The Story Behind the Giant Inflatable Union Rat

© Bob Krist/CORBIS

??If you're from a town with a strong union presence, you know that if new commercial construction happens without union labor, protests often follow. Burly guys in work boots and union shirts will take to the streets to wave signs, pass out flyers, and draw attention to whatever business has offended them. Sometimes they'll bring a special guest—a giant inflatable rat with sharp, menacing buckteeth and claws, beady red eyes and a belly scattered with festering blemishes and swollen nipples.

This year, the rat—which the Labor Heritage Foundation calls an "effective piece of street theater"—is old enough to grab a beer with guys when they've had their fill of picketing. That's right, "Scabby the Rat" (as he was dubbed by his creators) has been uglying up the sidewalks in front of union-unfriendly businesses for 21 years.

The Rat Pack

Scabby was born in 1990, when the Chicago bricklayers union contacted Plainfield, Illinois-based Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights. The bricklayers were looking for something big and nasty to get their point across at a protest. When Big Sky owner Mike O'Connor showed them his sketch, their criticism was succinct: "It's not mean enough."

© Big Sky Balloons

O'Connor added bigger, pointier buckteeth and a pink belly bristling with gross-looking nipples. The bricklayers loved it. (Big Sky also makes Greedy Pig and Fat Cat protest balloons.)

Scabby quickly caught on with other unions. The rat business began booming and Big Sky was taking orders from all over the country. Most of the rats went to the East Coast, and most of those went to New York City, with the local chapter of the masons' union getting their hands on the first one. Soon, there were at least 30 Scabbys in the five boroughs; 13 of them once reunited for a rally in Union Square.

Today, Big Sky continues to sell 100-200 rats a year, from the compact 6-foot model ($2,000) to the enormous 25-footer (about $8,000). The most popular size is the 12-foot model, which conveniently fits standing in the back of a pickup and gets attention without breaking New York and other cities' ordinances dictating the height of inflatable displays.

So far, Scabby has had a heck of a 21st. Federal regulators ruled that union activists have the legal right to display the rats outside companies during labor disputes. And the New Jersey state Supreme Court similarly ruled that the use of the rats in labor protests is protected speech under the First Amendment, overturning a township ordinance that banned any inflatable signs not being used for a store's grand opening.

Watch a Rogue Pet Dog Interrupt a Russian News Anchor on Air

Last week, a Russian news broadcast briefly went to the dogs after its host was startled by a surprise co-anchor: a friendly black canine that wandered on set, announced its presence with a loud bark, and climbed onto her desk.


As TODAY reports, Mir24 TV anchor Ilona Linarte went off script for a few minutes, telling viewers "I've got a dog here. What is this dog doing in the studio?" After the initial shock wore off, she gave her furry guest a tepid welcome, patting its head as she gently pushed it off the desk. ("I actually prefer cats,'' Linarte remarked. "I'm a cat lady.")

Linarte’s query was answered when the TV station announced that the dog had accompanied another show’s guest on set, and somehow got loose. That said, rogue animals have a proud tradition of crashing live news broadcasts around the world, so we’re assuming this won’t be the last time a news anchor is upstaged by an adorable guest star (some of which have better hair than them).

[h/t TODAY]

Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
SpaceX Is Sending Two Private Citizens Around the Moon
Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0
Falcon Heavy and Dragon. Image credit: SpaceX via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Two members of the public are set to take an historic trip around the Moon, according to an announcement from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. As The Verge reports, the anonymous private citizens have already placed substantial deposits on the commercial space flight.

The private spacecraft company SpaceX revealed on Monday that the Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching with its Crew Dragon spacecraft in late 2018. The mission will consist of a circumnavigation of the Moon, passing over the body’s surface before traveling farther into space and returning to Earth. In total, the trip will cover 300,000 to 400,000 miles and take a week to complete.

A noteworthy part of the plan is the human cargo that will be on board. Instead of professional astronauts, the craft will carry two paying customers into space. The passengers, who’ve yet to be named, will both need to pass several fitness tests before they're permitted to make the journey. According to The Verge, Musk said the customers are “very serious” and that the cost of the trip is “comparable” to that of a crewed mission to the International Space Station. The goal for SpaceX is to eventually send one or two commercial flights into space each year, which could account for 10 to 20 percent of the company’s earnings.

[h/t The Verge]


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