How Did I Miss That? Rabbits! (Wooly & Magic); Zombie Pikas

Steve Russell

Early in the week, the most-emailed article from The New York Times Magazine was “The Cuddly, Fluffy, Surreal World of Angora Show Bunnies.” At rabbit shows, the living pillows compete in four recognized breeds: English, French, satin, and giant. A major judging point is the quality of their wool, but my cousin Ray Sixkiller picked the words “nicely fleshed” out of the judging manual and snickered at the news that one rabbit breeding couple brought a pot of rabbit stew to a competition and labeled it “loser stew.”

In other lapine news, Scientific American reported that the lli pika (Ochotona iliensis) got photographed for the first time in 20 years. The species, sometimes nicknamed “magic rabbit,” has only been known for 32 years and in that time only 29 individuals have been spotted. Climate change has been destroying their habitat as the snow line moves upward in the Tian Shan Mountains of China and less than a thousand of them are thought to exist.

Pikas are little mammals indigenous to cold parts of Asia, Europe, and North America. They are not, strictly speaking, rabbits, but they share the order lagomorpha with rabbits and hares. Like other lagomorphs, pikas are herbivores except when plants get scarce in a bad winter. Then pikas show a trait in common with zombies.

Cold sharp enough to kill off all the plants also kills birds. When birds die of the cold, the pikas eat their brains, leaving the rest of the carcass for bigger predators that would be dangerous to the pikas. Cousin Ray wanted to know if the North American pikas arrived on a land bridge from Asia? I am not informed.

Turning from the Hannibal Lecters of the animal world to the Tontos—faithful companions---those who remember Mitt Romney’s problem living down his treatment of his family Irish setter, Seamus, are wondering how Gov. Scott Walker’s dislike of and allergy to dogs will affect his candidacy. Apparently, Chris Christie is also allergic to dogs, but he has so many problems with bridgegate that adding puppygate would be piling on.

The New York Times broke the news about Scott Walker’s aversion to dogs on March 31, but at press time Walker had not yet withdrawn from the presidential race. Meanwhile, the GOP was claiming that President Obama really hates dogs and his story that one of his daughters is allergic to pet dander was just cover for his foreign ways. I wondered if Sen. Kennedy gifted the Obamas with a dog to help them cover up their un-American attitude? “Nah,” my Republican Cousin Ray replied with a wink, “it was because that’s a close as Kennedy could get to the White House.”

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is a conventional dog person, but his run for POTUS will emphasize the unconventional. His slogan came out this week: “Defeat the Washington Machine; Unleash the American Dream.” U.S. voters have a history of falling for politicians who claim not to be politicians. I do not understand how the art and science of politics can be in such disrepute where democracy is the dominant ideology.

In a democracy, there is no higher calling than the practice of politics, and the more heterogeneous the country, the more difficult the practice. That is the one advantage tribal governments have over the U.S. government, but tribal governments typically squander the advantage by forming factions that recognize few rules in defeating other factions. Call it political dementia.

Visar Berisha of Arizona State University and two others published a study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease using a computerized discourse analysis to examine the press conferences of Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush for evidence of encroaching dementia. Because Mr. Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s after he left office, the researchers were interested in comparing the results of the speech algorithm with another subject of similar age, which was Mr. Bush’s role.

The algorithm was searching for an increasing tendency to repeat, to use indefinite descriptors over definite ones, and to use less complex language. Bush’s language did not change over time; Reagan’s did. The objective was not political. It was to bring us closer to predicting Alzheimer’s. The press conferences were a handy database. “Likely story,” snorted Cousin Ray.

Moving to dementia in the politics of Green Eggs and Ham, The New York Times speculated that Texas might not be a slam-dunk for Ted Cruz, depending on which candidates make it to the Texas primary. That race potentially matches Cruz against former Gov. Rick Perry, Texas-raised Rand Paul, and/or the latest scion of a Texas-based dynasty, Jeb Bush. Yale graduate Cruz seems the least Texan next to Perry (Texas A & M), Bush (Texas), and Paul (Baylor).

The most common reason for a candidate dropping out is the money running dry, and that makes Perry the most endangered Texan candidate. Cruz already proved he can replicate the Obama tactic of going repeatedly to small donors rather than few who max out, which was Hillary Clinton’s tactic last time. Before it was over, Clinton was lending her campaign money. Jeb Bush is, like Clinton, funded by big donors, but enough of them he’s unlikely to run dry. Rand Paul can raise money Obama-style if he can tap his father Ron Paul’s Libertarian network.

Cousin Ray horselaughed about a sign the Times reported to be over a cubicle in Cruz’s Houston headquarters: “Cowboy Up! It’s Rodeo Time!” “Last time we rode down this trail, partner, it led to Baghdad. Can Teheran be far behind?”

Most of the talking heads commenting about the Iran negotiations agreed that making a deal v. going to war is “a false choice.” But the only other course on the table was “tougher sanctions,” which seems unrealistic when the sanctions we have barely hold together among our “allies.”

Foreign Policy reported that besides celebrating in the streets that war appears headed off, Iranian comedians are having a field day, with one claiming the major sticking point left is who will pay Iran’s Swiss hotel bill. Another wanted to know, “What kind of deal is this? I went to the store and they still don’t have whiskey.”


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