The rogue cow was free and unconcerned, and nobody could get it under control. It was nighttime and the regular news was clogging the browsers, waiting to be sorted through or abandoned if the computer got too slow on it. The Washington Post had printed this paragraph about Nancy Pelosi, after she had given Donald Trump an ultimatum to end the government shutdown or give up on the State of the Union:
But Pelosi’s challenge to Trump also comes with a degree of risk, for her and for Democrats. The more she becomes the face of Trump’s opposition, the more Republicans will probably use her unpopularity nationally to label vulnerable House Democrats as Pelosi clones — a potentially potent line of attack against sitting lawmakers who cast votes in lock-step with party leaders.
It was wrong, of course, but more than being wrong, it was synthetic and cynically absurd, a string of nth-hand propositions to mechanically perform the role of skepticism or judiciousness. The escalating showdown between an opposition-controlled House and a crumbling, discredited presidency was reduced to a tit-for-tat, a skirmish of potential electoral-messaging strategies—never mind that one of the strategies in question had been fully tried and had spectacularly failed two months ago. Can the Democrats risk having the Republicans run a campaign against Nancy Pelosi? Only if they want to keep picking up House seats by the dozens.
But there, generating its own series of tabs, was the cow. The Huffington Post had picked it up from the Anchorage Daily News. The Anchorage Daily News had been on the case for two days. The cow itself had been on the loose since June, when it escaped from a rodeo.
Everybody gets excited about runaway-cow stories, but most of the time, they’re bleak and squalid: some animal breaks loose on the way to an urban slaughterhouse, bolts around the barren paved landscape in panic—maybe gets onto a brutal stretch of highway—and then the cops shoot it or, if it’s lucky, it gets trucked off to a sanctuary. The Alaska cow, whose human-imposed name was “Betsy,” sounded fully self-actualized. It had eluded search parties and police drones; it was getting through the winter by eating “grass in tree wells, where the snow hasn’t touched.”
The cow jumped from the rodeo to the woods, and the Anchorage newspaper stories jumped from a local audience to a national one, and to read about it all was to move between realms. The cow encountered “fat-tire bikers,” because there are things called “fat-tire bikes” that people ride around Anchorage, Alaska, in the snow. The cops used a training session to send a drone looking for the cow, but not with too much effort, and without much interest in trying again. A hyperlink about the cow’s owner (or last owner of record, before the cow took custody of the cow) led back to a story from 2014 about how he was once gored by a rodeo steer—the “horn had punctured his stomach, just up from the groin,” to a depth of 4 1/2 inches—and how…
But to summarize it is to miss the virtue of the coverage. The true reward was to roam for a while with the cow, despite the dark and the snow, on its still-open-ended escape.