Tom Purcell, 2/26/2007 [Archive]

Wild Woolly Affair

A Wild and Woolly Affair

By Tom Purcell

Boy, are we a country with too much free time on our hands.

Or should I say, what do a retired tennis pro, PETA, two research scientists and a herd of gay sheep have to do with each other? Plenty, according to the Toronto Star.

The paper reports that two researchers -- Charles Roselli of Oregon Health and Science University and Fred Stormshak of Oregon State University -- have been studying why eight percent of rams prefer to court other rams rather than ewes (not that there's anything wrong with that).

The study had been proceeding quietly until fate intervened. You see, two university football players (you're getting ahead of me here) were pulled over for speeding. They'd been drinking. They had, in the bed of their truck, something they'd swiped from the research center -- a gay ram.

Once a story like that hit the wires, containing it was impossible. Pretty soon, people were asking questions about the research. Then animal-rights activists, gay-rights advocates and left-leaning bloggers raised a great hue and cry ("ewe" and cry?)

Former tennis star Martina Navratilova kicked off the frenzy. She wrote a letter to both universities demanding they pull the study's funding. She said the research was "homophobic and cruel." She said the money would be better spent promoting acceptance of all sexual preferences.

PETA had urged her to write the letter. PETA urged 14,000 other people to voice their complaints, too, and some of them protested and called the researchers Nazis. PETA said that encouraging one ram to mount another was -- I'm not exaggerating here -- tantamount to rape.

By this point, bizarre conspiracy theories were in full throttle. Some theorists said the researchers were really interested in breeding homosexuality out of humans (ewe-genics?). One credible newspaper, The Sunday Times of London, began printing such untruths (boy, was the wool pulled over its eyes) and later had to retract them.

The researchers finally cried foul. They said the purpose of their study was simply to determine which rams are likeliest to breed -- useful knowledge to ranchers.

They said they weren't trying to discourage homosexual behavior, anyway. They were simply trying to understand such behavior in rams. And if they were to find a biological cause, they argued, wouldn't that promote compassion and acceptance for all beings that prefer the same sex?

Some of the attackers backed off -- not because the researchers were convincing, but because it's hard not to sympathize with two fellows whose career choice involves walking around with a clipboard and encouraging male sheep to get amorous with each other.

In any event, this incident is at once a sign of America's greatness and, perhaps, a premonition that we may not be great for much longer.

Evil dictators are stifling freedom and torturing millions. Ethnic hatred and genocide are killing millions. Pestilence and disease are killing millions more. But we're more attuned to things that don't matter, such as "American Idol."

And we're at war. Western civilization is in a battle of wills with fanatics who hope to restore 6th-century values. They intend to get their hands on some frighteningly powerful bombs to make us bend to that will. Yet we worry more about Anna Nicole Smith.

And gay rams.

We have so much wealth and affluence, you see, we can fund university research studies of every kind. We can also fund touchy advocacy groups that use their means to cloud and confuse and obscure whatever is unpleasant to them.

America, to borrow from James Thurber, "has become consumed largely about small matters and 'smally' about great affairs." We're losing our ability to discern between what is and isn't really important. That doesn't bode well for a democracy.

Oh, well, at least the gay sheep story brought some needed levity. The Australians came up with the best headline:

"He's Just Not That Into Ewe."

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. For comments to Tom, please email him at

RESTRICTIONS: 'Tom Purcell's column may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties. It may appear only in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its sister publications."

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