Article on E. H. Shepard

The BBC news ran an interesting article on E. H. Shepard, the man who illustrated A. A. Milne’s poetry collections and Winnie-the-Pooh stories. It is being run because there will be a show featuring his political cartoons at the Political Cartoon Gallery in London soon. The article is interesting because it talks about Shepard’s career as a political cartoonist for Punch, his inspiration for Pooh and the fact that he somewhat resented the silly old bear. It isn’t uncommon for children’s book artists to have their work for a famous book or set of books overshadow anything else they ever did. Dr. Seuss drew scathing political cartoons, but few people remember them because of his wonderful books. And John R. Neill, who illustrated the Oz books, will always be remembered for his illustrations for Baum’s books despite the fact that the majority of his time and effort was spent on beautiful drawings for magazines (lots of fashion plates and such). I understand that it must be frustrating to have what you consider your best or most important work largely forgotten, but at the same time I can’t help but think that it must be nice to be loved forever in a way that the artists of political cartoons or fashion plates will otherwise never know.

More on Standardized Testing

It was reported today that Pearson misgraded a good number of the SAT tests they had graded this year by up to 400 points (a full quarter of the 1600 possible total). The worst part of the story is that they only found out because two students complained. By this point, however, scores have already been reported to colleges in applications. And this isn’t the first time that the SATs have been misscored. Scores were done wrong for some students in Minnesota a few years ago causing them to be unable to graduate high school and sparking a lawsuit.

Why does our education system rely so heavily on standardized tests like the SAT? They are unable to accurately measure anything, yet we rely on them for everything from who gets to move to the next level of schooling to who gets into what colleges. There is a huge market in materials designed to give students the secret to high scores. Clearly there are some major problems with the system, and yet our education system relys on it more and more every year.

Why do we cling to this stupid system? Wouldn’t it make more sense for teachers, who presumably have a good grasp of how well their students are doing, to decide things like if a student should graduate high school? And what does it say about our college system that so many major schools ask only for test scores and grades to admit someone to college without requiring letters of recommendation or writing samples (essays). I think that only one of the colleges that I applied to six years ago actually required an interview. So what do colleges know about their applicants? Not a whole lot.

I just think that there needs to be a better system. I think that our current system of standardized tests is deeply flawed. Even if the tests truly were good at measuring anything, how can we rely on them so heavily when the scoring system is not only prone to inaccuracy, but missing any way of checking if the scoring is accurate? Students never see their tests again after they take them, so it isn’t very fair to rely on them to question their scores (especially when it is so difficult to do so even if you want to). Students cannot be expected to police the scoring system, particularly since they are so far removed from it.

If we want standardized test scores to mean anything (and given how the college application process works, I’m not convinced that it actually matters that they do), then the scoring needs to be consistant and accurate. I’m not reassured that the problems are fixed, especially given that they say that every time errors happen! I don’t understand the process well enough to be able to suggest a solution that has any hope of success, but someone must!

I would love to eliminate standardized tests completely, but barring that I still think the system needs to be heavily revamped. I find it rediculous that these problems are tolerated. There has to be a better way!

Baseball History – Effa Manley

Guess what? Effa Manley has just been chosen as the first woman ever to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame! She was the owner of a Negro League team called the Eagles and a great advocate for African Americans in baseball! She apparently did a lot to promote and push for African Americans in baseball, both as players and executives. She sounds like a pretty amazing woman! And now she is making history of her own as the first woman in the Hall of Fame!

Sometimes I Hate being an American

There are times when I really really don’t want to live in the United States of American anymore, and lately I’ve been feeling like that an awful lot. A lot of why I feel this way is because I’m a woman and it sure feels like being a woman means having fewer rights in this country these days. It certainly means that my body is fair game for extensive legislation.

The Supreme Court is set to make a ruling on “partial-birth abortions” (which is a terribly ambiguous non-medical term). Besides the fact that I don’t really feel that the Supreme Court is an appropriate body to pass rules about what doctors can and can not do to help their patients, this is a big deal. The biggest issue with this law is that it completely lacks any provision for the mother’s health and safety. What the government considers “partial-birth abortions” happen very rarely and almost always because there is a serious issue with the mother’s health or safety as a direct result of her pregnancy. Usually there is a serious problem with the pregnancy for both mother and baby. Often there is really no hope for the baby, but some for the mother. The more logistical and less human issue is that the phrase “partial-birth abortion” is not a medical one at all, in fact, in medical terms it means almost nothing and has so many loopholes as to be meaningless.

To make things that much more fun, South Dakota just passed a law that outlaws all abortions, period. There is absolutely no provisions for the safety of the mother or pregancy as the result of rape or incest, although they were proposed and voted down. The state claims that it’s intention is to force the Supreme Court to make a ruling on the issue. They waited until Alito was firmly in place, you will notice, before taking this step, so one would assume that they expect it to be upheld (or at least want it to be). The problem is that this shows no regard at all for the health and safety of the women of South Dakota. If I were in South Dakota, I would seriously move right now (and if I was already moving, I’d move out of the country).

The third thing is smaller in scope than the first two, but potentially just as violating. Recently the FDA changed the requirements for being given a drug that treats severe acne (the disfiguring kind of acne). They have decided that women and their doctors cannot be trusted to ensure that the women are not pregant before they take a drug that is potentially harmful to an unborn baby. To ensure this, the women must register as part of a national database and must take a forced pregancy test which will be recorded in the database along with the results of the test. There are several logistical issues with the system as well, but the part that concerns me is the forced pregancy tests that are then recorded in a government database. The idea that the government has any right to keep track of whether or not I’m pregant is really unsettling to me. This could lead to so many issues with abortions, women’s safety, misscarrages, even parenting issues (with money, support, anything). I agree that the government has the right to know how many kids I have, but they don’t have the right to know when I get pregnant if I don’t want them to know that.

Basically, I really hate the idea of my safety being decided by a bunch of men in Washington who really don’t care that much. I hate that my uterus is considered as valid a thing to legislate as property is. That equates me to property and that isn’t fair or American. Period.

I want to move.

Remember the Swamp Fox!

Farah Mendlesohn, an editor and critic, has announced that she will publish a collection of stories in protest of the law currently being sent through the British Parlament that would ban “the glorification of terrorism”. It has already passed through the House of Commons and now must get through the House of Lords. It’s a big deal and is being strongly oppossed by people from many different political parties and ideologies. This law could quite easily and without any real stretches in interpretation ban many stories that are considered classic. Everything from Star Wars and Robin Hood to stories about the American Revolution could easily been seen to break this law, and thus be banned. Farah Mendlesohn is looking for submissions of stories that would break this law. Submission guidelines and contact information can be found at Notes from Coode Street.

*The title of this post refers to one of my favourite legends of the American Revolution – the Swamp Fox, a very Robin Hood type of figure who hid in the swamps with a band of like-minded men and managed to be a huge annoyance to the local British authorities and an inspiration and rallying point for the local patriots. He could easily be described as a terrorist, we just tend to refer to him as a patriot because the people who have continued to tell his story would have been on the same side of the war as him!

Movie News: Bridge to Terabithia

Walden Media (the studio that made The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) has begun filming on Bridge to Terabithia. This is based on an absolutely amazing book by Katherine Paterson and won a Newbery Medal. I can believe that Walden Media could do this right (they’ve proven that they respect the books they base their movies on), but I’m very worried given the description. I really don’t like that they intend to create Tarabithia as a fantasy world. I think that’s a horribly bad idea. I’m still mostly willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the moment, but I’m worried just the same. Read more about it here.

Gender Bias in Media

A study was recently done looking at several thousand characters from 101 G-rated films, both animated and live-action. The study not only counted the number of male and female characters, but also looked at their relative importance as a character in the movie and at the gender of the narrator. They found that four out of every five characters (and even more narrators) were male. More male characters played the key roles in the movies as well.

This is completely not a surprise. When was the last time you went to a children’s or family movie that had a female protagonist? They are comparatively rare. Looking at a list of the 16 movies that came out in theaters last year with a G rating I see no animated films that I recognize with female main characters (“Chicken Little”, “Pooh’s Hefalump Movie”, “Wallace and Grommit in the Curse of the Were Rabbit”, “Valiant”). I see only two movies that I know had female main characters – “Ice Princess” and “Herbie: Fully Loaded”. Well, the girl in “Ice Princess” needed a make-over to make her the pretty ice princess and succeeded not only for her skill but also by getting the guy. And the other main female characters were catty, mean or just plain evil. “Herbie: Fully Loaded” I haven’t seen, but I do know that Lindsey Lohan doesn’t usually play terribly forward thinking parts and that she shared top billing with a car. Not a good thing.

So we know that it’s a problem, what do we do now? Usually it helps to find out why. Well, the why pretty much comes down to the belief that girls will watch a movie with a boy main character but boys won’t watch a movie about a girl. Why is this? Well, maybe it has something to there not being many movies with girl main characters and the ones that exist tending to be not terribly boy-friendly. I mean, if I were a little boy I probably won’t be facinated by a movie about a girl trying to get the guy (much like I wouldn’t be facinated by a movie just about a boy trying to get the girl). There needs to be more plot than that! Even “The Incredibles” had a plot where the two main female characters were very stereotyped. Helen (the mom) pretty much just wanted to keep her family together and protect her children, as opposed to her husband who wanted those things but also wanted to be a hero and save the day. Violet pretty much just needed a make-over and to be able to talk to the guy, while her brother just wanted to run fast. The movie was great, but it did nothing for the women characters really.

Basically, I think that we should make quality movies with boy and girl characters who don’t totally fall into stereotypes. There really is no reason for boys to not watch movies about girls if they are otherwise appealing. Besides, part of why they learn that prejudice is because we teach it to them through media, pink boxes, and the insistance that some things are for boys while others are for girls.

Sorry for the long rant here, but I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff. My senior thesis in college was looking at these issues in children’s adventure books. I’ve done a lot of research on it and tend to get frustrated about it.

If you want more information, check out the organization See Jane. It’s goal is to look at gender portrayals in media and work for equality so that both boys and girls can see the potential in each other and break out of traditional mindsets.

Design a Game!

Editor Lou Anders is looking for a good game design! He is publishing the second book in a trilogy by Mike Resnick soon and they want someone to come up with rules for a game talked about in the book. The rules will be published in the book as an appendix and the designer might get money if the game is ever published on its own as well. Guidelines are all on Lou Anders’ blog (link above). If you have any good ideas after reading the guidelines, submit them! The book is supposedly a space opera and the game might be alien, so it should foster some interesting responses. I might even check out the book to see the results (I definately will if I know the designer who wins).

Found via Emerald City.

Ken’s Makeover Complete

Remember a while back when I reported that Ken was getting a makeover from a famous Hollywood style guy as part of his plan to win back Barbie? Well, it’s complete, but we can’t see it yet. He has two new looks: a “trying to impress Barbie” look and an everyday “don’t care so much what you think” look. His polished new look is going to be avalible for the first time on Valentine’s Day as part of a gift set (no, I don’t know what else is in the set). The set will be sold for one day only (Feb. 14) from for $500 (seriously) with all proceeds going to charity. The set is called “I <3 Ken”. The “everyday” look, which is sort of a surfer boy look, will be avalible starting in March. Both looks involve longer hair, a more distinctive and less “Barbie’s arm candy” style and less tanned skin (Ken finally realized that being orange isn’t terribly attractive). I look forward to seeing the results and hearing if Barbie takes him back (since that was really the long-term goal here).

New Disney Princess Animation

As you all know, I adore fairy tales and stories that take their inspiration from fairy tales. Included in this are the Disney movies of fairy tales. Despite this, I’m really sick of the plethera of Disney Princess merchandice out there, particularly the Disney Princess DVDs. They have never had new animation on them, so they tend to be static art and rearranged clips from the movies and television shows. How boring and cheap is that? That said, I’ve been fairly pleased with some of the Disney Princess books that have been published. They tend to have new art and new stories, often taking place after the movie events. Some of the stories and books have been worse than others, but there have been a few gems. They don’t stay in print very long, it seems, but there have been some good ones just the same.

Given that Disney has shown no interest in the past to create new non-full-length-movie animation about the princesses, it is pretty exciting that UltimateDisney is now reporting that they are working on just that! A new Princess DVD is set to come out in the fall called “Disney Princess Fairy Tales”. It will have two new fully animated short stories about Belle and Aurora with all new animation! Not much more than that is known, but one of the last awful DVDs in the Princess series had a preview of the Aurora story. Some screenshots can be found here. The story is about Aurora trying to plan a birthday party for Phillip. I have no idea what the quality of this will be (either in animation or storytelling), but I can promise that I will Netflix it and see!

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