Monday, August 30, 2010

Opponents of new Manhattan skyscraper say it will confuse giant apes

New York, NY--A proposed new skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan (center of picture) will be only 34 feet shorter than the Empire State Building (left) when completed. Many, including the owners of the iconic structure that has defined Midtown's skyline since 1931, are upset about the new building's close proximity. The frustration stems from confusing one of the city's largest and most dangerous visitors. "Let's just say that a large ape returns to the city one day," said Frank Dunmiller, managing director of the ESB. "This ape knows the Empire State Building from instinct. Therefore, placing another skyscraper of such stature close by will only confuse the beast. Do we really want a confused, giant ape running through the streets of New York? Or do we want a slightly less confused ape? I'll take the slightly less confused one." A vote last week approved the structure, and, some say, the fate of the city. "We're all doomed now! Doomed I tell you," shouted Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a press conference soon after the vote was announced. "You all just wait and see what happens the next time an enormous ape comes and terrorizes the city. We're going to have to dip seriously into my fund now." Bloomberg was referring to the King Kong Defense Fund, a monetary reserve, started last year, to assist in protection from and cleanup after gigantic ape visits to Manhattan.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Umpires permit Oswalt to bring rosin bag, pitching rubber into outfield to ease anxiety

Philadelphia, PA--Sixteen innings of baseball, over five hours of play, will empty seats, not only in the stadium but in the dugout as well. On Tuesday night, the Phillies and the Astros worked overtime to decide a game that was tied in the bottom of the ninth when Jimmy Rollins sent a solo shot into the right field seats.

That much time on the field will not only test stamina--although, it is baseball--but nerves and patience as well. The composure of all on the field are put to the test, including, like, oh, I don't know, the third base umpire Scott Barry.

Part of the reason the Phils bench was so empty, never mind the 16-inning marathon, was that Barry had thrown first baseman Ryan Howard out of the game in the 14th inning after the slugger questioned a checked swing called strike and then appeared to show up the umpire with body language. Actually, the tension between the two went back to earlier in the at bat, but, nonetheless, Howard's departure meant, other than pitchers, there was no one left to play the field.

Enter Roy Oswalt, the team's number two starting pitcher, recently acquired from ... Houston. Oswalt, who admitted later that he was terrified to play outfield, received a warm ovation from the remaining late night crowd. His anxiety was eased somewhat when an old, familiar, reliable friend (a friend to all pitchers) accompanied the pitcher to the land beyond the infield.

"I wasn't going out there without a rosin bag, and I told Charlie [Manuel] that," said Oswalt, who successfully fielded a fly ball bringing the fans to a roar and a smile to the Mississippi native. "At one point, I turned back, gave a wink to the rosin bag and said, 'Hey, rosin! You got to back me up if a ball gets past me. Ha, ha. You crack me up rosin bag.'"

The rosin bag is usually placed on the backside of the mound and used when pitchers feel they need a better grip on the ball to improve their control. To ease Oswalt even more, the grounds crew, between innings and before the pitcher took the field, quickly installed a pitching rubber that was flush with the grass turf.

"My comfort out there is really a credit to the grounds crew, and, even though they had a tough night, the umpires too for allowing me to take a rosin bag and a pitching rubber with me. It made me feel like I was on the mound. Yeah, it was like a mound out there, but just really, really far from home plate ... and not as hilly."

After catching the fly ball, Oswalt ran the handful of steps back to the grass-surrounded rubber, went through a stretch windup and threw the ball to the cutoff man. Wow, only in baseball!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Japanese economy claims Chinese economy unfairly passed them on double-yellow line road

Tokyo, Japan--Last week, it was reported that China's burgeoning economy had risen to number two in the world, finally surpassing the once roaring Japanese economy, the longtime holder of that penultimate position.

The archipelago nation, however, with 127 million people (and holding steady), 9 percent of the population of China, and nearly 25 times smaller in land area, is crying foul.

"It's not right," said Somi Takashumi, Japan's Minister of the Economy, during a rare display of emotion at a press conference on Monday. "China's economy has to play by the same rules that we all have to play by."

Takashumi, long critical and skeptical of fast growing economies with endless sources of cheap labor, especially in the region, claims to have learned of his country's fall to the third spot, listening, ironically, to TKO Radio, while driving to his downtown office complex on a winding, solid double-yellow line road just outside of Tokyo.

"The road was clearly marked with a double-yellow line, which indicates no passing. They use double-yellow lines for a reason, all over the world. It's not safe to pass other countries, er, vehicles because of a hill, curve or other view limiting conditions. It's not fair," complained Takashumi.

Seeing his country drop from the second spot could not have been easy for the Minister in his second, and, most likely, final ten-year term. The 84-year-old from Okinawa, who served as a pilot during World War II, studied economics at Hokkaido College and eventually earned a doctorate at Shikoku University, was instrumental in Japan's rise from the ashes to a prosperous technology-based economy.

"We make Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Kawasaki, Mazda, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Lexus, Scion, Infiniti and Acura," said a sour Minister, scrambling to make his point. "I mean, what I'm trying to say is that the line was double-yellow. Does that not mean anything in today's society? It means no passing and it means this should be looked into."

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, neither holding the power to influence the world's economy size rankings, said they would investigate Japan's claim of driving in a no passing zone while learning of China's expanded economy.

"We don't usually do this kind of stuff, but we'll look into it. If, in fact, Minister Takashumi was driving on a road that was clearly marked with double-yellow lines, then we will shift the Chinese economy back to the third spot and return Japan to second. But, again, this is really not our thing," said Guy LaFontaine, a World Bank official.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Captain said he warned all 16 crew members not to gather on same side of ship at same time

Mumbai, India--The Taiwanese cargo ship Alba Varda carrying hundreds of containers from India to Long Beach, CA, began listing heavily to the left soon after all sixteen crew members aboard congregated for a cigarette break on the deck's port side. The crew attempted to run to the center, but by this time it was too late. Containers began breaking free from moorings, sliding across the rain-soaked deck and crashing overboard into the harbor. "I told each crew member individually, and made several announcements over the loud speaker, that coming together as a group on either side of the ship simultaneously would cause the ship to tip over," explained Captain Sven Alfredson, a 20-year veteran. "I even demonstrated my point in a canoe." The shipping company is blaming language barriers for the sinking of the vessel, as crews are often made up of numerous nationalities with varying levels of English. "There's no way anything was lost in translation," shouted the Captain. "I increasingly raised the volume of my voice so they would understand me. It's what I always do. Anyway, we had just left the docks and they aren't supposed to be taking breaks that soon into a two-ocean journey,"

Saturday, August 14, 2010

City drivers removing wipers to stump Parking Authority, avoid tickets

Philadelphia, PA--Superman, as powerful as he was, was no match against kryptonite, the green-glowing rock that sapped his super strength when in his presence. Many in this city have wished there was a green-glowing rock that could melt away the powers of the PPA--The Philadelphia Parking Authority. They can stop wishing.

Have you received a parking ticket after your meter expired only minutes before? Did you leave your car for literally 20 seconds while dropping a letter into a curbside mailbox in the shadows of your vehicle, only to return to a signature blue and white PPA parking ticket staring at you? What? How did that get there and where did the parking enforcement officer go? Or perhaps, you've been egregiously illegally parking for years.

City drivers are fighting back by removing the windshield wipers from their automobiles to prevent Parking Authority workers from leaving paper violations. It is not clear where this idea began in the city, some say Pennsport and others say Fairmount, but the movement has been spreading fast and is common now in all neighborhoods.

"I don't know what to do because many cars that are parked illegally have no place to put tickets, so I can't really do anything," said PPA parking enforcement officer Jessica Miles. "I mean, just set it on the hood? That won't work."

"There's not much we can do," said Douglas Glass, a PPA official. "Article of the PPA Ticket Issuing Manual reads that every ticket written or printed must be placed under the driver or passenger side windshield wiper. The manual specifically states, in the extremely rare instance when there are no wipers, to simply tear the ticket up and move on."

The PPA is losing massive amounts of revenue because of this new practice. Without wipers, parking tickets simply blow away, a waste of paper and valuable time. The Authority debated rewriting the procedures code to include windows and antennas as acceptable places to leave a ticket.

At first, the PPA attempted to give tickets for not having wipers, then quickly realized the problem with that plan.

"The public has finally found a loophole which may mean free parking for ever," said PPA President Tom Adams. "Well done public ... well done. But don't think you've won. After all, we are the Parking Authority. There may be a fat lady and she may be warming up by humming and doing other voice exercises, but she ain't singin' yet."

Klint Meesly of the Francisville neighborhood said, "I like free parking ... alot. But I'm not sure if it's worth it. I've had some horrible experiences recently when driving in the rain. Like, really horrible."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dugout gets big laugh as Manuel tells injured Ross Gload to 'take a Gload off'

Philadelphia, PA--The Phillies suffered yet another injury last night as first baseman Ross Gload, filling in for the injured Ryan Howard, strained a groin while running to second on a sixth-inning double. Despite what feels like a record number of Phillies on the Disabled List (DL) this season, the team finds itself only 2.5 games out of first place, a credit to manager Charlie Manuel. His ability to keep the players relaxed, while facing adversity, was again evident last night. As the limping Gload approached the top of the dugout steps, with the help of a trainer, Manuel shouted: Hey Ross, sit down and take a Gload off. "I wanted to keep the dugout in good spirits, and, believe it or not, I thought of that line several weeks ago on a flight from Chicago to St Louis," said the Phillies' manager, now in his sixth year with the club. "Obviously, I didn't want Ross to ever get hurt, but, deep down, I couldn't wait to use that line. We all had a good laugh ... even Ross." Players and coaches promised to use the line on the next guy to get hurt.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ready, Willing and ... Cable? Homeless working for hundreds of tv channels

Philadelphia, PA--The organization Ready, Willing and Able, "a work and job skills training program which helps homeless individuals in their efforts to become self-sufficient, contributing members of society," has made a significant change in their mission in order to attract more individuals into the program.

As an incentive, the program began offering members cable television in lieu of low wages as a form of payment for work performed. The organization officially changed its name in early March of this year to Ready, Willing and Cable.

"The numbers have skyrocketed," said New York admissions director, Frank Telford, about the sharp rise in enrollment since the announced name and policy change. "We unfortunately have been turning many away, but there is hope of new funding that would allow us to expand our workforce."

Ready, Willing and Cable agrees to provide vouchers for free cable television, good for organization-affiliated or non-affiliated worker' residences. The cable packages given are the top plans offered, which include On Demand, DVR-ready boxes and all the premium channels.

"I wouldn't step near Ready, Willing and Able before," said Francis Vernon, 46, a recent enrollee, "but I ran to Ready, Willing and Cable. I immediately signed on. I can't miss Mad Men, even though I've never seen it."

"I get more channels now then I ever did," said Jack Amteri, another member of the program, taking a break from sweeping to pull a batteryless remote control from his jacket pocket. "I may not eat as much now as I did before, but I can now watch a volleyball match between two upper Midwest liberal arts colleges."

"On Demand is a glorious, glorious thing," said Steven H., a coworker of Amteri's. "Have you seen The Pursuit of Happiness? Where was this movie 20 years ago?"

The nonprofit, part of the Doe Fund, Inc, with facilities in New York City and Philadelphia, reached an agreement with cable giant Comcast in February to provide free cable to all enrolled.

"Part of the Comcast mission is to serve the community, you know, give back," said Gail Silvers, the company's community relations director. "The only thing we wanted in return was for the program's participants to prosper, and, this seems only fair, to wear uniforms displaying the Comcast logo along with a picture of the new On Demand screen."

Several weeks into the new compensation format, however, a somewhat significant problem was uncovered: three of every five workers did not own a television.

"I worked my butt off for two weeks, received my cable vouchers, called the cable company for installation, sat down on the living room crates and ... there was no TV," said Neil Travers, 39, a graduate of the program three years ago who was lured back by the thought of 557 channels. "The cable guy was going to be at my place any min ... er, day. He did say no later than a week or three."

The organization's board said the lack of televisions problem never surfaced in the countless, laborious meetings leading up to the payment decision. "I don't know ... it never came up," said one board member. "It just never came up."

Friday, August 6, 2010

New Jersey hermit crab population on the rise, beach souvenir shops in heaven

Sea Isle City, NJ--Timmy Hubert, 6, ran down aisle 4 of the Hoy's Five and Ten shop, a miniature, throwback department store, sporting flip flops and a light sunburn. Grinning from ear to ear, he came to rest at the countless cages of hermit crabs strategically placed at the store's center.

"I love these guys," said the youngster, not taking his eyes off the cages. "No T-shirts or saltwater taffy for me. I want a hermit crab. Look at them all."

Crabs in all shapes and sizes listlessly crawled across the bottom or clung, putting on a show perhaps, to the cage's wire enclosure. Last year, Hubert, at this same store, had only one cage to choose from.

Where have all the hermit crabs come from? Imported from the hermit crab belt in Southeast Asia? Though that was seriously considered at one point, the surge in numbers begins right here off the Garden State's shores.

"It's been a great year for us," said Sally Bossel, manager of the town's Hoy's Five and Ten. "We've been selling hermit crabs like crazy. We haven't been able to offer a selection like this in years. The population is booming and we still can't meet the demand."

Scientists are not exactly certain why hermit crab numbers have exploded this year. Some have linked it to the heavy winter snow, while others say high levels of raw sewage in the Atlantic Ocean caused by heavy runoff from strong spring and summer thunderstorms is the reason.

Jim Taylor and his son Harry have been in the hermit crabbing business together for almost twenty years. They use their boat, Hermit the Frog, to catch the small, shell-dwelling crustaceans in the waters off New Jersey.

"We've never had catches like this," said the younger Taylor, unloading two enormous nets from the 57 ft vessel with a dock crane near Townsends Inlet. "We are supplying tourist souvenir shops up and down the coasts of Jersey, Maryland and Delaware. We've even had requests from shops on Long Island."

There is, however, a tradeoff. With larger catches comes more casualties for crew members of the 1,023 hermit crabbing fleets of New Jersey. The state's crabbing commission reports 48 crew members have been killed and 17 maimed by hermit crabs this season, which is more than the last two years combined.

"It's not easy. We have a tough job, but someone has to supply vacationing children with pets that will soon be forgotten after returning home," said an 8-fingered Fergus O'Malley, a hermit crabber out of Strathmere, NJ. "Parents often learn the hard way that you can't flush a hermit crab down the toilet when boredom sets in."

This sudden increase in hermit crab activity off the coast has prompted the Discovery Channel to consider adding one of the state's ships to the "cast" of Deadliest Catch.

Scientists are also at a loss when it comes to explaining why such a dangerous creature in the sea, killing thousands of crabsmen annually around the world, become such docile, lovable creatures once caged and given a "home" on dry land.

"That's something we still have not yet figured out," said Hanover Schmidt, a hermit crab expert in Halifax, Nova Scotia. "We've conducted surveys, questionnaires ... everything. There is something that triggers this ferocious creature into a friendly, adorable pet. Unfortunately, our grant money may run out before we find the answer."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

PBS to finally release hilarious outtakes from Ken Burns' Baseball documentary

New York, NY--Director Ken Burns has finally agreed to release the hilarious outtakes from his hit 1994 documentary series Baseball. The nearly 20-hour film, covering the history of America's pastime, included plenty of antics on and off the set that will be made into a blooper reel and shown on PBS in the fall. When asked why, 16 years after the movie's debut, the outtakes were being made public, Burns responded, "Every time some of Baseball's crew got together to talk old times, we would watch the blooper reel. And we were all like, wouldn't comedy fans everywhere love this?" One blunder shows Babe Ruth wearing Nike spikes and holding an aluminum bat while the narrator describes how the legend made it out of roof rain gutters from his boyhood Baltimore orphanage. One fan of the series was elated by the news. "I can just tell that there are going to be some classic Ken Burns bloopers. Just like the blooper extras from The National Parks: Americas Best Idea DVD," said Steven Bullard, 48, a Burlington, VT resident and an extra in The Civil War. "Nobody does bloopers like Ken."

Monday, August 2, 2010

Lingering Winter: As temperatures flirt with triple digits, when does the right to shoveled parking spaces end?

Above: An August 1, 2010, photo of a city resident using patio chairs to save a parking space that was shoveled out during last winter's deluge of snow.

Philadelphia, PA--It is August in South of South, a neighborhood in southwest Center City, and traffic on the local streets is light as many have made their way to barbecues on sidewalks, front steps, back decks, brick patios, or brick decks (a craze in the late 1890s).

The few cars, however, that can be found on the roadways are circling the tight blocks. The occupants may be running late for one of the gatherings that are producing the many familiar smells of summer: grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, freshly made m&m's, or soy chicken patties. Some of these motorists may even be carrying the final ingredient to a dish, partygoers waiting patiently, or, even more importantly, may be transporting the main dish itself.

The cars continue to circle, like vultures waiting to dive, in search of a parking spot to rest the moving metal mass propelled by the combustion engine. On one block are three empty spaces, well, sort of, but not really. Parked in these spots are six kitchen and patio chairs--two in each space. The chairs are a claim to the roughly 8 ft by 15 ft asphalt rectangle, like Sooners storming the Oklahoma countryside, or a flag on an Iwo Jima hilltop.

Why are the chairs here and how, being left unattended, have they withstood the temptations of many Philadelphians to move them or smash them into unrecognizable pieces? Philadelphia, along with many Northeast and Mid-Atlantic cities, experienced one of the harshest winters ever last season, as record-obliterating snow totals crippled the region.

Kevin Graham, 52, a lawyer in University City, owns one set of these chairs. He claims that the extreme winter last year gives him the right to this spot for at least a year. The chairs are his marking, his Nike swoosh.

"How quickly everyone forgets about all those blizzards we had last winter," Graham said with a slightly raised voice, adding that he was born and raised in the city. "In February, I was in the hospital for a week with back spasms after carving out a space for my Honda Civic from all that snow. I drive daily to work and so this spot is mine until December 2010. It's as simple as that."

One set of parking-spot-saving chairs includes a rubber band-fastened note (pictured above) explaining the reasoning behind the placement: "I shoveled this spot last winter." The short, simple sentence is supposed to make those who pass, in automobiles seeking a place to rest, say, "Oh, that person worked hard seven months ago, so he or she deserves this sacred pasture."

The chair's partner features taped and laminated pictures from the winter wonderland that was December, January and February of '09-'10 (pictured below), to better reinforce--and prove--this point.

Graham's and his like minded neighbors' reasoning is not understood by most on the block. The three spot-saving families have been castigated by the community.

"I busted my butt too last February, just look at these blisters," shouted fellow block neighbor Marsha Vanderslice, turning her calloused, raw palms skyward. "You don't see me saving a space on the street. The only time I ever LEGALLY held one was when I moved here ... 12 years ago. The limit is one week after a snow storm. ONE WEEK!"

"I called the city," said Ben Stevenson, another neighbor. "Guess what they said? They said that he's got every right to claim that spot as long as he can prove that he shoveled it out. When I asked if they knew it was August, they transferred me to the fix-a-pothole helpline."