Despite the seemingly endless election coverage, little attention has been paid to what is perhaps St. Helena’s most time-sensitive initiative on the local ballot: MEASURE TM. Here’s an analysis that I hope my fellow St. Helena voters will find helpful on Election Day:

yes-on-tmAbout MEASURE TM:

MEASURE TM would levy a 1% sales tax to be used to fund the development and construction of a city-owned Time Machine. This Time Machine would allow St. Helena locals to collectively travel back to a happier, simpler time before the tourists came, before certain hiring, compensation, contractual, zoning and permit commitments were made, and before we ever agreed to become an incorporated city within the county of Napa. The tax would apply to all purchases made within the city limits, construed as including: V Sattui, Meadowood, and Dean & Deluca because, seriously, we’ve got to have some source of tax revenue here. It applies to purchases of all prescription, non-prescription, legal and illegal drugs, to groceries, fireworks and pantyhose, and to otherwise tax-free swap-a-doo’s of cases of cabernet exchanged by winking locals gainfully employed in the wine industry (and you know who you are).

Argument In Favor of MEASURE TM:

St. Helena faces serious problems that only a working Time Machine can solve. We must seize this opportunity for a municipal “do-over” to ensure that we never again grant anyone a permit to do anything, ever. We can then buy up all the available houses and rent them exclusively to (a) people we like and (b) people who work here, which we admit comprise two very different groups. We can design a more classic City Hall that won’t soon resemble the set from a re-run episode of Starsky & Hutch shot on location in Glendale during a particularly dusty summer. We will interview people who bequeathed land to the city to confirm their future wishes, and we will remember to write down what they tell us (and where we put the piece of paper we wrote it on). Plus — if we travel back 100 years — we can elect a precocious teenage Alan Galbraith to start negotiating savvy water contracts, flood control grants, and favorable easements on our behalf. Sure, we will miss our cellphones and laptops for a while, but the ability to afford our water bills, fix potholes and borrow library books in the new millennium will more than compensate. Vote Yes on MEASURE TM.

Argument In Opposition to MEASURE TM:

Let’s get real – the chance of our actually developing this Time Machine is about as likely as our achieving consensus on a General Plan, extending the Vine Trail through St. Helena, or identifying the meat inside the pot stickers at Golden Harvest. We all know that Mr. Peabody has been working on his invention of a WABAC machine since 1960, but neither he, nor Sherman, nor H.G. Wells, nor any Shark Tank contestant, nor that guy who invented the super-sucking-vacuum, have brought such a product to market. A 1% sales tax will disproportionately impact certain already disadvantaged locals, although those who are purchasing large amounts of prescription or non-prescription and illegal drugs won’t care as much. We urge our neighbors not to dwell in the past but to instead embrace change, both societal and technological, with the possible exception of those new chipped credit cards. And we fear the risk posed by certain members of our community (and you know who you are), who might set the dial for the year 1950, then sabotage our Time Machine and strand us all there, in an effort to make time stand still forever and consign St. Helena to the modern-day equivalent of Brigadoon. Vote No on MEASURE TM.

In related legislation, a group of locals is gathering signatures to add MEASURE B2F to the 2018 ballot. MEASURE B2F would levy a .50% sales tax to fund construction of a DeLorean, with Flux Capacitor, for travelling back to the future. They can’t wait to find out how it all turns out for the citizens of our timeless city of St. Helena.

– Laura Rafaty, lrafaty@yahoo.com, http://www.laurarafaty.com
(for another blast from the past, read the author’s Up the Valley column on Donald Trump from 2011 in the Star: Up the Valley: I Like Mike).

Published in the St Helena Star Newspaper, October 26, 2016

Dear Readers,

I will be back and writing very soon — I’ve been on a short hiatus while I re-think these columns, looking for ways to distill maximum silliness into bite-size pieces. Thankfully, recent encounters with Garrison Keillor, pistol-packing drag queens and Proust-reading tourists have inspired a new wave of creativity about to make a splash — or at least little puddles – on this blog.

Meanwhile, I am proud and grateful to announce that for the third year in a row, my “Up the Valley” column in the St. Helena Star was a winner of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award in the category of humor, under 50,000 circulation. Judge Tom Walsh reviewed 160 humor columns submitted, and made these comments:

Ms. Rafaty’s work is consistently very intelligent and well-written, offering her readers insights into the quirky aspects of what passes for culture. I’m still chuckling over her line in the column “The Skinny” in which the reader is asked to “Picture Popeye’s Olive Oyl in a D-cup.” Great stuff, column to column.

The column won first place in its division the last two years, and second place this year. My last regular column for the Star appeared on April 23, 2014.

Awards were granted in six categories, and went to distinguished journalists from the New York Times and The Washington Post as well as to regional publications. A posthumous award was given to Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, while two-time Pulitzer winner Gene Weingarten received the 2014 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.

For more about the NSNC and my fellow columnists, see: http://www.columnists.com/2014/06/nsnc-column-contest-winners-2014/

Our local leaders make an unusual proposal to protect a local eyesore:  My latest column in the Star….

It is remarkable how one neighbor’s eyesore can be another’s architectural treasure.

In the decorous neighborhood where I grew up, one house on our street featured a lawn display adorned by plastic deer and the associated flora and fauna of an enchanted forest. For years neighbors plotted — and sometimes accomplished — the kidnapping or mutilation of Bambi & Family, but replacement creatures always magically appeared in their places.

Another neighbor’s front yard contained a tranquil Japanese garden complete with bonsai-style trees, cement pagodas and cherry blossoms that, while lovely, were in distinct disharmony with the wagon wheel-adorned ranch house next door. In otherwise restrained neighborhoods, I’ve seen homeowners display a lifetime’s accumulation of hubcaps, beer bottles and faded, burnt-bulb lawn figures re-creating Santa’s Workshop year-round.

Here in St. Helena, where the town’s residents rarely reach a consensus on anything, there is a building located on a busy corner of town that is so incongruous, so dilapidated and so deleterious to the landscape, its pending demolition has inspired a resounding chorus of: “It’s about time.”

Chiming in with dissenting voices, strangely enough, are The People’s representatives at City Hall.

By way of background, let me explain that the blemish in question consists of the unsightly remains of a gas station built in the 1940s. It is a battered white metal box with a small service window, connected via tattered overhang to a platform that once supported gasoline pumps, harkening back to a time when motorists had their gas pumped and windows washed by live humans. In its day, it undoubtedly displayed a distinctly Edward Hopperesque Deco design. But today it is downright shabby, held together by peeling paint, decades of congealed grease, and plastic signs advertising smogging services.

The owners of the local hardware store — a respected and community-spirited family — purchased this old gas station property, which is adjacent to their store. They planned to replace it with a well-designed two-story commercial building, welcomed by many residents as a long-overdue overhaul of the downtown streetscape. Two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, their developmental dreams were dashed when city officials deemed the rickety relic a “character-defining element” of the downtown historic district, triggering further delays and pricey environmental impact studies.

Rather than demolishing this architectural anachronism, City Hall’s planning experts are demanding that the owners relocate it to a public park several blocks away, where it can be shored-up and repurposed as (wait for it) a restroom.

Ah yes, what greater tribute could be paid to the architect’s vision than to have his work permanently enshrined as a public toilet, where transients, escapees from police custody and local canines frequenting the adjacent dog park may forever seek refuge in its historically insignificant embrace.

Ironically, City Hall is itself such a ramshackle teardown that city leaders tried last year to offload it to some unwitting buyer looking to invest millions of dollars to replace it with a hotel, hoping guests would taste enough Napa Valley cabernet to sleep through the eardrum-splitting sirens of the Fire Department downstairs. City officials seemed desperate to dispose of the premises before someone discovered ancient relics buried in the basement or spotted owls nesting in the eves, or before some do-gooder came along and had the thing declared a “character-defining element” of historic downtown.

Still, this irony may present the perfect solution. Since the current occupants of City Hall seem so sentimental about this former service station, I would propose a swap. The hardware store owners should be permitted to build their new commercial building on the current site of City Hall, while city government should be relocated to the old corner gas station.

This would prove extremely convenient for everyone involved. Residents and prospective business owners could utilize this “Drive-thru City Hall” to have their permits denied without the bother of having to get out of their cars. Land-rich-but-cash-strapped locals could drop off sacks of gold, livestock or other tributes to pay their ever-rising water bills. And routine municipal services could be outsourced to overseas workers, at considerable cost savings to the city.

Imagine driving up to the window, but instead of an attendant, you encounter a giant menu and tiny speaker, just like Jack in the Box. You might select No. 1: Business License, No. 2: Building Permit, No. 3: Use Permit, and so on. A courteous Indian-accented voice streams through the speaker, saying: “We will be exceedingly pleased to help you. It is our great happiness to serve your profoundly important needs. If you will kindly give us your most excellent order and your telephone number, we will be contacting you very shortly, or never, as the case may be. Thank you for doing business with the Best Exotic City of St. Helena.”

If only you could order fries with that, it would be perfect.

Up the Valley: On the Prowl

November 6, 2013

The State of California’s advice to those encountering dangerous animals in state parks?: “You’re on your own!” Today’s column in the Star newspaper

A Napa park was briefly closed one early morning last month, after a city worker spotted a mountain lion roaming there.

The spotter was a public works employee. The spotee was nowhere to be found, having wisely skulked off before the Napa County Sheriff’s Office — which apparently fingers four-legged criminals when not shadowing Wal-Mart shoplifters — arrived on the scene.

But the scary part of the story was what happened when the city’s Parks, Trees and Facilities Manager called the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for help. As reported by the Napa Valley Register:

“Fish and Wildlife did not respond to the incident because mountain lion sightings are common and do not typically signify a public threat, said department information officer Janice Mackey.”

“Also, reported mountain lions often turn out to be golden retrievers or large cats, she said.”

To be clear: this was not a sighting by an intoxicated teenager or nearsighted vagrant. It was reported by a city public works employee, communicating up the chain of command to park management. Presumably, if it was just some crazy guy from the maintenance department who regularly spots dangerous imaginary creatures while picking up trash in the park at 6 a.m., his superiors would not have reported the matter to state officials.

Which raises the question: when did it become discretionary for state wildlife authorities to respond to emergency calls? Should public officials feel free to ignore any claims of impending catastrophe they find implausible? Nature-loving citizens prefer to believe that if, while traversing some remote and darkened path, they are confronted by a coiled rattling snake, their panicked pleas for help will not be greeted with the response: “It’s probably just a shoelace.” Perhaps there should be a website where terrified citizens cornered by wild animals can Instagram photos of the beast, as documentary proof of their imminent risk of becoming said animal’s next meal.

This incident perhaps unfairly portrays the State Department of Fish and Wildlife as another useless expenditure of state tax dollars, not unlike the Office of Lieutenant Governor, or the California State Legislature. At least state legislators respond to constituent calls with the recorded message: “Given the Democratic supermajorities in the legislature, control of every statewide office including the Governor’s, and dominance of our U.S. congressional delegation, we no longer see the point in debating anything. We’ve gone fishing with our buddies at the Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

But fear not; the Department is available to dispense potentially life-saving advice. According to the Register’s reporting:

“If a person does encounter a mountain lion, the Department of Fish and Wildlife advises not running from the animal. Instead, people should face the lion, make noise, wave arms to look bigger, throw rocks or other objects at the lion and pick up small children. If attacked, the department says to fight back.”

Good to know. Although this type of confusing, multi-part instruction could be misapplied in a panic situation, leading frightened citizens to first throw their children at the lion and then pick up a pile of rocks. Or they might try throwing their cell phones at the animal, since the gadget’s effectiveness as a rescuer-summoning device is suspect. Still, the Department’s direction to fight back is well-taken, unless the victim is a Republican in the State Legislature, in which case they should probably just turn and run.

Clearly the Department is playing the odds. The Register reports that the Sheriff’s Office receives three to four calls per year regarding mountain lions in that part of town; one call per year in that particular park. And Ms. Mackey reassures us that “mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare, particularly given the number of sightings” — only 16 in California in the past 100 years; six of them fatal.

If you or a loved one are among the unlucky 16, it’s a statistically significant number. And for all we know, the actual incidence of fatal mauling may be much higher, with death by mountain lion often misclassified by county coroners’ offices as “a nasty slip-and-fall after being startled by a large cat or golden retriever.”

Here in hyper-aware St. Helena, however, all reports of potential attackers are taken seriously, whether they pertain to menacing predators prowling popular city parks, chain store advance teams scouting Main Street locations, or low-income housing developers cruising residential neighborhoods.

Our public officials may not always be able to tell a potential affordable housing site from a hole in the ground, but they can darn well distinguish between a large cat, a golden retriever, and a mountain lion.

As if Yountville doesn’t look enough like a theme park already, its latest winery will be staffed by dwarves. Really. Today’s column in the Star newspaper.

When I am not stoking my schadenfreude by deconstructing wedding announcements in the Sunday New York Times, or sharpening my math skills by tallying factual errors in the Napa Register, I often expand my social horizons by reading Paul Franson’s NapaLife, a newsletter describing the full spectrum of happenings in the Napa Valley.

In a recent issue, NapaLife confirmed a story that had been rumored for months:

The Del Dotto Family is opening a new winery called Ca’Nani, meaning “house of the dwarves.” Franson quotes Desirée del Dotto as saying: “We do plan on having some little people working there,” and describes the project as “an Italian country-style winery with caves, being built across from Mustards in the Yountville Hills” featuring “a fairy-tale theme with various characters for each wine produced.”

The Ca’Nani Facebook Page displays a dwarf carrying an outsize bunch of grapes, and a winery design that looks like a fantasy Italian stone castle courtyard, but without the gritty realism of Castello di Amorosa. The owners explain: “We chose this theme for our new label because dwarves are jovial and light hearted, and perhaps magical.”

This project raises several obvious questions, including: Doesn’t Yountville look enough like a theme park already? Who are these jovial dwarves (the few I’ve met were decidedly cranky)? Will there be a “Dwarf Wanted” posting on WineJobs.com? And doesn’t this give delightful new meaning to the phrase “short pour”?

This story should become a Napa Valley epic fantasy novel:

Once upon a time, there was a brave planning director and disciple of Saint Helena, who ventured into the forbidden village of Yountville to observe its legendary wonders: wide pothole-free streets, clean branded awnings, and certain mythic buildings kept for the use of “visitors” who are reputed to “check in” and “stay the night.”

An enchanted place where faux-Italy and faux-France peacefully co-exist, there is supposedly no school system in Yountville; just a fairy princess who reads fables to young children before stuffing them into the oven at Bouchon Bakery. Overwhelmed by its beauty, the planner wanders into Hurley’s for a restorative lager, and accidentally leaves behind his precious Golden Drafting Compass.

This Golden Compass, essential for making planning decisions on Saint Helena’s behalf, is placed in a box behind Hurley’s bar and lost for what feels like 1,000 years. Without it, no one can assess the square footage of a hotel site, or calculate the city’s water needs, or determine the number of staff required to run a municipal department. Thus the Upper Kingdom of Saint Helena, unable to pass even the most General of Plans, cedes its dominance to the Middle Kingdom.

Fortunately, the People’s Prince, Lord Dario of Sattui, during a late-night rendezvous at Hurley’s, retrieves the Compass and conveys it to his Upper Kingdom Castello for safekeeping. There it is locked in a dungeon guarded by an irascible Croatian gargoyle answering to the nickname of “Mike.” Access to the treasure requires enthusiastically chanting the word “Cheers” 50 times to a troll at the gate.

Meanwhile, the Lords of the Middle Kingdom plot to recapture Saint Helena’s Golden Compass and usurp her town’s exhaustively-market-researched-and-branded position as “Napa Valley’s Main Street.” And so they erect a fantasy kingdom of their own deep in the Yountville hills, and cunningly lie in wait for the day when they might deploy an army of dwarves to seize the talismanic Compass.

The epic battle unfolds as the diminutive warriors commandeer the Wine Train, venture Upvalley, and storm the Castello. But wily Prince Dario, who maintains a second, less-lofty castle on the side, summons its army to advance from the south, and routs the would-be usurpers. The small-stature survivors scatter to hide in the Petrified Forest, followed by a long and perilous journey to the Safari West wildlife preserve. There they will mount flying unicorns and journey back to the Middle Kingdom. (How do you know there aren’t unicorns at Safari West? You haven’t been there.)

A peace conference is convened by the Lower Kingdom’s Tax Assessor and Registrar of Voters, but he betrays both parties and steals the Golden Compass for himself. Lacking any compass of his own, he has been unable to certify election results for what feels like 1,000 years.

(Lest you feel that my fear of impending invasion rings false, remember that the Town of Yountville recently announced plans to annex Domaine Chandon, which is much like the time Henry V decided to annex France, except that instead of resulting in the acquisition of another country, it will result in the acquisition of another Michelin star.)

Meanwhile, back in the Middle Kingdom, will the Lords of Kellerville and Chiarelloland, and Sir Richard of Reddington, sit idly by, or will their publicists force them into the fray? Will Ca’Nani’s promised fairy-tale characters include dwarves named Swirly, Sippy and Spitty? And will the ultimate victors be the lawyers of would-be winery workers over 4 feet 10 inches in height? You’ll have to read another chapter in the “Lord of the Wrongs” cycle to find out.

Has the Napa Valley Wine Train revealed that St. Helena’s slip is showing? Today’s column in the Star…

Tourists are different from us, not just in origin, but in mindset. This was never clearer to me than during a recent cross-valley trek on the Napa Valley Wine Train.

The word “trek” is defined in the Random House Dictionary as “to travel or migrate, especially slowly or with difficulty,” and in South Africa: “to travel by ox wagon.” I’ve never actually traveled by ox wagon, but I suspect that your average well-motivated oxen can haul their keesters faster than the Wine Train chugs its way up and down the valley. And while I would never describe one traveling in the leisurely luxury of the Wine Train as experiencing “difficulty,” the phrase “especially slowly” fits its schedule to a T.

This is not a bad thing. For vacationers wishing to drink in the beauty of the Napa Valley — its lush vineyards, verdant hills and expansive skies, while sampling delectable food and wine — it’s a delightful experience. Guests can choose from the retro skyline rail car with birds-eye view, the rough-n-ready open-air saloon car and luxury dining cars recalling train travel’s glamorous heyday. With stop-and-go traffic a major hassle for visitors, the chance to relax and let the train engineer do the driving must be a treat.

But for a bunch of busy local business-owners trekking in the middle of a workday, it became an exercise in Zen Buddhist mind-control. I’m talking about a recent trip organized by the ever-energized St. Helena Chamber of Commerce, when a phalanx of local leaders, merchants, restaurateurs and other chamber members were invited to enjoy lunch on the train. Like many locals, I had not experienced the Wine Train, so it was a chance to discover why so many call it a highlight of their valley visit and to meet its friendly and knowledgeable staff.

The company was congenial, the wine flowing and the food thoughtfully prepared by Chef Kelly Macdonald. But as I toured the other cars, each brimming with well-dressed revelers enjoying their vacations, I couldn’t help but compare them with us stressed-out locals. Disconnected from our offices and forced to “be there now” for what felt like an eternity, we stewed watching our everyday landscape pass by in slow motion. And while we settled into semi-relaxed conversation, many of us lunged for our cellphones at lunch, seeking an Internet connection like addicts scrambling for a fix.

The train slowed to a crawl approaching St. Helena, so several of us decided to take a closer look at our fair city from the viewpoint of a Wine Train passenger. And I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that what we observed was disturbing. Because like many cities viewed from the train tracks — as opposed to the view from the main highway — it often looked downright shoddy.

Picture a panorama of the backs of buildings with unmatched or peeling paint, punctuated by trash containers, weeds and broken asphalt. A few were well tended, and some unkempt buildings were spruced up with flower boxes and other random decorations. But overall the view revealed an urgent need for a total makeover of the Great Lady of St. Helena’s backside, and the immediate application of the municipal equivalent of Spanx so that her unsightly bumps and bulges might be more completely camouflaged.

I sympathize with the building owners, who likely never expected their backyards to become Napa Valley focal points. It’s as if a magazine offered to do a photo-shoot of your home, but then only photographed that ugly spot right next to the compost bin where you’ve stacked your old skis, rusting hammock stand and unused trampoline awaiting eventual consignment to the dump.

I had a similar experience recently while making my bathroom sparkle, suddenly noticing its unsightly ceiling. What was shiny was now splotchy, and little bits of soap congealed above the shower were now turning colors like specimens ripening in a laboratory. I considered cleaning the ceiling, but for those who have never tried it, let me give you a word of warning: “Don’t.” First you spot-clean, but those spots are now a different color from the rest of the ceiling. So you try cleaning the whole ceiling, but the finish changes and so you need to repaint, which is impossible to do without dripping paint on the walls, so now you are repainting and re-flooring, and you really might as well just move to a new house.

We all have some eyesore, junk drawer or embarrassing backside we don’t want exposed to the public, whether in our cities, in or homes, on our persons or in our personal histories. Luckily the Wine Train tourists experiencing St. Helena’s rearview seemed unfazed. They laughed and ate and toasted and drank, no doubt planning to visit Main Street for a shopping excursion during their trip. As for us locals, we resolved to add: “Tart Up St. Helena’s Posterior” to our to-do lists, just as soon as we were finally able to detrain in Napa, reconnect to our smartphones and retrace our treks — briskly — back home.

Flashback: Gadget Envy

June 19, 2012

This silly thing was published in the St. Helena Star on February 11, 2011.  Still posting the oldies  to get them up on the ol’ inter-web, so hang in there!  If you want something newer, scroll down to Wine Open below…

We in St. Helena generally consider our city vastly superior to Napa in most respects, yet in one area Napa can claim a distinct advantage: cool crime-fighting tools. You may recall last year, when the Napa PD chased a suspected Walmart shoplifter (of $70) by helicopter, eventually plucking him out of the Napa River assisted by flashy fire department speedboats, in a scene right out of the movie “The Fugitive.”

And last summer, when an explosive device was reported downtown, the Napa PD bomb squad deployed a highly trained expert in an elaborate 80-pound beekeeper’s costume, who gingerly attached a rope to the thing, dragged it across a bumpy street into a pile of sandbags, and blew it up. The bomb-defeating hero later explained that he was forced to handle the incident in this decidedly old-school fashion because Napa’s robot was “down for maintenance.”

So this has left me wondering ever since: Why doesn’t St. Helena have its own robot?

It is difficult to fathom how we have survived as a municipality without one for so long, since we are completely gadget-crazy here. The minute Apple dreams up a new wireless device it seems half the town is carrying one, despite the fact that it is useful primarily as a doorstop due to the unfortunate placement of AT&T’s antenna in a secret, lead-lined bunker. And when a local restaurant unveiled a gizmo adding bubbles to still water, its competitors had bubbly-water-makers within days.

It is rumored that researchers at NapaStyle are working round-the-clock to develop an animatronic Michael Chiarello for photo ops with celebrity-chef-seeking tourists at Bottega. Plus, as I’ve mentioned: Napa already has one. Clearly we need our own shiny, obedient and discriminately lethal robot, for the following possible uses:

• It can run for Mayor.

It must be lonely for His Honor, running unopposed for high office. Nothing takes the fizz out of the champagne at the victory party like an inability to brag about beating the brains out of your opponent. Wouldn’t it be great if we could spice up the Mayor’s campaign with bumper stickers saying: “At Least He’s Human” or “My Candidate Doesn’t Run on Batteries.” The pre-election debate alone would be worth the price of the contraption, although we’ll have to remember to set the robot’s weapon to stun.

• It can welcome visitors.

Since the city is threatening to remove all funding from the Chamber of Commerce, and downtown business owners spend approximately 68 percent of their time directing tourists to the bathroom, the robot could serve as a Goodwill Ambassador, roaming the streets dispensing coupons, restaurant recommendations, wet wipes and local wine. It could even be programmed to dispense useful misinformation (which we’ll blame on a software glitch) such as driving directions to Yountville that involve traveling west until you hit the ocean, or a geologic history of Calistoga attributing the bubbling sulfur hot springs to decomposing vegetarian dinosaurs passing gas.

• It can fight crime.

There’s a new sheriff in town, as our ever-vigilant robot walks the beat and perhaps rips the head off a shoplifter or two, just as a warning to the others. Watch out, Cheers! revelers, as you’d better be sporting a tightly attached wristband or risk losing a wrist.

• It might even be called into high-risk situations, like maintaining order at school board meetings and announcing local water department rate increases (Note to manufacturer: Please make sure to include the double-strength combat-grade bullet-proof grenade-repelling armor).

Obviously, the St. Helena Robot will be invaluable. Yet how, you might ask, can we possibly pay for it? I’m not generally in favor of displacing human workers with robots, so let’s replace bomb-detonating robots with humans. I personally know at least a dozen thrill-seeking boys between the ages of 8 and 68 who would gladly blow things up at a moment’s notice, many of whom would pay for the privilege. We could auction off the opportunity to blow up the next suspicious object found in town; even lend the high bidders out to blow things up in Napa for a fee (plus we don’t have to clean up afterward).

Not only would this raise funds to pay for essential services, but it would set the entire population of conscientious boys ages 8 to 68 into action seeking out suspicious packages wherever they may be inadvertently set down for a moment or two in the Safeway parking lot while searching for the car keys. And that’s Homeland Security we can live with.