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Roll Out the Barrels

by Dear Jon
July 12, 2002

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Sort 155_Dear Jon-Roll Out the Barrels ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

What is so "fun" about a barrel full of monkeys? When people say, "We'll have more fun than a barrel full of monkeys," it doesn't seem like they're aiming too high. Am I missing something?

Missing the Fun

Dear Miss,

Two related thoughts come to mind. The first is that the lyrics to “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting”* by Bernie Taupin and Elton John includes the line “My old man is drunker than a barrel full of monkeys and my old lady she don’t care...” The second is a game that my little brother received as a Christmas present from, I think, friends in the family. The idea was to hook red plastic monkeys together in a chain. Whoever got the longest chain before it broke apart would win. The plastic monkeys came in a plastic barrel.

I have no idea where the concept comes from and I don’t have time to look it up. My guess is this: Some time in the 19th Century, traveling circuses would place monkeys into barrels, and crowds would be entertained by the pitch and roll of the barrel. It is approximately as entertaining as when eight year-olds place the pet cat inside a brown paper bag. I do not know why this is not done anymore, if it ever was done, that is, to monkeys in barrels. Cats in paper bags happens all the time. Perhaps putting monkeys in barrels was discontinued at approximately the same time that zoos began to landscape natural terrain for its animals, rather than leaving them inside cages of concrete and metal bars. Perhaps the public as a whole lost its taste for senseless cruelty to animals. Or perhaps the government had to get involved.

We have come a long way since then. Consider: Two hundred years ago, it was an “issue” whether parents could send their seven year-old kids to work in mines and factories for 14 hours a day. It was an “issue” whether American farmers could traffic in human flesh the same as cattle. Those things are unthinkable, but the road to making it unthinkable lay through regulation and enforcement through government reform; first in England, to our disgrace, and then here in America. The politics are the same as in any issue that presents itself today: People with vested interest in the profits of their exploitation lobby against doing the right thing for humanity.

There are some voices that are surfacing that claim that government should deregulate commerce and the workplace. I can understand that appeal. Between taxes and codes, billions of dollars are being wasted in compliance issues that could be going toward product improvement and development. However, people have not demonstrated the propensity to do the right thing for people or for animals except by the constraint of law. This is very sad.

The problem is, because people need laws, some people believe that we need laws for everything. This is why they call for boycotts of companies who do business internationally. Apparently, these crusaders of human “rights” find no distinction between an eight year-old in a Welsh coal-mine 100 hours a week, and an eight year-old helping grandmother stitch Nike logos in their own living room in Thailand. I propose that there is a distinction, and that the distinction is huge, if we would only allow for common sense to enter the picture.

Because laws are made all over the place, there are now groups who think that, basically, monkeys should be given the right to vote. Animal rights advocates are blurring the distinctions between the proper treatment of animals, and the rights and dignities of human beings. A monkey learns a gesture that earns him a peanut, and the next thing you know people are claiming that monkeys can use sign language and are therefore entitled to the same legal protections as human beings. If you don’t believe that people are saying this, go ahead and look it up yourself.

A dog can fetch a newspaper. Does that mean that a dog, or a monkey, or a dolphin, can discuss its contents? A parrot might, if you repeat the same headline about a hundred times.

Local and federal ordinances punish people who kill dangerous and threatening critters who have wandered on to their property. People chain themselves to trees and are treated like heroes, while others are imprisoned on racketeering charges for chaining themselves in an effort to prevent infanticide. Americans are facing a crisis to liberty, free speech and common sense; the crisis is the temptation to allow the narrow limits permitted by Public Outrage to trump the Bill of Rights.

But that does not mean that people should go around trapping monkeys in barrels for their entertainment. A cat in a paper grocery bag, now that’s another issue entirely. Somebody is going to pass a law against that sometime, if they have not already, so get in on as much fun as possible while you still can. Just, please, don’t use plastic.

*On the album “Good-bye Yellow Brick Road” MCA Records, 1973.

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