Hail’s Scales

Some unfortunate Minnesotans had their homes and cars (and heads!) damaged by hail Tuesday evening. Bummer. I hope all repairs and recovery go smoothly.

Most of the weather reports I heard last night kept to the standard American sports scale of measurement – marble sized to golf ball to baseball to softball. That’s assuming you consider marbles a sport.

But I wonder – is that our entire athletico-spherical vocabulary? What about handballs? Raquetballs? I’ve never heard a weather forecaster try to parse relative hardness of hail, though it does vary. If your job is to encourage people to take cover, you would naturally go with the most impressive choice and baseballs and billiard balls are more motivational than tennis balls.

A lacrosse ball is smaller around (7.5 inches) than a baseball (9 inches), could offer a useful distinction, but you never hear meteorologists talk about “lacrosse ball sized hail’. I assume In England and India a handy frame of reference would be “Hail the size of cricket balls.” Try that over here and people would be confused. Cricket balls? Aren’t they very, very tiny?

Not everyone follows sports, so sometimes we use the vegetable scale, starting with pea sized hail and going to … well, that’s about it. I guess we’re just not a vegetable-loving people. Has anyone ever reported brussel sprout sized hail? Hail as large as neatly trimmed radishes? And what about the rest of the grocery store? Hail the size of eggs? Lemons? There’s a report on this page of hail as big as walnuts. Has any spot on Earth ever received Personal Watermelon sized hail, and if so, did anyone live to tell about it?

Not that all hail is perfectly round. In fact, it can be flattened and oblong, but I’m still waiting to hear about a storm that dropped “hail the size of Vienna Fingers” or “cell phone sized hail”.

Then there’s the monetary scale. Dime, penny, nickel, quarter and even half dollar sized hail have been noted, but why stop there? What about “hail as destructive as bundled sub-prime mortgages”? I would run from “Bernie Madoff hail”, and cower at a report that claimed: “hail just swept through Eden Prairie like a mammoth Ponzi scheme, leaving no one untouched.”

What’s the biggest hail you’ve seen? And how would you standardize the measurment?

Land of 10,000 Wagers

This note arrived early this morning from Spin Williams – a big idea man and the marketing genius in charge of The Meeting That Never Ends.

I see the city of Minneapolis is making a bid to get the Minnesota Vikings to fully participate in a plan for a new stadium on the site of the Metrodome! And at the same time there’s a push to expand gambling by building a casino on the other side of downtown Minneapolis.

Sports and gambling!

At The Meeting That Never Ends, we agree that S & G are the promised land because that’s where the money is! And everybody needs money, so it makes sense that these two ideas are crashing the party at the very moment the legislature is trying to solve a huge budget problem. Far from being distractions, S & G are the answers, and they’ve come knocking!

Some loud people don’t like having their money taken away by government to pay for “the common good”, especially if the good in question is perceived as being for people more common than they are. And let’s face it, who doesn’t think everybody else is a lot more common than they are?

But many of the same complainers will hand over huge sums of money gambling, following sports teams, and gambling on the sports teams they follow. In just about every case, they are guaranteed to part with phenomenal amounts of cash. But they can’t help themselves. They love sports and gambling too much. And why not? The entertainment these activities provide has real value

Government, on the other hand, is seen as dull, uninspiring, greedy and wasteful. However, to the people involved in the decision-making, it is exciting and unpredictable. Anything could happen!

That’s why we think every state in the union, and particularly a sharply divided state like Minnesota, could close its financial gap by permitting, and taking a cut from, gambling on state government decision making!

Think about it! Right now you have an exciting two horse race for the new Vikings stadium – Arden Hills or Minneapolis. It’s a three horse race if you count Los Angeles. Sports fans are intensely interested, so why not let them wager on the outcome? The state would take a portion of all bets, so in spite of the fortunes being made and lost by players, the government wins every time!

Lots of issues would draw massive wagers; putting gay marriage on the ballot, building the Stillwater bridge, or redistricting! Let people put their money behind their passion in a constructive, public way. They could get rich if they prevail, and if not … at least they could say they were in the contest to the end.

It’s a typical complaint that people with money will flood the political system with cash contributions to politicians and PACS, much of it in a thinly disguised attempt to influence public policy in a way that pays off for them financially! But public policy is too weird and nutty to control – it’s all a crap shoot! And when it’s not a crap shoot, it’s poker, which is the game the governor and the legislature are playing over the budget. In the end everything will be determined by who has the best cards and the most nerve. And poker is hugely popular entertainment!

So let’s totally buy into that idea, and turn state government itself into a public policy casino!

Just an idea. I don’t really have time to follow up, though, so you can take it from here.

Like most of Spin’s ideas, this one is half finished and full of unforeseen problems. But he’s not an implementer, he’s a creator, and I think he has already moved on to the next challenge.

Like to gamble?

Vast Wasteland

Fifty years ago today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow spoke to the National Association of Broadcasters and told them it was time for television to “grow up”.

The bigwigs of broadcasting were not delighted by this dressing down from a bureaucrat. The most benign (and delightful) reaction to Minow from the TV industry came when the producers of Gilligan’s Island named the cast’s ill-fated boat after him.

You can listen to the whole thing if you want, but here’s the famous quote (the long form):

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.

Newton Minow is still with us today at age 85, and last month wrote a commentary for The Atlantic about the anniversary of his famous speech. He bemoans the fact that so much emphasis was placed on the words “Vast Wasteland” when he thinks the most important word pair in the talk was “Public Interest”.

But there you go. The result proves his argument. Regardless of what you think you mean to say, opportunistic interpreters will find the most provocative and lucrative part of your statement, and that is what we will peddle. And by “we”, I mean the bazillions of us who make up what some call “the media” of 2011. Minow’s original critique focused mainly on the offerings of three measly networks. Big deal.

Here at Trail Baboon, my preferred method of trivializing significant things is to celebrate them with a silly, sing-songy poem. Why should Newton Minow be spared?

Newton Minow watched TV
and said he was appalled it
did not deserve its public, and
a wasteland’s what he called it.

A two-word slam. A snide remark.
A snotty little slight
That for 50 years has stung
And made us wonder – was he right?

A scolding seldom wins the day.
A snob is just a snob.
And to wag his finger at the box
was Newton Minow’s job.

He did his part. He turned his phrase.
He sang his little song.
But seeing how the landscape changed
We know he got it wrong.

Because Minow didn’t know about
“Apprentice”. The poor guy!
He had not beheld a Hasselhoff
Or seen a CSI

In ’61 no one had watched
Mob Wives or Jersey Shore.
But today we gladly take these shows
To have and to abhor.

The ‘wasteland’ part is accurate
today as in the past
but he blew it when he called
his paltry ‘60’s circus “vast”.

What’s the worst TV show you’ve ever seen?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

When my youngest graduated from Stanford in ‘08 and took a job at a venture capital firm that finances Initial Public Offerings for tech startups, I relaxed. I thought he was going to be spending his time with responsible people. So imagine my surprise when he comes home for Thanksgiving and he’s got a tattoo on his arm – a company logo for DigiChip – an image of a standard potato chip but with sparks flying off the sides and all kinds of technical thingies on it. And it was etched on his arm – that beautiful, pristine, still baby-soft skin! I almost fainted. His explanation? It was the first account he ever worked on, and he wanted to remember it.

I still can’t believe he turned his body into a shrine for this miserable company, because they were out of business by the following Memorial Day. I think my child’s ravaged skin is the only thing left of DigiChip – not that anyone would notice because he’s cluttered up the rest of his exposed flesh with logos from all the OTHER companies he’s worked with in the past 36 months – mostly bankrupt news aggregators and failed social networks (why would you name one “Sardine Tin?” People don’t want to be THAT close!). I joke that they’ll have to fire him in two years when the illustrations start creeping up his neck.

The latest atrocity hurts me more than all the previous tattoos combined – the company is called “Mother’s Milk Energy Drink”. The image is a bottle of the product with a heart superimposed over it, and yes, the word “Mother’s” on a scrolled banner.

If my child is going to have any form of “Mother” written on his skin in indelible ink, it had better be there as a tribute to ME, not to honor some toxic combination of carbonation, corn syrup and caffeine!

He says “If you want it to be for you, mom, it’s OK to think that. I’m sure the dudes at Mother’s wont mind.”

Dr. Babooner, I bit my tongue, but what if I mind? Doesn’t that count?

Listen You Dope, I’m Angry!

I told L.Y.D.I.A! that this was a terribly unfortunate situation and I can understand her distress, but she needs to remember two things.

1) Tattoos today are not the same kind of outsider’s social statement they were when she was young.
2) Some people just get too wrapped up in their work.

When one’s child emphasizes the professional over the personal, one should feel pity alongside the rage. Eventually it will dawn on him (in the shower perhaps), that he has emotionally over-invested in these shaky IPO’s.

And it wouldn’t hurt to mention sometime that when you gave birth to him, it was an extremely risky and terribly painful Initial Public Offering that has been a good investment overall, though there have been some shaky quarters of late.

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

Professional Absentee

It seems like every May there’s a morose note from Wendell Wilkie High School’s perennial sophomore, Bubby Spamden. What a pity – to be so young and so bleak in springtime.

Hey Mr. C.,

Summer’s coming, and it looks like the job scene for teens is tough again this year. Getting a definite “no” or just plain being ignored all the time can wear a guy out, especially since all I’ve ever heard since I started school was how great I am and how I should really, really feel good about myself all the time no matter what.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The past few years of being held back as a high school sophomore has been kind of humbling, but I started with a huge excess of self-positivity and there’s still some left in the barrel. Still, I’m thinking about giving up my job search so I can preserve what’s left of my ME! reserves.

I have looked all around and so far there’s just nothing. It doesn’t help that my grandfather is applying at all the same places I am – the burger shop, the coffee place and the movie theater. He’s 84 and says he needs some extra money to help pay for his medications or he’ll die. Talk about piling on the guilt!

When I told my mom I’d have to stay in the basement playing video games all summer so grandpa could live, she gave me THAT LOOK. But I’m serious! It really helps to have the feeling that what you’re doing (or NOT doing) makes a difference in the world, and making it so I could buy my popcorn from Gramps at every summer blockbuster this year while getting to see him so happy behind the counter, over-filling the pop orders, snarling at the 12 year olds and getting fake butter smeared on his cheerful yellow ScreenLand vest, that would be something I could point to with pride while I tell my friends ‘I helped make that happen!’.

Mr. Cornsmut told the FFA kids that some farmers get paid to not grow crops so I’m wondering – could I get paid for staying out of the job force? Seriously – me not being in the way of more deserving candidates is worth something, isn’t it? In fact, being absent-for-hire may be the next big business opportunity! There’s so much competition for everything, why not pay me something to thin the job herd by at least one?

If that worked I’d also try to get paid for staying out of the wilderness, out of the bowling alleys, out of that crafts store my mom likes and out of the dentist’s office too! It looks like every single place is more and more crowded than ever before, except for bookstores and video rental places, so there’s lots of opportunity.

I would even consider taking money to stay off the roads, if only somebody would give me a car first so I could get paid to park it. Then I could start dating, as long as my girlfriend was OK with us not actually going anywhere.

My mom says if I don’t find a way to make money this year, they’ll send me to Punctuation Camp, so I’m getting a little desperate. What do you think of my idea, Mr. C? I know you’re in the job market – would you like to be the first to pay me something to stay out of your way?

Your pal,

I told Bubby he was making a LOT of assumptions with his “plan”, not the least of which is the wild guess that some fictitious girlfriend would be satisfied to just go sit in a car with him. I know teenage girls are sometimes irrational, but it’s hard to imagine that there is one so lacking in common sense and ambition that she would be attracted to this offer. If she does exist, her parents might pay her something to NOT go out with Bubby – a wise investment, I think.

As for Bubby getting paid by me or anyone to not apply for jobs – it sounds like a Ponzi Scheme or trading in bundled sub-prime mortgages – a method of making money that could only work if one could suspend the laws of mathematics. So ten years ago he might have had a shot with that idea, especially on Wall Street. In 2011, maybe not.

He gets points for imagination, but Punctuation Camp sounds like a real possibility.

What would you give up in exchange for money?

Pothole Poetry

We may be broke dollar-wise, but we’re rich in potholes!
Let’s celebrate our wealth with some appropriate limericks.

There was a pothole in Cloquet
That was always, somehow, in the way.
When your car took its pounding
The noise was astounding
And bolts were seen rolling away.

A pothole in Inver Grove Heights
Was replete with suburban delights.
It had flora and fauna
A dock and a sauna
And mini-golf under the lights.

In an ancient pothole in St. Paul
Hieroglyphics were found on one wall
But their worth was debunked
by each car that ka-chunked
and the water that blasted them all.

Got a pothole story? A limerick of your own? Share the pain!

Job Opening!

For people who use mass transit, there is a moment you dread – when you realize the bus you meant to catch is pulling away from the stop and you are still three blocks down the road with an bag of groceries clenched in one arm and a cranky four year old hanging from the other.

Unemployed people have a similar kind of sinking-in-the-gut sensation – when you find out they’re hiring for your dream job the day after the position closes. That’s how I felt when I discovered Virgin Galactic was looking for three pilot/astronauts.

Too bad, because I could easily see myself doing this!

True, I don’t feel comfortable with heights and I tend to get slightly dizzy from sudden movements, but there is nothing in the job description that says you have to look down at the ground from outer space or turn your head quickly. In fact, doing either of those things would probably interfere with your efficient operation of the next-generation Virgin Galactic space plane, the SpaceShipTwo! A great pilot/astronaut would keep his eyes on the controls, no? And my eyesight is pretty good, especially around the middle part of the day. I don’t do so well after dark, but that wouldn’t be an issue. In space, the sun is always shining!

Oh well.

It’s undeniable that technically I was lacking in some of the specific qualifications, like graduating from an accredited test pilot school and logging at least 3,000 hours flying highly complex, super-fast jets. Oh, and the job announcement says “prior spaceflight experience is an advantage”. Fair enough. When filling out the application, I’d be forced to admit that I’ve never been in space before. But at least it’s not required!

And I’m sure once the Virgin Galactic people got to know me, they would be mightily impressed with my extensive knowledge of what it takes to be a public radio folk music disc jockey. Some very useful qualifications never make it into standard job descriptions because the people doing the hiring just don’t stop to think about the value of some unusual types of experience!

Good luck to the candidates who got their applications in on time, and a sharp salute to the three who will be chosen to be pilot/astronauts for Virgin Galactic. Just remember this when you put on your fancy helmet and your crinkly silver jumpsuit with your name stenciled above the left pocket – it shoulda been me!

What’s the best job you ALMOST got?

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