Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye, Mayor Peterson

Bart Peterson, the now-former (as of Jan. 1, 2008) mayor of Indianapolis, was interviewed by Brendan O'Shaughnessy of the Indianapolis Star today about his accomplishments and plans for the future. He was optimistic about the future, and not bitter about his time in office or his loss to Greg Ballard. But I think some of his true feelings leaked through in one of the interview questions:

Q: What's still to be done in the city?

A: The greatest challenge facing the city, in my view, is that the legislature is about to reconvene.

We'll miss you, Bart.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gobbledygook, Drivel, and Tripe in 2007

Gobbledygook, Drivel, and Tripe in 2007
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

When I fled back to the private sector, after nearly 18 months of working for state government, I remembered how much I had not missed the business doublespeak that is the very lifeblood of Corporate America.

"In the coming calendar year, we shall endeavor to synergize clicks-and-mortar relationships by leveraging granular e-markets."

Sort of makes me miss the simple, easy-to-understand days of state government.

(I used the online BS generator at to create the above sentence. Unfortunately, real people talk this way too.)

But there are other people who feel my pain, like England's Plain English Campaign (PEC). The PEC is a language consulting company and gobbledygook watchdog that has railed against gobbledygook for 29 years. Each December, PEC gives out awards to people, companies, and government agencies who have used either poor or great communication. Awards include the Foot in Mouth and Golden Bulls for garbled messages, and Plain English for the year's clearest organizational documents.

The 2007 Foot in Mouth goes to former British soccer skipper, Steve McClaren, who said of star player Wayne Rooney, "He is inexperienced, but he's experienced in terms of what he's been through."

Excellent work, Steve. I haven't heard such verbal contortions since President Bush's last press conference. And speaking of verbal garble, Bush came in second for the Foot in Mouth award.

Normally I agree with the PEC's decision. But I have to vigorously protest Bush's second place finish, which he secured with, "All I can tell you is that when the Governor calls, I answer his phone."

Maybe it's national pride, maybe it's because McClaren doesn't work as hard as Bush on his gaffes. Bush manages to lob one of these beauties every couple days. Meanwhile McClaren waltzes in, riffs a little Yogi "If you see a fork in the road, take it" Berra, and claims first prize. You can't tell me that newbie McClaren could nose out the veteran Bush at the post with such a clumsy blunder.

The fix is in, boys, and the sausages are sizzling in the skillet.

PEC spokesman Ben Beer told Reuters, "We thought it was a bit obvious to honor Bush as he comes up with them every day."

Exactly my point. The PEC failed to take into account Bush's entire body of work over the past seven years. Makes you wonder why the poor guy even bothers sometimes.

There's always next year. I'm sure he can come up with one or two more. This week.

The PEC awarded seven Golden Bulls this year, with planes, trains, and automobiles taking home most of the hardware. The British Airports Authority (BAA), Virgin Trains (owned by Richard Branson of Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines), Translink (Northern Ireland Railways), and Fastway Couriers.

My personal favorite is the BAA's "Passenger shoe repatriation area only" sign at Gatwick Airport. Imagine going through Gatwick, where you remove your shoes for inspection -- desperately trying not to think about the thousands of people who have planted their sweaty, fungus-ridden feet where you're standing -- and then are directed to the shoe repatriation area.

Translation: Pick up your shoes here.

Repatriation means either your shoes are going to be sent back to their home country after years of political exile in your closet, or you're going to get them back after they've been run through the airport X-ray machine.

If you've ever wondered why trains in Northern Ireland are always late in the fall -- and haven't we all wondered that? -- Translink has a sign at Coleridge Station that explains everything.

"Every autumn a combination of leaves on the line, atmospheric conditions and prevailing damp conditions lead to a low adhesion between the rail head and the wheel which causes services to be delayed or even cancelled. NI Railways are committed to minimising service delays, where we can, by implementing a comprehensive low adhesion action programme."

Translation: Wet leaves slow the trains down. That makes them late. We will fix that.

See? Fourteen one-syllable words that do a better job of explaining why the trains are late than their 55-word manifesto about atmospheric conditions and action programmes. None of this "low adhesion" nonsense that makes it sound like they're having glue problems.

One can only hope the PEC's efforts will begin to change garbled speaking around the world. But it doesn't look like that's going to happen anytime soon.

"There has been an improvement over the years, but there is a long way to go," Beer told Reuters. "There is no chance of us being extinct anytime soon."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Erik Deckers as a Simpsons character

This is what I look like in the Simpson's Springfield. You can create one of these at the Simpsons Movie web site. Go to the main page, select Create Avatar, and then register. Click on the different characteristics you have, such as a dashing goatee and stylish glasses, and voila! You're a Simpsons character.

Pretty handsome, don't you think?

(Warning: If you use Mozilla Firefox, this is a time to pull out Internet Explorer instead. It has trouble with the Shockwave graphics. Even using IE Tab doesn't fully work.)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Please Excuse Erik From His Column This Week

I fired up the Way Back Machine for this one from March 2006. It's one of my favorites.

Please Excuse Erik From His Column This Week
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2006

I wrote my first note to a teacher last week.

This may not seem like such a big deal to most of you, but to me, it was the end of a 33-year wait. Ever since I walked into kindergarten with a note from my mother, I dreamed of writing a note to one of my children's teachers.

My mother used to write my notes whenever I was sick or needed to be excused:

"Dear Mr. Jenkins, Please excuse Erik from gym class today. He is still suffering blurred vision and a ringing in his ears from the last time they played dodgeball. I have spoken with little Melody's parents, and they apologized for her cheap shot. Imagine, hitting your own teammate in the back of the head! Please explain to the entire class how displeased I am, and ask them to remember that Erik is a sensitive boy whose feelings should be respected."

Needless to say, I tried forging my own notes after that.

"Deer Teechur, Please excyuse Erik from jim class today. He has newmo -- pnumo -- noomonya -- a cold. Also, that mean kid Craig should be paddled because he's a jerk! From, Erik's mom."

After that little stunt, my parents and teachers kept a suspicious eye on me, which created its own problems. High school was hard enough without also being a suspected forger.

So I had to put my note writing dreams on hold, until the day I would become a parent and craft a letter for my own child. Some kids dream of having children who star in the school play. Others hope their kids have the sports career they never had. I wanted to have a child who needed the occasional note written on his or her behalf.

The problem is that we've spent the last four years home schooling our oldest daughter. We have enjoyed the time spent with her, and don't regret a second of it. But my only disappointment was that I would never be able to write a note to the teacher. I would never give permission to go on a field trip. I could never ask her to be excused from some dangerous activity like diagramming a sentence.

"You could write me a note," offered my wife.

"It's not the same as writing one to a real teacher," I whined.

"It could be a love note," hinted my wife, ignoring the 'real teacher' comment.

"But it's just not the same as writing a love note to a real teacher," I moaned, slumping on the couch, not realizing that's where I would spend the next three nights.

No matter how fun home schooling was, there was a small emptiness in my soul. I was missing out on the sense of fulfillment public school parents enjoyed.

"Dear Mrs. Johnson, Susie was home sick yesterday with vomiting and explosive diarrhea. Please be on the lookout for any sudden recurrences."

But that all changed this past week. We had recently enrolled my daughter in the local elementary school, when my prayers were finally answered: she had to stay home one day because she was sick!

Someone had to write a note explaining her absence. Someone had to inform the authorities about why our child was potentially violating Indiana's strict educational laws. Someone had to step up to the plate and fulfill his lifelong dream.

"Do you want to write a note to her teacher, or should I?" asked my wife.

I nearly knocked over my three-year-old son as I raced to the notepad. I had been waiting for this moment my entire life, and no mere mother of my children was going to steal it from me.

I clutched my pen in my hand, determined that my first note was going to raise the bar for all future parents' efforts.

"Dear Facilitator of Knowledge and Torchbearer of Truth, My eldest female child was recently stricken with a rather frightful malady that most grievously affected her sinuses and bodily temperature. She has been bedridden for the last two days, and as such, was unable to attend your fine institution of elementary learning. Could you perchance convey any unconsummated academic assignments to our attention? I look forward to a favorable reply. Most sincerely, Erik Deckers."

I may have to rethink the whole letter writing thing though, because I received this reply.

"Dear Mr. Deckers, What the heck are you talking about? And where was your daughter? If I get another pervy note like this, I'm calling the police. The school board and my attorney have already been alerted, and you are banned from school property for three months."

I wonder if a singing telegram would work better.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Things Not to Do in College

Things Not to Do in College
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

People who have known me for a couple years know me to be thoughtful and deliberate in my reactions to a situation. I carefully measure my response, weighing the pros and cons, before finally saying what I think.

People who have known me for several years just spit a mouthful of coffee all over their monitor.

I have not always been the careful, deliberate person I am today. I was more of the shoot-first-get-a-friend-to-apologize-later type. Although this approach usually got me into trouble, I could occasionally get a small victory. But nine times out of 10, it was the trouble thing.

One victory stands out in my memory though, not so much for its sweetness, but because I could have gotten thrown out of grad school. (Okay, it stands out more for its sweetness.)

I was in the Speech Communication program at Ball State University, studying interpersonal communication. It happened in one of the classes taught by my favorite professor, who I'll call Alvin.

During the first week, we discussed whether communication is sender or receiver based. That is, does the meaning of a message come from the sender or the receiver? Is the intent or impact of a statement more important?

Let's say I call my friend Edgar a slack-jawed mouth-breather. He gets angry with me, but I protest and say it was just a joke. Who's right? Does Edgar have the right to be offended (impact)? Or can I laugh it off as a bit of harmless fun (intent)?

This is the Ultimate Question in communication circles. (We don't get out much.) The entire foundation of communication studies is based on where meaning lies. It ranks right up there with Evolution vs. Creationism, Democrat vs. Republican, Britney Spears vs. Jessica Simpson. It keeps communicators up at night, and even caused a fistfight at communication conference. (Apparently, The Question had caused a Wisconsin professor to sleep with the wife of a Tennessee professor, but that's another story).

Alvin let us debate it for an hour before he brought it to an end.

"This debate has been raging for decades, and we're not going to solve it here in one afternoon. So for the rest of the semester, let's assume communication is receiver based."

That is, it's the impact on the receiver, not the intent of the sender. Fair enough. I was firmly entrenched in the receiver camp anyway, so I should apologize to Edgar

A couple weeks later, Alvin handed back one of his occasional 10-point quizzes. I shouldn't have been too upset when I scored 80% -- only two questions wrong. But I was. Especially because an undergrad scored a 90%! I was a grad student and five years her senior. She wasn't supposed to do better than me.

People who have known me for several years have also known me to be very competitive -- unhealthily so.

As Alvin reviewed the quiz with us, he changed one of the answers I had missed, which meant I was up to 90%. I was tied with the girl genius. Just one more correction, and I'd beat her. When we got to the other question I missed, I defended my answer, trying to change Alvin's mind.

"Given the way the question was written," I said, "there are two correct answers."

"Yes," said Alvin, "but only one is the best answer."

"Then the question wasn't written clearly," I persisted.

"Well, you have to take the question the way I meant it."

My voice quavered a little when I delivered my coup de grace, the shot that was heard 'round the department.

"But you told us that for the purposes of this class, all communication is receiver based. As the receiver, I assigned the meaning to the question, which lead me to my answer."

Alvin stared daggers at me for what seemed like several minutes, before he said, "Fine you all get a point for that one. Now, everybody out, class is over."

We hadn't even been there for 15 minutes. I realized what I had just done, and decided to go while my rear end was still attached.

"Not you, Erik."


Alvin stood six inches away, voice shaking with anger. "If you had ever done that in a Ph.D. program, they would have bounced your butt right out of the program. And if you ever do that to me in front of the class again, I'll make sure it happens. Do you understand me?"

If I had learned nothing else in the last 30 seconds, it was to keep my mouth shut, so I just nodded, and he stomped back to his office. We never spoke of that day again, and I knew better than to ask if he had changed my grade.

Over the next several years, I finally began to change my whole speak-first-think-later approach to life. I still have to practice from time to time, but I'm much more humble than I was 15 years ago.

I still know more than everyone else, I just keep quiet about it now.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Don't Believe in the Little Drummer Boy

I Don't Believe in the Little Drummer Boy
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Christmas is a time of traditions. Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and Erik curled up in the corner in a fetal ball, sobbing "pa-rum pum pum pum." To help explain why he does this, we're doing another Laughing Stalk tradition, reprinting his annual Christmas column.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. My birthday, my anniversary, and any other time people give me presents are also big favorites.

To get myself into the Christmas spirit, I like to listen to Christmas music. So I hit the department stores around mid-August to hear "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bell Rock." But while I appreciate the Christmas cheer, I'm amazed the sales clerks haven't killed anyone by the middle of November.

I'm a big fan of the classics, "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night" and the Sex Pistols' "Have Yourself a Merry $%@&! Christmas." But there are a few songs that, given a choice, I'd attack my radio with a pick axe before listening to them again.

One of my least favorites is Bruce Springsteen's live version of "Santa Claus is Coming To Town." It's nothing but Bruce singing "Santa Claus is coming to town" over and over and over for 20 minutes. By the time Bruce finishes his Yuletide droning, Santa is already back home, slamming Upside-Down Margaritas with the elves.

The worst Christmas song ever, the song that makes me want to sleep straight through to Easter is "The Little Drummer Boy." Not only does it repeat the same annoying phrase over and over -- pa-rum pum pum pum -- but the song is too unbelievable to begin with.

I realize songs about a fat guy sliding down chimneys or a flying reindeer with a 300-watt halogen schnoz aren't believable either, but at least they're grounded in reality.

What's wrong with the song? you're wondering.

First, drums do not go "pa-rum pum pum pum." They do not make pleasant little melodies sung by children's choirs. They make headaches. Drums go "KA-WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP!"

Second, when the Little Drummer Boy asks Mary if he could play a song for the Baby Jesus -- pa-rum pum pum pum -- no one says, "Wait a minute! He's just going to pound a drum. Somebody stop him!"

I believe the gift of music is one of the greatest gifts you can give, because it comes from the heart. (But I'll accept a big screen high-definition TV as a substitute.) But when your newborn baby has finally gone to sleep after screaming for 6 hours because his bed smells like cow poop, do you really want someone going "ka-whap whap whap whap!" at him?

So what did Mary do? She just nodded, -- pa-rum pum pum pum -- listened appreciatively, and smiled quietly to herself.

Not being a mother myself, I can't speak for other mothers. But I'll wager your Christmas gifts that if you've been riding on a donkey for several days, and spent the last 36 hours in labor, the last thing you want is some snot-nosed kid beating a drum at you. The song should say "Mary leaped from her stool and chased the little brat away, pa-rum pum pum pum. "

Third, did the ox and lambs really keep time -- pa-rum pum pum pum? Not hardly. Oxen are tone deaf and lambs have a poorly-developed sense of rhythm. Besides, the drum in question was made out of ox or lambskin, so they would not have appreciated the irony.

Then He smiled at me -- pa-rum pum pum pum? Uh-uh. It's more likely that the ox and lambs doffed top hats and sang "Puttin' On the Ritz." How would you feel if you had been removed from a nice warm womb, stuck in a bed of itchy, smelly straw, and some jerk started beating a drum at you?

Try it for yourself. Find a newborn baby and start pa-rum pum pum pumming on a pot with a couple of wooden spoons. I guarantee he won't smile, he'll shriek. If he smiles, he's colicky.

Now, I'm all for the magic and wonder of Christmas. But I know mothers. And I know babies. And I know new mothers don't even want people speaking in conversational tones around their babies, let alone pounding drums at them.

Gift of music or not, banging on a lambskin stretched over a hollow log is not something a new mother wants to deal with. I realize we're talking about Mary, the mother of the Messiah, but everyone has a limit to their patience. And little drummer boys whose love of rhythm outweighs his common sense is way past that limit.

So if you're ever in the mood to serenade a newborn baby and his mother with anything noisier than a single blade of grass, don't. Trust me on this. If you really want to be helpful, give the mom something useful, like a set of ear plugs and a weekend's free babysitting.

Pa-rum pum pum pum.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Sit on Santa-bot's Lap

Sit on Santa-bot's Lap
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Microsoft killed Santa Claus.

Okay, they didn't kill the real Santa, but an automated Santa chat-bot they had set up last week. The Santa-bot was an agent on their Live Space website and MSN Messenger program. Children could ask Santa some questions and tell him what they wanted for Christmas, and an automated program would give the appropriate responses.

But according a story in to the London Register, the virtual Santa got into some real trouble when he was chatting with two girls, 11 and 13 years old, who offered him a piece of virtual pizza.

"Eat it!" they told him.

"You want me to eat what?!?" Santa-bot responded. "It's fun to talk about oral sex, but I want to chat about something else..."

I promise I'm not making this up.

Microsoft tried to fix the Santa-bot earlier this week, but it didn't work. And so Microsoft, well, killed him. Sort of like the end of Old Yeller.

"No, Mr. Gates. Santa's my bot. I'll do it."

Microsoft said in a written statement to the media, "We were not completely satisfied with the result of these actions, and have decided to discontinue the automated Santa Claus agent."

I felt bad for poor Santa-bot. He reminded me of the Ask Eliza computer program I played with when I was in high school. Eliza was an artificial intelligence computer therapist that you could ask questions, and it would respond. I used to type in semi-dirty words, so it would repeat them back. (I typed in dirty words too.)

Me: What is a fart?

Eliza: What do you think a fart is?

Me: I asked you.

Eliza: Are you asking me a question?

Me: Yes, are you some kind of moron?

Eliza: Do you think I'm some kind of moron?

Me: Yes, because you don't know what a fart is.

Or, I used to pull a Captain Kirk, who got computers to blow up by tricking them with circular logic. I could crash Eliza by asking her things like "Why is blue?" Eliza would freeze up and gasp "an unknown error has occurred" before she crashed completely. Captain Kirk would have been proud.

I managed to contact the virtual Santa one last time before Microsoft hit the kill switch. I went to the site, and answered a few questions. But I think Santa-bot was just phoning it in, knowing his end was near. Here's a transcript of our final conversation.

erik_deckers: Hi Santa.

Santa Claus: Ho ho ho, erik_deckers. Happy holidays.

erik_deckers: Holidays? That's rather impersonal, don't you think? I thought you were all about Christmas.

Santa Claus: I like your holiday. Are you a boy or a girl?

erik_deckers: Santa, don't you know me? You used to bring me presents when I was a kid.

Santa Claus: Do you want a dolly or a truck for [insert child's holiday]?

erik_deckers: Come on, Santa, it's me! Erik Deckers Don't you remember?

Santa Claus: Yes, erik_deckers, I remember you. I used to visit you in [insert childhood city]. I brought you a truck or dolly.

erik_deckers: All right, Santa, I'm a boy.

Santa Claus: Hello, little boy. How old are you?

erik_deckers: I'm 40.

Santa Claus: That's a great age. I remember when I was 40. I used to sit on my mother's lap and she would tell me stories. What would you like for your holiday celebration?

erik_deckers: I want a Nintendo Wii and a Madden 2008 Football game.

Santa Claus: You'll shoot your eye out, kid.

erik_deckers: Santa, the Wii doesn't have a gun.

Santa Claus: I will tell my elves for you. What else would you like?

erik_deckers: I'd like a big keg of my favorite beer.

Santa Claus: Sorry, erik_deckers, children shouldn't drink beer. Maybe I could bring that for your [insert parent] instead.

erik_deckers: But Santa, I'm 40. I'm old enough to drink beer.

Santa Claus: That's a great age. I remember when I was 40. I used to sit on my mother's lap and she would tell me stories. What would you like for Christmas?

erik_deckers: Santa, what's wrong with you.

Santa Claus: Santa has been a little naughty, erik_deckers. Santa may have to go away for a while.

erik_deckers: Away? But will you be back in time for Christmas?

Santa Claus: Yes, Santa will be sure to visit you in [insert childhood city] this year. Now Santa has to go, before he causes any more trouble.

erik_deckers: Wait! I have one more question.

Santa: Yes, erik_deckers?

erik_deckers: What is a fart?

Santa: What do you think a fart is?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Indianapolis Independent Coffee Shops website

Attention Indianapolis coffee lovers (that's anyone in Indy who loves coffee, as well as anyone who loves coffee from Indianapolis). There's a new way to find Indianapolis coffee shops online: This is a Google interactive map that lists all of the independent coffee shops in the Indianapolis metro area. Special thanks to Doug Karr for helping me with this project. (He even created the cool logo.)

The map lists all independent and small chain coffee houses, and leaves out all Big Chain coffee shops. It even shows you which shops have free WiFi (green markers), and which ones don't (blue markers).

Eventually, we hope to add a community blog similar to I Choose Indy's, which is where this map first found voice. On our blog, people can write about their favorite coffee houses, an owners' section, where the different house owners can give out important information to their patrons, such as the price of a latte, whether they have live music, their hours, etc.

If you know of a coffee house that has closed, or if we missed one on the map, or if a place offers WiFi, but I missed it, let me know. We'll fix the problem as soon as possible.

Remember, if you support your local merchants, $.40 of every dollar you spend stays in the community. But if you support national merchants, like Big Chain Coffee, only $.13 of every dollar stays. So support your local coffee shops and help support your community.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

No More Three-Card Monte for You, Kid!

No More Three-Card Monte for You, Kid!
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

When I became a dad, the last thing I ever dreamed I would worry about was my kids and gambling. Sure, they would gamble whether they made it to the bathroom in time, (they've won more than they lost), or whether they could sneak candy without being caught (they can't).

But I never figured I'd have to explain the basics of wagering to an 11-year-old girl. Or the problem with gambling with a church youth group.

My oldest daughter recently went duckpin bowling with the 5th and 6th grade class of our new church. Before she left, I got to do something that filled me with both pride and a foreboding sense of dread: I reached into my wallet and handed her eleven dollars.

Pride, because we have taught her to be responsible and mature about money, and this was her chance to show it. Dread, because I had just established a dangerous precedent, and I was staring down the barrel at her impending teen years.

"Seven bucks for bowling and four for food," we told her. "Don't go nuts."

She promised she would be careful, but the gleam in her eye made me wonder if I had just created a monster.

A few hours later, we picked her up and drove home. We heard all the stories about things that are important to 11- and 12-year-olds. But we had more important questions.

"How much money do you have left?" my wife asked.

"I don't know," my daughter said. "Three dollars, I think."

"Wow, you only spent a dollar on food?" I said. "What'd you have?"

"Nachos and popcorn."

That didn't add up. These places charge you a buck just to smell the food. There was no way she ate that much for a dollar. I started to worry she had just mooched off a church youth group. This did not bode well.

"We gave you 11 dollars. How'd you get so much stuff for just a dollar?" my wife asked.

"A bunch of us shared. We all chipped in and shared everything."

Whew! Problem averted. Until we got home and my daughter counted out her change: $4.86.

"Honey, you have more money than you thought. Are you sure you paid for your share of the food?"

"Yes. I paid three dollars."

"Did you pay for the bowling?"

"Yes. Seven dollars, just like you said."

"Then how did you end up with more money?"

She gave me a look that said I'm clueless. I'm sure I'll be seeing it a lot of over the next several years.

"A bunch of us put our leftover money together for the last game, and whoever won the game got the money. And I won."

I was stunned into silence. I just looked at my wife, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, to be proud or upset. While part of me was pleased my daughter had show the ingenuity and competitive spirit to win the big pot, I was also disturbed that she was gambling at the tender age of 11.

At a church function, no less.

She did win, I told myself.

But she gambled, I answered.

So? I asked.

I was stuck. Which was better, winning or gambling? Competition or misdeed?

Now, I've never been morally opposed to gambling. I don't do it, partly because I can think of better uses for my money, but mostly because I've got all the luck of a three-legged dog, and I lose more than I win. So I just don't do it. But I don't mind when other people do it.

Unless those other people are my 11-year-old baby girl. Then I start to wonder about the virtue and rightness of it all. On the one hand, she was proud of herself, having won a big competition, and I didn't want to squash that feeling. On the other, she had just grifted a bunch of little girls.

So we talked for a little while about why some people believe gambling is wrong, why it may not have been the best idea to do it at a church function, and how she shouldn't plan on winning every time she played a game of chance.

But I also taught her about the finer points of making a lay bet to shorten her break-even point and avoid going down to the felt. I mean, if she's going to start gambling, there's no point in having her spend scared money just because she's a pigeon, right? As her dad, I could do no less.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Knights of Ni. . . er, Moleskine, Spirit and Ale

I am now a member of the Knights of Moleskine, Spirit and Ale, an Indiana-based group of people who love, well, Moleskine, spirits, and ale. I am known as Sir Erik of Ritter, and have been granted all the rights and privileges of a Knight, because "Sir Erik embodies all that's noble about being a Knight and a Hoosier."

Wow, sure beats what the Knights Who Say Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptang Zoo Boing were going to do for me. Big thanks to my fellow knights, and especially Sir Hook of Warrick for admitting me into this august band.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Didn't They Have it in Blue?

Didn't They Have it in Blue?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Erik is out of the office this week for the holidays, so we're firing up the Wayback Machine, and reprinting this column from 2001.

As I write this, it's the last week of November, and there are only 26 days to finish your Christmas shopping. And if you haven't even started your shopping, then you've wasted the other 100 days the retailers inflicted on us when they started playing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" back in August.

Before you ask, no I'm not starting late. The fact that I'm starting before the end of November is a major accomplishment for me. So here they are, the Laughing Stalk Christmas Shopping Tips.

1) Do your shopping in the middle of the week, during the day. Everyone but you is at work. Even your boss is at work, so you don't run the risk of bumping into him or her while you make your purchases. Tell your coworkers you have meetings all day, and hit the mall.

2) Wear comfortable walking shoes. You'll be walking a lot, especially if you have several people to shop for. But more importantly, if you're like most people, you foolishly ignored Tip #1, and are spending your Saturday afternoon slowly circling the mall parking lot, trying desperately to find a parking space. You'll need your walking shoes to make the eight-mile trek from your car to the mall, because the only parking space you could find was in a pasture outside of town. And you waited 20 minutes for that.

3) Buy off "The List." Everyone has The List. It started out as that three page list of toys you wrote, in a peppermint stick-induced haze, to Santa every Christmas Eve, but became more mature as you grew older. Now it includes things like DVDs, books, and -- shudder -- ties and socks.

After years and years of deviating from my wife's List, I finally learned to buy from it, rather than surprise her with something I thought she would enjoy, like yet another Aboriginal fertility statue ("Collect all 27!") or a Create Your Own Where's Waldo Book kit. While people usually appreciate your imagination and creativity, they absolutely hate it when you use it for Christmas shopping. Just skip the new home wine making kit you thought sounded cool, and get the stupid "Billy Bass Sings 'Take Me To The River'" they've been asking for all year long.

4) Don't wait until the last minute. Everyone around the world wants the same thing, and if you wait too long, you won't find it. You'll be forced to buy the things on the bottom of the list, which are usually a result of late-night hair pulling and shrieking sessions of "what else what else what else what else?" Trust me, the last few things on the list are not what they really want, they're just filler. So even if you see "natural teak display shelf for Aboriginal fertility statues," don't bother.

When you race into the store at 8:30 on Christmas Eve, they've got you. You're desperate, you'll take anything, and you're willing to pay top dollar. Well, almost willing. That's why you didn't get the $400 Waterford crystal vase for your wife, and instead gave her a socket wrench, a 14 pound bowling ball with "Big Earl" engraved on it, and a 3-volume set of "Wrestling's Greatest Hits, Smashes, and Bloopers." But unless your wife's nickname is Big Earl, that bowling ball may end up somewhere other than a bowling alley, if you get my drift.

5) Keep your receipts. In Canada and England, December 26th is Boxing Day, but it's not the good kind of boxing where two guys beat the crap out of each other for an hour. In this case, Boxing Day means you put the stuff you don't want back into their boxes, and take it all back to the stores and exchange it. We don't celebrate Boxing Day here in the US, so instead we have "After Christmas Sales." During these sales, people take the stuff you got them, even if it was on The List, and they exchange it for other stuff they really wanted. And since you paid Super Top Dollar on December 24th for their gifts, your loved ones will be able to find a really great deal for the stuff they really wanted, like a new tape for the Billy Bass singing fish, since I smashed the old one 20 minutes after they got it.

Ah, Christmas. It's the most wonderful time of year. It's a time to celebrate the joy of giving and sharing, of guys named St. Nick and dreams of sugar plums, of Christmas decorations and showering loved ones with gifts.

And I think Jesus is somewhere in there too.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

'Twas the Month Before Christmas

'Twas the Month Before Christmas
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

The holiday season is right around the corner, and the stores have had their Christmas decorations out since late July. So we trot out a Laughing Stalk tradition, the annual reprinting of 'Twas the Month Before Christmas.

'Twas six weeks before Christmas, and all through the town
Halloween decorations were just coming down.
I went to the mall, for a weekend reprieve
And saw such a sight that I could not believe.

The place had gone crazy, the mall was just packed.
With new clothes and new toys and cheap plastic sacks
The store owners were praying and pulling their hair,
Desperately hoping we'd spend money there.

When in one of the stores there arose such a clatter
I thought to myself "Now what's the matter?"
Away toward the noise the crowd flew like a flash
And knocked an old woman right onto her butt.

The cheesy green lights and the canned Christmas music
Made me realize not a darn thing rhymes with "music"
What I saw next made me scream and turn pale
A red and green sign said "We're having a sale!"

With a perky sales clerk, so cheerful and quick
I knew in a moment I was going to be sick!
She herded us in like sheep to the slaughter,
"Come in and buy things for your sons and your daughters!

We take Visa and Mastercard and Discover!" she chimed.
"American Express, credit cards of all kind!
From the back of the store, all the way to the front
Everything is on sale, there is no need to hunt!"

With the power and fury of an 8 point earthquake
The people were drawn in like a fat guy to cake
And into the store, the crowd they just flew
But what they were after, I hadn't a clue.

And then with a shudder, I heard behind me.
The ear-piercing scream of a child, age three
He gave a shrill shriek that would curl your hair
He yelled at his parents, "Hey let's go in there!"

"I see lots of games and toys," yelled the runt
"Why can't we go in there and get what I want?!"
I looked at the parents, all haggard and worn.
Their faces were bruised, their clothes, they were torn.

Their eyes, how they drooped. Their coats were all muddy.
She was missing her shoes, his nose -- it was bloody.
He clung to his wallet, she clutched at her purse.
They tried not to explode as they held back a curse.

"You've got enough stuff already," the two parents said.
But the child just screamed and cried and turned red.
"What's the matter?" I asked, though I wished I had not.
They said "You can guess at the problem we've got."

"We're shopping for Christmas, for family and friends,
But it seems like this madness goes on without end."
"We've been here since morning, looking for sales.
But we've spent too much money. We feel like we've failed.

Credit cards, debit cards, checkbooks and cash
It's only November, and our budget has crashed."
Then the child came running up, shouting with glee
"Hey, I found something! Please, come with me."

And I heard them exclaim, as they left with a grunt,
"Merry Christmas to you, though it's not 'til next month."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pimp My Blog

If anyone visits my blog, they can see that I don’t like commercialism. I don’t put ads on my blog, I don’t write about anything that’s not a humor column. But when Doug Karr of the Marketing Technology Blog said I could possibly win $1,000 just for blogging about a few companies, well, naked greed wins out over ideals every time. They say every man has his price, and mine is $1,000. If I win, I'm buying a new Macintosh Powerbook to replace my aging and decrepit Mac G3 tower.

Pimp my Blog #1 - Doug Karr's Marketing Technology Blog

The Marketing Technology Blog – Doug blogs about marketing technology. Not the act of marketing technology stuff, but rather using technology for marketing. So if you’re in the online marketing world, add this one to your feeds list. He posts nearly every day. And he’s the one hosting this contest. Doug is also helping me promote the new, an online map of independent coffee shops around Indianapolis. Thanks Doug!

Pimp my Blog #2 - Formspring

Formspring – I’ve tried creating online forms before, and they’re a royal pain in the hinder. You’ve got to label each text box, and then match it up with the html code. And God help you if you don’t know html. FormSpring lets you create forms on their website, and then post it on yours. They have both free and paid service.

Pimp my Blog #3 - PPC Hero

PPC Hero – It’s not about the old PowerMacs, but about Pay-Per-Click. If you want to make money off your website or blog, PPC Hero (sponsored by Hanapin Marketing in Bloomington, IN) is the place to visit. Learn about AdWord optimization, search marketing, and advanced strategies.

Pimp my Blog #4 - Search Engine People

Search Engine People – When my brother-in-law and I put our company’s first website up, we had the “we built it, they’ll come” mentality. I learned quickly that this just wouldn’t cut it. So I quickly taught myself about search engine optimization (SEO). This was back in the days of keywords, meta tags, and all kinds of tricks and techniques that search engines now ignore. If you have the time to do your own SEO, then go to it. It’s actually pretty easy if you have the time. If you don’t, then call Search Engine People. They’ll help you with positioning (getting the right terms), conversion (getting visitors to take the next step), and then tracking (counting the results).

Pimp my Blog #6 - EverEffect

EverEffect – Indianapolis-based interactive marketing firm. They’re hosting/organizing a Masters of Business Online program in December here in Naptown, and are experts at online marketing.

Pimp my Blog #5 - Wrike Project Management

Wrike – Are you still keeping track of your projects with pen and paper?! You probably have so much crap on your desk, you’ve knocked your abacus off twice. Visit Wrike for online project management. It’s a web-based application that lets you do all of your project management on your desktop. No, the other desktop.

Pimp my Blog #7 - Tracy Garnier, Real Estate Agent

Tracy Garnier: Real Estate Agent - Indianapolis, Indiana – Century21 real estate agent in the Carmel/Fishers/Westfield/Noblesville area. This is a fast growing area, and Tracy is the person to call if you need to find a house fast. She uses online marketing to help you sell your home or find a new one.

Pimp my Blog #8 - A Pound A Day Diet

A Pound a Day Diet – A lo-o-o-o-o-ong website. If you’re a fan of the long copy letter (which I am, as a marketing communications professional), then you might get a kick out of this one. On this diet, you can lose, well, a pound a day. And they offer a 60 day guarantee.

Pimp my blog #9 - Vontoo

Vontoo – Ideal for the work-from-home entrepreneur or small business. Vontoo is a Create-Send-Track personal voice messages, You can send permission-based voice messaging to any phone in the U.S. or Canada, specifically tailored to the recipient’s interests. The Memphis Grizzlies used Vontoo to sell tickets for an upcoming game. They made 6,000 calls and increased their Return on Investment by 4,000% (yes, that’s 4 thousand).

Pimp my Blog, #10 -

GoCollege – “The student’s reference to finding money and getting the most out of college education.” These guys will help you choose between the different colleges and universities, show you how to get into college, help you find money to go to college, and even show you how to survive once you get there.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I Can't Believe It's Not Deadly

I Can't Believe It's Not Deadly
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

What is it about zero tolerance that turns school administrators into zombies who enforce their rules with all the compassion and understanding of a German prison guard?

"Nein, you may not haff two potatoes, only one!"

Whenever a ne'er-do-well student breaks the no drugs/no weapons rules, they are usually -- and rightly so -- suspended or expelled from school. But "zero tolerance" means "absolutely no tolerance whatsoever, even at the risk of our common sense."

Fourteen-year-old Amber Dauge of Moncks Corner, South Carolina fell victim to this kind of clenched-up tunnel vision when she was expelled for bringing a knife to school. You'd think she brought a 12-inch survival knife that would make Rambo squeal with delight. But no, it was a butter knife.

According to the Charleston (South Carolina) Post and Courier, on October 3, Amber made toast for breakfast, and decided to walk to the bus while she ate, forgetting she still clutched the lethal weapon in a white-knuckled death grip. When she did realize it, she quickly hid the knife in her backpack, and stashed it in her locker later.

On October 12, Amber returned to her locker for the first time since she hid the knife in there. When she opened the locker, the knife fell out, so she hid it in her backpack. But she said she got scared and handed it to a classmate.

(We'll try not to dwell on the fact that she hadn't been to her locker in nine days.)

Unfortunately for her, some school officials saw Amber brandishing her weapon and suspended her for five days. She also faced an expulsion hearing.

On October 18, Amber attended the hearing with her mother and stepfather, Kristi and Steve Heinz, believing clearer heads would prevail if they just explained the situation. Dreadfully sorry and all that. Just a little misunderstanding. You know what it's like to be young, right?

But clearer heads were apparently smoking in the parking lot, because three hours later, Heinz received a phone call saying Amber had been expelled for the rest of the year.

For a butter knife.

Pam Bailey, spokeswoman for the Berkeley County schools told ABC News, "It's not what we would consider to be a traditional butter knife. Even though it's blunt on the end, it does have a serrated edge."

Look, unless it's a steak knife, you can't even cut steam with these things if you used both hands and got a running start. What do they expect her to do, start sawing away on her classmates?

I suppose if you really needed one, anything could be a weapon. Like a pair of scissors, a compass, a pencil, the forks they hand out in the cafeteria, or anything else sharp and stabby they might distribute at Goose Creek High School.

But rather than acknowledge there are deadlier weapons in fourth period geometry , they decided it was more important to keep their students safe from a butter spreader. If the issue at hand was high cholesterol, then I could see their point. But this knife didn't even have a point. The only point was at the top of the administrators' heads.

"Certainly, if it was my child, I would have a different perspective," Bailey told ABC News. "But if you're a school administrator, your perspective has to be broader. You have to consider the safety of the entire student population."

Translation: "Sure it's stupid, but we can't stop ourselves. It's like we're outside our bodies watching us do something completely inane."

But Amber wasn't going to be stopped. Six days later, she stormed the Berkeley County School Board meeting and held the board members hostage with a soup ladle and melon baller until they reinstated her.

Okay, that didn't happen. But the school board did vote unanimously to reinstate her, thus dope slapping the Goose Creek school administrators for being so short-sighted. It may not have hurt that there was a national outcry at the overreaction of Goose Creek administrators either.

"We know they have to have certain processes in place," Heinz told the Post and Courier. "But this just seemed harsh. To us, Amber's education was too important to waste on a technicality."

And that's what the Goose Creek administrators should have considered. This is when they need to look past the ends of their collective noses and realize they're messing with a girl's future. Do they really want to take a chance that one small forgetful mistake could wreck her entire future, or are they more concerned with their precious rules that must be followed blindly?

Because they're totally ignoring what the students use to prepare the food in home economics class.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

You're Doing a Heck of a Job, FEMA

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency committed the unpardonable sin of faking a press conference about their performance at the southern California wildfires, by having their own public affairs (public relations) employees pass as reporters and lob softball questions at the FEMA Director, Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson.

Johnson replaced disgraced director Michael "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie" Brown, the guy President Bush praised on national TV a few days before firing him for blowing the government's Hurricane Katrina response.

Believe it or not, lying is a big no-no in public relations. Unfortunately, it's something the Bush administration has gotten good at -- hiring PR professionals to create news broadcasts and pass them off as real, paying columnists to write good things about them, and now this.

The pretend journalists asked only easy questions to shine FEMA in the best possible light. But the grown-up journos could only listen in by phone, but not ask questions. That's because FEMA didn't call them until 15 minutes before the press conference began, and gave them a listen-only phone number to boot.

The one TV station that was allowed to attend and broadcast Big-Fat-Liargate was Fox News, which isn't too surprising, given their overly-biased news coverage.

You're doing a heck of a job, Foxy.

Faking public relations is known as astroturfing, unlike real grassroots PR. At least AstroTurf looks real from a distance. These guys just paved over the lawn and painted it green.

FEMA continued to FUBAR the situation a few days later, with a government-speak apology from Johnson ". . . for the inexcusable actions and remarkably bad judgment exhibited at a FEMA press conference. . . Individuals involved have been admonished and additional disciplinary actions are possible."

Not so fast, Admiral. I think a lot of the "remarkably bad judgment" happened when the guy at the front of the room starting calling on the people he worked with on a daily basis, instead of wondering where the real journalists were.

Doing the press conference under a "Mission Accomplished" banner didn't help either.

So does Johnson include himself as one of those individuals who will face additional disciplinary actions? Hopefully. After his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, called this "one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government." I don't think the Admiral will get off with just a stern look.

You're doing a heck of a job, Harvey.

"I have made it unambiguously clear, in Anglo-Saxon prose, that it is not to ever happen again and there will be appropriate disciplinary action taken against those people who exhibited what I regard as extraordinarily poor judgment," Chertoff said in a really-and-for-true press conference a few days later.

Anglo-Saxon prose?! Wow, he must be serious. You're doing a heck of a job, Saxy.

One guy whose uppance did come is the now-former Director of External Affairs, John "Pat" Philbin. Weeks before, Philbin had announced his departure from FEMA to take a new, more prestigious position at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), effective a few days after Big-Fat-Liargate. But the ODNI realized that while they could fake prewar intelligence to the American people, they couldn't hire a guy who faked a press conference.

"We do not normally comment on personnel matters. However, we can confirm that Mr. Philbin is not, nor is he scheduled to be, the Director of Public Affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence," they said in a written statement.

You're doing a heck of a job, Philby. Or not.

But Philbin isn't worried about his job possibilities. He told CBS News, "I have lots of experience, I know how the government works. I have credentials in government and academia and I am looking at my options." He'll get a new job in no time. According to his résumé, Philbin was also a fighter pilot, is the rightful King of England, and killed Voldemort in a wizard's duel.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I used to work in public affairs for the Indiana State Department of Health. I was in charge of crisis communication, or what I like to call "Oh Crap PR." That's because I would occasionally get a phone call from one of our epidemiologists about a public health emergency. The first words out of my mouth were usually "oh crap," or much worse if it were a more serious problem.

That's why I'm shocked and outraged at what FEMA did. Government communicators have a hard enough time getting their message across to the media and public. They work for an organization no one trusts, in a profession no one believes. We don't need a bunch of unethical boneheads making a difficult job even harder. They're no longer just bumbling incompetents who can't find a hurricane with a map and a barometer. Now they're a bunch of liars and propagandists.

I just hope they don't become humor columnists.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Interview With an Ex-Vampire

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

With Halloween fast approaching, there has been an increased popularity for all things vampire. Numerous news stories and magazine articles have been written, and even National Public Radio's Diane Rehm devoted an entire show to the legend of Vlad the Impaler, the man known as Count Dracula.

So I decided to catch up with the fanged fiend to see what he thought about his renewed popularity. Here's a transcript of my interview.

Erik Deckers: So, Count Dracula--

Count Dracula: Please, call me Vlad. Whenever someone says "Count Dracula," I look for my father.

ED: All right, Vlad. You've been enjoying a media comeback of sorts. What's this doing for your career?

CD: Not as much as you think. Unfortunately, a lot of these stories have a "where are they now" flavor, like I'm just some washed-up has been still trying to hang on to the glory days. I keep expecting VH-1 to show up to do a "Behind the Blood" documentary.

ED: I have to admit, I hadn't heard much from you for several years. What have you been doing?

CD: I've been retired for a while, and loving the freedom. So I'm just taking it easy, hanging around the house.

ED: But surely you get bored at times. How do you keep your mind occupied?

CD: I'm studying for the LSAT. I want to go to law school and become a lawyer. (laughs) Hey, I've been a bloodsucker all these centuries, I might as well get paid for it.

ED: That sounds about right. Which law school?

CD: Well, I thought about Holy Cross, but decided against it, because. . . well, you know.

ED: Yeah, the whole cross thing.

CD: No, no. It turns out they don't have a law school. Speaking of crosses though, I can't help but notice yours. That's quite a big one.

ED: Thanks, my kids made it out of garlic for me.

CD: Looks good. But you know that doesn't work though, right?

ED: What doesn't.

CD: Garlic and crosses.

ED: Really? But what about the legends?

CD: That was just a myth created by the church and the Garlic Industrial Complex to increase garlic consumption and church attendance.

ED: But I thought. . .

CD: What, that you needed garlic and crosses to keep me at bay? I just don't like garlic because it makes my breath stink, and I smell it on my fingers for days. So, if you want to take it off and set it on the table over there, feel free.

ED: No, that's okay.

CD: I just thought it looked a little heavy and uncomfortable.

ED: I barely notice the weight anymore. So what should someone like me use for protection from vampires?

CD: Well, you're safe because you're a journalist. Your blood is already tainted. Blech! I wouldn't touch you with 10 foot fangs.

ED: Then who do you go for?

CD: Actually that's what I've retired from. With AIDS and STDs, not to mention the high cholesterol you mortals have, I gave it all up. I'm on the Ornish diet now, and high fat foods are strictly verboten.

ED: Wow, that must suck.

CD: It's not too bad. I've really learned to enjoy fresh, raw fruits and vegetables. I'm especially fond of blood oranges.

ED: Figures. So, Vlad, I noticed your home isn't as. . . well, castle-like as it used to be. What happened?

CD: I was driven out of my last castle.

ED: You mean by the angry mob, pitchforks, and all that?

CD: No, my neighborhood association was run by a bunch of power hungry tyrants. I couldn't stand their stupid rules. I mean, come on. I'm Vlad the freakin' Impaler, and they're telling me what color my mailbox has to be?! Then, when property taxes skyrocketed here in Indiana, it got to be too expensive. So I sold the place to a nice young couple from Munster, and went condo. No lawns to mow, no home repairs. The condo association does it all. And they've got a great workout room and hot tub.

ED: So you're out of the vampire business altogether?

CD: Well, you can never really stop being a vampire. I'll sometimes dabble during the occasional full moon, but I got tired of the whole flapping around, chasing young virgins business. And have you ever had a stake through the heart? Man, that hurts. So I gave it all up and moved on.

ED: Good for you, and good luck. I hope you enjoy your retirement.

CD: You're welcome. Are you sure you don't want to take off your cross?

ED: Dead sure.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good Thing His Name Isn't McDonald

Good Thing His Name Isn't McDonald
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Not many people know it, but there are two Erik Deckers in the world. The other Erik Deckers is a real estate agent in Belgium, while I, well, live here. At least that guy gets to live in a foreign country.

Several years ago, my Belgian counterpart and I exchanged a few emails, and we promised not to step on each other's career toes. I wouldn't sell real estate, and he wouldn't write humor columns.

Seems easy enough. Neither of us have ever had any problems with being confused for the other. No one writes angry letters to him about boob jokes, and no one has ever asked me about an apartment in Brussels. Neither of us has ever been confused for the other.

If people are smart enough not to confuse two people with identical names, they're smart enough not to confuse businesses with somewhat similar names. Right?

Not if you're a lawyer.

Case in point: Restaurateur Ty Morton recently opened a new eatery in downtown Muncie, Indiana, my hometown. The name of the place? Morton's Pub and Grub.

Seems obvious enough. You open a restaurant, you put your name on it.

But Morton's Steakhouse is worried people might get confused between their place and Ty's. So they sent a nasty letter telling Ty to change the name of his restaurant. They said it infringes on their trademark, and he must change it or face legal action.

In other words, Morton can't use his own name on his own restaurant. Why? Is the steakhouse worried that someone will confuse a 40-seat restaurant that serves Irish food and pub fare with a place that serves expensive steaks? Or worse, are they worried someone is going to come into their steakhouse and -- how gauche! -- ask for Shepherd's Pie and hot wings?

I could see the problem if Ty Morton tried opening a steakhouse. But it's just a small restaurant, not a steak empire.

A few years ago, Bill Wyman, an American reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, faced a similar problem. The former bassist for the Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman, had his lawyers send a warning letter to American Bill, saying he couldn't use the Bill Wyman name if it caused confusion for English Bill's fans.

(It didn't. The fans are smarter than the lawyers.)

The funny part was English Bill had changed his name from Bill Perks three years AFTER American Bill was born. So, I think American Bill had the better claim to the name, and should have counter-sued English Bill for the very same reason.

Which makes me wonder: could Ty Morton's dad have sued Arnie Morton, founder of Morton's Steakhouse, for using his name? Maybe Ty's dad didn't want his name associated with a steakhouse started by a guy who used to run Playboy Clubs in the 1970s.

And why didn't Morton Salt, which was founded in 1848, sue the steakhouse for trademark infringement in 1978, when the first steakhouse opened in Chicago? Weren't they worried someone might confuse a round box of salt for a delicious slab of beef? Wouldn't some people mistakenly put granulated beef on their french fries, cucumbers, or oven-baked chicken?

No, of course not. That would be silly. So will someone please tell the steakhouse shysters to unclench a bit? No one is going to confuse a small Irish pub in downtown Muncie with an upscale steakhouse found in 69 cities around the world. Just like they won't confuse the steakhouse with any other kind of Morton's establishment around the world. But they decided only to pick on Ty.

They completely missed Morton's BMW in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Morton's Orchards in Palisade, California, and Morton's Seafood in Madisonville, Louisiana.What about Morton's Bistro Northwest in Salem, Oregon, or Morton's Supermarket in Dublin, Ireland? Those places serve food, why don't you pick on them?

What's wrong, did Morton's Warm Springs Resort in Glen Ellen, California, Morton's Horticultural Products in McMinnville, Tennessee, and Morton's Christmas Fundraising Wreaths escape your beady gaze?

And let's not forget Morton's Toe, a condition where the second toe is longer than the big toe. I'm sure there's someone you could sue for that.

This problem has given Morton's Steakhouse some bad PR (which didn't make the News section of their website). While they're getting their name in the media, they've become a corporate bully who gets its kicks by picking on the little guy. Even if they win, they lose. And if they let Ty keep his name, they lose.

In other words, they're between a rock and a hard place. They're faced with two equally unpleasant options, both of which lead to the same bad ending. That's what the English call Morton's Fork.

And guess who's going to get jabbed with it in the end.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Just Don't Drop It

Just Don't Drop It
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Brain: General, we've got an emergency. Arms and Chest are reporting massive strain and burning.

General: What is it this time? Control's not back on his bike again, is he?

Brain: Not unless he's adopted a new riding technique.

General: Check that attitude, soldier, or I'll have you doing Mad-Libs for a month.

Brain: Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I mean, this is a new sensation.

General: Control isn't having heart trouble, is he?

Brain: Heart reports all clear, General.

General: See if you can raise Arms.

Arms: Arms here, General. We're doing a lot of pushing and straining, but it doesn't seem to end.

General: Are you doing push-ups?

Arms: Not sure, sir. We're not pushing Control's total weight, but it's still pretty heavy.

Brain: Sir, Eyes are reporting a type of bar that's moving toward and away from them.

General: Oh, good God, don't tell me. . .

Brain: Yes, sir, I think Control is lifting weights. He's doing the bench press right now.

General: I knew it! That idiot! Who does he think he is, Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Brain: No, he thinks he's 23.

General: We always seem to have these problems when Control wants to relive his younger days. What started it this time?

Brain: Searching memory banks. . . Ah, here we go. It seems that Mrs. Control got a seven day pass at the local YMCA, and Control and his family went for a visit to try out the facilities.

General: Let me guess, Control used to lift weights?

Brain: Extensively, General. He did it nearly every day for a year.

General: And so he saw all the weights at the Y, and thought he'd pick up where he left off?

Brain: Not exactly, sir. He, uhh. . .

General: What is it, soldier? Spit it out.

Brain: Preliminary intelligence says he saw some younger guys lifting, and didn't want to look weak.

General: I swear, I hate my job sometimes. You know, if I thought it would make any difference, I would order Lower Intestine to perform an emergency gas release just to get Control to slow down.

Brain: I don't think it will work, sir. Control might--

Arms: General, what's going on? We're under attack in a new zone.

General: Put a map of the affected area on screen.

Brain: It's the biceps, sir. Control is doing bicep curls now.

Arms: Can't maintain. . . this level. . . of output.

General: Prepare to stand down, Arms.

Ego: Hey, what's going on here? We can't stop now!

General: Ego! I knew you were behind this.

Ego: Who else, big cheese? I'm the reason this big hunk of man does anything healthy.

General: I knew we made a mistake allowing a hippie into the command structure.

Ego: Yeah, yeah. It is what it is. Now why are you allowing Control to slow down.

General: We're not slowing down, we're stopping.

Ego: You can't do that. The other boys are watching.

General: I don't care if the Queen herself is watching. Control can't keep this up.

Ego: Too late, dude. I've already installed a new program into Control's main data banks. That boy is on a mission to get pumped.

Arms: General, if you don't do something, we're going to cramp up. We won't be able to work on the computer for the next two days.

General: Get ahold of yourself, Arms.

Ego: Good one, general.

General: Shut up, you. Brain, see if we can get Control to try something new.

Brain: Switching to triceps. . . now.

Arms: What are you doing? We can't hit both areas.

Brain: Relax, Arms. You used to do it all the time, remember?

Arms: It's been so long. We don't know how long we can keep this up.

Ego: You'll keep going until those other boys respect you, soldier!

General: Ego, you do not order my men around, do you understand me?!

Ego (whispers): General, I didn't want to say this in front of the other men. But it's actually Mrs. Control and their oldest daughter who are behind this. They didn't think Control could handle something this heavy, ever since he turned 40. But we need to show them that he's still as rough and tough as he was 10 years ago.

General: Mrs. Control, you say? Hmm. . . all right, Arms, you heard the man! Grunt it out until I give the order to drop those weights. Now get lifting. We've got some iron to pump!

Stomach: Request permission to hurl, sir.

General: Permission denied. Don't get too comfortable, Stomach, because you're next. Now suck yourself in and look sharp.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

But Can He Do Jazz Hands?

But Can He Do Jazz Hands?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

I was in high school when the NCAA implemented its now-famous Title IX sports massacre, which brought parity to men's and women's collegiate sports. But as a male athlete, I hated the way the universities brought the parity about. They slashed men's sports across the board so there were equal numbers of men's and women's teams. By the time they were done, there were more casualties than Freddie Krueger's visit to a summer camp counselor convention.

The better choice would have been to increase the number of women's sports, rather than eliminate men's sports. Killing the dreams of young male athletes is not equality; creating new opportunities for young female athletes is.

"But there's not enough money," the universities wailed, including my alma mater, Ball State University. "We have to cut the sports that thousands of young men have dedicated their lives to!"

If they had instead eliminated a couple of football scholarships for, say, the back-up punter and third string right tackle, they could have funded a couple of new women's teams.

Even my own sport suffered. By the time I got to college in 1985, the men's soccer team had withered to nothing more than a club. We were now rubbing elbows with the Physics Club and the Dungeons & Dragons Society.

Only we got more women. Literally.

During my junior year, a woman joined our soccer club. We were happy to have her, partly because we were a forward thinking club, but also because she was cute, and had a leg like a cannon.

We all grew up in the day when girls fought and sued to play boys' sports -- baseball, football, even wrestling. "Girls are good enough to do boys' sports," they said. And they are. Today, Franklin (Indiana) High School has a girl kicker on the team.

So when Sam asked to join, we said yes without batting an eye.

But what if a guy wanted to play a woman's sport, like field hockey, softball, or women's soccer? Do our little boy instincts kick in, and we think he's weird for wanting to play with a bunch of girls? Will he face ridicule and scorn? What about reverse discrimination?

Those are questions high school senior Evan Miller tried to answer when he was on the Delta High School dance team in my hometown of Muncie, Indiana.

According to a recent story in the Muncie Star-Press, Miller made the team this past spring, and practiced with the squad all summer long. But it was all for nothing, because he was cut from the squad on Sept. 19.

"It's because I'm a boy," Miller told the Star-Press.

His last performance was at Delta's home football game on Saturday, Sept. 14. The following Wednesday, Miller was taken aside by Lisa Letsinger, director of the Delta Energy Dance team, and mother of team co-captain, Ashton Letsinger.

According to Miller, Letsinger said she had received some negative feedback from Delta's principal, Greg Hinshaw, and others "higher than her" that it was "not right" for a boy to be a dancer on a girls' dance team.

But Letsinger offered something nearly as good. He could be the manager and come to practices, but couldn't dance at games or go to competitions. And they would be secret best friends, only no one else could know.

Now wait a minute. We already know girls are good enough to play boys' sports. They've proven that time and again for the last 30 years. But why isn't a boy good enough to be on a girls' dance squad?

When Miller and other members of the squad talked to Principal Hinshaw about the discrimination -- I mean, decision, he said it was actually about Miller's overall performance.

Miller said, "The principal said the reason was that (Letsinger) didn't want to hurt my feelings at try-outs by not letting me make the team then."

That makes sense. I'm sure making the team, practicing for three months, performing a few times, and then being cut because some people have gender role hangups doesn't hurt nearly as much as being told "no" from day one.

Either Letsinger or Hinshaw are lying. Neither of them can give Miller a straight story. He says it's about performance, she says it's about his gender. One of them hurt his feelings, the other opened the school up to a sex discrimination lawsuit it would be smart to avoid.

Miller told the Star-Press, "I think, if you want to join something, and it's a club, and you have a passion for it, you should be allowed to do it."

I agree. If Miller wants to dance, and he was good enough to make the squad in the spring, then let the boy dance.

So shame on Hinshaw and Letsinger for being hung up on the fact that one of their dancers has a Y chromosome. Girls have spent the last 30 years fighting to play boys' sports. So it should be no surprise that the tables are finally turning.

Because it seems it's the boys who will finally end up dancing on them.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Moving Experience

A Moving Experience
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

"Can someone please open the door?"

"Thanks, Sweetie. I appreciate it."

"No, I'm sorry, you can't help me move."

"Because this box is heavy."

"They're all heavy."

"You can't climb into the moving van either."

"Because I don't want to trip over you."

"Because we're trying to get all the boxes out of it."

"Yes, and the furniture."

"Because we're moving into a new house."

"Because we like it."

"No, there's nothing wrong with the old house. We just don't want to live there anymore."

"Because we like this one better."

"Because it's -- no, Buddy, put that down."

"No, you can't help."

"Because it's too heavy."

"Yes it is. Look, you can barely carry it."

"Fine, take it downstairs for me."

"I thought so. Just set it over there, and I'll get it in a minute."

"Can you guys let me go? This box is getting heavy."

"I'll be back in a minute, then I'll see if there's anything you can help me with."

"Where's Mommy?"

"In the what room?"

"Never mind. I'll find her."

"There you are."

"No, I can't take my shoes off. I'm not taking my shoes off every time I come in and out of the house."

"Because I'm in and out every 30 seconds. That just wastes time."

"Fine, then you move boxes, and take your shoes off every time. I'll stay in here and unpack."

"All right then. So, where do you want this?"

"Okay. Oh sh-- I mean, jeez, my back."

"I did not swear."

"No, I almost swore. There's a big difference."

"No, I don't do it in front of the kids."

"I do not."

"That's a load of . . . crap."

"See, I didn't even do it then."

"We're about halfway done with the stuff in the truck, and we still have the big furniture to go. I don't know if I'm going to make it."

"I'll see if I can find the ibuprofen. I'm going to get back out there."

"Hey, Honey, what are you doing out here?"

"Okay, you can help. Just be careful going down the truck ramp. I don't want you falling on a box."

"Because you might break something."

"I'm just kidding. I don't want you to get hurt."

"Wait, where's your brother?"

"GAAH! Don't do that!"

"Stop hiding in the empty boxes, Buddy."

"Because you scared me."

"Yeah, yeah, very funny. I'm halfway to a heart attack already, and that doesn't help things."

"Because I'm carrying all this heavy stuff."

"Yes, Buddy, I know Grandpa is helping too."

"No, he's not having a heart attack."

"No, I'm not having a heart attack either."

"I just like complaining more than he does."

"No, Sweetie, I don't know where Herman is."

"Because I'm not in charge of your animals, you are."

"You were supposed to pack him."

"What do you mean, 'I'm only six?' You've built entire cities with Legos, and now you expect me to believe you can't pack a small stuffed frog?"

"That's what I thought. Check in the box in your room."

"What, Honey?"

"No, I can't plug in the TV."

"Because we don't have the cable turned on yet."

"I don't know where the antenna is."

"We don't even have anything to set the TV on."

"The entertainment center is in the very back of the moving van."

"No, I'm not going to get it out."

"Because I have a lot of other stuff to get out first."

"I don't care if Hannah Montana is on, you're not going to be able to watch it."

"One, because we don't have cable. Two, because we can't pick up Disney channel with the antenna. And three, because the TV is still at the old house."

"Did you just say what I thought you said?"

"That's good. And don't let Mommy hear you say that. Where did you learn that anyway?"

"I do not say that!"

"Well, not in front of you anyway."


"Where's your brother?"

"Oh no, I'm not falling for that again."

"Hmm, let's see. Why don't I take this new box, and . . . spin it around!"

"Uh oh, what's that sound? Something sounds broken."

"Oh, sh-- I mean, crap. I broke one of the wine glasses."


"Buddy, quit doing that!"

"I thought you were in that other box."

"Yeah, yeah, very funny."

"Don't do that ag -- hey, I've got an idea. Get back in the box."

"I'm going to get Mommy. We'll see who swears in front of the kids now."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wait, Don't I Know You?

Wait, Don't I Know You?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Last year, after one of my staff left the state government agency where we worked, I received an email from Human Resources, telling me this person had been "separated from employment."

Separated from employment, as if the two had been physically attached. Not quit, left, fired, let go, departed, or moved on to greener pastures. No, this was one of those stupid euphemisms that people use to make things sound less bad than they really are. It was probably thought up by the same morons who came up with "right-sizing" to replace the already moronic "downsizing," which replaced "massive layoffs so our executive team could get their bonuses."

I left my own job a few weeks ago, and I'm sure my boss got an email telling him I was separated from employment. It sounds like a divorce, which in a way, I guess it was.

You spend a large part of your day at work, there's a sense of excitement and newness when you first start, and when you leave, it's usually either something bitter and acrimonious, or you leave because you found someone who treats you better.

I remember when Employment and I first got together. We used to spend hours together, talking, laughing, having fun. We would stay up all night, watching old movies, and falling asleep on the couch together.

Employment and I were inseparable. We spent every waking moment together. And she rewarded me in return, depositing a little gift in my bank account every other week. It was magical.

But we grew apart. The relationship lost its sparkle, and I started spending my free time with my good buddy, Freelance. Employment became more demanding, and less giving. She became resentful and suspicious, and then the questions began: Where was I going? Who was I seeing? Was there another job?

We finally separated last month, and I began seeing another Employment almost immediately. Sure it was fast. Maybe too fast. But I have needs. And bills. We're happy together, and I think this relationship will last a good, long time. We're still enjoying the newness of it all, and I think we'll be able to keep the magic alive.

I'll never forget my last Employment, and all the good times we shared. And sometimes, I'll smile faintly at the memories, and wonder "what if. . . ?" But then I'll remember how much more rewarding my new relationship is.

See, now that's how you get separated. First there's a clean break, and then you start somewhere else. It's not like my old job tricked me into thinking it was a new job.

Not like the Bosnian couple who are getting a divorce after they found they had each been having an online affair.

With each other.

Sana Klaric, and her husband, Adnan, had been unhappily married for several years. One day, while Adnan was at work and Sana was in an Internet café, the two anonymously met in an online chat room under the names "Sweetie" and "Prince of Joy."

The anonymous pair told each other about their marriage troubles, and talked to each other about their lives and how unhappy they were in their own marriages. A real love began to bloom, as each talked about their miserable marriages and shared their true feelings.

Sana, 27, told the Associated Press, "I thought I had found the love of my life. The way this Prince of Joy spoke to me, the things he wrote, the tenderness in every expression was something I had never had in my marriage."

Adnan, 32, was equally shocked. "I still find it hard to believe that Sweetie, who wrote such wonderful things, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years."

The star-crossed pair arranged to meet outside a shop, and each would carry a single rose so they would know the other. That's where it all went horribly, horribly wrong.

"When I saw my husband there with the rose and it dawned on me what had happened I was shattered," said Sana. "I felt so betrayed. I was so angry."

Adnan said, "I was so happy to have found a woman who finally understood me. Then it turned out that I hadn't found anyone new at all."

Now, if this had been the 1979 Rupert Holmes song, "Escape" ("if you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain"), the couple would have laughed and realized that they truly WERE in love.

But, instead Sana and Adnan are angry and hurt, and have filed for a divorce, accusing each other of being unfaithful. Had they been a little more understanding, and looked beyond the hurt, they would have realized the person they fell in love with online was the same person they've been living with. I think they should try to discover the new person inside the one they already know.

Or better yet, have the sense to ask their new love's name before they decide to run out on their spouse.

Thursday, September 13, 2007
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Is there someone special in your life you want to spend every waking moment with? Someone you think about constantly? Someone who gives you butterflies in your stomach? Someone you’re afraid your spouse will find out about?

There’s no need to fear, Ibila is here! Now, if you need to sneak around on your spouse, there’s a company who can help you. The French web-based company provides alibis for cheating spouses to help avoid those nasty questions of “where were you last night?” and “what’s that thing on your neck?”

Ibila, which is “alibi” spelled backward, was started six months ago by Regine Mourizard, a former private investigator and mother of two. She helps people run around on their spouses by creating fake documents and phone calls, and anything else needed to pull the wool over their unsuspecting spouse’s eyes.

You may remember a few months ago, when I wrote about a breakup service created in Germany for the express purpose of breaking up with a spouse or significant other. Bernd Dressler’s Separation Agency would handle the whole messy split with typical Teutonic efficiency.

"We have had dating agencies for 30 years," Dressler told the BBC. "If you want to have a new partnership, then you have to quit your previous one."

I guess it only makes sense that a French private investigator would create the final step before people needed Dressler’s service. Talk about your European cooperation.

“For 20 years, I worked to keep people from doing what they wanted to do,” Mourizard told the Associated Press. “And I then thought, ‘what if I help them do it, in a safe way?’

“If the alibi is well done and the spouse doesn’t suspect anything, this can sometimes save marriages,” she added. “And by save, I mean wreck. And by sometimes, I mean nearly always.”

Mourizard and her computer specialist colleague can create fake restaurant bills, hotel receipts, postcards, seminar brochures, and even wedding invitations. Plans range from 19 Euros ($27) for a simple phone call to 150 Euros ($207) for the works.

One of Ibila’s first clients was a man who wanted to meet his mistress on a tropical island. But he couldn’t hide his infidelity by claiming to go on a fishing trip with the boys. So Ibila whipped up a fake wedding invitation from a distant cousin.

Husband: Honey, I’m going to my cousin’s wedding.

Wife: Can I go?

Husband: Er, no, he doesn’t like you.

Wife: Well, where is it?

Husband: Uh, I don’t know. But it’s not on a tropical island.

But don’t judge Mourizard too harshly. She doesn’t just help adulterers and cheaters. She also helps people who put their own happiness before their children’s.

One client is Michelle, whose two jealous children would throw a fit whenever she wanted to meet her new boyfriend. So for 19 Euros, Mourizard phoned the woman at home and pretended to be someone from work. She asked Michelle to return to the office to help finish a project. The children, unaware they were being lied to, were happy to let Michelle go.

Now that’s parenting. Forget trying to get your children to understand. Forget actually, oh I don’t know, parenting them. Just pay someone to lie for you, and everything will be okay.

While some might complain that Mourizard is enabling betrayal and deceit, you have to admit that she hatched a brilliant plan. After all, how many people could get paid $27 to fake a two minute phone call? Sure you could ask a friend to do it for free, but it’s so much better to spend $13.50 per minute to have a professional do it.

That’s much better than doing what some people have done during a particularly boring meeting. They will grab their Blackberry PDA as if it had buzzed, pretend to read an email, and say, “I’ve got to go. We’ve got a small emergency,” and leave the meeting.

Mourizard does have scruples though. She won’t break the law by providing false identity papers or documents. And she won’t help defraud businesses either. But she will handle the planning and details for her clients’ trysts, including making hotel and travel reservations and buying gifts.

That’s nice. At least she’s not breaking the law.

“We only provide our clients with those elements necessary to help them organize their private lies,” Mourizard told the (London) Guardian.

Unfortunately for you English-speaking cheaters, the Ibila Web site is only available in French ( This may cause problems for some of their non-French customers.

Wife: Where were you last night?

Husband: Uh, I had a dinner meeting with a client. See, here’s the receipt.

Wife: You went to Paris for dinner? What the #^&! are you doing, going all the way to Paris for #*&@ dinner?!

Husband: That’s crazy. I didn’t go to Paris for dinner. I also didn’t go to a tropical island with your sister last week either.