Saturday, January 11, 2014

Ridgewood school district orders end to lunch deliveries

This decision to ban the existing lunch vendors from dropping off lunches on Ridgewood school grounds hurts 2 businesses in Ridgewood and 1 in Midland Park that employ people.  The decision also hurts many Ridgewood families, especially ones where both parents work and are pressed for time in the morning.

This weekend, I get an email from the Ridgewood school email server, promoting a new lunch provider called "Village Fresh".  Although one might hope that a school email service would be used solely to disseminate information and not for commercial purposes, this email is clearly an advertisement for the Village Fresh service.  First off, do we really want our school system giving/leasing/lending our personal email addresses to benefit an outside vendor.  Second, the BOE allowed the vendor to make statements that are, at best, misleading and at worst, false. "Village Fresh is not an outside vendor delivery system.  Delivery people are not strangers; they are cafeteria employees who have been approved to work in schools.".  This claim is spurious in that Village Fresh seems to be an out-of village company based in Fairfield, NJ and the "cafeteria employees" they reference are not employees of any Ridgewood school cafeteria but are generic cafeteria workers whose company has signed a contract with the Ridgewood BOE.

I'm hearing gobbledygook that the reasons for this change are a) a concern for child safety from unknown delivery people (WestSide Bagel and Parkwood Deli use the same delivery person every day) and b) state/federal mandates requiring all school lunches meet certain nutritional standards (if so, are they next going to tell me what  lunch I can pack at home and send to school?).

There is a Board of Education meeting on Monday night where this issue will be discussed.  I will be there and I know of other concerned parents who will be there as well.  I feel the main questions, besides concerns over  how we treat our town businesses and the curious use of the school email system are 1) why is Ridgewood BOE eliminating lunch delivery vendors that town parents know and trust, 2) why did the BOE not allow the existing vendors (located in and around town) to bid on this contract? and 3) if a Village Fresh contract with exclusive features has been signed, should the BOE be signing an exclusive vendor contract without review from the families they purportedly serve?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympic Decline

Is Western Civilization in decline? One way to answer that question has been through the prism of the Olympic Games.  From the 1976 Montreal Olympics where the US trailed both the Soviet Union and East Germany in the metal count to the American domination at the 1984 Olympics at the height of Ronald Reagan's America, the Olympics has provided a pretty fair gut check on the state of western civilization.  Reviewing the medal count of the XXX Olympiad, America reversed the medal decline in Beijing four year earlier and re-emerged on top with 117 metals, 60 of them gold.  The results surprised many in China who saw in Beijing a Chinese cultural and political ascendancy that was irreversible. But if we review, not the medal count, but the opening and closing ceremonies as the barometer to the health of western civilization, I see a civilization proud of its past but uncertain about its future.

The pomp, circumstance and optimism of the Olympic opening in Beijing 2008, designed by the Communists to be a coming-out party for a new superpower, made London's 2012 Opening Ceremonies puny and retrospective in comparison.  From the industrial revolution to the characters of England's historic literature, this year's ceremony celebrated the achievement of the past and ignored the challenges of the future.  In London's closing ceremonies, we were fed supermodels and other pop confections, everything both the far-right and far-left of the US believe is polluting Western Civilization.  In both the opening and closing ceremonies, aging rockers, Paul McCartney and The Who respectively, were called upon to evoke a time when hope and change represented something beyond a political bumper sticker.  But that was "all those years ago" as George Harrison sang.  My God, The Who are still singing "My Generation".  That generation is at least 60 years old now.  The imagery of Roger Daltry huffing and puffing through what's left of his lower vocal range sadly reminds me of one the last Star Trek movies where William Shatner, as Kirk, had to come to grips with the fact that the world is passing him by and his enemies are not intimidated by his small stature and pot belly.

The good news is that the fitness and the vigor of America's 2012 Olympic athletes and coaching staff remind us that a portion of our population still understands the value of hard work and sacrifice.  We still have people in this country who are hungry for success and still believe in the American Dream.  Unfortunately, these 529 American athletes and the many other achievers we have in areas outside the Olympics pale in number to an ever-growing fat, lazy, undisciplined slacker underbelly of "citizens" who do little, expect much, and assume America will always be on top because they were taught American Exceptionalism.

For those who assume the future will always be like the past, look at the medal count.  See how many medals Greece, Rome (Italy) and Turkey...or even Russia for that matter have won.  The paucity of success for those superpowers of the past should remind us that greatness rarely lasts.  I am concerned that that our success this year is masking deep seated fears about the future.  As the UK and western civilization struts its stuff around Olympic Stadium, I wonder whether our civilization's celebration of past glory was subconsciously designed to distract us from the uncertainty of our civilization's place in the future.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Can't Believe I am Agreeing with Sarah Palin

Some of Sarah Palin's Ideas Cross the Political Divide
Published: September 9, 2011

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS — Let us begin by confessing that, if Sarah Palin surfaced to say something intelligent and wise and fresh about the present American condition, many of us would fail to hear it.

That is not how we’re primed to see Ms. Palin. A pugnacious Tea Partyer? Sure. A woman of the people? Yup. A Mama Grizzly? You betcha.

But something curious happened when Ms. Palin strode onto the stage last weekend at a Tea Party event in Indianola, Iowa. Along with her familiar and predictable swipes at President Barack Obama and the “far left,” she delivered a devastating indictment of the entire U.S. political establishment — left, right and center — and pointed toward a way of transcending the presently unbridgeable political divide.

The next day, the “lamestream” media, as she calls it, played into her fantasy of it by ignoring the ideas she unfurled and dwelling almost entirely on the will-she-won’t-she question of her presidential ambitions.

So here is something I never thought I would write: a column about Sarah Palin’s ideas.

There was plenty of the usual Palin schtick — words that make clear that she is not speaking to everyone but to a particular strain of American: “The working men and women of this country, you got up off your couch, you came down from the deer stand, you came out of the duck blind, you got off the John Deere, and we took to the streets, and we took to the town halls, and we ended up at the ballot box.”

But when her throat was cleared at last, Ms. Palin had something considerably more substantive to say.

She made three interlocking points. First, that the United States is now governed by a “permanent political class,” drawn from both parties, that is increasingly cut off from the concerns of regular people. Second, that these Republicans and Democrats have allied with big business to mutual advantage to create what she called “corporate crony capitalism.” Third, that the real political divide in the United States may no longer be between friends and foes of Big Government, but between friends and foes of vast, remote, unaccountable institutions (both public and private).

In supporting her first point, about the permanent political class, she attacked both parties’ tendency to talk of spending cuts while spending more and more; to stoke public anxiety about a credit downgrade, but take a vacation anyway; to arrive in Washington of modest means and then somehow ride the gravy train to fabulous wealth. She observed that 7 of the 10 wealthiest counties in the United States happen to be suburbs of the nation’s capital.

Her second point, about money in politics, helped to explain the first. The permanent class stays in power because it positions itself between two deep troughs: the money spent by the government and the money spent by big companies to secure decisions from government that help them make more money.

“Do you want to know why nothing ever really gets done?” she said, referring to politicians. “It’s because there’s nothing in it for them. They’ve got a lot of mouths to feed — a lot of corporate lobbyists and a lot of special interests that are counting on them to keep the good times and the money rolling along.”

Because her party has agitated for the wholesale deregulation of money in politics and the unshackling of lobbyists, these will be heard in some quarters as sacrilegious words.

Ms. Palin’s third point was more striking still: in contrast to the sweeping paeans to capitalism and the free market delivered by the Republican presidential candidates whose ranks she has yet to join, she sought to make a distinction between good capitalists and bad ones. The good ones, in her telling, are those small businesses that take risks and sink and swim in the churning market; the bad ones are well-connected megacorporations that live off bailouts, dodge taxes and profit terrifically while creating no jobs.

Strangely, she was saying things that liberals might like, if not for Ms. Palin’s having said them.

“This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk,” she said of the crony variety. She added: “It’s the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest — to the little guys. It’s a slap in the face to our small business owners — the true entrepreneurs, the job creators accounting for 70 percent of the jobs in America.”

Is there a hint of a political breakthrough hiding in there?

The political conversation in the United States is paralyzed by a simplistic division of labor. Democrats protect that portion of human flourishing that is threatened by big money and enhanced by government action. Republicans protect that portion of human flourishing that is threatened by big government and enhanced by the free market.

What is seldom said is that human flourishing is a complex and delicate thing, and that we needn’t choose whether government or the market jeopardizes it more, because both can threaten it at the same time.

Ms. Palin may be hinting at a new political alignment that would pit a vigorous localism against a kind of national-global institutionalism.

On one side would be those Americans who believe in the power of vast, well-developed institutions like Goldman Sachs, the Teamsters Union, General Electric, Google and the U.S. Department of Education to make the world better. On the other side would be people who believe that power, whether public or private, becomes corrupt and unresponsive the more remote and more anonymous it becomes; they would press to live in self-contained, self-governing enclaves that bear the burden of their own prosperity.

No one knows yet whether Ms. Palin will actually run for president. But she did just get more interesting.