MAYBE THERE’S NOTHING TO CATTLE MUTILATIONS, AFTER ALL:
A thought-provoking comment by Rottenberg (of rotten book reviews, written on August 6, 2000):
“I first read “Mute Evidence” – a journalistic dissection of the “cattle mutilation” craze of the late 1970’s-early 1980’s – in 1989, and find much of it fresh today. For roughly a decade following the end of the war in Vietnam, cattle farmers of the southwest reported finding numerous steers dead and, apparently deliberately mutilated.
Dead cows appeared to have body parts selectively and precisely removed in ways that suggested something other than feral scavengers. Blame for these incidents soon took a turn for the sinister, with sentiment hinting at the use of cattle carcasses for secret experiments by the government, sinister corporations, secret paramilitary organizations, aliens, devil worshippers or some weird combination involving all of them.
With no plan to turn up little green men out for a quick chorizo, Kagan and Summers find that the truth, even when plausible, can often chill more than fiction. In their journeys, they encounter the usual suspects – crackpots and the ambitious small-town media hounds that exploit them. While the authors wisely refrain from attempts to avoid explaining the phenomenon of cattle mutilation, Kagan and Summer also offer competent evidence suggesting that there was no phenomenon to explain – just overzealous reporting of typical and perfectly natural cases of bovine mortality, combined with an unwillingness to recognize perfectly natural indicia of scavengers. With no indication that the frequency of cattle deaths was actually within normal limits, slipshod reporting overlooked evidence that would have explained the indicia of mutilation.
I’ve since edited this review in-light of another review which doesn’t do this book justice. “Evidence” does not condescend towards the die-hard UFOlogists convinced of a link between aliens and the dead cows, nor attack the notion of intelligent extra terrestrials in general (or specifically the idea that ET’s, for their advanced technology, would need to experiment on cows).
Kagan and Summers provide a wealth of alternative theories ruling out alien involvement, and never go out of their way to condemn as liars those who steadfastly claim otherwise. Theories implicating corporations, the military, Satanists or simply those inspired to commit acts as copycats are inherently more plausible than UFO’s. That is not to say that Kagan and Summers don’t detail the subjectivity of those believing in the ET’s, or reveal the paucity of their claims or their willingness to jump to UFO as the solution of first resort. Neither does it mean that Kagan and Summers must ignore how UFO enthusiasts like TV reporter Linda Moulton Howe play-up the alien-angle from both sides – as fervent proponents of a theory as well as seemingly impartial reporters ready to look at a story from all angles.
While obviously unfavorable to Howe, Kagan and Summers never came close to slandering her – their reporting was consistently objective, looking into her claims and explaining them. The controversy seems laughable to us, but its principle that bothers Kagan and Summers.
There are no shortage of minds in America ready, willing and able to apply Moulton-Howe’s brand of deceptively objective reporting to more critical matters, like the search for WMD’s in Iraq or (just to keep things even) the search for episodes of financial, political, sexual or otherwise unethical wrongdoing by the Clinton administration.
Though Kagan and Summers steer away from the exotic legends underlying cattle mutilation, “Evidence” retains the chill of the legends nonetheless. While the stories of alien scientists probing the southwest night may be entirely fanciful, the fear upon which they rely is very real – a product (the author’s are willing to speculate) of uncertainties generated by the Vietnam war, Watergate, Ab-Scam, the oil-embargo, Iran, Stagflation and the other assorted horrors of the Nixon-Carter years. That thousands of Americans could readily accept the cattle mutilation phenomenon as true seems at least as chilling as the phenomenon itself.”
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