Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) holds a ceremonial "talking stick" during...

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) holds a ceremonial "talking stick" during a TV news interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 23, 2018. Credit: AP

You never know what you’re going to get in this journalism gig. I never expected, for example, I’d be writing about a talking stick.

The stick in question — colorfully beaded with a royalish-looking knob on top — was wielded by Susan Collins, the Republican U.S. senator from Maine. She used it during talks in her office among two dozen centrist senators from both major parties who were trading ideas on ending the recent federal government shutdown.

The rules were simple: You can only talk when you hold the stick.

And it worked. Civility mostly reigned. And the stick figures got credit for pressuring Senate leadership to make the deal that reopened the government until Feb. 8 in exchange for a promise to finally decide the fate of young immigrants known as Dreamers.

Collins’ stick was described variously as being Native American or African in origin, and talking sticks indeed are part of aboriginal cultures in the Pacific Northwest and West Africa — delicious irony given the people whose futures were at stake.

Hooray for talking sticks!

That was only the start of yet another week defying expectations.

I never expected to see members of the Republican Party accusing the FBI of abusing its power and undermining the agency, or Democrats defending and bolstering it. What can I say, I’m a child of the ’60s.

I never expected that the Kentucky high school shooting, which left two students dead and 18 people injured, would slip past much of America, a blip on the radar, the 11th shooting on school grounds in a year that was only in its 23rd day.

I never expected to see the Doomsday Clock move up to two minutes before midnight, the time signifying the apocalypse. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a sober group that includes 15 Nobel laureates, hasn’t moved the hand of doom that close to human annihilation since 1953. That was after the United States had tested its first thermonuclear device, and the Soviet Union exploded a hydrogen bomb and American kids were hiding under school desks as part of drills. In moving up the clock 30 seconds, following a similar advance last year, the Bulletin cited ramped-up fears of nuclear war and the inability to make headway on climate change, among other things. OK, we know what that’s about. But given that the clock measures whether the world is safer or more at risk — yikes.

I never expected to be writing about “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.” It turns out that’s the nickname for an election district in Pennsylvania so warped in its boundaries that it evokes that cartoon description. And it got booted with the rest of the state map by Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court as unconstitutionally favoring the Republicans who drew it. Hooray for fairer elections!

I never expected to read that Hillary Clinton overruled 2008 campaign aides who advised her to fire an adviser accused of the repeated sexual harassment of a campaign subordinate. I figured by then she would have learned about the cost of such protection.

I never expected to hear about an experiment on the harm to humans of diesel exhaust in which 10 monkeys in airtight chambers breathed in fumes from a diesel Volkswagen Beetle. No, the monkey part sadly was not surprising. But VW rigged the car so its exhaust was much cleaner than Beetles out on the road.

I never expected in this day and age to see a man planning to run against Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill post on Facebook that feminists are “she devils” with “nasty, snake-filled heads,” that he expects his fiancee to have a home-cooked dinner ready for him every night at 6, and that his daughters not grow up to be “career obsessed banshees.”

Someone should give his family members a talking stick.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.


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