Latest Dire Indicator: Spam Sales Rise

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News worth an honorable mention, including the resurgence of the much-maligned meat.

So that stuff about Sudan, that was all good stuff that you need to know, but let's say you are hanging out with your old high-school friends and talk turns to - I don't know, "The Hills," or "Rock of Love," or some horribly low-brow uninteresting conversation. The strategy there is you can't just go to Sudan. You'll lose the whole crowd. You kind of gradually have to lift them up a little bit. You have to introduce some topics of conversation that are perhaps more accessible, and yet somewhat elevated. Thereby, we come up with The Ramble.

(Soundbite of music)

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Well done, Mr. Pesca. The first story on deck, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has stopped leaning, stopped moving for the first time ever, as in the 800 years of its existence. The slow but sure list of the Leaning Tower of Pisa has been a challenge for engineers trying to stabilize this thing for so long, hundreds and hundreds of years.

But now, a team with 40 million dollars in their pocket has succeeded where the predecessors have failed. The project spanned ten years, involved subtracting 70 tons of earth from one side of the tower. Monitors embedded in the foundation and in the tower show it righted itself by about 19 inches, and then stopped moving all together. The leader of the project says the tower should be all set for at least another couple of centuries.

PESCA: So if you go to Pisa, it's still on an angle. It's - the angle is just not getting bigger. This is the point.

MARTIN: Exactly. It's not leaning.

PESCA: Well, it's leaning. It's just, you know, not...

MARTIN: Well, leaning is active, I would - see, this is where you and I start to go down the rabbit hole of grammar.

PESCA: Leaning means it's actually getting - well, ah, it's on an angle...

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: The Angled Tower of Pisa. I just would hate for our Ramble to hurt Pisa tourism. Is it bad economy? Is it fancy advertising? Or maybe just a new fad? Maybe all of the above, but canned meat is getting some newfound respect, or at least sales are on the rise of Spam. Food prices are up four percent, and Spam fried rice and Spam sandwiches are showing up on the dinner table.

Spam's maker, Hormel Foods, reported that second-quarter sales contributed to a 14 percent bump in profits. To freshen up the image of the 71-year-old canned-meat product, Hormel has launched its first national ad campaign, and it's created a new product, individually-packaged Spam singles - oh, I can't even say it, let alone eat it.

MARTIN: No, nor should you.

PESCA: Yeah, they also have a Spam slot machine.

MARTIN: Gross. Tia Thomas of California and New Mexico's Matthew Evans may be each other's biggest rivals at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It starts today in Washington, D.C., and it is familiar testing grounds for both of them. Both of these people have been there four times before, and both are home-schooled 13 year olds. Very smart, diligent parents, I guess.

This is the last year they are eligible to compete. Still, they help each other prep via instant messaging. Apparently there is some collaboration happening. Matthew has an eight-page list titled "the trickiest homonyms of the dictionary." They've spent most Friday nights testing each other with words such as lachoo (ph), describes a Native American tribe, apparently, and defenestration, which means to throw someone out the window. Pesca?

PESCA: I used that in a NPR spot once. I got a lot of comments like, huh?

MARTIN: Defenestration.

PESCA: I'm fascinated by their text messages. Do you think they are all misspelled like most text messages?

MARTIN: I wonder. I wonder if there's (unintelligible) for that.

PESCA: Do you think they - even these kids use the text spelling?

MARTIN: I don't know. Good question.

PESCA: Both are considered favorites to win.

MARTIN: Uh-huh.

PESCA: And some follow-ups on stories that we told you about yesterday. The toilet problem in the International Space Station is fast becoming an urgent priority for NASA. The space agency rushed to get replacement parts on board the shuttle Discovery, even as the launch countdown was underway. Problems with the Russian built toilet - mm-hm - began last week when a fan broke. The fan's jet blasts keep everything flowing in the right direction in space, where gravity is not around to do the job. Get what we mean?

As the countdown began yesterday and astronauts boarded Discovery, a NASA employee was en route to the shuttle from Russia with a special pump crucial to making the toilet operational. Look, I've been on planes where they say, sorry, we can't take off, a toilet isn't working, and yet, the shuttle can go off in space without a fully operational toilet.

MARTIN: That's a good point. OK and the final update. Sharon Stone is offering an apology to the Chinese people for saying the earthquake in China was just China's bad karma. Her remarks provoked a storm of anger, as you can imagine, and a major theater chain barred her films. The latest outgrowth of this, the fashion designer Christian Dior has also pulled the movie star from their Chinese advertising campaign.

Dior released a statement in which Stone writes, due to my inappropriate words and acts during an interview, I feel deeply sorry and sad about hurting Chinese people. I am willing to take part in the relief work of China's earthquake, and wholly devote myself to helping effected Chinese people. To date, Ms. Stone has not offered an apology, however, for "Basic Instinct II." Hey, folks. That's your Ramble. These stories and more on our website, npr.org/bryantpark.

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