Thursday, August 30, 2007

Since When is My Past "History?"

Since When is My Past "History?"
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

My family and I were sitting outside a coffee shop at my alma mater, Ball State University, last weekend. We were watching a steady stream of teenagers come and go, when an innocent voice said, "Do those kids' mommies and daddies know they're out so late?"

I thought it was one of my own kids talking, until I realized I was the one who said it.

"When did they start letting little kids into college?" I asked my dad, a Ball State professor.

"They didn't," he said. "Those are regular students."

"Since when? They look 12."

According to my dad, the little whippersnappers have always looked this young. Which logically means my friends and I looked that young when we were 18. I'm not buying it. We never looked that young.

It didn't help matters when I realized that their parents are probably around my age.

To try to understand this year's incoming freshmen, I turned to Beloit College in Janesville, Wisconsin. Each year, they release their annual Beloit College Mindset List (BCML).

The BCML is supposed to "…identify a worldview of 18-year-olds in the fall of 2007." It gives faculty, administrators, and even military recruiters insight into the experiences of today's youth, and what's going on (or not going on) in their young minds.

What's most depressing about the list is that events I experienced firsthand are now officially considered "history." This was only slightly less painful than when I first heard the music from my high school years referred to as "classic."

As I read the BCML, I was stunned at some of the things these young punks have never known. Things that I saw, watched, read, and did.

First on the list, they never experienced the Berlin Wall. Or saw it on the news. Or watched it come down.

I was lucky enough to watch this historic event on television, on November 9, 1989. I was with a German friend, and we were returning to her house for dinner. Another German student breathlessly met us at the door and shouted, "Die Wand kommt unten! Sie reissen die Wand herunter!" (The wall is coming down! They're tearing down the wall!) We sat and watched history being made with sledgehammers, jackhammers, and 28 years of pent-up anger.

Ugh. This all happened one college freshman ago. It hardly seems fair.

"My dad's actually got a piece of it. That's probably the only reason I do know about it," 18-year-old Matt Riese told WEAU TV in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

There's nothing like having one of your generation's defining moments reduced to a Trivial Pursuit answer.

But the list goes on, and it chips away at my sense of youthful vigor. "Pete Rose has never played baseball," the BCML tells me. "Nelson Mandela has always been free," and "Russia has always had a multi-party political system."

What gives? I was around for these things! Pete Rose was my boyhood hero, I watched Nelson Mandela being freed from prison, and I remember what I was doing on February 7, 1990, when the Communist Party's Central Committee agreed to give up its power. (For the record, I was ironing my shirt, getting ready for work. Not that you care. I just like to brag that I know how to iron my own shirt.)

According to WEAU, some freshmen thought Mandela, ". . . might be the owner of Sears, while others thought he was just a big politician."

"I'm not going to go out of my way to learn about things that don't pertain to me necessarily. That's the generation we live in right now," said Riese.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present our future leaders. God help us all.

"Tiananmen Square is a 2008 Olympic venue, not the scene of massacre," "China has always been more interested in making money than in reeducation," and "U2 has always been more than a spy plane." So much for the trillions we spent on the Cold War. We couldn't hold a little back for some modern historical education? I'd even teach the class myself.

Me: "This, students, is a 'record.' You played it on a 'record player.'"

Student: Ooh, I heard about those. My grandfather had one of those. I think he's your age.

Me: You get an 'F.'

I suppose I could always wash down this bitterness with a nice, cold bottled water, which has always been around. In fact, so has Jerry Springer, Dilbert, and the World Wide Web. Rush Limbaugh has always been lying on the radio, HumVees have always been available in civilian models, and microbrewed beer has been available everywhere. Well, one out of 70 ain't bad.

Still, I shouldn't feel too bad about it. I can only imagine what reactions my freshman list might have caused in 1985's .

"13 TV channels?! When I was a kid, we only had the one!"

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hell Hath No Fury Like an Ex-Wife Scorned

Hell Hath No Fury Like an Ex-Wife Scorned
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

I learned a long time ago about the importance of treating one's wife with respect and kindness. And unlike some of my other life lessons, I didn't have to learn this one the hard way.

Not like some Guys I've known. Guys who still haven't learned this lesson, even after years of marriage. Despite countless fights, numerous nights on the couch, and a wife's frigidness that reduces global warming by ten percent, these clueless clods still haven't learned not to make their wife feel stupid, disrespected, or unloved.

These are the morons who still think a woman's place is in the kitchen, and that her job is to cater to his every whim. But it's not just the older Guys who think this. There are even some 20-somethings whose ideas about women haven't changed since Leave It To Beaver was brand new.

Years ago, I knew one Neanderthal who boasted that he didn't need to cook, clean, iron, or do laundry, because "his woman" did it for him.

"So you're pretty much screwed if she ever leaves you," I said to him.

Grog scratched his head. "What you mean?"

"I mean, if your wife left you, you'd die of starvation. And we'd find your rumpled, unwashed corpse in a pigsty of a house."

"That not true! That not true! Me can cook."

"Microwave pot pies don't count."

Grog grunted something about pizza delivery and shuffled off, knuckles dragging the ground so deeply, he left furrows.

Even in the 21st century, I've met married couples who believe the husband is the boss, and the wife can't have an opinion unless her husband lets her.

All I can say is, watch out, Guys. If you don't treat your wives well, they're going to take matters into their own hands. A friend recently sent me a story that illustrates this point.

According to a recent Reuters news story, Anna, a 41-year-old Russian woman set fire to her ex-husband Nikolai's er. . . uh. . . groin.

Let me say it again: She set his groin on fire. ON FIRE!

This story even made Lorena Bobbit sit up and say "Ooh, that's harsh."

Unfortunately, Anna and Nikolai's relationship was not a happy one, even before she lit his fuse. The pair had been married for 19 years, before getting a divorce in 2003. Apparently, Nikolai's repeated affairs and addiction to X-rated movies ended the marriage. But they were forced to live together for three years in their small southeast Moscow apartment after their divorce, because the cost of housing is so high in Russia.

One night, Nikolai was sleeping naked on the couch, drinking vodka, and watching porn when it happened. He told the Tvoi Den newspaper, "It was monstrously painful. I was burning like a torch. I don't know what I did to deserve this."

I think I've identified your problem, comrade. And I can name that tune in six words: "sleeping, naked, drinking, vodka, watching, and porn."

Sydney, Australia's Channel 9 News was the most er. . . enlightening on the subject. They reported that Anna was so angry at finding her ex drunk and half-asleep watching X-rated movies in their apartment, she doused him with vodka, and tried to light him up, but the vodka evaporated.

So she rolled up some newspapers, lit them, and stuck them on his groin. He went up like a Molotov cocktail (which, coincidentally, was named for another Russian, Vyacheslav Molotov, a Soviet leader under Joseph Stalin).

But being half-asleep also means being half-awake. It's like a glass being half empty versus half full. And I would hope that if I'm half-awake, I would notice if my wife was trying to set fire to me. Especially if her first attempt failed, and she was aiming for my privates with a flaming rolled-up newspaper.

Nikolai suffered burns to 30 percent of his body, including his stomach and left arm.

"His sex organs took the heaviest blow," a nurse told Tvoi Den. A police spokeswoman said it was "difficult to predict" whether Nikolai would make a full recovery.

Anna will be charged with bodily harm, and faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison. But if Russian culture is anything like American culture, Anna will be hailed as a conquering heroine, and a symbol for poorly-treated Russian women everywhere. A torch bearer of anger and hope, so to speak.

So let this be a warning to you men who don't treat your wives well. They're getting tired of it. They're starting to rebel against how you're treating them. And they've got matches.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

British Bosses Ban Barney's Balloons

British Bosses Ban Barney's Balloons
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

God bless the British bureaucrat. They've got that special something their American cousins will never achieve. Their single-minded dedication to their rules and regulations, despite all common sense and human decency, is unrivaled in this world. And that gives me job security as a humor writer.

This week, from the We Hate Clowns and Children file, comes another example of their sheer bloody mindedness when it comes to political correctness and adherence to arbitrary rules.

This time, British supermarket chain Tesco's have banned a children's clown from using balloons at one of their supermarkets.

Barney Baloney, also known as Tony Turner, was booked for a five hour gig at a Tesco's supermarket to entertain the kiddies. But the bosses popped Barney's balloon show, because they were afraid some of the children might have an allergic reaction to latex.

"My job is to capture a child's imagination, entertain them and make them laugh," Baloney told the London Daily Mail. "Twisting balloons into shape makes up 40 percent of my act and I can't see what the problem is. Kids love to see me make shapes and that part of my act is the children's favourite."

Two hours of a five hour act are down the clown toilet, and Baloney is scrambling for something to fill the void.

But Tesco's totalitarian tyrants are unmoved. A Tesco spokesman told the Daily Mail, "We have banned balloons because latex is used in the manufacture of them and this can trigger an allergic reaction in some children."

Some children, not all. In fact, not even a lot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site, allergic reactions -- hives, rash, and eye irritation -- occur in only one to six percent of the general population, and are usually only found as a result of repeated exposure to latex.

In other words, little Colin and Fiona probably won't have any problems, unless they rub themselves all over with balloons. For a few days. But Tesco's have guaranteed that no one will have any problems.

Or a good time.

"This country is going crazy with its political correctness and health and safety issues and it's making us a laughing stock," Baloney told the Yorkshire (England) Post newspaper.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time Baloney's act has been sanitized in the name of behalfism (speaking on behalf of other people without the authority or right to do so). One employer said he couldn't twist balloons into the shape of guns because it might teach children violent behavior, but he could still make them into swords.

Because, as everyone knows, balloon swords don't kill people, balloon guns do.

Baloney has also stopped using his bubble-making machine because he couldn't get liability insurance. The insurance companies were afraid children might slip and fall on the bubble solution.

Which doesn't leave much for poor Barney Baloney. Pretty soon, he'll be replaced by someone more acceptable to the protective pencil pushers.

"Hey kids, let's give a big birthday cheer for Alfred the Safe But Entertaining Tax Accountant!"

The Tesco spokesman (who was cowering behind his spreadsheets and regulations) said, "This is a health and safety issue. . . We always have the welfare of children at heart."

Then he added, "By welfare, I mean money. And by children, I mean us."

Don't get me wrong. I can worry about children's safety and well-being with the best of them. I have three kids, and sometimes get neurotic trying to keep them safe. I experience flashes of panic when my kids want to pet a strange dog, get within spitting distance of the street, or make eye contact with strangers.

But I've also recognized that my kids need to be, well, kids. They need to play, have fun, and enjoy their childhoods. I let them play with balloons and bubbles, go swimming, run outside, and in general have a good time. I don't legislate, regulate, or strangulate their fun. And I don't like it when pencil-pushing pencil-necks decide what my kids can or can't do just because another kid may or may not get itchy because he held a balloon.

There's a big difference between concern and overreacting, between being cautious and being a lawsuit-happy lawyer.

Unfortunately, Tesco's has blurred that line. As a result, they have also blurred the line between childhood fun and staggering boredom. But if we're lucky, Tesco's customers will help them rethink their decision when they help blur the line between being cautious and being profitable by switching to a more clown-friendly supermarket.

Because Alfred the Tax Accountant's only trick is spelling dirty words on a pocket calculator.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Are You 4Real? No, I'm Superman.

Are You 4Real? No, I'm Superman.
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

I wanted to change my name when I was four, because I thought it would make me a fast runner. There was a kid named Sam in my nursery school, and he was a fast runner. So I figured out a way that I could run as fast as he did.

"Mom, can I change my name to Sam?"

"What's wrong with your name?" my mother asked.

"Because if I'm called Sam, I'll be able to run fast." And I explained my well-reasoned theory.

My mom was the voice of reason. "Your name doesn't make you run fast. That's just something people are able to do. Names don't change how we act or what we can do."

That was actually pretty good advice, since I was named for Erik the Red, the Viking explorer.

According to historians, Erik the Red was banished to Iceland from Norway after committing several murders. He was then banished from Iceland after committing several more murders, including killing two men, after stealing his shovel back from their father. He then discovered Greenland, a cold and inhospitable land, and gave it a pleasant sounding name in order to encourage other people to migrate to the new territory.

Even at age four, I was pretty sure murder, pillaging, and marketing were against the rules at nursery school, so I didn't behave like my namesake. I realized what my mom meant when she said we defined our names through our actions, not the other way around.

All things considered, it's a good thing I didn't want to change my name to Superman. That would have caused a lot of problems in itself. The expectations placed on a skinny, geeky kid named after the Man of Steel would have been too much to live up to. Not to mention the regular beatings by the school bullies, who would have done it just to prove I was anything but super.

"Why are you hitting yourself, Superman? Does someone have some Kryptonite? How would you like a super wedgie?"

Given that very real possibility, why would any parent name their kid Superman? You'll have to ask Pat and Sheena Wheaton of New Zealand for the answer to that question. They saddled their newborn son with that name.

They've officially named him Superman, but only because New Zealand's Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages wouldn't let them use their first choice: 4Real.

No, that's not a typo. They really want to call their kid 4Real. It sounds like something middle school girls write on their notebooks: "Kristy and David 2gether 4ever."

The Wheatons -- or should that be the Wh3@t0n5? -- decided on the name 4Real after they saw his ultrasound and realized the baby was "for real." They wanted to use the number because it was the clearest way of writing it.

Apparently, they also have trouble spelling the word "for."

(I wonder if 4Real will have brothers and sisters named "4Real2," "CanYouTellIfIt'sABoy?" and "OhCrapMyCondomBroke!")

But New Zealand has rules about baby names, so they nixed the Wh3@t0n5 juvenile-sounding choice. The rules say that names starting with a number are not allowed. They also advise parents to avoid names that could get the kid teased or beat up.

So, in an attempt to thumb their nose at the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs, which runs the registry, the Wh3@t0n5 are going to officially name their son Superman, but refer to him as 4Real. So, neener neener neener.

"No matter what, it's going to stay 4Real," Pat Wh3@t0n told the New Zealand Herald. "I'm certainly not a quitter."

No, you're an idiot. You've doomed your son to a lifetime of ridicule and humiliation, until he changes his name in shame and embarrassment, after years of therapy. But hey, as long as you're happy, right? After all, a kid's name should be all about the parents loony impulses, right?

(For the record, the Wh3@t0n5 aren't alone in their Superman fetish. It turns out actor Nicholas Cage named his son Kal-El, which was Superman's given name, before he was rocketed off Krypton.)

Historically, the Department of Internal Affairs has had its hands full, having to stop parents from naming their kids Satan, Adolph Hitler, or Barry Bonds. (Okay, I made that last one up.)

So why can't the Wh3@t0n5 stick with something more traditional and less controversial? Like naming a kid after a bloodthirsty, murdering Norse explorer?

He won't be able to run very fast, but he's the guy to call when you want to get your weed whacker back from your neighbor.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Who Scams the Scammers?

Who Scams the Scammers?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2003.

Several years ago, I knew I had made my mark in the world when I received my very own Nigerian scam letter, addressed to me. When Nigerian scam artists put your name on a letter, rather than addressing it with an impersonal "Dear Friend," you've obviously done something important.

At least that's what I tell myself.

But there it was, in a pile of mail, directly from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation with my name on it. I had finally arrived.

Keep in mind, this was before crooks realized email was a much cheaper and easier way to swindle people. This was back in the day of fax machines and the post office.

"Grandpa, tell us a story about how crooks used to swindle people with pen and paper."

Nowadays, the crooks use email to blanket hundreds of thousands of people. But back in 1995, they used word processors and stamps to regale me with their tales of woe, of how they had $75 million in the bank from some huge petroleum deal, but thanks to those greedy Nigerian politicians, they couldn't move a single dime out of the country.

But if I, Erik Deckers, would help them, I could have HALF the money! And it was so simple.

All I had to do was mail them my company's bank account number and 10 blank pieces of company letterhead with my signature on it. They would send letters to my bank, dumping all the money into my account. Then I was supposed to send half of it to another bank in another country.

This was it! I was going to be rich! I was going to be wealthy! I was going to be the stupidest guy in the world if I fell for it.

There was no big oil deal, there was no $75 million, and there certainly was no way anyone was going to give me $37.5 million for 10 pieces of paper.

It was an obvious scam. I realized it the first time I ever saw the letter. No one is stupid enough to fall for this, I said.

Apparently, I'm wrong.

The Nigerian scam, known simply as "419," after the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code on fraud, is the third largest industry in Nigeria. Although there are hundreds of variations, and the crooks are more sophisticated then they were seven years ago, victims are usually asked up pay an up-front fee, transfer tax, performance bond, etc. Then there are complications which need additional payments. Eventually the victim will run out of money, but will have no legal recourse in getting their money back. And the losses run in the hundreds of millions worldwide.

It's such a big problem that the US Secret Service website (www.ICouldTellYouTheAddressButI'dHaveToKillYou.gov) covers this problem extensively, because they hear about it all the time. In 2002, Americans sent 38,000 letters and 346,000 emails to the Secret Service, alerting them to the different schemes they received.

One Secret Service spokesman said to reporters "How'd they find out where we were? I thought we were the SECRET Service."

Although I feel sorry for some of the people who fall for the scam and lose thousands of dollars, there's one guy who probably deserved what happened to him.

According to a recent story in the Winona (Minnesota) Post, 58-year-old Carl Fratzke faces up to 70 years in prison and/or a $140,000 fine if he's convicted on seven counts of "theft by swindle."

That's one count for each of the seven people who say Fratzke cheated them out of $207,000 in 2000 by promising them to buy $500,000 worth of gloves and then selling them for $1.2 million to Wal-Mart. The seven would-be investors realized there was a problem when Fratzke didn't show up with their money 30 days later, like he had promised.

So in May 2001, they scheduled a meeting with Fratzke to find out what happened to their investment, but he failed to show up. (No big surprise). Instead he left them a note saying that he had invested their money, plus $550,000 OF HIS OWN MONEY in a Nigerian scam and lost it all.

One has to chuckle at the irony. Actually one has to point their finger at Fratzke and laugh out loud at the irony.

Oh sure, I feel bad for the seven people who lost anywhere from $12,000 to $25,000 apiece, because they'll never get their money back. But my faith in a fair and balanced universe is restored when crooks like Fratzke lose gobs of money to people slimier than he is, before finally being tossed in the slammer for the rest of his natural life.

And to the Nigerian crooks who steal millions and millions of dollars , I have a little proposal I'd like to make to them.

I have $75 million worth of stocks from a company called Enron. . .