Monday, December 28, 2009

Colts Complainers Are Nothing More Than Fair-Weather Fans

So many people were pissed off yesterday about the Indianapolis Colts loss that 2nd string QB Curtis Painter was one of Twitter's top trending topics.

For those of you who missed the game, head coach Jim Caldwell pulled the starters after the first half and put in the 2nd string players.

They promptly lost to the New York Jets, 29 - 15.

The Colts were on the verge of achieving a perfect season, and they lost it with their 2nd team. To the freaking New York Jets, a team so bad that, you know what, make your own "sucks out loud" joke. We should have won, we should have had the perfect season, and we certainly should have beat the New York "What're YOU Lookin' Ats?!"

But frankly, I don't care. It didn't matter. This was a meaningless game, and I don't care if we got a perfect record.

But I'm in the minority. So much so, that some of the other Twitter trending topics were probably "f---ing #Colts" and "f---ing Caldwell."

After the game, I tweeted The #Colts fair weather fans who are cursing the team for losing: You're not allowed to be pro-Colts during the playoffs.

Surprisingly, this didn't raise a lot of hackles. I got a few responses from people who said, "I'm not a fair weather fan. I'm just disappointed/frustrated/annoyed."

Now, I'm not pointing fingers at people who were upset. I don't mind complainers or people who are frustrated that the Colts didn't make their perfect season. I have no problem with people who hated the loss or are disappointed that the Colts won't go 16 – 0 this season. I'm one of them.

This post is not about you.

But the people who were angry — absolutely foaming-at-the-mouth pissed — that Caldwell pulled the starters, were merciless that the Colts lost a game, are not true fans.

They're whining on the fan forums that Caldwell should be fired, that Bill Polian is an idiot for hiring him, and Saint Dungy would have never, ever rested his starters for the last few weeks of the season. (Actually, he did it in 2005 and 2006.)

They're nothing more than fair weather fans.

Look, people, we're 23 – 1. We haven't lost a game since last year. We're first in the division, and we've got the home field advantage. We can lose this game and the next one, and it won't mean a thing.

I've been a Colts fan since they showed up here in 1984. I cheered for them when they were 1 – 15 in 1991, and 4 - 12 in 1992. When they could only manage a 9 – 6 field goal wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and the... wait for it... New York Jets. I cheered for them when I couldn't see the games on TV, but had to listen to them on a staticky AM radio station out of Fort Wayne. I cheered for them when Bob Lamey's only game highlights were a Dean Biasucci field goal or an Eric Dickerson first down.

If you're angry about a single loss, grow up. This team is not about you. You're not a player. You're not a coach. You have no clue what's going on in the minds of the coaches, or why they make their decisions. I don't either, but I at least recognize that fact. I assume the coaches are making the best decisions they can.

Tony Dungy said on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" broadcast, "They can't play for everybody else. They have to get ready for the playoffs. You have an obligation to win a Super Bowl, not to go undefeated."

So, if you're so angry about the fact that the Colts didn't want to risk injuring Peyton Manning or Dallas Clark, vent away. If you think the Colts should give refunds to players, because "Coach Quitwell" phoned it in in the second half, you're entitled to your own misguided opinion.

Just keep in mind you're not a pro player, you're not a pro coach, you've never taken a professional snap. You're a second-string Monday morning quarterback whose football insights probably came from John Clayton, an ESPN football analyst who was probably the backup "manager" for his high school football team. You truly have no clue as to what the coaches should or should not have done.

But you're probably also the first people who would have whined that Coach Caldwell should have pulled the starters if Peyton Manning broke a bone in his throwing hand playing in the 4th quarter of "an unnecessary game."

You're failing to see the big picture: the Colts need to stay healthy so they can make it through the playoffs. The Colts can't risk an injury to their star players just so a bunch of fans with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement can claim support of a team they probably didn't support when the times were lean. Fans who were nowhere to be found when Jeff George couldn't make a first down pass during halftime.

So, if you bitched and whined that the Colts gave up or that Coach Caldwell should be fired, you're nothing more than fair-weather fans. You're not allowed to cheer for the Colts in the playoffs. If they disappointed you that much Sunday afternoon, the real fans don't want you. We don't need you. Go cheer for the Bengals or the Chargers.

Because with fans like you, who needs the Patriots?

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Friday, December 25, 2009

A One-Sided Christmas Tree

A One-Sided Christmas Tree
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

"No, I don't want an artificial tree this year."

"Because we had an artificial tree for 14 years."

"We didn't have the room for it, that's why. We stored it in a giant tub, and we couldn't fit it in the garage last year. It had to go."

"I want a real tree again this year. We had them when I was a kid. And I missed the smell and look of a real tree the whole time we had that plastic piece of crap."

"I liked last year's tree a lot. It was real, and a whole lot nicer than our fake one."

"That's because it was a small tree, and we've got some heavy ornaments."

"Nothing important broke."

"Neither of us liked that one anyway. Who makes plaster of Paris ornaments anymore?"

"But you didn't like your great-aunt Greta."

"I'll make sure we get a stronger tree this time."

"It was weak because it was a small tree."

"Because it was the last one at the supermarket. Supermarket trees aren't real great anyway."

"It was so little. It needed me."

"I am not Charlie Brown!"

"I just like to root for the underdog is all."

"Well, if no one had bought that tree, it would have just ended up in the mulcher and on some garden, never having presents put under it, or making little children happy."

"I am not!"

"The wind blew something in my eye."

"Fine, I'll pick one out myself."

"No, I need you to hold the rope while I tie the knots."

"The carry-out guys are useless. Last year, that kid just stood around and watched me tie everything down myself."

"I know, but what sort of help was he giving just standing there? Why didn't he just go back inside?"

"It really was the wind that blew something in my eye."

"Because I'm tired of artificial trees."

"They're plastic, impersonal, and soulless. Sort of like our last neighbors."

"No, Cassie was never friendly. That was Botox. Her face just froze that way."

"Well, she never liked me. She was spindly and prickly. I swear, if she had stood still long enough, the kids would have hung ornaments on her. And I would have stuck the angel—"

"They can't hear me, they're watching a movie."

"Come on, we'll get a Douglas fir this year. It'll be better."

"Last year's was a Scotch pine. I think that was part of the problem."

"I read an article that said Douglas firs are much stronger and hold the ornaments better. Scotch pines aren't as strong as Douglas firs."

"We've been over this. Because they're environmentally friendly, they're grown specifically for Christmas tree use, and they don't have a carbon footprint."

"Of course they're prickly. Those are real pine needles. They're supposed to be prickly."

"So don't vacuum them up. Pick them up by hand."

"Then get the kids to do it. Tell them Santa did it leaving their gifts."

"We'll put the big paint cloth down first."

"Because the artificial tree gave me a rash on my hands. I hated bending all those branches when we set it up. The only thing worse was taking it down again."

"Besides, I read somewhere that we would need to own an artificial tree for 14 years before there were actually any environmental benefits from it."

"We kept our last artificial tree for 10 years, and you thought it started looking shabby. That's why we got rid of it."

"You didn't? I thought you did. You said it was looking kind of pathetic. You said it looked like someone had stuck a bunch of green pipe cleaners on a stick, and it was looking kind of thin on top."

"We didn't know Cassie then."

"Look, let's just try another real tree this year, and we'll make sure we get a good one. You'll see. They smell good, and they'll remind you of your childhood."

"Thank you. You won't be disappointed."

"I really wasn't. I swear, it was the wind."

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Video Submission to Mr. Hollic's Video Contest

This is my submission to Sean "that's Mr. Hollick to you" Hollick's video contest. If he chooses my video, I could win an awesome new Kodak digital camera.

I posted it here so I wouldn't have to write anything for today's humor post.

It would have been easier to just write the post.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: I Don't Beleive in the Little Drummer Boy

I Don't Believe In The Little Drummer Boy

Erik Deckers

Rather than writing a new post, on Wednesdays I republish some of my old columns. Since it's 2 days before Christmas, I'm publishing one of my favorite Christmas columns, my complaint about the song, "The Little Drummer Boy."

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

To get myself into the Christmas spirit, I listen to Christmas music. I hit the department stores around August to hear "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bell Rock." But it's a wonder most sales clerks don't go postal on their customers by mid-November.

I love the classics -- "Jingle Bells," "Silent Night" or the Sex Pistols' "Have Yourself a Merry $%@&! Christmas." But the new songs are awful, and I've been known to run my radio through with a pitchfork whenever I hear them.

One of my least favorite Christmas songs ever is Bruce Springsteen's "Santa Claus is Coming To Town." It's nothing but 20 minutes of Bruce singing "Santa Claus is coming to town" over and over. And over. By the time Bruce has finished with his Yuletide droning, Santa is back home, slamming Upside-Down Margaritas with the elves.

But that's nothing compared to the worst Christmas song ever, the song that makes me want to sleep straight to Easter: "The Little Drummer Boy." Not only do they sing the same phrase over and over -- pa-rum pum pum pum -- but the song isn't that believable.

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

First of all, drums do not go "pa-rum pum pum pum." As any parent of a child with a toy drum knows, a drum is a loud percussive instrument. They do not make pleasant little melodies sung by children's choirs. They make headaches. Drums go "KA-WHAM WHAP WHAP WHAP!"

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! That kid is just going to pound a drum. Somebody stop him!"

Giving the gift of music is a very noble sentiment, because it comes from the heart. And most importantly, it's the thought that counts, unless you really wanted that big screen high-definition TV instead. But when your newborn baby has finally gone to sleep after screaming for 6 hours because his bed is made of straw and smells like cow poo, do you really want someone going "ka-wham whap whap whap!" at him?

And what about Mary? What did she do? According to the song, she just nodded -- pa-rum pum pum pum -- listened attentively, and smiled quietly to herself. Not being a mother, 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 then spent the last 36 hours in labor, you wouldn't want some snot-nosed kid showing up to beat a drum at you. The song would be more accurate if it said "Mary leapt off her stool and chased the little brat away, pa-rum pum pum pum. "

Don't forget the ox and lambs that kept time -- pa-rum pum pum pum. Not likely. Oxen are tone deaf and lambs don't have a well-developed sense of rhythm. Besides, the drum in question was probably made out of oxen or lambskin, so they probably would not have appreciated the cosmic coincidence of the situation.

"Then He smiled at me" (pa-rum pum pum pum). I have an easier time believing the ox and lambs doffed top hats and did "Puttin' On the Ritz." How would you feel if you had been removed from a nice warm womb and stuck in a bed of itchy, smelly straw when some jerk beats a drum at you?

Here's a test. Go find a newborn baby and start pa-rum pum pum pumming on a pot with a couple of wooden spoons. If he smiles at that, he's colicky.

I'm all for the magic and wonder of Christmas. But I know mothers. And I know babies. And I know that mothers don't want anyone pounding drums around with their babies.

Gift of music or not, beating 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 are probably pushing that limit.

If the kid really wanted to be helpful, he should have given her something useful, like a set of earplugs or a gift certificate for the local day spa.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

British Health & Safety Officials Cancel Reindeer Appearance Over Concern of Snow

The Grinch is alive and well, and working as a health and safety officer in East Midlands, Britain.

These geniuses of biology seem to not understand basic animal physiology or how they work.

According to the London Daily Mail, they canceled an appearance of 12 reindeer for a Christmas display, "because it might snow."

The reindeer were supposed to parade around the town square, but the officers were worried that the reindeer — natives of the Arctic Circle, you know, where it snows a lot – might slip on the snow and ice. There were several hundred shoppers who showed up to watch the parade, but the morons officials canceled the show just three hours before the parade was supposed to start.

The officials said they were concerned about the risk of falling to pedestrians, but didn't make any changes to the street.

"The council said there was a risk of snow and ice to pedestrians but with or without the reindeer the streets were still icy. None of the town centre was cordoned off. It just made no sense," Malcolm Lever-Jones, spokesman for the area merchants told the Daily Mail.

Lever-Jones said the cancellation may cost as much as £10,000 ($16,000).

Guess the health and safety officials don't know much about finance either. Canceling a £10,000 parade that is supposed to bring in hundreds of shoppers spending thousands of pounds will not stimulate the local economy very well either.

So who's going to keep England safe from the health and safety inspectors? If only there were some sort of benevolent gift giver who could make an appearance at this time of year, and grant all of England one really big, great-for-the-country wish.

Unfortunately, he won't be making an appearance in England any time soon, since his reindeer aren't allowed to run on England's streets.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Greek Man Shot While Hunting Because He Was Dressed Like Animal

I've always thought hunting wasn't very sporting, at least the way most serious hunters do it. They sit up in tree stands, wearing cammo, and spraying themselves with deer urine to hide their scent. Meanwhile a deer just meanders along unaware of the danger and — BANG! — they're dead before they even knew it. Throw in a barrel and some fish, and you can make a day of it.

Hunting should give the animals a sporting chance. It shouldn't just be about a guy up in a sniper's stand; the hunters should be moving around on the ground, which would level the playing field for the deer quite a bit.

However, the hunters should never, ever wear deer skins as a form of camoflauge.

Christos Constantinou of Nemea, Greece found that out the hard way, when he was shot during a boar hunt. He was wearing dark goat skins to confuse the boars.

It confused his hunting party too.

According to an article in the London Daily Mail, Constantinou was part of a large hunting group that had split up in pairs when they mistook him for an animal and shot him.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: The WTF Blanket (Snuggie Parody)

I've been tired of the Snuggie commercials ever since I saw them. If someone doesn't have the mental wherewithal to manage the subtle intricacies of putting on a blanket, they deserve to be stuck with the backward bathrobe.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Top 10 Phrases to Eliminate From Business

Top 10 Phrases to Eliminate From Business

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

As a writer, I don't like trite phrases, marketing jargon, or clichés. So I was pleased to see a piece by Frances Cole Jones on talking about her 10 worst business sayings.

In my work as a marketer, I hear a lot of these phrases a lot, and I really want to see these eliminated from business use completely. I love Jones' list, and want to do my best to make sure her choices are struck from daily usage.

I'm glad she's taking this stance against appalling language. I'm definitely on her side on this, because she has managed to pick most of my pet peeves.

Apparently the language "crisis" is becoming "urgent" to language mavens like Jones. At least it would be, if she didn't say "urgent" and "its frequent companion 'crisis'" need to be eliminated.
I am asked a lot of questions about blogging and social media. People who want to start doing this always ask if they can "pick my brain." As if my knowledge is some intellectual booger that can be harvested with a probing finger. I don't mind it, usually only asking for lunch or a latte in return, but still, keep your fingers out of my skull.

The problem is that I'm giving this advice for free, even though consultants can charge $100 an hour for the same advice. I have found that if someone pays for the information, they make sure to use it. But if they get it for free, they don't follow the recommendations. That's because they don't have any skin in the game, any "sweat equity." And now they really can't, since Jones wants to get rid of that phrase too.

Real sweat equity is the labor home owners put into their own house, rather than hiring someone else to do it. In business, sweat equity is when someone works for free, since the company can't afford to pay them. But when they do have money, they contractor will get sweat equity.

Double secret promise you will!

And after the sweat equity rip-off — I mean, offer — is made, the "ball is in your court" as to whether you want to accept it. Except Jones is taking her ball and going home. She says we use this phrase "to let others know you've reached your limit with regard to handling a situation." In other words, when I've done all I can, the ball is in your court and it's up to you to take the next step. I can't do anything until you return the ball.

That's when I gather up all my options and "throw them against the wall (to) see what sticks." Although it refers to taking a bunch of ideas and seeing which ones are any good, I have actually used this technique in determining the doneness of pasta ever since college.

Just take a noodle from the boiling water, and throw it against the wall. If it sticks, it's done. If it doesn't, your wife will be angry with you. It actually works pretty well, just so long as you remember to clean the noodles from behind the stove.

Still, Jones, and my wife, won't let me use the phrase, or the technique, anymore.

But "I, personally," still like the term, even if I can't go flinging spaghetti all over the kitchen. Except Jones, personally, hates "I, personally," so I have to get rid of that too. It's redundant. After all, if I'm talking about my opinion, it's already personal, so there's no reason to use it again.

It's like the phrase "really unique," "quite unique," or "truly unique," all of which have been given the chop. Things are unique, or they're not. Unique means "one of a kind." Things can't be "really one of a kind." That's truly redundant.

We just need to eliminate this kind of speech from our everyday usage. It's becoming tedious and clichéd. It's ruining our language. We used to be a fairly literate, well-spoken society, but we seem to be killing it slowly with these buzzwords. I'd like to think we could eliminate the problem altogether, but our "past history" tells me otherwise. And now Frances Cole Jones says we can't say "past history" either, because it's also redundant.

But I don't see what's so hard about fixing our language. It's just a matter of taking the really annoying corporate buzzword jargon that people use to sound cool (it's not working, by the way), and eliminating it from daily use.

I mean, it's not "rocket science. . ."

Uh oh.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: Shopping Daycare for Guys

Shopping Daycare for Guys

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004

On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. This one is from December 2004.

You know, sometimes you just have to envy England. Not only are they famous for their warm, sunny climate -- oh wait, sorry. . . Not only are they renowned for their superb gourmet food like black pudding or -- um, sorry. Let me try again. . . Not only are they known for their exciting spectator sports like Cricket and Lawn Bowling -- dangit!

Okay, here it is. England is known for its shopping. That's all, just shopping (and the Queen). Anyone who knows anything about English retail knows that Harrod's is the best place to shop.

Harrod's is a huge world famous department store on Brompton Road in London, and it's known for its quality and selection. Think of Neiman-Marcus but without all the pretentious snottiness -- crap!. . .

So Harrod's management was probably a little disappointed to find out that competing store Marks and Spencer has finally figured out a way to get men to willingly come into their stores.

According to a story in The (Glasgow) Herald, the department store chain unveiled new playpens -- also called a creche, which is British for "playpen" -- for men in six of its stores in England, Scotland, and Wales. The creches are designed to entertain men while their wives and girlfriends spend the day shopping.

They have electric slot-car racing track, remote control bikes, and walkie-talkies. They also have sofas and televisions with videos like "The Best of Monty Python" and "Football's Greatest Ever Matches." However, "football" is really soccer, not American football. But you take what you can get.

There were a few important items missing, like me, for instance. I could easily spend hours in a place like this, while my wife battles the rampaging hordes of shoppers. When we go shopping, we usually split up and I spend most of my time at the bookstore. However, as nice as bookstores are, they just don't have electric slot-car racing or sofas and sofas. At least not the ones I visit.

We need these shopping daycare rooms for men -- Guys actually -- in this country. And we need to add a few things to make it complete. So if I am ever asked to design a men's creche (pronounced kresh), there are a few crucial items that I would add.

Beer - Not just any old beer though. My rule is that if it appears on the sides of race cars, has the word "Lite" in it, or is enjoyed in large quantities by people named "Billy Ray," I don't drink it. I want hearty, manly beers with flavor. Hearty, manly flavor. Some Guy wannabes think that drinking beer that rhymes with Spud or Swiller Lite makes them manly.

That is wrong. Drinking beer that is thick, heavy, and takes longer than a bottle of ketchup to pour is manly. Drinking watered-down water is not manly. So, my shopping creche must contain good beer. Anyone who asks for those others will be immediately thrown out.

Satellite dish - I don't want a satellite dish that gets every station. I only want one that gets Guy stations. That means no Home Shopping Network, no E! Entertainment Television, and certainly no Lifetime Network ("the network for women who hate men"). This satellite dish would only get woodworking shows, home improvement shows, and football. And if football wasn't on, there would be DVDs of every pro and college game. I would also allow basketball, unless NFL Europe was on.

A "No Children Allowed" sign - Don't get me wrong, I love my children. Other men love their children too. But if our kids come, then we have to actually watch them and make sure they don't break anything. This could cause us to miss the biggest play of the game. Or spill our beer. So instead, they would have their own creche, much like this one, but without the beer.

Food - This should probably be at the top of the list, but beer and TV are a little more important. Man does not live by bread alone, which is why God created TV and beer, which is like bread, but only runnier. But instead of plain bread, we would also have pizzas, sandwiches, and steaks. We would also have a nearly-empty platter of vegetables, so if our wives came in, they'll think we've been eating healthy.

Laptops and wireless Internet access - Very useful for shopping online for your wife/girlfriend while they're out in the mall. It's also useful for checking your email, looking up the stats on your favorite football team, or Instant Messaging the guy on the other end of the couch to hand you a beer.

Dozens of roses - Let's face it, Guys, you're going to be in a heap of trouble when your wife realizes how much fun you've been having in here, while she's been out there, fighting the crowds and buying Christmas presents for your family. Grab a dozen roses on your way out to show her how much you love her, and how important she is. And tell her that -- *sigh* -- if you have to, you could probably come back again next week.

Kickoff is at 1:00.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

British School Student Suspended for "Dealing" Potato Chips in School

Joel Bradley is in big trouble at school. He was suspended for a day selling black market contraband.

A packet of potato chips (also called "crisps" in England).

According to an article in the Liverpool, Joel sold the chips — Discos — for 50p ($.80) He would often earn £15 ($24.50) per day doing it.

This was the second time Joel had been caught, so he was suspended from Liverpool's Cardinal Heenan High School. Because nothing helps a kid's education better than removing him from school.

Of course, by only suspending Joel for a day sends a message to all the other kids about the easiest way to get a school-sanctioned one-day vacation.

The last time Joel was caught, the school stole confiscated £20 from the budding entrepreneur.

"I think the school has made a beeline for him because of what I've done," his father, Joe, told the Liverpool Echo.

Joe Bradley said he had been caught selling soda, candy bars, and chips he had bought from Iceland, from a van outside the school. According to the Echo, Bradley was sent away by the school "with a flea in his ear." Bradley said he decided not to continue, because he would have needed a license to sell from his van.

However, Dave Forshaw, the school's headmaster, reminded everyone the school had banned all junk food, and were a healthy school.

"If parents are not happy then they are perfectly free to take their children to a school that allows pupils to sell these things and allows a father to sell them outside on the pavement," Forshaw said. He then took his ball and went home.

According to Forshaw, they catch students about three or four times a week selling the verboten food,

"We have six to seven regular sellers we pinpoint," said Forshaw.

Sounds like culinary profiling to me.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: Cup Of Brown Joy - Elemental

Man, there's a video for everything on YouTube. There's one for Tennent's Lager from England, there's an old 60 second long Tootsie Pop commercial from 1969, and here's a hip hop video about tea.

"When I say Earl Grey, you say yes please."

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

British Schools Don't Challenge Top Students Because They Don't Want to Promote Elitism

British schools are failing their smartest students, by dumbing them down, and refusing to give them more challenging assignments.

An Ofsted study that was released this week said as many as 75% of the state schools are not pushing their brightest students, because the teachers are afraid they are promoting "elitism."

An article in the London Daily Mail said that "(m)any teachers are not convinced of the importance of providing more challenging tasks for their gifted and talented pupils."

It's gotten so bad, said the report, that some some students have been forced to ask for more challenging assignments, and other students resented being forced to mentor weaker students.

The report studied 26 schools, and said the gifted students were not considered a priority by teachers or administrators. Teachers were afraid that by focusing on the brightest pupils, instead of the average ones would "undermine the school's efforts to improve the attainment and progress of all other groups of pupils."

In other words, the needs of the mediocre outweigh the needs of the advanced.

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Friday, December 11, 2009

How I Get Most of My Column Ideas

How I Get Most of My Column Ideas

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

"I need a topic to write about," said Karl the Curmudgeon, plonking his beer on the bar, and picking up a pen. He held it over a small notebook, ready to write down whatever I said.

How about European agrarian societies in the Middle Ages? I asked.

"Seriously, Kid," Karl scowled. We were sitting in Rhys Cadwaladr's, a Welsh bar named after the Welsh poet and scholar. We were there to see the finals of the Rounders (Welsh baseball) Premier championship between Grange Albion and Grange Catholic.

I wiped the smile from my face, lowered my voice, and tried again. One of the greatest achievements of European agrarian societies in the Middle Ages was the advent of the single family farm.

"Shut it, Kid," Karl said. "I meant, be serious."

Why, what are you working on?

"I need something to write about for my blog." I stared, open-mouthed, at Karl. He took a drink of his beer, and re-plonked it on the bar, daring me to make fun of him.

Your blog?

"Yes, my blog. You're not the only one who can have his own blog around here."

I realize that.

"So why are you staring at me with your yapper dragging the bar?"

Because six months ago, you thought a blog was something a blumberjack cut down in the forest.

Karl was silent for a minute, as he took a long pull on his beer. I could tell his feelings were hurt, because he's never silent for this long unless he's thinking or pouting.

Oh jeez, Karl. I was just kidding. Don't be such a baby.

"Fine. So help me come up with a topic."

Service hamsters.

"What the hell is a service hamster?"

I don't know. My daughter came up with the idea last week. She said I should write about service hamsters. But I'm not going to do anything with it, so it's all yours.

"Is there even such a thing?"

No, but you asked for a topic.

"I meant a good topic."

You could write about your kids.

"My kids are all grown up and have families of their own."


"No, I get bored reading about other people's kids. I don't need to inflict my family on others."

I write about my kids all the time. Karl stared at me blankly. You could always write about this conversation, I said.

"That's stupid," Karl grumbled. "No one would read that."

I hope you're wrong, I said under my breath.

"What's that?"

Nothing, I said from behind my beer. So how do you usually find your topics to write about?

"I read the newspapers, listen to the radio, or just find stuff online that really grinds my gears. Then I rant on about that for several minutes, until I run out of steam."

Eww. Don't you ever get bored of that? I mean, you're just being reactionary, and not coming up with anything new. You're giving your opinion about something someone else has created, but not actually adding anything new to the idea. What separates you from someone on the radio who shouts into his microphone about the political soup of the day?

"Well, actually—"

I mean, if all you do is the automatic, knee-jerk, nay-saying about something another politician says, you're not actually contributing anything of value. If the government says up, you say down. If they say more, you say less. It's a pretty pathetic excuse for any kind of journalistic career.

"But I don't—"

How unimaginative and dull-witted do you have to be to base your entire career on 'I know you are, but what am I?' Honestly, where's the challenge in that? That's not journalism, that's childish retorts and playground taunting.

I paused for a breath, getting ready to shift into overdrive. Karl plonked his beer loudly, derailing my train of thought.

"Kid, do you even read my blog?"

(Uh oh.) Um, sure. . . all the time?

"Thought so. You have no idea what I write about at all, do you?"

I sipped thoughtfully at my beer for a moment. Well, no. What do you write about?

"Organic gardening."

I snorted a laugh into my beer. Yeah, right.

Karl looked a little hurt. "No, really."

I don't believe you. You're a man's man. You're probably writing about whiskey, or cigars, or killing grizzlies with your bare hands.

"Seriously, I blog about organic gardening."

I stared, open-mouthed, at him again. You realize they'll take away your man card for this.

"Oh yeah? My blog actually helps feed people healthy foods. You, on the other hand, write about service hamsters and stupid conversations you have with your friends about inane topics that make you look oh-so smart."

Ooh, thanks Karl. I was stuck for a topic idea.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Another Florida Food-Related Assault: I Accuse Mrs. Plum in the Kitchen With the Steak

Another Florida food-related attack just days after another hamburger-to-the-face attack in Port St. Lucie. This one was in Dunnellon, Florida, which is west of Ocala.

Elsie Egan was arrested for allegedly slapping her boyfriend, Peter Schabhuttl, in the head several times with a raw steak. It was a tenderizer moment for both of them.

Schabhuttl is 49 years old, disabled, speaks with an electronic voicebox, and is terminally ill with cancer. Egan was arguing with Schabhuttl about the bread he wanted to eat at dinner. He wanted a roll, she wanted him to eat sliced bread. (I'm sure there's a joke in here about "best thing since sliced bread," but it's 1:00 am, I'm watching Craig Ferguson, and I can't come up with anything.)

That's when things got all steaky.

Marion County Sheriff's Deputy Carmen Gallup wrote in her report that when Schabhuttl refused to eat the sliced bread, Egan "attacked him with the steak."

While Egan denied she smacked him with the steak, she did say she slapped him several times "so that he can learn."

The guy is nearly half a century old, he's going to die soon, and he just wanted a damn roll. What is there to learn? He's not a puppy who just piddled on the kitchen floor. He's a grown-up. I think he can take a break from learning.

I hope the Marion County Sheriff's Department can teach Egan a lesson while she's their guest.

This makes the 9th food-related assault in Florida in 13 months.

View Florida Food-Related Assaults in a larger map

Past food-related assault articles:

  1. Food-Related Assault: Man Jailed for Smashing Hamburger in Wife's Face. Yeah, it's Florida

  2. Food-Related Assault Frame-up in Florida. Yeah, Florida again. (Largo, FL)

  3. Food-Related Assault Epidemic Spreads to Idaho, Condiments (Boise, Idaho)

  4. Food-Related Assault Epidemic Continues. Yes, It's In Florida (Hernando Beach)

  5. Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Iowa, Man Attacks Girlfriend with Pizza (Des Moines, Iowa)

  6. Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Philadelphia, Man Assaults Girlfriend With Meatball Sub (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

  7. Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Illinois, Man Throws Defective McGriddle at McD's Employee (Peoria, Illinois)

  8. Two More Food Attacks in Florida (Deltona & St. Petersburg)

  9. Third Sandwich Attack in Florida (Port St. Lucie)

  10. Assault with a Burger, Food Related Assaults on the Rise (Details TWO food-related attacks in Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach)

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Food-Related Assault: Man Jailed for Smashing Hamburger in Wife's Face. Yeah, it's Florida

Another Florida man was jailed on Monday for smashing a hamburger in his wife's face following an argument.

Regular readers of the Laughing Stalk column will no doubt recognize that this makes at least the 9th food-related assault in a year, and the 12th in the last 13 months.

More staggering however, is that its the fifth food-related attack from Florida, and the third in Port St. Lucie in less than a year.

According to the story on the WTSP website, Daniel Boss, 25, began arguing this past Thursday night, and started calling each other names. Then, Mrs. Boss poured pop on Boss' burger, so he rubbed it on her face and started throwing food at her.

Boss then left, and his wife reported the attack to the police. He was arrested three hours later on a misdemeanor domestic battery charge.

This is getting serious, people. This is the 8th food-related assault in Florida alone. And while we've seen a few copycat crimes in Iowa, Illinois, and Idaho (something else to give us pause. . .), ground zero of the food-related attacks seems to be that central band of Florida. Check it out for yourself.

View Florida Food-Related Assaults in a larger map

Past food-related assault articles:

  1. Food-Related Assault Frame-up in Florida. Yeah, Florida again. (Largo, FL)

  2. Food-Related Assault Epidemic Spreads to Idaho, Condiments (Boise, Idaho)

  3. Food-Related Assault Epidemic Continues. Yes, It's In Florida (Hernando Beach)

  4. Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Iowa, Man Attacks Girlfriend with Pizza (Des Moines, Iowa)

  5. Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Philadelphia, Man Assaults Girlfriend With Meatball Sub (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

  6. Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Illinois, Man Throws Defective McGriddle at McD's Employee (Peoria, Illinois)

  7. Two More Food Attacks in Florida (Deltona & St. Petersburg)

  8. Third Sandwich Attack in Florida (Port St. Lucie)

  9. Assault with a Burger, Food Related Assaults on the Rise (Details TWO food-related attacks in Port St. Lucie and Vero Beach)

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Monday, December 07, 2009

British Train Service Won't Sell Sandwiches Because Passengers Might Choke to Death

I think sometimes the British use "health and safety" as an excuse for their laziness. That's the only reason I can think of for a First Great Western train steward refusing to sell a passenger an egg sandwich.

He said he was afraid the passenger might choke on it.

According to a story in the London Daily Mail, passenger Chris Haynes went to the dining car after the train broke down. The crew had promised everyone a free soft drink.

Haynes was feeling a little peckish (that's British for "hungry"), and he saw some egg sandwiches that were on sale behind the bar, so he ordered one.

That's when the steward saved Haynes life, and told him he couldn't sell him a sandwich because Haynes might choke on it.

"When I asked the man why not he said it was for health and safety reasons," Haynes told the Daily Mail. "I told him I didn't understand how health and safety came into selling a hungry stranded passenger an egg sandwich on a broken-down train."

Just when Haynes thought it wasn't possible for the situation to get any stupider, it did.

Haynes asked for an explanation, and was given one.

"Don't you see?" the steward told Haynes. "If the train has to be evacuated you could choke to death on the sandwich."

So, the First Great Western wasn't too worried about people inhaling their free soft drinks and aspirating on it? They weren't worried about someone choking on an ice cube?

The general rule of thumb is that if a guy is 59 years old, like Haynes, you can safely assume he knows how to eat a friggin' sandwich. Sell him the stupid sandwich and hope that someone in the crowd remembers the Heimlich maneuver. Or that if you have to evacuate the train, he'll have the common sense to stop eating while he flees the wreckage.

Don't be such a nanny, and stop trying to live people's lives for them.

Photo: Missbhavin
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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: "Rock Band" Yoko Ono

I'm pretty sure this is how it happened for the real Beatles too. Only they didn't have Call of Duty to console themselves.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

What is a Christian Side Hug? Does it Hurt?

People have been staring at their computers in an open-mouthed gape, at the latest Internet video, the Christian Side Hug.

I've got three words for this: WTF?

Is this a real thing, or a very clever satire? Part of me — a really big part of me — hopes it's just a joke, and that I, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, have been tricked.

  • Nothing makes kids want to do something faster than telling them not to. Tell kids WHY they shouldn't "front hug" and they'll want to do it more.

  • There are several lines, as well as sound effects, that really make this video seem violent. That is, why are they all getting shot at the end of the video? The message is "hugging is not okay with Jesus, shooting huggers is."

  • These guys can't rap.

Update: It turns out, this really IS a joke. Steve Johnson at the Chicago Tribune writes that this is self-deprecating of the real Christian side hug, which some Christians really do practice.

Johnson says "even some in the Christian community greet the concept with, well, a side hug."

"It's not a mockery of the faith," Ryan Pann said. "It's a mockery of the act of the Christian side hug."

Nice one. You guys had me fooled.

(Thanks to my friend Dave Kellogg for alerting me to the joke.)
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Friday, December 04, 2009

Canadian Man Sues Over His Service "Dog"

Canadian Man Sues Over His Service "Dog"

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

Note: This column originally appeared as a blog post. However, the story deserved to be shared on a larger scale, so I deleted the old version, expanded this one to 750+ words, and sent it out to my regular syndication network.

Believe it or not, there's a controversy brewing within the blindness community about service dogs (also called Leader Dogs, Guide Dogs, Seeing Eye Dogs, and Pilot Dogs — named after the school where they're trained). One organization, the American Council of the Blind, loves them. They believe service dogs are a valuable help to people who are blind or visually impaired.

The National Federation of the Blind, on the other hand, doesn't approve of them. They believe blind people should be totally independent and not need any help from anyone, including dogs.

However, both organizations agree that service dogs need to be rather large, solid, and smart dogs able to obey commands. So most tend to be German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, or Labradors.

Needless to say, chihuahuas don't make good service dogs.

Unless you're Alex Allarie of Ontario, Canada.

In a story on the CBC News website, Allarie has filed a suit against the former owners of the Granary Natural Foods because he says they discriminated against him and his disability, by not allowing his service dog in the store.

His service dog is a chihuahua.

While I'm not entirely convinced a chihuahua is a real dog to begin with, I'm even less convinced it's a real service dog.

Before anyone sends me nasty emails about how I'm the worst person in the world, I DO recognize that a chihuahua does fit into the dog category of animal classification. I'm just not a fan of them. My best friend in high school had one, and it was the most obnoxious, turdly dog I had ever seen. The thing constantly barked and vibrated at the slightest provocation.

In August 2008, Allarie was in the Granary Natural Foods in Carleton Place, Ontario, with his dog, Dee-o-Gee (D-O-G, get it?) He says the owners barred his dog from entering, which meant he couldn't enter either.

Allarie said the dog must accompany him everywhere so he can cope with his anxiety and depression, which is considered a psychiatric disability.

"Most people just don't understand because of his size, and I'm very aware of it," Allarie told the CBC.

Still, one man's. . . "dog" is another man's service animal.

Joanne Moss, president of the Canadian Foundation for Animal Assisted Support Services, says there are no official guidelines about what constitutes a service animal for people with psychiatric disabilities. Apparently, all anyone needs is a note from a doctor, and they're all set.

"To whom it may concern: I have determined that this cute and playful kitten is a necessary service animal for my patient. Signed, Erik's doctor."

However, Keith and Leslie Rouble, then-owners of the Granary said the dog wasn't the problem. (They have since sold the store, just to "get away from this man.")

"We never mentioned the dog at all," Leslie Rouble said. "It was his vulgar, violent, assaultive behavior."

What kind of service animal does someone need for that? Maybe a snapping turtle?

The Roubles say this isn't the first time they've dealt with Allarie and Dee-o-Gee. Back in 2006, they had another run-in, when Allarie brought Dee-o-Gee in on a retractable leash, and allowed him to sniff food items. They say the dog wasn't marked, and wasn't wearing a service animal harness or service coat.

"We don't allow anybody else in our store with dogs to hold on to them while they serve up their spices or to let them sniff around the food," Leslie Rouble said. "Other places, restaurants, don't allow other people to hold their dogs at the table while they're eating or to bring them in unless they're properly identified."

I think a service dog should perform an actual service. Cheering someone up, while very important to someone with anxiety and depression, does not constitute a service as much as it does therapy.

A real service dog has been trained on certain rules and dog etiquette, like not barking at other dogs or sniffing around the floor, and not quivering like Jell-O in an earthquake or peeing when there are loud noises.

While this seems like a matter of he barked-she barked, I have to side with the Roubles on this one. I can't accept that a chihuahua is a useful dog to have if you have anxiety. If anything, the chihuahuas I have known have heightened anxiety, not reduced it. And if Allarie can't prove the discrimination, then he doesn't have a leg to stand on.

In which case, he'll need a bigger dog.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: Learning to Fly

Learning to Fly

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2005

On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. I've got 15 years' worth of the damn things, so there's no point in letting them sit moldering in a box in my garage. At least not the good ones. This one is from December 2005.

I often ask people: "Would you rather have the power to fly or become invisible?" Your answer is supposed to provide some insight about who you are as a person.

I've noticed a lot of people who choose invisibility do so for less than ethical reasons. They would spy, sneak, and do mischief if they could do it unseen. But the flyers talk about saving time, saving gas, and avoiding traffic.

I'm a flyer.

Not in a plane though. I've never had the dream of flying my own plane or becoming a pilot. That's just not the same. Flying on a plane isn't like flying through the air like Superman. There's no sense of motion or movement, there's no food anymore, movies are sterilized into mediocrity, and the kids won't stop screaming.

I would rather be the Superman-type flyer who takes off with a shout of "Erik Deckers awaaaaay!" I would soar through the air, hair blowing in the breeze, playing tag with birds, buzzing through the clouds. Real flying. None of this namby-pamby plane stuff for me.

I've wanted to be a flyer since I was a kid, when I first tried to become airborne in my living room. Like most people my age, I learned things by watching TV. And at four years old, I had learned several important things about the way the world worked.

Like if I rolled a piece of paper into the shape of a rocket, it would fly when I set it on my front porch (it didn't). Or if I ate a lot of spinach, I would immediately grow huge muscles like Popeye (I didn't). Or if I flapped my arms, I could fly.

After a steady TV diet of Superman, Scooby Doo, and Bugs Bunny, I had become convinced that if I tried really, really hard, I could fly around the house. It was just a matter of speed, velocity, and willpower. They did it on TV, so I should be able to do it myself, right?

I chose the highest point in the house — the arm of the sofa — and leapt into the air, holding my arms out like Superman. No luck.

A-ha! I thought. I need to flap my arms. So I remounted my launch pad and tried again, flapping my arms furiously.

Still nothing.

I tried several different flapping styles, long armed, bent arms, hands only, but no luck. All it earned me were some sore feet and a request from my mother to kindly "KNOCK OFF THAT JUMPING!!"

So I settled down to watch Scooby Doo, disappointed that I would never be able to fly around the house. That is, until I discovered the answer right there on my television. The solution to my previous failures. I watched as Scooby picked up two sheets of paper, flapped them, and actually stayed aloft.

It was my Eureka moment.

I grabbed two pieces of clean typing paper from my dad's office — used paper isn't very aerodynamic — and resumed my position on the launch pad.

I gripped my new wings exactly like Scooby had, leapt off, and flapped like mad. This was it! It was working! I would slip the surly bonds of Earth and touch the face of -- THUD!


I sat back down in front of the TV and finished my show. A tear trickled down my cheek as I realized that TV had betrayed me. I never tried to fly after that, the dream all but dead. But as I tell you this story now, I finally realize what I was doing wrong.

In the cartoons, the characters are always able to stay airborne as long as they never look down. As soon as they do, they immediately plummet. This was my error. I watched the ground when I tried to fly. And in doing so, I was reminded of where I was, which caused me to fall.

So now I'm inspired to try again. I've got my own paper — four sheets, since I'm a grown-up now — a pair of goggles, and I'm heading up to the highest point of my house for one last attempt at glory.

In fact, when they make a movie about my personal victory, that's what they'll call it: Thirty Feet to Glory.

I'll see you when I land.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

British Council Replaces Christmas Tree With Giant Traffic Cone

You wouldn't think anyone could screw up a Christmas tree. Even Charlie Brown and his friends took a spindly, nearly-dead Christmas tree and made it the best looking tree ever.

But the Council in Poole, Dorset, England managed to do it somehow. They basically spent £14,000 ($22,979) to replace a normally £500 ($820) Norway fir with a giant green traffic cone.

Officials were worried that for the first time ever, the tree might topple over in high winds. So instead, they purchased the 33 foot traffic cone that has embedded lights and music speakers.

According to an article in The Sun (official motto: who needs news, we have Page 3 Girls!), the council made this decision on the heels of cutting back on other Christmas lights.

Shop owner Trish Glover told The Sun: "This health and safety lark has gone far enough."

Poole's Town Centre Management Board, said this would somehow save money, since a real tree costs about £4,000 ($6,500) to put up.

Town centre manager Richard Randall-Jones told The Sun: "People think you can just go into the woods, chop down a tree and put it up in the high street. But if it blows over and kills someone then somebody is liable for it."

So what did you do in all those other years, Mr. Randall-Jones? Did you just get lucky in the years and decades past that there were no high winds? Or, oh I don't know, did someone actually make sure the tree was properly secured so nothing would happen?

This tree reminds me of the joke about how we got the tradition of putting the angel on the tree.

Santa was having a bad day. It was Christmas Even, and everything was going wrong. The Christmas cookies were burned, the elves were bitching and threatening to unionize, the reindeer were drunk, except for two, which were pregnant. A giant bag of toys had spilled while the elves were loading it, and it was going to take a few hours to reload. And they didn't even have a Christmas tree up yet.

Santa was ranting around his workshop. "Unbelievable. I've got millions of presents to deliver, the reindeer are useless, the elves are picketing, and we still don't have a tree. I sent that stupid little angel out hours ago to find a tree, and he's not back yet. This is the worst Christmas ever!"

Just then, the front door burst open, and the angel appeared, dragging a Christmas tree.

"Isn't it a glorious Christmas Eve, Santa? It's a great day to be alive. I'll bet you're looking forward to delivering gifts this year. So, where do you want me to stick this tree?"

And that's how we came to put angels on top of Christmas trees.

Something tells me Poole, Dorset is going to have a new tradition for where to stick the Christmas traffic cone this year.

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Monday, November 30, 2009

Danvers High School Students Put On "Free Meep" T-Shirts

Meep is not dead, despite what the Danvers High School principal would like to believe.

Two seniors — Mike Spiewak and Matt LaFleur — wore blue "Free meep" t-shirts to school last week, so they could sell them and raise money for a scholarship or grant.

Now, although the principal said the word "meep" was being used to disrupt the school, it's now being used to further their education.

Is that irony, or just poetic justice?

LaFleur and Spiewak told the Salem News that they weren't suspended, but some teachers asked them to cover the shirts up in class. LaFleur has already been suspended twice for meeping, including once for creating a Facebook page about the t-shirts.

He made the page "to show how stupid it is we are getting banned from saying 'meep.'"

Spiewak told the News that Principal Thomas Murray told him his actions were "inappropriate and unacceptable" and said he should have sought permission first.

Spiewak: Principal Murray, can I give my friends some shirts that has that word on it that made you the laughing stock of the entire country?

Principal Murray: Why sure, that would be fine. Just fine.

Principal Murray, you remind me of Frank Burns in that early episode of M*A*S*H, where Burns banned poker from the camp. When one enlisted man said he lost his money playing poker, Burns said, "I can only conclude it was stolen, since I banned poker from the camp."

So would you have given permission, since the shirt is being used to ultimately further education? I somehow doubt it.

Michael Brownson, an insurance agent who works with Spiewak's mother, was outside the school with the two boys in a show of support.

"I thought there was an overreaction in Danvers," Brownson told the Salem News. "I'm a businessman, I saw an opportunity to make things right."

Brownson wants to use the funds raised by t-shirt sales to create a scholarship that will "(raise) awareness of constitutional law and what is right."

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: The Muppets Do "Bohemian Rhapsody"

This has got to be one of the funniest damn things I've seen in a month. This isn't just the Muppets imitating Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" video, they do their own take on it. What really made me laugh is the "mahna mahna" Muppets — talk about your years-later callback.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Some Tennesseans Don't Understand Which Finger is the Bad One

Some people in Tennessee are a little consternated by a billboard where a young woman is, at first glance, flipping off local drivers.

According to a story on WRCB TV's website, the billboard says "she's tired of waiting," with a picture of a woman showing her ring finger in a gesture every driver in the world is familiar with.

"If you look at it twice you ought to get a chuckle," Barry Schenck of M.M. Schenck Jeweler told WRCB. "That's what we are hoping for."

Some people are complaining that Schenck's marketing campaign is in bad taste, but he is sticking to his guns.

WRCB spoke to the woman in question, Carla Fernandez, who is a Schenk employee.

"All women I feel at one point in their life are going to want that question," said Fernandez, "and when they get tired of waiting, those fingers are going to fly up."

Schenk says that when they do fly up, he hopes it's his store the men will visit. He said that he needed to do something to bring in the clientele, and thought the image would stick with people, whether it's insulting or inspiring.

"Of course in advertising that's exactly what you want," said Schenck, "at least talk about me, good or bad."

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Friday, November 27, 2009

‘Twas the Month Before Christmas 2009

‘Twas the Month Before Christmas

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

Ah, Black Friday. Nothing celebrates the birth of the Savior like getting 30% of the last plasma screen TV at 6:00 in the morning at Best Buy. And nothing commemorates that day like our own Laughing Stalk tradition, and running reader favorite “Month Before Christmas.”

'Twas the month 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 on her caboose.

The cheesy green lights and the canned Christmas music
Made me realize no word 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 eight-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 his 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 and shouting with glee
"Hey, I found something else! You must 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!"

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

President Obama Pardons His First Turkey, PETA Manages to Stick Its Nose In

President Barack Obama just pardoned his first turkey of his administration, following the Thanksgiving presidential tradition started by President George H.W. Bush.

The turkey in question is named Courage, a 45-pound turkey that probably had drumsticks that could feed a family of four.

According to an Associated Press story, Sasha and Malia Obama accompanied their dad while he received the gift from the National Turkey Federation — a tradition started in 1947. (It was President Bush Sr. who first pardoned the bird.)

"I'm told Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson actually ate their turkeys," Obama said. "You can't fault them for that; that's a good-looking bird."

"Thanks to the interventions of Malia and Sasha — because I was planning to eat this sucker — Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate," he said.

And because Malia and Sasha played an important role in saving this turkey, PETA is granting the First Daughters honorary memberships in PETA Kids.

(In case you're wondering, this is the same PETA that kills thousands of pets each in its Norfolk, Virginia animal shelter.)

Trust PETA to seek to thrust themselves into the news spotlight like the creepy photobombers you went to high school with, sticking their faces in photos at the last second.

"We want to thank them for their involvement in pardoning the turkey this Thanksgiving," said Ashley Byrne, PETA spokeswoman.

Muh-huh. For once in your life, please understand that this is not about you. In fact, it's never about you. Just go away and stick to killing house pets.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: I Can Even Use a Power Saw

I Can Even Use a Power Saw

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2005

On Wednesdays, rather than rehashing a news story, I reprint one of my old columns. I've got 15 years' worth of the damn things, so there's no point in letting them sit moldering in a box in my garage. At least not the good ones. This one is from September 2005.

Ever since we moved into our house 11 years ago, I've enjoyed working on it. Building and insulating the walls, putting up drywall, and watching my wife paint.

We finished off the upstairs and the basement with her parents' help, and I learned the manly art of bashing my own thumb with a hammer. In fact, I got so good at it that I find I enjoy working with my hands, beyond just typing on the computer.

Some days, I even fancy myself capable of doing this on a daily basis. I can just imagine what it would be like to earn a living, doing what I do on the weekends: drink beer, putter around in the garage, clean it a bit, drink more beer, and watch football on TV.

Sadly, there is more to being a contractor than that. It's not as much football watching, which is bad, but a lot more beer drinking, which is good, unless you're using a power nailer.

The problem with doing this kind of work is that it really can damage a Guy's hands. Whenever I think, "wouldn't this be fun to do everyday?" I remember what my hands looked like when I was finishing the upstairs of my house six years ago.

Every week brought a new scratch, scrape, scar, or bandage. I began to look like a walking triage unit, and personal injury attorneys followed me in the grocery store.

A hand's scars are a historical road map. They show us where we've been, what we've done, and the total screwups we've made when handling sharp objects. There's the scar where I cut myself with my dad's hunting knife, the scar where I cut myself with a kitchen knife, and the scar where I cut myself with a utility knife while cutting some drywall. Apparently, I have serious issues with knives.

For the past few weeks, my wife and I have been tackling major projects around the house, and my hands look like I've been wrestling a sack of nettles. I have cuts on my fingers from an errant hacksaw, a few poison ivy blisters, and a couple of scratches from God only knows what. And this was a good week.

But Guys wear their scars like badges of honor. Stupid, I-wasn't-paying-attention-and-sliced-my-hand-with-my-utility-knife scars. Big hey-want-to-see-what-a-hot-drill-bit-can-do-to-human-flesh scars. And we parade them around for others to see.

When most non-Guys (i.e. "Men") injure themselves, they will carefully clean the wound with Bactine, put some antibiotic ointment on it, and put a clean bandage on it every day. They also get their wives to "kiss it and make it all better." Guys, on the other hand, will only put a small Band-Aid on the wound to make sure they don't get blood in their nachos. Afterward, they take it off so people will ask them about it at work the next day.

Mildly concerned co-worker: Eww, gross! What did you do to your hand?

Guy: Oh that? That's just a scratch. I was building a new storage shed out of some pine logs and plywood. I guess one of the pieces got away from me, because it slipped and gashed my hand up pretty good. I just wrapped a little duct tape around it and kept working.

Other Guy: What are you talking about? I was over at your house, and you were cutting little rosettes into some baby redskin potatoes, and you sliced your hand on that little bitty paring knife. You cried like a baby and insisted I take you to the emergency room.

Guy: Yeah? Well, now you can forget about me making that lobster bisque and pasta bolognese for your birthday!

But Guys take pride in their scars, because we earned them. We performed the labor, we put ourselves at risk, and we made the gross error that nearly lopped off a finger or severed an artery. These aren't self-inflicted little scratches that we made to look cool. That would be like buying pre-torn jeans, like some non-Guys I could name. Guys just don't fake injuries. We may lie about them, but we'd never fake them.

We'd never intentionally drop lumber on our foot. We'd never try to injure ourselves with a sharp chisel. And we'd never overdramatize a groin injury and then purposely get suspended from training camp as a way to try to leverage a better contract than the 7-year-$49-million contract our moron of an agent made us sign the year before.

Not that I'm pointing a finger or anything. It's still too painful to move after I whacked it with a hammer.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Food Finally Used in Self-Defense in Florida Bagel Robbery

It was bound to happen. Food has been used often enough to assault others. It was only a matter of time before it thwarted an assault.

In a move that made Second Amendment supporters fire their guns into the air and say, "See? Told you so," a bagel cart was used to stop two armed suspects from robbing an Einstein Bros. Bagels in College Park, Florida yesterday morning.

According to a story in the Orlando Sentinel, two suspects wearing masks and hoodies, and carrying a shotgun, entered Einstein Bros. They tried to rob the place, but one of the employees pushed a bagel cart at the suspects and they fled.

"Bagels protect our freedom, our families, and ourselves," said Murray Lender, president of the National Bagel Association. "You can have my bagel when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers!" he shouted.

In the meantime, Einstein Bros. is considering putting some new lox on the doors.

Photo: gay.goy.gourmet
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Five More People Who Bug Me

I had so much fun with my last People Who Bug Me post, I decided to do another. This may become a regular thing, so if you can think of any suggestions, put them in the comments.

  • That costs money: Of course it costs money. Everything in life costs money. Unless you're sneaky, and/or have a fast getaway car, you're not going to get much in life for free. This was a common objection I heard when I worked for a company in the mid-2000s. It was their way of saying "we're too cheap." (Special thanks to Doug Karr for this one.)

  • I've slept since then: It was funny the first 10 times I heard it. The next 1,000, not so much. Just say "I don't know," or "I forgot." Considering we're talking about something we discussed six months ago, I would hope you've slept at least a little bit.

  • I haven't woken up yet: Commonly heard at morning meetings. You just drove a 3/4 ton vehicle across town to an 8 am meeting, and you're telling me you're not fully functional? First, I'm glad you're still alive. Second, give me a 10 minute head start before you leave here.

  • People who say "let there be light:" If anything is truly older than God, it's this joke. Please just stop saying it. The biggest reason a joke is funny is because of the element of surprise. The only thing that will surprise me about this joke is if you don't say it after you change a light bulb.

  • "Slow" Guys Who Direct Traffic in Construction Zones: Picture this: You're driving on the street, and you hit a 1-lane only construction zone. You come to stop, 12th in a long line of cars, waiting their turn. When the cars finish coming from the opposite direction, your line begins making its way down the now empty lane. Standing at the entrance is the guy holding the "Slow" sign, waving you on, like you're going to go somewhere else. "Thank God you're here," you want to say. "This long line of cars and hundreds of orange barrels was absolutely no help in showing me where to go." Dude, you're basically one worker's comp claim from being replaced by a portable stoplight. Don't get above yourself.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: Upper Class Twit of the Year

Monty Python's "Upper Class Twit of the Year" was the first Monty Python's Flying Circus skit I ever saw. To me, it's the definitive Python skit. Enjoy.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

This Old New House

This Old New House

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

I miss living in an old house.

I lived in an old mansion-turned-fraternity house when I was in college. My last day there was about 21 years, at Ball State University.

The thing was a dump. About what you'd expect a fraternity house to look like, sound like, and of course, smell like. There's nothing like the smell of stale beer in the basement carpet to smack you in the face on a hot summer day.

But it was our house, all the sights, sounds, and smells.

That house is gone now, the fraternity chapter closed down. Not too surprising: a house that smells like that tends to be a little more disreputable than the other houses on campus. (A reputation we were proud of.)

I have one of the few remaining bricks from the old plaec, having taken a few of them a few years before it was torn down. (Don't worry, no one was living in there at the time.)

Since that time, I have lived in four houses, all new. In fact, we just moved into a brand new house two months ago. It's missing something.

Don't get me wrong. I love my house. After renting for three years, it's the first house we've been able to call ours in a long time. The last house we owned seems so long ago, my 7-year-old son barely remembers it. But my new house is not an old house.

Old houses are great, because they're filled with character. They have personalities, stories, a past. The floorboards creak at the memory of the kids who played there decades ago. The door that never stays shut. The window that gets stuck when it's going to rain.

People who live in historic homes love their painted ladies, not despite their problems and weird quirks, but because of them. They learn to live with them, and even to love them, blaming noises on the the heat, the cold, or the ghost of the first owner who never quite left.

New houses don't have any of that. They lack the character and charm of the old house.

Our fraternity house was built in 1912, designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright's. And 75 years later, it had all the charm of a Southern belle at a cotillion.

We had two sets of stairs, one of which creaked horribly. The steam radiators had to be bled once in a while to get rid of the air bubbles. And we had to cover the windows with plastic film during the winter.

While the house had all these faults, it was our house. We knew how to make the house work. We knew we couldn't let more than two people shower at one time. Or that you couldn't flush the toilet while they were in there. And that the dining room could not hold more than 20 people at once without the floor possibly collapsing into the basement.

It was sort of like your college car that needed a thump on the dashboard to get started on a cold morning.

When I lived in Syracuse, we moved into a brand new house in 1995, but it wasn't new when we left it. It had grown its own lovable quirks. One of the basement steps squeaked. When we finished the upstairs, the outline of the dormer bays looked like a coffin. And the crawlspace doors at the ends of the dormers would blow open if it was a windy day, but only in winter. I loved every inch of it, including the bathroom wall that was not quite square to the other walls.

I've done my best to give our house some character though. My most noticeable contribution is the black scuffmarks in the wall I made while carrying in our 10-year-old 70 pound television. They look like eyes squinting at you from inside the wall, like the kitchen is glaring at you.

On the other hand, old houses are cold in the winter, because they're notoriously underinsulated. There are so many cracks going into the attics that are big enough for a bear to crawl through. The only reason they don't is because they're afraid of the bats that live there.

On the other hand, my house is sealed tight against bats, rodents, and bears. And what it lacks for in creaking floors and sticking doors, it more than makes up for by being toasty warm in the winter, and pleasantly free of ghosts.

And no stale beer smells.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

People Who Bug Me

I was inspired by Davezilla's "More People We Dislike" post to come up with my own list of people who bug me.

  • Left foot brakers: I can always recognize the left foot braker, because they're going down the highway at the same speed as everyone else, but their brake lights flicker on and off. Their brakes probably have a lifespan of 8 weeks.

  • Left lane drivers: Are you sensing a pattern here? I hate it when people drive in the left lane and they're going slower than the people in the right lane, and there's no one in front of them.

  • People who correct me with questions: If I am ever forced to go into a Starbucks, I order a medium latte. The barista always says, "Grande latte?" I say, "No, a medium." This is why I always go to independent coffee shops.

  • People who pull out in front of me, but go slower than me: You know who you are. (This didn't start out to be a driving rant, but so far, it's bad drivers who bug me the most.

  • People who say I hate beer: That's like saying I don't like food. There are literally thousands of beers available, and they all taste different. And unless you have a wheat/gluten allergy, I can find a beer you'll like.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

ESPN Announcer Joe Morgan Says a Naughty on National TV

I was looking back through my Moleskine notebook today, and came across this little gem: On May 11, 2008, Joe Morgan, former second baseman for my beloved Cincinnati Reds was on ESPN doing color commentary for the Boston Red Sox - Minnesota Twins game.

A foul ball was hit into the stands, and it was caught by a fan wearing a baseball glove.

Joe Morgan said, "Anyone can catch a foul ball with a glove. I'm impressed by the guy who catches it with his hands. If I'm putting together a top ten list of catches, I want someone who catches it with his bare hands."

The same batter hit another foul ball into the stands. And Joe said, "Let's see if someone can get a bare hand job there."

Stay classy, Joe.

Photo: pvsbond

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Racist Philadelphia Swim Club Files For Bankruptcy

The Valley Swim club — the "private, exclusive" swim club that turned away 65 inner-city day care children — is filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

But, they're quick to point out, it wasn't because of the allegations this past summer that they're all a bunch of racists and bigots who didn't want black and Hispanic kids in their pool.

(That's the same pool where some members said they just didn't want poor people, but race had nothing to do with it. "This has nothing to do with race. I paid my money for a private swim club…if they're gonna have it out to camps, then I want my money back," said one member.)

According to a story in the Philadelphia Daily News, Valley Swim Club president John Duesler emailed club members and said that the board of directors voted to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

But Duesler said that it wasn't the legal proceedings of defending themselves against several civil lawsuits. Rather, the rich, snooty members of the Valley Swim Club weren't enough to keep the pool afloat. (Get it? Pool? Afloat? Ah, never mind.)

And while many will point towards our legal situation and negative media exposure this summer as the reason for this decision, the truth is that the club has struggled to stay out of the red for at least the last decade. Despite our most ambitious efforts and countless hours of dedication towards the club, we have been unable to grow our membership enough to sustain The Valley Club any longer. Indeed, we have not been profitable, for as long as I’ve been with the club. And our current debt from this year’s operation and legal fees now exceeds $100,000.

Look at the next-to-last sentence. I think this says more than anything about why the club is going under for the last time:

Indeed, we have not been profitable, for as long as I’ve been with the club.

I'm not trying to gloat about the demise of an elitist, exclusionary, rich swim club that denied a bunch of kids the chance to swim, just after they had accepted a contract to allow them to swim, but I called this back when the story first broke: Duesler is basically incompetent.

Back in July, he said the reason they didn't want the kids there was because they didn't have enough lifeguards to handle the extra workload, despite accepting Creative Steps' check for $1,950, and the checks of two other day care centers. This is what I said:

What Duesler said he meant to say was his site does not have enough lifeguards to safely watch over the 65 extra kids.

Muh-huh. So you're not a racist, you're just incompetent?

In other words, he meant to say that he overcommitted his pool, that he failed to plan properly, that he couldn't find any way to fix the problem without becoming a pariah, that he wasn't able to marshal his resources properly, and basically can't properly run a private swimming club for a bunch of snooty rich people without sticking his foot in his mouth.

And now, he has said that during his entire tenure there, he hasn't been able to make the pool run successfully.

I can't say I feel bad for the Valley Swim Club. They were either incompetently run, which Duesler has admitted to, or they're a bunch of racists, which other members have shown themselves to be.

While I should feel bad about my overwhelming sense of schadenfreude, I don't. People who still believe in Jim Crow in the 21st century need to have this kind of shame and humiliation brought down on them. There is no place for racism in this country or this century, and the sooner you learn that, the better off we'll all be.

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