Why does Alexa laugh? Why does Utah legislate?

Sunday , March 11, 2018 - 11:48 AM

I think I’ve figured out why Alexa is laughing at us.

In recent weeks, folks have been reporting that Amazon’s digital assistant will occasionally break out in spontaneous laughter for no apparent reason. The company insists the problem is that the smart speaker can misunderstand some voice commands as “Alexa, laugh.” But users are also reporting that Alexa will sometimes chuckle in a completely silent room.

Well, I’ve got a theory about her mysterious laughter.

The Utah Legislature was in session.

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Think about it: It can’t be mere coincidence that these inappropriate bursts of artificial mirth started about the same time our lawmakers held their 45-day session, sifting through a record number of bills dealing with everything from “free-range kids” to the penalty for holding a raccoon.

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Our legislators considered more than 1,300 bills, and while it’s true they did some good — many politicians are proclaiming this year’s session the most successful in years — they also stepped in it a few times. Here are three compelling reasons why Alexa might have been unable to control her laughter between Jan. 22 and March 8:

1. Alexa finds it hilarious that Utah is looking to spend tens of millions of dollars to change the name of its mass transit system.

Unhappy with what some have labeled mismanagement and corruption among Utah Transit Authority officials, the Legislature voted to restructure the organization — including a new name. Under the plan, UTA will become TDU (Transit District of Utah).

Of course, changing the name on all buses, trains and signs carries a pretty hefty price tag. One with, potentially, seven zeros behind it.

Many Utahns are understandably upset. They get that the culture at UTA needs to change, but wouldn’t it be cheaper to just keep the name and work at regaining the public’s trust? We could use the $50 million for other things — like eliminating the urine smell on buses.

If the state really does feel the need to change the name, perhaps they could at least keep the UTA acronym to save money. That way, you don’t have to change ALL the signs, just the ones that carried the full moniker.

Hey! Maybe we could hold a contest to change the UTA acronym. Like, “Utahns Tired of Avarice.” Or, “Usurping Taxpayers’ Authority.”

Ooh, or we could just sell the naming rights to fund the switch. I know of at least one company that would be willing to pick up the tab — and pay an additional, oh, say, $1.7 million — to give the system the clever transportation-oriented “ETA” (EnergySolutions Transit Authority).

2. Speaking of renaming things, Alexa can’t stop giggling at the idea that many in the Legislature actually wanted to rename a highway in the state after Donald Trump.

And not just any highway, either. Rep. Mike Noel, R-Naturally, wanted to rebrand the 631-mile Utah National Park Highway in honor of the controversial current president.

The reason? To thank Trump for downsizing Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.


So let me get this straight: The man who is no champion of America’s wide-open spaces here in the West — who reduced two national monuments, who wants to dismantle regulations protecting the environment from big business, who believes climate change is a hoax, and who never met a scenic view that wouldn’t look better with some gaudy hotel plopped down in the middle of it — THAT’S the guy you want to reward with an eponymous highway that, ironically, winds past five national parks?

Why not just put “TRUMP” in that iconic gold lettering across the top of Delicate Arch and be done with it?

Although public outcry eventually pushed Noel to withdraw his bill, he insisted he had enough votes to pass it. If the disembodied Alexa had a head, she’d probably be shaking it right about now.

And, playing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

3. The Utah House of Representatives’ recent attempt at rap music may have earned Alexa’s loudest laugh. But only because the smart speaker hasn’t been programmed on how to sob uncontrollably.

Remember the old “Schoolhouse Rock!” Saturday morning cartoon programming? Well, the Utah House recently created its own rap song to explain how a bill becomes law. Set to the theme song from the 1990s Will Smith sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” state representatives created a rap they called … wait for it … “Fresh Prints of Bills Here.”

Yeah. It’s that bad.

In fact, it’s easily the worst thing the Legislature has ever done, and I’m including: A) The Zion Curtain; B) Those idiotic signs telling you whether you’ve staggered into a bar or waddled into a restaurant; and C) That time when the House gave one of its members a standing ovation after he admitted to paying $150,000 in hush money for a nude hot-tubbing incident involving a 15-year-old girl.

Although the majority of the all-white rapping representatives came from Utah and Salt Lake counties — because, really, nothing says “rap music” like the geographical heart of Mormonism — there was one participant from Davis County. (Brad Wilson, who wears a ballcap with the bill turned sideways for his brief-but-unforgettable scene.)

The performers, who show absolutely no sense of rhythm or rhyme, awkwardly recite cringeworthy lyrics like: “I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there/ I’ll tell you how a bill become law in this our chamber.” (Emphatically pronounced “chaim-BEAR” to rhyme with “there.”)

Somewhere in America, a majestic bald eagle just dropped to the ground, dead.

And we wonder why Alexa laughs …

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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