Monday, November 27, 2000

Dodge Ball Is Destroying Our Kids

Sorry, gym teachers, you’ll have to find something else to do on those rainy days when your class is stuck inside. In Cecil County, Maryland, school officials want to ban the game of Dodge Ball.

Why must Dodge Ball go? Because they say schools should be teaching cooperation and teamwork, and Dodge Ball is all about individualism. And they say the game may cause some kids to lose self-esteem if they get hit and knocked out of the game.

This is not the conclusion of gym teachers, but of school administrators and their consultants, like Judith Young, who advises school districts on physical education. She says, “The notion of throwing things at people, pegging people with other objects, is contrary to what we’re teaching elsewhere in school.”

So is tackling, Judy. You want to ban football next?

She also complains that kids will lose self-esteem if they’re eliminated early in the game, and we can’t have that. Amazing that a woman can consult on physical education without understanding some of the basic concepts of sports. For instance: someone has to win, someone has to lose -- someone will be first, someone will have to be last!

Before you know it, we’ll stop grading kids on how they’re doing academically, because the ones who don’t score high enough might...wait, I’d better stop before I give them any ideas.

What are you going to do about running around the track? Tell the faster kids that they shouldn’t be so speedy because that might make the slower kids feel bad? Does everyone now have to run at the exact same pace?

Actually, that would have helped me in junior high, when I cared so little about running around an oval that even the fat kids would lap me. But my disinterest had nothing to do with losing self-esteem on the track. It had everything to do with puberty, and not wanting to have to take a shower in the gym locker room at the same time my body was undergoing those transformations. Believe me, I trained long and hard to learn just the pace I could run without breaking a sweat. No sweat, no shower.

Cecil County is not the only school system making changes like this. Dodge Ball and Kickball -- even Basketball! -- are being replaced around the country by smaller games or individual exercise regimens. How an individual exercise regimen fits into the teamwork concept, I have no idea.

Next, they’ll eliminate your basic game of tag. There’s probably some psychology to show that being “it” for too long a period can destroy a kid’s self-esteem. Hide and seek has to go, too. It’s a documented fact that both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were certified “seekers,” and you know what happened to them.

Other changes to be made under the new Esteem-Enhancing Sports Rules:

Baseball: Three strikes and you’re still in.
Volleyball: No hitting the ball where the other team isn’t.
Basketball: The vertically-challenged won’t feel left out with a lower net.
Hockey: The goalie has been eliminated as a wasteful obstacle.
Bowling: Keep going, you’ll get all the pins down eventually.
Soccer: All players may use their hands at any time.
Tennis: You may hit the ball no matter how many times it has bounced.
Track & Field: Time and distance no longer affect your score. We just want a good effort.

What Judy and her pals don’t understand is the one thing that makes Dodge Ball fun. The idea is NOT to go after the fat kid, the slow kid, the geeky kid, etc. Any true Dodge Ball player knows that the best part is going after your best friend. If you can throw that big rubber ball at your closest pal and hit them hard enough to leave a bright red mark on their thigh, your day is made!

Of course, if they catch it and wing it back at you, then you could be the one spending the rest of the game sitting down, drawing patterns in your reddened flesh with your fingertip. But you always know there will be another chance in another game on another day.

Unless you live in Cecil County, Maryland, that is.

Friday, November 17, 2000

James Ulmer, Hollywood Hot List

On my show today, James Ulmer, Hollywood journalist and creator of The Ulmer Scale, told incredible insider stories about celebrities, how they're treated, and how they're rated by the industry. You won't believe some of the stories, like the ones about how the crew of a movie got even with Sharon Stone, the time Kirstie Alley demanded a wet-nurse for her possum, and how Demi Moore wants so many perks she's nicknamed "Gimme Moore."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, November 13, 2000

Modernizing The Electoral Process

All this hoopla over the presidential vote recount has focused on the people, with complaints like, “How come Floridians can fill out 10 bingo cards at once, but they can’t punch holes in a simple butterfly ballot?”

The problem doesn’t lie so much in the people. It’s in the system. Here we are in the year 2000, the most technologically advanced civilization in history, and the punch card is the way we still have to vote?

As always, I’m here with a solution. Stay with me on this, because I’m going to suggest we make a leap forward and use a little-known device called “The Computer.”

In a world where you can order an entire custom dining room set online and have it delivered to your house two days later, shouldn’t we have moved the how-we-vote bar a little bit higher?

Simplifying the process involves changing two things.

First, we shouldn’t have to all gather at the same polling place in our own community to cast our votes. You should be able to vote at any public election kiosk anywhere in your state. That way you don’t have to rush home from work or a business trip to try to beat the closing time (cuts down on absentee ballots, too!).

How will the machine know where you live and what district your vote counts in? In many states (e.g. Missouri), our driver’s license has a metallic strip on the back -- just like on credit cards -- but it seems to serve no purpose. Under my plan, you swipe your license in the kiosk reader, and it instantly knows where you live and what you should vote on. Vote anywhere, anytime, and it all gets applied to the proper precinct.

This has the wonderful side effect of completely screwing up the exit polls, although they seem to have done that themselves very nicely.

It should also cut down on waiting time at the polling places. We live in a microwave world where we want everything faster (I have seen a guy stand in front of the microwave complaining that it was taking a full minute to heat up his cup of coffee!), so we have to design a way to speed up the voting process. No one should have to spend a half-hour in line just to vote. We have better things to do with our time, like spending all night camped outside Toys R Us waiting for the new Sony PlayStation 2 to go on sale in the morning!

The other half of the upgrade involves replacing the punch card ballot with a computer touch screen. For each elective office, you simply touch the screen where your candidate’s name is. Then you push the “next” option, and it keeps taking you through all the categories of aspiring office holders, propositions, bond issues, etc. When you complete the last item, the screen shows a summary of who and what you have voted for and asks, “Is this correct?” If you push Yes, your vote is tabulated and you’re on your way. If not, try again. There’s no muss, no fuss, no wasted paper (can you recycle electoral punch cards?).

Best of all, there is absolutely no chad.

I didn’t know until this week that “chad” is the name for the paper speck that you punch out of the card. Part of the controversy over the Florida ballots being counted by hand is that the election judges have to consider what happens when the hole is punched, but the chad is still attached by a corner or two. They use phrases like “hanging chad,” “dimpled chad,” and “swinging chad."

The word “chad” hasn’t been mentioned in this many news reports since Rob Lowe's brother was arrested in the same week that Madeline Albright’s plane refueled in a small African nation near Libya.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about my revolutionary electoral scheme:

Q: We can’t trust computers. What if some teenage hacker changes the software and Bill Gates becomes President?
A: We now live in a world where you can go to Sri Lanka and access your US bank account at an ATM over a secure line and withdraw money in an instant! I think we can develop a secure system for your vote. Incidentally, those machines that now count the punch cards ARE computers.

Q: Doesn’t that leave the door open to corruption? How do we know the vote count is true?
A: The experience of the last week should be proof enough that we probably never knew that, in any election.

Q: What if the results are so close someone demands a recount?
A: Each kiosk retains its own statistics internally as well as feeding them down the secure network, backing itself up after each ballot is completed. It also makes anonymous bids on Mark McGwire's rookie card on E-Bay in the background.

Q: How do we pay for all this technology? Do we just buy the equipment from
A: Corporations pay huge fees for the naming rights to every stadium and arena in the country. The biggies would gladly pick up the costs if their logo could appear on the screen between voters. On the days when we’re not having an election, you would use the same kiosks to order tickets to your favorite major motion picture!

Q: Come on, Paul. Elections are supposed to be about the people’s choice, not some cheap sponsorship opportunity for some company.
A: You’re right. The only proper place for commercial messages is on The Paul Harris Show and the banner ads on Sorry about the blatant plugs, but I’m still laughing about that whole "people’s choice" remark. Good one!

Q: If people are having trouble with punch cards, how the hell are they going to figure out your touch-screen deal?
A: I’m not suggesting you have to do something complex like program your VCR in order to vote. All you have to do is apply pressure with your finger to a screen. Just like you do now when a contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” uses up all their lifelines on the $200 question. Besides, we’ll always have a certain percentage of the population -- let’s say it’s 10% -- who can’t figure out how to vote correctly, no matter what method we use. So why not upgrade it for the other 90% of us? For the one out of ten who have trouble with both punch cards and touch screens, let them go to a simple voice vote. At noon on election day, they open their windows and scream their candidate’s name. Loudest response wins.

Q: What about people who, for whatever reason, can’t open their windows? Doesn’t your system discriminate against the infirm, not to mention people who work in high-rise office buildings?
A: I’ll let my Executive Election Assistant answer that one. Chad?