CSotD: Decisions and opinions, mostly bad

Pat Bagley takes on the new guidance from the Trump administration that it is no longer required for schools to serve nutritious meals anymore, a reversal of First Lady Michelle Obama’s work to help improve children’s health which, others have noted, was announced on her birthday.

Not sure if the timing was a coincidence of not: The administration is certainly that petty, but I’m not sure they’re that attentive.

However, the change itself is an issue worth considering, beginning with the hypocrisy of those who pray in public that all may see they pray: 

(W)hat man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? — Matthew 7:9

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? — Luke 11: 11-13

People who refuse to feed children need to stop pretending to follow any major religion. Caring for children is a universal command.

I’ve had lunch in over 100 school cafeterias, and the people who run them want to do what’s right for the kids. I’ve also sat in on plenty of school budget meetings without ever hearing anyone ask if maybe they should serve crappier food.

True, several schools have gone to central preparation centers, sending the meals out to individual schools like airline food. But there are also schools that grow their own vegetable gardens, a legacy of Michelle Obama’s efforts.

Bagley pins the blame on Big Ag.

Now, you might think that agricultural interests would be as happy to have the fruit and vegetable growers represented in school lunch programs as they would to have sugar, fat and salt in there.

However, his “Big Ag” label is appropriate, because Small Ag doesn’t get a whole lot of lobbyist support.

Or a whole lot of anything else. Big surprise.

Example from my own reporting: Back in the late 80s, when some people got e-coli from fresh-pressed apple cider, it was plain to the small, local purveyors of the stuff that the two sensible preventive measures would be to (A) stop using drops — apples that had fallen off trees rather than being picked — for cider and (B) add an additional washing to the apples you do use.

However, the solution proposed by the Central Gummint was pasteurization, which changes the flavor, body and character of true cider.

You would expect the agriculture lobby to speak up, but the major players are not selling cider. They’re selling “apple juice,” that nearly-clear liquid that has almost nothing to do with cider and on occasion nothing to do with apples either.

Point being that Mott and Del Monte did not come out to support makers of cider, and we can’t expect Big Ag to come to the rescue of regional fruit and veggie growers.

The other point being that someone needs to tell our administration that those “who amongst you” questions were rhetorical and that Jesus didn’t expect them to raise their hands.


And speaking of those who have ears yet cannot hear, Norm Feuti’s decision to end Retail draws the curtain on a particularly infuriating example of why newspapers are failing.

The above is an early Sunday in the strip, which ran January 29, 2006, but was included in the sales packet for the strip that came out several weeks before that.

At the time, I was working in an open space with an assistant, our neighbors being an ad clerk and a graphic artist, all young women in their mid-20s, and, because we were up on the second floor kind of out of sight, we had a lot of other young advertising people wandering up to visit under the guise of necessary errands.

I let someone see the Retail sales packet and they promptly began passing it around, screaming with laughter, having all put in their time at the mall.

This particular strip had them in absolute stitches, swearing they knew she should never have gone in.

If newspapers wanted to attract young adults, if they wanted to grow their market and preserve their stream of steady readers, Retail would have leapt into the pages of every newspaper in the country.

Instead, they run ridiculous non-scientific, invalid surveys of retired people who have time to fill out ridiculous non-scientific, invalid surveys and thus preserve the zombie strips that tell the same ancient jokes day after day after day, and are produced by commercial artists, the original cartoonists having long since died.

It’s not a plot. It’s gaping incompetence.

I have far more examples of newspapers’ bloody-minded suicidal decisions than this, but this one is particularly infuriating.

Retail did not fail.

Newspapers did. As they have so often.


As sure as I am about the perfidy of those who deny children real food, and newspapers that consistently make stupid, self-defeating choices, I am puzzled by Tom Gauld’s cartoon about women’s novels, or, more precisely, novels in which women are the main characters.

I’m all in favor of applying Bechdel’s Test, which is to see if a story involves two women who talk about something other than a man, but my response to this cartoon was to wonder how many literary novels starring men don’t also wind up with him dead and/or married.

In Googling to see if the advice in Panel One were verbatim, I didn’t find it but did come across this relevant 2013 opinion piece in which she contends that road stories and coming-of-age stories rarely feature women.

Road I’ll give you, but Coming of Age? Here’s a list of novels, and here’s a more mixed selection.

As for love and death, I’d point out that War and Peace, which is about coming of age on a very long road, winds up with everyone either dead or married except Denisov, the most romantic figure in the book.


12 thoughts on “CSotD: Decisions and opinions, mostly bad

  1. Over lunch with some friends, one mentioned she’d seen LITTLE WOMEN, and she’d posted on FB about it. She mentioned something about Beth’s death in the film, and someone commented, “YOU SHOULD HAVE PUT A SPOILER ALERT WITH THAT!”

    Two hundred year old book, and apparently it still needs a spoiler alert.

  2. Mike: “Little Women” is (a) 150 years old and (b) Alcott did change the ending to comply with the publisher’s request that Jo get married. So I’m not sure why you’re raising anachronistic issues about a deliberately anachronistic joke.

  3. If I haven’t read a book/seen a movie, then it’s new to me, and a spoiler warning is appreciated. Two words, and then you can say what you want.

    Bagley’s cartoon reminds me of the time McDonald’s sponsored a big animated special on the evils of drugs. I wanted it to have a spot that said “Mayor McCheese and the Hamburglar want to remind you that escaping into fantasy is Bad! Now let’s join Ronald McDonald in a greaseburger, some salt fries, and a big, frosty sugar shake!”

  4. Having now Googled for as long as I can (or at least, will), the story of the ending remains a little uncertain. The book was published in two volumes, and is still marketed as two separate novels in the UK, and so the ending came about a year after the first volume.

    It’s important to note that the first volume ended with a promise of a potential sequel, so Alcott (and her publisher) were inviting sales, if not feedback and suggestions.

    As far as I can determine, there was pressure from both her publisher and from readers of the first volume for marriages, and it’s not clear from what I could find whether her publisher was making a demand or a suggestion — which may be a little irrelevant, granted that the book was already successful and Alcott was a commercial writer by nature and intent.

    Historical timing includes a sort of seat-of-the-pants attitude towards publishing. Little Women was less than a decade after Dickens published Great Expectations as a serial, but then changed the good, bittersweet ending into crappy romantic bliss for the book version, at the suggestion of (gasp) “it was a dark and stormy night” author Bulwer-Lytton.

    The change Dickens made is absolutely regrettable, I’m not so sure Alcott’s decision was, and neither one of them anticipated immortality with nearly as much enthusiasm as they anticipated their next royalties.

    Of course, I recognized the zombie gag as a modern add-on, but as far as other anachronisms go, I’d note that Jane Austen wrote a half century before either of them and, while she depicted society as she found it, she did so critically, and with a devastating wit that can still provoke laughter two centuries later.

    “Women’s Fiction” in any period does not have to kowtow to current society, so long as the author knows how to deliver the blade. Alcott herself, however, considered Little Women “pap” which she wrote entirely for money, and so, as near as I can tell, her willingness to accept unwanted changes should be taken with a grain of salt.

  5. Alcott would have loved this cartoon, since before Little Women she was still writing blood and thunder stories. She even refers to them In Little Women, where they’ve appalled Professor Bhaer, who wants Jo to write about what she knows – household life – as a more appropriate area for a gentlewoman.
    Alcott must have gritted her teeth more than once while writing her wonderful book, but I’m happy she stayed with it. Even 150 years later, it has a lot of good advice for young readers.

  6. Another female coming of age story is “Rite of Passage”, by Alexei Panshin. It was first published in 1968, but it is science fiction, so is not dated in the same way a contemporary novel would have been.

    I should probably add that it has some people doing pretty horrible things, some of them for what they think are good reasons.

  7. My thoughts went to “The Getting of Wisdom,” a 1910 Australian classic by “Henry Handel Richardson” who was really Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, which indicates how such a starkly authentic women’s novel/memoir was written at a point where she had to hide her gender.

    It is a brilliant freaking book, on a level with anything else being written in that era — less flamboyantly written than “Portrait of the Artist” but as honest and certainly fergawdsake not a case of a woman yearning for a husband. It’s unflinchingly honest and gives the lie to anyone who says women don’t have coming of age novels.

  8. Despite having never read “Little Women” I was aware that one of the major characters died. “Cultural literacy” anyone?

    “Retail” will not be missed by the guy who runs the site that explains comics you don’t get. He is always complaining about how nasty the retailers are to the customers. So I can imagine what kind of customer HE is.

  9. Your comment “…zombie strips that tell the same ancient jokes day after day after day, and are produced by commercial artists, …” really struck home with me!

    The “commercial” art in so many strips is so bland and rushed, it’s frustrating beyond words.
    I subscribe to a few continuity strips (think medicine, retirement, and law) that are basically talking-heads most of the time — and what they have to say is so boring I’ve lost all idea of who the characters are and what the plot line is.
    They make TV soap operas seem interesting.

    The character drawings are often mis-proportioned, perspective is frequently ignored, and backgrounds are often just random pieces of clip art.


    But I also subscribe to the classic Apartment 3G and immerse myself in the delight of Alex Kotzky’s genius. It almost makes up for the other dismal dregs.

  10. There was an article cited here where the newspaper replaced Pajama Diaries with Mary Worth. Can you imagine the stupidity of an editor in 2020 buying Mary Worth? Who are these people? Are they Civil War survivors?

  11. Someone bought Mary Worth to run in their newspaper in the year 2020. That’s the intellect working at newspapers these days.

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