Bloomberg Off His Rocker – New Yorkers Organize

I mentioned in a previous post that NYC Mayor Bloomberg has lost his mind and decided to ban large sweet beverages in the five boroughs.  In the last week, he has not only doubled down on that ban (see e-mail text below), but he’s expanded his war on personal liberty to include the choice of whether to breast feed your baby or give them formula.  He’s ordering hospitals to hide the formula and decline to give it to those who ask for it unless they have a medical reason for not being able to breast feed.  And you folks thought I was KIDDING when I wondered what would be next on the banned choices list.  Heck…*I* partially thought I was kidding!

Here is the website of the Mayor’s office – contact him here and let him know what you think of his dictating our lives to us by fiat:

Bloomberg’s Contact Site

And here’s what’s being said by the citizens of New York in response to Bloomberg’s insanity:

Citizen’s for Beverage Choice

Now…enjoy Bloomberg’s poignant and well-thought-out (sarcasm meter explodes) response to this response:

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns about our plan to limit the size of sugary drinks at some food establishments.
Like the rest of America, our City is facing an obesity epidemic. Nearly 60% of adult New Yorkers and close to 40% of public school students are overweight or obese, putting them at greater risk of developing a host of diseases and conditions, including Type 2 Diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Obesity is now the second-leading cause, just after smoking, of preventable death in New York City.
Our success in cutting smoking deaths to record lows shows that we can tackle the toughest public health problems head-on—and make a huge difference—but only if we are willing to act boldly, and target the problem comprehensively. We are confronting the obesity epidemic on several fronts, including our most recent proposal to curb consumption of sugary beverages. We are also offering healthier options through programs that allow more New Yorkers to buy fresh and affordable produce.  In addition, an expanded public education campaign will build on the work we have already done to give New Yorkers more information—just as calorie counts in restaurants do—so they can make better choices about the food and drinks they and their families consume.
Although we may disagree on this issue, I appreciate your input as we work to reduce the number of preventable, obesity-related deaths throughout New York City. Thank you again for writing.
Sincerely,
Michael R. Bloomberg
Mayor

Special, ain’t it?  He makes ZERO attempt to actually answer citizen concerns over the overreach of his soda ban.  No attempt to defend against criticisms that his ban won’t even work.  No attempt to explain exactly what he feels he can accomplish with this.  Nada.  Just “LA LA LA LA I’M NOT LISTENING LA LA LA!!!”

You know what I especially love?  Being completely ignored.  Yep…that’s AWESOME.

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Feather Signs, Tanning Beds and Big Gulps, OH MY!

My girlfriend did me a bit of a favor last night.  She insisted on watching the local news (I hate television news and rarely force myself to watch it anymore)…but there were three ongoing stories from the NYC/Long Island region that fit beautifully into one bit of narrative.  New York is chasing California down the liberty sinkhole faster than you can say “Big Brother is Watching.”

It’s not happening in every township at the same speed, nor do any of these particular issues strike me as big deals in and of themselves.  But, little by little, they’re managing to make the legal books swell to levels last seen in top-heavy Rome under Nero.  We’ll go through the fun and joy one item at a time.

BIG SODA

This is actually rather old news, but it’s back in the headlines due to civil protests and a lawsuit recently entered by Coca Cola’s not-insignificant legal team.  Mayor Bloomberg – evidently not busy enough at his job of growing business in NYC, improving a frequently filthy and unreliable subway system, preventing crime and dealing with poverty, union contracts, and all other manner of real city business – has decided to make war on obesity.  By decreeing that no city business may sell soda in sizes larger than 16 fl. oz.  Never mind that his ban doesn’t apply to fruit drinks like Ocean Spray, which have more calories than soda.  Never mind that it doesn’t address the far more important weight-problem-causing factors like lack of exercise (although his failing subway system does that quite nicely by forcing everyone to walk more), sedentary jobs, or those $5 mocha lattes brimming with sugar and fat.  Never mind that a customer can simply buy TWO 16-ounce drinks if he wants 32 ounces of soda.  The biggest question on even most liberal democrats’ minds in the city is…what will he ban next?

TANNING BEDS

As of yesterday, it is now illegal for a teenager to get an artificial tan in the state of New York.  I share the common reaction to obsessive tanning going on among our teens – disgust.  They’re going to be leathery hags when they’re 50.  And many of them are going to get skin cancer, since chances are good that if they’re getting the fake tan, they’re not going to shy away from the beach and the lightest of SPF sunscreens, rather than getting the protection they need.  I have even been told that tanning beds are riskier than the sun because certain wavelengths of light are absent as compared to the sun and those are the ones that make your skin feel pain most acutely, meaning people are more likely to stay in there longer and get a worse dose of radiation.  But…how many potentially dangerous and even emotionally addictive things do we let kids do every…single…day?  And how many of those things will we ban (and at what cost to their development)?  I mean, sports can be addictive, kids even get severely injured on a regular basis playing them…and hey…a few even die on the field.  We let kids eat Big Macs…some people have claimed fast food addiction and I don’t see many towns banning McDonalds (and the ones that do have generally filled the same market demand with local restaurants just as unhealthy as the burger giants).  There is legitimate evidence that sugary food causes changes in your intestinal flora and fauna and can thus create a chemical addiction to more of the same sugars.  Shall we take away Frosted Flakes, birthday cakes and licorice snakes?

FEATHER SIGNS

For an example of what a feather sign looks like, go here.

Several towns on Long Island, including the most recent addition of Hempstead (not a town known for its rustic charm or upscale appeal – sorry guys, but your town is a dump), have moved to ban feather signs with their politicians making outlandish claims including: the signs cause drivers to become distracted trying to read them, the signs are an eyesore – somehow more intrusive than billboards or store front banners or those crazy “wacky-waving inflatable arm-flailing tube-men” you see in front of car dealerships, the signs promote additional advertising that would not otherwise occur, etc.  If you went to the site, you know that these signs are among the least annoying, most attractive signs around – very shapely and elegant as advertisements go.  I fail to see how such signs are any more dangerous for drivers than those electronic boards they use to create traffic jams to warn drivers of an upcoming traffic jam.  And frankly…PERISH THE THOUGHT that people might use their first amendment right to speak to…um…advertise things!  Oh the horror!!  But alas, I believe in Federalism, and thus I believe that towns should have a right to decide how they will look.  I just wish the folks in Hempstead would focus on something that matters – like their rapidly rising crime rate or the crumbling section eight housing or their insanely high property taxes.

But these news stories – all hitting the Long Island evening report on the same day – have one thing in common.  Governments – state, city and township – trying to extract a better result, stave off the negative, and FIX people with a blizzard of new laws.  In the case of tanning beds, the government is playing the role of father to the legions of girls who are growing up either with parents who haven’t grown up and are just as selfish, shallow and vain as their teenage daughters or without those role models entirely.  The parents have dropped the ball and government thinks the answer is to try to be the parents.  In the case of Bloomberg’s soda ban, the people are making bad choices and the Mayor thinks it’s his job to make them stop.  And in the case of the feather signs, town councils have decided for everyone what they think is the appropriate level of advertising that should be allowed, replacing the first amendment with the heavy hand of the taste police.

Where does it end?  When do we decide that the only way to fix our problems is to take control of our own destinies and work for what we want?  When will we stop looking to the law to save us from our failings and start looking to God?  Or if you’re an atheist…to your own judgment (not that I think personal judgment is an adequate replacement).

Funny thing…my girlfriend fervently defended the tanning bed ban.  I gave her a twenty minute sermon on the slippery slope of ever-increasing government intervention and she went off mumbling her basic agreement with me that most of these kinds of things are over-reaches, but insisting that tanning beds shouldn’t be allowed for the young and impressionable.  Baby steps, I suppose.

Local News: PWCS Budget Woes

Last week, while our school board was absorbed in the textbook adoption process, Superintendent Walts presented his budget for fiscal year 2012-2013 and was greeted with instant opprobrium. Why? Because he announced that our teachers would get neither a step increase nor a COLA (i.e., a cost of living adjustment) next year.

Let me summarize, first of all, my understanding of our county’s fiscal situation at this point in time. Number one, there’s a possibility that we will be losing ten million dollars of funding from the state — which, by the way, the superintendent didn’t even factor into his rough draft calculations. Number two, the amount of money Prince William County will have to pay into our teachers’ pension fund is about to increase by $30 million plus in part because of the nation’s sluggish economic growth (which impacts the investments made by VRS) and in part because – obviously – people are living longer after they retire. Number three, we are one of the fastest growing school divisions in the state thanks to the county’s friendly business environment, and that growth necessitates building more schools and expanding others.

Faced with the aforementioned new expenses, Walts felt he had no choice but to freeze teacher pay for the time being so he wouldn’t be forced to lay people off. In response, teachers in several schools staged “Work to Rule” protests. What that means, essentially, is that the protesting teachers agreed en mass to work only during their contracted hours (which, for a high school teacher, covers the hours from 7:15 AM to 2:15 PM). During the protest, they did not stay after school for any activities for which they are not usually paid. That meant no club meetings, no beyond-hours field trips, and no after-school tutoring sessions.

I have two general comments regarding the protests. First, I would like the county’s teachers to recognize that many people aren’t getting raises right now. Indeed, this idea that one is entitled to get an automatic COLA and step increase just for occupying a classroom for yet another year sounds completely foreign to many of us who work in the private sector. For your information, when the economy took a nose dive in 2008, I lost pay. My hourly rate stayed the same, but because our tutoring company was losing business, I didn’t net as many instructional hours. At the time, I would’ve given anything to have had my pay frozen (let alone increased).

Secondly, the “Work to Rule” protests were less than constructive (and I’m putting that very kindly). Many of my clients at work also depend upon after-school tutoring sessions to keep up. However frustrated you might be, denying struggling students the opportunity to get the after-hours help they need strikes me as extraordinarily selfish. The educational enterprise should be focused on the children first and foremost — not on the adults and their financial complaints.

But you know what? I’m feeling generous today, so I’m going to suggest that we try squeezing at least a COLA out of Walts’ budget. How could we do this? I don’t know for sure because I don’t have access to all the figures, but were I given the opportunity to examine the details, I’m sure I could find some luxuries that we could temporarily do without. For example:

  • Why is a school bus sent to my neighborhood to take kids to Gar-Field High? When I attended Gar-Field, I walked the 1.3 mile distance to school. Why can’t today’s students do the same? In other words, why not increase the county’s “walker distance” to 1.5 miles? That might cut down on our transportation costs — and as a bonus, we’d have fewer fat kids.
  • I notice that Walts set aside $15 million to reduce class sizes for every grade. Now, I love small classes as much as the next American educator; that is, in fact, why I work for my current employer. However, it might behoove us to bear in mind that the average class in Korea or Japan is larger than the average class in the States — and those countries routinely kick our butts on the TIMSS. Small classes are nice, but they’re evidently not a panacea.
  • Do we really need interactive white boards in our classrooms? They’re certainly snazzy, but back in the “bad old days,” we somehow managed to deliver a world-class education without them. Actually, in the past, all we needed were primers, pieces of chalk, and slates — or, if you were really desperate, a dirt floor and a stick.

As far as I’m concerned, the only things we really need are more classrooms – and schools – to accommodate our ballooning student population, a well-rounded, well-structured curriculum (including a decent selection of extra-curricular activities so our students are given plenty of opportunities to pursue their passions), and a staff of well-qualified, dedicated teachers. Everything else, I feel, is negotiable. So before we start talking about raising the property tax, let’s try a little harder to make some cuts.

Local News: Stony Brook University Paper Sells Out

Follow THIS LINK to review for yourself the contents of the latest issue of the University Statesman newspaper – there is a full slide show revealing the pages of the printed paper on the right hand side…just look for the picture of the topless woman with a Statesman T-shirt draped over her breasts – and believe me when I say that most pages of the paper are covered with full-length images of similar quality.  I thought this was worth a blog post for a general audience because the latest issue was so unbelievably salacious and despicable that I felt obliged to send a letter to the editors and to the Dean of Students at Stony Brook requesting they take action to repair the damage they may have done to many of the students on campus who unfortunately had to see this newspaper all over main campus today.

What follows is the precise language in the letter I forwarded to the dean of students and to the editors of the Statesman.  I hope you will at least agree with me on the first two points I make if not every word of my rebuttal.
To the editors of the Statesman,
My name is Matthew Souders – I am a graduate student in atmospheric science at Stony Brook University and an increasingly active member of the campus community on a couple of fronts.  I will confess, however, that I am an infrequent reader of the Statesman as graduate studies and my personal relationships consume most of my free time.  A colleague and friend of mine walked into my office holding your Valentine’s Day issue in her hands and a look of shock on her face.  I took the paper and my jaw dropped.  Now I understand that the goal of this issue was to have a little fun with the romantic holiday, but I believe what you actually pieced together was in extremely poor taste and reflects very badly on the university and I’ll give you a few brief reasons why I feel that way.
CAMPUS DIVERSITY:
Diversity education at Stony Brook does not begin and end with ethnic backgrounds.  There is a diverse range of students, community members and other customers here from differing religious upbringings, with different creeds, of all different ages and having different body types.  While I recognize that this paper does not need to please everyone on campus all of the time, we all have a responsibility to be sensitive to the effects our actions may have on others who are different from us.
What message does this issue – filled wall to wall with thin and fit people in their underwear (if that) – send to people struggling with their body image?  More than 20% of New Yorkers are obese and another several percent have an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia.  This kind of imagery is precisely what gives people like that the sincere (and yet false) belief that they are not acceptable and drives them to unhealthy eating habits.  I know this from second-hand personal experience (several friends with eating disorders who started down that road because they believed they were unattractive thanks to imagery like what is in the Statesman this week).
What message does this send to Catholics and Orthodox Jews and Muslims on campus?  You’re welcome here, as long as you don’t mind us broadcasting at maximum volume imagery that you find offensive?  Oh and BTW, everyone on campus is doing it as often as possible, so your beliefs don’t matter to us?  Is this what relationships (the focal point of Valentine’s Day) are about to the editors of the Statesman?  Titillating sexual escapades and half-naked students?
What about the parents who bring their children to the swimming pool or the SAC to eat a meal?  Are they not a part of the campus community on a daily basis – and might those parents not want their children to see such imagery at a young age?  Or have you forgotten that you are the primary newspaper on campus and therefore publicly displayed and free to take from news-stands all across campus?  You have essentially put soft-core pornography in the hands of children if their parents aren’t quick enough to spot it.  As the leader in campus news and social commentary, you have a responsibility to respect the wide range of people who might be your readership and to present them with material suitable for all audiences.
JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY:
One of the burdens of being the publication that Stony Brook chooses to make free to all students is that you are seen by a fairly large audience as the leading authority for local and school-related news and information.  Today, you have done a great disservice to journalism by parading this naked (literally!) cry for attention in front of the school when your job is to present the news.  There is a place for social commentary in the Statesman, but that place is not on the front cover and that commentary should be related to the news of the day.  For reference, please see any of your favorite professional newspapers – the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe.  They have an opinion section and they have a culture and the arts section and those are the places where commentary on relationships and sex stay (and those commentaries are generally selected due to the relevance to their audience).
You may think this was just all in good fun, but this single issue of the Statesman has convinced many people I know on campus who might have been on the fence before that you are not a serious journalistic source and not worthy of their time and attention.  And not because you presented controversial material, but because you presented material that is likely to have been factually untrue or highly distorted with no effort to make sure that what you printed was true.  There is a section where you asked students to relay their wildest sexual encounters.  Everyone I’ve talked to agrees that most of the quotes you printed were likely fabricated due to the peer pressure placed on students put on the spot to come up with something attention-grabbing to say.  Professional journalists would never print such quotes, even for the sake of a chuckle, without some sort of cautionary note.
CAMPUS IMAGE:
Stony Brook University is not a social club, though the social lives of students matter here.  It is not an online forum for swapping stories, though freedom of expression is important to defend on a college campus.  It is not a resort home or a parental getaway, though we all hope that students have some of the best times of their lives while they’re here.  Stony Brook University is a place of higher education first and foremost.  You are here to learn and this school is here to further potentially life-saving research, prepare you for the future, and turn a profit as well, like it or not.  This is a business, and while you certainly had the first amendment right to print anything your heart desired, rights aren’t free…they come with responsibilities, and yours extends to preserving the image of your writers, the students and the university.  Even though the students pictured in your vaguely pornographic full-page inserts were all willing volunteers, do you really think you’re doing them any favors when they go to get a job?  This newspaper is on the web and employers do Google searches of perspective job applicants to see if they are serious professionals.  The girls dangling their bras behind their backs and pawing seductively ta guys two at a time are not going to fare well in the future if potential employers find out they appeared in this issue.  And whoa betide any of them who might have designs on public office!
The public image of the students aside, the public image of the University was certainly tarnished by this issue.  When I finish my Masters degree and parade that credential in front of employers, I’d like to be proud of the place that appears in the degree.  You, in some very important ways, represent this school – you owe the institution that will be giving you a degree some day better than to make it look like a den of iniquity unconcerned with serious journalism or educational fulfillment.
To close – I think it’s important to point out that I’m not arguing that sexual issues have no place at all in The Statesman, but a few simple changes would have addressed most, if not all, of my concerns.  I direct your attention to your rival paper, the SB Press.  Their most recent edition included an article discussing an event on campus that dealt with sexual issues.  In that article, they present the factual accounting of a game of Family Feud involving dating beliefs of the African American students on campus.  It was an example of actual journalism.  There were no topless images, no sensational headlines, and no printed falsehoods.  If The Statesman wishes to present a picture of sexual culture on campus to celebrate Valentine’s Day, it might be well advised not to put borderline porno on the front and back pages (out of respect to parents and children), limit the discussion to news-worthy topics, and leave the silly and the titillating stuff to the opinion pages where such things belong.  This kind of attention-seeking behavior does not become you, the editors of The Statesmen.  I hope you put a little more thought into the effect your work has on others and on our opinion of your publication in the future for all our sake.
Thank you,
Matthew Souders