The Cows Will Kill You, and Other News


On the Shelf

Henri Rousseau, Scene in Bagneux on the Outskirts of Paris, 1909.


  • Go ahead and laugh at the cows, with their multiple stomachs, their indolent cud chewing, their superfluity of feces. The cows will kill you. Deep in a cow’s soul is an existential rage, a hatred of its own cowness that, once activated, generates an unslakable thirst for blood. And it is human blood they crave, for it is humans who have made their condition one of endless bondage. The statistics bear me out on this—at least in the United Kingdom, where, as Glen Newey writes, you’re more likely to die under the hooves of an angry steer than you are at the hands of a terrorist: “The HSE [Health and Safety Executive] logs seventy-four ‘fatalities involving cattle’ in the UK in 2000–15, compared to fifty-three deaths caused by Islamist terrorism in the same period. Many of the victims were farm workers, while eighteen were ‘MOPs’ or members of the public. These victims were disproportionately older people (only one was under fifty, thirteen were over sixty and as many as five were over seventy). More chilling still, as the HSE report makes clear, is the specific threat posed by out-of-control mothering cows. Of incident reports where the gender of the assailant was identified, ten involved cows with calves, and only one a bull. Hence it emerges that predominantly older people are being targeted by nursing cattle. Vegans seem largely to have been spared. But nobody is wholly safe from this civilizational threat, not just to our persons but to our old, carnivorous values.”
  • Since the election, Sinclair Lewis’s novel It Can’t Happen Here has been having a moment, as Americans continue to wrap their minds around the basic irony that it has, in fact, happened here. But Steven Michels recommends another book by Lewis—his 1919 novel, Free Air, which is one of the earliest iterations of road-trip literature and presents, Michels says, “Lewis’s most affirmative vision” of freedom: “Free Air is the story of two young people, Milt and Claire. Milt is a small-town mechanic and garage owner, and Claire is from Long Island and in the middle of a coast-to-coast trip to Seattle with her father. Like many Northeasterners, Claire believes that the rest of the country is filled with folks who are good but simple. Milt knows better. He had been plotting an escape from its dreary doldrums, but is enthralled with Claire when she comes through town, and he ends up following her and her father on their journey west. Claire quickly falls for the heartiness of the outdoors, even though she sees Milt more like a brother than a romantic partner. ‘There is an America!’ Claire cheers by her tent, after she and Milt forgo her usual hotel … Once they get to their destination, however, they discover that everyone is obsessed with ‘the View’ and ranks houses accordingly. What’s worse is that everyone builds and buys from the assumption that houses ought to resemble the East Coast as much as possible.”

  • Joan Acocella eulogizes Trisha Brown, the dancer and choreographer who died last week at eighty; in Brown’s work, “movements took on a flickering, shimmering quality. Sometimes they were gone before you could see them. And she started generating them out of complicated systems. In her famous ‘Accumulation’ pieces, she would begin with a simple routine of thumbs up, then thumbs to the side. But soon another pattern would intrude (up, sideways, then the other side, then up, again up … ), so that you couldn’t follow the formula any more … An accumulation might be performed on a stage or, alternatively, on a park bench or in a plaza or on a wooden raft in a lagoon. ‘I’m always trying to deflect your focus,’ she told Yvonne Rainer in a 1979 interview. ‘When ninety-nine per cent of the body is moving to the right, I will stick something out to the left … to set up some sort of reverberation between the two.’ ”