Chicken Little is a humorous, fictional character, spreading the bad news that the sky is falling. Too bad history is so littered with equally hysterical warnings from professionals and pundits—predictions that never seem to come true. So, today, the upheavals in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere spawn warnings that Islamic terrorists will soon take over the world because our strong-armed allies have lost their grip.
I had a touch of hysteria some time ago when I noticed the emergence of golf-ball sized lumps on the necks of a few of my sheep. After a few inquiries among more experienced sheep keepers, I identified the culprit as CL, or Caseous Lyphadenitis, and then Googled it to find out what action I should take. What I found sickened me, since it seems this infection is super contagious. It erupts in puss-filled abscesses that usually appear on the sheep’s necks because that is where they rub themselves on feeders and fence posts to relieve itches. Once the infection enters the body through this contact, the abscesses can appear even inside the animal where they can sicken and even kill.
What upset me most was that most web sites advised that CL was so virulent, and the bacteria lived in the soil so long, that I should cull every affected animal. At the time I was seeing a new abscess every few days, so I just knew the sky was falling and I would have to quit the sheep business altogether.
Then I spoke with an old-time Scottish shepherd who calmed me down. “The disease is far worse on goats than on sheep,” he said. “Lance the abscesses when you find them and wash them with iodine. Your flock will naturally develop its own immunity, and even if it doesn’t, there is an effective new vaccine.”
And that’s how things worked out. Now my flock has tripled in size and I treat no more than one or two sheep with abscesses in any given year—no big deal.
I’m old enough to remember how this old world has lived through many crises that were supposed to have brought history to a screeching halt. I heard many people warn that if we didn’t nuke China during the Korean conflict, or bomb North Vietnam back into the stone age or ship Black demonstrators back to Africa, Western civilization would surely collapse. Instead, China underwrites our way of life, we happily trade with and vacation in Vietnam, and we have learned to enjoy the richness of a racially diverse society. It seems it is better not to panic, and to deal with problems in a measured way and not with the “nuclear option.” And life’s big problems usually don’t get solved anyway—we simply outlive their importance.
I’m sure we will find that the dignity, courage and intelligence of the people who live in the Middle East will be far better guarantors of stability in the region than the strong-armed dictators we have tended to rely upon. If some of those dictators fall in coming months, the sky will very likely not fall.
This article appeared in the Daily Chronicle on February 11, 2011. Page A2