Saturday, October 31, 2009

Southwest Airlines Removes Crying Baby From Plane, Millions Cheer

"I am sick of these motherf---ing kids on this motherf---ing plane!"

Southwest Airlines just endeared itself to the millions of adults who ride airplanes and know how to control their children. They booted Pamela Root and her 2-year-old son Adam off their flight in Amarillo, Texas, after he continually screams "Go! Plane! Go!" and "I want Daddy!"

In a story on MSNBC, Pamela said she believed her son would finally stop when the plane took off, but rather than take off, the plane returned to the gate, and they were escorted off the plane.

Root wants an apology and to be repaid for the portable crib and diapers she had to buy. Southwest Airlines should ask for compensation for the extra fuel and wasted time they spent in doing what Root was not able to do: make her kid shut up.

Before anyone accuses me of being heartless or not understanding children, let me say that I'm a father of three. And my wife and I never put up with wailing and screaming from our kids. Crying, yes. Being mad, yes. Screaming over and over? No way. Pamela Root needs to learn that the universe does not revolved around her kid, and that subjecting 100 people in an enclosed aluminum tube to your 112 decibel child is not the textbook definition of "considerate." Just be happy they're letting you back on another plane to try again later.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

The Dangers of the Couples Skate

The Dangers of the Couples Skate

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

I recently read a column by fellow humor columnist, Jenny Isenman, about one of her most humiliating experiences as a young girl. Since she doesn't have the global reach I do, I thought I would relate the story for her.

During a skating party in 1984, little Jenny was rolling around the rink during a Girls Skate, leg warmers pulled up over her jeans — no, that's not the most humiliating part. I know, that surprised me too! — when she tried to slap hands with an older boy.

Apparently this was a signal. During a Girls Skate, they would slap the outstretched hands of the boys they wanted to Couples Skate with. The boys would stand along the side and stretch out their hands to the girls they wanted to skate with, while the girls hoped the boys they liked had their hands out.

It was an exercise of mutually assured destruction in the self-esteem department.

If a boy stuck his hand out, he could be ignored and rejected, thus subjecting him to a drive-by ridicule; if a girl skated by the boy of her choice, he might keep his hand in, and she would have to skate on, pretending the other girls weren't skating over the tattered remains of her heart.

We never did this kind of thing when I was a kid, growing up in Muncie, Indiana. So I don't know if this was something they only did in Jenny's school, or if no one at my skating parties did it while I was there. Given my Couples Skate record — zero — either scenario is a possibility.

Instead, we received our rejections after asking a girl to her face. That way, she could laugh at you directly for several seconds, rather than giving you the opportunity to whiz by and avoid personal humiliation.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

On this particular day, Jenny had her eye on an older boy, who was standing on the side, watching her skate. He caught her eye, threw out his hand, and she made her way toward him to signal her intentions. When she was inches away, he yanked his hand back and pretended to slick back his hair — the old "psych!" move.

However, her attempts to reach him threw her off balance, and she went careening off the wall crashing to the floor. She skated off to the bathroom, and cried in a stall, while the Couples Skate went on without her.

Personally, when I was a kid, I never saw the point of a Couples Skate. Of course, that's because I never actually had a Couples Skate. For the most part, I went to the skating parties with friends, and we would do what most 11-year-old boys did: farted around and pretended we didn't care if the girls didn't want to skate with us. But we showed off, secretly hoping our goofy antics would make them want to skate with us.

It was delusional optimism on our parts, since they never wanted to spend time with us during the rest of the year either. Why would a skating rink be any different?

So we body checked each other into the kiln-hardened 2 x 8 ledge that doubled as a landing zone for young skaters faces, and stood around during Couples Skates, making fun of the boys who were skating with girls.

We made fun of these boys partly because we were jealous of their successes, but mostly because we were still at the age this as a treasonous action against our gender.

We knew girls were supposed to be interesting, but we weren't quite sure why. So for the next year or so, we continued to goof off, show off, and get blown off by the girls in our class, never quite realizing they weren't as impressed by our antics as we were. We were happy to live our lives on Planet Boy, as humorist Stuart McLean calls it.

But we only had to face this rejection on wheels for a couple more years, up through middle school. That's when we started finding girls interesting, but didn't know any other way to get their attention than by goofing off, showing off, and writing awkward notes, still without success.

After that, came high school dances, and the embarrassing rejection most commonly found within a five foot radius of me, usually visited upon me by girls who derived sadistic pleasure from dashing the hopes of young men.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

British Police Can't Say "Evenin' All" Anymore; Might Confuse People

British police, the enforcement arm of the Nanny State, are now victims of the Nanny State. They have been told not to use certain everyday phrases, because they could cause confusion for some.

An article in the (London) Daily Mail says the Warwickshire Police handbook, Policing Our Communities, says the phrase "Evenin' All" could confuse people from different cultural backgrounds.

"Don't assume those words for the time of day, such as afternoon or evening, have the same meaning," says the handbook.

Right, because people have different diurnal clocks, and so don't tell time like the rest of the country? Because they're still operating on the time zone from home?

A Warwickshire police spokesman told the Daily Mail, "Terms such as afternoon and evening are somewhat subjective in meaning and can vary according to a person's culture or nationality. In many cultures the term evening is linked to time of day when people have their main meal of the day.

"In some countries, including the UK, the evening meal time is traditionally thought of as being around 5-7pm but this might be different, say, for a family from America who might have their main meal earlier and thus for them evening may be an earlier time."

Uh, no, here in the backwaters of America, we still eat dinner/supper at 5 - 7. You're thinking of senior citizens, who usually hit the Early Bird Special at Golden Corral around 4:00.

Officers are also told to not use the words "child, youth, youngster, boy, or girl," as they may be misleading or "cause offence." The want coppers to use the phrase "young people" instead. As in, "Late-in-the-day greetings, young people. Wot's all dis den?"

Marie Clair of the Plain English Campaign (and not the magazine) said, "Those writing these guides are overanalysing things. It's political correctness gone crazy. Is anyone really going to be confused by "evening"? And if you can't say what a lovely afternoon it is, what are you meant to say - what a lovely 3pm?"

Look, I understand the need for some updated language and concepts. Trying to use more inclusive language — "staffing" a station, rather than "manning" it, etc. — is important. But who is truly going to be confused by the word "evening?"

Rather than practicing "behalfism" (speaking on behalf of someone else, usually someone you have no clue about), focus on solving crimes, not offending some mythical group that doesn't know when the evening is.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Is this a 'Misguided Column?'

Is this a 'Misguided Column?'

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.

We're nearing the end of 2005, and I want to wish everyone a belated Merry Wintervale.

What's that? You don't know what Wintervale is? That's what some schools in the United Kingdom are calling Christmas. Apparently, "happy holiday" and "season's greetings" weren't soulless and sterile enough, so they came up with that little winter winner instead.

Apparently, the PC simps didn't like the fact that "holiday" stems from "holy day," and they didn't want to be "greeted" by anyone either. So school administrators kowtowed to them in an attempt to be inclusive, thereby excluding everyone.

You can find this, and more infuriating bits of Political Correctness, at the Global Language Monitor website. The GLM is a Political Correctness watchdog — excuse me, security animal companion — that keeps track of the linguistic decisions made by idiots — excuse me, bureaucrats — around the world. They recently released their "Top 10 list of Politically inCorrect Words and Phrases" to warn everyone of the creeping menace that is tightening its grip on the globe — excuse me, becoming more popular.

Before you think that this form of insanity is limited to UK school administrators only, consider the Anglican Church in Cardiff, Wales. At number nine on the list, they had their robes in a bunch about the Christmas — excuse me, Wintervale — carol "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," because it excluded 50% of their congregation.

So they changed the song to "God Rest Ye Merry Persons" — or as it's sung, "God Rest Ye Merry Peeeerrrrrsons." Let's just hope the UK school system doesn't get involved, lest it become "Faith-Based Higher Power Rest Ye Persons of Varying and Independently-Chosen Moods."

It may be a little over the top, but you do have to admire a gesture like that from a church that a couple hundred years ago, wouldn't even allow women to speak or hold positions of power.

Topping the 2005 list is the British Broadcasting Corporation and their use of the term "misguided criminals" instead of "terrorists."

"The BBC attempts to strip away all emotion by using what it considers neutral descriptions," said the website. Apparently they didn't want to offend the terrorists who killed 52 people in the London bombings this past July by expressing outrage and emotion over it.

Two other UK entries on the list were also the subject of Laughing Stalk columns this past year. Number three: Ireland's use of the term "thought showers," instead of "brainstorm, "so it wouldn't offend people with epilepsy. And at number six, a British school teacher's attempt to replace the word "failure" with "deferred success" so as not to embarrass students who didn't pass exams. Luckily that one was deemed "deferred intelligent," and so was never implemented.

And despite my own best efforts, the use of the word "womyn" instead of "women" (number seven) has become more widespread. It's a way for anti-man feminists to distance themselves from their Y-chromosome counterparts. However, there is still no indication on what the pro-womyn faction wants to do about the word "menace," "manual labor," or "menstrual cramp."

Of course, if the use of the word "womyn" becomes more acceptable, I'll be "out of the mainstream" on that one, which is convenient since that's number five on the list. The phrase is used to describe anyone who disagrees with you politically or otherwise. But as GLM reminds us, at one point in history "having your blood sucked out by leeches was in the mainstream."

In fact, they used leeches as far back as the mid-1700s A.D, which is now called C.E. That's right, there's a movement to stop using A.D., which means Anno Domini (Latin for "Year of Our Lord"). They want to replace it with the less religiously charged C.E., which means Common Era (Latin for "bunch of whiny babies").

Since A.D. refers to the year Jesus Christ was born, the C.E. camp doesn't want to offend the non-Christians. What has escaped them, is that regardless of what you call it, we're still referring to the fact that it's now 2005 years since Jesus was born.

Some might say the C.E. people are just being a bunch of pathetic, knee-jerk malcontents — excuse me, activists — who are desperately searching for something to whine about — excuse me, a cause to support. If they were truly committed to the idea, they would stop using the Western calendar altogether. Let them use the Jewish, Chinese, or Mayan calendar instead. If they really want to remove Christian influences from the calendar, let them start writing 5766 on their checks and see what the banks say. Then we'll see who's committed.

You could argue the same is true for the womyn whyners: if they truly had a good argument about not using words with man, men, or male as the root word, they would change every single word they used that had anything masculine in the word, not just one.

I don't have all the answers. At least not yet. But don't consider me a deferred success. Just let me give them some thought showers, and with any luck, I'll have an idea by next Wintervale that will be not be out of the mainstream.

In the meantime, God Rest Ye Merry Peeeerrrrrsons.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

British Cemetery Officials Won't Let Man Put Too Many Flowers on Wife's Grave

Not only are the bureaucrats stupid in England, it appears the landscaping people are not much better off. At least that's what we're led to believe.

That's because the staff at Gorstage Cemetery in Weverham, Cheshire told Stanley Brown he could not put more than one bunch of flowers on his wife's grave, because they're obstructions.

Staff told Stanley that the flowers kept the landscapers from cutting the grass, and might cause them to trip.

Good old Health and Safety. We knew you could protect us from overly sensitive displays of lifelong love.

Brown was married for 57 years, and his wife died last December. He has tended her grave four times a day, every day.

"This has really upset me and the whole family. They all live within a three-mile radius and they all want to lay flowers at Violet's grave," Stanley told The (London) Times. "If I lay flowers, and one of my children or grandchildren also want to pay their respects and lay flowers, they can't because it's against the rules.

The problems started after Brown placed £20 of roses on his wife's gave one day. The following day, he found them stuffed in a landscaper's shed. A few days later, he received a letter from the Weaverham, Cuddington and Acton Bridge cemetery committee telling him they would steal remove the flowers if he placed more than one set on her grave.

Cemetery committee chairman John Freeman sniveled to the Times, "Plot owners are only allowed room for a single set of flowers due to the layout and upkeep of the cemetery. One or two people have built gardens in front of the headstones which is what breaks the rules and doesn't hep the gardener when he is mowing. We went up last week and removed a couple of obstructions and put them in a room."

"The committee go on about the gardener cutting grass at the cemetery but it has only been cut three times in the past year," Stanley said. "My sons and my granddaughter's boyfriend help out and cut the grass from the sides of the graves."

Sounds like the cemetery might be falling down on the job, although that may have just been a bouquet of flowers.

I would think that if the Weaverham Cemetery really cared about the safety of its workers, they would hire people who were a little more sure on their feet and were not immediately waylaid anytime someone left a bouquet of flowers for their loved ones.

Seriously? Seriously, Weaverham, Cuddington and Acton Bridge cemetery? Tripping is the best you can come up with?

You don't like that people show "too many" symbols of love and care to their family, so you come up with what may possibly be the dumbest excuse in the history of dumb excuses. "Our gardeners might trip on them." Is that the best you can do?

Or do you hire morons and the severely unstable? I'm all for helping people who need a break, but honest to God, if you're going to trust people to operate machinery that will chop off a man's foot at 100 miles an hour, you need to rethink whether you hire the ones who easily stumble over a bunch of flowers.

Otherwise, leave the man's flowers alone. Keep your rules for yourselves, and try to show the same honor and dignity to the living as Stanley Brown wants to show to his wife. Or at least pretend you still have a heart.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Nanny State Takes Newborn Baby, 2 Children Away From Mother Because She's Obese

I didn't think it was possible, but Scottish social workers have brought the Nanny State to a whole new level of jack-booted interfering, hereto unseen except for books like 1984 or movies like THX 1138.

That's because they want to take away the newborn baby of an obese mother (300 pounds), and have already taken away her two youngest, because they were afraid the kids were at risk of becoming obese themselves.

According to a story in The (London) Times, the unnamed mother was told less than 24 hours of giving birth that she would not be allowed to keep the baby.

It's good to see the Scottish authorities acting for the welfare of the country's children, what with having solved the country's history of alcoholism, spousal abuse, drug abuse, and unemployment.

Apparently, the parents created their own problem when they asked social workers for some help managing their children. Rather than helping, the social workers found that two of the kids were already overweight. So the Fascists social workers warned the family they had to get the children's weight under control.

The father of the child (the parents were not named because of privacy reasons) told the Times, "My wife was told she could stay with our baby for another 24 hours but then she would have to go home alone. She got up out of her bed and left the hospital right there and then. I had to wait behind to say my goodbyes to the baby."

The father said social workers had told him they wouldn't visit the hospital, and that they were going to follow a report by Dundee Families Project that recommended family support. But instead, social workers went into the maternity ward and served papers on his wife during labor.

Tomorrow, there will be a hearing about whether the social workers can remove the family's remaining children from their care.

"Sorry, kids, we know your parents love you, but you're just too fat."

A representative from the Dundee City Council told the Times, "We have made it clear on numerous occasions that children would not be removed from a family environment just because of a weight issue."

Sorry Councillor, but you may want to check with your social workers, because it sounds like they didn't get the memo on saving stupid decisions for Head-In-Your-Ass Friday.

Apparently, keeping kids from getting fat more important than keeping them from following parents into abuse of alcohol, drugs, and their wives.

It's disappointing, frightening, and maddening the lengths the British government will go to in overstepping their bounds of good taste and appropriateness. But it is no way very surprising.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: Pixar Intro Parody from

If you've ever seen any of the Disney/Pixar movies, you've seen the intro with the lamp that just stomps the bejeezus out of the letter 'I' in Pixar.

But do you know what really happened?

Then, Phil Collins sent the lamp front row tickets to a concert in the lamp's hometown, and put the spotlight on him, and sang "In the Air Tonight."

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

High School Student Uses Video Camera to Catch Locker Thief, Snags Surprising Culprit

Tiana Rapp, a senior at Newfield High School in Long Island, had lost $190 in theft from her locker on two different occasions. After complaining to the high school administration, who believed it was a student, and said they couldn't do anything.

So Rapp took matters into her own hands. She and a classmate put a video camera in another locker and pointed it at her own.

That's when they caught Linda Cubano, an adult hall monitor, opening Rapp's locker and searching through her purse.

"They said there was nothing they could do and they were convinced that a student was doing it," Rapp told

Turns out Rapp is a big fan of CSI, and wants to be a forensic scientist when she graduates from college.

The school district said they had accepted Cubano's resignation, but they were not going to comment on the case. Cubano was also charged with three counts of petty larceny.

Rapp said several other students have said they were losing things from their lockers as well. My guess is that those thefts will come to a stop as well.

Rule #1 about being a successful thief: Never steal from people who are smarter and more resourceful than you.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Family Fun Night is not Always Fun

Family Fun Night Not Always Fun

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

"Okay kids, sit down. It's family night. We're going to play a game. "

"Sweetie, come back here."

"No, we're not watching a movie tonight."

"No, we're not watching TV either. We're going to play a game."

"Not a video game, Buddy."

"No, Honey, we're not playing a computer game."

"Yes, I'll tell them. You need to respect the process. I'm trying to build suspense."

"Fine. We're playing Uno."

"It's a card game."

"Can you read the name here, Buddy?"

"No Buddy, oo-no, not you-know."

"Yes, Honey, that's it."

"Right, Sweetie, it's Spanish for one."

"You lay down a card that has the same number or color as the one in the discard pile. If you have one of the battle cards, you can make someone pick up two or four cards, skip their turn, or reverse the order of our turns. We'll figure it out as we play."

"Here we go. And the first card is a red seven. Honey, do you have a seven or a red?"

"Then you need to draw a card."

"Buddy, hold your cards up. We can see them."

"You don't want to let me see them."

"Because someone might cheat."

"By knowing what cards you have. They would know that they should play a certain card because you don't have it."

"No, I'm not cheating."

"No, your sisters aren't cheating either."

"No, Buddy, Mommy's not cheating either."

"No, nobody's chea—Honey, quit looking at my cards."

"Okay, Sweetie, do you have a three or a blue?"

"What do you mean, you have a skip? It's my turn next."

"Don't laugh."

"Thank you. See, Mommy has a reverse card, and now it's your turn, Honey. Do you have a nine or a yellow?"

"Skip? What is up with you guys? Don't I get a chance to play?"

"All right, when it's my turn again, I know just the card to play."

"Draw four?! Honey, I taught you this game, and you hit me with a draw four? That's a little harsh."

"Buddy, hold your cards up."

"Okay, will somebody please put down a card I can use?"

"Ha, draw two! Take that."

"What? I am not trash talking a 13-year-old girl. I just got a little excited, that's all. I'm sorry, Sweetie. I didn't mean to make you feel bad. Okay, thank you."

"Uh, nice reverse, Buddy. Heh heh, guess that means, uh, Sweetie, that means it's your turn...?"

"Draw four? Come on."

"I said I was sorry."

"Fine. Honey, it's your turn again."

"Oh sure, you give Mommy the red seven, and I get the freaking draw four?"

"Another reverse. Good job, Buddy. I'm seriously starting to not like this game."

"Honey, please? Please, I'm begging you. Don't hit me with a skip card. Look, I'll get you a pony for your birthday if you don't give me a skip card."

"I know your birthday was two weeks ago. Did I say birthday? I meant Christmas. That's coming up real soon."

"Great, a draw two. You don't get a pony now."

"That's all right. It's okay, we're still having fun as a family, and that's all that really matt—YOU DIDN'T SAY 'UNO!'"

"What? I didn't shout."

"I didn't."

"Okay, I got a little excited, but that's the rule. You have to say 'Uno' before your other card hits the discard pile. She has to pick up two cards."

"Oh, I think I can be forgiven. She has to pick up two cards, while I still need to get rid of the 37 cards, thanks to all the draw fours and skips, so I don't feel all that sympathetic."

"Well, it's like they're already experts. I'm trying to teach them the game, and I'm getting skunked."

"What do you mean, you guys have played this before? When did you start playing Uno?"

"But why didn't you say anything back then? Summer time is a great time for playing cards."

"No I'm not 'too competitive.'"

"I am not sulking."

"Not pouting either."

"Why don't you kids go watch a movie or something."

I could really use some voting help. I'm a contestant on two different sites for favorite blog. One is on Linking Indiana, and the other on Top 50 Indiana Blogs. If you could stop by and vote for me, that would be great. Thank you.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Kingdom for a Curmudgeon

My Kingdom for a Curmudgeon

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2006

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 August 2006. If you have enjoyed my Karl the Curmudgeon columns, this is his introductory column.

Regular readers of former Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko will remember Slats Grobnik, a curmudgeonly character who espoused less-than-popular views on certain controversial issues. These views were somewhat, but not too far, out in left or right field, depending on which side Grobnik supported. He gave voice to the viewpoints you secretly agreed with, but knew better than to espouse in polite company.

Like non-smokers who secretly believe militant anti-smokers are taking things a bit too far. Democrats who think the Teachers' Union is whiny. Republicans who think Big Oil is greedy. Barry Bonds haters who still watch every pitch so they can see history being made.

Speaking of sports, sports writer and pencil mustache aficionado Frank Deford has his own sports curmudgeon called – what else? – The Sports Curmudgeon. This curmudgeon will growl and gnash his teeth about his less-than-popular views about the sports world that would otherwise generate a lot of hate mail if Frank wrote about these opinions himself.

Dave Barry may have his Astute Readers. Bruce Cameron may have his Eight Simple Rules. Robert Novak may have his anonymous White House sources who reveal confidential information that endanger the lives of other Americans. But none of them have a curmudgeon.

Unfortunately, neither do I. And I need one.

I recently began searching for my own curmudgeon, someone to growl their own opinions on everything wrong with the world today. So I placed an ad in my local paper.

"Wanted: Grizzled, opinionated loudmouth to express his views on controversial topics. No idea too outrageous. Free beer. Must supply own cigars."

I held the interviews in a local tavern so I could watch the curmudgeons in their natural habitat.

I started with the first candidate. "Is darts a sport, or just a game?"

"Just a GAME?" he bellowed in a strong Irish accent. "JUST a game?! Listen sonny, I'll take you over me bleedin' knee if you ever say darts is 'just' a game again! When I was yer age, I was killin' bears wit nuttin' more than a tin pot and a handful of darts."

Hmmm, a definite Maybe.

The next one: "Who's the worst of the last four presidents?"

"They're all terrible! We haven't had a good president since Grover Cleveland!"

True, but I was vigorously opposed to Cleveland's stance on the Pullman Strike of 1894, so this guy went into the No pile.

A third: "What comes to mind when I say Microsoft?"

"Freemasons! They're poisoning our water with fluoride to control our minds!"

Another Maybe. What about the next candidate?

"What do you think of Barry Bonds?"

"Anyone who's ever seen the guy play knows he's on the juice. If those morons running baseball truly cared about the sport more than the revenues, they would have booted him years ago. But they made their bed, so now they can lie in it."

Hmmm, looks promising. Let's try a follow-up question.

"So you think Bonds is hitting all those dingers because he's on steroids?"

"Nah, it's the hand signals I send him through my TV."


After several more hours of Nos and Maybes, I was ready to give up. Not one definite Yes in the bunch. I leaned back and closed my eyes, and considered the possibilities of hiring a Whippersnapper instead. I looked up again when I heard a chair scoot and a mug plunk down on the table.

The guy looked vaguely like Santa Claus with a full white beard, a fisherman's cap on his head, and a blue work shirt. Sort of Hemingway-esque.

"You look beat, Kid," he growled. "What's the matter?"

"I thought this would be a whole lot easier."

"What would?"

"Interviews. I'm trying to find a mature, experienced opinion leader who's willing to share his thoughts on current events."

"Oh, you mean a Curmudgeon."

I sat up. "Exactly."

"Heck, Kid, you're nearly old enough to be a Curmudgeon yourself."

"Watch it, old man, I'm half your age."

He cackled into his beer. "You're alright, Kid. You're alright."

I decided anyone who called me Kid couldn't be half bad. I explained what I was looking for and what I needed him to do.

"And you'll provide the beer?"

"Yep. You interested?"

"It's a deal."

"Great," I said, signaling for another round. "What do you think of the whole Brad Pitt - Angelina Jolie baby thing?"

"Someone needs to spay and neuter them both before they procreate again!"

This was going to be the start of a beautiful relationship.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

British Teen Forced to Give DNA Sample for Throwing Ketchup

Zach Cameron is in for it now. The 15-year-old British schoolboy was fingerprinted and forced to give a DNA sample for assault.

Assault with ketchup.

According to an article in the Daily Sun (official motto: "More boobs than the Times, Mail, and Express combined!"), Zach was out with the daughter of his pastor, when a 14-year-old girl was making "nasty" comments about the daughter. So he took matters into his own hands, and lobbed a small container of ketchup at the girl.

A few days later, Zach received a letter from the Medway Police, which summoned him and his father to the station. Zach went, expecting to be lectured by police. Instead, he was fingerprinted and had a DNA swab taken from inside his mouth.

Zach told the Sun, "It was crazy. I know I should not have thrown the sauce but it was only a tiny bit."

Dawn Cameron, Zach's mom, said, "This all started when Zach was defending the daughter of his church pastor who was being abused by this girl. He realises now it was a silly thing to do but it wasn't the crime of the century."

Dawn is bitter about the entire incident, since the police did nothing after she was the victim of a road rage attack, or after her husband, James, was attacked in a pub.

"This girl complained about having a bit of tomato sauce thrown over her hair and the police reacted as if someone had been murdered," Daw told the Sun.

The police told Zach that he had nothing to worry about, since he does not have a criminal record, and this will not be used against him.

However, if there are more food-related attacks in the area, you know who they're going to go after. Strikes me as condiment profiling.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

BBC Changes "Humpty Dumpty" to Make It Less Violent

The British Broadcasting Corporation, the world's most trusted source to not jack around with the news is now facing some controversy after jacking around with Humpty Dumpty.

They changed the end of the nursery rhyme for the CBeebies channel so it said all the King's horses "made Humpty happy again."

According to the story in the Daily Express, the Beeb said they made the changes for "creative reasons rather than trying to give a soft version of the rhyme for children."

An unnamed spokeswoman told the Express, "We play nursery rhymes with their original lyrics all the time and the small change to Humpty Dumpty was done for no other reason than being creative and entertaining."

Tom Harris, the Labour MP for Glasgow South, told the London Independent (official motto: "I can do it by myself!"), that this was "pathetic" that CBeebies rewrote Humpty Dumpty not to upset children. He believed CBeebies has begun sanitizing a lot of their content for young viewers.

"For goodness sake. Obviously children will find it far too violent, distressing and horrific that Humpty should not be put together again," he told the Independent. "This is what happens when adults try to make these kinds of judgments."

Harris recalled another episode where Little Miss Muffet made friends with her spider antagonist, rather than running away.

The unnamed spokeswoman said they made the same change for more creative reasons.

Photo: Aturkus
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: That's Gay: Commercials

From Al "I invented cable TV too" Gore's Current cable station, the same forward thinking progressives that brought us Sarah Haskins (Target Women), Brian Safi produces the "That's Gay" segment on Current. A few weeks ago, he showed us the difference between straight versus gay commercials on regular TV stations versus LOGO and the other LOGO Bravo. And he's nearly as funny as Sarah Haskins.

With offerings like Sarah Haskins and Brian Safi, I really think I need to start watching Current once in a while.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

At Least I Didn't Pick a Tuba

At Least I Didn't Pick a Tuba

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2009

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting an article from 2002. That'll teach him.

Every kid should learn to play a musical instrument.

I realize that's difficult, with all the education funding being viciously slashed by nearly every state in an effort to improve their students' abilities to take standardized tests. However, if we're not careful, this next generation of students will become musical illiterates.

Presidential Aide: "Bad news, Mr. President. We've just received the World Culture Report from the United Nations. It seems our country's orchestra is currently ranked below the Tarawa Symphony Orchestra of the island nation of Kiribati.

President: Who'd we beat?

Presidential Aide: It's a tie, sir. We are currently ranked higher than an Australian jug band and some crazy guy with two sticks and a toy xylophone.

President: Wow, that's a shame. Let's go play some tee-ball.

Luckily, my parents believed that a musical education was important, so I was expected to play an instrument. I started playing cello in the school orchestra in the fourth grade.

Since I had to walk to and from school every day, and had to lug my cello home twice a week that year, one would think I would learn a valuable lesson in instrument choice. But like any nine year old, I wouldn't learn my lesson if it were spelled out with baseball cards and candy.

So when I entered the fifth grade, I made a similarly stupid choice in choosing a new band instrument.

Ever since I was eight, I had developed a keen interest in one particular instrument. I had planned that once I reached the fifth grade, I could join the band, and learn to play the instrument that haunted my soul.

Finally, the big day came. Potential musical proteges marched down to the band room, were handed a card, and told to write down the instrument we wanted to play.

I clutched my pencil and carefully wrote each letter. I had one shot at this, and neatness counted if I wanted to achieve my dreams.


"Alpine Horn?!" Mr. McDaniel, the band director, nearly shouted. "Do you even know what an Alpine Horn is?"

"Sure I do. It's that 15 foot horn they play in the Alps." I had done my homework, and knew that Swiss and German shepherds used them. I also knew that Mozart had even written a composition for Alpine Horn. Turns out it was Leopold Mozart, but that didn't matter back then.

"I don't think there's an Alpine Horn anywhere in Indiana, let alone in Muncie. Just pick another instrument," he suggested. "Something a little more. . . sane."

Somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of my mind, I remembered something one of my parents' friends told me. This was very odd, because at ten years old, I never listened to my parents, let alone well-meaning strangers.

"Learn to play the French Horn," said the friend, "and you will be able to play anything."

"How about the French Horn?" I asked Mr. McDaniel.

"We've got one of those," he said, sealing my fate. I went on to become one of only four grade school French Horn players in the entire city that year. That number grew to five horn players in my high school, through a series of trumpet defections and strong-arm tactics from our high school band director.

As a result, my growth in fifth and sixth grade was severely limited, but my arms grew at an alarming rate. The rest of my body didn't catch up until I was 19. You see, the French Horn is not so much a brass instrument as it is a 120 pound concrete block with a mouthpiece on one end, and a big shiny bell on the other.

Three times a week, I would lug my instrument home, wondering if I could talk my parents into buying me a motorized cart, or even moving closer to the school. As I would stagger home, some mouth-breathing grown-up with delusions of cleverness would call out helpful things like "You should have picked the piccolo," or "Bet you wish that came with wheels."

I would usually fake a smile, wave, and silently wish I had gotten that Alpine Horn I asked for. Shepherds could nail a hungry wolf from 75 feet with one, and suburban dorks weren't much harder to hit.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Food-Related Assault Epidemic Continues. Yes, It's In Florida

And the food related assault epidemic continues to grow. In fact, if it wasn't for an attack in Iowa this past July, all the attacks would have been in Florida.

This time, it was in Hernando Beach, Florida, where a South Carolina teen was arrested for hurling a deadly missile at a moving vehicle.

A burrito.

According to the story on WFTS ABC News website, John Addie — the victim — was driving his car when someone leaned out of a car and threw something.

"The next thing Addie knew his front windshield was cracked and he was covered in refried beans," said the WFTS website.

So Addie did what anyone covered in discarded Mexican food would do: he followed the car, and called the police.

Police arrested the unnamed burrito bomber, who confessed to hurling the burrito as a prank, and released him to his father's custody. He was charged with hurling a deadly missile, which is a felony.

Apparently burrito-related assault is a felony, as opposed to pelting your girlfriend with a hamburger, which is apparently only a misdemeanor. (It's Florida, what do you expect?)

The police report said Addie's
"vehicle, which was clean and in excellent condition, had a chip in the windshield where the hard object struck it. I observed the contents of a burrito to be on John’s person and his driver’s seat.

A portion of the burrito was on the window frame, on the exterior of his vehicle. I also observed the remainder of the burrito to be at the base of the driver’s seat. It should be noted that John suffered no injury as a result of being struck by the burrito."

View Florida Food-Related Assaults in a larger map

Past food-related assault articles:

Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Iowa, Man Attacks Girlfriend with Pizza
Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Philadelphia, Man Assaults Girlfriend With Meatball Sub
Food Related Assault Epidemic Reaches Illinois, Man Throws Defective McGriddle at McD's Employee
Two More Food Attacks in Florida
Third Sandwich Attack in Florida
Assault with a Burger, Food Related Assaults on the Rise

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Will You... Uhh... Do You Want To...

Will You... Uhh... Do You Want To...

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 October 2005.

Believe it or not, I wasn't always the suave, sophisticated, debonair guy I am now. So it's not too surprising that I never dated much in high school. It wasn't for lack of interest or even lack of trying. Believe me, I was very interested. And I tried as much, if not more, than any normal teenage boy did at that age.

I just didn't know the appropriate way to go about it. That, and I was a bit of a geek back then.

I know, I know, you're totally surprised to hear that. But it's true.

Apparently — and I wish I had known this back then — playing in sports nobody has heard of and being in the marching band can pretty much blow any chances of dating for the next 10 years. It wasn't until I quit the band and assumed a new identity that things turned around for me.

But knowing what I know now, I would like to offer some rules of dating success to the other quasi-geeky young men out there who find themselves alone on a Friday night. I do this partly because I want to spare them the same difficulties I had, but mostly because my wife won't let me date, and I want to see if this stuff really works.

These rules also apply to the complete geeks, although I can assure you I wasn't one. Because it's important to. . . no really, I wasn't. It's important to remember. . . seriously, I wasn't. I was just ahead of my time, that's all.

Rule 1. This is the biggie: lose the Star Trek gear. And Star Wars. And Babylon Five. And Battlestar Galactica. And anything else that combines the words "fiction," "science," and "I like" in a single sentence. Your friends may be impressed that you worked out a battle plan that shows how the Millennium Falcon could beat the USS Enterprise in a dogfight, but girls don't care. Trust me, this is the epitome of geekiness, and should be avoided at all costs.

Rule 2. Ditto for Dungeons and Dragons. For some reason, girls aren't wild about guys who play make believe about fighting dragons and orcs, and finding magical treasures. I remember this one time, I was playing an Elven archer and. . . never mind.

In high school, I only knew one girl who played Dungeons and Dragons, and she was geekier than me. (Despite this, she still intimidated most of the guys in our D&D group by virtue of her being a girl.) In other words, the odds in my school of finding a female D&D player were literally one in 1200, so don't hold your breath on finding one of your own.

3. Adopt an air of mystery. In other words, don't share things about yourself that make people roll their eyes and say "too much information" in that sing-songy voice that makes you want to smack them. Topics like "guess how many things I'm allergic to" or "the results of my latest stool analysis" are strictly off limits. You're better off showing her the three-hour PowerPoint presentation of your Enterprise-Millennium Falcon battle complete with animated explosions.

4. Avoid people who suddenly like you when they previously didn't. They're setting you up for something. I had the fortunate experience of watching this happen to a friend of mine when I was a junior. I say fortunate, because it happened to him and not me. Still, as a friend, it was my duty to support him and help him get over it.

We did this by showing the girl in question there were no hard feelings and delivered three dozen eggs to her house one night. We also left soap on the windows and toilet paper scattered throughout the yard to help with cleanup the next morning.

5. Stories about hobbies and extra-curricular activities are also off-limits. You may think the story about how you nearly came to blows with that jerk Hanson at the Chess Club banquet are interesting, but you're the only one. Save the stories for your grandkids.

However, for some reason, she will not feel the same compunction and will tell you all about what she heard from Sarah who heard it from Alissa who heard from Mandy that Melody and Stuart were caught in the Industrial Arts stairwell and blah blah blah. Just smile and nod and be happy that you're actually on a date with a girl, let alone in the same room with her.

Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Let's face it, being a quasi-geek is a pretty big iceberg, and your dating life is the Titanic. But there's hope. Just practice these five simple rules and you'll start to see small improvements which will lead to bigger and bigger successes. And if you're lucky, you'll have an honest-to-God real girlfriend who thinks your sci-fi obsession is "kind of cute."

It's like the Star Trek episode, "Trouble With Tribbles" where Captain Kirk. . . never mind.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

6-Year-Old Boy Suspended for Bringing Fork/Spoon/Knife Tool to School

Zachary Christie, a 6-year-old Newark, Delaware boy, was excited about joining the Cub Scouts. So excited that he brought a camping utensil — a knife, fork, spoon three-in-one combo — to school to use at lunch.

Under the school's Zero Sense Zero Tolerance policy, Zachary's tool qualifies as a weapon, and so he was suspended, and may have to spend 45 days in the Newark's reform school, said a story in the New York Times.

“It just seems unfair,” Zachary told the Times. He is currently home-schooling with his mom while they appeal the Draconian punishment.

The Christina School District said they had to suspend him, "regardless of (the) possessor's intent," knives are banned in school. Even ones that school-sanctioned organizations provide to their youngest members.

There was no word about why forks, which are equally stabby, are given out every day to all the children at lunch time.

Many residents, says the Times, are wondering why school officials can't/won't/don't exercise more discretion in these cases.

Actually, the state of Delaware has said Zero Tolerance is basically stupid and doesn't help school safety one whit. They even gave school districts the leeway to expel or not expel students.

Looks like the school administrators weren't able to read the legislation, what with their heads being painfully lodged up their asses.

Apparently, some school administrators have had their heads lodged for a long time, because they "argue that it is difficult to distinguish innocent pranks and mistakes from more serious threats"

Here's a hint: if it's a 6-year-old boy and he's using it to eat his lunch, it's an innocent mistake.

“There is no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear that their child no longer has two good seeing eyes because there was a scuffle and someone pulled out a knife,” said George Evans, the president of the Christina district’s school board, told the Times.

True, true. There is also no parent who wants to get a phone call where they hear their child has just been branded a violent criminal because some myopic school administrator can't exercise the good judgment they profess to be teaching the children.

Evans did say the school board might change the rules, at least when it comes to younger children.

That's fine, but the harm has been done. Zachary has been suspended, and told he's a bad kid for bringing a freaking kitchen utensil to school. The same kinds of utensils you give out on a daily basis. For once, try to exercise a little common sense and do the right thing for a little boy who was only excited about Cub Scouts.

And if you, dear reader, want to help Zachary get his suspension overturned, visit the website his mom created and sign the electronic petition. And if you have Zero Tolerance policies in your own school districts, send them to the website and encourage them to read up on all the findings that show Zero Tolerance has been a total failure, causing nothing but headaches and heartaches for the innocent children caught up in its net.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Phone It In Sunday: Brad Meltzer Responds to the Critics

Kudos to mystery-thriller writer Brad Meltzer for having a positive outlook on the bad reviews he's gotten from the various failed authors book reviewers, panning his New York Times best-selling books (official motto: suck on THAT, haters!)

Brad produced this video, having kids from the Little League team he coaches, plus residents from his grandmother's nursing home read the high points from his reviews.

Although I have a friend who is soon wending her way to Oxford to get a Master's degree in literature and literary criticism, I don't think much of the form when it's nothing more than petty book reviewers who get sadistic delight in driving a dagger through the heart of an author, just to make himself or herself sound smarter. It's too easy to bitch and whine about why you think something sucks, like it's supposed to make you sound cool.

It doesn't. It makes you sound like an asshole.

Several years ago, when my dad was writing his college textbook,Motivation: Biological, Psychological, and Environmental he had to have each chapter reviewed by three failed textbook writers other college professors. He said nearly all the reviews came back negative, which was really disheartening. I reminded him that these are all people who only wanted to sound smart to the editor, and were probably bitter that they had never been asked to write a textbook themselves.

"Highly developed spirits often encounter resistance from mediocre minds," I said, quoting Albert Einstein.

So, Brad, I'm glad you were able to take the negative responses to your wildly popular books, and do something fun with it. My hat is off to you.

And all the reviewers who are not New York bestseller authors can just suck it.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

"Whatever" Is the Most Annoying Word

"Whatever" Is the Most Annoying Word

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

Anyway, at the end of the day, someone found, you know, the most annoying word in the world, and it is what it is.

Surprisingly, I didn't use the offending word at all in that sentence. Just all the others.

Turns out more people hate the word "whatever" than any other word.

According to a survey by Marist College (official motto: "Yeah, we've never heard of you either"), 47 percent of all Americans think the word "whatever" is the most annoying word out there. It beats the second place word by 22 percent.

I actually like "whatever." I wouldn't say it was the most annoying. In fact, there are times that it actually gives me pleasure to use.

If a friend is being snarky with me, I can easily reject their attitude with a derisive "whatever." Throw in a dismissive wave of the hand, and the word takes on a whole new meaning. One that symbolizes paper thin tolerance of a ridiculous idea that I consider to be beneath contempt.

"I think NASA is going to try to blow up the moon to change its orbit," the Internet crazies were screaming on Thursday.

"Whatever," I scoffed, flipping my hand dismissively, and pointing to several websites that show what NASA is actually planning to do.

"Barack Obama's healthcare plan will require death camps for children with developmental disabilities," said Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

"Whatever," said everyone else, including the media and several people in her own party.

Now you try it. Let me give you an example:

"I think Liechtenstein should host the 2016 Olympics."

See, didn't that feel great? Gave you a real boost of confidence and esteem. Made you feel a little smarter, didn't it? Of course, you did it at the expense of another person, but at the end of the day, it is what it is.

At least it would if "at the end of the day" didn't make the list. Surprisingly, it was only annoying to 2 percent of the respondents. That's a phrase I really and truly hate, along with "it is what it is," which garnered 11 percent of the total. Both of them are fingernails on chalkboards to me.

Rounding out the list was "you know" (25 percent) and "anyway" (7 percent).

Since only 11 percent of the people hated the phrase "it is what it is," that makes me wonder if 89 percent of the people actually like it enough to use it. While I doubt it's that high, I still hear it enough to make me cringe and writhe in agony.

I usually hear it from people who also use the phrase "think outside the box" without any sense of irony or humor. They're serious when they use it, and think it somehow makes them sound creative.

No, actually saying something creative makes you sound creative. "Outside the box" has been used so many times, it IS the box. People who say "outside the box" have planted themselves so deeply in the box, no amount of digging will ever get them out of it. Surprisingly, that phrase did not make the list. It's the only phrase I hate more than "it is what it is at the end of the day."

So is using "whatever" psychologically damaging to the other person? Do we lose a little of our confidence and self-worth every time someone utters that cutting word?

Communication experts believe that 93 percent of the meaning in a person's communication comes from our tone of voice and body language, and that only seven percent comes from the words we use.

Does that mean your one word derisive dismissal (and the hand flip. Don't forget the hand flip) be harmful to another person's self-worth and esteem? Does it hurt your feelings or make you defensive when someone "whatevers" you? That may be what people found most annoying. They've been suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous "whatever," and rather than popping someone on the snoot, they stuff their anger until it comes out in the form of a snarky survey answer.

I will admit that I've been on the receiving end of a "whatever" from time to time, and it can be a little painful and awkward. There's really no comeback or response that is as cutting or sharp as a "whatever."

I've been working on one though, but I haven't been able to find the right words to give that sense of dismissal and intellectual contempt. But I need to find one soon.

Because "no, YOU whatever!" just isn't cutting it anymore.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

If the Name Fits, Brew It

England is often called the Nanny State because of the short-sighted, often inane decisions they make under the guise of "health and safety." So, it should come as no surprise that someone decided to make some money off this reputation, as well as rub the country's nose in it.

Scottish brewer, BrewDog, was recently criticized and branded as irresponsible for making a limited edition beer called "Tokyo," which has an 18.2% alcohol content, making it the strongest alcohol in all of Great Britain.

In response, BrewDog created a 1.1% alcohol beer called Nanny State.

While campaigners welcomed the beer, they said it showed a lack of appreciation of the problem.

I think it shows a complete waste of beer bottles and the brewing process. Dude, just relabel some water bottles and call it Budweiser.

BrewDog said they had created the high alcohol brew because it would help tackle Scotland's binge drinking culture, because they would drink it in smaller quantities.

Jack Law of Alcohol Focus Scotland told the BBC this argument was "deluded."

"The name of the beer proves that once again this company is failing to acknowledge the seriousness of the alcohol problem facing Scotland," he told the BBC.

James Watt, BrewDog's founder, said in his blog:

Anyone who knows BrewDog, knows beer, or anyone has more common sense than a common (or garden) gnome will know that the scathing and unrelenting criticism we faced was pretty unjustified.

If logic serves the same people who witch-hunted and publicly slated us should now offer us heartfelt support and public congratulations.

However I fear that this, unfortunately, is an arena devoid of logic and reason.

I'm not sure who to back in this fight. While I think that BrewDog should be free to brew whatever beer they want, their argument that it will reduce binge drinking is rather specious. Packing more alcohol is not going to reduce binge drinking, it's going to make it more efficient. It's like gun manufacturers who make their guns shoot faster, but never actually telling you what you're supposed to shoot faster. Yet the wink and the nudge is there.

So too has BrewDog brewed their Tokyo with a wink and a nudge.

However, Alcohol Focus Scotland might want to lighten up a little bit. If you go publicly attacking anyone and call them irresponsible, they're going to retaliate in the best and most public way they can think of.

In other words, if it looks like a Nanny State, talks like a Nanny State, then it's going to be bland, tasteless, and won't have an effect on anyone other than to waste valuable resources.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wayback Wednesday: Have You Tried a Plunger?

Have You Tried a Plunger?

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004

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 5 years ago.

Some days I hate being a writer. Days like today. Not one of those "oh crap it's two hours before deadline, and I don't have a topic" day. That's the story of my nearly-ten more than 15 (updated for 2009 -- Erik) year writing career. It's also how I got through college.

No, I mean the days where I get an overwhelming sense of writer's block. Only it's not writer's block. Writer's block is where a writer can't think of anything to write. They are literally stuck for an idea. Entire books have been written about overcoming writer's block. But that's not what I have.

I have Writer's Overflow.

Writer's Overflow is what you get when you have 10 gallons of ideas trying to get through a one quart pipe. Everything trickles slowly out, and the ideas just build up.

These moods are the bane of many writers. (By "many writers," I mean "me, but I don't want to sound like some lone weirdo.")

We ("I") get overwhelmed with the urge to write. Nothing in particular. We ("I") just want to put pen to paper and write about whatever comes to our ("my") minds.

A lot of writers go through this. It happens when we realize we've missed the best times to be a writer. Not the time in our own lives. The best times in history. The old guard. The writers who chomped on stogies and drank beer while they satisfied their urge to write, banging away on old Underwood typewriters.

Writers like Hemingway who drank heavily, traveled to exotic countries, drank some more, ran with bulls, drank more, caught giant fish in the Caribbean, and lived wild, drunken, hedonistic lives, hanging out with other wild, drunken, hedonistic writers.

Writers who glamorized the art of writing and made it a noble and romantic profession. That is, if your idea of glamor is smelly cigar-and-beer breath and hangovers that could kill a horse. In that case, my college years were the height of my glory, and I didn't even realize I was a writer then.

Now it has all been ruined by health nuts who think smoking is bad, by doctors who claim we need our livers, and by Ernest Hemingway who killed himself in a fit of depression. Maybe I can do without the hangovers, and I can definitely do without the suicidal tendencies, but I miss my cigars.

And I still have Writer's Overflow.

So I try to fix it by going to a bookstore. I buy books in the hopes that I'll be inspired. I want to find THE book, the one that puts me on the right path. The book that opens up the floodgates, so my ideas will come flowing out like. . . like. . . things that flow fast.

I need that book pretty badly.

I just figure out which book I want. A book about writing, or by a particular writer, or on an interesting subject. Then I spend $50, and I'm overcome with guilt and buyer's remorse, which promptly makes me forget my Writer's Overflow. Problem solved! It especially helps if I buy a journal.

I hate journals.

Journals are nothing more than fancy notebooks — a sheaf of paper wrapped in leather You can buy them without the leather at the office supply store for $1.89, but they're $25 at a bookstore. You're supposed to record your thoughts and ideas in them. And I usually do, for a while.

I write about deep philosophical ideas ("Could Tony the Tiger beat up Smokey the Bear?"), interesting things that happen ("Dear Diary, I saw the cutest outfit at the mall!"), or raw, visceral emotions ("I really hate journals!")

And since Writer's Overflow strikes me more than I care to admit, I have purchased countless journals in countless failed attempt at the unblocking process (actually, just seven).

My real loathing of journals stems from the fact that I'm very organized. Once I start a topic in a journal, I can't change it. I can never just have a journal of random writings. It has to be about a particular topic, like daily observations or my favorite beers and cigars. But the problem is I never write in the journal more than five or six times.

And once I write start the journal, it's ruined. It can never be used for anything else. But I can't get rid of it either, because I might want to use it again. Besides, it has 149 other clean pages. I even tried tearing out the offending pages once. But then the journal was tainted, , so I still couldn't use it.

Which means I'm still stuck with the same old problem, and no way to fix it.

Maybe I'll give beer and cigars another try. They can't be any worse for me than when my wife finds out I spent another fifty bucks at the bookstore.

Update: A few years after I wrote this column back in December 2004, I discovered Moleskine (mole-uh-SKEEN-uh) notebooks, the most wonderfulest notebook in the entire world. Problem solved. I've purchased and filled 7 or 8 of them in the last few years, and I carry several, depending on what I need to write about. So if you're looking for a Christmas gift for me, a graphic ruled small hard cover Moleskine will do the trick.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

13-Year-Old Boy Survives Brain Tumor, Cut From Traveling Basketball League

Conor Smith of Eagan, Minnesota beat the odds, and beat cancer two years ago. Twice.

Despite his victory over both a brain tumor and Leukemia, Conor was cut from the "C" team of the Eagan Traveling Basketball league, the lowest team in the league.

"I had no idea this was coming at all. I was completely shocked," Tim Smith, Conor's dad, told KARE 11, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

In March 2007, doctors found that Conor had a brain tumor. Six months later, they found Leukemia. Needless to say, all the chemotherapy kept him out of basketball for 2007, but he managed to find the strength to play in 2008.

However, he developed some stiff calf muscles as a result of his chemo, so he was forced to wear casts to help ease them. Even though the casts are supposed to be off this week, Conor missed the tryouts with the Eagan Traveling Basketball league.

And since Conor couldn't try out, the Eagan Traveling Basketball league could only use his performance from last year — his I'm-still-recovering-from-cancer year. And because they value their rules more than they value fair play and extenuating circumstances, they determined he wasn't good enough to make the "C" squad.

"Could there be an exception, I guess there could have been but we try to keep everything according to our policies as best we can," Beth Koenig, who co-directs the basketball association with her husband Gregg, told KARE.

I absolutely hate the phrase, "if I let you do it, I have to let everyone else do it." My teachers often said it when someone asked for an exception to a rule, just one more chance, or the opportunity to do one thing no one else did. I had a boss who was just as unimaginative who said the same thing to me on several occasions, whenever I tried to get a day off after traveling an entire weekend for the company. (It didn't matter that no one else in the entire office traveled or ever worked weekends.)

This type of thinking is for the unimaginative, the officious, and the inflexible. People who refuse to make exceptions for special cases, citing "the rules" (or "our policies") as their reason, are nothing more than petty little power-trippers who refuse to bend the rules because it might upset their delicate little fiefdom. "We've never done it that way before," is their mating cry, and the rule book is their Bible.

"We're proud of our program," Koenig told KARE 11, hopefully hanging her head in shame."Is this one of our proudest moments? No. But we do believe we followed the policies we have in play."

It also seems to be the policy of the Koenigs and the Eagan Traveling Basketball team to kick a family when they're down, because Tim Smith was also fired as a volunteer coach. Apparently dashing the dreams of one young boy wasn't enough; they had to stick it to the old man too.

To Beth and Gregg Koenig and the Eagan Traveling Basketball team, I wish you the best of luck this year. You've managed to turn the idea of sportsmanship and fair play into a love fest with an arbitrary set of rules that you have the power — the moral obligation, in this case — to break.

If you want to see what real sportsmanship looks like, click this link. If you want to see what officiousness and unfairness look like, look in the mirror.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

British Supermarket Asks for Proof of Age for Buying Teaspoons

Tesco's, the store Britons seem to love to hate, is back in the news again. The giant supermarket recently asked 21-year-old Emma Sheppard for ID when she was trying to buy a 5-pack of teaspoons. She was then wrestled to the ground by agents from MI-5 who were assigned to anti-terrorism duties in British supermarkets.

Unfortunately, only one of those things is not true.

I wish this was the only time this ever happened in England. Unfortunately it happened back in May 2009 at an ASDA store.

Emma went to Tesco's to pick up a few things, including the value pack of teaspoons, and she was caught in the web of England's "Think 25" campaign, which means the cashiers have to check the ID of anyone who wants to buy alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets, DVDs and computer games, weapons including knives, axes, and razor blades, and fireworks. The idea is that you have to prove that you're over 18 if you look under 25.

The problem was Emma Sheppard didn't have her ID, so she was not permitted to buy her weapons of mass stirring.

A Tesco spokesperson told the Daily Mail, "Some utensils, such as knifes, will carry a 'Think 25' alert when scanned through the checkout. There is an element of common sense involved and this was a mistake, for which we are sorry."

Woah. Anyone who has read any of my other Tesco stories (which you can find here, here, and here) knows that Tesco never apologizes for anything, so this is a big deal. For someone from Tesco to apologize and not fob this off on some lame "health and safety" excuse could very well mean that Tesco may finally be recovering from its terminal stupidity.

I'm not holding my breath though.

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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Why Can't Indianapolis Support the Indiana Fever?

What do you want, Indiana? What's it going to take for our state, or at least our city, to support a professional women's basketball team? I've taken my family to four different games this year, thanks to some free ticket love from my new BFF Julie Graue, the VP of Business Operations of the Fever.

My family are Fever fans through and through. As the father of two little girls, I want them to have athletes they can look up to as role models. Hell, as the father of three kids, I want my kids to have positive role models regardless of gender and sports.

We love the Fever because they play clean, they don't get arrested, and they don't start brawls with fans in the stands, unlike some local Men-B-A teams I could name.

And unlike our Pacers, they're actually in the finals this year. I haven't seen the Pacers in the finals since Shaq and Kobe were still on speaking terms.

Tonight, the stands are full, so I brought my family to the local Buffalo Wild Wings just a mile from our house to watch the game. We're in Indianapolis (well, Fishers), it's game three of the WNBA finals, and with just a few minutes to go in the game, you'd think we'd be listening to the audio of the game, right?


We're listening to the Dallas-Denver game, a game between two teams that, if I got in my car now, would take me two days to reach.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a football freak and I would watch this game mostly because I don't like Dallas, and would love to see anyone stomp them. But we're missing a local professional team in their championship only because they're women?

I won't go into why I think Buffalo Wild Wing should support their local teams, but I do think it's pretty poor community relations on the part of the Buffalo Wild Wings, especially if they expect to be supported by their local community.

And I'm actually not surprised by this either. This is the same kind of attitude I've seen in the city. We expect the Simons to pay for a sports team and yet we don't come out and support them. We're proud of the Fever as a city, and yet it took Larry Bird buying the entire upper balcony of seats and giving them away for free to get people to come out for Game 3 of the Division Championships.

Are we that apathetic as a city about anyone who doesn't play football or men's basketball that we can't support them? Even the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians (another personal favorite) gets more publicity and community respect than the Fever.

There has been talk that the Fever may not even be here next season. And if that happens, I hope the Fever can go out on top, with a WNBA Championship and rub it in the faces of the city that turned their backs on them.

I've been to games where the entire upper level was nearly empty, where there were more empty seats in the lower section than there were people. We need people to get excited about the team, and to actually sink just a few bucks into a game. Hell, you can get $4 tickets on some nights, $8 on other nights. Twelve bucks will get you on the lower section if you go on the right nights.

If the Simons are able to keep the team in the city next year, take one night — just one night — and go to a game. Don't ignore them, thinking they'll never shut them down or sell them. Don't stay home, thinking someone else will fill your seat. We can't even get our local restaurants to support them during the finals, so it's going to be up to the rest of us to do it.

And I'll continue to support local restaurants who support their local teams. All their local teams.

UPDATE: The Fever just won their game, 86-85, and the entire crowd cheered for the results. So I asked the manager about it, to see if he realized that he might have made a small error in judgment. He said that while he "supports the local team," he felt he had to bow to the wishes of the Cowboys and Broncos fan who were sitting in the bar and wanted to watch that game. He was worried that the Cowboys and Broncos fans would be upset that they switched the game over to the basketball game, yet there were more people sitting in the restaurant area, and we were all cheering for the Fever.

Whatever, dude. You might have the game on on Tuesday Wednesday night, since there are no football games on, but that seems a bit fair-weather-fannish.

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Phone It In Sunday: Stoning Scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian

I had a tough time deciding last week whether this scene or the Black Knight scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was my favorite. I'm still not entirely sure, but both of these are my two all-time favorite comedy scenes from any movie, and they're the ones that made me a Python fan.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Honey, It's Over. Burma Shave!

Honey, It's Over. Burma Shave!

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2009

It's been the talk of the town around Bilgola, New South Wales, Australia. A series of romantic signs from some unnamed bloke to his girlfriend Jennifer takes a nasty turn just 40 percent of the way through the message, like some sort of emotionally-sadistic Burma Shave campaign. Five signs along the Barrenjoey Road that start out promising a lifetime of happiness but end in embarrassment.

"Jennifer/Will you marry me/Just kidding/I'm breaking up with you/You have 6 days to move out."

The signs have been taped to telephone poles along the road, which is the busiest road in Bilgola.

Of course, that's not saying much, since the population is only slightly more than 3,000. It's like being the highest point in Rhode Island (812 feet above sea level), the world's fastest turtle, or the smartest person on Jay Leno's Jay Walking. Sure you stand out, but the bar's set pretty low.

It makes me wonder who's the worst person in this relationship? Is it the unnamed boyfriend — the guy who lied to her, but hid his identity — who toyed with Jennifer's heart for a couple hundred yards, before publicly embarrassing her? Is he such a jerk who thought this would be a clever way to end a relationship?

Or did Jennifer do something so heinous that the boyfriend didn't even feel like he could talk to her about their problems, and that a public humiliation was the only way to get through to her?

This isn't the most dignified way to handle the breakup, because it doesn't leave much doubt as to who it is. On the one hand, "Jennifer" is such a common name that our Jennifer may be able to keep a little anonymity, and most people in Bilgola may not be able to figure out who the mystery woman is. On the other, bigger hand, even if half the population are women, that means there are 1,500 women in Bilgola, and only a few hundred of them would be unmarried and living with a guy. And only a very few of them would be named Jennifer.

Which probably means the newly-available Jennifer is walking around town with a big scarlet letter D on her chest (D for "dumped unceremoniously").

Personally, I feel worse for Jennifer. Because while she could be a shrew, she was a shrew in private. What the Cowardly Liar did was to not only humiliate her publicly, but he hid behind his own crudely lettered signs to do it. If you're going to be the man in the relationship, be a man when you end it. Don't cower like a child behind his mother's skirts. Step up and break up with her the right way: get your friends to do it while you're out on a date with your new girlfriend.

While the Cowardly Liar's actions may have only been seen by a few hundred Aussies, it ended up becoming international news. Because not only did this make Australian news, it appeared in the London Daily Telegraph, and now in the paper where you are reading this. So if Jennifer has a scarlet D, I'm hoping the Cowardly Liar has a bright red foot-sized target on his backside.

I have to wonder if we're going to see a trend in how breakups are handled. We're starting to see more couples breaking up by text message ("Hey, u r dumped. :-( L8r."), companies are starting to do mass layoffs by email, and my wife even knows someone who was laid off by voicemail.

(Still, we won't get into the cold-hearted cowardice of corporations who can't even take 10 minutes out of their day to have a face-to-face conversation with the person they're going to terminate. And don't tell me it's about efficiency. If you were as concerned about efficiency and the bottom line two years ago as you are at this very moment, you wouldn't have had to lay people off to begin with.)

Unfortunately, the Cowardly Liar's actions may have set a dangerous precedent. What if companies started laying off its employees this way?

"John/you're being promoted to manager/just kidding/your desk has been emptied/your stuff is in front of the office."

I'm glad that this is a new thing, and not something that has been going on for years, or even decades. I can only imagine what it might have done to history or literature.

"Scarlett/Going back to Charleston/You can come with me/Just kidding/Still don't give a damn."

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

British Watchdog Group Won't Let Two Mothers Exchange Childcare Favors

Motherhood is the world's oldest profession. Our moms have been taking care of us since time immemorial. They've taken care of our friends. They understand that what is good for my child is good for that child.

Unless you live in England.

Apparently, while you may know what's best for your child, you need certification to do simple childcare things, like help a friend out by watching her kid while she goes to work.

A recent story in the London Daily Mail said two working mums are not allowed to watch each other's children, because they are not "registered childminders." These two friends work for the same company, and had made arrangements with each other to watch the other's child while they took turns going to work.

But some officious jerk ratted the two out to the education advocacy group Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, which said that the two were breaking the law.

Apparently, if you watch a child for more than two hours outside the child's home for a "reward," you have to have your background checked, including a check from the Criminal Records Bureau. And since Ofsted apparently does not understand the plight or problems for working mothers, they considered this deal to be a "reward."

Education advocate Dr. Richard House said Ofsted's findings were "absolutely scandalous."

He told the Daily Mail, "There is no conceivable rationale behind it. It's like making the assumption that all parents are paedophiles and they have to prove that they aren't. As soon as we create a society like that then family life ceases. Parents have to have the confidence to make their own choices about their own children. This is absolutely extraordinary."

"Absolutely extraordinary" is the polite "f---ing stupid."

Basically, as an English parent, I culd choose to register my kids for football, rugby, or beginning rock climbing. I could feed them Twinkies for breakfast and make chocolate pancakes for dinner. I can let them walk to school, or play with the friends they made in council housing (that's British for "the projects.")

But I can't let a close friend watch my child while I go to work in exchange for doing the same thing for her.

Ofsted, or at least the British government, needs to realize that while Ofsted may be in charge of educational standards in British schools, their reach does not extend into private homes or business matters. And that just because they declare something to be so doesn't mean it's right.

Apparently, the two moms have had to put their kids in traditional daycare, which isn't cheap, which means they either have to work more (thus spending less time with their children), or make less (which makes their efforts a lot less profitable).

I've known several families where the mom put their children in day care so they could go to work. What they learned was that with the cost of daycare being so high, they barely made any money. Basically, they were working so they could pay for child care, because they were only netting a couple hundred dollars a week. And that money went toward things like gas to get to work, parking, etc. So they ended up quitting their jobs and found they were just as well off financially as they had been before.

If two women are trying to improve their financial well-being, and need to rely on each other to get it done, then Ofsted should get their heads out of their collective ass and leave these women alone.

Leave parenting to people who know how to parent, not idiot bureaucrats who apparently just don't get it.

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