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Friday, August 29, 2008


I am certain that some will think this story is much a moo about nothing, but I think it behooves us all to consider the implications of what at first blush seems like a simply grazy observation. Zoologists Sabine Begall and Hynek Burda of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany have made the startling discovery that two out of every three cows standing in fields all over the earth have steered themselves along North-South magnetic lines, like big oversized leather covered compass needles. We don’t know for certain yet if they are headed for the North Star or aiming with their dairy-air, but we now know that those of us with frontal mental lobes, single chambered stomachs and just two teats apiece have been missing the meat of this story. The word “cow” derives from the Latin word ”caput”, meaning the head, which is the ancient way of counting cows, as in “Me and Tex are driving five hundred head to Abilene”. Clearly it was the head of the living cow that Gandi was thinking of when he wrote, “The cow is a poem of pity…She is the second mother to millions of mankind.” She is also, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the source of 18% of the world’s methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. And almost one third of the world’s oversupply of cow burps (the primary source of methane) comes from India’s 280 million sacred cows. They belch so much because they re-chew their cuds, regurgitating and re-digesting the cellulose over and over again. The first secret of cows is that every cow is bull-imic.The life of the average Daisy or Bessie The Cow has been described as comparable to a potato on sedatives. But complexity was always just beneath the hide. The American Humane Society has taken note that if one herd member is shocked by an electric fence, the entire herd avoids the wire. English bull artists have noted that cows moo in local dialects and inflections. And it has long been common knowledge that ungulates form their own bovine breakfast clubs. Three or four females establish lifelong bonds, a cow herd within the herd, or a “curd” if you will. Daisy enjoys a rich emotional life, nurturing animosities against each other, developing friendships and even mulling over the bovine equivalent of the Stephen Sondheim conundrum, “Is that all there is?"This shared arrogance of our two species matches the obsession of Bessie with a subject familiar to many obsessive humans; sex. Eric Idle has described cows as the “…librarians of the animal world; mild by day, wild by night." And John Webster, a professor of animal husbandry at Bristol University in England, describes cows as “gay nymphomaniacs”. The “curds” constantly cowlick one another. And a single Bessie in “heat” can set off a Daisy chain of cow girls “mounting” herd mates in riot of bovine dominatrix behavior. Unseen by inattentive humans, a pasture of grazing Gurneys is in reality a seething mass of bored libidos on steroids. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “pasteurization”.Few have ever denied that individually cows process a certain personal magnetism. Their sheer bulk demands respect, if not religious devotion. These are not cuddly creatures. The one point three billion cows alive at this moment are ponderous moovers and shakers, and udderly unimpressed with humanities’ crème-de-la-crème, logic. Every dairyman has herd that cattle tend to face uphill, into strong winds or turn their flank steak to the sunny side on a cold morning; and that all seems plausible. But the idea that these cow hides might be sharing some kind of mystical, new-age ferris sensitivity seemed until recently to be an oxymoron. But scientists seeking out the magnetic orientation of hills created by the European ground mole (Talpa europaea), stumbled over the realization that perhaps larger mammals might also be influenced by something other than human magnetism.German researchers examined Google Earth photographs taken at the same local time of day, observing some 8,510 individual cows in 308 separate herds on five different continents, at essentially the same moment. And the humans stumbled upon this udderly amazing fact; cows got magnetism. Generally, at any given moment 70 % of the cows in any herd are standing about five degrees off of true North-South orientation. In Oregon State, closer to the North Pole, the deviation of cows is all of 17.5 degrees. In the southern hemisphere (Africa and South America) the alignment was slightly more north-eastern, south-western. Still, adjusted for latitude, 70% of all cows point toward the magnetic pole, and this is much too large a percentage to be a mere homogenized coincidence. The next question is, of course, why have cows got magnetism? Cows are not migratory, but they once may have been. Cows share a common ancestor with whales, the “Pakictids”, which 53 million years ago had a whale’s ear and a cow’s teeth in a really ugly little dog’s body, sort of a Mexican hairless with hair. Could this ancient mongrel have been the source of the current magnetic deju moo? It could.So it might seem, upon rumination, that we owe the cows an apology, that to err might be human but to forgive could be bovine. But stop the stampede for animal rights. My guess is we could be apologizing to Daisy and Bessie “auf die Ewigkeit warten”, as they say in Germany, and it would make no difference because Daisy and Bessie are not particularly interested in our moo-tivations, because cows are just as conceited as we humans are. And in the final rendering the squeaky veal always gets the oil. Holy, cow!P.S. Photographs of adventure cows are from “The Secret Life of Cows” by Glen Wexler.
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Monday, August 25, 2008


I do not have Big Foot in my freezer, nor do I have “The Best Political Team on Television” on my television. I never thought I did, and I don’t care how many times Wolf Blitzer tells me that I do. I know I don’t. But I also know I am growing weary of watching Blitzer being reduced to his own punch line just for a paycheck. Frankly, not only is he not “the most trusted name in news”, he is not even the most trusted name in commercial lead-ins, anymore.What I do have is an increasingly low tolerance for stupidity, which makes me less and less willing to be entertained by fools, even ones claiming to have collected a dead Big Foot in their freezer. I even confessed to my wife last night that for years I have found “COPS” to be dull and predictable and I don’t want to watch it anymore. I have given up all hope that one night a COPS contestant will pull yet another package of meth or crack out of a suspect’s front pocket, hear the same old tired “It’s not mine” excuse once to often, and just snap. I don’t want the cop to shoot the addict. That would be too “Hollywood”. Instead, I had hoped to see the officer lock the idiot addict in the back of his patrol car, call for a taxi cab and just go home. And never go into a police station again as long as he lives. We could call it “Ex-Cops”. It is not a hunger for justice that burns in my heart anymore, but a simple desire for novelty. Honesty on television would be something new. This is a very dangerous feeling to have as the political conventions approach.I feel the same way about “American Idol”, “Survivor”, “The Nanny” and every hackneyed “reality” show on cable: except, of course, for “Dirty Jobs”. I could watch Mike Rowe read the phone book, as long as he had never read it before. But I do worry that my dissatisfaction with the current state of American culture could be a portent of doom. Except I have even lost faith in doomsday.The Mayan Calendar predicts that the world will end in the year 2012. In fact the Mayans world ended about the year 1100. If they were smart enough to have created a calendar that recorded the end of the world a thousand years after their culture had already been reduced to hot chocolate and chewed cocaine leaves, how come they overlooked the importance of 1492, when a bunch of unwashed Euro-trash showed up on their doorstep with bang sticks and no concept of public property? The Mayan super priests missed that little Armageddon, but they are still on track for a 2012 prediction? It just sounds like something else Wolf Blitzer will be droning on about as the date approaches. “Is the world scheduled to end in the year of 2012? We will hear from the experts on both sides of the issue, right after the break”. I am forced to remind Wolf that there are no “sides” to insanity. It is not an arguable position. It is not a defensible position. It is a medical condition.According to the Washington Post and the New York Daily Tribune, on May 18, 1910, sixteen year old Jane Warfield of Aline, Oklahoma came within a seconds of being sacrificed by a group calling themselves The Select Followers, to appease Haley’s Comet, which was about the end the world but for the spilled blood of a virgin Okie. According to the Cherokee Republican of May 27, 1910, the group’s leader, Henry Heinman, told the Select Followers that “…the world would end on the 18th day of May, and the comet now in the sky would sweep with pestilential gases across the earth eliminating all animal life…He gave out that he had received a revelation that he was to sacrifice the girl and thus avert world calamity. Sheriff Hughes has placed the girl in the hands of safe parties and Heinman will be held to await action by investigating officers.”The story turns out to have been a fraud, a concoction of a newspaper editor named Ed Marchant. According to research brought together by historian Guy W. Moore, on the web site “The Virgin and the Comet”, there is no listing for a “Henry Heinman” nor a “Jane Warfield” in the 1910 Oklahoma census. And in 1910 the sheriff for Major County, where Aline, Oklahoma is located, was Lewis Burwell, not the mythical Sheriff Hughes. In other words, the tale was a joke the folks in Oklahoma could enjoy at the expense of the rubes in New York and Washington D.C. In the same way people in Southwest Washington State who have known Bob Heironimus all of his life and instantly recognized his distinctive arm swinging lope in the famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin “Bigfoot film”. (That's Bob in the monkey suit.)But there is a difference between a tale of a virgin sacrificed on the plains of Oklahoma and a gorilla suit covered in pig’s entrails stuffed into in a freezer, or a bill of sale for Nigerian Yellow Cake uranium ore. One is a story told for the sheer joy of the story telling; it is told to illustrate a larger truth. That is what is called fiction. The other is a story invented out of greed - greed for money or greed for power. It tells no truth except the truth about those who tell it. That is what is called a fraud.And, upon reflection, what I really hunger for is not novelty, but truth; honesty in advertising, candor in news gathering, sincerity in politics and just a little authenticity in the lies we tell each other to get through the day, like you are the best team on politics.

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