Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar host and Delaware's Prada star refers to Best Picture as King's Peach

Hollywood, CA--Last night, Anne Hathaway, star of the 2006 film The Delaware's Prada, hosted the 2011 Oscars alongside actor James Franco. Reviews of the tandem's performance have been mixed, but Hathaway's pronunciation of the Best Picture winner has drawn the wrath of several high profile critics. "Throughout the entire evening she referred to the King's Speech as the King's Peach," said Film Magazine editor, Heather Gilmer. "She has to be better informed." After the show, Hathaway was all smiles and said she was joking and knew it was the King's Speech. However, when asked to explain her summary of the film during the show she denied the unusual description. Roughly halfway through the Oscars Hathaway described the nominated film: "When the King of England finds out that his prized peach farm on Gibraltar, a British territory, has been ransacked by local thugs, he makes it his mission to find and punish those responsible. A heart-wrenching story about a King, a peach and a insatiable thirst for revenge."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Will the owner of a gray Kia Optima with California license plate GH7-A10 ... please close your eyes

Los Angeles, CA--Blake Griffin of the Clippers clinched the NBA Slam Dunk contest last night with an amazing leap over a shiny, new car and a pass from a teammate popping up from the vehicle's sunroof.

The stunt would have been impossible if it wasn't for Jim Gallagher of Santa Monica, CA and his ... shiny, new automobile, a gray 2011 Kia Optima.

"When I first saw the car roll out onto the court for the dunk I was proud that I had just purchased the same car. Then when the public address announcer called my license plate number I didn't know what to do," said Gallagher, who was seated in the second level, where he pointed his keyless entry remote at the automobile and opened the trunk, confirming it was his car.

An eight-car accident on the Santa Ana Freeway prevented the red Kia Optima, being donated from Buena Park Kia in exchange for the free advertising, from being delivered on time for the contest. The NBA needed a Kia and began to search outside the arena for the exact model.

"We signed a deal with Kia and so we had to use a Kia car for the dunk contest," said NBA commissioner David Stern. "I gave the go ahead for the prop crew to search the Staples Center parking lots and garages for a new Kia Optima. It was our only choice. We attempted to get in contact with Mr Gallagher, after running the plates with the LAPD, but cell phone service inside the stadium is less than stellar. The car was returned to Mr Gallagher as we found it. We didn't steal it, we simply borrowed it until the red Kia arrived at the Center."

Gallagher was excited that his car was in the national spotlight for a short time but insulted that the league gave him Clippers tickets for the remainder of this season and next season and now plans to take legal action against the NBA.

"Clippers tickets? Really? I'm suing the crap out of the NBA. They stole my car. I'm gonna sue them as if they took my seat away at the Super Bowl at the last minute."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Two more undercover deer accidentally killed during Valley Forge Park hunt

Above: A CIA file photo of Daffney and Rhubarb soon after their arrival at Valley Forge.

Valley Forge National Historical Park, PA--Park rangers confirmed yesterday the death of two more undercover deer agents in this sprawling 3,600-acre park 25 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Last October, National Park Service officials approved a deer hunt to reduce the dense herd and thwart the "ecological devastation" the animals were inflicting on the fragile landscape. To facilitate the cull, fifty undercover deer, actual deer trained by the CIA, were hired to "mingle" with the estimated 1500 deer currently calling the park home. "Daffney and Rhubarb will be sorely missed," said NPS official Duncan Mahoney, pausing to collect himself. "They knew this was dangerous work and ... my heart goes out to their families." Rhubarb burst onto the undercover deer scene in 2009 by luring hundreds of unsuspecting park deer into open fields during a planned hunt at Gettysburg National Military Park. Sharpshooter error also claimed the lives of Peanut Butter and Nice Rack in early December of last year. The sharpshooters have been suspended with pay.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Most of Center City to be Convention Center by 2025

Above: A satellite image of what the area surrounding City Hall (center) will look like in 2025. The large white-roofed buildings will make up a mega Pennsylvania Convention Center, which will require the demolition of over 600 buildings.

Philadelphia--When the nearly $800 million Convention Center expansion opens in March it will increase the facility's exhibition space to one million square feet. This a massive amount of space to designate to visitors of our fair city, given its intermittent use and placement within the compact urban core and among the multitude of historic structures in Center City. However, one million square feet is minuscule compared to the Convention and Visitor Bureau's master plan.

In 14 short years, the closest independently owned restaurant to City Hall may be north of Spring Garden Street or south of Washington Avenue. A plan to make the Pennsylvania Convention Center the largest exhibition hall in the world was quietly passed unanimously in City Council last month. The plan was attached to the bill that now requires city residents to shovel a 36-inch-wide path along sidewalks within six hours after a snowstorm and a possible $300 fine when failing to do so.

"Having our sidewalks safe for residents is crucial," said Councilman Ben Tormhaus, who represents most of the Clinton Hills Village neighborhood in East Philadelphia. "I was under a lot of pressure to enforce this shoveling bill, even if it means that most of my represented area will eventually succumb to the wrecking ball. They knew we wouldn't refuse the bill no matter what was attached."

People may now have a clear path to walk when it snows, but they won't have a house or apartment to clear a path for. Cutthroat competition in the convention business has forced the city--so they claim--to take such drastic action.

"We're growing more and more tired of losing the Button Makers Convention to cities like Las Vegas or Columbus," said Fiona Gimbles, vice president of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, between bits of the Convention Confections. "I don't mean them specifically, although we did end up losing them to Nevada. In general, we don't want to lose any conventions no matter what their size and to accomplish this we need to expand exponentially. It's the only way."

The new facility, which would require the demolition of over 600 buildings, including historic landmarks, would be able to accommodate every convention in the world ... at the same time. It is estimated that nearly 80,000 city residents will be displaced, thereby decimating the third most populous downtown in the nation (only New York and Chicago have larger city center populations).

"This will be huge for Philadelphia," continued Gimbles. "The influx of tourist dollars will really be immeasurable. The businesses that survive demolition will really benefit. I mean, totally benefit."

Planners were asked why the Convention Center is building out instead of up. Destroying what visitors come to this city for in the first place will give them reasons not to visit.

"It's not like we're knocking down Independence Hall or something. We spared most of the parks. Okay, that was because we want conventioneers to have easy access to the downtown parks," said city planner Curt Frommen, head of the nonprofit planning agency Two Philadelphia's: One Philadelphia. "This is why we will be extending the convention center so that it surrounds Logan, Rittenhouse, Washington and Franklin Squares. Visitors can walk out of the convention center and right into one of the parks."

Gone will be most of the business district's skyscrapers, including the Comcast Center, One and Two Liberty Place, the Mellon Building and Bell Atlantic Tower. The iconic landmarks to be lost are too exhaustive to list here but include, the Cathedral SS Saint's Peter and Paul, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Kimmel Center, the Barnes Museum (currently under construction), the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and parts of the tidal Schuylkill River.

Crowds gathered in protest of the plan yesterday around City Hall, burning a 1:10,000 sized diorama of the Convention Center that displayed a figurine shoveling the styrofoam sidewalk.

"We needed the shoveling bill passed desperately, there's no doubt about that. But we also need places to shovel," cried Dennis Baker, 47, of Old City. "It's all very confusing. I'm protesting, but I'm not sure what I'm protesting."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Super Bowl: Green Bay subway, regional rail, monorail unable to handle throngs of Packer fans during championship celebration

Green Bay, WI--They came from Sheboygan. They came from Oshkosh and Appleton. They came from Madison, La Crosse and Fond Du Lac. They poured in from Wausau, Wausaukee and Milwaukee. From Keshena, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Kewaskum, Kaukauna, Menomonee Falls, Brown Deer, Pewaukee, Racine, Okauchee Lake, Neenah, Waupaca, Weyauwega, Winnaconne and Ashwaubenon they descended onto Titletown.

All of Wisconsin came out for the party at Lambeu Field earlier today in single digit temperatures and biting wind chills to pay tribute to their beloved Super Bowl champion Packers.

Officials are estimating that the city's population, which is just over 100,000 residents, swelled to well over 2.5 million during the festivities earlier today bringing the metropolis to a complete standstill.

"I got on the subway at the S. Webster Ave stop downtown and there were so many people that they couldn't run the trains. The platform was so crowded that a few people were pushed onto the tracks, but no one got injured," said Greg Bouvier, 54, of Whitewater, WI, wearing a Tony Mandarich jersey. "We all agreed to just walk the half block to the stadium."

This played out all over the city today as many never reached their destination or arrived painfully late and even those on foot had no advantage over those in stuck automobiles, trains or hovercrafts.

"The sidewalks were packed. I couldn't move. I was supposed to meet a bunch of friends over at Titletown Brewery," said Brent O'Malley, 38, sporting a Don Majkowski autographed headband. "I told them noway would I make it. That's like two blocks away."

The GBMAS (Green Bay Metropolitan Area Subway) consists of 18 different lines, averaging 23 miles each in length with two of the lines becoming elevated trains outside of the city's borders. The system moves more than 300,000 transit riders during weekday peak hours.

Titletown Station, the city's main rail station, which connects conveniently with the subway, is the base for the Green Bay Regional Rail System (GBRRS) serving the entire Green Bay metro area. However, it all wasn't enough.

"I tried to take the GBRRS from up north in Pulaski, the train passed the station because it was filled, and so were the next five trains," said Betty Upton of Pulaski, WI. "I decided to hitchhike south along Route 32, made it to the city limits and ran the rest of the way to Lambeau Field--ten miles--after we hit heavy traffic. Just made it for the ceremony in time. Go Pack Go."

Two years ago, City Counil decided to construct the largest monorail system in the world in downtown Green Bay "for the good of all Green Bayians." Yesterday's crowds quickly overmatched the single-railed train that was built with Super Bowl celebrations in mind.

"The monorail was supposed to prevent overcrowding of our transportation system. It was supposed to alleviate pressure on our aging subway and regional rail infrastructure," said Councilwoman Stephanie Voulet, who says she would have never voted for the monorail if she knew what she knows now.

High speed hovercraft service from Milwaukee to Green Bay, a twelve-hour one way trip, was also at capacity and forced to shutdown after 12 pm, stranding hundreds of cheesehead-hat-wearing passengers on frozen Lake Michigan near Sturgeon Bay.

"My buddy just sent me a text message, he's stranded on a hovercraft out in Lake Michigan," said a laughing Dennis Bortent of Green Bay Township, WI. "That totally sucks. He's missing everything. It's kind of funny to, though. We were razzing him a bit. Bratwursts are about to hit the fan ... the hovercraft fan."

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Super Bowl: A visit to the 'Terrible Towel' factory in southeastern China

Zengcheng, China--Roughly 40 miles east of downtown Guangzhou, the outer edge of this megapolis, one of many in China, sits this factory town in the shadows of the Huideng Mountains on the banks of the shallow Donguan River. Its a cool 54 degrees and sunny, but a welcomed break from this year's harsh Northeast United States winter. There's a twinge in my back from making the hour and a half trip from the Guangzhou Airport on the back of a cramped moped, the only transport available upon landing, and one that was also carrying three other passengers.

The community appears to be a typical Chinese factory town: a center square surrounded by imposing government buildings, manufacturing facilities grouped in the industrial district and residential areas teeming with green space.

If you walk down bustling Shenzhen Street, the main thoroughfare bisecting the the surprisingly tidy factory district, you'll come to a small alley known as Mawan Street. If you weren't looking for the tiny road you would almost certainly miss it. I took a sip of my coffee--I've grown to like the Chinese coffee during my scant 36 hours in the country--a deep breath and made the turn into the crowd.

It was 8 o'clock in the morning and as I made my way down Mawan I began to hear a very familiar song echoing off the multi-colored stucco facades of the buildings lining the narrow street. I thought to myself, 'No, it couldn't be, you're hearing things. Get a hold of yourself.' Thirty yards further, the song now crystal clear, the claustrophobic alley suddenly burst open into a spacious, tree-lined courtyard. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing.

Thousands of workers in crisp, freshly pressed company uniforms were lined in perfect rows and columns and singing, in English, the Steelers' fight song, with slightly modified lyrics. "Here we go, Zengcheng. Here we go. Zengcheng going to the Super Bowl. Here we go ..."

Standing on a podium before the workers was their supervisor Mary Zinjian, at her signal, three succinct yet piercing claps, the 3,000 strong halted the singing and began to passionately wave their yellow towels--their "Terrible Towels."

I had finally arrived at the Terrible Towel factory, the supplier of the black and gold rally towels of the Pittsburgh Steelers--a team tradition since the mid 1970's. I first learned of the facility after bumping into former NFL running back and current YahooSports reporter Tiki Barber in JFK Airport in New York a little over a week ago. I was headed to Florida to do a story on sand and sun and Barber had just returned from China after doing a story on the Green Bay Packers' Cheesehead foam hat factory north of Macau. He said the Terrible Towel factory was big news in this region of China, especially because the Steelers had made it to Super Bowl. Florida can definitely wait!

Twenty-four hours later I was on the other side of the world, some 10,000 miles from Pittsburgh, in a country I had never been to, barely able to communicate and hearing the Steelers fight song being performed ... live.

Before hastily leaving the U.S. I was warned that Westerners--mainly journalists--are often forbidden to enter factories, talk to employees or even come within 50 yards of a Chinese industrial complex. So, when I awoke in my hotel the night after arriving in this "town" of 475,000, I was shocked to find in the lobby the owner and top management team of the towel factory smiling, offering gifts, personally inviting me to tour the facility the next day and lining up interviews.

This town has become obsessed with the Steelers, a sense of pride permeates each and every worker, feeling that their craftsmanship has helped the football club reach the NFL championship game: The Super Bowl. Though not direct employees of the Steelers, the workers, who made 2 billion Terrible Towels this year, feel "like part of the team."

"I love the Troy Polu ... molim," shouted one worker in broken English, adjusting the 3-feet locks of long black hair covering his face, a product of the government-approved Troy Polamalu wig he and hundreds of other workers were wearing on this day. Employees operating sewing machines must tie the wig hair back or fit it beneath a hair cap after an accident last month that ended the record 743 accident-free days.

The owner of the factory Ya Liu spoke candidly about his business and the Steeler madness. He said that the town was crazy over the Steelers, not just the workers. And that the next town over would not even know what American football was, let alone the Pittsburgh Steelers. Liu will show the big game on a 6-inch black and white television for all the workers to see on Monday morning at 7:30 (6:30 pm eastern Sunday kickoff) in the courtyard for a half hour before work commences.

When production of the towel was relocated here from the U.S. two years ago, Liu initially had a difficult time convincing the locals to work in the factory that makes a "terrible" product.

"I went to the factory to find out about a job and they told me I would be making terrible towels. I went home and I looked up in the dictionary the word terrible," said Zeng Fuenghou, 19, through an interpreter, but who displays a voracious desire to learn English. "I could not believe that they were asking me to make a product with this label. I had to check again in the dictionary. I did not want to make a terrible product."

Fuenghou would eventually come to work at the factory after the misunderstanding was sorted out. But other misunderstandings arose along the way.

"When I first began making the towels, I thought Americans were very, very small humans because the product was not called 'Terrible Hand Towels.' So I assumed they were full size towels. But then I learned that the towels were purposely small and were for cheering a sports team on," said Wen Tjian, a worker that mixes the yellow dye for the towels.

Though the town has numerous factories, the Terrible Factory, as the residents have dubbed it, is a source of pride.

"I came from the countryside to the city for a job and a chance at a better life," said Jeng Tian, 24, also through and interpreter, and who spent the early part of her life as a terrace farmer west of town. "I make towels that are terrible ... and I'm proud of that."

Over the next couple of days, I toured the factory and the town with six company escorts. The environmental disaster stories that you hear about manufacturing in China had me braced for the worst. Yes, the Donguan River was dyed yellow and black, but they assured me it was not the toxic ink from the towel factory but a natural coloring product to "support the team." The working facilities were immaculate and, even though I was forbidden from entering the largest building on the site, I trusted the working conditions were just as favorable inside.

On what was supposed to be my last day in the country, I am told that the Cheesehead foam hat factory in Macau has challenged the Terrible Towel factory to a game of touch football on the following day in downtown Guangzhou--neutral territory. The Zengcheng government strongly recommended that stick around.

On the drive to this fiercely anticipated grid iron match up, the next day, the supervisors inform me that I will quarterback the Terrible Towel squad. That it would be an "honor" if I would lead the workers to victory over the "despicable Cheeseheads" and that my China stay may be extended indefinitely if I declined.

I'm totally caught off guard by this, however, I am unable to convey that I am not qualified to be a quarterback ... in the U.S. or China, trust me. They assured me that I must and that under no circumstances can I lose this game, this was the reason they let me into the Terrible factory in the first place.

Soon after arriving at the site, I am pushed from the car and thrust onto the shoulders of the energetic, chanting employees and carried to the sidelines of a large athletic field, measured in meters and line with thousands of spectators.

Across the field, the foam Cheesehead workers have formed a huddle around a kneeling player. I can do this I thought, I used to light up the backyard football games when I was a kid. As their huddle broke, the kneeling player rose, and kept rising, then rose some more, and suddenly towered over his teammates.

Yiu, the smiling owner, leaned over and said, "Do you believe they were able to get Aaron Rodgers to come here a week before the Super Bowl? Here we go Zengcheng, here we go. Zengcheng going to the Super Bowl. Here we go."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Super Bowl: With steel industry long gone from Pittsburgh, should Steelers still be the ... Steelers?

Above: Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wears a helmet during a preseason game that features a hospital patient undergoing a CAT Scan. Health care, not steel, has become the dominant sector of the economy in Pittsburgh.

Dallas, TX--Pittsburgh and its surrounding counties, many western Pennsylvanians will argue, built this country. More steel was produced in this region than any place in the world and, with eastern Pennsylvania not far behind, the state as a whole was, in essence, the entire industry.

The city, long known for its three, flowing rivers and Primanti Brothers sandwiches, however, identified and unified around this more pervasive symbol: steel. Everything was steel. The sidewalks were steel. The wooden roller coasters of Kennywood amusement park were steel. The erasers on the ends of pencils sold in the city were steel. Most t-shirts were made from steel. Beverage straws in fast food restaurants were steel. Even the city's seemingly endless number of bridges were made of steel.

"When the city finally secured an NFL organization in 1933 the team was named the Pittsburgh Three Rivers," said Harvey Williams, 95, a current fan and former general manager. "Fans shortened it to Three Rivs and eventually to Thrivs, which was uncomfortably close to Thrifts--the owner hated this--and so a change was needed. This change came in the early 40's."Link

In 1933, the city used an online poll (the mayor hung a giant clothesline downtown from a pole for residents to attach their votes to) to determine the name of the new football team. Three Rivers won, but a close second was Steelers, which was chosen as the new name in 1942.

"I don't know why we voted Three Rivers the first time around," added Williams, wearing an old black and teal Three Rivs jersey signed by the team's all-star 1939 punter Frank 'Eight Fingers' Grednavicz. "Three Rivers was a bunch of hogwash. We were the Steel City at heart."

And the team took its new name to heart. Through most of the organization's history, Steelers' players were required to pass a written test on the process of and history of making steel. It was a team tradition that was taken very seriously and well-paid professional athletes could find themselves on the bench if facts about iron and steel were not understood inside and out. Players were also required to spend two days working in a steel mill during the season and injuries sustained during this time were considered "football injuries."

"It was serious stuff. All those guys up through about 1982 knew everything about steel, including the Bessemer steel process. It was their job to know," said Darren Rooney, official Steelers' historian. "Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Green and Jack Lambert knew that the process was based on molten pig iron. They'd be riding the pine if they didn't."

"The principle involved is that of oxidation of the impurities in the iron by the oxygen of air that is blown through the molten iron; the heat of oxidation raises the temperature of the mass and keeps it molten during operation," said FOXSports NFL analyst and Steelers' legendary quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who is in the Metroplex this week for Super Bowl festivities. "I can't believe I still know that."

Then came the 1980's and the struggling steel mills began to close down, the once spewing smokestacks fell dormant as if large nicorette gum pieces were dropped inside from hovering helicopters. At its high point, Pittsburgh boasted 38 mills and was home to such industry icons as U.S. Steel, Laughlin-Schmidt Steel and Three Guys Steel.

Now, the region's largest industry is health care, where UMPC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) employs nearly 50,000 locals and where technology and education makeup a sizable portion of the "new" economy.

This past August during a preseason game, the Steelers recognized the city's changed economy by donning helmets that featured a heath care worker assisting a patient during a CAT Scan. The helmet was well-received by the fans, but the front office decided against using the headgear during the regular season.

"Steel making may never return the to this region as a prominent employer," said Dan Rooney, former president of the franchise and current U.S. ambassador to Ireland. "We have to accept that. And while naming the team Steelers is a tribute to our past, we have risen like a phoenix, resurrected, adapted and created a new Pittsburgh. Should we still be the Steelers? That's a great question."