Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

"Come on, Sweetie, keep up."

"Because you're walking too slowly. We need to get to the library before it closes."

"I know you're looking for rocks. You don't need any more."

"Because we've only gone two blocks and you've got five rocks."

"We have four blocks to go, and I don't want you picking up every rock you find."

"Because there's a gravel driveway on the next block, and I'm afraid of what you'll do."

"Not even if they're pretty. You think every rock is pretty."

"I know a lot of them are pretty, but we've got 10 more rocks at home."

"You just don't need anymore. That makes 15 rocks, and you don't know what to do with them."

"No, you can't display them on the dining room table."

"No, you can't display them on my workbench either."

"How about the neighbors' yard?"

"I haven't forgotten your stick collection. Trust me, I can't forget about those."

"Because I keep tripping on them in the garage."

"No, you can't bring them into the house."

"Because they're sticks. You can't bring sticks in the house."

"We could store them in the fire pit."

"For kindling to start a fire."

"Okay, I won't use your stick collection to start a fire."

"Fine, I won't use them in the fire at all."

"But you really don't need that many sticks. Actually, you don't need any sticks."

"Because, Sweetie, they're sticks. They're just lying around on the ground. They're as common as, well, rocks."

"No, don't keep looking for rocks."

"Stop changing the subject. What are you going to do with a bunch of sticks?"

"No, I'm not going to make a baby bed out of them. You don't need another baby bed. You got a nice baby bed for Christmas two years ago."

"Penny did not outgrow that bed."

"Because she's a doll. She won't get any bigger."

"Don't make that face. She hasn't grown in the four years you've had her."

"No, I won't make a bassinet either."

"For one thing, I don't know how."

"Are you sure Penny wouldn't like a nice campfire instead? We could toast marshmallows and have a rock throwing contest. We could see how many rocks we can throw in the neighbors' yard. I'll bet I can get 15 in their yard."

"All right, we won't throw your rocks in the neighbors' yard. Maybe we could release them into the wild instead."

"In the woods near the park."

"Think about it. They'd get lots of fresh air and have wide open places to play."

"With other rocks."

"Just because you've never seen them play doesn't mean they don't."

"Tell you what, why don't you look for dandelions instead?"

"Just keep looking. You can keep as many as you find."

"Aren't there any sticking out of the snow?"

"Okay, that was a mean trick. There are no dandelions in March."

"Because I was hoping to distract you from looking for rocks."

"That wasn't a lie, that was a trick. There's a difference."

"For one thing, it's not lying if I do it."

"The dandelions start growing around May. When they come, you can collect as many as you want, as long as you pick them out of our yard. No limits."

"Trust me, you'll have a lot."

"No, you won't be able to bring them in the house."

"How about you keep them in the fire pit. We'll build a nice platform out of the stick collection. When you find enough, we'll have a Viking funeral for them."

"That's when they would put a dead Viking on a boat, set it on fire, and push it out to sea. Only we would do it without the water."

"Right, or the Viking."

"But Sweetie, we need to do something with all those sticks."

"No, you can't plant them in the yard."

"Because I'll mow over them."

"I've got an idea. When we get to the library, we'll get a book about rocks."

"Because it's better than having a box full of rocks."

"Because it doesn't hurt when I accidentally step on your books in the middle of the night.

"Because you don't put your rocks away. Actually , you don't put your books away either."

"Why don't you collect something that doesn't take up as much space."

"No, you can't collect bugs."

"You can't collect snakes either."

"Because they're icky and creepy and I'm afr-- hey, there's a good looking rock, why don't you get that one?"

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Lawyer that Ate New York

The Lawyer that Ate New York
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

I used to know a guy who, quite literally, didn't get hyperbole. He didn't understand exaggeration. As a result, he missed most jokes that came his way.

If you said, "I've told you a million times not to exaggerate," he would argue that it wasn't a million, then pull out a ledger sheet that showed how times you had said it.

I once made a joke about a nearby city only having one stoplight because it was so small. He said, "That's not true. It's a pretty big town. They've got a bunch of stoplights."

"That was hyperbole," I said. He stared blankly at me.

"I exaggerated," I explained.

"I know, that's why I was concerned. I've been to that city, and they've got several stoplights."

"No, I mean it was a joke," I explained further.

"Oh." He gave a half-smile, as if he got it, but he didn't. I think he was mentally counting the number of stoplights.

I wonder if his brother works for the New York Attorney General's office. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the Attorney General's office has gotten its collective panties in a bunch over a couple TV ads that Syracuse, New York attorney James Alexander ran.

One of the offending spots showed some of Alexander's attorneys giving legal advice to space aliens that had crash-landed in upstate New York. Another one featured attorneys as big as giants, looming over Syracuse like Japanese movie monsters.

The office says the ads are misleading because they contain "patent falsities." So they filed a suit to put a stop to the ads, apparently worried that people might think 50 foot lawyers are thundering around Syracuse, providing legal counsel to aliens injured on the job. (You can find more information about the suit here.)

Assistant Attorney General Patrick McRae wrote in the filing, "It cannot be denied that there is little likelihood that (the lawyers) were retained by aliens, have the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or have stomped around downtown Syracuse, Godzilla-style."

It also cannot be denied that McRae doesn't understand poetic license. Or why people don't invite him to parties.

On the other hand, I'll bet this is the first time a lawsuit has ever debated whether lawyers can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or used the phrase "Godzilla-style."

I don't see why ads about giant lawyers are such a problem. It's not like there will be a glut of giant lawyer ads. No ads from competing law firms that boast 60 foot lawyers, or ones with two whiny corporate types arguing that "my giant lawyer can beat up your giant lawyer."

But this type of unimaginative behavior isn't limited to New York. According to the article, the Florida Bar Association is just as tightly clenched as the New York Attorney General's office. They also ban slogans, "manipulative" visual depictions, ambient noise, and jingles.

Jingles? What does a lawyer's jingle sound like?

"When your car is smashed,
And your legs are crushed,
Get what you're owed,
By calling us."

Apparently Florida's Bar hates animals too. They don't allow images of pit bulls, lions, tigers, or sharks.

One attorney, Marc Andrew Chandler, was prevented from using a pit bull image in his ad, so he argued his case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. They sided with the hyperbolically-challenged Bar, and wrote in their decision, "were we to approve, images of sharks, wolves, crocodiles, and piranhas could follow."

Something tells me they've heard all the lawyer jokes before.

At least the Florida Supreme Court understands its profession's image, unlike the boss of a lawyer friend of mine. My friend was reprimanded for referring to the legal department where she worked as "the shark tank." This upset her boss, who thought it was unprofessional and disrespectful to the department. (Speaking of lawyer jokes. . .)

Florida's Bar doesn't allow background noise either. In the past, the Bar has barred sounds of a computer turning off, a light switch turning off, and footsteps in TV ads. I get the impression that Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer is running the place.

"This magic television box frightens and confuses me. These magic pictures and strange sounds make me want to flee to the safety of my condo's hot tub with a glass of Chardonnay."

But the Florida Bar might join the 20th century, if not the 21st, by considering amending its rules to allow some ambient sound. Still, you have to wonder about how successful the move will be, since they still refer to TV commercials as "them newfangled talking pictures."

They'd better hurry though. The giant lawyers are lumbering their way to Florida, and they sound silly without giant footsteps.

(Hat tip to Anthony Juliano for this story.)

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Tooth, and Nothing But The Tooth

The Tooth, and Nothing But The Tooth
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

To commemorate the death of noted shark exploder Roy Scheider, and the movie that resulted in Erik never setting foot in the ocean again, we are reprinting this column from 2003.

Shark Experts 0, Sharks 1.

Noted shark expert, Dr. Erich Ritter, has said that he has never been bitten by a shark because he understands shark behavior. Ritter, the chief scientist for the Global Shark Attack File, part of the Shark Research Institute, has even said he can keep them away just by modifying his heart rate.

But you have to wonder about that after he was bitten by a 350 pound bull shark on April 10.

According to Marie Levine, executive director of the Shark Research Institute, Ritter was badly bitten by a shark in the Bahamas.

As she said this, male reporters grimaced and doubled over in sympathetic pain.

"No, no, the BAHAMAS," Levine said. "That little chain of islands off the East Coast of Florida."

She explained that Ritter was bitten on the calf in waist deep water off Walker's Cay, Bahamas, while filming the Discovery Channel's Shark Week 2003.

Shark Week is an educational series designed to help non-shark experts -- also called sane people -- understand shark behavior. And to make bratty kids mind their parents.

"See that shark, Timmy? Stop jumping on the couch, or it'll be hiding in your big boy potty."

Shark Week -- also known as "Dorks Who Swim In The Ocean Because They Have No Sense of Their Own Mortality" -- involves shark experts swimming with sharks, facing the very real possibility of being bitten in their Bahamas.

Ritter had invited the cable network to film his work with bull sharks (translation: I wanted to get on MTV's "Jackass" show, but I'm too old). He was working with lemon, black-tip, and bull sharks in murky water when he was bitten.

"It was a serious injury," said Levine, making me feel bad for that Bahamas joke. "He's going to be in the hospital for four or five more weeks."

The shark bit all the way to the bone of his left calf, sending Ritter into shock. He was flown to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach, where he underwent an arterial graft, and may need a skin graft later.

Ritter, a professor at the University of Zurich and Hofstra University in New York, has said that most sharks will just bump an object in the water, and if the object is not prey, they'll move on. He believes that most shark attacks aren't really attacks, they're accidents.

No, running your car into another car is an accident. Being bitten by a shark is an attack, whether he meant it or not.

But "accident" is what Levine and other experts have been calling this. In Ritter's case, the bull shark was chasing a remora, and got confused in the murky water.

"There was food in the water about 15 yards from Erich. A bull shark closed on the remora but in the low visibility bit Erich instead," Levine said.

Dr. Sam Gruber, a shark expert from the University of Miami called it "an accident waiting to happen."

"(Ritter's) method is basically to titillate TV cameras," Gruber said in a Reuters news story. "He wants to impress people that he can control these sharks and they will never bite him." Gruber then began giggling uncontrollably and muttering, "heh heh, titillate, heh heh heh."

Ritter's injury comes on the heels of the media's near-obsession with shark attacks in 2001. Last year, there was a veritable media feeding frenzy about shark "accidents," including 8-year-old Jessie Arbogast who lost an arm to a bull shark in Florida, and Krishna Thompson, the guy who hired Johnny Cochrane (another shark) to sue Our Lucaya Beach & Golf Resort, after being attacked by a shark while swimming at the resort's beach.

Despite the international attention, experts say the 76 worldwide attacks were only an average year.

Oh good, as long as it was only an average year.

Look, modifying one's heart rate and understanding a shark's behavior is fine, but Ritter isn't Aquaman, and he can't communicate with sharks through aquatic telepathy. I may not know much about sharks, but even I'm expert enough to know I can't send out "don't bite me" vibes.

I'll admit, out of millions of beachgoers, the odds are slim-to-none that someone is going to be "accidented" by a shark. But you greatly increase your chances when you purposely play with sharks like they're some kind of pointy-toothed puppy.

They're sinister, cold-hearted, cold-blooded, ruthless eating machines who enjoy an occasional snack on shark experts, and people stupid enough to swim in the ocean when there are perfectly good swimming pools just a few hundred yards away.

That's why that music plays whenever they're around.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Aussie Real Estate Agents Sue Google Over Links

According to an article on ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), Australian real estate agents Mark Forytarz and Paul Castran of Castran Gilbert are suing Google because the search engine giant is linking to an article at Jenman Real Estate Monitors. Jenman writes about their alleged activities in pressuring Robert Langer to sell his home against his wishes, and then demanding their commission.

Another article in Techdirt says that it’s hard to see how Google is liable for the link.

“If there's a defamatory article, then the liability is on whoever wrote it and put it online. The fact that Google found it in a search shouldn't transfer liability to them -- even if (as the agents indicate) Google was told that the content was defamatory,” Techdirt author Mike Masnick wrote.

In other words, Forytarz and Castran don’t want people to see this article. So don’t click this link to read about Forytarz’s alleged tactics. Seriously. And don't do it right now.

This gives rise to the question (as one Techdirt commenter asked), “How would they even know the negative article existed without Google?”

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

For Better or Worse. . . a Lot Worse

For Better or Worse. . . a Lot Worse
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

"Marriage: It's Only Going to Get Worse."

When I read that headline this week, I wasn't sure if it was a news story or an ad for a divorce lawyer.

Turns out this little ray of sunshine was for an article at, a science news Web site, about a new study that says spouses get more irritated with each other as they grow older. In other words, what starts out as a small pebble in your shoe will be a huge emotional boulder by your 50th anniversary.

"The study results could be a consequence of accumulated contact with a spouse such that the nitpicking or frequent demands that once triggered just a mild chafe develops into a major pain," the article said, pointing a bony finger at nitpicking and demanding spouses everywhere. You know who you are.

"Do you, Mark, promise to nitpick and frequently demand, 'til death do you part?"

"Boy, do I ever!"

Articles like this make me worry about the writer. In this case, Jeanna Bryner penned this story of marital despondency and angst.

When the opening line is "If your spouse already bugs you now, the future is bleak," you have to wonder if there's some underlying tension at home.

So what made her want to do this article? Does she have an axe to grind? Does she secretly loathe her husband because he nitpicks and demands things? Did she stick a copy of this article on the refrigerator with a kitchen knife, and the words "Back off, jerkwad!" scribbled in blood red lipstick?

Actually, I'm sure she's a very nice person, and loves her husband very much. (Hey, you just don't want to get crosswise of someone who jabs her refrigerator with huge knives.)

But there's gold at the end of the bitterness rainbow. Kira Birditt, research fellow at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, says that long-term irritations can actually be good for a relationship.

"As we age and become closer and more comfortable with one another, it could be that we're more able to express ourselves to each other."

Translation: as you get older, it's perfectly all right to tell your wife to quit nagging you about leaving your freakin' socks on the floor.

However, it seems that older couples are more happy in their relationships than the 20- and 30-somethings they surveyed.

According to the researchers -- Birditt, Toni Antonucci, and Lisa Jackey -- couples in their 20s and 30s had the most negative relationships, including relationships with spouses, children, and friends. Probably because they're a bunch of whiners.

Meanwhile, older couples had the least negative relationships, and reported less conflict in their relationships than their young upstart counterparts.

"Older adults are more likely than younger people to report that they try to deal with conflict by avoiding confrontations, rather than by discussing problems," Birditt told

Translation: the key to happiness in a relationship is smushing your negative feelings into a tiny black ball of hate and anger, cramming it deep into your soul where no one will ever see it.

I feel better already.

I'm also a little confused. On the one hand, older people can more easily express themselves to each other, which makes for a happier relationship. On the other, older people are less likely to discuss their problems. In fact, they avoid confrontations and just learn to live with the annoying things their spouses do, like pretending to be asleep so I have to take my son to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Either way, the Three Amigas say it's all a normal part of getting older.

"(I)t's possible that negativity is a normal aspect of close relationships that include a great deal of daily contact," Birditt said.

(I hate it when researchers talk like researchers. What she actually said is "It's normal to want to kill your spouse.")

At the same time, as people get older, the relationships with their children improve, possibly because the kids become adults themselves. This is a good thing, because these are the same kids who will be paying for your nursing home, so be sure to stay on their good side.

The bottom line? While your marriage crumbles around you as you enter your golden years, don't despair. It's not you. It was never your fault. You now have solid scientific research that your spouse is a Grade A jerk, and you were right all along.

And you should feel more comfortable to express yourself about it.

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