Thursday, August 28, 2008

Australian School Bans Cartwheels, Fun

Australian School Bans Cartwheels, Fun
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2008

My youngest daughter fell in love with Olympic gymnastics this year. The last two weeks have been a constant flurry of cartwheels, flip-overs, and handstands. Sometimes she cartwheels around as a mode of transportation.

Belgian Gardens elementary school of Towsnville, Queensland, Australia would have a hissy fit.

They recently banned students from doing cartwheels, handstands, somersaults, and any other form of gymnastic tumbling that kids love to do. They will also only give one serving of gruel at lunchtime, and you should never ask for more.

According to a recent news story in the Townsville Bulletin, Belgian Gardens had declared these types of gymnastics "a medium risk level 2," which ranks it right up there with soccer, tennis, cricket, and running with scissors, all of which are not banned by the school. Except the scissors thing.

Education Queensland, part of Australia's Department of Education, Training, and the Arts, issued a written statement on Wednesday, defending the ban. "The school's highest priority remains the safety and well-being of its students," they said.

Keep in mind, this is the same Education Queensland (EQ) that declared 2008 to be the Year of Physical Activity. You know, running, jumping, and – according to their website – "various types of dancing, handstands, somersaults, gym activities." In fact, students were encouraged to send in tips about "handstands, somersaults, gym activities." They even had the chance to win a $400 voucher for their school during April.

Not so fast, Belgian Gardens. EQ doesn't care if you miss out.

"The decision to restrict unsupervised cart wheels and hand stands was taken in the interests of the safety of all students as well as in recognition of the school's physical environment," said the EQ, contradicting itself.

Meanwhile, EQ's website also encouraged students to send in tips in June about throwing games, like "frisbee, boomerang, javelin."

Javelin? Hmm, isn't that the sport of throwing a long, pointy stick as far as you can? So it's okay – encouraged, in fact – to throw pointy sticks with your friends, but it's not okay to do a cartwheel or handstand in the grass?

There's more. EQ recommends skateboarding, indoor rock climbing, heaving medicine balls, and surfing for youngsters. (Australia is known for its Great White sharks that surround the continent, hunting for surfers to munch on.)

The whole mess started earlier this week when Belgian Gardens punished a student for doing a single cartwheel during recess.

"We had to practise for a play and she did one on the grass," 10-year-old Cali Buschgens, friend of the acrobatic ne'er-do-well, told the Townsville Bulletin. "Two teachers took her upstairs and she had to sit down for the rest of the day and not do anything."

Cali has ran afoul of the cartwheel cops herself.

"She came home from school a couple of times and said `I got in trouble for doing a cartwheel,'" Cali's mom, Kylie Buschgens, said. Kylie tried to reason with school principal Glenn Dickson, and was told that the gymnastics were a "medium risk level 2." Case closed. No fun for children ever. And no gruel either. Even an email to Dickson went unanswered

But the power of investigative journalism to affect social changes is alive and well. After the Townssville Bulletin contacted the school, Buschgens received an email from Dickson that said the issue would be reviewed.

On Wednesday, the school turned on a dime and did a complete 180 on their previous stance – a low risk level 1– and said they would sit down with parents and teachers to review its decision. People bringing unwanted attention to bureaucrats'' narrow-mindedness can have that effect.

Gymnastics Australia spokesperson Jane Allen thinks the school is being too draconian.

"We think it is a very harsh thing to do and we would encourage the school, rather than just banning it outright, to really look for some providers of developmental gymnastics programs – give the kids a real learning experience on how to do these things safely," Allen told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

While I understand the need for children's safety, banning certain kinds of activities – especially those your parent organization recommends in the name of physical fitness and health – sucks the fun out of childhood. Especially when said parent organization also recommends throwing pointy sticks, bent sticks, climbing cliffs, skateboarding, and surfing with sharks.

Belgian Gardens principal Glenn Dickson needs to remember that kids will always be kids, and this is the one time of their life they get to express joy and happiness through movement and activity.

Just let them have their fun. Pretty soon, they'll be beaten down by life, have their very soul sucked out by small-minded bureaucrats, and end up as school administrators.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I am now a big fan of Vermillion Lies

I normally don't post non-humor stuff to this blog, but I had such a good time at the opening night of the Indianapolis Fringe Festival, I had to tell everyone about it.

(This review originally appeared on Smaller Indiana.)

Vermillion Lies is what you would get if Tom Waits and Tom Ze formed a cabaret duo. And were women. And sisters. And one of them sounded liked Billie Holiday.

I got to see Zoë (the Billie Holiday soundalike) and Kim Vermillion, the two sisters from Oakland, on opening night at the Indy Fringe Festival's outdoor stage. (That's Zoë on the right, in the red dress.)

If I were on the music/art fringe scene on the west coast, I'd have something really clever to say about juxtapositions of styles and modern retro cabaret. But I'm from Indiana, so all I can say is wow.

Wow wow wow wow WOW!

I've been a music reviewer for over seven years, with a special place in my heart for female acoustic singer-songwriters. A woman, her guitar, and some emotional angst, and I'm set for the evening.

But Vermillion Lies opened my eyes to things I've been missing, like arty cabaret music. I've always thought of cabaret as people in velvet smoking jackets singing old French songs, but I never knew it could be like this.

They still wear velvet though.

"They call it Junkstore Cabaret," said Dakota Belle Witt, tour manager for Vermillion Lies. Apparently they do it very well, whatever it's called. (That's Dakota in the photo.)

"They've played in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Caesar's Palace," Dakota said.

"Moscow, Idaho?" I asked.

"Moscow, Russia," Dakota said.

Wow.

The three women have just kicked off a four month tour in support of their sisters' new album, "What's In the Box?"

It's the same question the audience was supposed to shout out whenever Kim opened her Big Box o' Props and pulled out different musical instruments, including a toy drum, kids' musical bells, and a marionette.

Kim played the marionette – a little Mexican guy – on the song "Blue." She also played the kids' bells, picking them up and setting them down, matching Zoë's increasing speed on guitar. This song is Zoë at her Billie Holiday-est, and is alone worth the cost of the CD.

And while "Blue" is one of my favorite songs on "What's In the Box?" my favorite song of the night was "The Astronomer." Never have I thought about – or been turned on by – the solar system in quite that way before.

Have I said wow yet? I feel like Kevin Costner in Madonna's "Truth or Dare," when he said her show was "neat."

I also had a great time talking with the three women, and was disappointed to hear they were only there for the night. They were leaving for Madison, Wisconsin the next day.

But wait! It got better. I bumped into Pauline Moffat, executive director of the Indianapolis Fringe Festioval, the next day and she said that not only was Vermillion Lies planning on being one of the Fringe shows next year, they were going to play on Sunday night.

I got back to the outdoor stage in plenty of time to see the group perform a short set, including one of my favorite tracks, Blue. Awesome as always

If you're in Indianapolis during the last week of August, and around for Indy Fringe, be sure to check out their show.


You'll thank me later.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I love Kitchen Pundit - Michael Phelps photo

I can't help it, I just love the I Can Has Cheezburger family of websites. I made this one on Kitchen Pundit.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Swish-Whack, Take That! Awards for Week 2

Swish-Whack, Take That! Awards for Week 2
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Since the Olympics are in their second week, we have a second week of the Swish-Whack Take That! Awards. The awards were inspired by American fencer Mariel Zagunis who won gold in the individual saber event both in 2004 and 2008. Her 2004 gold was America's first fencing medal in 100 years, yet NBC only showed 30 seconds of coverage that year, and only the final touch of this year's victory. The awards are named to honor her achievements, and to remind NBC that there are more Olympic sports than swimming and gymnastics.

To start, remember how Australia's 5-time gold medalist swimmer Ian Thorpe said there was no way Michael Phelps could win eight gold medals in one Olympics? And, remember how Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in one Olympics? Yeah, that was cool.

So the first Swish-Whack goes to Michael Phelps. Normally, Swish-Whacks go to the little guy who does something amazing, like Tuvshinbayar Naidan, the Mongolian judoist who won his country's first ever medal. But Phelps gets it for 1) making world sporting history, and 2) making Thorpe eat his words.

I have an order of humble pie with Vegemite for a Mr. Thorpe. Mr. Thorpe, your humble pie is ready. Don't forget your side of crow. Thank you, come again.

Let's stay in the pool for Swish-Whack #2. This one goes to 41-year-old American swimmer Dara Torres, who won a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle. Torres, a powerhouse in women's swimming for five Olympics, showed you don't have to be in your 20s to be an Olympic athlete.

The 50-meter freestyle is swimming's speed race, the aquatic equivalent to track and field's 100-meter dash. The person who wears the gold is considered the fastest swimmer in the world. Which means that out of 5 billion women in the world, Torres is faster than everyone but one. Not too bad for an old lady who's only two months older than me.

Swish-Whack #3 goes to the International Olympic Committee for standing up to the Chinese government. They have ordered an investigation into the age of women's gymnast He Kexin, despite frequent governmental claims that He (pronounced "hay") is 15, not 14 years old. If the Chinese government turns out to be big fat liars, He could lose her two gold medals.

Swish-Whack #4 goes to Mike Walker, the New York computer expert who found the damning evidence on a Chinese government website by using a Chinese search engine's cache feature to uncover documents that had been removed. They did not realize that search engines take pictures of websites, so if you change or delete them, the pictures of the old version still exist in the cache. The document in question was a spreadsheet that showed He's alleged real birth date.

How do you say "oops" in Chinese?

Swish-Whack #5 goes to a wrestler from Georgia. You've all heard about how Russia invaded the country of Georgia because Vladimir Putin wanted to impress Jodie Foster. Needless to say, Georgia has been very upset at the Russians trying to steal two breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. So they got back at them by having Georgian wrestler Revazi Mindorashvili beat Russia's gold-medal favorite Georgy Ketoev in the semi-final round. Mindorashvili then went on to win the gold in the final round against Tajikistan, and Ketoev took the bronze

"We are athletes, not politicians," Mindorashvili told the Associated Press. "Our job is to fight hard , but (on the mat)."

"But still, suck on that, Putin!" he shouted, making an obscene gesture at television cameras.

To underscore the "athletes, not politicians" statement, the entire Russian wrestling federation were good sports about Mindorashvili 's victory. The two men smiled at each other during the medal ceremony, and federation stood while Georgia's national anthem played.

Swish-Whack #6 goes to the people China hoped no one would notice: human rights activists. According to an Associated Press story, Chinese police arrested a group of foreign pro-Tibet activists in central Beijing late Thursday night. They arrested the protesters just a few short minutes after they showed protest signs. But not so short that the AP missed out on the story.

Still, two AP photographers were detained by police, questioned, and released. Police also took memory cards from their digital cameras, hoping to hide the evidence. Six foreign activists were also sentenced to 10 days detention for "disrupting the public order."

The Chinese government originally said it would allow protests in three different areas during the Olympics, but they have not accepted any applications to demonstrate. Despite China's obvious unwillingness to keep their promises to opposition voices, the biggest and best Swish-Whack goes to those people thought other peoples' freedom was more important than their own.

Clayton, California Mayor Bans Children's Vegetable Stand

I thought Ebenezer Scrooge was cured if his stinginess and dislike of children. But apparently, he relapsed and got himself elected the mayor of Clayton, California.

That’s because Clayton mayor Gregory Manning shut down a vegetable stand run by 11-year-old Katie Lewis, and her 3-year-old sister, Sabrina.

According to a story on ABCNews.com, the two girls were selling homegrown watermelons for $1, and zucchini. A town official told Mike Lewis, Katie’s dad, that it was all right if the stand was open on the weekends. But after two (TWO!) residents called to ask if the stand was legal, Mayor Manning brought the long arm of the zoning law down on the two little girls who just wanted to sell healthy food to their neighbors.

(This is when you all go “awwwww.”)

Mike Lewis compared his daughters’ entrepreneurial efforts to a lemonade stand, which Mayor Manning says are also illegal. However, he says town officials overlook those, since they only last a day or two. But not Katie. She’s saving her vegetable money toward her college fund.

"I take it and once I've got about $20 to $30, I'll bring it to the bank and put it in my bank account for college," Katie told ABCNews.com.

But once Mayor Manning heard of the veggie stand from the two anonymous citizens, he sprang into action. “Two months later, a police officer was sent to the stand to tell the Lewises that the girls were violating zoning regulations that prohibit commercial activities in a residential area,” said the ABCNews.com story.

Two months? Okay, so maybe it’s not springing into action, but still he let the thing run for so long why both about it now?

Manning told ABC News, "I find that for every person who calls you or writes a letter, there are 100 that feel the same."

My guess is that he’s going to feel differently after he starts hearing from people on the other side of the fence. (What’s 100 times a crapload?)

In fact, why don’t you let him hear from you? The Clayton City Council has their own website, along with Gregory Manning’s email and phone number -- (925) 673-7316, if you don’t want to click through to Clayton City’s website.

(But PLEASE, do NOT be rude to Mayor Manning. While we may not agree with his decision, that’s no reason to be rude or crude. If you want to voice your opinion, at least be civil about it.)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Don't call Lucas Oil Stadium "The Luke"


Apparently, Forrest Lucas, founder/owner of Lucas Oil, hates it when you call Lucas Oil Stadium "The Luke." Lucas says we're giving free publicity to Russian rival Lukoil if we call it "The Luke."

Forrest, you've got to understand that while the media, the Colts, and city officials will always refer to it as Lucas Oil Stadium, fans will forego the six syllable moniker for something easier to say. Something that has, oh, two syllables. Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia is "The Linc," despite the gnashing of teeth from Lincoln Financial.

But I can get on board with it. I can refrain from calling it "The Luke" for, say, two seats in your luxury box at the Colts-Patriots game

At least PublishIt.com didn't buy the naming rights.


(Hat tip to Jennifer at the RTV6blogs.com, Indianapolis' ABC affiliate)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Swish-Whack Take That! Awards for 2008

Swish-Whack Take That! Awards for 2008
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

Swish-whack, take that!

Four years ago, during the 2004 Athens Olympics, I created the Swish-Whack awards to shine a little light on the Olympic sport of fencing. Since it gets no coverage on TV, but it's such a cool sport, I named it after the sound the foil makes when a point is scored, and give it to people who surprise and astound us.

I created the 2004 Swish-Whack, Take That! awards after America's Mariel Zagunis, then 19 years old, won America's first fencing gold medal in 100 years. NBC's coverage was so lame, they only showed her three points, and then skipped the national anthem. The entire coverage lasted for 30 seconds.

Fencing is one of the few Olympic sports that are actually based on real fighting and killing skills people needed centuries ago: fencing, archery, shooting, javelin, and race walking, to name a few. As I pointed out in 2004, all the other sports are based on transportations (rowing, running), recreation (volleyball, badminton), and human cruelty (gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics). Olympic fencing, on the other hand, is just one rubber safety tip away from running your opponent through the heart.

You can keep the foil and epee, which is just glorified poking. Give me the saber, which is more like pirate sword fighting than the knitting circle of French-style fencing. I love watching sabreists swinging away with hearty pirate laughs and cries of "Avast, ye scurvy dogs!" as they buckle their swashes and wear really cool pirate hats.

But Zagunis wasn't a fluke either. This year, she took another gold in the Individual Sabre, while teammates Sada Jacobson and Becca Ward took silver and bronze. The three American women then took bronze in the Team Sabre (which, I presume, involved storming other countries' ships and swinging from the rigging), and yet I heard nothing from NBC.

So, the first Swish-Whack award goes to NBC's own online video department. NBC has spent months and years insisting that online watching would cannibalize the TV viewers and send ratings into the basement faster than when Japanese men's gymnast Hiroyuki Tomita fell off the rings and thudded to the mat.

The Swish-Whack was delivered by Alan Wurtzel, NBC's own president of research, who countered that argument. "The Internet hardly cannibalizes; it actually fuels interest," he told reporters. His department found that 90 percent of their viewers watched the Olympics only on TV; the other 10 percent also used the Internet, cell phones, and cable video-on demand. Only two-tenths of one percent got their fix on the web and not from TV.

Unfortunately, online viewing hasn't helped viewers who want more than just swimming, gymnastics, and beach volleyball. They can't watch the events until after they're finished. In other words, the game you watch online today was taking place last night.

This year, NBC's coverage, also called The Michael Phelps Show, has not made any time to show many of the other sports, unless they're on USA Network, MSNBC, and CNBC. And then, cable coverage is only during the day, when everyone is at work. And they're still showing replays of what happened 12 hours earlier.

The Internet won't cannibalize viewers; NBC is barbecuing them just fine on their own.

The second Swish-Whack award goes to Tuvshinbayar Naidan of Mongolia, who just became a household name in his home country. That's because Naidan won Mongolia's first ever Olympic gold medal, doing it in 100-kilogram Judo, another sport that will apparently never sully American airwaves.

Naidan defeated Japan's Keiji Suzuki, 2004 Olympic champ, so badly that Suzuki is now considering retiring from the sport completely.

"I didn't do what I wanted to. I couldn't use any of my techniques. I have nothing left," Suzuki told Agence Presse-France. "If I step onto the tatami again, I may probably be thrown again."

Suzuki was defeated in the first round of competition, the round where the big champions always tower over the no-name underdogs, expecting to squash them like a bug. Naidan spanked Suzuki so soundly, every underdog around the world thought, "hey, maybe I can win too!"
In honor for making Mongolian sports history, I'm renaming Naidan's award the Flip-Splat, Take That!

The third Swish-Whack goes to America's James Blake, who did the unthinkable by defeating Switzerland's Roger Federer, the world's top tennis player. It was an astounding defeat, because Federer has long been considered the Tiger Woods of tennis. (Or is Tiger the Roger Federer of golf?)

Blake's stunning victory came in the quarterfinals of the men's tennis competition against a man who has ranked number one in the world since 2004

“I’ve played (Blake) on many occasions, but I think this was the best I’ve seen him,” Federer told reporters. “I’m happy for him. He’s a good guy. I hope he can go all the way now.”

"I'd lost to him eight, nine, 10, 50 times, I don't know how many, but I had the feeling it could be my day," said Blake.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I has a funny

I made this over at the lolcats I Can Has Cheezburger site, Pundit Kitchen. I don't know why, but it cracked me up way more than it should have. You can build your own lol pictures, and be a complete geek like me!




(Note: Avada Kedavra is the killing spell in Harry Potter.)

BlogIndiana blogging conference coming up -- and I'm speaking!

It’s nearly time! The BlogIndiana conference is coming up on Saturday, August 16 at IUPUI in Indianapolis. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, you can get a 15% discount if you use the code BLOGDISC in the online registration page. (Registration is $49)


I’m giving a session, Writing for Blogs, at 10:45 on Saturday. It’s all about how to write so your blogs are 1) easily read, and 2) easily found. Learn the 6 simple rules for writing well, how to measure your writing clarity, and a few rules for search engine writing.

Whether you’re a newbie blogger, a corporate blogger, or a big time pro who just wants to hear the shrieks of adoring fans, this is the place to be.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Paris Hilton Announces Candidacy for President

Paris for Prez
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2008

It was the snit heard 'round the world. The snarky, scantily-clad video response that got pundits tongues wagging about something other than politics, at least until their wives saw them.

Paris Hilton says she's running for President.

The vapid, blond heiress and star of "The Simple Life," announced her candidacy in a spoof video on FunnyOrDie.com. Hilton said she was running because that "wrinkly white-haired guy" – John McCain, for those of you emerging from under your rocks – used her image in a TV spot against his opponent, presumptive President of the United States, Barack Obama.

"Hey America, I'm Paris Hilton, and I'm a celebrity too," she said without a sense of irony or shame. "Only I'm not from the olden days, and I'm not promising change like that other guy. I'm just hot."

Oh man, this is really bad. I've always been a big supporter of third party candidates, but my one litmus test is whether they can even spell "candidate." And that they haven't starred in an Internet sex video/ I swear, if she wins, I'm moving to Canada with Alec Baldwin, unless he chickens out like he did last time. (Big wussy. The guy swore up and down he would move to Canada if George Bush became President, but we're stuck with him and his 17 brothers.) Still, I don't think she's got a real shot, so I'll probably be here for a while.

"But then that wrinkly white-haired guy used me in his campaign ad, which means I guess I'm running for President," she continued. Yeah, right. By that logic, since her boyfriend used her in that sex video, I guess that would make her a slut. . .

Uh oh, this is worse than I thought! Do they get the NFL in Canada? Can I get the Dish Network to work up there?

"So thanks for the endorsement, white-haired dude, and I want America to know I'm, like, totally ready to lead."

Oh good, as long as you're TOTALLY ready. I mean, we wouldn't want someone who was , like, only concerned about whether certain other world leaders are, like, hot, or whether the White House clashes with her outfits. She'll probably appoint Extreme Makerover's Ty Pennington the Secretary of the Department of the Interior to make sure.

"I'll see you at the White House," she concluded. "Oh, and I might paint it pink."

Looks like I've got a tough decision to make. Do I go for the big city or the small town? I've been to Toronto, and it's a nice city with a strong arts community. But if I lived in a smaller town, I'd be closer to nature and some really good fishing. Dryden, Ontario is gorgeous in the summer.

But even as I pace the floor and gnaw on my fingernails, I have to admit, her energy policy made some sense.

"We can do limited offshore drilling with strict environmental oversight, while creating tax incentives to get Detroit making hybrid and electric cars. That way, offshore drilling carries us until the new technologies kick in, which will create new jobs and energy independence. Energy crisis solved. I'll see you at the debates, bitches."

But then she, like, totally shot herself in the foot when she said she was considering Rihanna, the R&B artist, as her vice presidential nominee.

Come on! Rihanna?! Are you kidding me? Everyone knows she doesn't have the foreign affairs experience needed to re-establish the U.S. as a world leader. Plus, she was born in Barbados, so she's not a natural-born American citizen, which means she can't take on that role.

While some people would say Britney Spears, Hilton's fellow celeb and John McCain commercial target, is the emotional favorite, I think Cameron Diaz is the better choice. She can shore up the Hispanic vote and improve relations with Latin America. Of course, you'll also need Ashton Kutcher to head up the Department of Homeland Security (Hey Iran, you've been PUNK'D!). And what do you think of Scarlett Johansen as the Secretary of State. . .?

Uh, excuse me. I don't know what came over me. If anything, I'm worrying too much about something that will never happen. Hilton is only 27, eight years too young to run for president, which means I don't have to worry about a global disaster for eight more years. But with her sordid past, I doubt she could even be elected dog catcher of Putnam County.

Besides, I'm hoping Lindsey Lohan will be out of rehab and ready to run for Senate by 2016.