Friday, October 23, 2009

Disney deception leads to 'Baby Einstein' refund offer

Those of us in the media literacy movement are elated that The Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood has pressured the Walt Disney Company to retract educational claims about "Baby Einstein," the DVD that Diney has implied will make infants smarter.

Now the company has been backed into the position of offering full refunds on the hyped "Baby Einstein" product.

Here's today's New York Times story on the refund offer.

Now some of us with friends who are parents of little ones are getting push back. Parents who have used the DVD as pacifiers on their infants are reacting defensively.

That's a story in itself.

These are clearly the same parents who don't follow pediatricians' advice that no child under two should watch any TV. Zero.

Apparently the parents have put more faith in Bambi and Dopey than they have in their own doctors.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

'Small ball' in Hillsdale's endless game

Last night at our quarterly Hillsdale Alliance meeting, I found myself playing two games in succession.

I didn't win either, but it didn't matter.

The Alliance is sort of a summit of leaders from neighborhood organizations, and last night the topic was how to move forward on a 15-year-old master plan for our community,

We’ve taken several runs at this city-backed “town center” plan. It is packed with pages of action items. The idea is to make our Portland neighborhood of Hillsdale a better place.

It’s a wonderful place as is, but it has huge potential to be a truly remarkable "model" urban village. It is much more than its "neighborhood" designation.

Don't get me wrong. We have accomplished more than a few of the items on the planning list: a farmers market, street trees, traffic calming, a strategic cross-walk signal, a trails network, civic signage.

When last night’s discussion started echoing the more ambitious plans (many we'd considered before), I decided to aim for the bleachers.

In this World Series season, baseball analogies have impinged on my thinking.

Forgive me.

My mighty swing was familiar to those who have followed my recent at-bats about Hillsdale. I want some autonomy from the city government, which is truly archaic and atrophied.

I want self-governance, for at least a 5- or 10-year trial period. I’m tired of the County putting its library wherever it wants it, of the Housing Authority cramming a new public housing project into an isolated, demeaning site, of the city transportation department’s neglect of our sidewalk needs.

Give us the money and let us decide what to do with it. And, for equity’s sake, pair us up with a neighborhood with even greater needs. Give them power and money to shape their destiny too!

My home-run swing connected with thin air.

As I heard my words, I wondered whether even I wanted to take on such responsibility. No one cheered during my at bat.

The discussion moved on, sending me back to the dugout.

Others talked about inviting developers to come in and make things happen. But during these hard times, developers have other things to think about. They are cleaning up the messes from the recent past. They are hardly falling over themselves to develop Hillsdale or anywhere else, except perhaps China.

Worse, empty storefronts are starting to appear here. They don't call it a "recession" for nothing.

And even if developers could find the capital, would we really want folks in Southern California, Texas or Arizona deciding the fate of our community?

Well, some at the meeting asked, how about an “implementer” from the city bureaucracy? Or from Metro, our regional government. We’ve tried that and been smitten by bureaucratic malaise. Local overnment seems high on planning in progressive Portland and low on implementation.

That’s why I advocated “big ball” home rule in the first place. Spare us more planning and zero action!

The more we talked, the more I realized that the best we can hope for is “small ball.”

A start-off single, a bunt, a steal, a walk.

Ultimately small ball wins games. And right now our roster has a lot of players who can hit flares and shots through the infield and bunt to advance runners.

• We have a new bicycle coalition with plans to transform Hillsdale into a bicycle hub by installing bike corrals and maps of the area.

• We want to close down a major thoroughfare, Capitol Highway, for a one-day community celebration next summer.

• We want to hold concerts and build bocce courts and install whimsical neon signs in storefront windows.

If we do all those things, others will follow.

No, maybe it’s my age, but I'd rather put down the bunt and dig out the steal than aim for the bleachers. "Small ball" makes for better game highlights, anyway. What is more boring than watching a ball clear the outfield?

Besides, for me playing the game is where the fun is. And the nice thing about this Hillsdale game is that no one has fully defined what victory is. It is mostly viewed as building some architect's or planner's vision. Rarely is it defined in terms of people and community.

That's the point. We just keep on playing and more folks join the game. One day we will look back to see all the runs we’ve scored and the fun we have had and how much better we’ve become for our eternal succession of innings — for the endless game.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Editor backs anti-junk food campaign

Marie Sherlock, the editor of Portland’s Metro-Parent magazine, understands the importance of teaching kids media literacy.

She has posted an astute entry on the magazine’s blog HERE.

It congratulates the Nutrition Council of Oregon for a recent campaign fighting junk food and the associated health hazards it poses to our children.

Here is one of the Council’s ads:

I was moved to respond to Marie’s post with this.

Great post.

My first thought is that children shouldn't be confronted with ads for junk food in the first place. Most of them are on children's TV programing. Others are in grocery stores in the form of "feel good" packaging. The products are often "tied-in" to TV programing and advertising.

The "help" we can give our children is to get rid of the TV. In the store, introduce children to nutrition labels and the false impression left by packaging and its commercial labels.

The only choices a child should have about food should come from responsible parents.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Scenes from the Treadmill

The exercise room in our local community center, like most, is screen-centric. The place is packed with 33 machines (treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers) that face a bank of five glowing TV sets mounted to the interior wall.

Two treadmills look the other way, out the large window to a hedge and the parking lot beyond. Trees, now in fall foliage, rise above the lot.

As a hedge/parking-lot tread-miller, I’ve always find this disproportionate arrangement odd. On days like today, when the only treadmill available was a TV-pointer, I find it downright unjust and even mentally disturbing.

As in unhealthy . . . mentally.

Who decides that screen-oriented machines should outnumber the hedge/parking lot ones 33 to two? Did anyone think to ask the users of the machines? Or is this just a ratio that the exercise experts have learned “works from experience.”

My experience is that when the public is confronted with a screen, it will watch it.

Unquestioningly. Anywhere.

Once exercise machines are arrayed facing screens, the inertia sets in. Machine users gaze into the videosphere as their flailing bodies send heart rates to some age-and-weight-related “target.”

Because the hedge/parking lot treadmills were in use, I was forced to join the video gazers today. I unthinkingly scanned the wall's screen horizon to keep my bearings and pass the time.

First I homed in on CNN’s definition of “The News.” It featured a hurricane, a foundering ship, the on-going (day five and counting) saga of the “balloon-boy-who-never was,” and two attractive female “anchors.” The anchors were chatting about something as millions listened and watched. I say “something” because I didn’t plug into the sound (“mute” is a merciful option —always), and my unassisted eyesight was too bad to read the distant scrolling transcript.

On a neighboring screen was a frothy adventure about perfectly proportioned young women friends. They looked remarkably like the news anchors. (Could it be….?) One of the women seemed to have extraordinary powers that had a way of intruding on her incipient, romantic attraction to remarkably attractive young men with assertive jaws.

Another screen was tuned into the “History Channel,” which was telling me more than I wanted to know about the historic virtues of the battle ax. Because I was closer to this screen, I could make out the subtitles. Two young warriors, who looked remarkably like the love interest of the woman wizard, were demonstrating the numerous ways the ax could be employed to dispatch enemy combatants — in this case, each other. Hacking, bludgeoning, pummeling, slicing etc.

I confess, my eye strayed back to the fetching wizard woman and her friends. When I glanced back at the History Channel, the battle-ax program had segued into how an ax could be used to cut down a perfectly healthy looking tree in one’s backyard.

The final screen (I’m leaving out one that made no impression on me whatsoever) showed highlights from yesterday’s NFL games — endlessly.

Recently I’ve taken to watching sports reporting to see how it portrays injuries. A broken ankle, a torn ligament, a fractured arm, a “mild” concussion. Sportscasters report them matter of factly, giving them equal weight to a stunning end-zone reception, a goal-line stand or a 55-yard punt return. Injuries are reported as just another part of the game. Injury time-outs are welcomed opportunities for commercials — cars, beer, tacos and pizza.

But in the exercise room, vulnerable as I am to the hidden infirmities of age, I personalize these injuries. Hey, what if I had a torn ligament or a mild concussion like that? These injuries are NOT the same as a 55-yard punt return, or even a 90-yarder. No, injuries have real consequences for the injured. Some, like concussions, can eventually lead to dementia. (The current New Yorker has an article on that subject.)

* * * *

A single TV channel is confusing enough. All by itself it presents a stream of disconnected information. Sit-com, detergent commercials, reality TV, heart disease commercials, bare-knuckled wrestling, erectile dysfunction disorder medication commercials, the news (war, famine, health reform, boys — perhaps — in balloons), MasterCard commercials.

So it goes.

Here, while running for a couple of miles on a treadmill, I was trying to make sense out of six simultaneous programs. While my body may have benefited from the exercise, my sanity was unraveling with each stride.

Which is why I face the other way, to the hedge and parking lot, when I get the chance. I’m going to suggest to the folks with the power to re-arrange the exercise room that they take our mental as well as our physical health into account. Please, I will say, turn more of the equipment to the window.

They’ll probably think I’m crazy.

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