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Monthly Archives: February 2010

Exactly one year ago, the “Tea Party” movement was born.

Though there is no exact date marking the precise emergence of the Tea Party movement, everyone agrees that it coalesced sometime in late February, 2009, in response to the massive government spending program called “The Stimulus Bill.” Since that time, the Tea Party movement has grown to stand in opposition to “Big Government” in all its forms, and in commemoration of its one-year anniversary, several cities hosted Tea Party Birthday Parties on Saturday. This post is a photo safari to the various BirthTea Parties around the country.

New York

Urban Infidel covered the New York birthday party and brought home these pictures:

St. Louis

Gateway Pundit featured coverage of Saturday’s party in St. Louis, where 1,500 people gathered at the foot of the Gateway Arch:

Temecula, California

The American Power Blog documented the festivities in Temecula in southern California, where a small BirthTea Party erupted on Saturday. Attendees including the dreaded Tax Zombie (no relation):

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The data underlying the famous “hockey stick” global warming graph has finally been found after having earlier been misplaced by leading climate researchers. The newly recovered data confirms the accuracy of the abrupt upward turn in readings characteristic of the “hockey stick” shape found in many global warming projections.

Up until now, however, the data on which the controversial graph had been based was presumed to be lost, so it was not known exactly which aspects of global warming the chart illustrated. Now that the data has been recovered, scientists can state with complete certainty that this updated chart accurately chronicles the past and future trajectory of the global warming crisis.

View the full-size graph by clicking HERE or on the small version shown below:

Bus brawl antihero the new Bernie Goetz?

February 22nd, 2010 - 2:32 pm

An unlikely antihero shown on video beating up a fellow bus passenger is being lionized as the new Bernie Goetz for the 21st century.

(Bernie Goetz, as you may remember, was the New York subway passenger who in 1984 shot four assailants as they tried to rob him. He was immediately hailed by many as a crime-fighting underdog — and by others as a racist vigilante.)

The new incident, which happened on February 16 in Oakland, California on a local AC Transit bus, also has racial overtones but has become a viral internet sensation more because of a generational conflict — the old fighting back against the young. The video’s “star,” as it were, is Thomas Bruso, a silver-haired 67-year-old white Vietnam vet who likes to call himself “Tom Slick” or “Vietnam Tom,” and who has now been dubbed by his millions of new fans, “Epic Beard Man,” “I AM A MOTHERFUCKER” and even “Zeus.”

The video, captured by a young woman sitting nearby on the bus with her cellphone camera, shows Bruso at first getting involved in a verbal altercation with a younger black man. As tempers begin to rise, Bruso wisely gets up and walks away to the front of the bus in order to defuse the tension — and then unwisely continues his trash-talking, warning the other passenger not to try anything he might regret. The young black man then gets up, follows Bruso to the front of the bus, and starts a fight with him by throwing a punch which hits Bruso in the chest.

In a flash, to everyone’s astonishment, the senior citizen leaps up and unleashes a blinding flurry of savage blows on his young adversary, knocking him to the floor where he ends up a few seconds later in a defensive fetal position, blood pouring from his nose. As fellow passengers scream “Lord have mercy!”, Bruso exits the bus, revealing the too-perfect slogan clearly visible on the back of his T-shirt: “I AM A MOTHERFUCKER!”

But a mere description does not do the incident justice. In situations like this, it’s the details that matter. There are now dozens of versions of this video online, scoring millions of views on YouTube, but the one shown below is perhaps the best, because it starts with a slow-motion close-up of the climactic fight, and then backs up and shows the full video from beginning to end, with annotations:

The question on everyone’s mind is: Who is to blame? According to various news reports, neither man was charged with any crime as a result of the incident. But in the marketplace of internet memes, it’s not so much who went to jail, but who was at fault. Was Bruso simply an innocent old man defending himself from an aggressive young thug? Or was Bruso a deranged assailant, nearly killing someone over a stupid argument? And did either side say anything so egregious during the dispute that it rose to the level of racism or “fighting words”?

Well, to help my readers disentangle the many layers, I have made an exact transcript of the entire video, from beginning to end, showing precisely what each party said. You can read the transcript at the bottom of this post, but, after viewing the video several times myself, my conclusion is:

1. Thomas Bruso did say three statements which could be considered racially inflammatory: First he offered to pay the other man if he shined Bruso’s shoes (it is generally considered demeaning to conjure the old racial stereotype of the black “shoe-shine boy”); second, he used the word “Chinaman” (also considered demeaning); and third, told the other man to “sit your little black ass down.”

2. However, these statements were made in a racially charged atmosphere, in which bystanders were encouraging the other man to “beat his white ass,” and who called Bruso “pinky,” an apparent racial slur.

3. Both men made threatening statements to each other, but it was the other man, not Bruso, who initiated the violent threats.

4. Bruso tried to defuse the situation by moving away from the other man; it was his opponent who re-escalated the fight by traveling the length of the bus to attack Bruso physically.

5. A careful analysis of the video (shown below) reveals that the other man did indeed start the fight by punching Bruso in the chest while Bruso was still seated. Bruso punched back only after the other man punched him first.

Two videos help to clarify the situation. The first one, shown here, clearly demonstrates that the other man did indeed throw and land the first punch, and then even began to throw a second punch before getting hit himself:

Second, and most interestingly, someone managed to track down Bruso a few days later, and he explained the idiotic misunderstanding which led to the argument, and why the topic of shoe-shines was even raised in the first place:

According to Bruso, the whole thing started when he was talking to “Bob,” a friend of his, about wearing Stacy Adams brand shoes to the funeral of Bruso’s mother, who had just died. Bruso said to his friend, “My boy is going to shine them for me,” which he claims was not a racial statement, just referring to any shoe-shiner. The younger black man overheard this statement, and then accused Bruso of being a racist, asking him “Why does it have to be a ‘boy’ who shines your shoes?” Bruso then misheard that statement as an offer to shine his shoes — and the argument escalated from there.

The San Francisco Examiner has a similar account from Bruso explaining the origins of the dispute.

This background is important because it shows that Bruso didn’t simply walk up to a stranger and ask him to shine his shoes; rather, his seemingly inappropriate remark at the beginning of the fight video is a continuation of an earlier double misunderstanding which had started some time earlier.

The interview above is also important because it shows that Bruso is, shall we say, not entirely playing with a full deck. Kooky, eccentric, nuts — you choose.

Anyway, whoever’s at fault, the video has exploded, and overnight become an internet legend. Millions of people seem to get a thrill from seeing a senior citizen apply a serious beatdown on a much younger man. (Though, strangely, the other man in the video at one point claims to be 50 years old, even though he appears to be much younger, perhaps in his 20s.)

The AllHipHop blog features several other related videos, including one of Bruso getting tased by the police at an Oakland A’s game, another which shows him stomping around in an adrenaline-fueled rage after the bus brawl, and several hilarious parodies, which are cropping up by the dozens every day.

Does Thomas Bruso deserve to be lionized? Or is he just a crazy old coot? And what, if anything, does this video say about generational and racial conflicts in America? (In my opinion, the only real hero in the video is “Black female passenger #1″ [see transcript below], who is just about the only person who tried to intervene and stop the violence.)

I get the feeing that, basically, people just like to see an authentic fight, unedited, and all the analysis is just justification for our bloodlust. Perhaps, in the long run, this video’s only lasting impact will be to introduce the word “ambulamps” to the English language.

To help you decide, here’s the exact transcript. You may want to open the video in a new window and arrange them side-by-side so you can watch and read along at the same time:


Exact transcript of the full Thomas Bruso bus-brawl video

Younger Black Man: …AC Transit?

Thomas Bruso: Let’s get back to [business]: How much you charge me for a spit-shine?

YBM: What?

TB: How much you charge me to do my Stacy Adams? I’m going to a funeral on Friday. I gotta–

YBM: What?

TB: You said you’d–

YBM: You hear what I said just now?

TB: Yes.

YBM: Why a brother gotta spit-shine your shoes?

TB: You offered!

YBM: I didn’t offer you shit.

TB: What’d you just say when you walked by me?

YBM: I said ‘Why a fuckin’ brother gotta spit-shine your shoes?’

TB: No, he don’t hafta!

YBM: Why a white man can’t spit-shine your shoes?

TB: It could be a Chinaman, it don’t matter!

YBM: Look dude –

TB: I ain’t prejudiced, what, you think I’m prejudiced?

YBM: Take your ass back up there, get the fuck out of my face right now.

TB: Why you being so hostile, man?

YBM: ‘Cause, I’m pissed off.

TB: [Getting up to walk back to the front of the bus] Well you’d better be pissed off–

YBM: Take your ass back up there right now.

TB: You ain’t scaring this white boy. I’m 67 years old. You ain’t scaring me.

YBM: [Getting up to challenge Bruso] I’m fifty!

TB: You ain’t scaring me. You ain’t scaring me.

YBM: Now I’ll put my foot up your ass.

TB: Oh no you won’t! No you won’t!

YBM: Yeah, yes I will. I’ll fuck it up. I’ll put my foot up your ass.

TB: You’ll get my foot up yours.

Black female passenger #1: Hey hey hey hey, now chill. Now chill.

TB: This old man will whip your ass!

[TB sits down several yards away at the front of the bus.]

TB: Better sit your little black ass down.

YBM: Motherfucker — I’ll put my foot up your ass. [Re-takes his seat.]

TB: You won’t do nothin’ to me. This [dude'll] tear your ass up.

YBM: Say it again! Say it again!

Black female passenger #2: Say it again. Say it again. Say it again, pinky!

[YBM gets up and follows TB to the front of the bus.]

BFP2: Beat his white ass! Whoop his ass!

[YBM makes threatening gestures in front of TB's face.]

BFP1: Leave that man alone, brother.

TB: I ain’t getting off.

Young black woman filming the incident: It ain’t worth it blood, it ain’t worth it.

YBM: [Returning to his seat] I’ll put my left foot up your ass.

TB: I seen some guys like you and I slapped the shit out of them!

YBM: What? What?!?!? What?!?

[YBM charges back down the aisle and punches TB in the chest.]

YBWFTI: Stop it.

[TB stands up and rains blows on YBM.]

YBWFTI: Stop it! Uh-uh!

Passengers: Ooooh! Ooooh!

[YBM crumples to the floor.]

BFP2: Oh — what the fuck?

Passengers: [Screaming and yelling.]

YBWFTI: Stop it! Oh! Ohhhh! Lord have mercy!!

TB: I told you not to fuck with me!!!!!

YBWFTI: Jesus Christ!! Oh my God!!

TB: I told him not to fuck with me and he hit me! He fuckin’ hit me!

[TB Gets off bus, showing the back of his t-shirt, which says, "I AM A MOTHERFUCKER."]

TB: He fuckin’ hit me first! He hit me in the face! That’s self-defense!

YBM: [Gets up off bus floor and again begins to head toward TB, who by now is on the sidewalk.]

TB: Don’t fuck with me boy! Don’t fuck with me!

YBM: Next time — I fuck you up.

Passengers: [General consternation.]

BFP2: That man on some kind of dope.

YBWFTI: Hey we can press charges, blood, I got it on videotape.

BFP2: [Referring to the blood pouring from YBM's nose.] Oh, he leakin’. He’s leakin’.

YBM: That motherfucker hit me.

BFP1: Are you alright? He break your teeth?

YBM: No. Bring ambulamps!

BFP2: Oh, he leakin’.

YBWFTI: [To her friend, BFP1] Shut the fuck up.

YBM: Bring ambulamps.

[YBM tries to find a napkin in his pocket.]

YBM: I’m gonna come back and kill that nigga.

[YBM catches breath.]

YBM: I’m gonna kill that nigga.

[YBM continues to bleed from his nose.]

YBM: I’m gonna kill him next time I see him.

YBWFTI: I got it!

BFP2: Turn it off!

YBWFTI: I got it!

I agree with Michelle Obama.

There. I said it — something I thought I’d never say.

American kids are overweight, to such an extent that this is threatening to become a national crisis.

Then again, I also agree with Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, and Laura Bush.

Because every First Lady of the United States adopts a non-controversial pet project. Ranging from Nancy’s Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign to Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautification program, it is a First Lady’s traditional role to promote some form of public betterment with which we can all agree.

So it’s not really a surprise that Michelle Obama has adopted a cause that just about everyone in the country thinks is worthwhile. That’s what First Ladies do. A more relevant question is: How does her non-controversial pet project stack up against earlier First Ladies’ non-controversial pet projects? Now that Michelle has declared her agenda, the time has come for an historical overview of First Lady initiatives, to see if Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” child obesity campaign is likely to be a flop or a success compared to earlier projects.

Eleanor Roosevelt is often credited with starting the tradition of activist First Ladies; unlike her predecessors, she took an aggressive role in promoting important policies during her husband’s administration. But considering that her level of involvement was so deep and wide-ranging across so many important social issues of the day, and also considering that her two immediate successors (Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower) retreated back to old-fashioned non-political First Lady status, the modern era of First Lady Pet Projects more properly starts with Jackie Kennedy and her drive to completely refurbish the White House.

Starting then, all First Ladies have dabbled throughout their tenures in a wide range of secondary feel-good social causes — for example, Barbara Bush helped AIDS awareness, and Rosalynn Carter became an advocate for refugees — but this essay concerns itself exclusively with those causes which are publicly announced as the First Lady’s primary initiative (literacy for Barbara, mental health for Rosalynn, and so on).

First Lady Pet Projects: The Rankings

The following chart ranks each First Lady’s pet project according to how socially significant it was and how successful she was in bringing it to fruition.

Two First Ladies on this chart (Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower) did not really have any pet projects worth noting, while two others (Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton) were what I call “Power First Ladies” whose activities and political involvement were so important that they didn’t really count as “pet projects” but rather were essential components of their husbands’ administrations. Because of this, all four have been excluded from the final rankings.

Although the chart starts in 1933 to be thorough, the list of First Ladies participating in the rankings actually begins proper with Jackie Kennedy.

The column on the right totals up each First Lady’s “Pet Project Rating” by assessing (based on my research) how significant (on a scale of 1 to 10) her pet project was to the nation at large, and multiplying it by how successful she was in bringing it off (again based on my research).

Following this chart, below, I discuss each First Lady’s pet project in a little more detail, and then place Michelle Obama’s new initiative in historical context.

A note on the background colors:

      = Power First Lady (excluded from rankings)

      = Non-participating First Lady (excluded from rankings)

First Lady
(tenure)
Primary cause
(Secondary cause)
Significance  x   Success
(1 – 10 scale)          (1 – 10 scale)
= Pet Project Rating
   (1 – 100 scale)
Eleanor Roosevelt
(1933-1945)
National policy     10sig. x  6suc. =  60
Bess Truman
(1945-1953)
none
Mamie Eisenhower
(1953-1961)
none
Jackie Kennedy
(1961-1963)
White House refurbishment     1sig. x  9suc. =  9
Lady Bird Johnson
(1963-1969)
Beautification
( + Project Head Start)
    5sig. x  8suc. =  40
Pat Nixon
(1969-1974)
Volunteerism     4sig. x  3suc. =  12
Betty Ford
(1974-1977)
Equal Rights Amendment
( + breast cancer awareness)
    5sig. x  3suc. =  15
Rosalynn Carter
(1977-1981)
Mental Health     4sig. x  5suc. =  20
Nancy Reagan
(1981-1989)
Drug Abuse     6sig. x  6suc. =  36
Barbara Bush
(1989-1993)
Literacy     5sig. x  2suc. =  10
Hillary Clinton
(1993-2001)
National policy     10sig. x  5suc. =  50
Laura Bush
(2001-2009)
Education     5sig. x  5suc. =  25
Michelle Obama
(2009- )
Childhood Obesity     6sig. x  ?suc. =  ?

And so, looking at the final column, we can see that Lady Bird Johnson and Nancy Reagan had the two most successful First Lady pet projects, in terms of both social significance and eventual efficacy. Before we consider how Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity drive might rank, let’s take a closer look at each First Lady and her cause.

First Lady Pet Projects: A brief historical overview

Eleanor Roosevelt completely revolutionized the role of First Lady. Unlike her predecessors (and even her immediate successors), she was ambitious, educated, strong-willed and extremely opinionated, in public and in private. She jumped with both feet into a high-profile role and used her fame to promote a large array of significant policy issues. She vigorously promoted civil rights for African-Americans, encouraged women’s empowerment and feminism, led the charge for the New Deal programs which reshaped the American economy, championed labor unions and workers’ rights, helped troop morale and civil defense programs during WWII, and throughout her tenure staged an astounding 348 press conferences, far more than even any president in history, much less any First Lady. And to top it off, she had what was essentially the world’s first blog, a nationally syndicated daily column entitled “My Day” which chronicled her every activity. Considering all this, Eleanor had no one particular “pet project,” but was rather a one-woman branch of government, pushing not just her husband’s policies but espousing many of her own as well. As such, her career as First Lady must be judged on a different scale than those of the single-issue First Ladies who followed.

Bess Truman famously loathed the spotlight, and mostly lived a private life as First Lady, never really embracing any particular issue. Mamie Eisenhower also never adopted any public cause (aside from a brief period promoting awareness of heart disease after Ike suffered a heart attack), and was instead content in her role as White House hostess. Both of them, consequently, are also excluded from the final pet project rankings.

Jackie Kennedy, for all her popularity as a fashion icon, eschewed altruistic campaigns; her sole initiative as First Lady was to refurbish and redecorate her home, which of course just happened to be the White House. Although this helped further public interest in the glamorous “Camelot” image of the Kennedy family, her efforts had no direct social benefit on the nation at large.

Lady Bird Johnson changed all that. Although not as celebrated in the national consciousness as are many of her successors, it was Lady Bird who set the standard for First Ladies’ political and social engagement. Right out of the gate she encouraged “women’s activism,” promoting the proto-feminist notion that American women were competent and had an equal role to play in society. She also helped to launch and publicize Project Head Start, which provided nutritional and health assistance to poor children and families.

But Lady Bird is best remembered for what is likely the most unexpected yet most successful of all First Lady pet projects: “Beautification,” as she called it. Beautification was Lady Bird’s catch-all term describing her efforts to make America a more attractive place. Considering the innumerable social crises of the 1960s which a First Lady could have addressed, in retrospect it seems a very peculiar choice to focus on the nation’s physical beauty as the one overriding issue. And yet, she somehow made it work. Lady Bird led the charge for blight removal, flower and tree planting, National Park improvements, air pollution control, new landscaping, neighborhood trash pickups, and numerous other initiatives involving environmentalism, conservation, and urban renewal. Most controversial was her personal legislative bill, the Highway Beautification Act, which got passed after her husband twisted more than a few arms in Congress. The United States, as seen by most travelers in those days through car windows on cross-country drives, appeared to be little more than a long succession of garish billboards, junkyards, tourist traps, dilapidated gas stations, and tacky advertisements. Realizing that the view from the highway was the view that mattered most, Lady Bird pushed through a sweeping law which sought to transform our gritty highways into scenic drives, doing away with all the unsightly detritus of unregulated development. And while the Highway Beautification Act subsequently faced substantial political opposition (click on the cartoon on the right to see a particularly amusing critique), it — along with Lady Bird’s other Beautification projects — helped to give America a much-needed facelift after decades of neglect.

“Volunteerism” is most often cited as Pat Nixon‘s primary personal initiative, and she did indeed promote the notion that people — women in particular — should volunteer their time in nonprofit activities to help communities and the less fortunate. She toured the country highlighting noteworthy volunteer groups, and helped the National Center for Voluntary Action. However, Pat was also busy in many other fields, such as helping disadvantaged youth in the Washington DC area, making the White House accessible to the disabled, and numerous day-to-day good works that received little press coverage during her husband’s tumultuous tenure. And much of her time was spent criss-crossing the globe and serving as an unofficial goodwill ambassador during the countless presidential overseas trips of the Nixon administration. Even so, it can’t be said that her drive to popularize volunteerism was particularly successful, because her efforts were overshadowed by an unending series of national crises and major historical events during the Nixon era.

Most younger Americans assume that Betty Ford‘s pet project as First Lady was the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction; the Betty Ford Clinic, after all, bears her name. But she did not confront her own alcoholism and become an icon in the recovery movement until 1978 — after she was no longer First Lady. During her comparatively brief stint in the White House, she instead mostly focused on trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified in state legislatures. She also became a pioneering spokeswomen for breast cancer awareness, after her own diagnosis and mastectomy in 1974. Since her efforts on behalf of the ERA did little to prevent its eventual defeat, Betty’s brave decision to speak out and bring attention to the then-taboo topic of breast cancer is most likely her most noteworthy achievement as First Lady.

Rosalynn Carter poured much energy into the President’s Commission on Mental Health, which with her help produced a massive report based on years of investigation, recommending a complete overhaul of how the government treats and helps people with mental illness. The report formed the basis of the Mental Health Systems Act, in support of which Rosalynn testified before the Senate and which become law in 1980.

(As an inappropriate aside: While researching this article I’ve been uncovering many pictures of the First Ladies in their younger years, and have come to the conclusion that, if the rankings were instead based on looks rather than accomplishments…Most people would agree that Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy was the most attractive First Lady while she was actually First Lady, but Rosalynn Smith Carter was the cutest while growing up and most attractive as a young woman; Nancy Davis Reagan comes in a close third as the only First Lady to build a career on her visual appeal. Jackie has an advantage in this area due to being the youngest First Lady of the modern era.)

Nancy Reagan will forever be associated with the slogan “Just Say No,” which was the catchphrase she coined for her drug abuse prevention campaign of the 1980s. The massive publicity — both positive and negative — surrounding Nancy’s Just Say No campaign far eclipsed the notice given to any previous First Lady pet projects. On one hand, the sustained media blitz definitely helped her vigorous anti-drug message to penetrate the national consciousness, and thousands of Just Say No anti-drug groups were founded across the country (and even worldwide). And while drug abuse during the Reagan era did decline sharply after raging out of control for most of the ’60s and ’70s, it’s not clear whether the decline was due exclusively to Nancy’s efforts or more due to a general turn toward conservativism and traditional values in middle America during those years. Unlike previous First Lady pet projects, Just Say No was savagely mocked by Reagan’s critics as simple-minded and insulting, since it didn’t fully address the supposed underlying social and physical causes of drug abuse and addiction. If a heroin addict could simply “just say no,” then he wouldn’t be an addict, would he? Even so, her campaign did seem to dampen casual drug experimentation among young people, even if it didn’t necessarily do much to help hardcore addicts.

Barbara Bush is the only First Lady to have spent 12 years with the same pet project — in this case, literacy — because she had already adopted it as her cause when she was Second Lady (the vice president’s wife) for eight years. She sponsored various literacy programs throughout her tenure, and was certainly well-intentioned about a problem that is indeed a serious one — but unfortunately the social causes of illiteracy are far too deep and intractable to be cured by anyone in what is essentially still after all a ceremonial role; studies released after the Bush I presidency showed that rates of illiteracy had if anything gotten worse over time and have continued a worsening trend ever since. So, alas, despite noble efforts, Barbara could do little to really succeed with her pet project, since causes like the downward slump of public education coupled with skyrocketing immigration of non-English speakers completely overwhelmed the First Lady’s efforts.

Hillary Clinton is a special case. Like Eleanor Roosevelt, she was not content to relegate herself to the subservient and mostly symbolic role of the President’s docile wife who arranges the seating at state dinners. Nor was she content to simply use the publicity that naturally comes with her position to promote this or that agreeable cause. Instead, she was so deeply involved with her husband’s administration that the two were dubbed “co-presidents”, or even “Billary,” by pundits. One could say that her primary public role focused on health care initiatives and women’s issues, but behind the scenes she was also involved in every level of national policy-making. It’s not really possible to assess her personal projects without assessing the success of the Clinton presidency as a whole. Because of this, I have excluded Hillary (along with Eleanor Roosevelt) from the “Pet Project” rankings, because their activities were far more significant than just mere pet projects.

Laura Bush has degrees in education and library science, and once worked as a schoolteacher, so her focus as First Lady naturally was on education, and especially reading and literacy for children. She founded the National Book Festival; defended the No Child Left Behind Act, a bill to improve education nationwide; advocated for improved teacher salaries and introduced various teacher training and recruitment programs; helped to push through federal policies benefiting librarians; and fought for childhood literacy programs both in the U.S. and abroad. The jury is still out as to how much American education improved during the Bush years and to what extent Laura was responsible, but each of her individual policy efforts was successful in and of itself, so they must have had some cumulative effect.

And so we come to Michelle Obama. She had already been focusing on children’s nutrition during the first year of her tenure, but her pet project became official just a few days ago when she announced the creation of Let’s Move, a nationwide drive to combat childhood obesity. Now, obviously, there’s no way to judge the long-term success of her pet project, because it just started. In fact, we likely won’t have any conclusive data about trends in childhood obesity rates in the post-2010 era until long after Obama has left office; these kinds of studies take years to conduct. So the second half of her equation — the “success” of her pet project — will have to remain a question mark for now.

But we can assess the first variable: how significant an issue it is. And here I can say that I think Michelle made a good choice, because not only is childhood obesity a national epidemic, but it is very relevant to the overriding policy issue of the day: health care. Obese babies often become obese children, and obese children, statistically speaking, tend to become obese adults. And as I discussed in an earlier essay about health care, it is obesity (and the choices which lead to obesity) which is partly responsible for the health care crisis in the first place. Obesity-related ailments (such as diabetes and heart conditions) are expensive to treat and are therefore a major cause of skyrocketing health care costs — despite being entirely preventable. If Michelle miraculously does manage to eliminate childhood obesity, she (not her husband) may in the long run be the one to resolve our national heath care dilemma. But that’s a very very big “if.”

Michelle’s “Let’s Move” agenda has elicited a variety of responses already, some purely partisan, some based on reason. Rushing to Michelle’s defense was conservative columnist Meghan Cox Gurdon, whose Washington Examiner piece entitled “First lady’s anti-obesity campaign makes sense” lays out the rationale for supporting the “Let’s Move” agenda. However, not everybody is on board with the program: PajamasTV pundit Joe Hicks issued a scathing critique of Michelle’s hypocrisy, pointing out that she by her own admission made a personal decision to improve her kids’ nutrition — and yet insists on a nanny-state government program to dictate to supposedly ignorant poor people how to feed their kids and run their lives. Hicks convincingly argues that family nutrition decisions are best left to parents, not to government bureaucracy.

Michelle has a big head start in the pet project rankings, because her chosen cause has a high significance rating, a “6″ out of 10 — the highest of any First Lady initiative (tied with Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug abuse drive).

Setting aside partisan bickering: How successful do you think Michelle’s anti-obesity drive will be? Is it the role of the government to intervene in family nutritional choices? Should the government become a nanny state in those areas where the actual nannies themselves are falling down on the job? And is fighting childhood obesity the hidden solution to our health care crisis, with a chance to succeed where Obamacare failed?

A growing number of Americans are beginning to think that global warming alarmism is little more than some sort of hippie plot to drag us back to the Stone Age. Or, failing that, at least drag us back to the Hippie Age. And what with the abject failure of the international community to reach any kind of binding agreement at the recent Copenhagen climate conference, and the growing unlikelihood that the U.S. Senate will pass any bill to combat that chimerical foe Anthropogenic Global Warming, coupled with the scandal-a-minute collapse of any scientific “consensus” that we’re even changing the climate after all, the alarmists are now looking at a bleak future of their grand scheme devolving into nothing more than a passing fad along the lines of Hula Hoops or the Macarena.

The same thing happened in the 1960s. The early anti-war protests against U.S. involvement in Vietnam were fervent, sincere, and convinced of their eventual efficacy. But as months turned to years and the Johnson administration not only ignored the protests but escalated the war at every opportunity, it became painfully obvious that the anti-war movement of the mid-’60s had failed. It may have gotten a lot of protesters laid, but it did nothing to actually stop the war. By the time the late ’60s rolled around — i.e., the Hippie Age — most protesters had little or no expectation that their antics would influence Nixon to stop bombing Indochina (or whatever other shenanigans he was up to that week); rather, protests had become mostly an excuse to party. Or, seen from the reverse angle, most public musical events for the younger generation by then acquired a political overtone, so that you were no longer just dancing for the fun of it, but were now “dancing for peace.”

Dancing for peace, 1969.

My thesis is that once any movement begins to engage in hollow, ridiculous and futile gestures (such as “dancing for” anything), it’s an indicator that the movement has run out of steam and will soon go extinct. It is therefore with great interest that I’ve been noticing not just the strange new outbreak and continuous barrage of climate change dances but more significantly an upcoming lecture being given at U.C. Berkeley entitled Mitigating Global Warming Through Art — Exploring the Importance of Music for the Change of Lifestyles. The listing for the talk (given by visiting lecturer Maximilian Mayer at U.C. Berkeley’s Institute of European Studies) notes that “Music in general and art in particular seems to be a promising Archimedean point for multiple new life styles. Performing music and dancing combine the advantages of those three alternative approaches. Additionally, they may be powerful enough to substitute the culture of consumerism since they enable a creativity-based self-autonomy as well as cultural self-sufficiency.” In other words, not only have the global warming alarmists started dancing in a last-ditch attempt to save the planet, but they have now even developed an academic pseudo-scientific theory as to why dancing is a necessary and perhaps the only remaining way to prevent the climate from changing.

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Crib Notes Technology Cost Analysis

February 10th, 2010 - 12:20 pm

Most politicians use “crib notes” of some kind while giving speeches.

Some bring 3×5 cards listing key points. Others refer to handwritten rough drafts. And some even read from pages on which the entire speech has been printed out.

But Barack Obama and Sarah Palin each have their own unique crib notes technology. The two diagrams below analyze how much each type of technology costs per speech.

Recently I rented a DVD of the award-winning 2003 documentary Winged Migration. Famed as one of the most unique and beautiful films ever made, Winged Migration literally takes the viewer up into the sky as it follows birds on their long-distance seasonal flights around the world. Somehow, seemingly as if by magic, the cameras are right there amongst the migrating birds, and you feel as if you are flying thousands of feet in the air with your fellow avians over landscapes which range from the picturesque to the breathtaking. When the film was over, all I could say was “Wow!”

And then, I made the terrible, terrible mistake of clicking on “Special Features” in the DVD menu. Ten minutes later, I realized retroactively that I didn’t like the film after all. In fact, I hated it.

Why? Because among the special features was one of those short “The Making of…” mini-documentaries which divulged the secrets of how they filmed Winged Migration. And it revealed that the film was all a lie. A beautiful lie, but a lie nonetheless.

The filmmakers had not documented any actual migrations. Not only were the birds not migrating, they weren’t even wild birds! They were basically trained actors, with wings. The “making of…” documentary showed, step by step, how they had hand-raised some migratory birds from the moment they hatched and had, using the “imprinting” techniques of Konrad Lorenz, tricked the birds into thinking that the cameramen were their mommies. As explained in Wikipedia, “The filial imprinting of birds was a primary technique used to create the movie [Winged Migration], which contains a great deal of footage of migratory birds in flight. The birds imprinted on handlers, who wore yellow jackets and honked horns constantly. The birds were then trained to fly along with a variety of aircraft, primarily ultralights.”

Making Winged Migration

So to film the birds “migrating” somewhere, the director actually just attached a camera to a motorized hang glider (called an “ultralight”), then let the birds out of their cages and started filming as the birds followed the ultralight around on a short flight, after which they all landed and were put back in cages. To make matters worse, the birds didn’t follow the ultralight from region to region on long-distance flights, as the viewer was led to believe. No, as revealed to my shock in the “making of…” documentary, the filmmakers packed the birds away in shipping containers and actually trucked them around the world (on vehicles or in jetliner cargo holds) and then unpacked them only when they were at some pre-determined spot chosen by location scouts for its natural beauty. At which point, the ultralight would again take off, and the “migrating birds” would follow it around for a few minutes, before landing and getting back in the cages.

The final straw came when the director showed how even apparently serendipitous moments of passing “local color” were in fact all carefully constructed artificial props. That water buffalo wandering by in the distance? Someone pushed it into the scene. That quaint villager? A paid extra.

Great God in heaven! What kind of monstrosity is this? The entire film was a deception. I felt like a drunken sailor waking up next to the previous night’s beer-goggle conquest, only to see a cheap wig and smell the stale whiskey breath, and realize I had been tricked.

Why in the world did the filmmakers reveal their deception? It had been such a wonderful reverie. The movie was utterly ruined for me after I had already seen it.

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“Eat local” is the latest intellectual fad on the Left Coast. These “locavores,” as adherents like to call themselves, want you to eat only food grown near where you live — say, within 100 miles of your home. The goal, in theory, is to foster “sustainable agriculture,” to lower the carbon footprint of your food (which generally travels thousands of miles from farm to kitchen table), and consequently get that warm-and-fuzzy back-to-the-earth type feeling.

Oh, did I mention that the locavore movement is most popular in California?

This little detail is significant because California is just about the only state in the entire union that has the climate and the soil to grow such a wide variety of produce that it could even theoretically support its current population with “locally grown” food.

While food is grown in every state, most of that food is not sold directly to individual consumers — it is sold to food manufacturers around the country and around the world. So even if you lived right in the middle of a Kansas wheat field, you probably couldn’t “eat locally” because you would have no retail access to that wheat, which will instead probably end up in a bagel at Coney Island.


Much more relevant data about the viability of eating locally can be found on this map created by the Department of Agriculture which shows the value of agricultural products “Sold Directly to Individuals for Human Consumption. As you can see, most of the produce which you can actually buy yourself is either grown in California, the West Coast, or in New England — precisely the areas where the “locavore” movement is popular. As a result, “eating locally” at current population levels is only even possible if you live in liberal enclaves on the coasts; the vast majority of Americans in the rest of the country couldn’t “eat locally” even if they tried.

But that map doesn’t tell the whole story. Most of the areas shown actually specialize in specific types of fruits or vegetables, so that if you want to be a locavore in Washington state, you’re going to be eating a hell of a lot of apples and cherries. If you live in Georgia, brace yourself for the all-peanut diet, with maybe a peach for dessert in summer.

Want to be a locavore and yet still be able to eat anything made out of grapes or almonds or lettuce or avocados or cantaloupes or any number of other standard foodstuffs? Well, the only way you could eat any of those things — and dozens of other common foods — is if you lived in Caifornia, because that’s just about the only place where such products are commercially grown in the US.

Which gets to the heart of the elitism and hypocrisy of the locavore movement. We can sit here in California and brag about our uniquely fertile and sun-kissed state, and exude faux despair: “Why doesn’t everybody eat locally and sustainably — like we Californians do?” But of course under that mask of concern is a smirk, because we know full well that people in Buffalo and Chicago and El Paso have no choice but to eat food transported there from the rest of the country. Which, you see, renders them globe-destroying rubes with unsustainable dietary carbon footprints. So we asshole Californians invented the locavore movement to lord over the rest of the country how superior we are.

(In retaliation, I propose to the midwestern states that they withhold all soybeans from the soyless Californians to create a catastrophic tofu shortage amongst the indigenous vegetarians. Food fight!)

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Fiscal conservatives have been howling in protest over the $54 million earmarked by Obama’s Stimulus Package to finance something called “The Wine Train” in California’s scenic Napa Valley. The notion that the government was squandering millions of taxpayer dollars to prop up a private tourist attraction seemed to epitomize everything that was wrong with pork-barrel politics masquerading as sober economic policy. I mean, while we’re subsidizing tourist traps, why not give a couple hundred million to Disneyland to build a new “Pirates of the Potomac” ride?

But the howls are about to get a lot louder. Because an investigation just published by California Watch and reprinted in the San Francisco Chronicle shows that the Wine Train scam was far worse than you imagined. The $54 million wasn’t just spent on an overpriced not-a-thrill ride for tipsy tourists: it was thrown down the toilet on a no-bid contract handed to a shady Alaskan front corporation which deviously abused race-based “set-aside” laws to land a vastly overpriced deal — which they then proceeded to subcontract at a much lower rate to a different company, while pocketing a cool $20 million for doing no work whatsoever.

The article merits a full read (and kudos to author Lance Williams at California Watch for actually doing some real investigative journalism), but these excerpts (with key sections highlighted) should make you nauseous enough:

…The main action today is in Napa, where, without competitive bidding, this unusual construction company won a $54 million federal contract to build a new railroad bridge and other structures for the famed Napa Valley Wine Train tourist attraction.

This is the world of Suulutaaq Inc. of Anchorage. Because the company was founded by Alaska Natives, it enjoys special access to federal contracts.

A Walnut Creek construction executive whose firm built a previous phase of the flood-control project said the government probably overspent by millions when it negotiated a contract with Suulutaaq rather than seeking competitive bids.

Meanwhile, investors aggrieved over the bankruptcy of the South Carolina dot-com Sailnet said they were surprised to learn of former CEO Samuel Boyle’s new job as CEO of Suulutaaq. Boyle did not mention having construction experience or ties to Alaska tribes, they told California Watch. Some said Boyle’s involvement in Suulutaaq boded ill for the Alaska firm.

Suulutaaq is one of dozens of Alaska Native corporations that have emerged as players in federal contracting via measures crafted in the 1980s and 1990s by former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, a powerful lawmaker whose career ended with a contracting scandal.

For decades, the U.S. Small Business Administration has run a preferential contracting program to aid disadvantaged businesses. Qualifying firms can get federal contracts worth up to $5.5 million by negotiation, rather than competitive bidding.

The Stevens measures gave corporations that were set up by Alaska Natives special access – with no cap on the size of contracts they can obtain.

“Alaska Native corporations don’t have to prove that they’re socially or economically disadvantaged,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said at a 2009 hearing. “They don’t have to be small businesses. And they can receive no-bid contracts worth billions of dollars.”

The companies employ few Alaska Natives and “rely heavily on non-native managers,” she said.

McCaskill also contended that some of the companies “may also be passing through work to their subcontractors.” In those cases, the companies were collecting a profit simply because they had special access to federal contracts, she said.

McCaskill proposed putting a cap on the no-bid contracts, but the measure stalled in the face of intense lobbying by tribal corporations.

The price tag might have been significantly lower but for the Wine Train, a private rail line established by the late Vincent DeDomenico, the wealthy creator of Rice-A-Roni pasta. Sixteen times each week, according to the Wine Train’s Web site, the train transports tourists from Napa to St. Helena aboard restored dining cars. A champagne dinner on the Vista Dome car costs $129 per person. About 125,000 people ride the Wine Train each year.

Brosamer, the Walnut Creek contractor, said the public was paying a premium for the Wine Train project, saying, “It would have been a hell of a lot cheaper if they had put it out to bid.”

But the quality of the construction is first rate, Brosamer said, because Suulutaaq subcontracted much of the job to the giant Peter Kiewit Sons Inc. engineering firm, which also is a contractor on the Bay Bridge.

“The reality is, Suulutaaq isn’t doing much,” Brosamer said.

Federal records show that Suulutaaq is paying Kiewit $28.1 million – 53 percent of the total stimulus contract. Suulutaaq is keeping about $20.4 million, or 38 percent of the total. The rest, about $4.7 million, goes to other subcontractors, all from the lower 48 states.