The New York Times carried a report on the growing business of selling the opportunity to “fly” with jetpacks propelled by water, an opportunity that has so far taken flight in California, New Jersey, Florida, Maryland, and Hawaii with a plan on the drawing board for a jetpack concession on an artificial lake in Las Vegas. The gadgets can fly 40 feet in the air at 30 miles per hour. When I went to ask my cousin Ray Sixkiller’s opinion, I found him with a leaf blower on his back, emoting into a mirror, “The name is Bond…James Bond.”
Since Cousin Ray nominated himself to play Bond, I nominated Kim Kardashian the new “Bond girl” to ride the publicity surrounding her new photo book of selfies, titled Selfish. Ray pointed out that Kardashian promises to show more skin than is customary in Bond movies. Remember when the villain Auric Goldfinger killed a lady by painting her entire skin gold? Bond diagnosed, “She died of skin suffocation.” Still, the modest conventions of the Bond films required Goldfinger to leave her panties on. “So,” Cousin Ray smirked, “are you telling me Kim Kardashian can leave her panties on?”
Politix reported back in May that conservative super-PACs have spent three times as much money attacking moderate Republicans as they spent attacking Democrats. Morning Joe reported on August 8 that Republicans have spent $145 million on internal fighting. This has bought them an approval rating of 19 per cent. Joe Scarborough referred to 2014 so far as “a Tea Party shutout,” apparently forgetting that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated by a Tea Party candidate who did not spend as much on his whole campaign as Cantor spent in steak houses. The immediate subject of GOP establishment cheer was the primary victory of Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander. Party poopers pointed out that the Tea Party ran so many candidates that Alexander was able to win without a majority.
Sen. John Walsh (D-MT), after being appointed to his seat and serving only six months, has withdrawn from his race for reelection after getting nailed for plagiarism in the final paper submitted for his master’s degree from the Army War College. He has yet to admit the plagiarism, but his extensive use of other people’s work without attribution will be pretty hard to explain. Walsh’s exit leaves Democrats scrambling to field a candidate in a year when control of the Senate will be on the line.
Speaking of scandals, what is their shelf life? Between World Wars I and II, there was Teapot Dome, considered the mother of all corruption scandals because it produced the first individual to go directly from the president’s Cabinet to the hoosegow, the Indian-fighting Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall.
In our times, Watergate was the mother of all corruption scandals. Watergate resulted in 40 criminal indictments and another Cabinet official off to the pokey, Attorney General John Mitchell, the chief law enforcement officer. In the crossbar hotel, Mitchell joined two White House staffers, two White House lawyers, and the Security Director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP).
After Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned over unrelated corruption, President Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, leading Vice President Gerald Ford to become president without being elected and to pardon the man who had appointed him. Watergate pushed Teapot Dome off the top of the scandal meter, and, ever since, most political scandals have acquired the suffix “-gate” in news reports.
Now, The Washington Post reported on a poll commissioned on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s resignation. Over 40 percent of the country, and over 50 per ent of persons under age 35, think that Watergate was just normal politics. Cousin Ray commented, “Since Obama-hatred got loose, politics is a scandal.”
In what would be a scandal if the Department of Homeland Security were not immune, Mehmet Koksal, a project officer for the European Federation of Journalists who holds dual citizenship in Belgium and Turkey, published a Kafkaesque op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, detailing his still unexplained appearance on Homeland Security’s list of “suspected terrorists.” Koksal covered the 2008 elections in the US at the invitation of the State Department and he has no criminal history. Assured that it was all a mistake that would be cleared up by his departure date on a planned family vacation, he lost his nonrefundable airline tickets and hotel deposits.
Cousin Ray remembered when an entire plane was diverted rather than allow Cat Stevens to visit the US on a British passport. “Hey, if the guy who wrote Peace Train is a terrorist suspect, we’re all terrorist suspects.” I was reminded that, before I quit flying over the various indignities, I could not check my baggage at the curb because “somebody with my name” was on the terrorist watch list.
Right wing scold Ann Coulter attacked Dr. Kent Brantly, one of two American health care workers evacuated from Africa after contracting the Ebola virus. Pointing out that his treatment cost a Christian charity more than his services were worth, Coulter lectured that he could have accomplished more by staying in Los Angeles and converting “one single Hollywood power broker” than on “mission trips to disease-ridden cesspools.” “The question is,” Cousin Ray said with an almost straight face, “what would Jesus do?”
The New York Times Magazine ran a profile of an eccentric Brazilian multi-millionaire with the ambition “to own all the music in the world.” To that end, he is hoovering up vinyl records from all over the planet. If he limits himself to vinyl, he will miss a lot of Indians, traditional or contemporary or a bit of both.
Tourism has been booming on Catalina Island, 22 miles off the California coast, but the boom is about to be turned into a small toot by water shortage. “Tourists drink water?,” Cousin Ray marveled, “I thought they were OK with just tequila.”
The e-commerce blog, Bits, offered a hilarious example of how irony fails to penetrate in the electronic age. Amazon.com, in a continuing fight with publishers generally and Hachette in particular, quoted George Orwell as approving of “collusion” to stop the rise of paperback books. Orwell actually wrote in 1936 that Penguin paperbacks “are splendid value…, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.” Cousin Ray wondered, if irony is dying, “What will become of ndn humor?”
Jimmy Kimmel Live! showed a viral video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, fresh from rehab, in a Tim Horton’s drive-thru on the passenger side of musician Deadmau5’s Ferrari. Ford ordered five espressos in one cup. Kimmel: “It would be safer if he went back on crack.” Cousin Ray said he always knew Ford lives in the fast lane, “and now I understand why.”
Texas State Senator Kirk Watson just returned from his annual pilgrimage to Sturgis, South Dakota, in biker mufti. He related meeting a little girl in an Ogallala, Nebraska Dairy Queen, who looked wide-eyed at his regalia and asked, “Are you a pirate?”
“No, honey. I’m just a Democrat.”
“He’s from Texas,” laughed Cousin Ray. “What’s the difference between a Democrat and a pirate in Texas?”
“The pirate,” I responded, “is more likely to write laws.”
Ray got the last word in pirate dialect: “Arrggh!”
Writing about current events means constant tension between laughter and tears. This week, there’s been slaughter of non-combatants, and that brings tears on the wholesale level. On the retail level, Cousin Ray and I are immobilized by the suicide of Robin Williams, who could scrape laughter out of anything, the genius who fired off the bon mot, “cocaine is God’s way of telling us we make too much money.”
The airwaves are full of Robin Williams stories, but the most telling one came from James Lipton of Inside the Actors Studio, who related a conversation with Steven Spielberg.
I feel this story because I understand how sorrow can sink into the land and wait there to grab your heart. The closing poem in my book was Bosque Redondo, which took me six years to write and whenever I got stuck I would return to Bosque Redondo and sit on the banks of the river near the concentration camp where so many Navajos died and let the land reduce me to tears again, after which I would be freshly determined to communicate that genocidal story.
Lipton related that when Spielberg was in Europe filming Schindler’s List, on a location of evil in the same league as Bosque Redondo, Spielberg would call Robin Williams every evening after work and ask, “Make me laugh.”
Robin Williams’ suicide at 63 makes me wonder if he shouldered so much of other people’s sorrow that it became, in the end, too heavy.