Friday, July 10, 2009

Pilot Detours to Iowa After Passenger's Disparaging Comment

A United Airlines cross country flight from San Francisco to Boston had an unscheduled stop in Des Moines, Iowa, Thursday after a pilot decided to make an emergency landing after hearing a passenger's disparaging remark about "flyover country."

According to the co-pilot, the pilot heard a man in business class say to his traveling companion something to the effect of, "Thank God we were able to change to this direct flight. There's a reason it's called flyover country."

"I had gone to the bathroom when he overheard the remark but when I came back he was totally steaming," said the co-pilot. "He was muttering something about how he was sick and tired of coastal elitists looking down at salt of the earth folks. I didn't really pay attention to him, though -- I just nodded, because he was always getting agitated whenever he perceived someone dissing the Midwest or South."

The pilot, whose name has not been released, is a native Iowan and recent divorcee, according to sources.

According to shaken passengers, the plane began its descent an hour and a half before expected, with little comment from the cockpit other than a request to "fasten your seat belts and bring your seats to an upright position."

"The flight attendant didn't even have time to come by and collect my cup and pretzel bag, so I just stuffed it in the seat in front of me," said May Davis, 64. "When we landed the pilot said, 'Welcome to Des Moines, Iowa, where it's a beautiful 83 degrees.' We were all scratching our head and even the flight attendants looked really confused."

According to the co-pilot, the pilot started fiddling with the controls shortly before reaching Iowa and said that they might need to make an emergency landing, even though "from as far as I could tell everything was working fine. But when I tried to tell him that I didn't see anything wrong, he flipped out and questioned my credentials. I wasn't really sure what to do but I didn't want to start a physical altercation with him so I figured so long as we landed safely, everything would be okay."

The pilot has been suspended without pay pending further review of the alleged mechanical problems and is undergoing psychological testing. The plane's so-called "black box," which records all communications in the cockpit, has backed up the co-pilot's side of the story.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bush Finishes Clearing Crawford Ranch Brush

Former President George W. Bush has finished clearing all the brush from his 1,600 acre ranch in Crawford, Texas.

During his presidency, Bush often sought refuge at the Prairie Chapel Ranch, considered the Western White House. He was often criticized for spending too much time at his ranch and not enough time attending to domestic problems and world matters. Among his favorite activities were biking and clearing brush.

At the insistence of former first lady Laura Bush, who prefers yoga and socializing to whacking down trees and torching them in solitude, the 43rd president bought a residence in the tony Preston Hollows Dallas neighborhood, where they spend most weekdays. But Bush is still able to spend considerably more time at the ranch than during his presidency.

"Now that he doesn't have to receive multiple daily briefings from the CIA, his chief of staff, economic advisers, etc., he has much more time to engage in activities near and dear to his heart," said a friend. "He's also very hard-working, and sometimes he'll even work right through lunch."

But after eight years of presidency and nearly six months of being an ex-president, there is no brush left to clear. "He just sits around and mopes and it's driving Laura crazy," the friend said. "It's getting so bad that he's started clearing trees that are young and shouldn't be cut down. It looks like those pictures of Brazilian rainforests that have been subject to slash and burn clear cutting."

The former first couple is considering buying another ranch or expanding their ranch by buying the adjoining land of their neighbors.

Bush is not the first ex-president to spend excessive amounts of time on a hobby. Bill Clinton reportedly filled his post-presidency hours by doing thousands of crossword puzzles.

Clinton had long been an avid fan of the New York Times crossword puzzle, even writing them in ink. But after his presidency he had to resort to TV Guide crossword puzzles and even got his aides who flew commercially to collect airline crossword puzzles in order to satiate his appetite for them.

During the filming of Wordplay, a movie about New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Schortz, the director even asked him to leave the set after he kept harassing Shortz to create him another crossword, complaining that "the ones in USA Today are crap."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Harry Potter Star Struggling to Adjust to Muggle World

After nine years of filming Harry Potter movies, Rupert Grint, who plays the character Ron Weasley, is reportedly struggling with the prospect of reacclimating to a post-Harry Potter life.

Grint, who recently came down with H1N1, or swine flu, apparently tried coming back to the set where the cast has been filming the seventh and eight movies before he had recovered, insisting that if he could just see Madame Pomfrey -- the nurse in charge of Hogwart's hospital wing -- she would be able to cure him. His attempts to self-medicate at home by eating enormous amounts of chocolate -- a common medicine for various ailments in J.K. Rowlings magical world, including encounters with dementers -- had failed to do anything more than give him a stomachache, according to his concerned friends.

In contrast, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, who play Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, have taken conscious steps to distance themselves from their characters.

In 2007 and 2008, Radcliffe played a stable boy obsessed with horses in the play Equus, with a much-talked about nude scene. His performance received positive reviews in London and New York and critics agree he has done a good job of avoiding being typecast as the most famous boy wizard in movie history.

Watson, meanwhile, intends to attend college in the United States and take a break from acting. Sources say she will be attending Columbia University in New York City, but she has declined to comment.

Radcliffe and Watson have grown increasingly concerned with Grint's mental stability and worry what he will do once the movies have finished. "He insists on being called Ron all the time," Watson fretted to a friend. "That's all very well now, when he can pretend like he's just some very serious method actor, but what about when we wrap? People will think he's mental if he goes around calling himself Ron and waving a wand."

Like his fictional character, Grint has started to express amorous feelings towards Watson, which she has not reciprocated. And he refuses to eat at the same lunch table as Tom Felton, who plays bad boy Draco Malfoy, saying loudly "Gryffindors only at this table. Slytherins eat over there."

Grint also has expressed nostalgia for the earlier years and has taken to alternately caressing and cursing a rat that he calls "Scabbers" and "Wormtail," a prominent character in the third book, Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban.

Film executives at Warner Brothers, the company producing the lucrative Harry Potter franchise, have discussed Grint's mental state with director David Yates and a few fellow cast members. They have tried to keep it confidential for fear of distracting from the much-anticipated release of the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

One of the proposals currently under consideration is to allow Grint to live on the Hogwarts set for a couple of weeks after the films have wrapped. "Once Rupert sees that the floating candles and Nearly Headless Nick are blue screen magic and not actual magic we hope that will help him realize that Hogwarts is not reality," said one of Grint's fellow cast members.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Franken Reprimands Staff for Joking

On his first day as the newest senator from Minnesota, Democrat Al Franken reprimanded his chief of staff, Drew Littman, for gently ribbing one of the new staff assistants.

In an effort to appear senatorial, Franken has banned all jokes at the office and in the Capitol building by anyone representing him, including himself.

"We thought he was joking when he said no jokes," but he turned deadly serious when he heard Drew asking the staff assistant whether that the orange checked tie was something he'd gotten from his dad's closet or paid $100 for as the latest fashion," said another staff assistant who asked not to be named. "Then in the staff meeting he was frowning when the schedulers walked in laughing, and asked what was so funny."

The former Saturday Night Live comic-turned politician faced an uphill battle in overcoming public perception that he was not statemanlike enough to be senator, despite his Harvard education.

Memories of Franken's fictional SNL character, Stuart Smalley, remain fresh among Minnesotans, apparently. And during the campaign Franken -- who defeated opponent Norm Coleman by such a slim margin that he was only able to assume his seat eight months after the other freshman senators due to litigation -- was dogged by an article he wrote in Playboy magazine titled "Porn-O-Rama!."

Franken is working hard to revise his image into a worker bee politician who is ready to buckle down into the minutae of health care and the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. (Franken has been appointed to the committees overseeing the health care overhaul and judicial nominees.)

In a turn before the microphones Tuesday, Franken disappointed reporters by sticking to a meat and potatoes script, mentioning such poll-tested terms as "rational health care system," "decent day's wage for an honest day's work," and "education that prepares them for a 21st-century economy."

After ending his statement vowing to "get to work" Franken turned around, without a smile, and walked away.

Monday, July 6, 2009

PETA Launches Campaign to Rename Dust Bunnies

A leading animal rights organization, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, launched a campaign Monday to rename small clumps of dust found in hard to reach places including underneath furniture and in corners.

"The term 'dust bunny' is defamatory to rabbits everywhere," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement.

"Bunnies are living, breathing, sentient beings," Newkirk added. "So-called 'dust bunnies' are made of hair, lint, dead skin and dust. They can be harmful to the health and even shorten the life of electronics."

In lieu of "dust bunny" PETA is suggesting that people use terms such as "dust cluster" or "dust clod."

Newkirk said those terms were far more descriptive anyway, as clumps of dust in no way resemble rabbits.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Washington Post to Sell Columnist Bylines to Raise Money

A few days after The Washington Post was forced to scrap a plan offering lobbyists exclusive access to Obama officials, lawmakers and Post reporters and editors at salons held at Publisher Katharine Weymouth's house, a Post spokesperson was speechless when asked to comment about internal reports that they were planning to allow people to write articles under famous Washington Post columnist bylines.

"I will have to get back to you," said Kris Coratti, after a pause long enough to say "death of the newspaper industry" five times.

The cost of each column would vary depending on the renown of the byline, according to one business development employee disgusted with the proposal. Pulitzer Prize winners such as Robin Givhan and Eugene Robinson would fetch the highest prices, at between $30,000 to $40,000 per column. Discounts of 10 percent would be given for multiple purchases and related "Tweets" could be purchased for $1,000 to $3,000.

Only the bylines of journalists who engaged in commentary would be for sale. "In the meetings they said that we have high standards to maintain and that we can't just be in the business of making up news," said the disgruntled employee. "However, and I quote, 'Since opinions are just made up, those can change and be monetized.'"

There would be some guidelines for the buyers. They would have to stay on topic; for example, Givhan writes about fashion, and her ghostwriter could not suddenly opine about the politics of the Iranian elections. But so long as they confined their subject matter to a topic typically written about by the journalist, they could be free to write something that diverged from a previous stand.

A draft proposal included examples of how columnists could be used to plug various items or causes. Givhan could, for instance, suggest that Michelle Obama wear Banana Republic items. Banana Republic's competitor, J.Crew, has benefited from a "Michelle Obama effect" due to the extensive coverage of the variety of J.Crew items Michelle has worn.

Dana Milbank, who uses humor to crucify Washington's elite in his Washington Sketch, could direct his barbs at a politician blocking legislation supported by a particular interest group.

The reasoning behind why this would be appealing to wealthy buyers is that these journalists have an established brand name in their byline, according to the source. "An Op-Ed by Joe Schmo of whatever acronymn company won't be read by the movers and shakers. But if you get E.J. Dionne Jr. suddenly taking conservative stands on health care or climate change, that will get a second look by Sen. Baucus or Congressman Waxman," the source said, referring to the chairs of the Senate Finance and Energy and Commerce committees.

The Post is apparently about to begin outreach to a select few, including those who had expressed interest in sponsoring a salon. Non-disclosure agreements would be required before they could even hear the proposal.

In order to get the columnists to go along with the proposal they would receive a 30 percent cut of each column. In order to maintain the secret, columnists also would be required to sign non-disclosure agreements before hearing about the proposal. If they balked at the proposal, they would get "the Froomkin treatment," the source said, referring to recently terminated White House Watch columnist and blogger Dan Froomkin.