Representative Commander Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, a career

Ryan Zinke accidentally wanders in front of a flag while wearing a cowboy hat.

Montana sends only one delegate to the United States House of Representatives, and for the last two years it was Republican and former Navy SEAL Commander Ryan Zinke. Zinke won re-election in November, but he vacated his seat last week after the Senate confirmed him as President Trump’s Secretary of the Interior. Until we pick a new one via special election in May, Montana will go without representation in the House. This situation turns out to be not so different from the one we enjoyed already.

Zinke ends his career as a congressman having sponsored no bills that actually became law. That’s not so unusual for a freshman representative. What set him apart was his flair for the dramatic—his ability to present a wild caricature of Montana values while, again, not actually expressing those values in the form of legislation. But who cares about influencing the US government when your representative used to be a Navy SEAL? Sure, he missed 80 of 99 House votes after he was nominated for Interior. But he also gave us this photograph:

God, I’m going to miss that. Remember when he said President Obama shouldn’t have attended the Paris Climate Summit because it did nothing to stop ISIS? And then a few weeks later opposed background checks at gun shows, also because it wouldn’t stop ISIS? Communications from his office consistently referred to him as Commander Zinke instead of Representative Zinke—part of a relentless branding strategy that even extended to his duties as a rep. He co-sponsored the Draft American Daughters Act, a satirical bill to register women for the draft that expressed his opposition to letting them take combat specializations. This bill also did not pass. Again, nothing Commander Zinke proposed to the House ever passed. But what fun we had!

Now he runs the Department of the Interior, a position that will make his gung-ho performance art more difficult. It’s hard to connect the Interior to foreign terrorism. I believe Commander Zinke can keep making politics more like pro wrestling, though. It was a heartening sign when he rode a horse to his first day of work last week. Seriously—you can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Montana has not lost much of a legislator, but we must bid farewell to one hell of a showman. I can’t say I agreed with his politics too often. But I love a character, and Commander Zinke has certainly been that. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links!

Hey, do you know about Beryl Markham?

Aviator and author Beryl Markham, who is great

One of my favorite books is West with the Night by Beryl Markham. It’s a kind of memoir, insofar as it is about her life as a bush pilot in and around Kenya after World War I. But while the author is lambently present in each chapter, it isn’t about her. It’s about flying airplanes, crashing airplanes, horses, the people of Africa, the other people of Africa who had exploited the first people just long enough to get weird about it, uppity customs agents in Italian Ethiopia—all the relentlessly particular details that make a life when someone is too busy living it to think about herself. Markham is present in the work the way a carpenter is present at the table. Even though it is definitely a memoir, I think of West With the Night as a collection of linked short stories, made a little more beautiful by the knowledge that they actually happened to the same woman.

Besides writing what I consider one of the ten best narrative works of the 20th century, she also flew solo from Europe to North America in 1936. She was the first woman ever to do it, although not the first to try. The vents on her fuel tank iced over in the 21st hour, and she crash-landed on Cape Breton Island to walk away with the record. Before that, she was the first licensed female racehorse trainer in Kenya. She was also publicly known to have fucked the queen’s uncle.

Anyway, you should buy West with the Night or check out a copy from your local library. Even though it’s great, it went out of print shortly after it was published. We’re lucky to have it today. To read Markham is to reenact her life in a way reminiscent of its signal moments. I imagine her over Canada as she realized her engines had stopped working, thinking “nope” and bringing that hunk of dead metal whistling to the ground. I picture her smirking as she leaves the wreck, miracle tacked onto miracle. She lived her life so willfully. It is our privilege to read her and will her back to life ourselves.

Richard Sherman: “thug” is acceptable n-word


By now you have probably seen Richard Sherman’s postgame interview, shot seconds after he tipped an end zone pass to his teammate and won the NFC championship for the Seattle Seahawks. Due to my jet-setter lifestyle, I heard about this video for days before I actually saw it, and the real thing was kind of anticlimactic. Sherman has a rad voice—presumably from yelling on football fields for ten years straight—and he criticizes Michael Crabtree, whom he is rumored to dislike. Mostly, he declares himself the best cornerback in the game. It’s kind of unseemly and kind of awesome, as human beings in celebration are. It also led a bunch of commenters to call him a thug. On Thursday, Sherman opined that “thug” is an acceptable way of calling a black man the n-word.

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US income inequality reaches record high

Fast-food workers strike for higher wages next to history's most inspiring statue of Ronald McDonald.

Fast-food workers strike for higher wages next to history’s most inspiring statue of Ronald McDonald.

There was something I was supposed to remember today—something really important, possibly related to fundamental threats to our American way of life. What was it? I swore I’d never forget. Oh yeah—a decade of skyrocketing income inequality. According to tax data, the top-earning US households captured a larger share of the nation’s income than ever before, breaking a record set in 1927. If I remember correctly, the years after 1927 saw a rising tide that lifted all boats. I’m being sarcastic, of course. There was a worldwide depression, but that situation was different, because back then most of the high-end income came from the financial and real estate economies. Wait—I’m still doing it.

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