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These are tough times. We’ve misplaced a major city, proved ourselves as overmatched by problems in the Deep South as we are by problems in the Middle East, and wasted a whole lot of time responding to global insistence that the world would be a better place if we could produce smart politicians as readily as we produce smart bombs. The few columnists who aren’t still feeding at the bottomless trough of our abject failure to handle Hurricane Katrina are griping about the president’s decision that the open Supreme Court seat should go to the most qualified candidate in his car pool. Our country is dodging brickbats from all quarters. We should be used to it by now. Hell, we’re Americans. We get criticism for everything that takes place between Patagonia and Pluto. We are the flak jacket of planet Earth, and most of that criticism has about as much effect as rain on Kevlar. But this time there’s more foundation for the criticism than usual, so it’s harder to take. One of the first rules I learned when I was an umpire was, “If they’re wrong, shut ‘em up and get back to the game. But if they’re right � if you blew the call � you just gotta let ‘em vent.” This is always hard for me to do. I’m a natural-born flag-waver, and it’s hard for me to watch people throw tomatoes at Uncle Sam. I come from one of those households where “My country, right or wrong” somehow co-existed easily with “Question authority.” While it’s difficult to explain how, the message I internalized was that the country was always right, but the government was always wrong. (See F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”) So at times like this, I’m always looking for something to reassure me that the good old United States of Amazing is still as unsinkable as Molly Brown. And sure enough, there it was, courtesy of the Associated Press: “Human Cannonball to Be Fired Across U.S.-Mexico Border.” Abso-blanking-lutely! God bless America! Say what you will about global politics or disaster relief, when it comes to shootin’ things, nobody’s as good as we are. IT’S A BIRD! IT’S A PLANE! Turns out one David Smith Sr., who already holds the record for the longest human cannonball flight in the history of the universe, was planning to have himself cannonaded � or, in this case, cannon-aided � from a beach in Tijuana into Border Field State Park in San Diego. It was billed as the first international human cannonball firing. This, of course, is precisely the kind of thing that scares the rest of the world witless when they contemplate that we are the world’s one and only superpower. Smith, who hails from Half Way, Mo. (which just has to be the worst hometown name ever for a human cannonball), announced his intention to be launched from a cannon, fly across a “rusty, corrugated metal fence,” and land in the United States. My understanding is he wanted to do the traditional jump over school buses, a la Evel Knievel, but the U.S. Border Patrol wasn’t willing to let him line up a bunch of school buses that close to the border, so he had to settle for unconstructed sheet metal. (The rust adds a nice touch of danger, though. Apparently, the thinking was that being shot out of a cannon was a little pedestrian, but risking lockjaw . . . now that played on a fear right up there with giant spiders and radioactive leeches.) A CRAZY IDEA? But to fully appreciate how this must look to others, you need to contemplate how this project originated. The Associated Press reports, without further elaboration or explanation, that the event was “organized . . . with psychiatric patients at the Baja California Mental Health Center in Mexicali, Mexico, as a therapeutic project.” As near as I can guess, the patients were planning a performance of “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade,” but decided real mayhem would be more therapeutic. So one of them suggested: “Hey, I got it. Let’s shoot somebody out of a cannon over some rusty, corrugated metal fencing. Any luck at all, that’ll be a lot more bloody and depressing than �Marat/Sade.’ ” (I can only assume they had never actually seen a production of Paul Weiss’ magnum opus about the French Revolution or they would have known nothing could be more bloody and depressing.) All agreed that was a great idea, but apparently even they were unable to find anyone in Mexico crazy enough � so to speak � to do it. Fortunately, Mexicali is just a stone’s throw from the mother lode of crazy, and it was no problem at all to find an American willing to provide this kind of therapy. Enter the Smith family, which, according to AP, has constructed seven cannons that, at any given time, are busy launching five assorted Smith offspring and siblings all around the world. (Except that, “If one of the girls has a baby, they can’t be a cannonball during that time.” The AP does not make it clear whether this is a Smith family rule or a Labor Code provision.) Kinda makes you glad your own dad went into the aircraft industry, doesn’t it? Anyway, Smith Sr. fairly leapt at the chance. I mean, how often do you get a chance to be shot from a cannon and promote mental health at the same time? Unfortunately, the American government was not as sanguine about the whole idea. GOTTA BE A LAW You had to know this was gonna be a problem, didn’t you? I mean, if there’s anything we’re better at than shooting, it’s bureaucracy. You had to know that somewhere in the government was an agency in charge of regulating human cannonball flight over international borders, didn’t you? Of course there is. Turns out the United States has a bunch of rules about flying over our borders. According to the AP, “It is against the law for anyone, including U.S. citizens, to enter the country outside an official port of entry,” whether on foot, by air, or in the trunk of a car. (And this concludes the CLE portion of today’s program.) And nothing illustrates the wisdom of that law better than this case. I mean, can you imagine the chaos if word got out that you could be launched by cannon into the United States without prior legal clearance? You know those Canadians: Once they find out there’s something more dangerous and harebrained than ice hockey, box lacrosse, and gravy and cheese curds on french fries � honest, they call it “poutine” � they’ll be launching into Wisconsin hourly. We’ll be running the terror-alert flag up to orange so often, the whole country will look like Syracuse on game day. Fortunately, federal law anticipated this problem. Sleep well, America � Congress is on top of it. You cannot be shot out of a cannon into the United States without prior clearance from the Border Patrol. Smith wisely decided he didn’t want to “land in the U.S. and go to a federal penitentiary.” So he cleared it with the chief of the Border Patrol, David Aguilar. THE BURDENS OF COMMAND Poor Aguilar. Can you imagine? You’re trying to combat illegal immigration with the nine deputies and six dogs funded by Congress (which, of course, is made up primarily of people from states that have no international borders), and one of your subordinates � a guy with no prior history of mental instability � walks into your office and says, “We have a request from a Mexican mental hospital to allow someone to be shot from a cannon in Tijuana over our rusty, corrugated metal fence into Border Field State Park in San Diego.” At this point you gotta be thinking, I knew I should have taken that Coast Guard appointment. But you don’t say that. Instead you say, “Why would anyone want to do that?” And the answer is, “They say it would be therapeutic” � a response that makes it clear to you that you have spent your entire life misunderstanding what the word therapeutic must mean. So your choice is to (a) enforce the law and be perceived as anti-mental health and anti-Mexico, or (b) ignore the law and go down in history as the guy who OK’d the human-cannonball-over-the-border shot. Aguilar went with (b). I hope it works out for him. It’s already made him my favorite Bush appointee since Colin Powell. And it worked out for Smith. He made it over the rusty, corrugated metal fence and is now waiting for the pregnancy tests to tell him when the family will be ready for its simultaneous assaults on the Hawaiian Islands. It’s a great day for America. Now, about New Orleans . . .
William W. Bedsworth is an associate justice at the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana, Calif. This article previously appeared in The Recorder , an ALM publication in San Francisco.

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