Monday, November 26, 2007

Dick Cheney Has An Irregular Heart

This is news?

And Trent Lott is leaving early. Now, when most Senators leave the Senate early, it's either due to ill health or a scandal. Why is Lott leaving early? To become a high-paid lobbyist. The Senate changed to rules on lobbying this year to add a requirement that a member of Congress had to wait two years after leaving office to become a lobbyist. But the law does not go into effect until January.

Great, just great. This seems to be the meaning of public servant - make as much money as you possibly can.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Decline and Fall of...Sesame Street??

I forget now who pointed me to this New York Times article, but if you ever watched Sesame Street in the '60s, '70s or '80s, it sounds like the show is going downhill rapidly.

I wrote the following letter to the article's author and to the current executive producer of Sesame Street:

To: Virginia Heffernan, New York Times
CC: Carol-Lynn Parente, Childrens Television Workshop

What?? TV from 1969 isn't suitable for today's children? Have people who create programming for children lost their minds?'s happened before.

I was born in 1957, and remember vividly some of the early Warner Brothers cartoons, some with negative racial stereotypes, on frequent rotation on TV by the early '60s. I remember Captain Kangaroo reading "Little Black Sambo." I remember "The Little Rascals" with Buckwheat. These experiences, along with having been raised in a lily-white suburb, should have made me a racist.

But they didn't.

If anything, seeing racism on TV news (lynchings, the white police in the South turning water hoses on black protesters, hearing that black girls around my own age were murdered in a church bombing) made me understand, early on, how wrong racism was. Seeing racial stereotypes treated as "normal" on children's TV made me understand, early on, that these attitudes were ridiculous.

During the '60s, I loved Warner Brothers cartoons because they were always sharper than the other cartoons on TV, even if they sometimes used stereotypes. Early Warner Brothers cartoons were in no way politically correct. But most of them are still funny today, even to adults.

I have a younger brother, who was five the year Sesame Street started. Even though I was twelve, I enjoyed the early Sesame Street episodes. They were wonderfully anarchic. Did we think the fact that the baker carrying the baked goods and falling down the stairs while he was counting objects mean that we should fall downstairs carrying a tray of cakes? Did we think we should all live in trash cans and be grouchy to everyone around? Did we think we should only ever eat cookies? Of course not! I understood that. Even my five year old brother understood that.

The current Sesame Street doesn't sound like it's fun to watch. It sounds way too bland. Older Sesame Street shows had an engaging blend of innocent and more sophisticated characters. That was a little more interesting to the viewers, particularly to the adults who might be watching with their children. Changing with the times is one thing. Many kids shows have had an increase in female and minority characters over the last 20 years, and that's great. But bowdlerizing kids TV to dull any sharpness or originality is a very sad state of affairs.

Laurie D. T. Mann
Pittsburgh, PA

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Cousin, The Conservative Pundit

A few weeks ago, my mother mentioned that my cousin Debbie's son Justin was a published writer. I haven't seen Debbie in years and I've never met either of her kids. But Debbie and I are the same age and spent a number of Thanksgivings together at our grandparents' house in Vermont. So while we aren't connected in the present, we've had connections in the past.

Anyway, I glanced through the URL Mom told me about, and realized Justin was a self-published writer. Not that there's anything wrong with that; most of us who write for the Web are self-published.

He's also extremely conservative. While his iUnverse bio claims:

Justin Haskins, a political science student at the University of Kansas, is an award winning poet and an up and coming political commentator. Currently the author of two books, his unique opinions and passionate commentating force readers to think outside the box and into the realm of debate. Using strenuous researching tactics and uncommonly known facts, Haskins is quickly becoming a much needed voice for a new generation of voters.

I, frankly, didn't see anything in his essays beyond the Clinton-bashing we've been seeing for over 15 years. I tried giving November in New England a read, but it was mostly too extreme.

I don't know if Justin and I will ever meet. While he was raised in New Hampshire, he's currently in college in Kansas. I know that, aside from my Mom's cousin Alice and my sister-in-law Rachel, I'm the family liberal. Justin is from my Dad's side of the family. My Dad has always been pretty quiet about his political leanings, though he probably generally votes Republican. My Mom has always been much more forthcoming about her distaste for Democrats. But, it is at least a little funny that Justin and I are at all related.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Why Do My Favorite Sites Hate Nearsighted People?

There have always been Web sites that have been triumphs of form over function. The look of the site mattered more than the content.

My favorite sites have always been the ones where the content is the most important thing. I read IMDB, Yahoo and CNN regularly.

Unfortunately, the recent redesigns of IMDB and Yahoo are both hostile to nearsighted people. The basic type is way too small. Some Web sites let the user set preferences for type size and colors, but not IMDB or Yahoo. The user has no control over the display of the page. The only thing the user can do is up the size from the browser View option, but then you have to reset it whenever you leave the site where the text is too small.

I'd sent comments complaining about these problems to both sites when they were in beta. And I can't believe that I was the only one. However, the main font size is still too small.

It's frustrating that companies don't give a damn about Web site readability.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Meeting Up with Other Bloggers

I've missed the last few Pittsburgh Blogfests, but I was at the next one, which was Thursday, November 8 at Finnegans Wake on the North side. It's fun to meet up with the people you read online.

I mostly hung out with my friends Christina and Vanessa. WTAE was there too, and I'm in the background of some of the early shots. Blogfest diva Cindy Closkey was the primary interview.

Sadly, Christina and Vanessa were a bit on the camera-shy side so they left when the video camera started rolling. I talked to Rob from Unspace and Dayvoe from 2 Political Junkies. We were joined by Jennifer Angelo (GermCircus). Cindy Closkey (My Brilliant Mistakes) brought a cake, as we were celebrating the third anniversary of blogfest. I had to leave before they cut the cake, as I had plans to go to CMU to see Golden Boy.

Friday, November 02, 2007

NPR Gives Free Airtime to Bushie Yes Man

I sent the following letter to NPR this morning, regarding its "non-interview" with a former Bush administration employee:

NPR is sometimes chastised as being a mouthpiece of the left, for its slightly fair and occasionally balanced coverage of the shenanigans in Washington. But NPR reporters are sometimes incapable of asking hard questions of members of the Bush administration.

Take Michael Battle, interviewed on Morning Edition on November 2, 2007. He was the director of the Justice Department's Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys, but he is now in private practice. Battle was the one whom Alberto Gonzales told to fire the US Attorneys last year. Battle made it very clear that it wasn't his idea to fire the US Attorneys. Battle did not want to do it as he considered many of the attorneys his friends. But he did it anyway.

The second he realized he was being told to fire people over their politics, he should have quit. But, as his the case with most politicos these days, Battle simply did what he was told without further question. Another willing "executioner."

America was not founded by "yes men," it was founded by people trying to create a better government with checks and balances. Too many people in the government think loyalty to the party in power is more important than loyalty to the Constitution or to the public. It's an appalling thing to see happening in America, especially since the Bushies came to power.

So what I fail to understand is why didn't the NPR reporter have the courage to ask this former government employee, "When you realized you were being asked to do something that was illegal (or at least very unethical), why didn't you quit or take the story public?" It's important for the media to shine a light on yes men, and not just gloss them over.

Reporters are supposed to try to get at the truth of a story. It was disappointing that NPR failed to delve any deeper on this story.