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Deja Vu

October 1, 2012

Political Animals


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2012: Noted animal lover Vladimir Putin sent a very special gift to political ally Hugo Chavez—a black terrier puppy the Venezuelan president is calling El Russo, or The Russian. The puppy was presented to Chavez by Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, Russia’s largest petroleum company. The Telegraph reports on the canine’s arrival:

“I handed over a message from the President of Russia, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin - it is a Russian black terrier, he’s three months old,” said Mr. Sechin. The Venezuelan leader was pleased and promised to name the puppy on Friday, he added.

Mr. Putin’s fondness for animals is well documented. He has a Labrador called Koni (aka Connie) who attends meetings, a Bulgarian sheepdog called Buffy, and a miniature horse by the name of Vadik who lives at his residence on the edge of Moscow.

At a meeting with a journalist in the Kremlin a fortnight ago, Mr. Putin reportedly admitted: “I like kitties and puppies and little animals.” The Russian leader was widely ridiculed earlier this month when he flew in a motorized hang glider to guide a group of immature Siberian cranes toward their southern wintering grounds. Mr. Putin said he undertook the flight to publicize the plight of the endangered birds.

1862: During the Civil War, many foreign powers took an interest in the conflict, including the King of Siam (modern-day Thailand), who proposed to send Abraham Lincoln a pair of elephants which might prove useful to the war effort. Careful not to offend the king (who also sent a collection of other ceremonial gifts), Lincoln nonetheless wrote a letter declining the offer:

I have also received in good condition the royal gifts which accompanied those letters—namely, a sword of costly materials and exquisite workmanship; a photographic likeness of Your Majesty and of Your Majesty’s beloved daughter; and also two elephants’ tusks of length and magnitude such as indicate that they could have belonged only to an animal which was a native of Siam.

I appreciate most highly Your Majesty’s tender of good offices in forwarding to this Government a stock from which a supply of elephants might be raised on our own soil. This Government would not hesitate to avail itself of so generous an offer if the object were one which could be made practically useful in the present condition of the United States.

Our political jurisdiction, however, does not reach a latitude so low as to favor the multiplication of the elephant, and steam on land, as well as on water, has been our best and most efficient agent of transportation in internal commerce.

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The brutalities of progress are called revolutions. When they are over we realize this: that the human has been roughly handled, but that it has advanced.
Victor Hugo, 1862
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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