Kyle Breckenridge, National Geographic Your Shot
Grizzlies are making themselves welcome on Heiltsuk lands.

How Did I Miss That? Bear Highway; Darth Vader for President

Steve Russell

National Geographic reported on a study published in Ecology and Society and directed by the Heiltsuk First Nation, which lives in what is now British Columbia, finding a surprising density of grizzly bears on Heiltsuk lands, what National Geographic called a “grizzly bear highway.” They found 57 grizzlies living on 69 square miles of the Heilsuk Nation. Yellowstone National Park is about 3,472 square miles and only hosts about 150 head of grizz. Ecologist Chris Filardi emphasized that the survey was carried out in accordance with the laws of the Heilsuk Nation, which meant that the scientists did not handle the bears. “The real question,” my cousin Ray Sixkiller asserted, “is whether the bears handled the scientists?”

Turning from bear polling to political polling, The Washington Post reported that Darth Vader has higher positive numbers than any of the people mentioned for the presidential race in 2016. Of the candidates, Hillary Clinton polled highest, tying with Boba Fett. Of the Star Wars gang, the lowest rating was the Gungan from Naboo, Jar Jar Binks. Mr. Binks’ net favorability of -8 was still better than the US Congress, at -65. Cousin Ray reminded me that Congress is also less popular than Brussels sprouts and head lice.

The New York Times published a photo essay organized by Mark Strandquist and carried out by an army of volunteers. Each photo started out with a question to an individual in prison: If you could choose the view out your window, what would you choose? There was only one public place, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which did not exist when the prisoner who requested it was locked up. Most were private places with private memories.

Another prison story was no less emotional, but perhaps brought up a different emotion. For some years now, state politicians have engaged in an obscene jockeying to see who could execute the last person subjected to the death penalty in the US. The truth is out. We don’t know which criminals to kill, how to flush racism out of the system or, most recently, how to kill them.

Most of the world advanced enough to manufacture drugs has quit the death penalty and will not knowingly sell drugs to kill people. Execution by lethal injection has as a result become a public science experiment on mostly unwilling subjects. The experiment involves various drug cocktails produced by unknown makers and administered by anonymous persons of unknown credentials.

These experiments have resulted in some horribly botched executions, most recently in Oklahoma, where the responsible persons failed to pierce a vein and injected the sedative into muscle tissue, where it would not sedate, resulting in a ghastly, painful, and slow death when the killing chemical was placed in the same improperly set line.

This week, Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer surpassed Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin in the rush to become the Red Queen through the death penalty looking glass. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Arizona to tell the condemned what they were going to kill him with and the qualifications of the persons who would do it. After the Supreme Court reversed that improvement in the human science experiment, the lethal injection was given, with a drug cocktail last used in Ohio, where it took 35 minutes to kill Dennis McGuire as he gasped for air.

Arizona’s science experiment, Joe Wood, was left gasping for almost two hours. After one hour, his lawyers petitioned federal and Arizona courts for a stay of an execution already in progress. The US court declined and Wood died while the Arizona court was having a hearing.

“Which are you claiming was cruel,” Cousin Ray asked me, “the 25 years he sat on death row or the two hours it took to kill him?”

In other sadism news, the studio trailer for the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey has been released. The Fifty Shades trilogy, by E.L. James, was first published as an E-book and has cut a puzzling swath through dead trees publishing and popular culture generally. The sadism in the news is not in the beatings Ms. Anastasia Steele chooses to endure in the name of love but rather in the beating inflicted on Ms. James’s readers in the name of literature. Since the book has sold over 100 million copies in 52 languages, it’s fairly certain that droves of suckers, er, aesthetes, will line up around the theaters. The Parents Television Council criticized NBC for airing an edited version of the Fifty Shades trailer on Today. “If the movie is no better than the book,” Cousin Ray chortled, “the PTC should give NBC a medal for helping destroy any interest….”

Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) has been caught in a plagiarism scandal that exceeds Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) copping his speeches word for word from Wikipedia. Sen. Walsh’s master’s thesis, offered at the US Army War College, could not pass an undergraduate plagiarism engine. The only explanation for the War College not running a plagiarism engine is that every student is an officer and a gentleman. Cousin Ray said that was only half right, “unless it’s now OK for a gentleman to steal.”

If the voters punish Sen. Walsh’s theft, it will threaten Democratic control of the Senate and remove the only Senator to serve in the Iraq War, in which Walsh received a Bronze Star.

A network weatherman expressed relief that the Carlton Complex fire in Washington was in an extremely rural area, so that “only about 150 homes have been destroyed.” “I take it,” Cousin Ray deadpanned, “none of the homes was his?”

In an earlier column, I noted a Palestinian-American kid, Tariq Khdeir, 15, of Tampa, Florida was videoed being severely beaten by Israeli police. Now, USA Today reports that two holders of Israeli-American dual citizenship have been killed in the Gaza fighting, Max Steinberg, 24, of Los Angeles and Sean Carmeli, 21, of South Padre Island, Texas.

Reuters reported that McDonald’s and KFC are facing a new food safety scare in China just when they were beginning to recover from safety issues made public in 2012, involving sales of chicken that was antibiotic infused and expired. The latest scandal is driven by a TV report showing workers for a supplier picking meat up off the floor and mixing expired meat with fresh meat. Bad Chinese supplier? Not exactly, since the supplier, OSI, is based in Aurora, Il.

Cousin Ray reminded me of a juicy story back in 2011, when Wal-Mart in China got in trouble for selling expired duck meat and when fox meat was found labeled as donkey meat. Vegetarianism looks better every day.

Stephen Colbert was asking House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi why she expected to start getting anything done in this Congress. “Do you have naked photos of (Speaker) John Boehner doing something?” When Pelosi reacted as if this had put a terrible thought in her mind, Colbert followed up, “Is the tan uniform?”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Dutch cyclist Maarten de Jonge, who is involved with a Malaysian cycling team, switched from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 back in March so he would not have a layover in Beijing. That flight is still missing somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Last week, he switched from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur because he found a cheaper fare a few days later. Cousin Ray said that if he hadn’t sworn off flying, he would get in line behind de Jonge and say, “I’ll have what he’s having.”

A report in the Tampa Bay Times on the opening of a 30 feet deep sinkhole concentrated on things like Linda Fisher, 64, rushing home to rescue her cat, Mr. Twiddles. Hidden in plain sight in the report was the existence of “sinkhole insurance,” which many Floridians have apparently cancelled because it’s expensive. Cousin Ray laughed at me for not understanding the insurance business and offered to show me the Ravenmocker Rider available on policies sold within the Cherokee Nation, bragging that it was cheaper than what Navajos pay to insure against Skinwalkers.

Former NFL head coach Tony Dungy said he would not have drafted Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted by the NFL. “Breaking barriers is so troublesome,” snarked Cousin Ray, “and the Washington team keeps NFL bigotry right out there for everybody to see. How you gonna get mad at Dungy for his little bit of bigotry or little bit of cowardice, whichever it is?”

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