Comics criticism

Interesting article about the interplay between comic strip writers and the online community that blogs about/obsesses over/critiques them. One interesting bit:

"People tend to react more to complain than to compliment," agreed Francesco Marciuliano, the writer for Sally Forth.

Marciuliano took over the reins of Sally Forth in 1999 when creator Greg Howard retired. At first, he concentrated on keeping true to the original tone of Howard's strip, but soon found that readers were posting unhappy comments on Internet comics forums. Listening to online critics made Marciuliano realize that many of the elements that set the strip apart when it debuted in 1982 no longer spoke to a modern audience. Sally Forth had been created to show that a happy household could function with two working parents, but this once novel concept no longer impressed younger readers.

"I started contacting people on forums and I found a lot of people who were saying about Sally Forth, 'This strip is a dinosaur,' " he said.

Marciuliano embarked on a campaign to reach out to the comic's critics in online forums. Most were surprised to hear from the cartoonist himself -- and even more surprised to find that many of their ideas about the strip's writer were off-base. Most assumed that Marciuliano was a humorless retiree more concerned with playing golf than writing gags.

That's probably because so many strips in the newspapers are written by golf-crazed retirees. What I remember about Marciuliano's debut with the strip was that his rendition of the characters was quite a bit off from Greg Howard's; true to form, outraged fans wrote letters to the editor to complain. He's since adapted, and the masses were placated. Anyway, it's a good read, so check it out. Link via The Comics Curmudgeon.

05/02/09 | permalink | comments [2]

Gay rights support in Houston

Good news.

[A]ccording to the latest Houston Area Survey, fewer than half of Harris County residents believe homosexuality is morally wrong, 61 percent believe it's an innate characteristic rather than a lifestyle choice, and 43 percent believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual ones -- up from 32 percent just two years ago.

Every measure of support for gay rights has increased significantly in recent years, said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey since 1982.

He attributed the change partly to changing individual attitudes, but mostly to the emergence of a new generation that grew up amid positive images of gay men and lesbians who no longer felt the need to conceal their sexual orientation.

Younger respondents to the survey, Klineberg said, were more likely to believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual unions, to support allowing gays and lesbians to be school teachers, and to say they had a close personal friend who was gay or lesbian.

Anglo voters over 60 were most likely to oppose increased rights for gays, Klineberg said.

That's basically in line with polling data all around the country. Slowly but inexorably, the bulk of the people who think homosexuality is wrong are dying off, and they're being replaced by a generation that knows better. Great for the country, not so good for the Republican Party. I figure the GOP will eventually adapt. If not, their ultimate demise will have been well earned.

Note, by the way, that Kilneberg's survey covers all of Harris County. The City of Houston is surely more liberal than the county as a whole.

Ray Hill, a Houston gay activist, said he vividly remembers the disappointment felt in his community on the night of Jan. 19, 1985, when Houston voters overturned the anti-discrimination ordinance by a margin of greater than 4-1.

Hill said gays and lesbians drove the change in attitudes by coming out of hiding, allowing heterosexuals to see how they could contribute to families and communities.

"It's not about what they think about us, it's about what we think about us," Hill said. "There is almost no reason in the world for anyone to be closeted any more."

I had the opportunity a few months back at a panel discussion to ask Ray Hill when there would be an effort launched to try to undo City Charter Amendment 2 from 2001, which denies health care and other employment benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city employees and which passed by a narrow 51.5 to 48.5 margin (PDF) at the time. He said the votes were there now to do it, and I have to agree. We're likely still a decade or so away from attitudes being sufficiently different in Texas as a whole, but we'll get there. Time is on our side.

04/20/09 | permalink | comments [0]

I'm gonna save me some daylight

I just want to say that I love daylight saving time. I love having more sunlight hours after work, when we can all use them. Double daylight saving time might be a bit much for me, but if we kept this schedule year-round it would be fine by me. I don't mind dark mornings - as someone who was out of the house a little after 6 AM every day to go to high school and whose work day started at 6:30 for many years, I'm used to dark mornings. It's dark afternoons and dinnertimes that get to me.

Show of hands: Who's with me on this, and who's on the other side? Leave a comment and let me know.

03/08/09 | permalink | comments [5]

From the "As if you didn't have enough things to worry about" department

Your house may have once been a meth lab.

Experts say meth contamination of apartments, hotel rooms, houses, storage sheds and even cars is more common than people may imagine. Meth-making or heavy use can leave chemicals in carpets, air ducts and attics. And without proper cleanup, experts say, the chemicals linger and expose people to health risks.

"We get calls once a week from people who are the innocent victims - who have nothing to do with drugs or dope," said Kirk Flippin, owner of Texas Decon, a New Braunfels company that tests for meth labs and does cleanups.

Although Texas home sellers are required by law to disclose knowledge of a house being used as a meth lab, experts said the law is not strong enough to protect buyers.

Flippin said Texas needs laws requiring complete disclosure of places contaminated by the manufacture of meth or heavy use. Experts said Texas also needs clearer guidelines on cleanup.

House Bill 23, introduced this session by state Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, would require landlords to disclose previous use of leased premises for manufacture of methamphetamine.

You can read the particulars of that story here. You can say, as the realtor in this case did, that the house in question was sold in good faith. I'm thinking, however, that when the previous owner is in jail for, among other things, possession with intent to deliver meth, it might have been a better idea to err on the side of more disclosure. I'm just saying.

And before those of you who've been in the same house for awhile get too complacent, consider this.

Illegal methamphetamine "cooks" are traipsing undetected through an unknown number of motels and hotels with covert drug-making labs - leaving a toxic mess behind for unsuspecting customers and housekeeping crews.

They are places where drug-makers can go unnoticed, mixing the chemicals needed for the highly addictive stimulant in a matter of hours before slipping out the next morning. The dangerous contaminants can lurk on countertops, carpets and bathtubs, and the sickening smells produced can be masked by tobacco smoke and other scents.

Motels can be an attractive alternative for drug makers seeking to avoid a police bust in their own homes.

"They can seize the trailer or seize your house but they can't seize a motel room," said Dr. Sullivan Smith, director of emergency services at Cookeville Regional Medical Center in north-central Tennessee.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration records obtained by The Associated Press show that states reported finding drug-making in 1,789 motel and hotel rooms in the past five years - and that's just what authorities found.

Some days, the life of a hermit seems more and more attractive.

03/01/09 | permalink | comments [0]

The sad state of sex education in Texas

We do a really lousy job of it.

In sex education classes, 94 percent of Texas school districts teach that abstaining from sex is the only healthy option for unmarried couples, and, in many cases, students are given misleading and inaccurate information about the risks associated with sex, according to a 72-page report released Tuesday.

Two percent of districts -- in a state that has the third highest teen birth rate in the nation -- ignore the subject completely, according to the study.

The two-year study, "Just Say Don't Know: Sexuality Education in Texas Public Schools," was conducted by two Texas State University researchers and funded by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, the research arm of the Texas Freedom Network, which describes itself as "a mainstream voice to counter the religious right."

You can find the report and all related materials, including some fascinating videos that demonstrate just how sex ed is done these days, here.

Researchers David Wiley and Kelly Wilson, who both teach health education, examined tens of thousands of lesson plans, student handouts, speaker presentations and other related documents obtained from 990 school districts, 96 percent of Texas' districts, through the Texas Public Information Act.

"Most of the mistruths share a common purpose, and a likely effect, and that is discouraging young people who might already be sexually active from using condoms, a message I find shocking as a professional health educator," Wiley said.


In the report, researchers documented at least one factual error in the materials received from 41 percent of the school districts. The study's authors found instances in which districts used what they called sexist, religious and shame- or fear-based techniques during instruction. The findings include:

On wearing condoms during sex, the Brady district has told teens, "Well if you insist on killing yourself by jumping off a bridge, at least wear these elbow pads."

The Edinburg school district policy states, "Students should be informed that homosexual acts are illegal in Texas and highly correlated with the transmission of AIDS."

I guess if you think the only acceptable sex is married heterosexual sex, and that nobody needs to know how not to have kids, then all this makes sense. For the rest of us, I think we could maybe do a little better than this. Kudos to the TFN for taking this on.

And in a bit of fortuitous and not-coincidental timing, I got a piece of email shortly after this came out from State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and State Rep. Mike Villarreal, who have legislation filed to address some of these concerns. From the email:

SB 1076 and HB 1567 require abstinence curriculum that includes instruction on contraception to provide scientifically accurate information about contraceptives and methods of reducing the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. SB 1076 and HB 1567 prohibit these school districts from discouraging contraception use by students who are sexually active. This legislation does not mandate that schools provide sex education, but if they choose to offer a sex education course, it prohibits them from providing inaccurate information.

"While it is true that abstinence is the healthiest choice for teens, we cannot close our eyes and pretend we do not have students that are sexually active. We must equip students with the knowledge necessary to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies," said Van de Putte.

"We have a responsibility to ensure that our children receive accurate information in the classroom, particularly when students' health is at stake," Villarreal said. "We're dealing with a myriad of problems in Texas as a result of our sky high teen pregnancy rates. We cannot allow our schools to provide erroneous information - the stakes are far too high."

The Observer reports on more such bills.

Sen. Kirk Watson and Rep. Mark Strama filed legislation, Senate Bill 1100 and House Bill 1694, which they are calling the Prevention Works Act, which requires that school districts notify parents about the content of their children's sex education classes. Rep. Joaquin Castro's House Bill 741 and its companion, Sen. Rodney Ellis' Senate Bill 515, require health education to be comprehensive, age-appropriate and based on medically accurate information. "I know that sounds like a ridiculously minimal standard," says Ryan Valentine, deputy director of the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, "but it's not an inconsequential first step."

No it isn't is it? Both of the Senate bills above have at least one Republican coauthor, though neither of the House bills do. Perhaps if we can tear our attention away from ultrasounds for a few minutes, we might get something that would actually help people passed. Click on for more from the TFN.

Continue reading »

02/26/09 | permalink | comments [3]

On rudeness

John has a thoughtful post on the nature of rudeness and how he's recently learned to deal with it. It's good stuff, especially the bit on driving behavior. Check it out.

02/13/09 | permalink | comments [0]

More on lowering the drinking age

I've blogged before about the Amethyst Initiative, and the arguments for and against their efforts to lower the minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18 to combat what they call "a culture of dangerous binge drinking" on college campuses. Whatever you may think of this, some state legislatures are paying attention. The Thicket reviews some of the legislative action so far, and has a short podcast that discusses the reasons why this has gained traction, and the potential consequences from a federal funding perspective for any state that takes the plunge. Check it out.

02/03/09 | permalink | comments [5]

Generation whatever

I'm rather surprised I haven't seen more of these stories lately, since the genre seems to be a media favorite.

When George W. Bush lifts off in his helicopter on Inauguration Day, leaving Washington to make way for Barack Obama, he may not be the only thing disappearing into the horizon.

To a number of social analysts, historians, bloggers and ordinary Americans, Jan. 20 will symbolize the passing of an entire generation: the baby boomer years.

Generational change. A passing of the torch. The terms have been thrown around with frequency as the moment nears for Obama to take the oath of office. And yet the reference is not to Obama's relatively young age -- at 47, he's only tied for fifth place on the youngest presidents list with Grover Cleveland.

Rather, it's a sense that a cultural era is ending, one dominated by the boomers, many of whom came of age in the '60s and experienced the bitter divisions caused by the Vietnam War and the protests against it, the civil rights struggle, social change, sexual freedoms, and more.

I confess, it was the idea that we might finally put all the boomer crap behind us that first attracted me to Obama over Hillary Clinton in the primaries. It wasn't the only thing, of course, but it helped. I was and am as ready for us to all move on from Baby Boom hegemony as I was to move on from the World War II generation back in 1992. I figure we'll have to read about a million more of these thumb-suckers before we really get there, but that's a price I'm willing to pay. My own generation may not be the brightest bunch of porch lights on the block, but at least we'll provide a new set of flashpoints to fight over. I don't know about you, but I'm sure ready for that.

01/18/09 | permalink | comments [4]

Now is an excellent time to give blood

From my friend Stephanie:

The Texans are hosting a blood drive at all Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center neighborhood locations from December 2-4th. There are additional locations that will be hosting the blood drive until the 9th. If you donate or attempt to donate during these times, and use the Houston Texans' group account number Q934, you will receive a commemorative T-shirt and a chance to win an autographed football. For more information, please click here.

Now is an especially important time to donate blood because people get busy during the holidays and there are often critical shortages. Unfortunately, the need for blood products doesn't take a vacation.

She goes on to tell the story of her sister Deb, who as we know has unfortunately suffered a setback in her fight against leukemia. Please make the time to give blood this holiday season, whether as a part of that donation drive or whenever and wherever works for you. Thanks very much.

12/03/08 | permalink | comments [0]

The Internet is good for kids

This doesn't really come as a surprise to me, but it's still nice to see it backed up by some data.

The MacArthur Foundation has a message for parents worried about their children's use of the Internet: Chill out. A new study to be released today found that most teenagers steer clear of dangerous sites and use the Web only for research or to communicate with friends.

It's just that, as usual, parents don't understand.

"One of the main things we found is that it is highly motivating for kids to learn from peers, whether it's the everyday social stuff or learning about new technology or making videos or doing creative writing," said Mizuko Ito, a University of California, Irvine researcher and the report's lead author. "They're learning a lot of the basic social and technical skills they need to participate in contemporary society. If kids are excluded from participating, they're not learning to engage with media and technology in the way that their peers are."

Two things: First, it never would have occurred to me to prevent my kids from using the Internet. It's such an ingrained part of my life - and frankly the lives of so many of my family members - that I can't imagine a reason to deny it to someone. Obviously, age and maturity level matter, and giving them access to it most certainly does not mean without adequate supervision and boundaries. But the idea from the beginning is that this is something they will want and need to know how to use, and it would be doing them a disservice to not teach them about it.

Second, the stuff about how kids are highly motivated to learn from their peers is just amazingly true, at least in my observation. Olivia is by far the biggest influence in Audrey's life - more so, I sometimes think, than Tiffany and I put together. Olivia is what Audrey wants to be, and does what Audrey wants to do, and I believe that has accelerated her development in a variety of ways. For her part, Olivia has generally been one of the youngest kids in her preschool class, and I believe that has fostered her learning, as she has striven to do what the older kids have done. As such, I can clearly see the benefit here. But even without observing my own kids, it makes sense to me.

Parents, the study said, are tough critics of the notion that updating your Facebook wall or posting a video to YouTube is as necessary as looking up information for a history paper.

Yeah, well, as a degenerate blogger/Twitterer/Facebooker/etc, I don't think I'd have much of a leg to stand on there. So it's just as well.

11/23/08 | permalink | comments [1]

Zero Waste Day

11/15/08 | permalink | comments [0]


10/25/08 | permalink | comments [0]

The argument against lowering the drinking age

09/10/08 | permalink | comments [0]

The homework blues

08/27/08 | permalink | comments [5]

Texas colleges and the drinking age

08/25/08 | permalink | comments [1]

Kids today

08/13/08 | permalink | comments [4]

Don't text and skate

08/01/08 | permalink | comments [0]

You there! Go play outside!

07/20/08 | permalink | comments [1]

The online life

07/06/08 | permalink | comments [0]

"Helicopter parents"

06/20/08 | permalink | comments [0]

Is Facebook a reunion killer?

06/16/08 | permalink | comments [5]

"You walk wrong"

05/12/08 | permalink | comments [1]

"Free-range kids"

05/04/08 | permalink | comments [4]

You'd think quiet in school would be a good thing

04/23/08 | permalink | comments [2]

How big a house do you need?

04/15/08 | permalink | comments [5]

Whither carpal tunnel syndrome?

04/06/08 | permalink | comments [2]

New frontiers in outsourcing

03/31/08 | permalink | comments [0]

Do not mail?

03/23/08 | permalink | comments [2]

The next peeing Calvin

03/23/08 | permalink | comments [0]

Phone hate

03/15/08 | permalink | comments [0]

Why you shouldn't spank your kids

03/14/08 | permalink | comments [4]

The urge to conserve

12/16/07 | permalink | comments [0]

AT&T to ditch the payphone business

12/10/07 | permalink | comments [1]

Marketing atheism

12/05/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Paper or plastic?

12/03/07 | permalink | comments [5]

Ending euthenasia

11/14/07 | permalink | comments [1]

Comics curmudgeoning

11/11/07 | permalink | comments [1]

How the Candy Man stole Halloween

10/31/07 | permalink | comments [1]

Scaife v Scaife

10/24/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Bad fortune cookies

10/14/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Father, may I?

10/12/07 | permalink | comments [9]

No more catalogs!

10/11/07 | permalink | comments [1]

RIP, Lisa Moore

10/05/07 | permalink | comments [1]

Twenty-five years of smileys

09/20/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Not good enough for me!

09/17/07 | permalink | comments [1]

Teaching children to fear

09/15/07 | permalink | comments [2]

Is it Halloween already?

08/29/07 | permalink | comments [1]

Name, height, weight, URL

08/28/07 | permalink | comments [1]

Nice shoes, Counselor

08/12/07 | permalink | comments [3]

National Night Out is tonight

08/07/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Define "full time"

07/27/07 | permalink | comments [0]

RIP-to-be, Lisa Moore

07/22/07 | permalink | comments [1]

Frisbee turns fifty

07/17/07 | permalink | comments [2]

Teen suicide

06/27/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Hu? What?

06/26/07 | permalink | comments [8]

Girl Scouts

06/18/07 | permalink | comments [6]

What's the deal with baby dealers?

06/10/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Prom night

05/15/07 | permalink | comments [3]


05/02/07 | permalink | comments [1]

A slideshow of racist spokescharacters

04/25/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Take this dog, please

04/24/07 | permalink | comments [0]

RIP, Johnny Hart

04/10/07 | permalink | comments [2]

How I feel about the state of the comics page today

03/01/07 | permalink | comments [4]

A quick plug for donating blood

02/28/07 | permalink | comments [2]

Why 21?

02/19/07 | permalink | comments [1]

"For Better or For Worse", but not for much longer

01/31/07 | permalink | comments [0]

Birthday party wars

01/23/07 | permalink | comments [4]

The reason why parents get gray hairs

01/10/07 | permalink | comments [3]