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 8 percent of rams prefer to court other rams rather than ewes.
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 "ewe" and cry.
Former tennis star Martina Navratilova set 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 was angered that some rams were being killed so their brains could be examined. It said that encouraging one ram to mount another was I'm not making this up 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 was pulled over its eyes) and later had to retract them.
The researchers finally cried foul. They said the purpose of their study was 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 the 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, I fear, a chilling 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 nutty 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 the two. 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."