Friday, May 27, 2011

Logan Circle disqualified again from City's 'Best Square Contest'

Philadelphia, PA--It is difficult to believe that it is once again time for the beloved Best Square Contest of Philadelphia, an event held every six years to determine the City's most favorite original park square. Though the original five squares have been reduced to three, there is much excitement and high anticipation every half dozen trips around the sun during the final weeks of May.

Residents and park enthusiasts can vote by using the ballot boxes stationed conveniently in each square. If voting on-site, fill out the three page form completely, fold the 8.5"X11" paper into sixteenths and drip hot wax (candles will be provided) to make a final seal on the ballot or your vote will not be counted. The other option is to simply vote online, with three simple clicks of the mouse, or via text message.

Washington Square is the reigning champion after judges were in awe over how park officials adjusted the center fountain to shoot two feet higher--to a total height of nine feet--in 2004. "We didn't make a lot of changes to the park six years ago," said Donna Fitzsimmos, president of Good Buddies of Washington Square. "But, we thought slightly increasing the fountain height would go a long way. And it worked. Boy oh boy, did it work."

Franklin Square was given a major makeover in 2006, one year after the most recent contest ended, and hopes to make a strong showing with it's newly-added carousel, miniature golf course and outdoor eateries.

Rittenhouse, often considered the king of the original five squares, finished a disappointing third in 2005, but has captured 22 of the 47 titles awarded since the contest began in 1723.

"Let's face it," said one official who only went by the name Park Bench, "Rittenhouse is the park to beat most years."

Center Square's eligibility ended in 1871 when the site was chosen as the new home for City Hall. Center Square won several Best Square awards over the decades prior to its bowing to progress. For years, volunteer groups that help in maintaining Dilworth Plaza--on the same block and just to the west of the tallest free-standing masonry building in the world--made valiant efforts to have the small park become eligible for the contest. However, it never was approved by the Best Square Contest board.

"Yes, Dilworth Plaza is a park. And, yes, Dilworth Plaza is on the site of one of the original five squares. But, c'mon," explained Daffney Bullard, a board member of the popular contest. "It's just not ... it's ... Oh, I can't even remember what I was going to say."

Logan Circle, remade in 2005, has been disqualified every year since 1925, when it was transformed from a square to a circle, and, despite this shape, enters the contest every year.

"Contest rules require us to permit Logan Square into the competition each time around," said Bullard. "They were an original, but we use helicopters and satellite photos to confirm their circularness and, ultimately, their disqualification."

Despite the politics involved in the contest, every resident of the city and surrounding counties has a favorite square and will be waiting eagerly for the competition's results.

"This is like if Restaurant Week was held every five years," said Sarah Telford, lead organizer of the Best Square Contest 2011. "This is all I do for six years, so I'm pretty excited. It's exciting. We're all excited."

Above: Franklin Square, no kite flying.

Above: Rittenhouse Square--no longer Segway-free.

Above: Logan Circle, it's a circle, so ...

Above: Washington Square with a new, impressive fountain water height.

Cast your vote today!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Despite name, Reds' manager assures fans kitchen is clean

Above: Cincinnati Reds' manager Johnnie "Dusty" Baker denies rumors that he keeps an unkempt kitchen when baking goods for his players or family. Baker was given the nickname Dusty in 1975 as an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves after teammate Frank Bozner visited his suburban Atlanta home and witnessed a "very dirty and dusty kitchen." "Yes, I love to bake and, yes, my kitchen was not the cleanliest in the mid-1970's. But, that is not the case anymore," explained Baker. "I mean, yes, still call me Dusty, but it's just a name. You know what, just call me Johnnie ... or Dusty. Heck, just call me Justy ... or Dohnnie."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Despite intense pressure, controversial Race Street Pier hydraulic lift system to remain

Above: Early last week, before the completion of the new pier, park officials tested the controversial hydraulic lifts. The lifts are intended to "clear the homeless" who remain on the pier after the 11 o'clock curfew.

Philadelphia, PA--The announcement came over the temporary, 2"X4"-mounted loud speakers, startling curious residents checking in and the plethora of construction workers scurrying to complete the City's newest park.

"All personnel are to clear the pier in preparation for the hydraulic lift test," said a cold, yet excited voice. "Five minutes to liftoff."

As the last of the bricklayers, landscapers, railing fasteners and deck builders exited the pier, a faint humming sound began to emit from beneath the murky, debris-laden Delaware River water surface. Seconds later, the seamless gateway between the urban sidewalk on solid ground and the new park began to separate, elevating like a yawning drawbridge.
It is the first of its kind in the country say the designers of the brand new Race Street Pier, a magnificent new park jutting out into the tidal Delaware River adjacent to the iconic Ben Franklin Bridge. The former Municipal Pier 11 has been transformed from a decaying, weed-strewn, concrete and steel skeleton to an inviting, grab-a-sandwich-and-hang-out park.

Why on earth does the City's newest public space--complete with fine wood benches, dramatic Trex step seating with panoramic views of the busy port and a pocket-sized grass lounging area--raise like a movie set clapboard?

The massive hydraulic lifts are primarily a way to ramp the park so that "homeless and other individuals" that remain on the pier after the 11 pm closing time will gently and slowly slide off benches and steps, waking from their slumber, and into the river below. The lifts, which support up to 22 million tons, were designed and manufactured in South Korea, shipped through the Panama Canal, and can "become perpendicular in seconds or hours."

"Listen, we wanted to discourage use of the park after the 11 o'clock hour by anyone, but the William Penn Foundation, who made a sizable donation towards the park's construction, forbade us from installing a gate at the entrance claiming that it would be 'an unfriendly welcome' to visitors," said Tyler Sinclair, the park's creator and a partner with Cooper-Sinclair and Associates, a Center City firm made up of landscape architects, planners and architects. "So we designated two million dollars towards a lift system. Simple as that."

A sign at the entrance, however, warns visitors that "this wonderful park will become vertical beginning at 11:05 p.m., please vacate the pier by this time."

"For individuals that can really hang on, the pier can go past the 90 degree angle and actually become slightly inverted over the water," said Sinclair. "We can also shake the pier back and forth somewhat, in case there are some real troopers."

On Monday, Max Francis, a rookie bricklayer working on the park lost a closely contested rocks-papers-scissors contest obligating him to be the first test person cleared from the pier using the lift system.

"I laid on a bench and just kind of waited while all of my co-workers looked on from the sidewalk," said Francis. "I could feel the park getting higher and then, swoosh. I slid from the bench down the decking and right into the river. I'll admit ... it was a little fun. A little ... uplifting?"

Protesters, however, from across the country have converged on the city to voice their concerns, including celebrities such as Mary Stuart Masterson, Brent Phillips, Sarah Jessica Parker, Larry Mendte, Joan Cusack and John Cusack.

"This is outrageous," said Bethany Marks, a protester leading a group of anti-hydraulic lift citizens that went by the name Lick the Hydraulics and who were emphatically chanting outside the Mayor's office at City Hall. "Remove those lifts Mr. Mayor. Remove those lifts."

"I'm not sure what all the fuss is about," said Gail Cooper, the Cooper in Cooper-Sinclair. "There will be plenty of flotation devices at the end of the park and powerful magnets will hold can-filled shopping carts in place. The 'cleared' individuals can claim the shopping carts on the following morning. We have a system in place ... a very well thought out system."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Elite Navy M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S. force opens up about bin Laden raid snub

Norfolk, VA--Lt. Kyle Campbell trusted he made the right decision nearly two weeks ago, as high-tech U.S. military helicopters carried the elite Navy SEALs team out of Afghanistan and into neighboring Pakistan. We all know how the bin Laden raid turned out, but Campbell, one of the leaders of the mission, nervously watched a 64-inch monitor from an undisclosed American base in the Afghan countryside.

"I was really hoping that I made the right decision," said Campbell, about his choice to use the Navy SEALs. "I'm not a nail-biting person, but I really had no fingernails left at the end of that day. I must have urinated six times in the hour before our crew set out."

Several months ago, when the Navy was preparing for the raid on the Al-Qaeda leader's compound, the Lieutenant was put in a very difficult position--the old rock and a hard place. As most know (or at least know now), the Navy has two elite forces that were capable of successfully completing such a top secret mission: the SEALs and the M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S.

Though the two forces respect each other, there is a fierce competition to be labeled the more elite, talented group of the Navy branch of the military. There is strong lobbying by leaders of each force to be awarded the most difficult missions in the most random, far off corners of the globe.

The M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S., which stands for Martial Arts Ninjas And Trained Experienced Experts and Safety, are known for their meticulous attention to detail and implementation of overzealous safety precautions. Their missions often take longer and require more manpower than the SEALS, but the results are often perfection.

"The SEALs are good," said retired General Norman Schwarzkopf, who led the U.S. forces during the first Gulf War in the early 1990's, "but if I had to choose one group to get me out of trouble in a hostile environment, I'd have to go with the M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S. I don't mean any disrespect to the SEALs. Those M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S. sure can take there time and complete a mission within an inch of a dime."

The M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S. have slowly started to open up about being passed over for the "mission of a lifetime." Several members have taken a leave of absence, while others have used the press to air their grievances with Lt. Campbell and the SEALs.

"I don't want to be a sore loser, but we should have been the ones to go," said one M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S. who only identified himself as Sgt. Ass-kicking. "We would have completed the mission and returned ... most likely in a day or two. But, we would have brought back all of the helicopters. So ..."

"We're just much more laid-back about the missions than the SEALs," said Third Lt. M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S. Carl Rendt. "We take our time, but it pays off in the end. We just kind of chill out on our tasks. What's the rush, dude? I'm upset because we also got passed over to rescue the ship captain that was captured by the Somali pirates last year. That should have been us, too."

Other members of the group half-heartedly backed Campbell's enormously tough decision.

"Although I feel that Campbell really screwed us over, I feel like he made the right decision," said another M.A.N.A.T.E.E.S. who offered the comment on condition of anonymity. "We like to set up shop and really take our time. We probably would have had a little cookout in the compound courtyard before leaving. And this seemed like a mission for a quick-strike team, even though their mistakes were numerous. I wrote them all down."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What were railroad workers hiding in famous photo of Transcontinental Railroad completion?

Promontory Summit, UT--Today marks the 142nd anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad across the United States of America, uniting two vastly different coasts by way of the Manifest Destiny Express.

At 3:42 pm local time on May 10, 1869, Harold Trumbill, chief civil engineer of the Pacific and Illinois Union Railroad, raised a rusty, weathered 22-pound sledge hammer high above his perspiration-covered head. Two seconds later, after yelling, 'Long live PIUR,' drove a 94-carat golden railroad spike into a tar-coated railroad tie marking the completion of the cross-country track. This is how most history books describe it.

After this last spike was driven home, the workers, some laying track from the west and some from the east, paused and gathered on the locomotives that had been following the construction with necessary supplies, took the now-famous photo from this small Utah town (pictured above).

Two weeks ago, historian Lake Donovan, author of Transcontinental Railroad: I'm not Buying It, uncovered a photo (below) showing an alignment problem with the famous tracks that has challenged the timely completion of the railroad and sent shock waves through the railroad history world.

"I was doing some research for another book due out this summer, called Transcontinental Railroad: Really? A Railroad Across the Whole Country? C'mon!, when I came across a photo (below) that was labeled on the back: 1869 miscue, Promontory Summit, May 10, do not show to anyone ... ever. Trumbill."

If the photo is authentic, and Donovan assures his critics there is no reason to believe it is not, it would explain why Trumbill, a perfectionist in every sense of the word, delayed the official opening of the railway for another two months.

"There is correspondence between Trumbill and Pacific and Illinois Union executives that question why locomotives were unable to pass," explained Donovan. "Trumbill didn't let trains use the tracks for for nearly eight weeks after the famous group photo was taken."

One of these letters, dated May 25, 1869, from Jedington Smithright, vice president of PIUR, read:

Dear Mr Trumbill,

I hope the Utah territory has welcomed you openly. I trust that you can find a decent tavern in the place. I write today to confirm that I received your daguerreotype of the completion of the railroad that has united our great country. Only a handful of years ago, we were split by a terrible war, brothers fighting brothers, fathers fighting sons, sons very upset when fathers shot them. This is a monumental symbol for our fragile and rebuilding emotional state. I ask now why construction continues when the photo you sent has clearly indicated the two sides, east and west, have met in Promontory Summit? I have attempted to travel by rail to Utah from our office in East St. Louis, but have been informed by rail workers that the route is impassible and that this is a direct order from you. Please, explain yourself my friend.
Jedington Smithright, Vice President

A letter from Trumbill to his wife Agitheena, if authentic, may support Donovan's photo discovery. It reads:

Dear my dearest Agitheena,

How I miss you dearly my lovely. I hope the rumors of you marrying Mr. Gordon Thomas Livingston are just that ... rumors. Despite the photo of our gallant railroad workers celebrating the completion of the railroad, which I am assured has reached New York, I have made a maddening, erroneous calculation. The great tracks coming from the east and the west did not successfully meet. I had the workers gather tightly for the photo so to cover up the unfortunate debacle. It was really just a simple mathematical mistake, carrying the one when I should have carried a two, or a three, I think. Please, pray for me.
Your loving husband (or ex-husband),
Harold Trumbill, Chief Engineer, Pacific and Illinois Union Railroad

Trumbill was eventually removed from his position at PIUR two days before the first locomotive passed over the golden spike in the Utah Territory. Company executives never discovered that the chief engineer had drastically miscalculated the track alignment and dismissed the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate on "unquestionable grounds of insanity."Above: The first attempt at the Transcontinental Railroad was slightly off, according to a recently uncovered photograph by historian Lake Donovan.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

White House mum on why Hulk Hogan was in Situation Room during bin Laden raid

Washington, DC--White House officials are not discussing the reasons behind the presence of former WWF wrestler Hulk Hogan in the Situation Room during the highly secretive raid of terrorist Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan on Sunday. The American people and the media can only speculate that he had some hand in the operation, or, more likely, was there to give the elite audience a pep talk before, during and after watching the mission unfold before them in real time via satellite. Did he talk during the entire raid? Did he give his signature do-rag away after the raid was all over and deemed a success? Did he frantically look around the room for a top rope after the news broke only to be thoroughly disappointed there was no ring? Or, did he just stand there, silent, thinking, 'Why the hell am I wearing sunglasses indoors?' These are questions we may never know the answer to. But, we do know that the Hulkster is a true American. Thank you, Mr Hogan ... thanks, a lot.

Monday, May 2, 2011

U.S. Military: Google maps, street view played huge role in locating bin Laden

Islamabad, Pakistan--A day after a U.S. military operation killed the most sought-after terrorist in the world those involved in the intricate coordination of the secret mission say maps and images that civilians use daily were the difference maker. "If I wasn't able to access google maps and then street view there's no way that we would have been able to virtually tour through the seedy streets of Islamabad and its seedier outskirts. We've been clicking, dragging, scrolling and zooming for the last several years and then, finally, I panned the view around to look at the buildings along one particular road and boom ... the bin Laden compound," said Lt. Francis L. Halsen, commander of the raid. "Google had blurred out many of the faces near the compound, but under a military request provided the non-blurred images and the rest, as they say, is history."