Excused Absence And Dead Fish
On the plane ... the endless planes ... I did read a great little joke in the absolutely fabulous book I'm reading, The King of California, J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire. The book is a history of agriculture, water, capitalism and labor in California's great San Joaquin Valley, and it's a fabulous read. Boswell, in case you didn't know, is the biggest farmer in the world.
The joke involves a decades-long running battle over the proposed 160-acre limit for farms receiving federal irrigation water -- a nasty bit of federal social engineering. Finally, Boswell's lobbyists got Carter ag sec Cecil Andrus (a big 160-acre limit proponent) to visit the San Joaquin to see the big farms up close. At a meeting with the farmers the tension in the room was reaching Israel-Hezbollah proportions -- and Andrus hadn't even said a word yet.
Former clerk of the house Pat Jennings introduced Andrus with this story:
"You know, this reminds me of a little story. Back home in Virginia, the county sheriff would come down to the courthouse every morning and there, sittin' in the sun, were a couple of good ol' boys who had just gotten back from fishin'. And every day, they had a string of big, fat fish that they had caught. And the sheriff syays, 'Now, boys, how do you keep getting all those fish?'Turning to Andrus, Jennings said, "Your turn, Mr. Secretary," and the farmers broke out in whoops of laughter, melting the ice.
"'Oh,' they say, 'we're not telling you, Sheriff.'
"Now, finally, the sheriff wears them down. And they say, 'OK, sheriff, we're going to take you fishin' with us.' So they all get into the boat and row out to the middle of the lake. And the sheriff says, 'Well, where are the fishing rods?'
"One of the guys thens leans down and pulls out a stick of dynamite. He lights it, and throws it in the lake and, boom, 100 fish come belly up into the boat, stunned. The two good ol' boys start scoopin' 'em up as fast as they can. And the sheriff starts screaming, 'Wait a goshdarn minute, boys! You can't do that! It's illegal!'
"With that, one of the good ol' boys reaches down, picks up another stick of dynamite, lights it and hands it to the sheriff. 'Sheriff,' he says, 'your turn.'"
I few months later, Andrus reversed his position, and that reversal, plus a ton of hard lobbying, got the 160-acre limit killed for the big cotton farmers of the San Joaquin.
Good politics and good humor should never be too far apart.
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