Christmas Day in the US was not marred by a terrorist attack on an airliner or some other politically inspired horror. Instead surprised Americans woke to their first confirmed case of 'bovine spongiform encephalopathy' (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease. Discovery of BSE in a single slaughtered 12-year-old cow in the northwestern state of Washington has thrown stockmen, the food industry and investors into a panic. It is the culmination of a decidedly strange year for Americans.
Oliphant takes us into an upper-middle-class household on Christmas morning just after the presents have been opened. Three children and the family dog are playing amid the torn wrapping paper; the woman of the house is trying on her new fur coat —— a little reminder that thanks to George Bush's tax cuts, the already prosperous have money to spend on frivolous luxuries this year. The father draws aside the drapes on the huge picture window (a feature of many American homes, though not usually this big) and is amazed to see a cow charging toward the living room. The cow is, of course, mad.
In his hand the unshavenpaterfamilias①holds a newspaper with headlines mentioning some of the things that make Oliphant unhappy this December: the terrorist alert issued on Christmas Eve by the federal government, the continuing mess in Iraq, and the Democrats in their 'usual disarray' (the Democratic Party is not very disciplined) even though George Bush is STILL president. After all this, the father's response to the threat from the cow is a stunned 'Now what??' This is the next madness in a year of many insanities.