Ludicrous Leporidae Laws Lead to Legal Legerdemain

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When the Feds announced the sequester plan, I was quite afraid that essential federal employees would be furloughed like mere private sector employees.

Fortunately, my fears proved unfounded. Oh, sure, D.C. announced that a few thousand air traffic controllers and law enforcement officers were forced to stay home, but really essential services are safe. I present to you: the Federal Bunny Inspectors. Better known as the US Department of Agriculture.

You thought the USDA's main function was to pay farmers not to grow anything and to advertise food stamp enrollment in Mexico, didn't you? Because you’re a narrow-minded libertarian. If so, hah! Prepare to stand corrected, little miscreants.

Enter Marty Hahne, an illusionist based in Ozark, Montana. Now, Montana is a place where small businesses aren't doing too badly, considering that unemployment in the state is 5.5%, way below the national 7.6%. So obviously, this place needs more regulation.

What is Montana's most common disaster? Every resident can attest that it is the meth-addled, toothless junkie driving a three-ton truck.

That is probably why the USDA sent Hahne an 8-page message, starting with the delicious salutation "Dear Members of Our Regulated Community." You can't make this stuff up. It brings back the nostalgia of the famous "Hello happy taxpayers" line that Droopy the dog uttered in Tex Avery's cartoons.

But this is not a joke. The letter demands that Hahne write a disaster plan for the rabbit he uses in his show. We learn that the rabbit falls under a regulation dreamed up by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service under the pretense of implementing the Animal Welfare Act. Said regulation was promulgated last year, but somehow, sadly, Hahne missed it. As a result of his oversight, he has until July 29 to write his plan. He and his wife must then get training to implement the written plan and submit the plan to the USDA inspectors.The goal is to make sure that the rabbit is safe in case of a disaster.

But what is Montana's most common disaster? Every resident can attest that it is the meth-addled, toothless junkie driving a three-ton truck. I suggest, therefore, that Hahne write a document explaining that if he and his rabbit are run over by an addict, his wife could slide the rabbit under the USDA's office door for inspection. Training would be provided by regularly rehearsing the procedure, using roadkill.

However, if Hahne wants to save himself this trouble, there is an obvious solution, reportedly confirmed by a USDA inspector: conclude his show with a demonstration of a boa eating the (humanely killed) rabbit. The USDA would then consider the rabbit as a feed animal and drop its ridiculous requirements.

Other magicians have already decided to (gasp!) use stuffed animals to avoid the whole nuisance.

Let's hope that these workarounds don't gain ground. I'd hate to see our most industrious civil servants deprived of disappearing rabbits. They would then be forced to invent even more intrusive, counterproductive, obnoxious regulations in order to justify their own existence and expand their bureaucratic empires.




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This Is Not a Spoiler

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Sometimes I just want to say, "See this movie!", without any explanations. Hugo is one of those movies.

But this is a review, so I have to give you something. I'll give you this: Hugo is enchanting. It's magical. And like all magic tricks, the less you know about it, the better. But unlike the

typical magic trick, this story is true. And that's quite a trick for a story that begins with a little boy who lives in a train station.

Director Martin Scorsese is known for his dramatic edge, so it comes as quite a surprise to see him making a holiday film with a PG rating and a children's theme. Don't let that theme and rating deceive you, however; this film is a masterpiece of subtle allusion, deep emotion, and satisfying metaphor.

In many respects Hugo is a paean to movie making itself — which raises the film far above the typical holiday release. Watch for allusions to great movies of the silent era. Even Hugo 's setting inside a train station is a tribute to the very first motion picture, which simply showed a train pulling out of a station. Audiences jumped out of their seats in terror, thinking they would be hit by the speeding object. That's the magic of illusion. And fear of a speeding train is part of the magic in Hugo.

Scorsese's decision to film Hugo in 3-D is also a tribute to the pioneers of movie making, who went to great lengths to create a sense of depth and reality in their films. Hugo reveals some of the early tricks, thus becoming a history of cinematic art as well as a great piece of art itself.

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a boy of about eight who lives behind the walls of a Paris train station during the 1930s. Unbeknownst to the people in the station below him, he takes care of the numerous clocks by winding them daily and fixing their works when they wear out or break. From his ceiling roost he watches the quirky, almost cartoonish characters below him, and he watches over them as well.

To the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), however, Hugo is just one of many little street urchins who pilfer food from the station shops and belong in the local orphanage. The Inspector has been injured in the war and wears a mechanical brace on his leg. He, too, is broken — almost like Hans Christian Andersen's "Steadfast Tin Soldier." His character is both menacing and endearing, especially when he gears up the courage to talk to the station's flower-shop girl (Emily Mortimer).

Hugo can fix anything — clocks, windup toys, and even a robotic "automaton" that his father (Jude Law) has found in a museum. His vision of the world as a giant machine brings comfort to him in his loneliness. "There is never an extra piece in a machine," he tells a young girl who befriends him (Chloe Grace Moretz). "Every part has a purpose. So I must have a purpose too."

In a sense, Scorsese is that little boy who can fix things. With the magic of film he rights a wrong that was perpetrated almost a hundred years ago. And he does it with a film that is wondrous, luminous, and entertaining.

Go see Hugo. Let the magic envelop you. Get caught up in its tale of dreams brought to life. Then spend a few minutes on the internet finding out how the trick was done. You will be astounded to learn the background of this amazing story. But I won't give you a single hint until you've seen the show for yourself.


Editor's Note: Review of "Hugo," directed by Martin Scorsese. GK Films-Paramount, 2011, 127 minutes.



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