By now you may have heard of a recent episode involving Congressman Hank Johnson, who represents the Fourth District of Georgia in the House, one of the most Democratic Congressional districts in the US.
Johnson has received a certain amount of ridicule for expressing his concern about what one might call the geographic stability of Guam (at 1:16 to 1:35 in this video):
However, I would like to offer a spirited defense of the unjustly-maligned Representative Johnson. First of all, although this is a little-known fact, he and Admiral Willard, the man he is questioning in the video, are old friends. They met in 1986 on the set of the film “Top Gun.” Willard was a consultant and actor in the film (you can look it up), but the telegenic Johnson also played a bit role in the film as one of the other pilots.
Willard and Johnson struck up an acquaintance on the set, finding that they shared a remarkable gift for deadpan humor. They developed a number of routines that had the other “Top Gun” actors and extras in stitches, and were both known for keeping a straight face throughout the silliest exchanges, a skill that served them remarkably well during their recent encounter in Congress.
One of their old routines involved a bit about landing an airplane on the island of Guam. The joke was about how small and narrow the island was, so thin it couldn’t even hold a runway, and so any landing might cause the whole island to tip over. It may not sound so funny in print. But it was Johnson and Willard’s delivery that made it so special.
The exchange you see in the video has been much criticized. But it has actually been widely misunderstood. That portion of the question-and-answer merely represents an updating of their old routine, with both Johnson and Willard playing their familiar roles. Note how deftly Johnson sets Willard up with classic comic timing, drawing it all out with lengthy emphasis on just how tiny the island is. Then, after Johnson expresses his concern that Guam just might tip over and capsize (this time because of added people, rather than an airplane), Willard responds with perfect composure and the straightest of faces, “We don’t anticipate that.”
Some have wrongly suspected the two of staging an April Fools’ prank. But that cannot be true, since it happened last Friday, well in advance of that date. No, it was just a bit of welcome levity from two old buddies, designed to lend a certain amount of lightness to these heavy and troubled times. How sad that such well-intentioned efforts have been so universally misconstrued.
[NOTE: One other factor that has not been taken into consideration is that, between college and law school, Hank Johnson apprenticed as a patisier in several swank French restaurants. As part of his trade, he became expert in the creation of the marvelous dessert œufs à la neige, which in English is called "floating island." Here's a description:
Floating island is made of egg whites served floating on a milky custard sauce. Some variations uses a thicker sauce, served on top of the dumplings, but usually the milk mix is thin, almost liquid, and the dumplings "float" on top.
The egg whites are beaten with sugar and poured into a mould lined with a thin layer of caramel. Alternately, the whites can be shaped with spoons and allowed to cook gently in sweetened milk with vanilla flavoring. A custard is made using milk, sugar, vanilla, and egg yolks; the mix is cooked in a bain-marie for a few minutes, but must remain thin enough to pour. The custard is topped with the egg whites dumplings. The dish is served at room temperature or cold.
It is therefore even more understandable that the floating island theme has achieved such a prominent place in Johnson's memory.
What's more (as if any more vindication were needed), there actually are floating islands---although, sadly, Guam is not one of them.
Another interesting although highly unrelated and irrelevant fact is that Johnson is one of only two Buddhists in Congress. The other is Mazie Hirono of Hawaii---also not a floating island.]
[ADDENDUM and EXPLANATION: Okay folks. While it's a wonderful thing to be linked by such blogosphere luminaries as Instapundit and Powerline (I welcome new readers and old), it's also true that the best April Fools jokes are unexplained as such.
But an awful lot of readers (both new and old) thought I was being serious here, despite the date being April First, and despite my putting a reference to April Fools Day within the body of the piece in what I assumed would be a big hint. I really didn't want to put a note in the post itself yesterday saying "ALERT: April Fools spoof!" (I thought that would ruin the joke) although such a message appears many times in the comments section. But people don't always read the comments section, and many just didn't remember that the date was April 1st..
I waited till today to write this explanation and place it within the body of the post, since April Fools Day is now over and now The Truth Can Be Told. So here it is: this is a spoof.
Unfortunately, too many people may have already gone away thinking I'm some sort of weirdo who spreads unsourced rumors on a daily basis. Nothing could be further from the way I usually operate (hey, did you hear about...?). Perhaps the problem is that the truths that actually did appear in this piece, (1) the video itself; (2) the fact that Willard had a role as consultant and actor in the movie "Top Gun;" and 3) the fact that Johnson is one of two Buddhists in Congress---were already sort of quirky. This was especially the case with the video, which should have been a joke but unfortunately was not (at least, not an intentional one).
Johnson has since said that he was offering a metaphor about Guam. I leave it to you to watch the video and judge whether that is true (I don't think so). And another fact that came out is that Johnson has been suffering from Hepatitis C and its treatment, which can affect the mind. That is true, and I wish him well in fighting the disease. But if his mind is this affected, he needs to step down from his Congressional post.
And that's no joke.]