Aug. 10, 2004

Goes Together Like Lactate and Latte:

Lorig Charkoudian, a “conflict resolution” professional, has decided to settle a personal grievance the old-fashioned way – by raising a fuss, organizing protests, and contacting the local press.  The fun began recently when an employee at a Starbucks coffee shop in Silver Spring, Md. asked Charkoudian not to breastfeed her child in public, and either to cover the child’s head or retreat to a restroom. Before you could say, “add a shot to my grande no-fat latte,” Charkoudian had rocketed to action – establishing a website,, organizing a protest with other lactators, contacting the Washington Post, writing to local and national Starbucks executives, and declaring that it wouldn’t be sufficient to secure her local privileges for breast feeding in public; she wanted Starbucks to adopt the policy nationally. The site encourages mothers to send local caffeine vendors a letter that says, “Sometimes (my mother) goes to Starbucks. When she does, I don’t want to have to starve.” This may set a record for self-absorption on the part of someone not employed by a political party or entertainment conglomerate.  

The controversy raises several points of interest: First, whatever happened to the idea of accommodation – the search for a middle-ground? Not all mothers feel comfortable nursing when surrounded by throngs of trembling coffee addicts or be-sandaled devotees of fine tea. Similarly, not all patrons feel comfortable having to navigate past a mother and child involved in the exchange of truly vital bodily fluids. Ms. Charkoudian and her feeding colleagues no doubt could have crafted some acceptable compromise – finding a discreet place in the sunlight lobby, rather than in the restroom.
Second, the letter-from-baby is too cute by half. Unless Ms. Charkoudian spends vast stretches of time in the Starbucks – in which case, the employee probably would have known her name and cut her some slack – it’s unlikely that either the mother or child has been placed in a position to feel the agony or engorgement or the pang of starvation.
Um, enough said.

Cómo se dice Fake Diplomas? California Attorney General Bill Lockyear has thrown the book at California Alternative High School, a sham operation that fleeces its students with cram courses that stretch as long as 10 weeks and rewards the suckers with fake diplomas. The clientele, mostly Hispanic, gets more mush than knowledge from the “educators.” Among the “facts” contained in the slim course book: There are 53 States in the United States, including Puerto Rico, but not Hawaii or Alaska. The U.S. Government consists of four branches -- executive, legislative, judicial and administrative – and Congress features two chambers – one peopled by Democrats; the other, filled with Republicans.

The most frightening thing about the story is that some of the graduates of the program probably could pass the equivalency test in California.

I, Idiot: Will Smith, one of the most reliably watchable and entertaining stars in Hollywood, has entered the Tinsletown Hall of Political Poseurs. The actor, in an interview with the Swedish newspaper, Aftonbladet, has come out as a critic of President Bush and a big fan of … Will Smith. Said the actor to the interviewer, “Of course I could be president if I wanted to. But being president isn’t the kind of job you’d want to have with the way things are today.” He also noted that his latest film "I, Robot" contains a subtle political message. “The main robot Viki says in the film that ‘for the good of the people, some freedoms and some people’s lives have to be sacrificed,’ ” Smith said. When told that the line sounded like it referred to Bush, Smith laughed and said, “Exactly! It’s so beautiful that you get it and know where that line comes from.  It’s a comment about what’s going on right now.” 

No word on whether Smith has views on such governmental intrusions into personal freedoms as the takings of personal property, the adverse impact of environmental regulations on the economy and eventually, the environment, or the innovation-killing side-effects of cost-controlling health-care reforms – in short, whether he understands that all federal laws impinge on personal liberties and that even civil-rights statutes can involve trade-offs that do as much or more harm than good.

Surely I jest.

I committed a boo-boo yesterday. I summarized an article in The Public Interest as claiming that obesity rates have doubled since 1980 due to the growth in number of ex-smokers. The authors cited other factors, noting that the explosion in the fast-food and full-service restaurants could account for two-thirds of the increase in adult obesity. This actually underscores my argument that most political advocates of fighting obesity ignore the real culprit, weak will power. Nevertheless, I mangled the study’s overall conclusion, and now stand humbled and corrected.

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