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Polar Vortex Redux

Image – NOAA Climate Prediction Center

Today’s post comes from Unreliable Journalist Bud Buck.

Meteorologists and paranormalists are watching with great interest as conditions conspire to raise some serious questions about the true nature of the mysterious forces that propel our weather.

Although I have talked to at least two people and maybe three about this topic, no one has yet been able to convince me that there is not something spooky and ominous afoot!

In a bit of timing worthy of a vengeful and nefarious supervillain, the dreaded weather phenomenon known as the Polar Vortex is coming back at exactly the right moment to make Minneapolis’ All-Star summertime a bummertime.

Starting off what is normally one of the warmest weeks of the year, this Monday will see a high temperature of only 65 degrees with 25 mile per hour wind gusts driving a cold rain into the faces of Important Visitors From Afar – those cherished opinion leaders congregating in Minneapolis for Major League Baseball’s annual All Star Game Tuesday night.

Unseasonably cool conditions are also certain to mar the beginning of a seven day stretch that the city’s mayor has identified as Bragging Week.

Coincidence? I put that question to TV meteorologist Gust Hailstone, who said “What are you talking about?”

I proceeded to explain to the clueless Hailstone that some people are saying the Polar Vortex is actually more than a weather system. These individuals believe the Vortex is actually a sentient being – a roiling stew of temperature differentials and moisture, brought into consciousness by the electricity in lightning, and configured just perfectly to have a vendetta against the city of Minneapolis!

“That’s ridiculous,” Hailstone spluttered. “I’ve never heard anybody say that.”

“You’re a liar,” I replied, “because I just said it, and you heard me.”

The real question is – why is the Polar Vortex trying to ruin our reputation by making all of America and the rest of the world see Minneapolis as a place that is too cold to visit, even in the summertime?

I put that question to paranormalist Jade Seance.

“That’s already our reputation,” she said. “Through the thick mists that separate this life from the next one, I can sense that even the dead people shudder when Minneapolis is mentioned.”

The moment she said “Minneapolis,” I felt a deep, clean chill, almost as if a door had been left open, or a ghost had walked through my physical body. I quickly spun around, expecting to see the Vortex standing before me in the form of a living, breathing arch-fiend!

But no! It was an open door. Her receptionist had quit the day before and Seance propped a chair against the entryway so passers-by could see us gathered around the table, holding hands.

“People will pay you good money and put up with a lot of malarkey if you’ll just hold their hand for an hour,” she said. “Some folks are really desperate to make any kind of human contact.”

Still, I had to ask. “What does the Polar Vortex want with us?”

At that very moment, the lights came back on, the wind blew the door shut and Seance said “Time’s up! If you want more answers it will be another hundred dollars.”

Indignant, I marched into the street, found a cop, and complained that I had been bamboozled by a paranormalist. But as soon as the officer found out I was a local person, she detained me on charges of raising the stress level when company’s coming and violating the promotional ethos of Bragging Week.

The Polar Vortex strikes again!

This is Bud Buck!

Naturally, Bud is trying to make this as dramatic as possible so he can draw attention to himself. But I think he imagined this entire episode, or at least embellished it. I’m confident that weather does not have needs or desires when it comes to complimenting or ruining our events.

Or does it?

When has the weather undermined your plans?

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We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Ask Dr. Babooner – Start Seeing Billionaires

We are ALL Dr. Babooner.

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m the billionaire head of a massive corporation, so there’s no denying I’ve had some success in life. But I’m not just a money object. I think of my self as well-read and clever, and I have lots of ideas that surprise people, including me.

Recently I suggested that all our lives would be better if robots did more of our routine work because if people only had a four day work week, that would free us up to spend more time with our families.

It was an innocent suggestion, but boy did I get hammered for it!

Critics say I don’t understand the plight of the average person working an hourly job in America today who struggles to feed children keep a home intact.

They also say I’m a snooty, self-involved party boy.

But this should come as no surprise. In case you didn’t notice my first line, I’ll repeat it – “I’m the billionaire head of a massive corporation.”

For as long as I can remember, there has been an unlimited amount of money available to fill any need and satisfy every whim! Do I realize that many people work 60 and 80 hour weeks to make ends meet to support a family?

No, I don’t get that!

Can I comprehend the connection between time spent working and income for low-income people, namely that a shorter work week and fewer hours spent on the job means less money overall?

Of course not! Work is something I do to pass the time while my money makes itself.

I know this is pretty basic information, but being a billionaire today relieves you of any curiosity you might have about other people. I barely talk to my rich neighbor, so how could I be an expert on the lives of the poor?

The fact that so many people don’t understand how it feels to be the billionaire head of a massive corporation makes me wonder if there’s a market out there for Billionaire Awareness Training. With so many of us calling the shots in business, politics and technology, it seems to me that even a hotel maid would have something to gain from truly understanding the Billionaire mindset.

If nothing else, it might explain all those wet towels on the floor.

Like I say, I consider myself clever though my ideas have more to do with imagining the future rather than facing some other person’s reality.

I suppose critics will claim the poor don’t have time with all the hours they’re working to take a class about understanding billionaires. But that brings me back to my original point – robots can cover for them!

They can even take the course online, and if they don’t have access to the internet, I’m sure course materials could be delivered by drone to the front doors of their hovels!

But reaction to my previous brainstorm has made me a little gun shy, so before I put it out there I thought I’d better get a second opinion. Dr. Babooner, what do you think of my idea?

Billionaire Head of a Massive Corporation

I told B.H.O.A.M.C. his idea is fantastic and he should move quickly to copyright and implement it. Even though the normal people of the world do not necessarily love billionaires on a personal level, they think the lives of billionaires are fascinating and most would jump at the opportunity to immerse themselves in details about the billionaire universe.

One suggestion – if Billionaire Awareness Training is offered as an evening class, why not have it catered at the poolside classroom?

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?


Up the Viral Staircase

About fifteen years ago I heard how blogging would change the world of journalism and transform the ways we consume information.

Someday every person would write a blog and traditional news gathering would soon give way to a million beautifully written first-person accounts of every important event and critical issue. Paid reporters would become obsolete.

I thought that was silly, and I was certain blogging was something I would never do.

Time made a fool of me on that last point.

But I’m not yet convinced that personal blogs can change the world aside from simply increasing the level of written noise. Although with so many computer users out there offering their precious attention to online articles, the potential seems great.

In a sense this is like playing the lottery – you don’t blog for very long without entertaining the fantasy that something you’ve written will “go viral” and lead to a situation where so many people are following you and reading your work, you can lounge around in your pajamas all day, making a comfortable living by sharing your interesting thoughts with an eager, easily transfixed world.

The power of massive popularity is potent! I started blogging in the Fall of 2008. Almost six years in, I’m still viral-resistant and massive-popularity free.

But the other day I read about a survey that explains what I have to do to score big. The researchers took a look at what it takes for online content to be widely shared, making the person responsible for said content an overnight sensation.

All you have to do is follow the steps upwards to glory, right? A sort of viral staircase. It turns out certain kinds of articles are shared more readily than others.

The problem is this: writing one of those articles sounds like a lot of work. I didn’t start blogging to put in any actual effort.

The survey, from BuzzSumo, is pretty clear about what succeeds. Long, in-depth, well-researched pieces (at least 2,000 words) are preferred by influential people who share lots of “content”. The most widely shared posts inspire feelings of “awe”, “laughter”, and “amusement”, in that order.

And if you don’t already know the difference between laughter and amusement, your cause is hopeless.

There were more viral content triggers listed based on interviews with people who were asked why they shared a particular story online.

The reasons were:

  • To bring valuable and entertaining content to one another
  • To define themselves to others (give people a better sense of who they are)
  • To grow and nourish relationships (stay connected with others)
  • For self-fulfillment (to feel more involved in the world)
  • To get the word out on causes they care about.

And one more thing – most of the top-shared articles were quizzes! This conforms with the theory that people will readily share a thing if they think it provides a window into their own personalities.

All very instructive, and of course I’d love to write a post that will be seen by millions. How am I doing on the checklist? Not so well. At this point I’ve written fewer than five hundred words – not even a fourth of the way to the required 2,000 word point for world-dominating status.


Clearly I will have to find a way to short cut this guaranteed-viral content process.

How? With a stupid poem, of course!

I’ve highlighted all the key words so there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that I’m doing what I can to touch every important base.

Please please please share what you saw -
A blog that filled your heart with awe.
It’s deadly aim on social cues meant
you felt waves of deep amusement.
And when thinking of it, after,
you convulsed in gales of laughter.

Observations, so aligned
your personality defined.
A simple string of words has willed
that you feel fully self-fulfilled.
And if you don’t know what that is,
It’s too late now – this is a quiz.

A post that hits its targets well
and rings each viral content bell
except this heartless length command -
the word count must exceed two grand!
At seven hundred now – No dice!
Unless, of course, you read it thrice.

How good are you at following directions?


City in the Clouds

As part of yesterday’s discussion of one’s most favored habitat, I neglected to mention this enchanting idea – colonizing the planet Venus.

The surface of Venus is too hot for comfort (or even existence), but apparently at an upper level of the atmosphere it’s cool enough to be habitable as long as we solve these thorny problems:

  • Nothing solid to stand on.
  • No lakes or beaches.
  • Certain death in a planetary blast furnace if you fall off the edge.

But on the plus side, you’re considerably closer to the Sun, and even if you can’t surf you can tell the suckers back on Earth that you’re having a fine time in Cloud City.

This would not be a friendly environment for those among us who are worst-case scenarists. All you’d have to do is look up to see the giant kevlar balloon keeping cloud city afloat to start imagining myriad ways in which things could go catastrophically wrong.

And then of course there’s island fever – a popular name for the syndrome where one feels hemmed in and limited even though one’s prison is Maui. Being such a townie, I don’t doubt a completely artificial floating city could be constructed that meets all of my work and entertainment needs – a desktop, some nice restaurants and a few stages and cinemas – but after I’ve boasted to my friends that I live in Cloud City, what would I do with the stark realization that I’m stuck forever in Cloud City?

I suspect the final design will have to include a safety net that hangs below, just like the Golden Gate Bridge.

You’re going away for good. Name your preferred prison.


Misunderstood Mariners

Today’s post comes from the skipper of the pirate ship Muskellunge, Captain Billy.


Me an’ me boys is quite excited t’ see that underseas adventurer Fabien Cousteau finally came up for air after bein’ submerged for over a month in his “Mission 31“. A human bein’ livin’ underwater fer 31 days may seem unnatural t’ most, but if yer name is Cousteau there is certain obligations one must meet, no matter how unpleasant.

Likewise wi’ pirates.

Artists Approximation of Captain Billy
Artists Approximation of Captain Billy

We pirates is great fans of them Cousteau fellas on account of they is quite passionate about th’ oceans of th’ world, an’ so is we. Just like Jacque an’ now Fabien, we is at sea pretty much constantly, except when we has t’ come ashore t’ get more money.

Fabien Cousteau says his goal in stayin’ in a school-bus sized habitat 65 feet below th’ surface was to get “… future generations to care about the oceans, to cherish them, to be curious about them in a way that was during my grandfather’s era.”

An’ our goal in stayin’ on the Muskellunge fer 20 years (at least) is t’ avoid gettin’ arrested, which is what would happen t’ us if we was spotted on land in daylight.

Fortunately, we loves it out here. Ain’t that right boys?

But we knows what Fabien Cousteau is up against when he tries t’ get ordinary folks t’ care about th’ welfare of water dwellers. Landlubbers just ain’t sufficiently appreciative of ocean beings or th’ ocean as a whole. An’ I has it on good authority that many of ya is creeped out by all the creatures livin’ underwater.

This here video be one good example of th’ sort of thing shore dwellers imagines is goin’ on right beneath their feet when they gets in any amount of water what is over their heads.

Groupers can be a might nasty. An’ naturally sharks is a persistent fascination on account of all their teeth, an’ even when one of ‘em bites a fella by accident it still makes th’ news!

Likewise, we pirates is disparaged when we plunders and pillages a coastal village or robs th’ crew of a tanker, an’ even though we don’t enjoy our maraudin’ an’ carryin’ on’ as much as it may seem when they talks about it on CNN. We does it fer the same reason a giant grouper bites a barracuda – because th’ opportunity presented itself an’ its in our nature.

So I just wants t’ say this about th’ ocean an all them what lives on an’ in it: fish is people too! An’ we pirates, whilst certainly fearsome, has our tender sides as well. An’ we is all merely doin’ them things we was put on Earth, or on water, t’ do.

Yer seafarin’ pal,
Capt. Billy

What is your natural habitat?

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Freedom Underground

On this Fourth of July in our nation’s capitol, thousands will celebrate the American Way of Life and look to the sky in wonder. But they would be just as awestruck if they could see what’s going on beneath their feet, where a massive project is underway to dig a drainage tunnel that will help clean up Washington D.C.’s rivers, the Potomac and the Anacostia.

The capitol city is separating its storm and sanitary sewer systems, a $ 2.6 billion twenty year project to prevent the overflow of raw sewage into the rivers – something the Twin Cities achieved in 1995 but a calamity that still happens regularly in our federal city to the tune of about 3 billion gallons each year.

When I think about the privileges we share as Americans, I recognize that much of it comes from the founders and the military and the sacred documents and all the other things we regularly celebrate on the Fourth.

But a lot of it also has to do with infrastructure.

A country left festering in its own sewage cannot advance the health and welfare of its citizens, so when we’re being grateful for our peace and prosperity let’s remember to thank the people who keep our own poop out of the streets.

Just as Francis Scott Key swiped an old drinking tune and wrote new words to celebrate an icon of freedom that was partially obscured by darkness, I propose we sing an ode to this completely invisible but oh-so-necessary subterranean tunnel project.

It’s not that weird. Key’s original lyrics feature three extra verses that we never use, and one of them already includes the word “pollution.”

Down where no one can see, out of mind out of sight,
excess leakage is bailed from the rivulets streaming.
It’s as airless as Mars, and with even less light.
But we’re digging our way to a future that’s gleaming.

In the laser’s red glare, tunnel builders know where
they are heading tonight, although we’re unaware.
Oh say does that underground excavator still pave
through the sand of under D.C., and the loam of the brave?

Who deserves an ode?


Jaws of Life

Today’s post comes from Bart, the bear who found a smartphone in the woods.

H’lo, Bart here.

Just a note to say if you’re traveling near the woods for the 4th of July, please be kind and considerate when it comes to the local bear population.

And by that I mean watch your behavior if you happen to see us standing by the roadside as you drive into a National Forest. We’re not there to greet you – we’re looking for sloppy campers. So if you roll down your windows and offer us treats and try to get us to come over to the car, you should know that the rangers are watching and we might seem a little coy or even disinterested.

This is not actually the case.

We’ve noted your license plate and we’ll be coming to visit you later under conditions that are a little better for getting to your stash of goodies. It turns out we bears are famous for opening locked cars in unconventional ways. And all it takes is the smell of food inside – you don’t have to leave anything substantial in there.

Crumbs are enough.

Before you complain, just remember it’s not malicious vandalism – we’re simply being true to our nature.

And while we’re on the topic of peeling open vehicles, I’d like to take a little bit of credit for a heroic act. I saw that a fellow named Bob Renning did an amazing thing the other day when he pulled open the locked door of a burning car in order to save a stranger who was dying of smoke inhalation inside.

He did it through personal courage, brute strength, adrenaline, and smarts – he grabbed the top edge of the window frame and pulled it back, bending the metal at its weakest point and breaking the window so he could pull the victim to safety.

His heroically bent door is on the left. A door pulled open by a bear in search of food is on the right.

Need I say more? True heroes know where to look for inspiration.

Full disclosure: Mr. Renning performed his feat of strength while channeling an instinctive humanitarian impulse that is noble and good. I would do the very same thing to get a package of Ding Dongs out of the glove box. To tell the truth, I’ve done it to get a crumpled up Ding Dong wrapper off the floor of a locked car.

So I’m not saying Mr. Renning took his cues from a bear when he intervened, but if he had been a bear, he could not have done a better job.

Be nice to us! We’re brutes, but we’re cute!

Your pal,

What is your greatest feat of strength?

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