A blow to the ‘misery economy’ (5×8 – 1/10/12)

The pain index bottoms out, Best Buy from the inside, apples to Apple, the candidates who keep politics ‘interesting,’ and the cupcake incident upon further review.



It’s very nearly the time of the year when the temperatures dip to -10 or so in Minnesota. Today’s forecast? Fifty-five degrees. Last evening I saw a gentleman riding his motorcycle in South St. Paul. January and motorcycles don’t typically go together.

On Saturday, I noticed an Army Corps of Engineers (presumably) barge dredging the Mississippi River near Pig’s Eye. The low water levels on the river could impact the shipping season on the river. The river currently is 10 feet below flood stage in Saint Paul.

Is it too soon to wonder what July is going to look like around here?

MPR’s Tom Robertson today looks at how the weather is damaging the snowmobile economy, with many people going to Michigan and out West instead.

The Star Tribune says people in the cross-country skiing business are in bad shape. “This will toughen retailers up, and some will probably go out of business,” the owner of a Long Lake shop said.

It’s easy to feel sorry for people who make their living helping others have fun. But ours is a winter economy that requires you to have some awful days.

Someone makes money when you skid into a snowbank and need the car fixed. But not this year. Someone makes money when the ice dam sends water cascading into the living room. But not this year. Someone makes money on sandbags, sand, sump pumps and boots. But not this year.

Then there’s the damage to nature. There’s a chance, Midwest Energy News reports, that the stress on the trees will finish what the drought last summer started.

Ironically, Minnesota’s trees are less equipped to sustain cold ground temperatures than trees from Iowa or Missouri, where snow-less winter months are more common. A sharp cold snap without any snow to insulate the soil would mean widespread root damage, which would make trees more vulnerable to drought until their roots reestablished themselves. “If we ended up with an Arctic air outbreak without any snow on the ground, and the soil temperatures got down to, say, 15 to 20 degrees in the top couple of feet, we could have huge tree mortality.”

Which would be fabulous news for the nursery business.

So, stop your whining, Cordova, Alaska

(Photo: Ice fisherman on Lake of the Isles last night. Taken and submitted by Mike Finn)


It’s not entirely clear if Best Buy CEO Brian Dunn intended to provide a forum, pulling back the curtain on his electronics store’s practices, but that’s what he’s done to the delight of many people. Dunn wrote on his blog the other day that he was unhappy with Forbes’ magazine, which suggested the Minnesota-based giant was heading for the scrap heap of retailing.

But Dunn left the comments “on,” and store employees across the country have been rushing to share the perspective from the inside. Like this:

The reason everybody, from professional writers to commenters to the average person on the street, gleefully piles on Best Buy at the first hint of trouble is simple: the store absolutely wreaks of it’s lack of honest value to the customer. They go to Best Buy because its there and they want the stuff in it; Best Buy knows this, and adds that quest for the stuff with as much hassle as they can cram into the experience. HEY, BUY THIS SERVICE PLAN! OK, WHAT ABOUT A CREDIT CARD?! NO? DO YOU WANT TO PAY $50 A MONTH FOR MOBILE INTERNET? NO?? HEY, HOW ABOUT YOU PAY US TO MAYBE BUY THIS THING BACK FROM YOU FOR A SMALL AMOUNT OF STORE CREDIT LATER? NO?! ARE YOU SURE?

And all this new training you speak of isn’t actual knowledge that could be of use to the customer. It’s how to smooth-talk the above offers. The actual product training is brief, cursory and incomplete “e-learnings,” while the almost weekly training sessions and videos are all about getting your low-paid, non-commission sales staff to act more like commissioned professionals you’d actually have to pay decent money.

Best Buy is all scheming, no innovation and you’ve only treated your employees worse as your fortunes have slid. It’s no wonder customers hate the place.

“When I first started working, meeting a customer’s every need was the most important aspect of our job,” writes another employee. “Now it seems as if what is most important is not assisting the customers but hitting our budget, or hitting our credit app goal.”


At last check there are 168 comments, most of which read like a cheap novel you can’t put down.

Somewhere, there’s a “social networking expert” preparing a case study.


Your pointless-but-interesting graphic of the day.

Apple to Apples
Created by: MBA Online


While making a candy-store run during the 2008 Republican National Convention in Saint Paul, I ran into this guy. Vermin Supreme reinforced my law of politics: The more interesting you are, the less likely you are to get elected:


He was running for president, he said, on a platform of better dental care.

I occasionally wondered whatever happened to him and this week I found out: He’s become an Internet sensation thanks to a little exposure in New Hampshire:

What can we learn from this: That you can meet the likely 2016 YouTube sensations by reading NewsCut this year.



Last month, a passenger trying to board a plane was stopped because she had a cupcake and the “frosting” was too close to being a gel. Crazy?

You might expect the Transportation Security Administration to acknowledge that it was a silly situation, but yesterday the TSA blog vigorously defended itself. Bob Burns, who writes the blog, pointed out that the “cupcake” was actually what is shown on the right in the picture above.

What the two plots above and intelligence gathered from all over the world tells us is that unless Wile E. Coyote is involved, the days of the three sticks of dynamite with a giant alarm clock strapped to them are long gone. Terrorists have moved to novel explosives disguised as common, everyday items. Our officers are regularly briefed and trained by TSA explosives specialists on how just about any common appliance, toy or doohickey can be turned into a dangerous explosive. When you think about it, do you think an explosive would be concealed in an ominous item that would draw attention, or something as simple as a cute cupcake jar?

The bottom line is that you can bring cakes, pies and cupcakes through the security checkpoint, but you should expect that they might get some additional screening, and if something doesn’t seem right, there is always the potential you won’t be able to take it through.

Bonus I: Churchs Ferry, ND will decide today whether to dissolve the city. There are only nine voting residents in town. The polls will be open from noon to 7. Officials are considering what to do in case of a tie if turnout is not 100 percent.

Bonus II: In defense of skyways. “Why should all of the modes interact on all levels. In principle, I like shared space as much as anyone, but I don’t like walking on a sidewalk next to 3 or 4 or 5 lanes of motorized traffic, why should I be confined to a narrow building hugging strip rather than travel on a strictly pedestrian level?”

Bonus III: How many times must I tell you kids? When you leave the liquid fuel rocket factory, lock the door!


For the second time in a week, a Minnesota high school hockey player has been hospitalized after suffering an injury during a game. Today’s Question: How can we make hockey safer?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: President Obama’s new consumer protection agency.

Second hour: How can the U.S. create more jobs?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: Linda Fowler of Dartmouth, on the New Hampshire primary.

Second hour: MPR documentary by Tim Pugmire on the 1968 campaign, called “The McCarthy Tapes”

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Checking the political fact checkers.

Second hour: Taking stock of the Arab Spring.