Saturday, April 28, 2007

The world is flat-out crazy

April has been crueler than usual, and we are certainly entitled to celebrate Silly Season, however briefly. For a start, we owe a debt to India, where Richard Gere is now a wanted man for kissing an actress rather too showily at an AIDS Awareness Day event (I know). Apparently public displays of simulated heterosexual affection are offensive in the land of the Kama Sutra. Who knew? Meanwhile, in Australia -- no, I have to quote this one:

"'He doesn't seem to be the sort of bloke we want in this country,' Australia's Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, told Macquarie Radio in Sydney. Mr. Andrews was explaining that a visa for Snoop Dogg, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, had been canceled because he failed to pass Australia's character test, which takes criminal convictions into account." Well, I should hope so. After all, Australia was founded as a penal colony for Britain's incorrigibles. I only hope Mr. Dogg -- Mr. Broadus -- is aware of this and draws full attention to the irony. (The Times loves it when rappers die or get into hot water, because then it can print their real names: "Lil' Pimp, whose real name is Percy Snodgress III...")

I find it comforting that other countries are willing to behave foolishly in keeping out the famous unwanted. The Land of the Free has acted swiftly in the past six years to protect us from Iranian film directors, Lebanese clerics, and just anyone whose name resembles a name on a super secret watch list. (Don't bother asking if you're on it; it's a secret. Just show up at an airport and take your chances.) Again, I find it reassuring that such obtuseness has been the norm for decades. For the benefit of my reader, I have dug out an article Spike Milligan wrote for Punch of May 1, 1974. The presiding genius of The Goon Show was commissioned by Punch to cover a celebrity backgammon tournament on the QE2, which required him to fly to New York and board the ship there. Although he would be in America only long enough to travel from JFK to the West Side pier, a visa was required. After his assistants were unable to obtain this, Milligan presented himself in person at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square. I'll let him tell it:

"We fill in the form...which demands answers from 'When, where, why and how were you born?' to 'Which side do you dress during an Equinox?' Every other question is ARE YOU A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY? HAVE YOU EVER SLEPT WITH A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY? DO YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN KARL AND GROUCHO MARX? We fill in all the gunge...He points at the entry: PLACE OF BIRTH...India.

"It's insufficient evidence."

"I'm standing in front of you, a position I could only have got to if I was born, isn't that evidence?"

Third day of the great visa story: "What's bloody wrong now?"

"It's about your mental condition. In the form against ANY SERIOUS MENTAL ILLNESS? you have put No."

..."Look, if I was seriously Mentally Ill, you think I'd be appearing on BBC television? My God, it takes enough trouble getting them to accept sane people."

"I'm sorry, we need to see a doctor's certificate."

"Look, mister, if it's Richard Nixon you're worried about, the CIA will get him long before I do."

I go to my him the latest form. (a) Have any of your parents ever tried to assassinate anyone? (b) How many times have you seen Hair? (c) Are you related to Jack Ruby? (d) If you were given the opportunity, who would you kill first: President Nixon/Ronald Reagan? (e) What time? (f) Do you like the United States Marines or Doris Day? (g) Did you ever touch Lenny Bruce?
The doctor writes a detailed description of Milligan's mental breakdown (in 1956) complete with drugs and dosage, and he finally obtains permission to get off a plane and into a taxi, muttering, "I sent off a secret donation to the Wounded Knee Legal Fund." Which leaves only the question: Did the CIA get Nixon?

1974 doesn't seem so far off, especially with so many Watergate characters popping up all over the No Man's Land of media/politics. Hillary Rodham, of course, was on the staff of the House Judiciary Committee when it voted to send articles of impeachment to the full House; Fred Thompson, a protege of Howard Baker, was minority counsel to the infinitely more entertaining Senate Select Committee chaired by Sam Ervin a year earlier. John Dean is a regular visitor to Countdown With Keith Olbermann, and Fred Fielding holds down Dean's old job of White House counselor. I think I glimpsed the massive form of Lawrence Eagleburger in the Iraq Study Group. And Fred Malek has joined the McCain campaign. Remember Fred Malek?

You don't?

Back in the day, an increasingly paranoid and self-medicating Richard Nixon became convinced that his own Bureau of Labor Statistics was cooking the unemployment figures to make him look bad. For Nixon and his spiritual adviser, Billy Graham, that could mean only one thing. Malek was deputized to find out exactly how many Jews worked at the BLS. (As Anna Russell used to say, "I'm not making this up, you know.") Before he could purge all those disloyal economists and numbers crunchers, Nixon was himself purged, and the Great Jew Survey became a footnote to the vast plague known familiarly as Watergate, not as sexy as the celebrity-rich Enemies List or as oh-no-he-didn't as the profanity-laced Oval Office tapes. Malek has emerged from obscurity, as McCain's deputy finance director, and I know he'll do well: those people are good with money.


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