Cow Whisperers 

What our cowboy-in-chief could learn from modern cattle herders.

I know it's bad form to brag, but I am now a graduate of Texas A&M University, and you can't stop Aggie pride. I became a diplomee of the great institution in College Station after successfully completing the three-day course in beef cattle this summer. I specialized in forage management and graduated "Quel fromage!" meaning "avec distinction."

It is also true that I was banned from the campus of Texas A&M many years ago after some students invited me to make a political speech. So you see how far we have all come.

The most amazing part of cow college was meeting the cow whisperer. Think of everything you know about moving cattle from one place to another: gee, git on, go dogie, whistle, whip-crack, move 'em out, chase 'em down. Turns out all these years we've been doing it wrong.

What happens when you scare a cow by making a lot of noise and chasing it down and forcing it to move where it doesn't want to go is the cow responds by relieving itself. And since a cow has three stomachs, it can unload up to 20 percent of its total weight at one go, the last thing you want just before you take it to market to sell.

So the latest thing in cattle handling is cow whispering. (I'm not making this up -- this is straight from A&M.) Either on foot or horseback, you just kind of sidle around your herd without upsetting them, talk to them gently and suggest they might like to go that way for a while, and then perhaps take a tour along the pen line, and then perhaps some consideration of the gate and another little tour of the pen line. But all of this is done without loud noise, sudden movements, or eruptions of testosterone. It's a revolutionary development of an American macho tradition -- a little like watching NFL teams come onto the field in tutus.

I bring this up because I recently attended a women's peace-movement meeting, sponsored by the Code Pink group founded by Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, and Diane Wilson. The women peacemakers also included Cindy Sheehan, writer Anne Lamott, and Colonel Ann Wright, who served 29 years in the Army and more than 15 years in the Foreign Service, before resigning in protest over Bush's drive to war in Iraq.

I must say, they were a lot more emphatic than the cow whisperer. In fact, as I left, they were saddling up to ride down to see President Bush at his ranch with a people's posse peace warrant. Lots of whooping about it.

Women peace activists, as a rule, have totally solved the gnarly old dilemma: What do you do about hating the haters? If you're a woman peace activist, this is Step 101 -- you spill love and calm and reassurance and, well, peace all over them. (Which is why it's especially funny that George Bush is so afraid of Cindy Sheehan.)

Lamott, one of the funniest people in America, has developed a scenario for a Revolution With Good Manners, in which we are all extremely nice to one another. Good manners never hurt anything. "Our Revolution decrees that we will fight tooth and nail for these things, politely."

I am still lamentably stuck in the middle -- not that I hold with hating the haters, we can all see where that leads -- but I am always tempted to shout them down. "One, Two Three, Four: We Don't Want Your F---ing War." Now, does that repel more potential supporters or attract more people who really need to sound off?

What I learned from Code Pink is that this is not an "either-or" question. The peace movement is a matter of "And" and "And" and "And." You just keep adding more people, from those like Sheehan, who lost her son Casey in the stupid debacle, to the Iraqi Veterans Against the War, easily the strongest, most moving group of young people in America. They have learned in the hardest way what politics is.

War is about rounding up people with Shock and Awe and really loud noises and about thinking you can herd them by hurting and killing them. Politics is what you do if you're not so stupid as to walk into an unnecessary and unprovoked war. I'm founding Cow Whisperers Against the War.

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