The dark side greyhound racing.

A recent ABC documentary exposed the use of live baiting in the greyhound industry. The practice involves training greyhounds to chase live animals (usually cats, rabbits, possums, piglets) which are strapped to a mechanical lure to simulate race conditions. At the end of the simulated race conditions, the dog is allowed to eat the live animal.

The practice rests on the belief that greyhounds will run faster if they expect that they will have a kill at the end of the race. This belief is as old as greyhound racing and has its origins in its centuries-old predecessor, live hare coursing. Coursing is a competition where two greyhounds pursue a hare with the aim of catching and killing it. Traditionally, it was a rural activity because dogs were used for hunting for food, sport or for pest control. Farmers and landowners would often meet to socialise and course their dogs.  Naturally, large sums of money would often be gambled as well.

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Coursing has been illegal in Australia for some time but was only outlawed in Northern Ireland in 2011.  Greyhound racing as it is known today evolved as result of public outrage at coursing’s bloodsport image but essentially the sport is still based upon the idea of a dog pursuing something that it hopes to catch and eat.  And many of the people who own greyhounds believe that the closer you can get your dog to believing this, the faster it will run.  Hence, the practice of live baiting.

Until relatively recently, racing dogs would normally be “blooded”, that is trained to race with live bait, as a matter of course. Everybody did it, it was the accepted practice.

Pressure from animal welfare groups resulted in greyhound regulatory bodies banning the practice but in fact it proved to be very difficult. Owners of private greyhound training tracks, which are only the size of 400m running track, can offer live baiting facilities and be fairly certain they will be away from the prying eyes of officialdom.

The most obvious solution is to impose lifelong bans on anyone involved in live baiting and possibly insisting that any registered trainers who own training tracks must have 24-hour CCT installed  and that the video surveillance must be submitted regularly to the regulatory authorities but that would be extremely difficult to police.

It is a difficult problem and one that goes to the very heart nature of the industry.

 

 

Edward Hopper: Trains and boats and cars

Edward Hopper was fascinated by chunks of stuff and in particular with the way that light fell on large chunks of stuff. Sometimes the large chunk of stuff would be a wall and his rare genius was that he could turn light falling on to a wall or a floor into a work of art, as in the enigmatic Rooms by the Sea.

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Hopper is interested in light falling on flat surfaces but in a quite different way in Freight Car at Truro.  Here, the derailed goods carriage is set in a very traditional layered Hopper landscape. But while the lines of the layered landscape slope towards the telegraph pole, the railway carriage is a  disjointed block of rust set in the middle of this landscape and completely at odds with the rhythm and flow of the painting.  The colouring of the railway carriage is also at odds with the lighting in the painting.

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Notice that the sun shining from the left-hand side of the painting, yet the right-hand side of the railway carriage is lighter than the end, a quite curious effect of light.

Freight Car at Truro provides an interesting contrast to Railroad Train.  There is a sense of finality in Freight Car at Truro,  the end of the line if you will. But in Railroad Train, as in so many of Hopper’s paintings, we have a half finished story, the rest of the train is out  of the frame, on its way to some unknown destination.   The smoke from the engine and the wind in the grass in the foreground give a sense of movement to the painting adding to the idea that the story is only half told.

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Structurally, this painting is very typical of Hopper’s work. There are five layers: the layer of grass in the foreground, the rock of the railway embankment, the dark grey of the train, the smoke from the engine and the sky. The layers are linked together by colour, again a typical Hopper touch.

Manhattan Bridge combines the ideas of decay from Freight Car at Truro with the  sharp angles of the rusting building in contrast to the sweep of the bridge. It’s a rather more static painting and there is a sense of grace and beauty in the subtle modulations of the light on the concrete of the wharf, the river and the sky that is absent from the Truro  painting.
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Back of the Freight Station is a wonderful example of Hopper’s ability to transpose the mundane into something quite remarkable. The freight station itself is a beautifully constructed image with a wonderful rhythm in the vertical lines of the freight station, the carriage and the telegraph pole and the horizontal lines of the station, the carriage and the top of telegraph pole.

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And then there’s the sweep of the grass verge and the beach, starting in the bottom left hand corner of the painting, touching the freight car and merging with the clouds on the distant horizon. And  in a stroke of pure genius, this beautiful structure is punctuated by a fisherman’s boat, drawn up on the beach and running counter to the entire rhythm and structure of the painting.

The rhythms of Cars and Rocks are far more pronounced and obvious. The  image of the square block of stone and the square motorcar on the left side of the picture slides away towards the right with the car and the rocks becoming flatter and more angled.

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In each of these paintings, Hopper demonstrates his genius for drawing from the jumble of the mundane the elements that created great art.

Malcolm Turnbull to “hit the ground doing”

In case he’s forgotten, there’s a little list of things that need to be done and a few hurdles that need to be jumped.

Gay marriage

Already up to his arse in alligators on this one, so swamp draining is going to be difficult.  Abbott suggested a plebiscite because he knew it would fail, not by a vote, but because the coalition MPs would not honour it.

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 Gay marriage: don’t expect Tony Abbott to put on the budgie smugglers and join the parade.

And now Turnbull is stuck with it. He is unlikely to get a plebiscite through the Senate.  And if he did, and it got a majority of votes, he probably couldn’t deliver his party on the issue. He will lose on this one whichever way it goes.

 Keeping his word with the CFA.

This was going to be difficult as the Federal government has no jurisdiction and Malcolm opened his big mouth when he shouldn’t so this will be a test of political skill and leadership and artfuldodgerness.

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Joint sitting of both houses

This is going to be a real bunfight and Pauline Hanson’s first opportunity to stick the rough end of the pineapple right up Malcolm Turnbull to give him a taste of things to come.  The numbers mean that there will need to be a lot of political negotiation and horse trading rather than the bully boy tactics of the previous Abbott government.  Going to be a matter of old dogs and new tricks.

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The huge difficulty for Turnbull in a joint sitting is that it will give all the cross benchers and minor parties a forum where they can demonstrate how important and powerful they are. Expect them to come armed with baseball bats.

How to fix Greyhound racing (well, bits of it)

It’s very easy to be critical of the Greyhound industry because it has more problems than you can poke a stick at.  But let’s start with the big one: the fact that thousands of greyhounds are slaughtered each year because their owners do not believe that they are fast enough to win them any money.

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The problem is that greyhound owners are allowed to keep breeding dogs until they get one that has a chance of winning races. The answer is controlling and restricting the breeding process.

NSW Premier Mike Baird cited the fact that 68,000 greyhounds had been put down in NSW  alone in the last decade as a reason for banning the sport. The figure is appalling and if that problem can’t be solved then the sport should be banned. And we should be realistic in acknowledging that this is not a problem that is limited to NSW. It occurs wherever greyhound racing is held in Australia.

The way the system works at present is that a greyhound owner will breed litters of greyhounds and select the fastest ones to race and destroy the rest. By the time a greyhound is around 18 months old, the owner has a fair idea of the dog’s racing potential  and can make a decision on whether to keep the dog or not.

It would actually be very simple to set up system that doesn’t involve killing dogs.

It would work like this.

The regulatory body that controls greyhound racing (in Victoria it is GRV, Greyhound Racing Victoria) would control breeding. Individual owners would not be allowed to breed greyhounds themselves but they would be allowed to hold licenses to purchase a specific number of dogs from a registered breeder who in turn would only be allowed to produce a limited number of dogs. Only licensed dogs from licensed breeders would be allowed to race.

GRV would license the breeders to produce the number of dogs required to keep the racing stock at a level to sustain industry. As dogs are retired from racing, the licensed owners would be allowed to purchase another dog from the licensed breeders.

No dogs can be put down based on their ability to race.  This will remove the artificial “survival of the fastest” effect of the current practices of euthanasia. The races will probably be slower, but it would not matter if all the races were three or four seconds slower.  Someone would still win that’s all that matters in racing and gambling.