Run Over By A Bus

So far, China gets the award for this summer’s most remarkable transit idea. In fact, thousands have remarked on it already! It’s a bus on stilts, straddling two lanes of traffic. The idea is an inventive solution to the expensive problem of building a subway or an elevated train, though it may not be entirely practical.

As a driver I would have some reservations about going underneath a massive moving vehicle, even if it were plodding along as slowly as the bus in this video. Take a look. It’s not all so strange and alien. You can see that it passes over yellow and black croquet wickets, the passengers appear to be New Yorkers, and just like the Central Corridor Light Rail simulation, this bus glides on a cloud of cheesy, generic music.

As I understand the idea, China’s Straddle Bus runs on a fixed guide way, so its movements are predictable, but asking me to deal with this in traffic is like challenging me to play Mr. Spock in a game of 3-D chess. Honestly, I have enough trouble with Right Turn On Red. What will I do with a bus overhead?

Some have been quick to condemn this idea as ludicrous. Given the changes we have seen, technological, political and otherwise, I hesitate to reject any new idea immediately. I prefer to wait until it is an old idea, so my opinion may go unnoticed.
And based on what I saw of the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics, I’d rather not bet against Chinese people finding a way to get the job done. If the drive train on the Straddle Bus doesn’t work as planned, they can always have a phalanx of coordinated drummers carry the vehicle to its destination.

Have you ever mistakenly declared “that will never happen”?

Planning Ahead

There are still a few guest blogger slots open for early October, when I’m taking a blog holiday.

Anna, tim, Barbara and Steve have already agreed to step in as prime primate in our baboon woods. If you’ve ever thought you’d like to have a blog without the messy day-to-day chores, why not try your hand at launching a single discussion? To sign up, send an e-mail to me – You get choose the topic. The house rules are simple. Don’t be mean. No swearing or nudity. I’ll help with editing and posting. Thanks to those who have already agreed to do a bit of digital house-sitting.

Sinclair Lewis

During that stretch I’ll spend some time in western Minnesota at the annual Sinclair Lewis Writer’s Conference in Sauk Centre. It’s the 20th anniversary for this get-together to honor this Minnesota writer and Nobel Prize winner in his home town. Organizer Jim Umhoefer has kindly asked me to host a fine concert on the evening of Friday, October 8th.

Red House Records performing artists John Gorka, Meg Hutchinson, John Hermanson and Mother Banjo will be there, alongside poets Robert Bly and Freya Manfred.

The show is bound to be a great musical event and a rich word feast, more than enough to get conference attendees primed for the next day’s workshops with writers Kevin Kling, Thomas R. Smith and Dave Simpkins. You don’t have to sign up for the conference to attend the concert, but if you like words and smart, funny people, you should consider it. At any rate, everyone is welcome at the Friday night show for the bargain admission price of $10.

Here are the details: Friday, October 8th, 7:30 pm
Sauk Centre High School Auditorium
903 State Road
Sauk Centre, MN

As the evening’s master of ceremonies, my job is fun and easy. I get to meet and greet and say a few words from the stage. The difficult work of organizing and performing is already taken care of by experts! My only worry has to do with finding an elegant way to introduce Robert Bly.

I don’t buy the notion that some people are so well known they “need no introduction”. Introductions are as much about showing respect as conveying information. Every human being is difficult to summarize, but some are nearly impossible. One shouldn’t say too much, but one can’t say enough.

The only type of introduction more awkward is a casual kind – you’re with a friend and you run into someone else you have already met and are supposed to know, but you can’t think of their name. This familiar stranger expects to be introduced to your companion, and vice-versa. You are, after all, the connecting personality, but you are flustered and brian-dead. If the other people in this triangle are good friends of yours, they already know this about you and will forgive your lapse. But why can’t you remember who your “good friends” are?

How do you get out of it without looking (and sounding) like a dope?


Monday the 13th might have a special kind of bad luck. To start the week, and hot on the heels of the one he filed last Friday, we’ve received another hyper-dramatic dispatch from Bud Buck.

This year, media consuming Americans are under vigorous assault by a relentless enemy. No matter where you turn, you are a potential victim of this stealthy scourge. Even if you spend only a small amount of time watching TV or reading newspapers, the chances are very good that before too long, you will find yourself face to face with one of these pests.

Bedbug stories! They’re everywhere!

“People are frantic and they don’t know what to do,” said TV critic Pixie Hickey. “They can’t avoid having to think about bedbugs, but all the channels are infested. Reports about bedbugs in hotels, bedbugs in taxis, in airplanes, there’s nowhere to hide. There are even stories about bedbugs in our own homes!”

Looking for confirmation, I found a group of shoppers staring blankly at the personal insecticide shelves at a local discount store. They verified Hickey’s thesis.

“I am not the sort of person who would even consider watching a story about bedbugs,” said Arlene Squeamish of Coon Rapids, “but I’ve seen at least a dozen in the past week. I was raised with the expectation that only people who live in filthy homes need to think about bedbugs, and I’d never ever have to spend a moment considering their little flat bodies and pointy sword-like protrusions. And now here I am thinking about AND talking about bedbugs too. And to a journalist – another kind of horrible creature that gives me hives. I feel dirty and worthless.”

It’s easy to understand Ms. Squeamish’s squeamishness. In the not too distant past you could read through truckloads of newsprint and watch television nonstop for months and never encounter the word “bedbug”.

Fred Critters of South Minneapolis has watched this situation change. “Nowadays as soon as my feet hit the floor and there are bedbug reports on the radio. I’m seeing bedbugs on my TV, and when I look in the paper, not only are there super close-up pictures, but they have detailed descriptions of bedbug sex habits and lots of information about the “blood meal” they’re out to get – from me!

What’s changed? TV critic Hickey thinks we let our guard down.

“There were so many taboos in the old days – stuff you simply couldn’t talk about. But the boundaries got pushed back and back until now nothing is too embarrassing and anything goes, and as a result it’s very, very hard to get attention. People have become difficult to shock and almost impossible to appall. So you need a riveting idea – something to really spark the imagination. Bedbugs crawling all over your face at night is one of those really powerful images.”

What can stop this current wave of bedbug stories?

“Boredom,” said Ms. Squeamish. Once bedbugs are no longer surprisingly gross, we’ll move on to something else that’s freshly disgusting, like cooties. Or silverfish.”

When will that day come? Not soon enough!
This is Bud (Bedbug) Buck!

What is your favorite kind of news story to turn off or skip over?

Babooners Out and About

Weekends just after Labor Day are the best. Let’s extend the school year, work until the Fourth of July and take the September off instead!

Some of our regulars have revealed their weekend plans.

Barb in Blackhoof mentioned the 17th Annual Harvest Festival and Energy Fair at Bayfront Park in Duluth. It’s a Saturday-only event with speakers on topics like the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels, workshops on composting and getting toxins out of your home, a farmer’s market and music.

The Renaissance Festival is underway in Shakopee. The theme this weekend – Ale Festival! There will be beer tastings. And your dog is welcome to come along.

I know for certain that Krista in Waterville and Mike Pengra will enjoy the Rock Bend Folk Festival this Saturday and Sunday. It’s in the center of the city of St. Peter and is completely free. Enjoy sunny skies (that’s the forecast) and good company in Minnesota Square Park and fine music on two stages, but leave your dog at home.

The line-up includes City Mouse at 4 on Saturday, and Crooked Still at 3:45 on Sunday. Here’s Crooked Still with an energetic version of an old song about a cabin boy who was betrayed – The Golden Vanity.

What did I miss? Will any other weekend events have a baboon in the crowd?

Another War Front

Once legitimate journalist Bud Buck continues his effort to bring us the news in a way that might interest people who are so overloaded with information, they can only respond to a crisis.

Here’s his latest try at re-reporting a ho-hum headline.

Fruit & Vegetable Forces Fail to Win Hearts & Minds
By Bud Buck

Many Americans were filled with resolve (and chips and pop) ten years ago when the Healthy People Mission was launched in response to the shocking news that our own bodies were stockpiling calories.

We were alarmed at the news that catastrophically destructive WMD (Waistlines of Mass Distention) were hidden in plain sight inside millions of our own homes, thinly disguised by roving bands of elastic. We were horrified to learn that a lethal cabal of Deep Fry Fanatics had taken hold and were promoting WMD in every little café up and down the Main Streets of our small towns and large cities!

We committed ourselves to find a way to turn things around, even if turning things around meant we might have to see our own backsides in the mirror.

Our mission – to achieve nothing less than a revolution in eating.

Our method – to transform the dietary landscape, to institute a form of nutritional regime change that would oust the oppressive twin dictators, sugar and fat, and bring relief to a land where people were suffering from a severe lack of opportunity to tie their own shoes!

Our goal – to send daily vegetable consumption skyrocketing from a miserable 26% to a respectable 50%, and daily fruit consumption from a paltry 34% of the population to a glorious 75%.

Going phone-to-phone, the brave surveyors of our BRFSS (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) have engaged the locals and using culturally appropriate techniques, they’ve managed to have a look inside the cupboards where the battle has been fought and apparently lost.
Here are the questions they asked:

“How often do you…”

1) “…drink fruit juices such as orange, grapefruit, or tomato?”
2) “Not counting juice, how often do you eat fruit?”
3) “…eat green salad?”
4) “…eat potatoes, not including French fries, fried potatoes, or potato chips?”
5) “…eat carrots?”
6) “Not counting carrots, potatoes, or salad, how many servings of vegetables do you usually eat?”

And now, ten years on, the results are in. Fruits have taken a beating, and Vegetables have barely held their own! Americans have spent a decade at the buffet, and have chosen chocolate pudding over green beans!

Is it this the moment to retreat from the relentless expansion of expansionist eating habits, or should we launch a Fruit Surge? Are we going to go belly up in response to bellies going out, or does America have the appetite for a prolonged Vegetable Engagement Strategy?

These latest statistics suggest that an increasingly wide-ranging defeat has already been awkwardly, but completely, embraced.
Time will Tell.
This is Bud Buck!

Bud sounds unusually breathless in this latest report, but it might be because he had to walk up some stairs to file it.

Fruits and Vegetables vs. Everything We Actually Eat. Which side are you on?

Classroom Strategies

Many students have been back at school for two days now. How’s it going? We have an early report from our good friend and perennial sophomore, Bubby Spamden.

Hi Mr. C.,

Well here I am, back again – 10th grader for, like, the 122nd year in a row!

I love it that school follows hot on the heels of the State Fair. In both cases there are lots of old favorites, just the same now as they year before and before and before.

Mr. Boozenporn always starts his “Life Choices” class with a speech about Adult Learning. He’s supposed to teach us about how important it is to have an active mind with a lot of interests all the way up to, and including, the moment when you croak. That leads us to talking about hobbies, and we always try to get him off track. Tuesday he went on and on about how he and Mrs. Boozenporn collect Back Scratchers. He’s no Gideon Weiss, but he and the Mrs. have about 28 of them hanging from hooks in the hall closet, or so he says.

I was just getting him to describe all the different ways he’s scratched his own back secretly in public when the bell rang. Too late to assign homework once again! I feel like a major league batter fouling off pitches. Last year I pushed our first assignment past the start of Fall. This year, I’m aiming for October!

Old standbys like Mr. B are great, but it’s the new ones that keep it interesting. This year, we have a first year English teacher named Ms. Kimball who has a bunch of ideas about how students learn.

Yesterday she started the class by having us read a little bit of The Odyssey out loud, then we practiced juicing up our writing with energetic verbs, then we had a quick multiple choice test on punctuation and we finished by reading quietly for ten minutes from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Every day we have to sit in an entirely different chair in a part of the room where we’ve never sat before. And every week the whole class is going to turn their desks to face a new direction. And she does weird things to the lighting. It’s all part of a plan to get us to take in the same information in a slightly changed setting every time. She says all the variety reinforces learning, but I say she’s doing it to keep me off balance. I can’t get her to take a detour from the lesson plan when the plan is so twisty already! And I’m not getting any help from my classmates because they’re all wondering what she’ll do next.

But the challenge of coming up with ways to undermine her is what keeps my mind fresh. I’ve been a sophomore for a long time, but in Ms. Kimball’s class I feel like I’m 15 again! I might have to resort to the old live-toad-in-a-lunchbox trick!

I’m aiming for perfect attendance again this year!

Your pal,

I told Bubby he might have met his match in Ms. Kimball.
It all depends on the size of the toad.

What classes have you taken as an Adult Learner, and how did it go?

Who Owns the North Star?

The North Star is at the Center of the Action

I ask the question only because Minnesota is referred to as The Star of the North in our official state motto, L’Etoile du Nord. It also comes up in our state song, Hail Minnesota.
The official state website is called Minnesota North Star.
We have North Star Commuter Rail.
And of course our hockey team was the North Stars until they moved to Dallas and became the (ordinary) Stars. But if you’re a puckster looking at it from the Mexican state of Chihuahua, the Dallas team may still be the North Stars to you.

But North Star-ness is all relative to one’s position. Since Minnesota was once the northern most U.S. State, “North Star” made a certain geographic sense. But now the northernmost title for States of the Union goes to Alaska, no contest. Accordingly, the North Star is featured on Alaska’s flag.
There’s a New Jersey-sized section of Alaska called the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

And according to a controversial profile of Sarah Palin in Vanity Fair, the ex-Governor and conservative firebrand is rather fond of the name North Star.

It was a baking-hot Kansas afternoon, and from the lobby I watched as three slender, solemn young hairstylists and makeup artists approached a front-desk clerk at the Hyatt Regency hotel, in Wichita. The tallest of them said, “We’re here for North Star.” The desk clerk understood. He nodded and directed the three women to the Keeper of the Plains suite, on the 17th floor, where North Star herself awaited. The North Star is mentioned in Alaska’s state song and appears on its state flag. Fairbanks lies in a region called the North Star Borough. Palin is on the way to making North Star a personal brand. If she ever does run for president, it might well serve as her Secret Service code name.

I should point out, though this will come as no surprise, that the Palin profile is not flattering. The author, Michael Joseph Gross, claims that he wanted to write a positive piece but was unable to once he started talking to real, anonymous-by-request people. That may be true, but one must wonder how hard he tried. When the person you are writing about refuses to speak to you and you wind up interviewing restaurant servers to find out what kind of tipper your subject is (not very good, it turns out), I’d say the odds already favor a negative result.

But it does lead me to this question – would Governor Palin’s Minnesota non-admirers be able to stomach her adoption of “North Star” as a “personal brand”?

North Star? That’s us! Not only have we claimed it in all the ways I already described, but we serve as the headquarters for Polaris, a snowmobile company that has taken the North Star’s given name as its own.

But here’s the unfortunate truth – even Polaris itself can’t lay an unassailable claim to the title “North Star”. Sure, it has been the pole star for one half of planet Earth for many years and since it appears motionless in the sky it has served as a vital navigation guide to seafarers for centuries. But due to a rotational wobble called the Precession of the Equinoxes, even Polaris will one day lose the title “North Star” to a different twinkler named Vega. But don’t despair. In Twenty six thousand years, Polaris will get it back.

Fickle universe!

If you became president, what would you choose as your code name?

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