Monday, October 20, 2008

Question Three. Huh?

As you're hopefully aware, in 15 days we'll be voting. In addition to all the people vying for your vote, there are also three ballot questions to consider.

No doubt you've heard a bit about them already. On the first two, the choices are easy. If you're not a total fucking idiot, you'll vote no on question 1. If you support a sensible drug policy and actually care about public health, you'll vote yes on question 2. Easy choices!

But what of question 3? It's a tricky one!

It's all about dog racing, and here's what your vote either way would do:
A YES VOTE would prohibit dog races on which betting or wagering occurs, effective January 1, 2010.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the laws governing dog racing.
Okay, that's all well and good. But which is the right way to go?

A no vote changes nothing. So the yes vote people need to make a case for why a change needs to be made.

They do this by calling question 3 the "Greyhound Protection Act", which sounds better than the "Ban Gambling on Dog Racing Act", although the latter would be a more accurate description. Their website is at

Not to be outdone, the people who want you to vote no on question three have the website Sneaky!

Apparently both a yes and a no vote protect dogs, then? What the fuck?

Maybe this isn't about dogs at all, and both groups are in fact exploiting the dogs for their own nefarious purposes?

The "dogs and jobs" website says it's paid for by the "Massachusetts Animal Interest Coalition". If you look at their funding though it looks like it's just a front for the greyhound track. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

The "Committee to Protect Dogs" has a much more grassroots list of contributors, and also gets a lot from the MSPCA and Grey2K, which appears to be a greyhound advocacy organization. Those are actually pretty decent groups, even though Grey2K is a really dorky name.

So maybe it is all about dogs then? And here I was thinking it was secretly about gambling. But if that's the case, then the anti-gambling lobby are doing a pretty good job of being quiet about it. Maybe they just don't want to associate with those dirty PETA hippies. I don't really blame them.

But the question remains: does greyhound racing actually harm greyhounds? Obviously a lot of people think it does. But are they right?

I would generally trust the Humane Society, but their Greyhound Racing Facts page has this bizarre question:
9. Could the greyhound racing industry ever be operated in a humane manner?

No. The racing industry is inherently cruel. Greyhound racing is a form of gaming in which the amount of money a dog generates determines his or her expendability. The answer for greyhounds is neither regulation nor adoption of "retired" dogs, but the elimination of the greyhound racing industry.
That's a total bullshit answer. What if the industry regulated it in such a way that the amount of money a dog brings in was unrelated to its expendability? I'm sure there are ways to do that.

And is it really "inherently" cruel? In my experience, athletic dogs like greyhounds quite enjoy running. If their living conditions aren't bad and they get to run around and enjoy themselves, where's the harm? What good does an absolutist position do here?

I think maybe the first question on that page actually gets to the heart of the opposition's issues with greyhound racing:
1. Do problems exist with greyhound racing?

Yes. Greyhound racing constitutes animal abuse because of the industry's excessive surplus breeding practices, the often cruel methods by which unwanted dogs are destroyed, the daily conditions in which many dogs are forced to live, and the killing and maiming of bait animals, such as rabbits, during training exercises. The industry exists solely for the entertainment and profit of people—often at the expense of the animals' welfare.
The first several issues there are all things that can be solved by regulation. Have better breeding practices, don't do cruel shit, no bunny-maiming, etc.

The only intractable part is the final sentence, where it is complained that the "industry exists solely for the entertainment and profit of people". I suspect this is the real reason a lot of people are opposed to it. It's less to do with whether or not the dogs are actually abused and more to do with the concept of the dogs being exploited for the entertainment of humans.

Personally, I don't find that concept terribly objectionable as long as the dogs themselves are happy.

The problem we're really faced with here is that nobody on either side of this question wants to give you any worthwhile facts. As someone who's generally fond of dogs (and animals in particular), I'd be all about voting yes on 3 if the proponents actually provided evidence of abuse.

Instead, we get claims of abuse without evidence, unconvincing slideshows that don't look all that horrible, and a really lame youtube video. Not compelling, folks.

From the opponents of question three we get a lot of talk about jobs (if your job is to abuse animals, then I don't care if you lose it, morons), some clearly inflated statistics, and the last gasps of an industry that's probably going to disappear within the next decade anyway.

How to vote? Beats me. The evidence that greyhound racing needs to be banned is pretty slim, and it seems to mostly be an ideological crusade. On the other hand, I don't want dogs to suffer and really don't give a shit if people find themselves unable to gamble on how fast a particular dog can run in circles.

It seems to me that the sensible way to deal with all this would be to enact strict rules to ensure the dogs have good living conditions. An outright ban seems excessive.

This is about the least cut-and-dried question we have. We have a lot of ideology on both sides, but very few facts. What few facts we do get are often distorted. So it's sort of a tossup.

Chances are it'll pass anyway, so it really doesn't matter how you vote. Enjoy your representative democracy, suckers!