Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Crimes of a Canadian Pig Farmer

The big (and incredibly horrifying) story in Canada this week is the trial of Robert Pickton, a British Columbia pig farmer, for the murder of six women. The authorities have accused Pickton, 57, of killing 26 of more than 60 prostitutes and drug addicts who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside from the late 1980s until late 2001. One of the Crown witnesses, Andrew Bellwood, testified late last week about how the accused told him of his method of luring, killing and disposing of the bodies of these women. You can read the Toronto Star account of Bellwood's graphic testimony here. According to this testimony, Pickton slaughtered the women as he would his pigs, then fed his victims to the animals to dispose of their remains. Shades of Mr. Wu's pigs, used to dispose of bodies in HBO's Deadwood.

I'll be able to follow this on-going trial next week, as I'm off to Seattle and Vancouver until July 27th. While I'm gone, keep up with all the bad news in history via Axis of Evel Knievel. Its proprietor took today's photo while on his vacation earlier this month...

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Five Little Pigs

This is "the little pig that went to market" from "The History of Five Little Pigs" as presented in Joseph Martin Kronheim's My First Picture Book (1893). You can find the images and text here via Project Gutenberg. Suffice to say that this version is much more complicated than the nursery rhyme our parents would recite as they wriggled our toes. In fact, here's the story that accompanies this illustration:

"There was once a family of Five Little Pigs, and Mrs. Pig, their mother, loved them all very dearly. Some of these little pigs were very good, and took a great deal of trouble to please her. The eldest pig was so active and useful that he was called Mr. Pig. One day he went to market with his cart full of vegetables, but Rusty, the donkey, began to show his bad temper before he had gone very far on the road. All the coaxing and whipping would not make him move. So Mr. Pig took him out of the shafts, and being very strong, drew the cart to market himself. When he got there, all the other pigs began to laugh. But they did not laugh so loudly when Mr. Pig told them all his struggles on the road. Mr. Pig lost no time in selling his vegetables, and very soon after Rusty came trotting into the market-place, and as he now seemed willing to take his place in the cart, Mr. Pig started for home without delay. When he got there, he told Mrs. Pig his story, and she called him her best and most worthy son."

The version we all remember ("This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed at home, this little piggy had roast beef, this little piggy had none. And this little piggy went 'wee wee wee' all the way home") was first published in 1728. The moralizing in the many longer adaptations of this nursery rhyme is pretty amazing. There are tons of adaptations of "This little piggy..." in popular culture, including Agatha Christie's Poirot novel Five Little Pigs (1942) and a clothing store in Santa Monica called This Little Piggy Wears Cotton.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Greased Pig Chases

Despite looking around a bit, I have no idea how long greased pig chases have been going on. I've found an 1859 engraving by Richard Doyle of a greased pig chase (see it for yourself here) but not much other information about them. I remember seeing one myself at a festival at Stone Mountain back in the 1970s, but I haven't seen or heard of one since. This is perhaps more due to the fact that I have lived in cities all my life, as the greased pig contests I've read about on-line have all taken place at rural fairs and gatherings. For example, this image was taken at the Alger County Fair in Chatham, Michigan in August 2005. (The original can be found here.)

There have been several successful protests against this treatment of pigs. In fact, according to PETA, greased pig chases are illegal in Minnesota and Rhode Island. (See their "Ax Animal Acts" page here at PETA Kids.) As they note in their Get Active Center (here), "
Pigs are intelligent, social animals with high cognitive ability. Being chased around or mishandled by participants in raucous greased-pig contests is terrifying for them." I would surmise, then, that these animal entertainments are on the way out and are certainly less likely to be found in urban and suburban areas. Yet one can find advice on how to compete in one of these contests on line as well. In a "how-to" Wiki (here) someone has provided a list of the eight steps involved in catching a greased pig. This advice is also appended: "Chasing a greased pig is a cruel sport for the animal. make sure you're aware of the ethics of such an event before participating. However, also bear in mind the event probably has a significant cultural or traditional origin, so be careful about admonishing people about it."

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Girls Gone Hog-Wrestling in Indiana

I wasn't sure whether greased pig chases and hog wrestling still existed as regular events at summer fairs and festivals, but at least the latter does. The Evansville (Indiana) Courier and Press (here) recently ran a photo essay about the hog wrestling competition for girls sixteen and under that was held at the Gibson County Fair. Apparently a team of four girls has 60 seconds to capture a hog in a mud pit and put it in a barrel.

The article followed the exploits of four 12-year-olds who competed under the team name "Pork Dorks." They managed to get their pig into the barrel in 58 seconds, just under the deadline. 21 other teams participated, but I could find no account of the winning time or of how many teams managed to beat the clock. There was also no evidence of any protests about this event, which certainly has the potential to be stressful and harmful to the pig.

Scanning the web there appear to have been a number of greased pig chases at 4th of July events. More about some of those (and animal activists' efforts to end these entertainments) later...

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Monday, July 09, 2007

A Disgusting Pig-Related Traffic Tie-Up

While looking at the past week or so of pig news (via a Google News search) I found several media accounts of a traffic accident in Chicago on July 1st that shut down the Edens Expressway for seven hours. According to the AP (here via Forbes), Hassan Ware was driving too fast for conditions, flipping his truck and spilling pig ears, pig feet and grease all over the roadway. This greasy mess was hard to clean up--the transportation workers used sand, foam, and rock salt to make the road safe for travel. Yuck.

Today's image of live hogs being transported (not parts, thankfully) comes from Alison V. Smith of the Dallas Morning News.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Old Woman and Her Pig

The Old Woman and Her Pig was a popular story for children, albeit one that is largely forgotten today. The story itself is a cumulative one, in which the woman tries to get her recalcitrant pig to go over the stile (see image above) so she can get home. She tries to get a dog to bite the pig, but it won't, so she tries to get a stick to hit the dog, but it won't, so she asks fire to burn the stick, but... (you get the picture). There are several different versions of this tale on-line, perhaps the easiest to read is a 1902 version here. The version from Joseph Jacobs' English Fairy Tales can be found here.

I was a bit surprised to find that there are still several re-workings of this story in print. Perhaps the most recent is a 2007 version by Margaret Read McDonald and John Kanzler, although the reviewer for School Library Journal notes that they "cut out some of the action of the original and watered down the story so that the tale seems rather pointless." I guess the violence of the original (including the hope that the rope will hang the butcher that won't slaughter the ox) just doesn't fly today. My favorite edition, one well worth tracking down, is Paul Gladone's 1961 version of the story. I'm grateful that we have such a great children's literature section at Long Beach State.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Another Pig Tattoo

Matt at the Deglazed Blog (here) shares my interest in both pigs and The Simpsons and has charted the creation of his own tattoo that brings the two together. You can find his posting "Kitchen Inked" about his tattoo here. His posting includes the famous clip from "Lisa the Vegetarian" where Homer Simpson refuses to believe that bacon, ham, and pork chops come from the same animal. Here's a photo of Matt's tattoo. As Mr. Burns would say, excellent…

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Anecdotes of Tame and Wild Swine

This image comes from one of the many editions of William Darton's A Present for a Little Boy (an 1825 edition is available on-line here). In a section entitled "Anecdotes of Tame and Wild Swine" the story is told of a little girl at Wanscomb, in Kent, "who, in attempting to take away one of the young pigs, received from the sow so severe a bite, as to occasion the loss of her arm." The girl apparently fell into the sty (not visible in this dramatic engraving) and would have been killed were it not for the intervention of a neighbor. The lesson drawn from this tale: "pigs are swine and not all of a temper; nor are the same hogs equally kind at all times." I'll post more from various editions of this book, including the author's comments on the "learned pig," soon.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tokyo-X Pigs

The pigs to the left are no ordinary pigs, they are Tokyo-X pigs. I was first drawn to them by their excellent name, which refers to the fact that they are the first genuinely original hybrid developed in Japan. The first Tokyo-X pigs were born at the Tokyo Metropolitan Livestock Experiment Station in 1997. They are apparently a cross of the Berkshire, Beijing Black and Duroc breeds. You can find a history of this breed and a lively discussion of their meat at the English language site of the Ohtama Ham Company (here). There is also an excellent logo for Tokyo-X that I can't figure out how to add to this posting without messing up the layout. Sorry.


June 2007 Hogs & Pigs Report

Here's a link to the June 2007 USDA Hogs and Pigs Report. In brief, there were 62.8 million hogs and pigs in the U.S. on June 1st, up 2% from the prior year. 6.12 million head are considered breeding inventory; market hog inventory was 56.6 million head. Analysis and commentary on the report, including a few news media pieces, can be found via The Pig Site (here). The above graph, perhaps the least sexy image I've ever posted on this blog, shows the last nine years of data about the size of the American swine herd. Note both the seasonality and increasing productivity of the industry, of course.


Monday, July 02, 2007

Good Luck Pig Postcards

Although I've had trouble dating it with precision, it seems that the late 19th and early 20th century was marked by the vogue for "good luck pigs," especially at the new year. Here's one such card (you can typically find a handful on auction at E-bay at any given time) for the start of the new "rain year" here in Los Angeles. Hopefully we'll do better this year than in the last, when the city recorded just 3.21 inches of rain, the lowest total since records started being kept in the 1880s. It's hot and dry, something that doesn't bode well for all the fireworks planned for the 4th of July...

By the way, I'm glad to be back after a few trips out of town and moving, which took up most of June. I'll try to be a more regular porcine correspondent for the remainder of the summer. Thanks for your patience, dear readers...

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