.  This is good, sound scientific research and I hope it will be taken very seriously and, even more importantly, acted upon.

Philippa begins by setting out the roles of the various organisations which could and should, given their stated objectives, have devoted a significant proportion of their resources to improving the health of pedigree dogs.  These are Blue Cross; Dogs Trust; Guide Dogs for the Blind Association; International Sheepdog Society Kennel Club; People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals; RSPCA; Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) and Royal Veterinary College with its associated organisations – the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA).  The mission statements of all these organisations make it clear that their prime concern is the care, welfare and health of animals with a particular emphasis on pet animals and in many cases specifically dogs.  She sets out their annual income which, for many of these organisations, is very substantial.  She goes to explain the reasons for the establishment of the Advisory Council before considering why, when so many other scientific papers, reports and publications had made almost no impact, it so quickly gained credibility.

An extraordinary development

She says: ‘Superficially, the steps taken to set up the Advisory Council could appear rational and timely, a reassuring progression towards securing better welfare outcomes for dogs. But even basic knowledge of recent dog-welfare history reveals the process may be far from rational or timely and to view it as a reassuring development is prematurely optimistic. A review of recent history suggests the creation of the Advisory Council through those seemingly simple steps was an extraordinary development.  Pedigree Dogs Exposed (BBC, 2008) did not reveal new welfare issues. It was not even the first televised report on breeding issues. So what rendered this particular depiction of the issues so influential? Why for instance was the Advisory Council not established in 1963 following that year’s BSAVA Symposium on dog breeding? If not then, why not in the early eighties following the publication of Simon Wolfensohn’s article on the subject in the New Scientist (1981) and his subsequent television report on the dangers of exaggeration?’

Philippa goes on to demonstrate several other important and pivotal reports on which no action was taken – save by the Kennel Club which made significant amendments to the Breed Standards in the 1980s.  Not only did the government do nothing but the big charitable organisations and lobby groups did not follow through on these opportunities.  Philippa goes on to develop a well argued case as to why PDE made such an impact and it is interesting that several different and independent reasons ‘piggybacked’ onto the programme in their own interests.  One important element was the development of social media which, Philippa believes, not only contributed to but generated its own momentum in bringing the issue to the top of the public agenda.  She lists a number of important forums and websites (disappointingly, Speakers Corner is not one of them!) which were provocative and within which commentators with large followings moulded opinion.

Skewed assumptions

However, although PDE was the catalyst she says, quite rightly in my view, that as: ‘it never claimed to be a comprehensive analysis of all canine welfare issues, to use it as a basis for subsequent welfare policy reform is arguably dangerous. It is also potentially confusing for the Advisory Council and its group of stakeholders’ (my italics).  She describes such assumptions as ‘skewed’ and goes on to brilliantly analyse the reasons why this is the case using direct quotes from the lobby groups and stakeholders used in PDE and in subsequent press releases and statements.  There are many but particularly telling is: ‘the testimony of Mark Evans, in particular, seems disingenuous. In the first broadcast he was speaking as the Chief Veterinary Adviser for the RSPCA – had none of his predecessors spoken out before 2008? One of his closing quotes was “unless we start now, the pedigree dog hasn’t got a chance” but he was never asked why they took until then to speak out.’  There are many more just as telling and it is interesting that the veterinary profession does not escape her devastating forensic analysis.

Philippa suggests, based on her research for her Masters Degree, that the process called Systems Thinking and Learning might provide a solution.  She explains in her paper that it is not an easy option but that it has: ‘been shown to tease out solutions even from the tensions of competing perspectives as long as they are used to fuel open, transparent, and well researched debate’.  The research into the process shows that: ‘small, well focused actions can produce significant enduring improvements if they are in the right place’ and that: ‘a good example of this is the incremental improvements the Kennel Club has made to the online services section of its website which gives access to data on health tests for individual dogs, predicts COI’s for planned matings and provides numbers of litters of puppies sired’.  All these combine to constitute a major step forward in being able to track trends and patterns in pedigree dog breeding.

Essential reading

This report is essential reading for every organisation and every individual at whatever level they are involved:  reading and understanding it will enable them to take part in meaningful, often challenging, debate so that conclusions can be arrived at which do not specifically reflect the philosophy or policy of one organisation but can provide a foundation for the animal welfare orientated community as a whole.  This is no mean ambition but is one that we should embrace wholeheartedly.

Finally Philippa Robinson recognises that improvements can always be made and I can confirm from my own experience, that she is always prepared to listen.  She has no axe to grind, nor product to sell, so I emphasise that she is not employed by anyone within the world of dogs, does not belong to any lobby group and receives no funding from anyone or any organisation for any of her activities.  If there was an annual award for services to the world of dogs she should be the first recipient.

Some background information on the development of the ‘I Judge Dogs’ website

December 1, 2012

The Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

About eight years ago, Deborah Fleming, a Belgian Shepherd Dog exhibitor, thought that it would be a good idea to have somewhere on the Internet where secretaries of general dog shows could find suitable, experienced judges without having to rely on those high profile judges already well known or the limited number of people personally known to their committee.  She called the site ‘I Judge Dogs’ (www.ijudgedogs.co.uk) and when she first mentioned this to me I thought that it was an excellent idea.  However, when the site went live I was concerned that there were no barriers to listing and it was possible for every man, woman and their dogs too, to put their names up as being able to judge every breed scheduled (within KC regulations – up to five classes for Band E breeds and up to three classes for the rest) whether or not they had any experience, knowledge or background.

Nevertheless, the site took off and quickly gathered a couple of hundred members and was quickly used by secretaries and show managements because it was useful.  Still, the reports coming back to me indicated that because it allowed people to indiscriminately list any breed they wanted to judge, whether are not they had any experience, a great deal of research was still required by the secretary before suggestions could be put to their committees.  I spoke to Deborah several times and she eventually took the site down for a complete rebuild.  This meant that momentum was lost for it was not available for about two years.

When I met Deborah at Birmingham City this year she said that she did not feel she had time to maintain it but the restructuring had been completed and therefore it was possible for the site manager to develop it in a way that would make it much more useful to show managements by establishing a clear set of criteria for its members.

Frankly, I had plenty to do (and still have, of course) but I nevertheless felt more or less obliged to take it on as I had been supportive and the changes had been made very much at my instigation.

‘Old school’ criticism

There has been some criticism of the idea – mainly from the ‘old school’ who feel that there is something unethical about the process – but I have to tell them: ‘life has changed’.  Although I would not and do not, condone those who ‘tout’ for appointments there have to be better ways of putting together a schedule than by guesswork.  As a teacher, once I had completed my training, I could apply for a job: this meant sending my application form and CV to schools which needed teachers with my expertise and then waiting until I was rejected or called for interview.  It would have been unethical and quite wrong for me to contact the head teacher of the school and invite them to lunch to try and persuade them that I was the person for the post – but there is nothing unethical about informing people of your qualifications.

With these points in mind perhaps it would be helpful for me to set out the reasons why I believe a site like this one is of value and suggest that ‘I Judge Dogs’ may provide one solution.

That was then – this is now

Those of us who have been around for many years, began our judging career in the days when, if you judged a breed at an Open Show, you could expect to have anything between 20 and 50 dogs. We worked hard at it and travelled many thousands of miles (almost always without a fee or expenses) but in so doing had opportunities to learn ‘at the coalface’ in a way which is seldom available to judges these days. Suggesting that today’s potential judges follow ‘our’ path is not helpful to them or to the future of the world of dogs – that path is not only longer and harder but the experience gained upon it is much less useful, for the number of dogs they are able to go over is a fraction of what it once was!

At the same time, those running shows are often people who have not long been involved in the dog game.  This is not new.  It is as difficult as ever to persuade people to join committees and put in the work required. I ran my first open show when I had only been in dogs four years and I remember that I had to rely on the people around me to suggest judges:  lovely and helpful though they were, I later discovered that many knew little more than I did!  The resultant schedules usually contained a few high profile names while the rest were those who were friends or those known to the committee.

Similarly, various press reports seem to indicate that fewer people are prepared to choose their life partner ‘by chance’ – more and more are using dating sites because the choice for everyone is wider and it is more likely that they will find someone who better fits their personality.  It is a new and different world!

There are also problems as far as some breed clubs are concerned: their demands are sometimes unnecessarily high so getting the number of dogs required for a B List is becoming increasingly difficult.  And it is also clear that while most, breed clubs are excellent, some are little more than cabals driven by their own political agendas: those considered ‘outsiders’ do not stand a chance of being accepted.  The Kennel Club definition for a C list is that the applicant should have ‘an interest in the breed’.  I know of a number of people who have attended breed seminara and shown real interest in a breed over two or three years and been turned down for a C List: this surely cannot be right!

Added to all this, when up and coming judges get an appointment other than in their own breed (where, of course, they are known), their entry is often very low, partly because of the current economic situation but partly, too, because the exhibitor often has never heard their name and, most importantly, has no way of easily finding out the depth of their knowledge or whether they have any expertise.

Fair, sensible and open

So, ‘I Judge Dogs’ is not just designed to allow judges to set out their credentials in a fair, sensible and open way (just as they do all the various Facebook sites and on CollieNet and the like) but to provide a service to show managements and to exhibitors who can access the details of judges under which they might compete and find out a little about them.

For all these reasons, I felt it was important for me to take on the administration of the site and pay the outstanding bills from the web designer.  I then spent a good deal more time and money developing the site to make it really useful both to judges and to show managements.  I added several pages of information for judges, direct links to the Kennel Club Championship Show judges’ lists and devoted a page to breed club judging lists.  There is information on writing show reports, developing a judging career, the Judges Development Programme, information on regulations, conformation and movement, and a detailed analysis of some breed standards.

Looking at the outgoings, I felt I at least needed to cover my costs.  I therefore decided that although the site was to be ‘not-for-profit’, a subscription of £15 a year was not unreasonable – £5 less than the £20 fee that Debbie had set eight years ago, incidentally.  This will make no one’s fortune as the number of potential judges is severely limited and, given the current economic situation, gradually reducing.  It is my intention that any profit is either ploughed back into the site or used to reduce the subscriptions.

I did consider going the Wikipedia route and ask for donations, but came to the conclusion this would have provided very little funds – certainly not enough to run the site.  For established judges to make a fuss about a very reasonable subscription (as some of them have) seems to me disingenuous and could be seen as pulling up drawbridge now that they are safely home and dry!

There have actually been very few criticisms and the vast majority of my direct mail and from the site is extremely positive and, in many cases, actually grateful.  This particularly applies to secretaries who are finding the site extremely useful and the breed clubs who are delighted that there is one place where people can go to access their judging lists (members of the site are encouraged to apply for lists but, of course, these lists are inevitably up to two years out of date).  I have also begun to take the time necessary to reformat judging lists which are currently not available on websites and have created a site especially for them.

Everyone, of course, is entitled to their opinion but I hope this explanation helps people realise how much time and effort is going into this project, that it is not a whim, and that it has merit.

David Cavill