Monday, December 27, 2010

Man Grapples with Appropriate Holiday Greetings

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – After jokingly offering his pescetarian secretary a bite of his Chick-fil-a spicy chicken sandwich, Jerry Maybell had to attend an HR-ordered sensitivity training session where he was schooled in the differences between octo-lacto vegetarians (no meat, fish, or seafood), pescetarians (no meat, but fish is okay) and fruitarians (only what falls from a plant).

Chastened by the experience and eager to demonstrate sensitivity to religious and cultural differences, Maybell, a senior manager at an office supplies company, has been on tenterhooks since Thanksgiving as he has struggled to craft appropriate holiday greetings for his co-workers.

An offering of jelly-filled doughnuts to his Jewish co-workers was an exclusionary disaster, he lamented, after he failed to realize that his adjoining office mate, Anne Marie Buckley (nee Siegel), is Jewish.

His "Joyous Kwanzaa" greeting – for a holiday honoring African-American heritage – to the company's intern, a Jamaican immigrant, was greeted with a blank stare.

Maybell scrapped his cards depicting a snowy landscape and "Season's Greetings" message after he remembered that his boss is Australian, and like other Southern Hemisphere countries, Australia has its summer in December.

Buckley said that she was not offended when Maybell neglected to offer her a doughnut, one of the traditional Hanukkah foods. "I probably confused him because I always wish him and others a Merry Christmas," Buckley shrugged, as the strains of Silent Night streamed through her computer. "All the Jews I know do – if you didn't take off work for Yom Kippur, chances are you celebrate Christmas. Even if you don't you're used to Santa's domination of December."

Lauren Bacani, who is non-religious but celebrates Christmas "from the purely commercial standpoint, by exchanging presents," said Maybell should stop worrying. "Regardless of what holidays you celebrate, it's a time to eat good food, have time off from work, and go to parties. My old boss thought I was Indian and always wished me a happy Diwali," said Bacani, who is Filipino. "I milked that for extra long lunches and early departures."

Bacani, an account manager, said that though Maybell was overestimating how much people cared about the specifics of holiday greetings, "it's a lot better than this jerk in IT who went around telling everyone, Christian or not, 'Best wishes and that generic nonsense is what they tell suicide bombers. Merry Christmas!'"

After much agitation, Maybell ultimately decided to skip wishing anyone a Merry Christmas for fear of offense, settling on a "Happy Holidays" E-card with surreal silver and gold snowflakes falling diagonally that could, he said, be interpreted as "rain for people who never see snow, or shooting stars."

Maybell plans on having a small gathering Friday afternoon to celebrate New Year's Eve for those in the office. And he already knows what he will say in his toast if John Chen, of Chinese heritage, attends: "Happy New Year to everyone, including and as well as to John, who will usher in the Chinese year of the rabbit on Feb. 3!"

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds Disappoint Tabloids with Classy Marriage, Divorce

Hollywood stars Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds made their split official Thursday as they filed for divorce a mere two years after their top-secret marriage in Canada two years ago. While the dissolution of their union has led some to cluck their tongues disapprovingly at short-lived "Hollywood marriages," their discreet handling of their relationship and lack sexting with a Vegas stripper or acrimonious alimony fight has left gossip sites and tabloids devoid of material.

"First they screwed us by getting married in the woods in Canada. No $100,000 of roses flown in from Ecuador, no arrival on an elephant, no 'Save the Date' card with harsh demands of utmost secrecy that's conveniently leaked to People Magazine," said photographer Alvin Wood, as he waited outside of a Studio City Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf that Britney Spears often frequents. "Then they refused to gush about how great their sex life was once they were married. And now I hear from the reporters that they can't even get their 'close friends' to dish about how Ryan was emotionally distant or that Scarlett had a fling with [Iron Man 2 costar] Robert Downey, Jr."

Johansson was vacationing with girl friends in Jamaica when news of their split was broke, but the only pictures paparazzo were able to snap showed her with a shirt over her swimsuit. Usually, said Wood, celebrities go out of their way to show how happy they are post-split. "That means frolicking on the beach in a skimpy bikini while laughing uproariously, often with friends of the opposite gender. See: Cameron Diaz, Paris Hilton."

The lack of rancor has had economic ramifications beyond just gossip sites. The manager for Kitson, a boutique favored by A-list reality TV stars hoping to become B-list actresses, said that no one had requested a "Team Reynolds" or "Team Johansson" shirt. "We still sell 20 'Team Aniston' and 'Team Jolie' T-shirts each week, but nobody really cares about picking sides in their case," said the manager.

"It's hard to even feel much Schadenfreude about them," said Harvey Levin, editor of, a gossip site renowned for posting unflattering pictures and information about celebrities. "Ryan has that nice Canadian thing going for him and Scarlett campaigned for Obama before it was the super cool thing to do."

Reynolds and Johansson met for a friendly dinner shortly before filing for divorce but onlookers said they were careful not to touch each other or do anything that could be construed as canoodling. They have since continued their low key lifestyles, with Reynolds and Johansson expected to spend Christmas with their families -- however calls to their publicists to inquire about their holiday plans were not returned.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Al Gore Admits Infidelity to Recycling

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Former Vice President Al Gore has admitted to cheating on his carbon-offsetting lifestyle during a tempestuous months-long affair with wastefully packaged 100 calorie snacks, plastic bags and SUVs.

The hasty admission came just hours before the National Enquirer was set to run a story detailing a Coca-Cola fueled night in which Gore rode in a Hummer through Georgia and South Carolina and ended with him printing out reams of e-mails on single-sided paper with 1.75 inch margins in a Charleston hotel.

The State, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, received an anonymous tip about Gore’s indiscretions last year but was unable to verify the allegations. “The source claimed that he flew over 30,000 miles from June to August of 2009, and failed to order carbon offsets,” Executive Editor Mark Lett said. “But we had no way to verify that.”

The world’s most high profile environmentalist began his betrayal with that Coke-filled night, and continued for several months. “I am only human, and not without flaws. For several months last year I strayed from my ideals and shirked my responsibilities,” Gore said in a statement. “I grew tired of worrying about holes in the ozone layer, acid rain and melting polar ice caps and gave in to despair. I will rededicate myself to spreading the gospel of hybrid cars and biodegradable utensils made with potato and corn starch – only when reusable ones are impractical, of course.”

The National Enquirer story reportedly contains an interview with the maid who cleaned Gore’s hotel room and noticed the discarded e-mail printouts that were brazenly stuffed into the trash can along with Coca Cola cans, Type 2 plastic water bottles and 100 calorie Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers packaging. Although The State tried to interview the maid last year, she refused to talk unless she was compensated. A source at the Enquirer said that the maid “initially demanded $1 million but later said she’d accept affordable health care and a living wage.”

That initial night of excess was just the start of Gore’s green betrayal. Over the next 11 weeks, Gore indulged in such excesses as running the air conditioning with the windows open, going grocery shopping without bringing his own cloth bag and driving non-hybrid cars. His fling with profligacy came to an abrupt halt when he was confronted by his four children.

“The intervention wasn’t pretty. He had hit rock bottom and was smoking a cigar and sitting in a pool of Styrofoam peanuts,” said a family friend. “It was only after they forced him to watch an elaborate PowerPoint presentation with a breakdown of the acres of clear cut forest his lack of environmental stewardship was equivalent to did he realize that he had a problem.

Gore’s admission of wrongdoing should lessen the sting of the Enquirer story. The tabloid allegedly paid $500,000 for a grainy picture of Gore leaning out of the Hummer’s window to deliberately discard a glass bottle in a trash can when a recycling bin was also within arm’s reach. “Before Gore’s statement, that was a money shot,” said Karla Williams, a crisis management professional. “Now that he’s fessed up, it takes away a lot of the shock value.”

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Massive Perfume Leak Spurs Accusations of Cheating, Metrosexuality

The biggest olfactory catastrophe in the history of South Carolina has struck the small fishing village of Murrells Inlet and is spreading rapidly despite efforts to contain the disaster site. Scents 4 Everyone, a perfume manufacturer, began leaking its “Carolina Breeze” fragrance three days ago, through undiscovered cracks in the 100 gallon vats used to combine the yellow jessamine flower essence and other ingredients used to make their signature “his” and “her” scents.

Beyond the colossal environmental hazards, the leak has led to accusations of infidelity, with one worker from a nearby law office viciously attacked by his wife for coming home with an unfamiliar scent. “I tried to tell her that the smell was just in the air and that I would never cheat on her with someone who wore designer imposter perfume,” said David Smith, “but she was just like, ‘Whatever.’”

The perfumes — which includes hints of fresh mandarin and musk for the male fragrance, and magnolia, peach and jasmine for the female fragrance — are designed to linger on the body with a mere spritz. But the gallons of leakage mean that the aroma is here to stay for weeks if not months, and the disaster area will not be confined to just Murrells Inlet. Nearby Myrtle Beach is bracing itself for impact, and Wilmington residents — a full hour away — might not be spared either.

The leak’s impact is not just being felt by falsely accused non-adulterers. Orinthologists have reported a worrying phenomena of “metrosexual” pelicans that are being rejected by their mates. “Pelicans are smelly birds that carry around stinky, dead fish in their throat pouches,” said Laurie Stern. “When their natural stench is diluted by the aroma of sweet smelling flowers, that’s a turn off.”

Wildlife workers say that as part of the costly remediation efforts they may try to capture the rejected birds and bathe them in a bath of salt water and rotten fish before releasing them into the wild.

Criticism of Scents 4 Everyone has been swift and harsh, but the company has been quick to spread the blame, citing “shoddily constructed vats” and “overly vigorous ventilation.” But the landlord avowed any knowledge of fragrance production. “I thought ‘Cents for Everyone’ meant they were coin collectors,” said Harold P. Giffords.

A spokeswoman for the company producing the vats said that they were intended for use in making wholesale soups, and that the alcohol in the perfumes likely eroded the metal, causing the cracks. “We can’t be held responsible for the abusive use of our products,” said Sharon Lee-Mandably.

Lawmakers have been quick to denounce all the companies involved and call for federal assistance. Gov. Mark Sanford, noteworthy for being a fiscal miser, demanded that President Obama declare the region a federal disaster area to make it eligible for federal funds, and requested that FEMA bring needed supplies such as deodorizers and nose plugs. “South Carolinians will be living with the scourge of these pernicious fissures for a generation,” Sanford said. “We need help more than I needed a better PR advice.”

Efforts to reduce the odor have thus far yielded scant success. The first attempt to envelop the factory in a large parachute to contain the smell failed due to the porous material used. Warming up the remaining perfume heightened the odor, to the bemusement of aromatherapists. And recruiting members of the public to spray their own perfumes and colognes into the air to disperse the Carolina Breeze odor merely created a stronger fragrant haze.

In addition to the enduring odor of yellow jessamine, some smelled a whiff of political opportunism as a legacy of the leak. Howard Jessop II, a blogger and former employee of state Sen. Jake Knotts, said Wednesday that his conscience would no longer allow him to remain silent about his affair with Nikki Haley, the leading GOP nominee for governor. “On election day, Nikki and I canoodled before she gave her victory speech,” said Jessop. “I don’t want to go into details, but let’s just say if it were baseball, she’s no bunter. She went for the grand slam, and you can still smell the Carolina Breeze on me as proof.”

Haley received a wave of national attention after Jessop’s former boss, Knotts, called Haley — who is Sikh — a “raghead.” Haley received additional attention after two men with ties to Sanford and Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer claimed to have had affairs with her in the past few years.

When it was pointed out that Haley had campaigned near Murrells Inlet and would have likely picked up the scent then, and that he could have easily sprayed himself and his clothes — redolent of Carolina Breeze — with the perfume to provide circumstantial “evidence,” Jessop clammed up. “What we shared was special, and I won’t say another word about our improper relations. That’s between me and God and her and whatever devil she prays to.”

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Apple Moving Headquarters to Dubai

Concerned by the recent outing of the fourth generation iPhone prototype on tech blog Gizmodo, secrecy obsessed Apple is moving its headquarters to Dubai.

The Middle East emirate has long been known for its ultra luxe amenities, including an indoor snow resort and the world's largest man-made islands and the tallest building. But more recently, they were in the news for using their sophisticated security tracking system to determine that the death of a senior Hamas figure was carried out by a over a dozen Mossad agents, and was not as initially believed to be the result of natural causes.

The pairing of Apple and Dubai comes as the United Arab Emirate's most ostentatious city struggles to recover from the global downturn and attract foreign business. The deal to move the headquarters to Dubai came this past week after a visit by Steve Jobs and his associates, where they apparently stayed at a seven star hotel and ate in an underwater restaurant that they reached by submarine. But what sealed the deal, according to an employee of Dubai's sophisticated security system who declined to state his name for fear of death by firing squad, was a behind-the-scenes tour of the thousands of surveillance cameras that allow for the tracking of people. "It's more intrusive than Bill Gate's house," Jobs reportedly exclaimed in admiration.

Apple suffered great embarrassment after a software engineer left a prototype of the yet-to-be-released fourth generation iPhone at a bar in Redwood City, Calif., which was subsequently sold to Gizmodo for $5,000. The resulting video of an unshaven geek displaying the prototype went viral and led to mass hyperventilation of Apple groupies worldwide.

Using Dubai's tracking system, the man who found the iPhone would have been tracked down and jailed under trumped up charges before he had time to get home, said the employee. "There would be none of this legal nonsense over whether the search warrant was legal."

Apple has already begun relocating employees as well as making some local hires. Both groups will undergo intense cultural sensitivity training, with the former learning about verboten customs such as kissing in public and the latter learning to avoid speaking positively about Adobe Flash.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spanish Intern Tasked with Planning Cinco de Mayo Celebration

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Carolina Pascal recently called her aunt in Barcelona to wish her a happy birthday. Little did 21-year-old intern for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism (SCPRT) expect that her overheard "feliz cumpleaƱos" would lead to her planning the office's Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

The agency's celebration of the Mexican holiday is a newly instituted practice, according to Smithson Jamesfield, the recently promoted Tourism and Recreation Department director within SCPRT.

"Nothing gets my blood boiling hotter than when people claim that South Carolina is backwards and filled with local yokels. Asheville is fine, but the Obamas should really try vacationing in Charleston for a truly cosmopolitan experience, Jamesfield said, referring to the First Family's recent getaway to North Carolina. "We celebrate people of all origins and their respective customs."

Mexico's victory over French forces on May 5, 1862, is not one that is typically celebrated outside of Mexico and the United States, and awareness of the holiday is not widespread in Europe. "It's a little befuddling because I'm Spanish, but they still assumed that I celebrated Cinco de Mayo," said Pascal. "I hadn't even heard of it before I came to the United States. I was like, what's so cool about fifth day of May?"

Despite her initial befuddlement, Pascal has embraced her responsibilities, which include ordering the food and entertainment for the celebration. She had wanted to order paella and pass it off as coming from the Catalan region of Mexico, but she wasn't able to find any Spanish restaurants. Instead, celebrants will chow down on Cubano sandwiches from Real Mexico Restaurant Y Tienda.

Pascal's status as a proxy Mexican is not unprecedented. Risa Fukuyama, the IT manager for SCPRT, was charged with hosting the office's Chinese New Year's celebration, despite being of Japanese descent. And Jamesfield drafted Stan Porter, a native Kansan and office receptionist, to organize the Canadian Thanksgiving potluck buffet after heard him end a sentence with "eh?"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

South Carolina to Bar New Yorkers, Californians

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Following Arizona’s lead, South Carolina is expected to enact the nation’s toughest immigration laws to date, with New Yorkers and Californians to be officially declared persona non grata.

Not only are residents of the Empire and Golden states prohibited from living in South Carolina, under the bill being considered by South Carolina’s legislature, they would not even be permitted to visit for tourist purposes.

Law enforcement would be directed to arrest individuals that they knew, or suspected, were New Yorkers or Californians and deport anyone who proved to be a resident of those states. Officers could detain individuals for a long list of appearance-based and behavioral reasons, including: “evidence of plastic surgery; reading The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal or New York Times; extolling Thomas Keller or molecular gastronomy; driving a Prius; mentioning ‘my rabbi’; requesting ‘macrobiotic’ or ‘vegan’ items at a restaurant; ordering non-sweetened tea; inquiring about the availability of valet parking; speaking of Bob Jones University or Strom Thurmond with disdain; refusing to call Arnold Schwarzenegger or Rudy Giuliani a RINO; or stating a preference for Adam Lambert over Kris Allen.”

Republican Governor Mark Sanford says that he will sign the bill.

“For centuries New Yorkers and Californians have sneered at us,” said Sanford, “They marvel at our magnolia trees but call us racially intolerant and backward. The only thing that we are intolerant of is elitism, and this bill sends a clear message that we will no longer permit it inside our state lines.”

Critics of the measure say it enshrines Southern bigotry in state law.

“We already fought the Civil War, and we lost,” Milton R. Rutherford, history professor at Columbia College, said bluntly. “It has zero chance of being withstanding a legal challenge if it becomes law.”

The South Carolina Chamber of Commerce issued a statement expressing concern that the state’s industries could be harmed by the loss of revenue resulting from fewer New York and California tourists as well as individuals from other states that oppose the law.

But Jackson Ross Campbell III, creator of the “Blue States Suck” Facebook page, said that any loss would be more than compensated for by tourists from states who support South Carolina’s law.

“It’s marketing magic for our hotels, which will be able to advertise that their guests won’t have to run into people at the continental breakfast buffet asking for soy milk or carrying a Louis Vuitton bag with a small, yappy dog,” Campbell said, adding that he will work to extend the ban to states beyond California and New York.

Poll results were mixed. When South Carolina residents were asked whether they supported prohibiting residents from other states from moving to or visiting their state, only 15 percent said yes in a Zogby Poll with +/-3.1 percentage points of error. However, when it was specified that the residents were from New York and Carolina, that number rose to 47 percent and when it was worded “carpetbaggers from the states where Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clinton live” the number spiked at 71 percent.

The legislation was initially drafted to prevent residents of New York and California from ever visiting South Carolina, but an exemption was made to permit relatives to visit immediate family members whose health or life is in danger and who are unable to travel.

It also gives individuals who are native born South Carolinians but have New York or California residency the chance to repatriate after a waiting period. Anyone reapplying for South Carolina residency will need to show proof, through state income tax forms or utility bills, that they have been a resident of a state besides California or New York for a minimum of three years, in addition to providing their birth certificate.

But native born Californians and New Yorkers are out of luck — unless they can provide proof that an immediate ancestor was a South Carolina resident and declare their fidelity to South Carolina.

Despite the heated debate the proposal has stirred in South Carolina, it appears to have received scant notice in the states that would be affected. When told of the proposal, Berkeley, Calif., resident Ashby Paz shrugged his shoulders. “That’s just one less carbon offset I need to buy — not that I’ve ever been or have any desire to go since I kind of lump South Carolina into the same category as flyover country.” Paz said. “In fact, maybe we could have reciprocity and bar South Carolinians from coming to California.”

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Ninety-Nine Percent of Public Uglier than Facebook Doppelgangers

A new study has determined that 95 percent of the Facebook doppelgangers are more attractive than the actual people who participated in "celebrity doppelganger week." In addition, 93 percent of the doppelgangers were younger and 95 percent were slimmer.

The study was published in the Proceedings Of The Royal Society, Biological Sciences, the same journal that published the findings in 2007 showing that people prefer symmetrical faces, with an exception for Cindy Crawford's mole.

In addition, the study found that while there was a modest likeness at times among Caucasians between the individuals and their celebrity doppelgangers, easily 15 percent of the world's population apparently looks like Lucy Liu. This counts every female of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Singaporean descent.(China alone comprises 20 percent of the word's population with females accounting for half of that minus some tens of millions of individuals when factoring in female infanticide.)

The rare exception to the 99 percent who chose to upload a more flattering photo than themselves included a British academic who chose Ben Linus, the bespectacled evil character from the hit television show "Lost," as his doppelganger. "The individual identified himself as a philosophy graduate student who hasn't seen natural sunlight in seven years and speaks only in axioms," the Journal's authors write. "Other photos on his Facebook page indicate he is actually quite attractive, if pallid."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Woman Suffers Olympics Commercials Withdrawal

Emily Johnson's eyes welled up at the Winn Dixie this week when she pulled out her Visa credit card to pay for her sliced ham and Pringles potato chips. "Go World," she mouthed, choking back a sob.

Johnson does not know any Vancouver Olympians, nor has she ever attended an Olympics. But 11 days after Canada defeated the U.S. men's hockey team, Johnson said she would give anything to have the Olympics last longer.

It's not the elegant, triple lutz-throwing figure skaters that Johnson misses, or the daredevil snowboarders, or even watching Apolo Ohno becoming the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian. Rather, the 43-year-old mother of three said that it's the commercials that she yearns for -- from Visa's "Go World" themed ones to the internecene Cola Cola snowball fight in the Olympic Village.

Johnson's nostalgia for the commercials may make the brand marketing industry salivate, but her constant references to 30-second ads has puzzled and at times horrified her family.

After 14-year-old Julie's softball team won its match, Johnson, who was in charge of bringing snacks, sought to give her daughter's team an unnecessary, discordant pep talk. "You came in with one goal. And unfortunately, you left with one goal," she said, as Julie hissed, "They're runs, mom. We score runs, not goals."

Johnson continued, "But I'm proud of you. You played like Olympians, so today we eat like Olympians," dramatically pulling out a box of Chicken McNuggets.

"It was so embarrassing. She insisted on giving that speech that the hockey coach gave on the McDonalds commercial, even though we won," Julie recounted. "Then she got disappointed when we didn't cheer like they did in the commercial, and she was all offended when of my teammates told her for future reference that Chik-fil-A's Chick-n-Strips are better."

When the AT&T commercial with the snowboarder that does that halfpipe all the way to the moon came on a day after the Closing Ceremonies, Johnson perked up, and hummed, "It's such a perfect day" -- lyrics from the song in the commercial -- for the rest of the evening, according to Bill Johnson, Emily's exasperated husband.

"Thank God she doesn't know how to use Tivo," Julie said. "I saved the ladies free skate, but she thinks that Tivo forces you to skip commercials. I'm not going to tell her otherwise she'll just be sitting there for hours, fast forwarding through Kim Yu-Na and Mao Asada to get to that weird commercial of Apolo Ohno skating on the spinning ice rink.

McDonalds and Visa aren't the only companies to win Johnson's favor with their heartstrings-tugging ads, though the Visa commercial featuring Dan Jansen skating a victory lap with his daughter, Jane, may be her favorite. In close contention is Proctor & Gamble, which debuted a series of commercials with pint sized athletes engaging in various winter sports, and a salute to their moms.

"She's telling our five-year-old 'To me, you'll always be my kid,' said Bill Johnson. "But he's five, and that's just confusing to him."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Medal-less Russian Olympians Forced into Exile

VANCOUVER -- Olympian Yuri Lysenko was looking forward to seeing his daughter, Ksenia, and having a big bowl of his wife's borscht, which he hoped would ease his disappointment over having missed out on a medal.

But it turns out that the Russian's disappointment paled in comparison to that of Moscow's. When he showed up at the airport in Vancouver, Lysenko was informed that, by order of President Dmitry Medvedev, he was on the Russian "no fly" list and would not be allowed back into his native country due to his poor showing at the Olympics.

Lysenko was not alone in his exile. He soon ran into a glum Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, the Russian figure skating pair that finished a disappointing 4th at the Olympics, ending a 46-year pairs medal streak. Smirnov was sadly swilling from a bottle of duty free vodka, comforting Kavaguti -- who gave up her Japanese citizenship in order to be able to compete in the Olympics -- as she sobbed into the shoulder of his feather and rhinestone encrusted jacket.

According to Smirnov, all the Russian figure skaters had traveled to the Vancouver airport together, but only Evgeni Plushenko was allowed to check in. Although Plushenko won a silver medal, he criticized gold medalist Evan Lysacek for failing to perform any quadruple jumps and quickly declared himself winner of a platinum medal. Plushenko's sentiment was shared by his countrymen, and he received a message from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin that "Your silver is worth gold."

Not all Russian medals were merited an upgrade, however. Cross country skier Alexander Panzhinskiy's silver was received with disappointment, though he was allowed to return to Russia. And the four man biathlon team that won bronze in the relay event was permitted past security only after signing forms promising to "train harder, faster and better so as not to bring shame and dishonor upon the country ever again."

The stakes are high for Russia, which is set to host the next winter Olympics in Sochi. In addition to banishing poor performers, Medvedev called on the country's sports officials to resign. A repeat poor performance like Vancouver would be an unbearable wound to Russia's pride, Medvedev said.

One sports official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that there were many obstacles that prevented Russians from bringing as much lucre back as those athletes who represented the Soviet Union. "Back then, the drug tests weren't as advanced and it was much easier to falsify ages," the official said. "Nowadays, the athletes are lazy and coddled. It isn't enough to see their parents every other Christmas; they want every Christmas plus a summer holiday too. And their parents sometimes already live in an apartment that has more than one bedroom for seven people so we can't dangle that as a prize for gold either."

Two days after the Closing Ceremonies, the displaced Russians were starting to regroup and assess their futures. Lysenko said that he would seek to bring his wife and daughter to wherever he ended up, and that he hoped to continue training. He said he had fielded offers of citizenship from Belarus and Ukraine, two other former Soviet republics, but that he had fallen in love with Canada. "They tell me that the northern tundra is just as desolate and cold as Siberia, where I used to train," Lysenko said.

But one Russian team will not be welcome in Canada: hockey. Canadians are still, for the most part, riding high after beating the United States in overtime for the gold medal. The Canadians had easily defeated Russia -- once a hockey powerhouse -- in the quarterfinals. Still, a good number of Russian players, including Alex Ovechkin, currently play in the NHL, and their millions in future earnings will not be affected.

As for who will represent Russia at the 2014 games, the gold medalists from Vancouver are being lobbied to stay on for another four years, along with Plushenko. According to one government official, they are considered recruiting citizens of other countries to compete for them who have the natural talent but lack the Russian training and austere living conditions that produced so many Soviet champions. American figure skater Johnny Weir -- placed sixth in figure skating -- is one such candidate who they are eyeing. Weir, a self-proclaimed "Russiaphile" placed five slots above Artem Borodulin, the second ranked Russian.

"He loves Russia, he has a Russian coach, and he is artistic and lyrical," said the official. "Plus we do not have PETA over here. He can wear all the fur he wants."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Canuck Avoids Depression Despite Men's Hockey Loss

VANCOUVER -- Harold Saber's father was a Mountie and his favorite band is The Tragically Hip. He has a maple leaf patch on his duffel and he can't understand why health care isn't a right even though he is considered a conservative.

Despite his bona fide Canadian roots, Saber was seen whistling on Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the Canadian men's hockey team lost to the United States, 5-3 in a stunning upset that, according to NBC, sunk the entire country into a deep depression.

When asked by NBC sportscaster Mary Carillo why he was able to maintain such a cheerful demeanor after the tragic loss, Saber, appeared surprised. "It's too bad, but it's just a game, eh?" he said.

"Just a game?" Carillo asked, incredulously. "But you're Canadian. It's hockey. Isn't your very sense of identity and self-esteen tied up in the fate of the team?"

"They've still got other games, and a shot at the gold," Saber replied with remarkable composure.

Saber's prediction proved accurate, as Canada was able to regroup with handy wins over Germany and Russia, respectively. Carillo spoke with Saber again on Thursday and questioned whether "he had just been in shock Tuesday and the enormity of Canada's loss had finally sunk in?"

But the plucky Canuck said he was far more emotionally invested in figure skater Joannie Rochette, who took to the ice Tuesday night just two days after her mother died of a heart attack.

Carillo remained skeptical. "If it's true that he really doesn't feel crushed by Canada's loss, he'd be well to keep it to himself, Bob," she reported. "Just like the Dutch speed skating fan that I saw the other day who was not wearing orange, or the Russian who was not upset over Plushenko's silver medal."

Although NBC would not confirm it, Carillo is reportedly working on a feature of Russian Olympians who were not plucked from small villages and sent to Moscow to train at age 8 and hadn't seen their parents -- who still toil in factories for 12 hours a day -- in seven years.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Washed Up Former Queen Bee Born Too Soon for Reality TV Craze

Alegra Jones nee Morrison stole her older sister's boyfriend at age 13, had surgery for a "deviated septum" a year later and watched Beverly Hills, 90210 religiously.

If she were 16 today instead of 36 she would probably be starring in her own reality television show. Instead, the UC Santa Cruz dropout lives in Newport Beach, Calif., and ferries her two daughters to figure skating lessons.

Growing up, Jones attended an exclusive Los Angeles private school, where she was the undisputed queen of the cool clique. She avoided expulsion after getting caught drinking vodka from her water bottle when her parents promised to pay for the new science wing. The "boyfriend" that she stole from her sister was the head of the French Department. Jones wistfully recalls receiving a BMW convertible when she turned 16 -- though it was confiscated for an afternoon after she broke her maid's nose for machine washing her favorite pair of stonewashed Glora Vanderbilt jeans.

"The Hilton, Lohan and Kardashian sisters had nothing on me and my sisters," said Jones. "My older sister had already had an annulment for her Vegas marriage by the time she was 17."

Today's female celebutantes have pet chihuahuas, DUIs, same-sex relationships, out-of-wedlock babies with rocker boyfriends, Kitson and Twitter accounts. Back then, they had pet ferrets, Virginia Slims, homophobia, abortions, Rodeo Drive and personal landlines.

After high school, Jones moved to New York to become a model after her father pulled some strings with a business associate. But her size six frame meant she was shunned by all the exclusive designers and was only offered a plus size contract, despite drastic abuse of diet drug Fen-phen.

"If I had just been born 15 or 20 years later I would be famous. I hooked up with a Xerox heir once, along with a Kennedy and Warren Beatty," Jones lamented. "Me and my friends were just as shallow as Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton on 'The Simple Life,' and 'Alegra' is as good a first name as 'Madonna.'"

After her modeling stint, Jones moved back to California and attended college for six months, but dropped out to try acting. After a promised "Save by the Bell" walk-on role failed to materialize, she assaulted her agent but avoided jail by checking into the Betty Ford Center.

Jones now lives in Newport Beach, a wealthy enclave of Orange County, and is married to a dentist. Fame remains elusive. She tried out for the "The Real Housewives of Orange County," a reality television show on Bravo, but was turned away despite her pearly white smile since "they only had room for one under-40 cast member." She never considered trying out for MTV's Real World back when it debuted because she considered it "too gritty."

"It broke my heart when I saw #TilaTequila was a trending topic on Twitter after Casey Johnson died," Jones said. "One of my best junior high school friends died from a horseback riding accident. My story would have been way more compelling than Tila's."

Still, there may be hope in the next generation. Jones says that her daughters show immense potential in the skating rink. "Their coach says that they could make the Olympics if they work hard," Jones says. "That would be so amazing. And when those cameras pan to me for a reaction shot I'm not going to blow it like Debbie Phelps by wearing hideous bold print sweaters from Chicos."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shaun White Training Four-by-Four, Animal Style for 2014

VANCOUVER -- Shaun White's soaring performance in Wednesday's halfpipe competition yielded lots of gold: a medal for himself, along with a marketing bonanza for McDonalds.

A minute after securing the gold medal, White took his victory run, capping it with an element sure to make the most hyped list of 2010, just after the iPad -- a Double McTwist 1260, involving 3 1/2 twists and two flips.

The name of White's jaw-dropping move drew immediate comparisons to burger giant McDonalds. "The Double McTwist, the Big Mac, whatever you want to call it," said NBC's snowboarding announcer, wiping drool off of his chin. "I don't care what you're going to call it, that was unbelievable."

But if In-and-Out Burger has its way, NBC commentators Pat Parnell and Todd Richards will be making no reference to the golden arches at the Olympics in 2014 to be held in Sochi, Russia. The West Coast-based burger chain with an intensely loyal cult following struck a deal with White's agent Thursday morning to secure exclusive tie-ins for the daredevil's tricks.

According to an individual involved in the negotiations, "In-and-Out Burger and Shaun White are a perfect match. They both originated in California and are the epitome of cool."

Additionally, the nomenclature for the "secret menu" at In-and-Out Burger already aligns nicely with White's elements. Customers in the know can order a three-by-three -- standing for three meat patties with three slices of cheese.

Four years from now, In-and-Out Burger hopes that Parnell and Richards will be trumpeting White's successful completion of a four-by-four, animal style -- four twists, four flips with the extra amplitude and flair that is White's trademark.

In fact, one of White's nicknames is "Animal," and any burger or french fries at In-and-Out can be ordered "animal style" with pickles, extra spread, extra grilled onions and fried mustard on each patty.

As news of the deal began to leak out, the main reaction from other competitors was envy. But Dolf Van der Wal of the Netherlands, who finished 18th in the qualifying round, was already angling for a small slice of the endorsment pie, saying that he would happy to be known as "The Flying Dutchman" (two meat patties, two slices of cheese, no bun).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Google Buzz Reveals Man has Lame Social Life

NEW YORK -- Most of the buzz around Google's latest social networking innovation has involved concern over the publicizing of people's frequent contacts -- and resulting potential to reveal liaisons with mistresses or interviews with rival companies.

But one man's worst fears were realized when Google Buzz revealed that the man's supposedly sizzling social life was a total fraud. According to his snickering co-worker, the man had always boasted of his exciting weekends filled with booze, sex and multiple hot women.

"[Greg] would come back on Monday morning with stories of slurping oysters off naked women at exclusive night clubs and other crazy stuff," said the co-worker. "He's kind of a plain guy, but we figured he must be sexual napalm in bed or have some ridiculous trust fund that let him jet to St. Lucia for the weekend."

However, when Google Buzz debuted last week, everyone at the office was wondering how it worked and they clustered around "Greg's" computer screen to observe. His most frequent contacts, as measured by the contacts that he was automatically assigned to follow, were revealed to be a pizza delivery service, movie and video game rentals, 1-900-HOT-GURLZ -- "Your wildest fantasies from the comfort of your home," and his mother.

"It was really awkward," said the co-worker. "Greg turned bright red and made some joke about how his account had been used by his teenage nephew when he was visiting, but he was obviously obviously lying."

Aside from some mild ribbing, the co-worker said they had not called "Greg" out on his tall tales. "But I threw out the napkin that supposedly had Bar Rafaeli's lipstick that he gave me for my birthday," he said. "Just the thought that I've been sleeping with a dirty napkin under my pillow that has Greg's lipstick kiss gives me the willies."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Southwest Scuttles Plans to Charge Passengers by the Pound

An unfortunate mishap with a famous overweight director has caused Southwest Airlines to shelve plans to offer reduced prices to skinny passengers.

The proposal, now in the dustbin of bad ideas along with New Coke, John Edwards' decision to allow Rielle Hunter to produce videos about his campaign and Napoleon's invasion of Russia, would have charged an extremely low base fare for the first 125 pounds for women and 170 pounds for men. Every additional pound would have added fifty cents, or $5 for every 10 pounds, up to the cost of a second seat.

According to an individual involved in drafting the proposal, Southwest was hoping it would appeal to slender people -- who, in fact, cause less fuel consumption due to their lower weights.

They had also been in talks with Weight Watchers to create an incentive program for frequent fliers hoping to lose weight, with free Weight Watchers meals thrown in if they could show a minimum three pound weight loss from the prior flight.

However, the recent highly publicized ejection of Kevin Smith, director of Clerks, Chasing Amy and Zach and Miri Make a Porno, after being seated on the plane, has caused Southwest to discard the proposal. Smith, who admits he is overweight, buys two seats when he flies, however he opted to fly on an earlier flight in which only one seat was available. He was forced to leave the plane despite protesting that he was able to lower both armrests and that his purchase of a second seat was out of dislike of other people and not necessity.

Asked to comment, a former executive for a rival airline company to Southwest said that the proposal ignored reality. "Forcing people to step on the scale typically reserved for baggage then telling them they're 40 pounds overweight would not have gone over well with 99 percent of the population that lies about their weight," said the executive. "And can you imagine the scandal it would have caused with celebrities? Records on how much celebrities actually weigh would be leaked faster than confidential medical information at the UCLA hospital."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Canadians Ramp Up Aggression in Quest for Olympic Glory

VANCOUVER -- Canada's "Own the Podium" initiative goes far beyond limiting access to training facilities, according to a handbook obtained exclusively by Salty Caramel.

The guide, apparently passed out to Canadian athletes and coaches, contains instructions on how to behave and what to say (and not say).

For example, athletes and officials are to refrain from saying "Eh," in the presence of foreigners as it "sounds weak and leaves one vulnerable to mocking." They should also work on Americanizing their pronunciations of "about" and "pasta" to the harsher, less euphonious "a-bowt" and "pos-ta."

The movie "Taxi Driver," in which Robert De Niro is a down-on-his-luck New Yorker, is being played on a continuous loop in the communal rooms for Canadian athletes as an example of the ideal diction, with awards given nightly for the toughest "You lookin' at me?" rendition.

Courtesies such as holding open doors, shaking hands and initiating friendly conversations should be reserved until after competition, and behavior such as cheerful whistling should also be averted.

Under the guise of friendship, athletes can encourage visiting athletes to partake of poutine -- a Canadian specialty of French fries slathered in gravy and cheese curds with an average of 1,100 calories per serving -- "especially those from Asian nations, where there is a high incidence of lactose intolerance."

Although no mention is made in the handbook of logistical intimidation, participants from Africa and other nations with warm climates have reported heaters that didn't work at their Olympic Village housing. A Canadian official dismissed the complaint, saying, "Naturally the Canadian winter will feel chillier to those athletes who grew up near the equator." However, a visit to the rooms of athletes from Ghana, Jamaica, Ethiopia and Mexico revealed indoor temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below, despite thermostats reporting balmy temperatures of 70 degrees.

Participants aren't the only ones encouraged amp up the aggressiveness. The guide directs Canadians to tell their supporters to refrain from clapping, cheering or ringing cow bells for opponents at any point during the competition "unless a Canadian victory is assured."

In order to intimidate foreign tourists and possibly prevent them from attending events to cheer on their countrymen, a car was lit on fire by expertly trained firefighters after Alexandre Bilodeau won Canada's first gold medal in the moguls Sunday, with actors paid to play the part of rampaging locals. As preparation for the inferno, they watched tapes of Chicago and Detroit fans after their basketball teams won NBA championships, according to one of the participants. "I felt kind of bad, but it's work, eh?," said the man, who declined to give his name. "Ever since the X-Files stopped filming here it's been hard to get acting gigs."

Not every part of Canada's "Own the Podium" blueprint ended up working out, according to an assistant of one of the officials involved in the secret plans. Canada had originally hoped to have an Opening Ceremonies that exceeded Beijing's 2008 Opening Ceremonies in grandeur, but the "First Nations" participants balked when they tried to recreate the spectacular "wave" effect using the movable boxes.

"We bribed the Chinese director in charge of that box piece to replicate a grander version for our Opening Ceremonies with promise of citizenship and unlimited Google access, but our First Nations participants revolted when we told them it would require living in boxes for 18 hours a day for three months," said the assistant.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Toyota Recalls Name

Beset by bad publicity over faulty gas pedals in eight car models and tempermental brakes in the crown jewel 2010 model Prius, Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., announced Monday that he was recalling the name of the company.

"Effective immediately, Toyota Motor Corp. will be referred to as TMW," Toyoda said. "We regret that the Toyota name has become sullied and with this step we hope to assure customers that TMW will maintain the proud tradition of superlative workmanship and superior value. In good news for our valued customers, the name change will not require a visit to the dealership or cost them any money."

The name recall comes on the heels of a far more costly recall of 4.2 million vehicles, with an additional 300,000 Priuses likely to be recalled.

According to one worker at a Huntsville, Alabama plant, saying or writing "Toyota" is now verboten, with offenders required to write "I will never forget to say TMW" 100 times in English and Japanese script.

The name change is not without precedence. After suffering a crash in the Florida Everglades in 1996, low cost carrier ValuJet merged with AirTran Airways the following year and took on its name as well.

Aeroflot, the official airline of the Soviet Union, considered changing its name due to its poor safety record in the early 1990's, considering "Glasnost" and "Peterstroika" in hopes of attracting additional foreign passengers. But ultimately, it decided such a name change would be confusing to its domestic users, according to a former Aeroflot executive. "Our users were used to long lines, ration coupons and rancid oil," said the executive. "A crash or ten wasn't going to deter them."

More than one person has noted the similarity of TMW's new name to a luxury German automaker, Bayerische Motoren Werke, most commonly referred to as "BMW." That similarity is no mistake, said branding expert Ron Townsend. "BMW is seen as a muscular, high end car with a good safety record."

It's also not the first time a company has switched to becoming known solely by an acronym. The AARP was named the American Association of Retired Persons but switched to just "AARP" in 1999 to reflect that the organization wasn't just for retired people and to allow the title to fit on its bimonthly magazine in large enough type so more than 60 percent of the readership wouldn't need to use bifocals.

Despite the new nomemclature, Jeanie Billingsworth, of Bay City, Mich., remained unconvinced, and even gleeful about Toyota's woes. I don't care if they call it that celebrity site that shows pictures of "best beach bums" or asks "who'd you rather," Billingsworth said, apparently referring to, in an interview at a gas station. "Around here, we bleed Ford, Chrysler or GM."

Billingsworth then finished topping off her Lincoln Navigator, swore at the $75 total, and drove off in a haze of emissions.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

CNN Rushes Slim-Fitting T-Shirts to Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI -- Concerned that its anchors were running out of slim-fitting monochromatic T-shirts, CNN ordered a special delivery of the unofficial uniform to the earthquake plagued city Saturday.

"Thank you, Banana Republic," Anderson Cooper was reported to have exclaimed, pumping his bicep, which was shrouded under a loose-fitting, long sleeved striped shirt. Cooper apparently only keeps three slim-fitting T-shirts in his emergency travel bag, and with minimal facilities for bathing and washing, had to resort to some of his cooler weather wear.

CNN has received much acclaim for its coverage of the Haiti earthquake, with the anchors even pitching in to provide security and medical care, as when Cooper rescued a boy from violent looters. Dr. Sanjay Gupta has eschewed the typical white lab coat and scrubs for grey and black T-shirts as he performs half of the medical procedures on the island.

The network's barrage of coverage is allowing viewers back in the United States and around the world a close-up view of the massive destruction in Haiti's capital as well as the anchors' rippling abs and cut biceps.

In addition to the much-needed refresher of 100 percent cotton T-shirts, the CNN plane brought other goods to be distributed among Haiti's needy, including 100 pairs of Larry King's old suspenders.