Like Sheep to the Slaughter

 

Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away,
Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air.
You better watch out!
There may be dogs about!
I’ve looked over Jordan and I have seen;
Things are not what they seem.

What do you get for pretending the danger’s not real?
Meek and obedient you follow the leader
Down well trodden corridors into the valley of steel.
What a surprise!
A look of terminal shock in your eyes!
Now things are really what they seem;
No, this is no bad dream.

— The first two stanzas of the song “Sheep”, by Pink Floyd, from their 1977 album Animals.

 

The first slave auction at new amsterdam in 1655
The First Slave Auction in New Amsterdam [New York City] in 1655, an illustration by Howard Pyle (1853-1911), published in 1917 after his death. Slave or master, master or slave, it has been ever thus.

Why listen to or read reports from corporate media outlets about what the comedian Michelle Wolf said at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, April 28, when C-SPAN has the entire video of her speech available so that you can make up your own mind about it?


Warning: foul language; also, self-congratulatory shills.

There has never been an age when information was as freely available in relatively open societies such as ours, and yet people out of laziness, habit, or ideology continue to rely on corporate media to relay news to them. Corporate media has a bias, though, and ultimately that bias has less to do with left or right than it does with green, as in the color of American currency. The part of Ms. Wolf’s remarks that the corporate media objects to most has nothing to do with what she says in the first sixteen minutes, largely about Supreme Leader, his incompetent administration, and the morally or legally corrupt officials in it, including press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but about her criticisms of their ethically bankrupt empowering of this administration for the sake of lining their own pockets. There are reaction shots of stuffed shirt audience members either stony faced or sour pussed in disapproval throughout Ms. Wolf’s remarks, but in the last three minutes, and especially the last minute, when she takes it up a notch, the reaction shots show media and administration types alike shooting daggers at her from their eyes. You know then she was speaking the truth, and that they weren’t going to report that part of her speech if they could avoid it.

Brit Floyd, a Pink Floyd tribute band, in an excellent performance of “Sheep” from 2015 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

But allowing lazy, dishonest media to get away with reporting like that are lazy, dishonest citizens who don’t care about the truth. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Criticizing the media is easy really, like shooting fish in a barrel. Who swallows the bait when they boost the weapons of mass destruction myth as reason for invading Iraq? Who goes along meekly when the corporate media repeats the lie from the powers that be that the banks and other financial institutions who nearly destroyed the economy in 2008, and did destroy the livelihood of millions of citizens, are too big to fail and require a bailout from the same people they screwed? Who listened and watched enraptured as the corporate media gave more coverage to a reality TV star presidential candidate in 2016 than any other candidate, regardless of substantive discussion of real issues? Who?

— Ed.

Who was born in a house full of pain?
Who was trained not to spit in the fan?
Who was told what to do by the man?
Who was broken by trained personnel?
Who was fitted with collar and chain?
Who was given a pat on the back?
Who was breaking away from the pack?
Who was only a stranger at home?
Who was ground down in the end?
Who was found dead on the phone?
Who was dragged down by the stone?

— The last stanza of the song “Dogs”, by Pink Floyd, from their 1977 album Animals.

 

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Change at the Grass Roots

 

It may seem like hyperbole to compare growing a lawn with smoking (not combining the two, as in smoking grass), but when weighing the environmental and health effects of both rather useless activities, they may not be all that dissimilar. A lawn is purely ornamental and serves no practical purpose when it is not used as pasture for grazing animals. Deer may come out of the woods to clip parts of a suburban lawn, but for the most part keeping a lawn within the height limits deemed proper by neighbors is left up to the homeowner. Anything higher than about six inches meets with disapproval from neighbors and, in the case of a homeowners association rules, may merit a written slap on the wrist.

 

There was a time not long ago when most people smoked, and smoked everywhere. Movies of contemporary stories from the 1940s and 1950s showed actors portraying their characters as human chimneys. Few people thought much of it up until 1964, when the Surgeon General issued a report on the dangers of smoking. Even then, it took another generation for the momentum of social disapproval of smoking to build to a tipping point, largely because of the obstructive practices of the tobacco industry. In the matter of lawn growing, the balance is now tipped in favor of the people who dump fertilizers and broad leaf herbicides on their lawns to achieve an ideal of carpeted green perfection, and then burn up fossil fuels in order to keep that exuberant growth clipped to a manicured standard.

20101020 Sheep shepherd at Vistonida lake Glikoneri Rhodope Prefecture Thrace Greece
Sheep, goats, and a shepherd near Lake Vistonida in Thrace, Greece. Photo by Ggia.

Gras
Grass, with buttercups. Photo by Steffen Flor.

Given the information available about the toxic effects of fertilizer and herbicide runoff, and the deleterious effects on the climate of continued burning of fossil fuels, it seems insane to idealize the perfect lawn and what it can take to achieve perfection. Yet as things stand now, the people with model lawns are the ones who look down on everyone else and appoint themselves as standard bearers. Perhaps if more people understood the destructive effects to their own health and to the environment of all their fussing over lawns, then the balance would start to tip the other way toward saner practices.

When homeowners apply fertilizers and herbicides to their lawns, there is no obvious puff of smoke to notify everyone else of the activity. It is not as obvious then as smoking, and therefore general social disapproval will take a long time to build, and may never build to a tipping point the way it did with smoking. Education will probably be the main factor in changing people’s behavior. There are state laws which require commercial herbicide or pesticide applicators to post signs on lawns they have treated. Those are the 4 inch cards on sticks stuck into lawns, and to the extent that most passersby and neighbors give them any attention, they can easily mistake them as advertisements for the lawn care company.

The opening scene of Blue Velvet, a darkly satirical 1986 film directed by David Lynch. Besides demanding large amounts of fertilizers and herbicides to look their best, lawns gulp huge amounts of water in order to stay green throughout the warmest months.

Most people are away at work when lawn care companies do their treatments, and so they aren’t around to catch a whiff of the cabbage smell of the typical broad leaf herbicide as it drifts around the neighborhood. And of course, the homeowner who does his or her own applications, usually on the weekends when neighbors are also home, does not bother with any formal notifications at all. A neighbor might ask such a homeowner “What’s that smell?” To which the enterprising amateur lawn care enthusiast might reply, without apparent knowledge of or concern about the collateral damage of his or her efforts, “That’s the smell of the green, green grass of home!”
— Izzy

 

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Have the Chops

 

Viewers of American television shows from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s might have noticed that the families on shows of that era seemed to have lamb chops for dinner rather often, or certainly more frequently than most Americans eat lamb or mutton now. This doesn’t approach anything like a scientific proof of declining consumption of lamb and mutton since the mid-twentieth century, and at that it would only prove a decline among the demographic of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who were the main representatives of Americans on television then, but there it is nonetheless. On old shows like Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, the characters were eating lamb chops regularly, but after the 1970s hardly anyone ate lamb chops anymore.

Ninely and Nine (3084038737)
A British shepherd with a lamb and his Border Collie in the 1890s. Photo from the National Media Museum of the United Kingdom.

 

Ham has always been more popular in Middle America than lamb, and Easter dinner was no different. It was in immigrant communities in the cities of the east and west coasts that lamb was popular, at Easter or anytime. Nevertheless, through the middle years of the twentieth century lamb and mutton were widely available throughout the country and competitively priced with other meats at supermarkets and butcher shops. Much has been made of the learned distaste for canned mutton among service members returning from overseas duty in World War II for the eventual decline in popularity of sheep meat in America, but statistics and anecdotal evidence of the popular culture as represented on television programs discount the impact of that one factor.

The increased use of synthetic fabrics over wool contributed to the drop in sheep herding, but that also is overemphasized, considering that synthetic fabrics gained ground in other countries as well, places like Australia and New Zealand where sheep herding remains a large part of the agricultural economy. What separates American sheep raising culture most from the rest of animal husbandry is the difficulty of conforming it to the needs of large scale agribusiness. In the generations after World War II, when family farms were swallowed up in large numbers by agribusiness concerns which consolidated the raising of chickens, beef cattle, and pigs into factory farms, the raising of sheep, and particularly lambs, resisted conforming to factory farm standards. As a result, American lamb and mutton became more expensive than comparable weights of chicken, beef, or pork.

American sheep herding declined to a cottage industry, which had the ironic effect of insulating it further from the factory farming practices which had taken over other areas of animal husbandry by the end of the twentieth century. The mutton and lamb available in Middle American supermarkets in the same period was likely as not imported from Australia or New Zealand. The imported meat was cheaper than American raised mutton and lamb despite the long shipping distances because of the economies of scale in those countries, where sheep were still raised in the tens of millions. Americans generally did not favor the imported meat over beef, chicken, and pork, however, because of the “gaminess” they noted in it, a product of the types of sheep raised in Australia and New Zealand and the pasture they were raised on. Americans had gotten so used to the blandness of meat produced by grain diets for factory farmed animals that they started rejecting anything stronger.

From The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show of the 1950s, the two performers reenact one of their vaudeville routines for announcer Harry Von Zell.
As Americans begin to reject factory farming out of both the inhumane nature of it and the unhealthy food it produces, prospects for sheep herders in this country are improving. Considering the practices most, but certainly not all, of them have adhered to over the last half century through some bad times, it’s not that they ever went anywhere, but that the rest of us did and are now drifting back to them in dribs and drabs. If it weren’t for the support of the immigrant population and their preference for American lamb and mutton, the sheep herders here would not likely have survived the lean times in sufficient numbers to crank up operations again with the promise of supplying more Easter dinners. Of the lambs the best that can be said is that unlike many of their unfortunate cousins on the factory farms their lives, however brief, may be more natural and even peaceful.
— Vita

 

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