When Politicians And School Lunches Intersect

What a relief!  Senators in Washington, D.C. are working on legislation that will make school lunch tastier!

Can anyone imagine a more infernal combination than politicians and school lunches?  Each is supremely hellish in its own right; what depths of awfulness might be probed if they intersected?

20101025saladbarAnyone who has ever eaten a school lunch won’t forget the experience.  Hairy, fatty chicken, reheated “Johnny Marzetti,” hamburgers with the consistency of hockey pucks, flaccid, undercooked french fries — the painful mental images are still down there, lurking in the bleak, dark depths of your consciousness.  And yet, kids confronted with even those culinary catastrophes could choke them down.  Then, when Michelle Obama decided to strive to make school lunches healthier, the effort produced lunches so revolting that even hungry kids found them to be intolerable.  And now Senators, of all people, are going to try to make school lunches tastier?  Really?  We’re going to rely on Senators to decide what the burly, hairnetted lunch ladies are going to be ladling out to the unfortunate kids whose parents won’t pack them a lunch?

C’mon, people.  Give the school kids a break.  Feeding hungry kids a decent lunch is much too important to leave to members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body. Instead, why not have a responsible, representative body make the decision — like, say, the student council in every school that is going to have to eat this stuff?

 

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Official Autobiographies Versus Political Tell-All Books

Hillary Clinton’s new autobiography about her tenure at the State Department is out.  Entitled Hard Choices, it’s gotten some tough reviews.  One piece describes it as riddled with cliches, long and boring, and ultimately destined to end up in the “Free” bin at the local bookseller.  Depending upon who you ask, the book is either doing fine or bombing, and the Drudge Report gleefully reports that after only one week it’s already fallen out of the Amazon list of top ten sellers.

To the extent that she cares — after all, she received a hefty amount to write the book in the first place — Hillary Clinton shouldn’t feel bad about this.  The reality is that political biographies are, almost without exception, unreadable.  All of the interesting stuff has been excised because it might offend someone, and any truly revealing anecdotes hit the cutting room floor for the same reason.  What’s left is typically ponderous and so carefully written and weighty and self-important in tone that an objective reader quickly ends up numbed, then flips to the picture pages before tossing the book aside for good.

Contrast that the political tell-all book — the one that’s based largely on anonymous and loosely described sources like “a long-time family friend” or “a member of the legal team.”  The tell-all books dish the dirt.  Consider the new book by Edward Klein called:  Blood Feud:  The Clintons Versus The Obamas.  Some of the incidents it reports are a lot juicier than a bloodless description of policy decisions about Syria.  One report discusses an unpleasant golf game between President Obama and former President Clinton, an awkward dinner where a bored President Obama played with his BlackBerry rather than listen to a lecture from Clinton, and Michelle Obama gossiping with a friend and referring to Hillary Clinton as “Hildebeest.”  Of course, books based on anonymous sources always need to be taken with more than a grain of salt . . . but, say, could President Obama really have blown off the Clintons so conspicuously?  Do tell!

Which would you rather read:  a carefully contrived, leaden official biography written by someone who aspires to a further political career, or a lively book that treats politicians like real people rather brittle brass, god-like creatures who have only important conversations about significant developments in the world?  The best-seller lists will tell the tale.

The Pitfalls Of Advocating Healthy Eating

Michelle Obama has been a fervent advocate of healthier eating. She’s planted a White House garden and raves about the value of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Now it appears that her advocacy has come at a cost. The White House executive pastry chef, Bill Yosses, has resigned his position. Yosses was hired by former First Lady Laura Bush, and when Mrs. Obama took the reins she asked him to prepare healthier treats in smaller portions. He accommodated Mrs. Obama’s wishes by using substitutes like fruit puree for butter and honey and agave for sugar, but now he’s made the “bittersweet decision” to leave. “I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs,” he says. Mrs. Obama graciously accepted his resignation, saying it was “incredibly sad” to see him go.

The First Lady gets to make the rules, and I’m sure the White House will have no trouble in finding a new, highly skilled pastry chef who welcomes the challenges of blending healthy eating concepts with tasty pastry concoctions. Still, I think about being a lucky visitor who has the once-in-a-lifetime chance to eat at the White House. Would I want to cap off my special meal with a slice of a sumptuous, beautiful butter-and-cream cake, or an agave-based flan? I think I’d want the former.

How Fat Are Our Kids?

This week a federal study reported that the obesity rate for American kids between 2 and 5 years of age fell 43% in a decade. The study, undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicates that obesity during that age group has declined from 14 percent in 2004 to 8 percent in 2012.

Not surprisingly, there’s disagreement about what might have caused the decline. Some argue that federal programs, including the availability of food stamps and the women, infants, and children assistance program and federal nutrition guidelines, other national efforts such as First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, and pressure on food companies to stop targeting ads to young children are responsible for the decline. Others question whether there really was an “obesity epidemic” in the first place and are skeptical that federal programs had anything to do with the decline reflected in the CDC study.

I don’t have a dog in that fight. My question is more fundamental — why are people celebrating the finding that “only” 8 percent of little kids are obese? That seems like a pretty damning figure to me. How does a two-or three-year-old become obese, except by the inattention of their parents? Most two- and three-year-olds I know aren’t out shopping for themselves. Don’t their parents know how to say no?

“Selfie”-Absorbed

The latest thing to apparently go “viral” is a series of photos of President Obama, his wife Michelle, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Danish leader Helle Thorning-Schmidt during the memorial service for Nelson Mandela yesterday.

The President, Cameron, and Thorning-Schmidt joked and took a picture of themselves with a cell phone — called a “selfie” — while Michelle Obama sat to the side.  Countless bits of space on the internet have now been filled with debate about whether taking a “selfie” and sharing a joke during a memorial service is appropriate behavior, interpreting Michelle Obama’s demeanor as depicted in the photos, and trying to read whether she is irked that her husband is chatting and chuckling with the Danish leader.

This incident, in a nutshell, is one of the things about the internet that I find maddening.  So many things go “viral” that viral status seems to be the norm these days, and people fixate on trivial things at the expense of understanding the significant matters.  It’s a shame that anyone running a Google search on the Mandela memorial service will have to wade through commentary about the silly “selfie” incident rather than stories emphasizing the extraordinary fact that leaders from across the world — including the current American president and three former Presidents — traveled to South Africa to pay tribute to a former prisoner who is now regarded as a great historical figure.

So I’m not going to criticize President Obama for posing for a “selfie” and I’m not going to speculate about whether and how his wife Michelle reacted to his behavior.  That’s their business, not mine.  The significant thing is that he and former Presidents Bush, Clinton, and Carter saw fit to attend and honor the memory and life of Nelson Mandela, and I’m glad they did.

Malala Yousafzai And The Power Of The Individual

You can’t help but be inspired by Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who resisted Taliban edicts that forbade girls from going to school. Now 16 years old, Yousafzai is a living, breathing example of the unique power of the individual to serve as an agent of change.

Yousafzai’s story reminds us of how different the world can be under repressive religious regimes.  When she started a blog and advocated for education for Muslim girls in defiance of the edicts, the Taliban issued a death threat against her.  Later a Taliban gunman attacked her on her school bus, and she was shot in the head and neck.  She survived, went to Great Britain for brain surgery, and continues to be a strong voice for education even in the face of renewed Taliban threats.

This past week Yousafzai made a whirlwind tour of the United States.  She met President Obama, the First Lady, and their 15-year-old daughter Malia, thanked him for the United States’ support of education, but also expressed the view that U.S. drone attacks are fueling terrorism.  Yousafzai also deeply impressed Jon Stewart and the audience of The Daily Show by her patient insistence that violence and cruelty can only be defeated by education and peaceful dialogue.

Some people thought Yousafzai might win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Instead the Prize went to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  I have no doubt that the group, which has worked to eliminate chemical weapons, has performed important work — but no organization can ever have the impact of one individual standing resolute in the face of tyranny.  Malala Yousafzai has single-handedly focused attention on the need for education and the plight of girls and young women under the Taliban and, by extension, in other places where religious edicts and despotic governments have repressed their rights and freedoms.  We can only hope that her message and example will ultimately bring about essential social changes in the benighted regions of the world.

 

Michelle Obama And The Oscars

On Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, First Lady Michelle Obama was the surprise presenter of the award for Best Picture.  What isn’t a surprise is that, in the wake of the Academy Awards show, some people have criticized her appearance as frivolous and not befitting her role as First Lady.

I’m heartily sick and tired of this kind of sanctimonious stuff.  I don’t see anything wrong with a First Lady participating in the Academy Awards broadcast if she wants to do so (although I’m not sure that, if I were the First Gentleman, I’d want to be part of the phony, kissy-face Hollywood scene).  It’s not as if Michelle Obama — or any other First Lady — is expected to be pondering weighty affairs of state at all hours of the day and night.  Even her husband, who unlike Michelle Obama was elected to his current leadership position, is not begrudged an occasional vacation, golf outing, or basketball game.  Why should anyone care if the First Lady wants to spend an hour of her time appearing on an awards show?

People who think First Ladies should act like Mamie Eisenhower are kidding themselves.  The line between politicians and celebrities has long since been blurred to non-existence.  Presidents and presidential candidates and First Ladies have been appearing on talk shows for years now; how is the Oscars broadcast materially different?  Hollywood is one of America’s most successful industries, one that employs a lot of people and generates a lot of income.  Would people object if the First Lady presented an award to, say, the Teacher of the Year or recognized the owner of a successful business that opened a new plant?  If not, why object to the First Lady’s acknowledgement of the film industry?

In our struggling country, Michelle Obama’s decision to present the Best Picture Oscar is the least of our concerns.  If the First Lady wants to share a bit in the glitz and glamor of Oscar Night, I’m not troubled by her decision.  Now, can we start talking about the real, important issues of the day?