Category: Culture

Summer and Millie

Now to the second of this week’s guest posts.

Bob Derham and his wife, Julie, are long-term friends back in the UK.

They recently lost their two dogs.

Bob sent me this:

Millie and Summer both had a fun life.

They were cross breed dogs, partly Springer Spaniel and part Collie. They were born in Wales, but as there are quite a lot of similar dogs there, the owner advertised in a local paper, and brought them up to Dorset one weekend 13 years ago.

Initially we had been looking for only one dog, but it seemed such a shame to separate the two puppies so we decided to take both. Most people were of the opinion that two girls from the same litter was not a good idea, but nevertheless we trained them, and the two animals were always together.
Family holidays, walking the children to the school bus, visiting friends, etc., always included Millie and Summer.

Just over two years ago, Summer became diabetic.  Had this been only ten years ago, nothing could have been done for her, but we were able to inject her twice a day, and keep her healthy, apart from failing sight as a result of the insulin. It was not long after that Millie developed the same problem, so both dogs had the same routine.
Summer went to the vets on the right day for her, and was put to sleep peacefully, and two weeks later Millie needed the same choice to be made.

They enjoyed an almost identical lifespan, and we enjoyed them to the full.

Bob and Julie’s daughter Stephanie then made the following video in memory of their two beloved dogs.

Back to me.

Going to close today’s post with this poem by Rudyard Kipling.

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The Power of the Dog

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and Sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie–
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find–it’s your own affair–
But…you’ve given your heart for a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!);
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone–wherever it goes–for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart for the dog to tear.

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long–
So why in Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

Rudyard Kipling
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Dogs bring out so much beauty and love in us.

Picture Parade One Hundred and Eighty-One

Sent to me by Dordie Lamphier from next door.

First some background to the pictures that are presented both today and in a week’s time.

Little Kids and Big Dogs

Andy Seliverstoff is a 58-year-old professional photographer from St. Petersburg, Russia. A few years ago some of Seliverstoff’s friends asked him to take photos of their daughter Alice in a park. They had their gigantic Great Dane, Sean, with them, so they decided to incorporate him into the photos. After seeing the results, he knew he was on to something special.

Seliverstoff did another shoot with a child featuring big dogs, and told BuzzFeed News that he was “deeply touched” by the work. That was four years ago and he’s been a dog photographer ever since.

The project has become his passion, which he chronicles in a book called “Little Kids and Their Big Dogs.“

All of the photos are taken in St. Petersburg. Its extensive parks and colder climate help create some spectacular shots.

Seliverstoff said the goal of the series wasn’t just to create beautiful pictures, but to capture the interaction between the children and the animals.

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These are stunningly beautiful. Thanks Dordie.

The final set of eight photographs next Sunday.

Small miracles

It’s not just the rescuing of people that matters.

Last Thursday, the 26th January, the BBC News website published a short video under the heading of: Italian avalanche survivors tell how they stayed alive.

Colleen Barry and Eldar Emric of Associated Press reported in US News:

A couple among the nine survivors of an Italian avalanche that devastated a mountain hotel say they survived nearly 58 hours buried beneath feet of snow by sucking on glass- and mud-filled ice, comforting each other and those nearby, and praying.

Now there’s no way I am belittling that survival; far from it. But 58 hours is a tad under 3 days.

Now read the following that was published on the Care2 site.

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Puppies Rescued 5 Days After Devastating Avalanche in Italy

3199461-largeBy: Laura Goldman    January 26, 2017

After an avalanche buried central Italy’s luxury Hotel Rigopiano and its guests Wednesday, Jan. 18, rescue workers spent days digging in the snow in a desperate attempt to locate any survivors.

About 120,000 tons of snow, 16 feet deep, slammed into the hotel at 60 miles per hour. It took a while for emergency operators to believe the avalanche had occurred. The first man who called to report it was told that everything was fine at the hotel.

When they finally realized a disaster had in fact happened, first responders had to ski to the hotel, which took 12 hours. It took another day until the roads could be cleared with snowplows so emergency vehicles could finally get through.

Despite these circumstances, 11 survivors, including three children, were somehow able to keep themselves alive for over 40 hours by using their cellphones as flashlights to find water. The children, trapped in a game room, ate packets of Nutella and drank bottled water.

By Monday, rescuers were only pulling bodies from the snow and rubble. Discouraged and depressed, they were ready to give up hope.

The rescuers were told there were three puppies at the hotel. They had no idea where they were until they heard a noise in a boiler room inside what remained of the building. It was the three fluffy, white Abruzzo sheepdog puppies, only six weeks old, who had miraculously managed to survive both the avalanche and being stranded for five days.

“They just started barking very softly,” said Sonia Marini, one of the rescuers. “In fact, it was hard to find them right away because they were hidden. Then we heard this very tiny bark and we saw them from a little hole the firefighters had opened in the wall. We expanded the hole and we pulled them out.”

The puppies, born Dec. 4, had survived in an air pocket by eating snow, Walter Milan, the spokesman for Italy’s elite Alpine rescue squad, told the Daily Beast. They are the offspring of Nuvola (Cloud) and Lupo (Wolf), who lived at the hotel and were popular with guests.

Like their lucky litter, Nuvola and Lupo also survived the avalanche, according to a Facebook post by Martina Rossi, who was a bartender at the hotel.

Lupo e Nuvola, i pastori abruzzesi nati e cresciuti all'Hotel Rigopiano, non so come, sono riusciti a raggiungere la mia contrada, una frazione di Farindola (Villa Cupoli) sani e salvi. Questo non può di certo colmare il vuoto e la distruzione che attraversa un paese in ginocchio ancora speranzoso, nell'attesa soltanto di notizie positive, me in prima persona. Ma questi due bellissimi cagnoloni, rivedendoli, di certo sono riusciti a farmi tornare a battere il cuore, almeno per qualche secondo, riportando la speranza.
Lupo e Nuvola, i pastori abruzzesi nati e cresciuti all’Hotel Rigopiano, non so come, sono riusciti a raggiungere la mia contrada, una frazione di Farindola (Villa Cupoli) sani e salvi.
Questo non può di certo colmare il vuoto e la distruzione che attraversa un paese in ginocchio ancora speranzoso, nell’attesa soltanto di notizie positive, me in prima persona.
Ma questi due bellissimi cagnoloni, rivedendoli, di certo sono riusciti a farmi tornare a battere il cuore, almeno per qualche secondo, riportando la speranza.

The three puppies raised the hopes and spirits of the rescuers. “If the puppies survived, humans could as well,” Milan told the Daily Beast. Firefighter Fabio Jerman agreed. “It’s an important sign of life, which gives us hope,” he said.

Sadly, no one else has been found alive. A week after the disaster, 24 bodies have been found and five people are still missing.

In addition to unusually heavy snowfall, the avalanche may have been caused by a series of earthquakes that struck the area the day before.

Last year, devastating quakes killed more than 300 people in Italy. Another fortunate four-legged survivor, a border collie pulled from the rubble two days after an earthquake struck in late October, is being trained to pay it forward as a rescue dog.

Photo credit: YouTube

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Well done the team, as in Walter Milan the spokesman, and the rest of Italy’s elite Alpine rescue squad!

Stories like this put a real smile on my face!

 

Connections

Funny how things flow at times.

In yesterday’s post about the cleverness of chickens, John Zande, a long-time friend of this place, left this remark:

I have a marvellous blogging friend in New Mexico who has Rufina, a chicken who was shot in the head, sealed in a plastic bag, placed in a freezer for 24hrs, and lived! (albeit now blind).

I have a framed poster of Rufina up in my living room, and even one her feathers perched in one of my many, many, many St. Francis’s

Here’s the Huffington Post article on her

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/14/zombie-chicken-freezer-alive_n_5675615.html

And here’s Laura’s first post on this gorgeous creature.

https://liveclayart.com/2013/06/24/the-undead-chicken

Then in response to me wanting to republish that story replied: “Contact her, she’s wonderful, and her pottery is to die for.

So I did and, with Laura’s permission here is that story of this most remarkable chicken.

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The Undead Chicken

by Laura Bruzzese, June 24th, 2013

rufinaThis is Rufina. She’s new to our household.

She’s quiet and doesn’t take up much space, mostly sits on her perch or in her ceramic nest all day. She moves around slowly. If you are really gentle, she lets you pick her up.

We sit by the pond together in the morning, before everyone else gets up.

rufina1Last Thursday, I answered a friend’s call on Facebook for someone to take this chicken. Isabella and I drove to my friend’s house in the South Valley, put her in a bin, and brought her home. I didn’t think she’d actually still be alive today.

My friend had posted this story Thursday morning:

The neighbor gave us fresh chickens last night for cooking up. He shot them in the head with gun and handed them over the fence. We bagged them and put in freezer for today. Evan gets home, opens freezer and one bird is perched fully alive, very cold, and pissed off.
Chase ensues… !! We now have a blind undead chicken in our yard.

Anybody want it?

I’m not sure why anyone would shoot chickens in the head.

But when I read the story, I couldn’t help but admire this chicken’s tenacity. She is courageous. She made her way out of a plastic bag inside a freezer and survived for thirty-six hours. After being shot in the head.  I figured any animal that fought that hard to live deserved a little help, if only for a day or two.

The chicken hasn’t made any effort to eat like a normal chicken. Because, of course, she can’t see where to peck. (There isn’t much point in force-feeding a blind chicken.) But she does drink, so I’ve started blending up borrowed chicken food and water and giving her that. She seems content, grooming herself sometimes, showing no signs of pain or anxiety. And still, she will die.

But until then, we will enjoy each of her borrowed mornings by the pond, the sound of birds and running water, the sun on her feathers, expecting nothing.

I’m not sure why I have a blind, undead chicken in my studio. But here is one of my favorite poems, by Laura Gilpin.

The Two-Headed Calf

Tomorrow when the farm boys find this
freak of nature, they will wrap his body
in newspaper and carry him to the museum.

But tonight he is alive and in the north
field with his mother. It is a perfect
summer evening: the moon rising over
the orchard, the wind in the grass. And
as he stares into the sky, there are
twice as many stars as usual.

[Epilogue]

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Now if you think that was remarkable then let me share what Laura posted a few weeks later, linked to via her Epilogue above.

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The Miracle of Re-Birth

by Laura Bruzzese, July 11th, 2013

Good news: it’s been three weeks since the attempted murder of Rufina, and she continues to dwell among the living!

rufina2After loads of eye care, foot washing, antibiotics, food and vitamins, she has gained weight and is learning to find food and water by herself. Her remaining eye looks normal again but is still blind (I was hoping for a miracle), and the place of its former pair seems to have reached its majority in terms of healing–no eye, but no skin, either. Just a weird,  green spot surrounded by red skin that looks not unlike a tiny sun-dried tomato.

But that does not prevent her daily forays into the garden where she walks around with her head craned forward to “feel” where she’s going, and from exhibiting other persisting chicken qualities that seem to evidence a contented life.

rufinaagainI’m still surprised, and slightly in awe of this traumatized chicken who is satisfied to reside indefinitely on my studio porch. Shiny, happy chicken.

And so far, Velma the Rascally Whippet has not been the nuisance I was afraid she might be, but instead, a proud example of a bird-dog in defiance of her own natural instincts (save for one minor incident involving a tail feather. That was still attached to Rufina.). Perhaps Velma knows they are kindred spirits, she herself having survived a scary encounter with the Great Beyond earlier this year.

velmaThanks to everyone who has contributed free chicken advice, food, ER and vet consults, and even a couple of adorable, surprise chicks* (!) to keep Rufina company.

chicks*Chicks will unfortunately be dispatched to some other venue because they are exploiting their sighted advantage: stealing food out of Rufina’s mouth, crowding the water dish, and mocking her by constantly blinking and sticking their tongues out.  Also, they are filthy little creatures that walk in their own poop and then jump on me.

And finally, what’s in a name? When it became clear that chicken might live, I thought I should name her, and Rufina was the first thing that popped into my head. A few days later, I googled it to see what came up. This is what I found on Wiki:

Saints Justa and Rufina (Ruffina) (Spanish: Santa Justa y Santa Rufina) are venerated as martyrs. They are said to have been martyred at Hispalis (Seville) during the 3rd century.

Their legend states that they were sisters and natives of Seville who made fine earthenware pottery for a living, with which they supported themselves and many of the city’s poor. Justa was born in 268 AD, Rufina in 270 AD, of a poor but pious Christian family. During a pagan festival, they refused to sell their wares for use in these celebrations. In anger, locals broke all of their dishes and pots. Justina and Rufina retaliated by smashing an image of Venus.

The city’s prefect, Diogenianus, ordered them to be imprisoned. Failing to convince them to renounce their faith, he had them tortured on the rack and with iron hooks. This method also having failed, they were imprisoned, where they suffered from hunger and thirst.

They were then asked to walk barefoot to the Sierra Morena; when this did not break their resolve, they were imprisoned without water or food. Justa died first. Her body, thrown into a well, was later recovered by the bishop Sabinus. Diogenianus believed that the death of Justa would break the resolve of Rufina. However, Rufina refused to renounce her faith and was thus thrown to the lions. The lion in the amphitheatre, however, refused to attack Rufina, remaining as docile as a house cat. Infuriated, Diogenianus had Rufina strangled or beheaded and her body burned. Her body was also recovered by Sabinus and buried alongside her sister in 287 AD.

Old Master Paintings Sale Sotheby's, London - July, 4 , 2007 Velazquez (1599 - 1660) Saint Rufina Estimate: 6,000,000 - 8,000,000 Copyright in this image shall remain vested in Sotheby’s. Please note that this image may depict subject matter which is itself protected by separate copyright. Sotheby’s makes no representations as to whether the underlying subject matter is subject to its own copyright, or as to who might hold such copyright. It is the borrower's responsibility to obtain any relevant permissions from the holder(s) of any applicable copyright and Sotheby’s supplies this image expressly subject to this responsibility.
Saint Rufina, by Velázquez. See the likeness?? She’s even carrying a giant feather!

Just another name? Perhaps. Or: a dark-haired Spaniard and a Italian-New Mexican, two Christian potters separated by centuries, a saint, a chicken, and an ordinary human united in an extraordinary coincidence of the undead.

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Follow that!

Well I can’t but John Zande can.

For he was the first to leave a comment to Laura’s Rebirth post:

Here, i feel this song is in order. Listen carefully to the words, and who is singing them.

Including the following in his comment.

So what about chickens!

There’s more to chickens that we realise!

p1160876We have a rather run-down ‘home’ for our chickens close to the house. It was run-down before the snow fell and almost brought down the surrounding wire fence.

p1160875But, hopefully, this coming Thursday sees a new walk-in run being constructed for our birds so they are better protected.

So what has brought this topic to mind?

The answer is a recent item that appeared on the Care2 site about how badly we misunderstand chickens.

I thought you would enjoy reading it.

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6 Surprising Chicken Facts

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Written by Katherine Martinko

It’s time we started paying attention to chickens, one of the most misunderstood and ignored species on Earth.

There was a time when chickens were viewed as exotic, fascinating birds. Descendants of exotic Asian jungle fowl, they were revered for their ferocity and intelligence, and domesticated around 8,000 years ago, more for cockfighting than eating. But then, we humans began eating them in ever-larger quantities, until we reached the point where we are now, with 20 billion (mostly white) chickens living in dirty, crowded barns, awaiting slaughter.

Chickens have been a part of human lives for millennia, and yet they are one of the most misunderstood, if not ignored, species on Earth. Lori Marino, an American neuroscientist and animal intelligence researcher, wants to change this. She is intrigued by the fact that chickens are so rarely recognized for their cognitive abilities and frustrated that studies about birds almost always focus on other, less-domesticated species, like crows and parrots.

“Arguably even the scientific community has been influenced by public perceptions of chickens as cognitively simple… This asymmetry in the literature is likely a reflection of, as well as a contributor to, the disconnect scientists and the public have between chickens as commodities and who they actually are as individuals.”

Chickens deserve more attention, and here are some quirky, interesting facts to get you thinking about chickens less as food and more as fascinating co-inhabitants of our world. These come via Marino’s recent paper, “Thinking Chickens,” published online in Animal Cognition in January 2017.

1. Chickens are a sub-species of the red jungle fowl that hails from southeast Asia.

The red jungle fowl (galls gallus) inhabit the edges of fields, scrubland, and groves. Domestication was well established 8,000 years ago, but some records suggest it could have started as much as 58,000 years ago.

2. Domestic chickens are similar to their wild counterparts.

Despite the intense breeding and genetic manipulation of recent years, chickens have not been cognitively or behaviorally affected by domestication. This stands in contrast to dogs and wolves, for example, which have diverged significantly due to domestication. Nor have chickens become less aggressive toward predators through domestication, which is a common outcome; in fact, some chickens are more aggressive even than red jungle fowl.

3. A chicken’s beak is highly sensitive to touch.

The beak, with numerous nerve endings, is used to explore, detect, drink, preen, and defend. This also means that when a bird is de-beaked, as often happens in industrial farming, it experiences great pain, sometimes for months, which changes its behavior. Marino writes, “At the end of the beak is a specialized cluster of highly sensitive mechanoreceptors, called the bill tip organ, which allows chickens to make fine tactile discriminations.”

4. Chickens have finely tuned senses.

They can see long distance and close-up at the same time in different parts of their vision. They can see a broader range of colors than humans. They can hear at low and high frequencies at a variety of pressure levels. They possess well-developed senses of taste and smell. They can orient to magnetic fields, like many other birds.

5. Chickens are surprisingly good at math.

Three-day-old chicks are able to perform basic arithmetic and discriminate quantities, always opting to explore a set of balls with the greater number, even when an object was visibly transferred from one set to another. Five-day-old chicks have been found to track up to five objects.

“When they were presented with two sets of objects of different quantities disappearing behind two screens, they were able to successfully track which screen hid the larger number by apparently performing simple addition and subtraction.”

6. Chickens can exercise self-control.

In an experimental setting, chickens have been given the choice between 2-second delay with 6 seconds of access to food, versus a 6-second delay with 22-seconds of access to food. The hens waited for the longer reward, “demonstrating rational discrimination between different future outcomes while employing self-control to optimize those outcomes.” Self-control usually doesn’t appear in humans until four years of age.

These are just a few of the remarkable discoveries described in Marino’s study, a highly readable, entertaining paper. It’s an important reminder that chickens, arguably the most ubiquitous animals in our world, deserve far more respect than they currently receive. Hopefully this will lead to more people questioning the horrific conditions in which most of them are kept.

Photo Credit: robertsharp/Flickr

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It’s easy to fall into the trap of looking for a humourous way to close today’s post. But a more responsible approach would be to repeat the words from the start of the article to serve as a reminder of trying, wherever possible, to think about the food we eat, especially when animals and birds have to be slaughtered to provide us with that food.

…. we reached the point where we are now, with 20 billion (mostly white) chickens living in dirty, crowded barns, awaiting slaughter.

broilerBut please don’t leave this page until you have watched the following video.

Published on Dec 3, 2014

After 22 years of raising chickens for Perdue, one brave factory farmer Craig Watts was at his breaking point and did something no one has done before. He invited us, as farm animal welfare advocates, to his farm to film and tell his story. Ask your supermarket for Better Chicken at http://better-chicken.org.

Yet another incredible hero!

The wonderful, inspiring story of what Janey Lowes is doing for dogs in need.

Janey Lowes loving a strteet dog in Sri Lanka
Janey Lowes caring for a street dog in Sri Lanka.

More accurately what Janey Lowes and a whole team are doing for the street dogs of Sri Lanka.

Jean and I saw this story featured on the BBC News website.

The English vet saving Sri Lanka’s street dogs

22 January 2017 Last updated at 00:17 GMT

A vet has left behind her home in England to care for Sri Lanka’s street dogs.

Janey Lowes from Barnard Castle, County Durham, has spent the past two years caring for the neglected animals.

There are about three million street dogs on the island – about 60% of puppies born on the street do not survive to adulthood.

The 28-year-old set up charity WECare Worldwide to raise money to buy the equipment needed to treat the animals and to set up her own clinic in Talalla.

I am pleased that the video clip that was included in the BBC News story has found its way to YouTube.

Inevitably the charity WECare Worldwide has its own website: the home page is here. Then you can read on the charity’s ‘About’ page: (Note: CNVR is the acronym standing for catch-neuter-vaccinate-release.)

CNVR

CNVR is carried out as it is the most humane way to reduce roaming dog populations and reduce the number of unwanted puppies that are dumped on the streets at a very young age. It also allows the females that would inevitably spend their whole lives pregnant to only have to worry about number one when thinking about limited food resources and shelter options, which transforms their lives.

Vaccinating the dog population against Rabies is the most effective way to eliminate the disease in the human population. As an island nation, eradication of Rabies in the near future is a very real possibility and will change the future of both animals and humans here, allowing improved relationships between the two.

CNVR is the backbone of everything we are trying to achieve in Sri Lanka.

But that’s only one part of what they do. Again, as the website sets out:

 

We focus on 3 main areas here in Sri Lanka.

  • CNVR (catch-neuter-vaccinate-release)
  • Treatment of sick and injured animals
  • Education and training

 

I shall be making contact with the charity very soon .

Not only to pass on our respect and admiration for what she has accomplished but to see if there are other ways we can help them in what they are doing. I use the word ‘we’ to cover not only Jean and me but also all of you who are close to this blog and who, so frequently, show how much love you have for dogs!

WECare Worldwide will help by providing free veterinary treatment, alongside love, compassion and respectful care of the Ceylon dogs, who make up such a huge part of Sri Lankan heritage and culture, both in the past and the current day.

Economic marginalisation.

For those looking for answers to the crisis in liberal democracy, this may well be it.

In yesterday’s post Tensions abound in many societies I offered a viewpoint that the ‘left’ arguing with the ‘right’ in politics was utterly inappropriate. Simply for we, as in the people who live on this planet, have to start working together if we wish to have a future for mankind on Planet Earth.

Yesterday’s post also referred to Inductive and Deductive Reasoning with me proposing that the future had to be built on a universally acknowledged relationship between ’cause’ and ‘effect’. A relationship that was built on a clear axiom, or theorem; as we see all around us in both the physical and natural worlds.

This idea does take a little time to filter through and I would be the first to say that I had to spend quite a while reflecting on the idea to fully understand the difference, the power, of deductive reasoning. Plus how something that was a behaviourial ‘law’ could be seen as much as an axiom as is, for example, the calculation of the speed of light, or the relationship of gravity to mass.

So returning to economics.

Quite recently there was an essay published on The Conversation blogsite written by Professor Andrew Cumbers of the University of Glasgow.

His thesis is that there is a direct relationship between “… about how well dispersed economic decision-making power is and how much control and financial security people have over their lives.

That relationship is the core message of his essay.

In other words, as I see it, there is an axiom, a theorem, that governs the relationship between the leadership process of a country and the degree to which that country’s society could be classed as a democratic society.

Here is Professor Cumbers’s essay as published by The Conversation blogsite and republished here within the terms of The Conversation.

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New index of economic marginalisation helps explain Trump, Brexit and alt.right

January 12, 2017 10.03am EST

Author:
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“My fellow disenfranchised Americans …” EPA

If 2016 brought Brexit, Donald Trump and a backlash against cosmopolitan visions of globalisation and society, the great fear for 2017 is further shocks from right-wing populists like Geert Wilders in Holland and Marine Le Pen in France. A new mood of intolerance, xenophobia and protectionist economics seems to be in the air.

In a world of zero-hour contracts, Uber, Deliveroo and the gig economy, access to decent work and a sustainable family income remains the main fault line between the winners and losers from globalisation. Drill into the voter data behind Brexit and Trump and they have much to do with economically marginalised voters in old industrial areas, from South Wales to Nord-Pas-de-Calais, from Tyneside to Ohio and Michigan.

These voters’ economic concerns about industrial closures, immigrants and businesses decamping to low-wage countries seemed ignored by a liberal elite espousing free trade, flexible labour and deregulation. They turned instead to populist “outsiders” with simplistic yet ultimately flawed political and economic narratives.

Much has been said about the crisis of liberal political democracy, but these trends look inextricably linked with what is sometimes referred to as economic democracy. This is about how well dispersed economic decision-making power is and how much control and financial security people have over their lives. I’ve been involved in a project to look at how this compares between different countries. The results say much about the point we have reached, and where we might be heading in future.

The index

Our economic democracy index looked at 32 countries in the OECD (omitting Turkey and Mexico, which had too much missing data). While economic democracy tends to focus on levels of trade union influence and the extent of cooperative ownership in a country, we wanted to take in other relevant factors.

We added three additional indicators: “workplace and employment rights”; “distribution of economic decision-making powers”, including everything from the strength of the financial sector to the extent to which tax powers are centralised; and “transparency and democratic engagement in macroeconomic decision-making”, which takes in corruption, accountability, central bank transparency and different social partners’ involvement in shaping policy.

What is striking is the basic difference between a more “social” model of northern European capitalism and the more market-driven Anglo-American model. Hence the Scandinavian countries score among the best, with their higher levels of social protection, employment rights and democratic participation in economic decision-making. The reverse is true of the more deregulated, concentrated and less democratic economies of the English-speaking world. The US ranks particularly low, with only Slovakia below it. The UK too is only 25th out of 32.

 Economic Democracy Index, figures from 2013. Andrew Cumbers
Economic Democracy Index, figures from 2013. Andrew Cumbers

Interestingly, France ranks relatively highly. This reflects its strong levels of job protection and employee involvement in corporate decision-making – the fact that the far right has been strong in France for a number of years indicates its popularity stems from race at least as much as economics.

Yet leading mainstream presidential candidates François Fillon and Emmanuel Macron are committed to reducing France’s protections. These are often blamed – without much real evidence – for the country’s sluggish job creation record. There is a clear danger both here and in the Netherlands that a continuing commitment to such neoliberal labour market policies might push working class voters further towards Le Pen and Wilders.

One other notable disparity in the index is between the scores of Austria and Germany, despite their relatively similar economic governance. Germany’s lower ranking reflects the growth of labour market insecurity and lower levels of job protection, particularly for part-time workers as part of the Hartz IV labour market reforms in the 1990s that followed reunification.

The index also highlights the comparatively poor levels of economic democracy in the “transition” economies of eastern Europe. The one very interesting exception is Slovenia, which merits further study. It might reflect both its relatively stable transition from communism and the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and the continuing presence of active civil society elements in the trade union and cooperative movements. Southern European economies also tend to rank below northern European countries, as does Japan.

Poverty and inequality

The index provides strong evidence that xenophobic politics may be linked to changing levels of economic participation and empowerment – notwithstanding the French data. We found that the greater the poverty and inequality in a country, the lower the rates of economic democracy.

These findings suggest, for example, that the Anglo-American-led attack on trade unions and flexible labour policies may actually drive up poverty and inequality by cutting welfare benefits and driving up individual employment insecurity. While the OECD itself advocated these policies until recently, countries with high levels of economic democracy such as Norway, Denmark and Iceland have much lower levels of poverty than countries such as the US and UK.

 Far right activists in Budapest, Hungary, February 2016. EPA
Far right activists in Budapest, Hungary, February 2016. EPA

Far-right populism is on the march everywhere, including the Nordic countries. But Brexit, Trump and the more serious shift to the far right in Eastern Europe have been accompanied by diminishing economic security and rights at work, disenfranchised trade unions and cooperatives, and economic decision-making concentrated among financial, political and corporate elites.

We will monitor these scores in future to see what happens over time. It will be interesting to see how the correlations between economic democracy, poverty and voting patterns develop in the coming years. For those looking for answers to the crisis in liberal democracy, this may well be it.

ooOOoo

 I shall be writing to Professor Cumbers asking if my analysis of that relationship is supported by his research.

For if it is then we do have a very clear axiom that few would disagree with. That is the political consensus this world needs now.

Oh, and we will be back to dogs tomorrow! 😉

Tensions abound in many societies.

Reader alert: This has nothing to do with dogs!

Then as soon as I started to write today’s post (as of yesterday afternoon) I realised the error in my sub-title. For one might argue that this does have a connection with how our dogs behave as a cohesive group. But I’m going to be ‘an arse’ (‘ass’ in American speak) and ask you to hold out until the end of today’s post to read the ‘doggie’ connection. (Note that today’s post is Part One. Part Two continues tomorrow.)

american-gridlock_0I am in the middle of reading American Gridlock written by H. Woody Brock and published in 2012. Here’s an extract of what the book is about, courtesy of Amazon:

A sensible solution to getting our economy back on track

Pessimism is ubiquitous throughout the Western World as the pressing issues of massive debt, high unemployment, and anemic economic growth divide the populace into warring political camps. Right-and Left-wing ideologues talk past each other, with neither side admitting the other has any good ideas. In American Gridlock, leading economist and political theorist H. Woody Brock bridges the Left/Right divide, illuminating a clear path out of our economic quagmire.

Arguing from first principles and with rigorous logic, Brock demonstrates that the choice before us is not between free market capitalism and a government-driven economy. Rather, the solution to our problems will require enactment of constructive policies that allow “true” capitalism to flourish even as they incorporate social policies that help those who truly need it.

Brock demonstrates how deductive logic (as opposed to ideologically driven data analysis) can transform the way we think about these problems and lead us to new and different solutions that cross the ideological divide. Drawing on new theories such as game theory and the economics of uncertainty that are based upon deductive logic, Brock reveals fresh ideas for tackling issues central to the 2012 U.S, Presidential election and to the nation’s long-run future:

It greatly influenced me and I sat down and wrote an essay. Mainly to clarify my own thinking ahead of a meeting last Saturday of our local Freethinkers Group where the topic was “Ideas for Improving our Democratic Processes”. The “our” being the US democratic process but just as valid for many other countries.

I first set out to see if there was a clear, unambiguous definition of what a democratic society is. Surprise, surprise there isn’t one. Very quickly I came up with three:

The first:

A democracy by definition is government through elected representatives. It is a form of society which favours equal rights, freedom of speech and a fair trial and tolerates the views of minorities. Civics and Citizenship website

The second:

A DEMOCRACY IS a society in which all adults have easily accessible, meaningful, and effective ways:

(a) to participate in the decision-making processes of every organization that makes decisions or takes actions that affect them, and;

(b) to hold other individuals, and those in these organizations who are responsible for making decisions and taking actions, fully accountable if their decisions or actions violate fundamental human rights, or are dishonest, unethical, unfair, secretive, inefficient, unrepresentative, unresponsive or irresponsible;

(c) so that all organizations in the society are citizen-owned, citizen-controlled, and citizen-driven, and all individuals and organizations are held accountable for wrongdoing. Democracy Watch website

And the third:

Better democracy, everywhere.

The Democratic Society (Demsoc) works for more and better democracy, where people and institutions have the desire, opportunity and confidence to participate together.

We work to create opportunities for people to become involved in the decisions that affect their lives and for them to have the skills to do this effectively. We support governments, parliaments and any organisation that wants to involve citizens in decision making to be transparent, open and welcoming of participation. We actively support spaces, places and processes to make this happen. Democratic Society website.

I went on to say in my essay:

Yes, there is some harmony between all three definitions but there are also significant differences in tone and language.

I am sure many of you are familiar with the book by H. Woody Brock American Gridlock. I started reading it a few days ago and cannot now put it down.

For the core message of the book is that we, as in society, must distinguish between inductive and deductive reasoning. Let me use the definitions as found on the Live Science website.

Deductive reasoning

Deductive reasoning is a basic form of valid reasoning. Deductive reasoning, or deduction, starts out with a general statement, or hypothesis, and examines the possibilities to reach a specific, logical conclusion, according to the University of California. The scientific method uses deduction to test hypotheses and theories. “In deductive inference, we hold a theory and based on it we make a prediction of its consequences. That is, we predict what the observations should be if the theory were correct. We go from the general — the theory — to the specific — the observations,” said Dr. Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, a researcher and professor emerita at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

In deductive reasoning, if something is true of a class of things in general, it is also true for all members of that class. For example, “All men are mortal. Harold is a man. Therefore, Harold is mortal.” For deductive reasoning to be sound, the hypothesis must be correct. It is assumed that the premises, “All men are mortal” and “Harold is a man” are true. Therefore, the conclusion is logical and true.

That is, we predict what the observations should be if the theory were correct.

Let that really work it’s way through your consciousness. It’s an idea that is rooted in the great scientists and philosophers of many thousands of years ago. Think of Euclid, the Greek Socratic philosopher who founded the Megarian school of philosophy. He was a pupil of Socrates in the late 5th century BCE, and was present at his death. (I cheated and looked it up.)

It was Euclid who through Euclidian geometry came to understand the principles of angles and straight lines; as in the shortest distance between two points.

Moving on:

Inductive reasoning

Inductive reasoning is the opposite of deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning makes broad generalizations from specific observations. “In inductive inference, we go from the specific to the general. We make many observations, discern a pattern, make a generalization, and infer an explanation or a theory,” Wassertheil-Smoller told Live Science. “In science there is a constant interplay between inductive inference (based on observations) and deductive inference (based on theory), until we get closer and closer to the ‘truth,’ which we can only approach but not ascertain with complete certainty.”

Even if all of the premises are true in a statement, inductive reasoning allows for the conclusion to be false. Here’s an example: “Harold is a grandfather. Harold is bald. Therefore, all grandfathers are bald.” The conclusion does not follow logically from the statements.

Inductive reasoning has its place in the scientific method. Scientists use it to form hypotheses and theories. Deductive reasoning allows them to apply the theories to specific situations.

Now for some of you this side trip into reasoning may have seen more like a complete departure. But the point is that, as American Gridlock makes so powerfully: There are two main problems to be solved if this nation is to get back on track. First, win-win policy solutions must be identified for the five real-world problems addressed in Chapters 2 through 6. Second, the Dialogue of the Deaf must come to an end, policy gridlock with it, and these solutions must be implemented. (Pages 7-8)

I closed my essay by setting out the following proposition:

Until we have a clear, universally acknowledged definition of what a democratic society is then it is impossible and utterly futile to debate the various processes including what is the best process for American society.

Is this relevant to the world outside the USA? You bet it is. For better or for worse, what the USA does today the rest of the world does soon thereafter.

And as you will see in Part Two that comes tomorrow democratising the economy is key.

For when we look at the way that dogs, and wolves, operate as a pack in the wild there are only three animals with status:

  • The alpha female who has first choice of the male dogs for mating purposes and makes the decision, as and when necessary, to move her pack to a new territory,
  • The beta dog, always a male, whose role is to keep the pack running smoothly as a cohesive group and not letting squabbles get out of hand, and,
  • The omega dog, that can be of either gender, whose role is to keep the pack happy.

All the other animals in the pack of around fifty are of equal status and work for the benefit of the pack. Now that is something we should learn from dogs!