Friday, November 26, 2010

UK Councils Sink Common Sense Pool Safety

UK Councils Sink Common Sense Pool Safety

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

Personal safety devices violates health and safety laws in England.

The Wokingham Borough Council in Southeast England recently banned all personal flotation devices from their swimming pools because they pose a threat to health and safety.

You read that right: a device that's supposed to keep you safe violates health and safety laws.

Harpers, a private company that runs swimming pools and sports centers around southeast England, banned the floating devices after a child nearly choked on one. So they implemented a policy to only allow the floating devices during supervised swimming lessons. But they never made the policy public, and from all accounts, would not have told people about it if they didn't have to.

The fact that you're reading it here pretty much tells you how that plan worked out.

Sarah Swain, 31, was swimming at the pool in Wokingham, when she decided she wanted to use a floating board. She took lessons last year, but was still a little shaky in the water. So she went to retrieve a board from a cupboard where they were stacked up.

"Being a non-swimmer, the first thing I did was look for a float," Swain told The London Daily Telegraph. "I was surprised to see none in the water or around the edge of the pool.

Swain said when she tried to retrieve one, a lifeguard stopped her, and said she couldn't have one for health and safety reasons.

"When I asked him why he said the company had banned them from handing them out because a small child almost choked on one," said Swain. "I said 'I am hardly a small child. am I?' but he said they were the rules."

A spokesman for Harpers told The Times, "At Loddon Valley, we do not generally distribute floats or swimming aids during public swimming sessions as we would prefer those less confident in the water do not go into the deeper water."

In other words, rather than telling people not to let their children chew the floats, they want to put people at risk of drowning by not letting them use safety devices. Rather than create a policy to prevent the first-ever instance in history of a child choking on a kick board, why not work to prevent the more likely event of people drowning because they didn't have a flotation device?

But this isn't the only instance of British councils creating life-threatening rules under the guise of health and safety.

Three years ago, a three-year-old girl was not allowed to use a board, because she might get injured using it. Never mind that she could die if she didn't use it, they just didn't want her to get smacked in the face. A lifeguard there said he was not allowed to lend out floats, unless it was at a supervised session, because they didn't want someone to get injured and sue them.

I'm more concerned that you actually have unsupervised swimming sessions than rogue kick boards.

But it doesn't stop there. Two years ago, staff at a pool in Northumberland refused to give a five-year-old swimmer a board, because they were worried that water aids and water wings might pass on infections.

Here's a hint: if your safety devices can't get sanitized in a chlorinated pool, then your pool isn't very clean either. Either that, or you do a sucky job at cleaning and sterilizing your equipment. Rather than banning the devices, why don't you just do a better-than-mediocre job of cleaning them?

The United Kingdom may just take the cake when it comes to helicopter parenting. It's one thing that in the United States, parents make their three-year-olds wear crash helmets and knee pads when they're riding their tricycles. That may be overprotective and dorky. But UK officials love sticking their noses in other people's businesses.

If you're worried that kids are getting fat and inactive, it's not because of video games and junk food. We've had video games for 30 years, and junk food ever since our mothers said eating the skin of a mastodon that was bad for us.

Our kids are getting fat because there are people who are so worried about someone getting a small boo-boo that they're regulating kids right out of the activities that are supposed to keep them active and healthy.

The councils in England have some of the worst reputations for coming up with some of the stupidest rules in the entire Western hemisphere. If people were smart, they would come up with a way to ban the town councils and let common sense rein.

But common sense was banned in 2003, because they were worried it might allow people to have fun.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Olives and Zingers: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Olives and Zingers: A Thanksgiving Tradition

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

Thanksgiving has always been one of those weird holidays.

I mean, it's a real holiday, because the post office is closed. Families gather together, nobody goes to work, everyone eats themselves into a coma, and somebody invariably gets upset with someone else and gossips about them to the rest of the family, parsing their argument down to the sub-atomic level, until Christmas.

But I never thought of Thanksgiving as a holiday when I was growing up. There are no gifts, no Thanksgiving carols, no Great Turkey, no decorations, and no gifts. (I thought it was worth mentioning the gifts twice.)

The only thing we ever really looked forward to on Thanksgiving was A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special ("brought to you by Dolly Madison snack cakes!"). That, and wedges of pumpkin pie you could jack a car up with.

Pumpkin pie was my consolation dessert since my parents would never let us get Dolly Madison snack cakes, no matter how much we asked. (My favorites were the Zingers. Don't ask. I had my ways.)

These days, my wife says I don't need them anyway, which is okay, since I can't really find them either. (You know, I was fine not having one until right now. Now I can't stop thinking about them. Thanks a lot, idyllic childhood memories!)

I just finished watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving with my kids, which was a nice treat, since I'm not buying them any gifts. And it made me realize there are so many details I missed in the show when I was younger. Like the chair next to Franklin at dinner that kept disappearing and reappearing, depending on the scene. Or the ice cream sundaes that magically appeared right before Linus said grace.

Or most importantly, at the end of the show, Snoopy shows that he actually knew how to cook all along. He fixes a turkey with all the trimmings, and shares it with his pal, Woodstock.

Woodstock the bird. Who eats the turkey.

It took me 37 years to realize that A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has the first recorded instance of cannibalism in children's television.

I'm not worried about the effect that kind of thing will have on my kids. I never made the connection until this year, and I don't think this will have any warping effect on them either. No more than a dog who makes toast and popcorn, or runs a bad catering business.

Of course, the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special set up some pretty unreasonable expectations for me when I was growing up. I never really understood what the big deal was with the dinner Charlie Brown and Snoopy served. While it didn't qualify as a real Thanksgiving dinner, I always believed that popcorn and toast would make an acceptable meal in a pinch. Especially if I could train a dog to make it for me.

But I always wanted to try it. For the longest time, I would ask my parents for a Charlie Brown dinner.

"Can we have a Charlie Brown dinner?" I would beg every few months.

"What's that?" they asked.

"Toast, popcorn, pretzels, and jelly beans."

"No!" they said. Eventually they just stopped asking what it was, and skipped straight to "No!" (They never let us get jelly beans either. No Zingers, no jelly beans. I lead a deprived childhood.)

I never wanted a Charlie Brown dinner for Thanksgiving, you understand, because that's when we got turkey (which was not my favorite meat; I always wanted steaks), mashed potatoes, which I loved to mix with my corn, and black olives.

Black olives were my favorite, because my sister and I would stick them on our fingers and make creepy noises at each other. It was a rather depressing Thanksgiving for me when I discovered my fingers were too big to fit in the olives anymore. From then on, I silently sulked whenever the little kids would play the olive game.

However, the kid in me never totally left, because I still manage to cram a black olive on my pinky each November. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), my kids look at me like I'm a weirdo, and would never dream of sticking olives on their fingers. Kids just don't have a sense of tradition like we used to. And they hate olives. (Now who's the weirdo?!)

Still, I try to instill at least a couple Thanksgiving traditions with my kids, like watching Charlie Brown every year, and saying no to toast and popcorn for dinner.

I'll have to introduce them to the wonders of the Dolly Madison Zingers when my wife's not around.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

A Zoo Visitor and His Finger Are Soon Parted

A Zoo Visitor and His Finger Are Soon Parted

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2004

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are replacing his current column with one from 2004. Let's see if anyone notices.

Although I try to pretend otherwise, anyone who knew me will tell you that I was a rabble-rousing little terror who got into all sorts of trouble.

"A heller!" my grandmother shouts during one of her flashbacks.

My father is a psychology professor at Ball State University, and he was sometimes able to subtly control my behavior. Of course, this lead to some unfortunate incidents. Like the time I was four years old, my dad got me to stick my finger in a rat cage.

He did this by taking me to his department's rat lab, looking me straight in the eye, and with all seriousness and concern, said, "Whatever you do, don't stick your finger in the rat cage."

At that instant, any thought of not sticking my finger in the rat cage was replaced with "what will happen if I stick my finger in the rat cage?"

This was immediately answered by the rat who lived there, when he bit me on the finger. And as if being bitten wasn't bad enough, I was then taken to the emergency room for a tetanus shot, administered right on my butt.

Meanwhile the rat — being a psychology rat — was enrolled in an outpatient treatment program for anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Or it was tested for rabies, I can never remember.

I was reminded of this incident when I was alerted to an Associated Press story by my friend and fellow humor writer, Jennifer Layton.

According to the Associated Press, zoo keepers from the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico have banned a frequent zoo visitor for life, after finding his finger outside a jaguar exhibit.

A groundskeeper saw a man with blood on his pants, and asked if he was okay, but the man ran off. A little while later, the man's finger was found outside the cage of Manchas the jaguar.

It would be irresponsible of me not to call him "Munches" now.

Officials tracked the man down through his New Mexico Zoological Society pass, which wasn't that hard since only four people bought one. However, his name was not released by officials, so I'll just call him Stumpy.

It seems that Stumpy was intrigued by Munches the jaguar, and most likely stuck his finger in the cage. So Munches, doing what jaguars do best, bit him.

When I read the story, I was worried that my father had begun using his powers for evil, but a quick phone call confirmed that he hadn't been to New Mexico since the late 1970s.

According to the article, zoo director Ray Darnell said they telephoned Stumpy to ask if he was missing any fingers.

Darnell: Hello, Mr. Johnson, this is Ray Darnell of the Rio Grande Zoo. Funny story. We were cleaning out the jaguar cage and found a finger. We were wondering if it was yours.

Mr. Johnson: Let me see. . . 7, 8, 9, uhhh, 10. Nope, they're all here. Yesiree, I have all nine — I MEAN TEN! — of my fingers.

Darnell: Are you sure? The police fingerprinted it and determined it belonged to you.

Mr. Johnson: No, not me. Must be my twin brother's.

Police went to Stumpy's house and confirmed that he was, in fact, the former owner of the missing finger.

So zoo officials banned Stumpy because "you just can't take the risk," Darnell told the AP. Although I don't know who faces the bigger risk, Stumpy or Munches.

According to the zoo's general curator, Tom Silva, this is the only case he knows of where a zoo visitor was injured by an animal. However, a few years ago, a temporary employee lost the tip of one of his fingers, which was found later in — say it with me — Munches' den.

This makes me wonder what it is about Munches the jaguar that makes people want to stick their fingers in his cage. It would be easy to understand if it were Dave Barry, since he's made his entire career out of sticking his finger in his nose and then writing about what he finds. But instead, these are people who are somehow hypnotized by the big cat to stick their fingers in his cage. That, or they're the kinds of people who usually preface their stunts with "hey y'all, watch this!"

In either case, I think Munches needs to be removed from the Rio Grande Zoo and placed somewhere where no one would care who he eats.

I hear "Survivor Island" is nice this time of year.

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Dear Politicians, Please Shut Up Now

Dear Politicians, Please Shut Up Now

Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Copyright 2010

(An open letter from average citizens.)

Dear politicians, political consultants, activists, and pundits,

The election is over. The votes have been cast. You won or lost.

So shut it. Just shut up.

We're tired of it all. Tired of you. Tired of the anger and the hatred and shouting and the yelling and the lies and the half-truths. We're tired of all the whining and pouting and finger-pointing.

This election was not a confirmation on your way of life. It's not a reflection of whether the country agrees with you. The Republicans took control of the House of Representatives. That is not a referendum that the country agrees with your assessment of the President. The Democrats kept control of the Senate. That is not a message to the country that we agree with your assessment of the President.

It means your side won or lost. Period. It does not mean we wanted some Governor 1,000 miles away to also win or lose. It does not mean we wanted to keep or displace the Senator of a neighboring state. It means we agreed with your candidate enough to vote for them.

And that's it. End of discussion. End of the noise.

Because we're tired of your rumors and lies in the guise of political ads. The scary announcers, the ominous music, the half-truths and twisted words. The snide, mocking tones and the unflattering photos of your opponent.

We're tired of your lies about President Obama being a Muslim. (He's not. We've been over this). We're tired of you calling Christine O'Donnell a witch because of something she said 21 years ago. (It was 21 freaking years ago. Let it go).

You're the people we're supposed to look to for hope and leadership, and you're calling each other witches and Nazis. That's not hope or leadership. That's just shrill hysterics, not-so-cleverly disguised as campaign ads.

Speaking of which, we're especially tired of the wasted money. You people spent nearly $4 BILLION this year to tell us how evil the other candidate is. That's $1 billion less than the record-setting amount you spent in 2008 to elect a president. You spent $4 billion to tell us how you're going to rein in out-of-control spending.

With that $4 billion, you could have given $10,000 in college tuition to 400,000 kids who can't afford college. Or given a $30,000 salary to 133,000 unemployed people. Or bought homes for nearly 27,000 homeless families. You could have even covered half of Haiti's $7.2 billion earthquake costs.

Instead, you wasted money to get elected to control government waste.

So we're glad it's over. Because we're sick of hearing about how your opponent is responsible for global warming or that global warming is a hoax. Or that your opponent will raise our taxes or cripple the economy. Will take our guns or arm our wackos. Will march our elderly into death camps or allow insurance companies to throw us in the poor house.

We know you're lying. We can tell, because your lips are moving. We don't trust you, we don't believe you, and we know that once you take your oath of office, nothing will ever change.

Because everything you said you would do? You won't do.

You're not the first candidates to promise us the moon and the stars, and you won't be the last. Washington is filled with people like you. People who promised us something and then failed to deliver. This election was filled with anti-incumbent accusations of do-nothingness or pure evil. We were bombarded with dire predictions of epic failure if your opponent got elected, but we don't believe it.

We don't believe it, because it hasn't happened yet. We were promised change and/or doom two years ago, four years ago, six years ago, yada yada yada, 234 years ago. The only thing that has changed in all that time is the rest of us. You people are still making dire predictions, trying to scare the bejeezus out of us. You're still insulting each other, and our intelligence, 234 years later.

We need a break from you. Because 2010 is nearly over, the presidential hopefuls are now eyeing Iowa, and this thing is going to start up again in about six months. Give us a rest for a little while. You kids go out and play. America has a headache right now, and we need some peace and quiet.

So just shut up.
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