Sunday, December 29, 2013

Breed-Specific Legislation: From Fame to Fear

Breed specific legislation (BSL) is a law passed by a legislative body pertaining to specific breeds of domesticated animals. In this post, I will be using "pit bulls" as the case in point arguing why breed specific legislation and its implications are not only misplaced, but also harmful and can serve as a gateway for other policy actions. There are many jurisdictions which enforce BSL on pit bulls, including Denver, Malden, and even my home province Ontario.

The term "pit bull" is a generic term used to describe any breed of dog which share physical characteristics to the commonly known profile. In actuality, "pit bull" includes many different breeds, but is generally any type of dog breed which has derived from the cross-breeding of bulldogs and terriers. This can include the American Pit Bull Terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, the American Straffordshire Terrier, the Bull Terrier, and so on. There is a lack of clarity on how many "pit bulls" there are, since the name is ambiguous, and many people choose to avoid registering the dog as in some cases it can lead to increased insurances and other burdens for the pet owner. This being said, I would normally provide an estimate of the number of "pit bulls," but because of the ambiguity of the term, I won't bother.

An American Pit Bull Terrier. The build is almost sickening.
The "pit bull" as we know it is classified as weighing anywhere from 35 to 65 pounds, although there are many outliers, as there would be with most dog breeds. They are characterized as having high strength, endurance, stamina and "work ethic." This all adds up to a very strong, resilient dog that can be quite dangerous if provoked. The key word here is "provoked." For now, however, I should review some common misconceptions about pit bulls. Before I continue, I would like my readers to take any statistics - even those supporting my position - with a grain of salt. It will give averages and statistics for a "pit bull" breed, but as I have explained above, such a description is very misleading, as experts may not even agree on a dog's particular breed when it comes to "pit bulls."

One is that the pit bull has a locking jaw. This is commonly refuted, as there is no locking mechanism in the dog's jaw. The next step would be to allude to the dog's high bite pressure, which is allegedly higher than any other dog breed as measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). Studies, however, show this not to be the case. One commonly cited source is the test done on National Geographic by Dr. Brady Barr, which found that the pit bull bite PSI is lower than other strong, common dog breeds - namely the German Shepherd and the Rottweiler. The Rottweiler had a bite force of 328 PSI, the German Shepherd 238 PSI, and the pit bull 235 PSI. As a comparison, humans have a bite PSI of between 150 and 200, hyenas ~1,000 PSI, and crocodiles ~3,700 PSI. In the study provided, the pit bulls were largely outmatched by Rottweilers in terms of bite PSI, and were just barely outmatched by German Shepherds, although the results for the German Shepherd were one of the lowest compared to other findings.

But the basis for support of BSL is not in how strong a pit bull's bite is, but how likely it is to use that bite in an unprovoked situation. A 5-year study conducted by Sacks et al. from 1989 to 1994 found that in all dog fatalities where breed was identified a total of 84 deaths, 29% of the attacks were by pit bulls. A superior study conducted from 1994 to 2009 by Bini et al. found a similar result. Of 82 attacks where breed was identified in a Level I Trauma Center, 35% of the attacks were by pit bulls. Such studies found that many of the attacks were unprovoked. If pit bulls are not a dangerous breed, why is this happening?

There are numerous explanations for such a trend. One is the behavior of pit bulls prior to an attack. Most animals, when provoked, will show a warning sign prior to any attempt to attack. Most dogs will growl, show their teeth, bark or lunge forward in an attempt to intimidate their perceived threat. Pit bulls do not typically show any such signs. This can make prevention more difficult for pit bulls because it can be impossible to interpret when the dog feels provoked. This also explains why it may seem that pit bulls disproportionately attack when not provoked. The reason pit bulls exhibit such behavior (or lack thereof) is because of what they were bred for.

Dogs, typically, win a competition by intimidating the other dog, or by hurting the dog through biting, but not severely maiming them. Pit bulls were raised specifically to compete violently. Owners of pit bulls wanted to breed the toughest dog they could, and so competitions were held. Pit bulls were pitted (I make these puns a lot) against each other in the ring (often with the owner in the ring with them) to fight as viciously as they could. The dogs that emerged victorious were bred to preserve their genes. This type of inbreeding is seen in almost all dog breeds. As an example, Shih-Tzus were selected for their likeness of a lion for Tibetan royalty. They are not a naturally occurring type of dog. Pit bulls were selectively bred for their strength and optimization in inter-dog conflict.

Rin Tin Tin with starring actor Lee Aaker as "Rusty."
Another factor to consider is breed popularity; let us blame Rin Tin Tin. From his first appearance in the early 1900s and then the airing of The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin in 1954, demand for German Shepherds skyrocketed as Americans saw an increase in desire for the loveable crime fighter. At the same time, after the ownership of German Shepherds increase after this year, German Shepherds seemed to make their way as being one of the most dangerous dog breeds. The reason for this is that when a dog breed becomes popular, and there comes high demand, the dogs are often bred very improperly, and by inexperienced owners. While it is true that German Shepherds have been selected for higher intelligence via selective breeding, there has been controversy over how the dogs have been bred, and these faulty practices can lead to many physiological issues. Given all of this, what sparked the recent demand for pit bulls?

A fun fact: pit bulls are the only breed to have been featured three times on the cover of Life Magazine. Pit bulls were popularized by the military and by tough guys everywhere because of their appeal as being a strong, resilient guard dog. This creates a profile, and as with all profiles, people will associate pit bulls only with what they commonly see, and thus the most common purchases of pit bulls became people who wanted an unstoppable force standing beside them. A study conducted by Barnes et al. in 2006 found that possession of a "high-risk dog" could serve as a marker for criminal behavior. It was found that "high-risk" dog owners had ten times as many convictions as "low-risk" dog owners. The results were upheld by similar studies in 2009 and 2012.

So if the public is purchasing pit bulls for the purpose of having a dog which is strong, vicious and unwavering, the selective breeding which poisons domesticated dogs is most certainly going to meet up with the pit bull. If owners want pit bulls to be the dogs they have seen them to be, then they will become that; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Government bans Pit Bulls? Get a Rottweiler instead!
But this is not a predetermined fate for pit bulls. It is undeniable that proper socialization and care in a dog's youth can produce a very friendly, loveable pet. Perhaps, then, it is only obligatory for us to, when buying a pit bull, be aware of their need for special care and give them more attention and socialize them more than we would for another dog. A pit bull's potential for danger is not enough to warrant BSL. If a human being wants to raise an unstoppable breed of dog for purposes of fighting or guarding, then they will do it with whatever breed they can get access to. As we see above, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are very exemplary candidates. The study conducted by Barnes et al. also examined other "high-risk" breeds such as Akitas, which could also be exploited.

We can't justifiably enforce BSL because BSL does not get to the core of the problem. It's a temporary band-aid for an issue which has existed for centuries - humanity's selfish tendency to breed domesticated dogs in such a way that is unhealthy and dangerous for both the dog and the owner. This is a trend that will not cease, and no amount of scape-goating in the media and public is going to rid us of that burden. The hasty profiling being made in these cases is akin to other discussions relating to genetic determinism for behavioral traits, except in those cases, as it pertains to races of humans (search for the areas discussing MAO-A. The ensuing discussion, organized for easiness to read, can be found here).

Thank you for reading.

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Steven King's "Why We Crave Horror Movies"

Forwarded from a friend's blog.


I read Steven King’s essay upon asking myself that very question: Why do people crave horror movies?

Why is it that most people don’t want to be scared, yet at the same time, they pay to get scared?
King provides 3 answers to this question:

1) It reminds us of how much better we are - we’re prettier than the Frankenstein Monster or Leatherface, and nowhere near as insane.

2) It’s a way of “daring the nightmare”, as King put it. We face our fears in the theater to prove to ourselves that we can face those fears.

3) We go to have fun… or, basically, we’re all, secretly or otherwise, insane.

Pretty outrageous claim, right? But of course, a half-decent writer would explain his claims, and thus King continues with his explanation.

King describes our tendency to scare ourselves as a way to “feed the gators”. In essence, our minds have a trapdoor, which underneath has a moat with hungry gators. This is the representation of our insanity. In order to keep the gators there, and not out where everybody else can see them and are threatened by them, you have to throw them chunks of raw meat (in the form of watching horror movies or telling sick jokes).

We all have certain degrees of insanity. Some of us go around and kill random people. Some of us strip naked in the streets. Some of us have engaging conversations with people that aren’t really there.
But those are the ones we lock in the funny farm.

I shall continue, though, while my mind situates itself in song.

[They’re coming to take me away, haha, they’re coming to take me away hoho, hehe, haha, to the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time…]

The rest of us just very occasionally talk to ourselves, pick our noses when nobody is looking, make funny faces, hold to our irrational fears, etc.

So insanity is a degree, but we all have it. Some people have gators running rampant in their mind, while others keep them down… or they’re just good at hiding the gators.

[… and I’ll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats, and they’re coming to take me away, haha…]

He goes on to compare seeing horror movies to the olden times when, if you had some time on your hands, you’d take your wife and children to relax and unwind, talking to each other like a true family, all the while enjoying a nice, cozy picnic at a public lynching.

So, King’s point is that we’re all truly crazy, and that we just need to occasionally see a horror movie so we can keep our insanity down.

I have a response to this, though:

[… to the happy home…]

Anyone who can create spine-chilling novels or seat-clenching horror movies that, according to King’s logic, would keep people’s insanity down in the depths of the moat under the trapdoor, is in no position to judge the degree of sanity (or insanity) of other people.

I’ve already received this argument though:

"Steven King would probably be the first person to say: ‘I’m the craziest one in this room!’, but he still has a point."

Maybe King would. I would have to agree with him in that case. But there’s an error there.

You don’t let insane people tell you who other insane people are.

"Why, (insert blogger’s name here)? Wouldn’t insane people be the best source to go to if you want to find out if someone else is insane?"

No, simply for the fact that they’re insane. They are not of a rational mind, so how can an irrational person think rationally to tell you who else is irrational?

Do you get it? They’re crazy, you don’t let them advise you for anything.

"Okay then, (insert blogger’s name here), then why don’t you try telling us why people go to see horror movies if they don’t like being scared?"

I’m glad you asked, voice from nobody ever!

[… with trees and flowers and chirping birds…]

When you go to a horror movie, and it ends with the typical “everyone dies the end” (cough Little Shop of Horrors, And Then There Were None cough), do you either:

A) Clap and buy the DVD; or,
B) Say: “Well that was stupid!” and possibly consider getting your money back?

If you answered (A), chances are you really are crazy.

But if you answered (B), as I did, then you can move on to my proposal.

I think that people go to see horror movies to prove that their fears aren’t much to be afraid of. The ones who are reading this, we don’t like it when the horror wins at the end, because then it shows us: “Well, there’s no stopping that mother-“

But if we see a movie where the monster, horror, fear, etc. is killed, defeated, overcome, etc., then we like it. Why?

Because it proves to us that the horror can be defeated, and therefore, it is not as scary as it used to be. That’s how much Hollywood has an impact on us.

My girlfriend, who apparently has a very keen sense of reality, brought up an objection though. You might be able to already guess what her objection was if you’re like her, but here it is:

Hollywood horror movies are simply made up. The solutions, like killing a werewolf with silver bullets, or a vampire with a wooden stake to the heart, are just made up, and if (by some unfortunate chance) we were to encounter one of those things in real life, there is no real evidence that either of those methods would work.

I had already considered that prior to her prompting its response, and I’m proud of that, because that means I still have a grip on reality as well.

Let me put it this way:

If you were to encounter a vampire in real life, and you could pick only one of two options, which would you pick to fight it:

1) A shotgun; or,
2) A bottle of holy water?

Even if you picked (1), you probably considered grabbing (2) for a second. Now let me switch the position. If it were a serial killer, which of those would you pick?

You picked the shotgun, or you’re crazy… or just an idiot.

Regardless of any logic or reason against it, Hollywood has had a great impact on how we see our fears to the point that we’d actually consider chucking a bottle of holy water if we were to face off with a vampire.

That’s my evidence behind my reason for why we see horror movies - we want to make those horrors look pathetic, or at the very least, able to be overcome.

I would crush the hopes and dreams of all people preparing for the zombie apocalypse if I were to tell them that there’s absolutely no reason to believe that shooting a zombie would kill it, or even slow it down.

This is how much we’ve been affected by Hollywood horror movies, and it’s why, I believe, we continue to see them. We’ve become believers.

Or we, including myself, really are crazy.

[… they’re coming to take me away, hahaaaa!]

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Signs of Maturity

I'm going to skip out on making an extended blog post and, instead, make a statement using recent events in my inner circle.

My dear best friend "Sam", who has been thus far the primary figurehead for Steel Owls, has decided that he will cease making videos and lectures on his YouTube channel. This may not seem like a big deal to an outsider, but what is contained in this story is more important than what actually happened.

Standing before a camera and making statements on controversial issues is not an easy thing to do, especially when you, early on, catch the attention of a wide variety of dissenting opinions and groups who stand for everything opposite to what you do. In other words, very early on, Sam caught the attention of people who would immediately hate him. He made one video on a sketchy topic, race realism, and this attracted the crowd of opposing views (the race realists). After about a month, one figurehead for race realists made an excessively long video in response to him. Sam made another video in response where he refuted the arguments, and then stated he would probably not make another video response if the debate continued. About a month later, the other guy made another video response. Now Sam has decided to abandon his channel. It seems obvious why, right? It would be hasty to make that decision, though, without hearing what Sam had to say in his "Signing Off" video.

Sam has recently discovered that he could very well have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be very taxing on the mind and body - they can cause muscle aches, indigestion, loss of sleep, panic attacks, and much more. The stress he got from these online arguments ended up taking time away from his work, family, friends, and girlfriend of over 2 years. Based on this, and the medical implications, Sam decided it would be best to abandon his channel and avoid debates and drama on YouTube. I'd say this is a sound decision even without a medical condition.

Here's a thought that popped into everyone's mind, though: if he's having anxiety problems from this debate, it means he's either emotionally invested in the debate, or he knows he lost, or was proven to be dishonest. To everyone, including myself, this would be a reasonable conclusion. He could've simply made up the fact that he was originally planning to respond. As I've discovered, this couldn't be further from the truth.

He shared with me the script he would've used to make his response video. It's a work in progress, and when a person sends him a private message asking a question about the debate, he takes his replies and adds them to the script appropriately. I read it, and I was absolutely shocked. The script wasn't just a substantial, sufficient response. Had he actually made the video, he would've absolutely killed the opposing arguments.

Had he replied, it would've been the end.

So, why didn't he do it?

- For consistency.
- For his health.
- For the people he cares about.
- For his work.

To me, such a resistance of temptation and definite victory for the reasons listed is one of the greatest signs of maturity.

But let's be fair. What responses did the dissenting voices make?

- Derogatory videos.
- Ad hominems.
- Condescending comments.
- Skepticism over whether or not he really does have anxiety issues.

In reality, it's pretty obvious who won this debate.