Beware of Cows

Glen Newey

The statistics make grim reading. In a 2013 report, Overview of Fatal Incidents Involving Cattle, the Health and Safety Executive notes in its usual lapidary prose that ‘this paper gives an overview of fatal incidents involving cattle to (a) Enable Agriculture Industry Advisory Committee members to consider the current trends in agriculture accidents involving cattle.’ There is no room for complacency. The HSE logs 74 ‘fatalities involving cattle’ in the UK in 2000-15, compared to 53 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 50, thirteen were over 60 and as many as five were over 70).

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 civilisational threat, not just to our persons but to our old, carnivorous values.

The HSE notes that both beef and dairy animals have been involved in carrying out the atrocities. It is also apparent that a high proportion of foreign breeds have been responsible. (I grew up surrounded by Jersey cattle and can confirm their docility.) In one episode in Wiltshire, which came to court at the end of last year, a university professor was trampled to death by a herd of about thirty ‘highly excited, jostling’ continental beef cattle. An eye-witness to the tragedy, the victim’s brother, testified that the cows kept knocking him down and trampling him ‘as if it was something they really wanted to do’.

National resolve seems to be holding up. MOPs can be confident that Defra is quietly co-ordinating to counter the threat. The watchword, as ever, is vigilance. The mayor of London made clear in a statement last night that Londoners will ‘never let themselves be cowed by terrorism’ – or, one may assume, terrorised by cows.


  • 23 March 2017 at 5:34pm
    Bob Beck says:
    Alarming, but I'd have hoped the LRB could do better than simply to echo calls for "vigilance". This needs some examination of root causes, or of context at any rate:

  • 23 March 2017 at 5:59pm
    ikallicrates says:
    "The HSE logs 74 ‘fatalities involving cattle’ in the UK in 2000-15, compared to 53 deaths caused by Islamist terrorism in the same period". That helps put things in perspective.

  • 23 March 2017 at 9:49pm
    adorno says:
    This is so tedious. I genuinely cannot believe you thought this was an intelligent piece of satire. I'm tempted to cancel my subscription.

    • 24 March 2017 at 2:00pm
      qcrisp says: @ adorno
      Please do. The rest of us will carry on without you.

    • 25 March 2017 at 8:15am
      Martha12345 says: @ qcrisp
      I'm with adorno on this one. So, qcrisp, speak for yourself alone.

    • 27 March 2017 at 10:45pm
      suetonius says: @ Martha12345
      Wow, really? I think it's a very nice piece to point out the idiocy of the usual coverage and response to terrorism. It didn't take much thought to get what Newey posts below out of the piece. "A Modest Proposal" it isn't, but nothing is. In any case, it must have been impossible to pass up, once Khan said that Londoners "wouldn't be cowed by terrorism."

  • 26 March 2017 at 6:39pm
    Glen Newey says:
    I could have made the following points more explicitly, but generally credit LRB readers with the intelligence to join up the dots.

    Coverage of this story, given ludicrous overkill since Wednesday, has assigned agency to individuals who barely have it, and to entities (‘terrorism’) that have no more agency than, say, the internet does.

    That a habitual criminal and drug-user found in Islamism a convenient vindication of his own violent tendencies does not make it more apt to label his actions as ‘terrorism’ than as ‘random bad stuff that happens’. The ‘terrorism’ paradigm to which politicians are in thrall precludes their seeing incidents like Wednesday’s in these terms; there is no reason why everyone else has to fall in line with them.

    As has often been said, this indulgence does not come at zero cost. It gives outfits like IS a publicity bonanza and persuades them of the benefits of future atrocities.

    Less often remarked is that the ceaseless and often treacly coverage also does the security services’ work for them in suborning citizens’ compliance, imposing further incursions on civil liberties, increasing pressure to create and arm more police, etc., in the name of stopping (per impossibile) what is a nugatory threat.

    • 27 March 2017 at 12:17pm
      semitone says: @ Glen Newey
      Thanks for clearing that up. Yet another demonstration that when you write to be understood rather than to be funny or seem clever, the results can be pretty good.

    • 28 March 2017 at 4:10am
      Bob Beck says: @ Glen Newey
      There was a strikingly similar, and farcical, incident in Ottawa in Oct. 2014. A disturbed young man, armed with an anitique rifle -- the kind of thing you'd see in a Western -- shot and killed an Army reservist who'd been standing ceremonial guard at the War Memorial, then ran into the Centre Block of Parliament, where he in turn was soon thereafter shot and killed.

      The kid with the Winchester 94 was just a poor devil -- a petty criminal, drug-addicted and mentally ill. But because he'd converted to Islam ten years previously, had a Libyan-Canadian father (though he himself was born and raised in Canada), and claimed allegiance to ISIS, this sad example of the failure of the social safety net became a matter of "national security." Convenient for the government of the day, just then drafting a repressive and regressive "security" law their successors somehow haven't got around to pulping, which is about the only thing it's good for.

      In what was possibly the most ludicrous part of the whole affair, hundreds of (probably bored) Ottawa cops "self-deployed" to the scene, weapons in hand. Many were in plain clothes, and since some allegedly worked in undercover units, they pulled on balaclavas to conceal their identities. Suddenly, and not unreasonably, police department phone lines were jammed with calls about an infestation of masked gunmen in the downtown core. I wish I could say I was making this up.

    • 28 March 2017 at 11:47pm
      Higgs Boatswain says: @ semitone
      Righto. Better stick to writing for the grindingly literal-minded then, Glen. Though having been manaced by aggressive Jerseys during more than one abortive picnic on Coe Fen, I'm minded to sympathise with the battle against cattle.

    • 28 March 2017 at 11:49pm
      robin bale says: @ semitone
      It was clearly understandable the first time around.

      I would have thought that Newey was right in crediting LRB readers with the ability to join up the dots without needing spoonfeeding. Just another illustration of how the mere shadow of the breath of the word "terror" seems to disable critical thinking in some.

      If I'm killed by a random knife wielding maniac, or a bad driver (there are thousands of the latter at large, unapprehended) does my killing suddenly become something specially significant, to the extent of influencing national policy, because they might belong to a particular religion? I won't care either way, I'll be dead; but the rest of us should do. The Westminster attack was a horrible thing - but meaningless, apart from those who were caught up in it. It can never rationally be seen as a credible threat to anyone or anything beyond those who happened to be standing next to it at the time that it occurred. It was indeed simply ‘random bad stuff that happens’.

      The cow piece was good satire. I laughed.

    • 29 March 2017 at 10:53am
      streetsj says: @ Bob Beck
      Part of the problem is the insistence on trying to find someone to blame every time something unpleasant (or worse) happens. The pinpointing of "failures" and pointing out how things could have been different if the police (or whoever) had acted differently, inevitably pushes the response to be disproportionate in order to avoid blame.

    • 29 March 2017 at 5:24pm
      Bob Beck says: @ streetsj
      Agreed, but -- in case it wasn't clear -- I wasn't decrying any supposed failure of "vigilance" or "security". By no means did any such putative failure cause or result in this and similar incidents.

      I was suggesting (and only in passing) that in a less atomized and individualistic society, one that was more mutualistic and -- I'll say it -- caring, there would be fewer Khalid Masoods and Michael Zehaf-Bibeaus (that being the name of the Ottawa shooter). Thus my reference to the "social safety net," which has nothing to do with "security" of the papers-and-checkpoints variety.

      (Do I blame society? Very well then: I blame society. Unhelpful, I know, which is just one among several reasons I wouldn't really, speaking in all seriousness, put it like that).

      Are you suggesting that such thinking -- hackneyed and wishful thinking, no doubt -- is conducive to "disproportionate responses" in the future? If so, I very much doubt it. It's of a quite different order to any claim that the police and security services need more powers, more training, more weapons, and so on and so, drearily, forth.

  • 27 March 2017 at 2:46pm
    IPFreely says:
    The trouble is, once you have blown up the threat to a size big enough to justify huge financial and material expense you can't then just say, "Sorry about that... it was a false alarm... we should have stayed out of Iraq and left Libya alone. Now will you please go away?"

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