Monthly Archives: December 2011

Animals Gone Wild!

When I recently tired of watching Christmas fare on TV, I clicked through the channels until the choice came down to news or To Catch a Predator re-runs. At a house in Stockton, NBC’s Chris Hansen had cornered a predator who’d driven 300 miles in the past two hours to see a 16-year-old girl he’d met online. She’d written that she liked drinking tequila, smoking weed and fantasizing Ron Paul naked. The scruffy suspect wore red shorts and a T shirt imprinted with a photo of Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Chris Hansen emerged from a back room just as the suspect was down on all fours trying to escape out the front door by barking and pretending to be a Doberman.  Hansen introduced himself, asked the suspect why he was there and offered a Milkbone. Hansen then produced a suspicious heavy plastic bag confiscated from the man that contained Crayola crayons, a box of prunes and the biography of Steve Jobs. When Hansen said, “You’re free to go,” the suspect tried to commit suicide by swallowing a Gideon Bible.

I flipped on CNN just as the predator insisted he didn’t intend to have sex with an underage girl but wanted a relationship with Chris Hansen. Fortunately, the news on CNN contained no sexual  content, just footage of stampeding people ripping doors off hinges, breaking glass and scrambling across other prostrate bloodied people. Apparently it was members of Congress leaving for their winter break.

People can sure act like animals. Recently in Hoquiam, Washington a man named Jobie Watkins burst into an apartment of his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.  Watkins was carrying an animal carcass. The ex-boyfriend asked Watkins “Why are you carrying a weasel?”  Watkins, who was wearing a baseball cap with the name “Dianne Feinstein” on it, retorted “It’s not a weasel, it’s a marten.” Watkins then threw the carcass at the ex-boyfriend’s face and fled.

Both men were factually wrong:  A jury later acquitted Watkins of breaking into a home and throwing a dead mink at another man.  The dead mink was convicted of battery.

Authorities don’t know why Watkins carried the carcass of a dead mink he apparently found along the road.  The same is true for a blonde woman in Burlington, Vermont, who seized a dead raccoon on the road, and in a fit of pique, walked to City Hall and slammed the raccoon against the doors. She left the raccoon weapon on the ground although it eventually disappeared. Police finally identified the woman and charged her with disorderly conduct. The raccoon was charged with hit and run.

I wondered how Gary Bogue would’ve handled these situations involving animal weapons. Bogue is the local animal expert who writes a column on pets, wildlife and environmental issues.   People are always writing him about their sightings, claiming they spotted a great blue heron or a wild pig or a baby tyrannosaurus, and Bogue reports this as fact in his column along with typical stories like a local Beaver Festival or escaped parakeets passing themselves off as brussels sprouts.  [Editor’s note: The word Bogue is Scottish for “carnivore.”]

Bogue should know the difference between a mink, ferret, marten and lewis.  Although minks don’t live in my neighborhood, apparently their weasel cousins do. He claims the long-tailed weasels feed on mice—-“rushing at them and killing them with one bite to the head”—- but considering my garage operates as an extended stay hotel for mice, I trust the weasels aren’t doing their job.

I don’t know why small forest animals have resurrected themselves as weapons. At least our former pets have the decency to stay dead. When we put down our 12 year old standard poodle Nigel last fall, his remains stayed in the sealed little cedar box our vet provided. Once the box was positioned in the kitchen on the cookbook shelf, next to “The Dianne Feinstein Cooking for 1,000 Cookbook,” a family member questioned how one would know that the ashes contained within were Nigel’s, rather than another animal’s cremated at the same time, like a cockatoo.

A friend has an even bigger miniature coffin of dog ashes and has also wondered if it’s her dog inside. The coffin is in her family room on a shelf with photographs and serves as a bookend.

I’ve told her the dogs (or whatever is inside) are better off than if we’d buried them outside in the yard, as we did another dog, four canaries, two lovebirds, one parakeets and two designer rats, where they were technically at the mercy of predators.

Sort of like Chris Hansen.

Sitting Ducks

Is nothing sacred? I refer now to a display I saw this pre-Christmas season of a standard nativity scene. Except that Mary, Joseph, three wise men, an angel, lamb, cow, donkey, camel, and baby Jesus were rubber duckies. Each measured 2” by 2” with a tiny hole in the beak so they could squirt water. Surprisingly, they do not float.

It’s hard enough for most people to enter a sanctuary and get into the spiritual spirit without visually picturing baby Jesus and the rest of the rubber duckie New Testament figures being sunk by an eager clueless child, who forcibly drowns them in the bathtub. This is clearly not what baptism is all about.

It’s also an example of the continuous contempt that occurs whenever a duck is involved.

The history of duck abuse goes back centuries. We have only to look at the tragic lives of historical ducks like the Ugly Duckling, Ping, and Jemima Puddle-Duck to realize ducks never had a chance. In modern times Disney added to the offensive stereotype of ducks when he created Donald Duck with his explosive temper, acute lisp, excess saliva and semi-intelligible speech. Looney Tunes offered Daffy Duck with his slobbery lisping voice, a black fowl who was by turns greedy, selfish, vain, jealous and malicious, though otherwise a nice guy.

Chinese restaurants, the destination for people who enjoy inconsistent food, often specialize in duck. Before Chinese restaurants became popular thanks to members of the Jewish community looking for clandestine places to sneak non-kosher food, no one had seen a duck on an American menu. Now duck can appear at American Christmas dinners, such as the one I’m planning to attend in honor of Chanukah since one of Chanukah’s eight days falls on Christmas, the Festival of Lights.

Reflecting on man’s continued mistreatment of ducks, I’m loathed to eat duck for dinner on Christmas day. My personal resentment is based on my once owning a pet duckling, and because at Chanukah we should eat only greasy fried food like potato pancakes and doughnuts to remind us of the miracle of low cholesterol readings.

Once duck became acceptable on a menu, duck hunters felt vindicated. Not long ago we read about Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia and his buddy Dick Cheney out duck hunting, just three weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to review the Vice President’s appeal in several lawsuits. Faced with public criticism of his duck hunting, Scalia responded, “But I don’t just do duck hunting. I do hunting and fishing. I also enjoy setting leghold traps for cute furry animals.”

(In a related news story, a man duck hunting with his dog, climbed out of his boat to move decoys, leaving his shotgun and dog behind. The dog ended up stepping on the shotgun. The hunter was blasted with 27 pellets of birdshot in the rear. The dog and a duck were being sought for questioning.)

Scalia cannot be entirely faulted for his defense of killing little animals since he attended Yale University, with its respected Department of Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Petting Zoos. Yale, the home of other jurisprudence greats like Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Farnum Shitzu, has always required its students to study animal habitats, forestry, and sexuality in cheeses.

Yale, in fact, has recently racked up even more impressive scientific credits in its study of duck sex.  The lead author of a paper and postdoctoral researcher, Patricia Brennan, has used high-speed video to document a male duck’s anatomy during duck mating.  Her conclusion, worthy of a Nobel Prize for Biology nomination, is that the duck’s penis may vary in length from year to year—wasting away after each mating season, then regrowing. Even better for the drakes, their duckhood will regrow longer if other males are around. This is the kind of discovery that is critical to the scientific education of our young, particularly those in junior high and those who are homeschooled until their mid-20s.

It’s bad enough ducks get shot by hunters and eaten. In recent years parents of small children and children of small parents have been admonished not to feed breadcrumbs to ducks in the park because of alleged overpopulation, disease, death and worse. But in truth the elimination of a fundamental American right—feeding breadcrumbs to ducks in the park—will turn ducks into emaciated, malnourished creatures, soon to be found waddling our streets, looking for handouts, homeless. Possibly occupying the front of bank buildings.

And so it goes, this heartless denunciation or disregard for ducks. Recently even a Presidential candidate slandered the American duck. At the last Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney forcefully declared, “….when it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, typically it’s a duck.”

Leave it to a politician to slam another Animal-American. While it’s true ducks aren’t the most intelligent fowl, and they’re a rapacious bunch, the males jumping on females at every opportunity (“Mommy, why are they doing that? Are they playing?”), ducks have positively enriched our lives, especially when served a l’Orange.

Hollywood Don’t Have a Cow, Man

After all the atrocious films currently occupying our neighborhood cinemas, you’d think I’d be euphoric that Steven Spielberg has directed Warhorse, a World War I picture about (spoiler alert) a talking horse who goes AWOL and ends up teaching animal husbandry classes at UC Davis. I may have my horse films mixed up, considering all the horse films—National Velvet, Seabiscuit, Secretariat, Smoky, The Black Stallion, The Horse Whisperer—more than 50 in all, according to Encyclopedia Britannica or possibly 415,000, according to Wikipedia.

Whatever the number, I am not pleased that once again Hollywood has ignored an animal that has given so much to mankind. I’m not talking about other animals who’ve starred in innumerable movies—snakes, lizards, tarantulas, ants, apes, fish, bears, dogs, deer, lions, mice, cockatoos. Even mules have starred in films (Francis the Talking Mule, Francis Joins the Navy, Francis Runs for Congress).

The animal most neglected by studios is the cow.

The only movie I recall that featured a cow or steer in a leading role was the 1991 film, City Slickers, about forbidden love on cattle drives, in this case between Billy Crystal ( the dude) and Jack Palance ( a heifer). A motherless calf named Norman stole the show, bonding to Crystal’s character, moving into Crystal’s home and ultimately, in the film’s heart-warming end, made into prime rib.

What is it about cows that discourage Hollywood from seeking more scripts with a cow in the lead? Consider that California, the movie capitol, is also is America’s number one milk producing state.  The state of Wisconsin has pitifully proclaimed itself “The Dairy State” in its futile attempt to snatch the title. They even selected a Cow of the Year, a red and white Holstein, chosen for its milk production (52,000 pounds in one year), outstanding showing performance, and best resemblance to Governor Scott Walker.

In one way or another most of us have had a cow in our lives. My earliest cow experience was a field trip our kindergarten class took to Alpenrose Dairy in my Portland, Oregon hometown. In a fragrant barn I watched cows being milked by hand, which seemed morally wrong. The later invention of the milking machine was even more depraved. At a minimum each cow should’ve been provided with a hospital gown.

A few years later I heard the hushed-up story of a UFO that landed in a field at a farm, causing suspended motion in the cows, who neither moved, mooed or expelled methane. The farmer and his wife, watching from the safety of their kitchen window, looked on in horror. When they reported their observations to the U.S. Air Force, they were advised soberly that either a weather balloon had landed in the field, causing mass bovine hysteria, or cows were panicked by a layer of swamp gas festooned with colorful lights that was able to make 90 degree turns and accelerate to 57,000 mph.

As I got older, cows always got a bad rap. In school we learned about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow who kicked over a kerosene lamp that started the Chicago fire, a myth that unfortunately wasn’t discovered until thousands of cattle were falsely imprisoned for playing with matches and committing arson.  In college art classes I discovered the artist Chagall always painted colorful cows flying around or carrying a parasol to protect them from cows flying above them. The flying cow symbolism, long debated by art historians and doctoral students, was finally explained in 1965 by Chagall in a rare interview as both his embrace of life and the fulfillment of a contract he had with Borden’s Dairy.

In recent years cows have suffered another indignity—replaced by artificial hand painted cows made of fiberglass that appear in parades, parks, lawns, business centers, state fairs— even Walt Disney World. In Pleasanton, California, a 690-pound Scottish-designed fiberglass milking cow rode in the town’s holiday parade after being detained by Customs agents in New York, subjected to poking, prodding, an invasive scan of x-rays, and force-fed a Nathan’s hot dog with onions and mustard. This would never occur with real cows—their anatomy makes body surveillance difficult and their passivity makes them less effective as terrorists.

Admittedly, the fiberglass cows do have value:  “The Incredible Milking Cow,” an interactive educational cow, can be ordered from Marquis Enterprises of New Hampshire for $7150 to teach children the art of milking. The “Moo” is optional—$750. So are extra teats, if you are so inclined. It is much less disconcerting to watch a pump deliver constant fluid from fiberglass udders to the “authentic stainless steel milking pan” than to watch live cows cringe with embarrassment being milked in front of 60 gawking children.

Another plus for fiberglass cows: they’ve been used by the Royal Veterinary College in Britain to teach students how to perform gynecological exams on real cows. Students get a lifelike feel of a real bovine reproductive tract because of a virtual reality simulator implanted in the fiberglass cow’s hindquarters. The instructor follows a student’s hand movements inside the cow using a computer monitor. (The cow may not use the computer monitor more than 30 minutes.)  In a test, students were given five minutes to locate the cow’s uterus. Fiberglass cow trained students found the uterus 56% of the time. The other 44% successfully located the cow’s anus.

Another UK advance—an artificial cow that kills deadly flies in African because it replicates the smell of a cow and attracts tsetse flies that cause sleeping sickness. However, a real cow’s manure smell has also been shown to have substantial benefits. The publication New Scientist reported that working with manure can drastically reduce chances of developing lung cancer, and that dairy farmers are five times less likely than the general public to develop the disease. Their greater exposure to germs offered better resistance. In a follow-up study, New Scientist reported that cows exposed to dairy farmers were five times more likely to develop lung cancer.

In New Zealand the dairy cow population outnumbers humans. It’s frightening to think what would happen if cows universally realized their potential power, worse if fiberglass cows are simultaneously mass-produced. Clearly Hollywood must realize the political implications of a planet overrun with hostile bovines who were never featured positively in a film.

It is high time for one of the currently lackluster major studios to produce a moving, powerful, certain to be critically-acclaimed film starring Daniel Day-Lewis and a cow.

In the Trenches with Newt

A January 19, 1995 New York Times article reported that Newt Gingrich, while teaching a history course at Georgia’s Reinhardt College, raised concerns about women in military combat roles.  The Times reported Gingrich told his students that “females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections…”

True, it was years ago when Newt made the remark. But remembering his controversial cautionary remarks, I worried about my niece Melissa who’s planning on a career in the Army. Did she know about these infections?

To put my mind at rest, I called the local Army Recruiting station.

“Do women in combat who stay in ditches for 30 days get infections,” I asked Sergeant Renfro, the officer in charge, “like Newt Gingrich has said?”

“M’am, I don’t believe that’s what Mr. Gingrich said,” the sergeant replied uncomfortably. “From all our information, Mr. Gingrich said women get inspections after 30 days in a ditch.”

I was relieved. Later than night, I heard on local news the old quote attributed to Newt.

The next day I called my gynecologist.

“What kind of infections do women get in the trenches, like Newt Gingrich once said?” I asked.

He laughed. “Don’t believe everything you read, just like the conflicting reports on medical research. I’m sure Gingrich said women get injections after 30 days in a ditch. After all, there’s a lot of bugs in those close quarters.”

I felt a lot better until I watched a news commentary show on CNN. Republicans and Democrats were yelling back and forth while the commentator pretended to keep order. One of the Democrats attacked Newt for his women-in-combat remarks at Reinhart College.

That was it. I FAXED a polite note to Joe McQuaid, publisher of New Hampshire’s only statewide newspaper, the influential Union Leader, who has endorsed Gingrich’s bid for President.

“How could you support a Neanderthal like Gingrich?” I wrote.

One of McQuaid’s assistants Faxed back swiftly. “Regret that Gingrich was clearly misquoted. He really said women get confections after 30 days in a ditch. Candy from home, chocolates.”

That put my mind at rest until I went to a party and heard several angry women remember Newt’s “infection” comment.

“Don’t worry, “  I said, “It was all a silly mistake.” But I agreed to call up Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s office. Deal is one of the few powerhouses who has endorsed Newt’s candidacy.

“Of course Newt didn’t say that, “the Governor’s aide said. “What Newt said was, women get directions after 30 days in a ditch. They get their marching orders.”

At dinner that night, my friend Michael, a loyal Republican, was adamant. “No politician, particularly one as high up as Newt Gingrich, would ever say something so stupid, sexist and unfounded. The press is just out to nail him, to dredge up all the old garbage.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “But I wish I knew exactly what he said. None of the Republicans seem to agree on what he said.”

“So call Speaker Boehner’s office.”

The next day I did, cautious that Boehner was not a Gingrich fan. But surely the House majority leader would know Newt’s history.

A young man answered. “Oh, yes, that was quite a flap,” he remarked, over the rustle of paper. “Mr. Gingrich actually said women get inflections after 30 days in a ditch. Their voices get louder from being underground.”

Still uneasy, I called my niece.

“I know your heart is set on the service,” I told her, “but if you go into combat and get stuck in a ditch, you may have a problem.”

“Oh, yeah, “ she replied, “but I’m not worried. I remember Newt Gingrich’s comments. That men have problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get erections. Hey, war is hell on everybody.”