Pigs Get Slaughtered

Back by popular demand, a gruesome tale of one poor hog’s fate. This DR Classique was originally broadcast on 21 January 2002.

"It’s the fat pig that feels the butcher’s knife." – Old Chinese saying

Pigs have little brains. But then, what good would a bigger one do?

Mr. Deshais had sawed through the pig’s skull. The brain cavity opened like the halves of a walnut, revealing an organ not much larger than a potato.

"When I was a boy," he recalled, handing me the slimy glop, "the kids always got to eat the brain. Tell Madame Bonner to cook it with a little olive oil and onions. It is delicious, probably the best part."

By then it was late in the day. We had worked all afternoon, butchering one of the pigs – a large, white female. The grim work was done. Now, Mr. Deshais and Patrice, a farmer from the village, reminisced as Henry turned the crank on the meat grinder.

"A few years ago, all the farmers raised pigs. This time of year, you’d see hogs burning all over the place," recalled Patrice.

He was talking about the traditional way the hair is burned off. But maybe I should back up and explain the entire process to you. Who knows, if the economy enters a depression…we may all be raising hogs in our backyards. You can save this little memoir and refer to it at slaughtering time. Or, become a vegetarian.

Killing Pigs: Entering the Pigsty

Mr. Deshais had begun by entering the pigsty and choosing one of the 4 pigs we’d been raising for the last 6 months. He chose one of the smaller pigs – saving the better specimens for breeding.

Fixing a rope around the pig’s leg, he let it out into the farmyard and tied the rope to a doorpost. Mr. Deshais looked unhappy. "I don’t like killing my animals," he said.

"You don’t seem to mind killing the chickens," Patrice teased him. "Besides, it’s worse for the pig." "That’s different. Chickens don’t have any feelings," Mr. Deshais replied. Then, he petted the hog gently, with his right hand. His left hand held a sledge hammer.

The pig seemed to know something was up. She would not be calmed. Instead, she squealed and fought against the rope.

My son Edward, 8, had come to help. He had been full of boyish eagerness when we set off for the farmyard. He entered the pigsty and wanted to help Mr. Deshais with the rope and got in the way. But now, he dropped back…almost hiding behind the tractor.

Mr. Deshais raised the hammer and brought it down solidly on the pig’s head. The animal squealed as though it were being killed. But it had not been knocked out. It took another blow…and then another…before the pig finally fell. By then, the pig’s squeals had alarmed everyone. Even the cows, grazing in the nearby field came over to the gate to see what was the matter.

Killing Pigs: Cutting the Throat

Once on the ground, Mr. Deshais took a knife and forced it into the throat. The idea was to puncture the aorta of the heart. He cursed himself for having driven the knife in too high up the neck. But it found its mark anyway – blood, bright red blood, spurted out.

"Get the pan," shouted Patrice. "Don’t waste the blood." A skillet was held under the neck to collect the blood, used for making blood sausage.

But the hog was not dead. It revived, even as its blood gushed out. Some of the blood missed the pan, as the pig thrashed about on the ground. Patrice seemed to regret every drop.

Finally, the blood flow dropped off to a trickle and the pig stopped breathing. Where only a few seconds ago, the big animal howled and squirmed, now the life force had gone out of it. Edward approached cautiously. The killing was over. All of sudden, it was quiet. The cows stood silently looking at us as though we were murderers. The hogs, still in the pigsty, said not a word.

Your editor wondered how men could kill one another. Killing a hog is hard enough.

But that is the way of the world; pigs are raised up just so they can be brought down. Who are we to argue with the scheme of things? If not for the desire to kill it prematurely, the pig would never see the light of day. Pigs die sooner than they hope, that is all. But maybe we all do.

Killing Pigs: A Good Life

In many ways, the pig had a good life. She rooted around in a field while the weather was good. When temperatures dropped in November, we moved her to a cozy stall. She never went hungry. She never had to read the editorial pages, listen to the radio, or attend a political convention. Never once did she go to the dentist nor ever file an income tax return. She had a good life.

We then tied the rope around both of the pig’s back legs and hoisted it up with the tractor. The corpse was taken back near the house. There, it was laid on a pile of straw and covered up as though it was to be given a Viking’s funeral.

The straw was lit and soon blazed up. After a few minutes, the pig was turned over and more straw added. The idea was to burn off the hair and sear the skin.

"This is the old-fashioned method," said Mr. Deshais. "They don’t do it this way in the slaughterhouses. They just dip the animal in scalding water to get the hair off. But this way is better, the skin has a better flavor."

By this time, the pig looked like the victim of a four- alarm blaze in a Baltimore rowhouse, blackened by fire and smoke. Mr. Deshais pulled off the smoking hooves and then we washed the body with hot water and scrapped the skin with bits of old terracotta roofing tiles. The rough tiles did the work of coarse sandpaper.

The hind legs of the corpse were then lashed to a wooden ladder, with the animal’s underside facing us. Mr. Deshais sliced the belly open, carefully cutting through the fat to the intestines. The trick is to remove the animal’s innards without puncturing them. The first step is to cut out the lower end of the intestinal track – which is now at the top – and tie a string around it.

Then, working downward, the internal organs are freed from the intestinal cavity…until they finally fall out. "What are you doing?" asked Henry, arriving at the scene of the crime. "Can I watch?" Henry’s latest career goal is medicine. He believes he might make his fortune as a surgeon. Thus, he watched the butchering with nascent professionalism.

"Just throw them all away," said Mr. Deshais of the animal’s plumbing. "In the old days, we would have used them. But they’re not worth fooling with." Of course, the liver, heart, and tongue and some other pieces I didn’t recognize were saved.

Killing Pigs: Sausage

After the insides were hollowed out, Mr. Deshais cut off the head and put it in a bucket. "We’ll use that for the sausage," he explained. He had already bought some sheep’s intestines to be used to make them.

Then, he cut through the entire body from top to body – down the middle. The result was two sides – on which the cuts of meat were fairly obvious.

But inside the chest cavity was a thin layer of fat and meat.

"Oh…take this," said the gardener turned butcher, "this is the best cut of meat on the entire animal. Eat it tonight." He carefully sliced the fat off a thin piece of muscle, which we did eat at our evening meal. (He was right…it was delicious.)

Blood sausage is made by grinding the fatty meat from the pig’s head and neck, with onions and parsley…and then cooking it with the blood. Be sure to put a little vinegar in with the blood to prevent coagulation before the sausage is cooked. Once cooked, the "links" of sheep intestine are filled up with the "black sausage" mixture.

There are, of course, details to be mastered and recipes to exchange. Curing the hams, for example, is an art. In some places, men would sooner share their wives with other men than share their ham-curing recipe. And what to do with the remains of the head…and the miscellaneous other parts that rarely appear on a menu in the Anglo-Saxon world?

I don’t know, dear reader.

But you have the general idea. If a serious breakdown in the division of labor occurs, you will be ready for it.

Your correspondent…

Bill Bonner

December 16, 2003

Bill Bonner is the founder and editor of The Daily Reckoning. He is also the author, with Addison Wiggin, of the NY Times and international best-seller: "Financial Reckoning Day: Surviving The Soft Depression of The 21st Century" (John Wiley & Sons).

Is the world a safer place, now that Saddam Hussein is behind bars?

It is probably safer for Iraqis. Who knows? Only time will tell…and time tends to keep its secrets to itself, even under intense interrogation.

But the stool pigeons on Wall Street twittered all day long. At first, their song was a happy morning ditty…the one we expected – celebrating the liberation of Iraq from its last elected president. (More below…)

Then, as the day eroded, the melodies changed. Even the approach of Santa Claus and the arrest of the world’s most- wanted man could not keep the little twerps in a cheerful mood. The price of gold began to rise. Stocks began to fall. The dollar fell, too. By the end of the day…gold was more expensive than it was at the day’s beginning. Stocks were cheaper. And the dollar had hit a new all-time low against its main rival, the euro.

If it is a safer world, investors could not seem to see it.

A friend once asked people living in a Baltimore ghetto what kind of interest rate they would expect if they lent money. The answers always surprised him. For the lenders wanted 50% to 100% interest for a single year. People in bad neighborhoods know that life isn’t safe. (Statistically, a young black man in Baltimore or Washington is about as likely to get gunned down as a trooper in Baghdad over the last six months.) The borrower might not be around to pay up. Or he might not be able to pay, or forget that he owes you the money. Or he might just disappear.

The rare ghetto lender who is also a Daily Reckoning reader might add currency inflation or collapse of the dollar standard to his list of worries. Even if he gets his money back, it will almost certainly be worth less than he expects.

Only in safe, stable, rich societies – notably Switzerland and Japan – do asset values remain high and interest rates remain at low levels for long periods of time. Borrowers tend to live long enough to pay up…and the currencies tend to hold their values.

But today’s news brings word that now even Japan and Switzerland have joined the race to destroy their currencies. The latest figures show the money supply growing in both countries at rates even higher than in the U.S..

Also in the news analysis is the disturbing thought: that while a crackpot dictator was unlikely to disturb the world’s peace…there are plenty of people now in Iraq who might. And while Saddam once held them in check, now they are free to express themselves…armed with Saddam’s old weapons and a shiny new cause.

Investors might have also noticed that Saddam’s capture brings no relief to America’s debtors…no profits to America’s industries…nor any new jobs to its workers. It reduces the federal deficit by not a penny…nor does it cut the trade deficit by a single bill.

As the bright sun rose over Manhattan, investors must have come to see the world more clearly. It was not evolving towards the old Alps, they must have come to realize, but towards the South American pampas…or the African Savannah…or the corner of Charles Street and North Ave. in Baltimore…or anywhere that life is more uncertain…less stable…and less safe.

And now to Eric Fry with his insights for the day:


Eric Fry, writing from Wall Street…

– The "Hussein Rally" packed even less firepower than the deposed dictator’s fictional "weapons of mass destruction." Sunday morning brought word that U.S. forces had finally apprehended the elusive Saddam…and the impartial media wasted no time rooting for a rally on Wall Street.

– The lumpeninvestoriat drifted off to sleep Sunday night, knowing that the morrow would bring another star-spangled stock market rally. After all, the lumps must have been asking themselves, what could be more bullish for stocks and the dollar than capturing Saddam?…Almost anything, as it turns out, would have been more bullish.

– Catching Saddam did no more to boost the stock market than catching a cold. News of Hussein’s capture sparked a sharp rally in the U.S. dollar during Asian trading, along with a corresponding sell-off in gold. But the dollar rally fizzled even before the New York trading day began.

– The embattled buck had rallied all the way to $1.213 per euro in Asia. But the rally quickly reversed itself, as the dollar slumped to $1.231 per euro during the New York session – the ragged currency’s eighth new record low against the euro in nine trading sessions.

– Likewise, the stock market’s euphoria faded quickly, as the Dow’s early 98-point gain became a 19-point loss by the closing bell. The Nasdaq’s morning rally also crumbled, as the pricey high-tech index dropped 1.5% to 1,918. The gold price followed an opposite course, falling early in the day and rallying in the afternoon. The spot gold price fell to a low of $401.55 during Asian trading, before reversing course to finish the New York session nearly unchanged at $409.75.

– So score another point for the gang in the Daily Reckoning’s Paris office! Yesterday morning, they stared boldly into the face of a rallying stock market and fired off this prescient salv "Stocks, bonds and the dollar might rise nicely on the news of Saddam’s capture. ‘Sell!’ is our advice. Saddam’s regime may have posed no threat to U.S. security, but his capture could well be one of those decisive irrelevancies that mark the end of a trend…Unless Saddam can find a bucket of anthrax somewhere…there is not likely to be much more good news out of Iraq, Washington, or anywhere else. No more tax cuts. No more spending increases. No more rate cuts." – It’s true, like the proverbial girl-who-has-everything, U.S. investors seem to lack nothing at all. What surprising gift could the fates possibly bestow to a lumpeninvestoriat that already possesses 8.2% GDP growth, a booming housing market, a rallying stock market, military and monetary hegemony and an unlimited line of credit with the rest of the world?

– Maybe the fates have a different sort of surprise in mind – the sort of surprise that causes the lumps to scream for mercy, rather than squeal with delight. Maybe the dollar will fall below the levels that Greenspan, Bernanke and Bush deem to be bullish for the U.S. economy…and maybe it will continue falling until it hits levels that foreign investors deem to be frighteningly bearish.

– Or maybe the bear market in stocks will resume at an inconvenient time for the millions of investors who are buying overpriced stocks today in the hopes of recouping the money they lost buying overpriced stocks in 1999. On the other hand, maybe the U.S. economy and its beloved stock market will continue swaying gently to and fro, like young lovers on a porch swing.

– "We have been watching the stock market rise…and the dollar fall…for the last few months. It all seemed so gentle, so sweet," your Paris editors remarked yesterday. "As if breaking records in new debt, in federal deficits, in trade imbalances and bankruptcies made no difference whatsoever. Somehow, it would all turn out all right, like a romantic comedy with a happy ending…This pleasant delirium…the intoxicating jig of democracy- building…rising stocks…increasing debt…and a gently falling dollar…will have to end sometime. Why not now?"

– Your New York editor’s friend, Jay Shartsis, a professional options trader with R.F. Lafferty in New York, says, "The Dow’s new high last week wasn’t confirmed by the broad market, creating a sell signal. Last week’s new Dow high was not confirmed by the Transports or Utilities. Probably more important, none of the Nasdaq, Russell 2000 or Wilshire 5000 confirmed it either – all much broader measures than the Dow." – Shartsis also frets that several investor sentiment surveys are indicating near-record extremes of bullish sentiment. Bulls tend to multiply like bunnies shortly before major stock market corrections. Net-net, the stock market’s technical health "looks ominous," says the long- time option trader.

– To recap: the former Iraqi tyrant is now a jailbird, but that provides no protection whatsoever against the tyranny of owning overpriced stocks.


Bill Bonner, back in Paris…

*** America’s money supply – M3 – is actually falling. It dropped 0.3% in November. Cause: unclear. Effect: unknown. Importance: unsure. Significance: ominous.

*** The median house price in San Diego County has been rising at an 18% annual rate and has now reached $450,000. Alas, this is a lot more than the median would-be homebuyer can afford. At this rate, reports the San Diego paper, only 15% of the county’s residents can buy the median house.

What do you get for $450,000? How about this: a dumpy little house two blocks from the beach – with 598 sq. feet of living space – advertised at $445,000.

Hmmm….about the same per-square-foot as central Paris…

*** The International Herald Tribune provided a helpful series of photos describing Saddam Hussein’s career. We were surprised by one of the captions: "Saddam Hussein after his 1997 reelection."

Reelection? Wait a minute; we thought he was a dictator! Is he an elected dictator? What’s that? We thought the whole point of the war – after the WMD and Al Qaeda connections went missing – was to build a democracy in the desert? Was it a democracy already?

Any discussion of politics is fraught with error and confusion from the get-go. The defining feature of a democracy is that people get to cast a ballot. If they want to elect a dictator, well…that’s up to them.

All democracies are frauds, but some are more fraudulent than others. In October of 2002, Saddam Hussein held a referendum on his leadership after already having served his nation for two decades. He got 100% of the votes. He was, of course, the only candidate. Even more remarkable, not a single eligible voter failed to do his civic duty – every one of them turn out to vote…and everyone voted to let Saddam Hussein reign for another 7 years.

The central humbug of democracy is that voting makes acceptable things that would otherwise be deplorable: stealing, killing, and bossing people around. Voters believe that a majority gives them the right to tell others what to do. That is why the rich pay higher tax rates than the poor; there are fewer of them. Then, the politicians turn the robbery into a virtue…claiming they act in the name of ‘fairness.’

But the language of politics is full of chicanery. George Bush is a ‘conservative,’ remember.

*** We met frequent DR contributor, Byron King, in Baltimore last week, for the first time. He is just the sort of man we like – a jolly skeptic.

Byron offers more thoughts on the shifty sands of contemporary politics:

"G.W. Bush campaigned as a candidate of down-home West Texas values like thrift and hard work, featuring conservatism with a prominent sense of Christian compassion. W campaigned as the candidate of limited- government, a more restrained and even ‘humble’ foreign policy, and as the one who better understood the key elements of national economic growth. I believed him then, during the campaign, and I believe that he believed himself at that time.

"But three years into office, it seems to this observer that W has morphed into Woodrow Bush on foreign policy and Franklin Delano Bush on domestic policy. (Maybe not FDR entirely. He has not caved-in on at least one important point. We can still own gold for the moment.) And with steel tariffs and recent impediments to trade with China, as well as W’s willing complicity with the FED as it destroys the underlying value of the national currency, there is a whiff of Herbert Hoover Bush in the air.

"Whence the change?"

*** News reached us yesterday that our book has reached No. 1 on the NY Times business best-seller list. "Financial Reckoning Day" knocked Paul Krugman’s "The Great Unraveling" off the top spot.

According to the NY Times, where Krugman works as a columnist, his tome is "mainly about economic disappointment, bad leadership and the lies of the powerful." Whereas our own book, "Financial Reckoning Day," is mainly about stupidity – stupid economists, stupid leaders, and stupid investors. The New York Times write-up says it reveals "How to protect investments in a deflationary depression economy due to an aging population and a swing back from the recent financial booms"…

…which sort of gives the game away, doesn’t it? Buy gold, dear reader. Sell the dollar.