Welcome to Slippery Slope, Mr. AutoPresident!

There has been some tooth gnashing over President Obama’s authorization of the signing of the Patriot Act extension with an autopen. This machine long ago took the place of the chief executive’s hand in dealing with routine correspondence, but apparently this is the first time a mechanical device has been used to turn a bill into a law.

A legal opinion written by lawyers with the Bush (2) administration was used to justify the move.

Even so, Obama will be criticized, but that’s not the greatest risk. The greatest risk, as anyone who has worked in a factory knows, is allowing a machine to get a metal and plastic toe in the door when it comes to doing an essential part of your job. History tells us where that leads – sometime in the future our President (whoever it may be) and the autopen are bound to have their John Henry Moment.

When John Henry got into the White House
Famous ‘cause he worked so hard,
He arrived with much renown, he had people all ‘round.
He was popular and held in high regard, Lord Lord.
Popular and held in high regard.

When John Henry reached the Oval Office
Surrounded by women and men
He said, “Now I’m feelin’ fine, I got papers here to sign”
They said, “All of that is done by auto pen” Lord Lord,
“We don’t need you with the auto pen.”

John Henry said to his people
“While it’s true my arms are sore,
I won’t let them wires and wheels fix my presidential seals,
Bring us bills and I will sign them all and more, Lord Lord.
Bills to sign and more and more and more.

So John Henry signed with his left hand
Autopen signed with the right
Though it didn’t have no arm or no presidential charm,
It signed every bill that he did through the night, Lord Lord
Both of them signed bills all through the night.

When they found them there in the morning,
It was dark and cold and damp.
Just a gizmo and a bloke, blood and oil and sweat and smoke.
One was broken and one died of writer’s cramp, Lord Lord.
What a way to go, from writer’s cramp.

The moral to this story
Is to do all you can do.
But there ain’t a man alive who can challenge and survive
when machines arrive to take the place of you, Lord Lord.
When machines arrive to sign then you are through!

The John Henry song sure comes in handy at a time like this. I love to re-write it – some of you may recall I’ve done it before. But why not take advantage of every opportunity while I can? Because it’s a repetitive activity, I’m sure someday there will be an app to do it for me.

What arts and crafts project could you do over and over and over without tiring of it?

Mr. Rain Cloud

I’m sorry to report that I have lost that happy feeling about this being the Friday before a three-day weekend. I blame Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty, who stuffed the following flyer in my mailbox:

Attention Civilians!

I strongly advise you to obey the following Safety Alert for the Memorial Day Weekend! We should all be in a heightened state of awareness.

I know the Department of Homeland Security has done away with its system of color coded warnings, but I’m not thinking of the terrorist threat here. I’m thinking of our personal self-threat level, which is always high, and on a three-day weekend it should be listed at Double Cherry Red.

We are our own worst enemies.

Do not, I repeat, DO NOT let your guard down just because you happen to be “on vacation”. As a CDR (Certified Day Ruiner) and PSS (Professional Safety Scold), I know that whenever people “relax”, “kick back”, “cut loose” or “let their hair down”, they are setting themselves up for a wide variety of self inflicted calamities.

We, who are in the business of worrying about the worst that could happen, consider three-day weekends to be the black holes of the yearly calendar. Our work increases in direct proportion to the speed in which your work melts away. And the three-day weekend that opens the summer season is the very worst of them all because it offers the widest differential between the fun people think they are going to have and the fun they are actually having. All winter long, minds race with dreams of outdoor recreation. When the season finally arrives, the urgent drive for summer fun takes over and outruns common sense.

For instance, just because you can picture yourself waterskiing from a barefoot standing start off the end of a dock because your brother in law has an extremely powerful new boat that’s he’s itching to try, that doesn’t mean you should run out and do it.

I can express it as an equation. Imagination + Anticipation + Water times “Look At Me!” = Emergency Room.

I heard a theoretical physicist say on TV the other night that time is just an illusion. That’s the way I feel about vacations. People who think they are on one are embracing an artificial reality that could lead them to step off a cliff, unawares.

Please, try to have a little less fun than you think you deserve this weekend.

Yours in Stability and Safety,
Bathtub Safety Officer Rafferty

I do think he enjoys this.

When have you rained on someone’s parade?

Select Committee On Outer Transport Entitling Review (S.C.O.O.T.E.R.)

Please forgive me, Baboons, but I’d like to go back to outer space for a moment.

NASA has announced that its future human space travel projects will be based on an astronaut container alluringly called the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

Regardless of how you feel (if you care at all) about NASA’S planned direction away from near earth orbit (NEO) projects and towards deep space exploration, you have to be concerned about this clear victory of the Acronym Based Entitling Lobby (ABEL) over the Name It After Something Real Caucus (NIASRC).

I know they’re engineers and bureaucrats, but please! Every human being is capable of a little poetry. Something attracted these decision makers to the difficult work of planning our off-planet future, but they are keeping their inspiration under wraps with this forgettable name. For anyone dreaming big dreams about traveling into space, it’s hard to get excited about climbing into an MPCV.

And remember, somewhere in the far distant future, historians will look back to this vehicle as the real beginning of the space program because it is the ship that will routinely take us away from our planet. Pilots of much more sophisticated craft will look back and recognize this as the charming low-tech starter model. Calling it “Space Pod 1” would be an improvement. Even “Commodore II” would work for me. In this photo, it looks like a large, fetching black bump that you might see on a movie idol’s cheek. How about “Star Mole”, “Beauty Mark”, or just plain “Marilyn”?

photo from NASA

If this thing is going to carry us into our deep space future, can we help launch it with a proper name?

Dancing With The Stairs

Today is the birthday of a great American entertainer, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, in 1878. Both parents died when he was an infant and Robinson was raised by his grandmother. He started dancing as an 8 year old and made his name in vaudeville, and later, movies.

He was a man of many talents, with an inventive mind and lightning fast feet. It is said he could run backwards faster than many could run forwards, once covering 75 yards in 8.2 seconds. That alone would make him a You Tube star today.

He also was known for his ingenuity in developing a dance routine to be done on a flight of stairs – something Bojangles said he came up with on the spur of the moment as a creative way to go up some steps to receive an honor from the King of England. However he developed the act, it served him well. Here he is doing it in 1932.

And here’s Bill Robinson working the stair routine in a film with Shirley Temple three years later.

Although many think it was written about him, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is not the inspiration for the Jerry Jeff Walker song “Mr. Bojangles”. In this fine recording, David Bromberg takes a moment in the middle to tell the story.

Even though it’s about an entirely different person, I couldn’t resist – the song is so good. I suppose it speaks to the popularity of the real Bojangles that a broken down bar dancer in New Orleans would adopt the name.

Bill Robinson is remembered for his cool, his skill, his generosity, and his “stair dance.” Not a bad legacy to leave.

If historians lift up one part of your “act” to define you, what will it be?

Getting the Yard Work Done

When you and a friend go on a trip to an exotic faraway place, you will probably come home with a few photos of you standing by some historical monument or in front of a landmark or in the doorway to a famous place you are about to enter. That’s just human nature. So it’s no surprise to see NASA release this touristy photo from the current shuttle mission with Andrew Feustel climbing back into the International Space Station after spending 8 hours doing handyman work alongside the photographer, well traveled astronaut Mike Fincke. (Not to be confused with legendary Ohio River keelboat character Mike Fink, though both come from Pennsylvania).

In popular culture, I think it was Star Wars that first gave us a glimpse of space as a place where people would spend an inordinate amount of time fixing dirty, broken machines. Feustel and Fincke put in extra hours outside on Sunday doing just that – trying to grease a mechanism that’s supposed to turn without grinding, but doesn’t, unless it gets a lube job every now and again. Weekend mechanics were no doubt happy to hear that the space jockeys had to slow down to deal with bolts that were mysteriously popping off the covers that had to be removed to get the work done. At least one bolt was lost in the vastness of the universe. Up to this point my idea of a miserable mechanical search job was the time I spent trying to track down a loose fastener that fell in the grease pit while my father was working on his old Corvair! Finding a single bolt in a rapidly expanding cosmos? Infinitely more difficult. “Did you look EVERYWHERE?”

So this is what space travel will become, with several companies hard at work on the next step – creating routine off-planet tourist trips. Above the atmosphere, even mundane tasks become exciting and heroic. Perhaps someone will pay a few (million) bucks for the chance to do the next greasing on that fussy solar array.

And while you’re out there, don’t forget to tend the animals.

Goats in space!

I happen to have a long list of outside chores waiting to be done. I have every intention of getting to this work, but other things get in the way. If it ever comes to the point where humans are living away from Earth, your space ship will likely be your home. And there is no reason to expect that any of us will change our handyman habits.

You’ll be able to tell my vessel by the piece of cosmetic siding that’s falling off, the junk I’ve allowed to collect around the air handling equipment, and that loose railing on the external observation deck.

What will the neighbors say about the upkeep on your spaceship?

Bud Buck Opines!

A lot of the news isn’t news anymore, it’s opinion. Why? Because it’s much easier to generate an opinion than it is to track down and confirm a fact. Many “news organizations” rely heavily on pundits because it’s a low cost way to chew up time.

Here at Trail Baboon, we’re no different. Our staff reporter, Bud Buck, didn’t want to lose his weekend to all the turmoil at the capitol, and we didn’t want to pay his per diem! The solution? He spent Saturday and Sunday relaxing at home and checked the headlines every now and then. Late last night he was able to knock out this wordy document based on a few clips he caught on TV and some other stuff he saw online.

It’s not exactly the news, but it sounds important and knowledgeable, and it only took ten minutes for him to do it. Win-win! Cheap content is good enough if it makes you look. Even we can afford that!

This is Bud Buck with the Bud’s NewsBucket of News!

I have progress to report at the Capitol. That’s right, I said progress!

Though they were unable to reach a budget agreement with the Democrat in the Governor’s office, the Republican dominated legislature of Minnesota has at least followed through with a radical job creation bill – the Bogeyman Promoting, Alarm Heightening, Outrage Generating and Placard Producing Bill of 2011, otherwise known as the Constitutional Amendment on Marriage.

This is an aggressive effort to pump hundreds of millions of local and outside dollars into businesses that provide every possible avenue for influencing public opinion, be it advertising, analyzing, punditizing, provoking, generalizing, demonizing, radicalizing and traumatizing. Over the next 14 months, anyone with an incendiary idea to sell on either side of the gay marriage debate will have Minnesota buyers eager to invest! Thousands of gallons of bile will be produced! There will be lots of jobs for exaggerators! And it’s good news for quote manufacturers too! Politicians throw exclamation points around casually, but did you know that before professional reflex provokers can cast a single aspersion, a punctuation worker somewhere has to dig an exclamation point out of the soil with his bare hands? It’s good, honest work, and it’s growing because lots of exclamation points will be needed in the coming months! Really!

And the timing couldn’t be better, since these same hyperbolic industries frame much of the conversation around presidential campaigns. They were expecting to have a big, big year in 2012. But now that Barack Obama is getting credit for taking down Osama Bin Laden, the political calculus is leading potential Republican challengers to forego a run. One notable exception – the Pawlenty campaign officially launches today!

And yes, it’s a job creator! This campaign will be a shot in the arm for the Overly Dramatic Music Industry. Pawlenty videos lay it on thick, the same way I smother a salad in bleu cheese dressing – because I hate the leafy vegetables underneath! There’s so much volume on the voices and the strings that by the end of his pitch, I can hardly hear what he’s saying. Probably just as well, but I think it’s something about telling us “the truth”.

The last time a Minnesotan ran for president and promised to tell us the truth, it was Walter Mondale in 1984 and he was admitting he would regretfully have to raise taxes. I have a feeling that won’t be the message this time!

But I sure hope there are no gay people involved in any of these necessary word and image-based political industries. It would be a shame if they got the idea that Minnesota was inhospitable and left the state for greener pastures. After all, Iowa is right next door.

This is Bud Buck!

Bud is meandering all over the place, but he might have a point in there someplace. It could turn out that the struggle for hearts and minds will spark an economic resurgence in Minnesota. Unlimited spending starts now and goes through November, 2012!

What role will you play in the Outrage Based Economy?

The Day After!

We had an unusually busy Saturday, thanks to rain and the timeless allure of the end of time. So I thought it would be good to hit the “reset” button for today, in case baboons would like to continue a conversation.

Here’s a morning after limerick, for those nonplussed about the non rapture.

A man who predicted the ending
Received less than what he was intending
Just some minutes of fame,
While the world stayed the same
Its predicted apocalypse pending.

Looking over yesterday’s comments, at least we got a chance to spend some time thinking about end-of-the-world wine, cigars (for tim) and hugs.

As a general principle I avoid making predictions, though I may have assured someone in the summer of 2000 that Al Gore would be the next president.

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