NEW YORK-With passage of healthcare legislation Democrats have underscored the trend toward more federal regulation of American life. You need only look to New York City to see what that might look like in your future.
One sunny spring day last month, in a park in front of City Hall near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, about 200 parents and children decked out in aprons carried wooden spoons and signs. They were protesting a recent school regulation banning the sale of home-made cookies and cakes at school fundraisers.
These folks weren't conservatives. They belonged to an organization called NYC Green Schools, which disseminates practical information about how to make schools environmentally correct. They were upset because the school district's wellness policy had lurched out of control. Instead of banning fast food snacks and allowing home-made (possibly organic) goodies, the folks in charge acted like bean counters, banning foods with greater than 35 percent fat and 200 calories per serving. Since home-made food doesn't come in single serving-sized packets that list ingredients, they are out. But some varieties of Pop-Tarts, Doritos, and Chewy Granola Bars are in. In all, 29 varieties of packaged products made the list of healthy-enough foods.
Home-lettered signs conveyed the message to reporters and passers-by-"Junk Food has no business in our schools"; "Our Schools are not Super Markets"; "My mom makes better cookies." Parents and children chanted, "Read our lips, no new chips."
Wellness panels aren't limited to New York. In 2004 Republicans who then controlled Congress reauthorized the Child Nutrition Act and required school districts to set up wellness policies to fight childhood obesity. The legislation said that the policies were to be "designed and implemented at the local level." So New York sets its own policies: Doritos are in, home-made empanadas are out.
But five years later Congress is getting set to reauthorize the Act, this time with Democrats in charge. At the kick-off events last month, Michelle Obama drew attention to childhood obesity, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted some changes: The federal government had to make sure, he said, that "parents and students have correct and complete nutritional information about foods being served in schools. . . . We must have the capacity to set standards for all the foods served and sold in schools."
No doubt Frito-Lay will be able to meet those standards. But moms and dads who stir up a batch of cookies to sell at a fundraiser for the school musical won't. What is now playing on Broadway could be coming to your town soon.
The New York Public Library recently made available for free its online digital archives, containing over 700,000 images-historical maps, postcards, photographs, old restaurant menus, floor plans, advertisements, botanical prints, cigarette cards-from the library's collection. Users can print copies of the images or order prints from the library (digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/index.cfm).
C-Span also made available its archives, a treasure trove of congressional hearings, Washington Journal shows, and speeches. The video library (c-spanvideo.org) holds 23 years of material-160,000 hours' worth-easily searchable by event, program, topic, or person.
The Kindle is the Amazon hand-held reading device that spawned the e-book revolution. Not everyone wants to read books on a Kindle, of course. But even those who love the printed page occasionally want to read or reference a book when it's not handy.
Thankfully, Amazon has several free programs that harness the Kindle technology without the hefty price tag. The Kindle iPhone app is free and lets you download and read books from the Amazon store. A free software download (for both Windows and Mac OS) allows you to download and read books on your computer screen. You'll still need to get books through the Amazon website, but many classics and self-published volumes are available for a few dollars or for free.
Recipes are hard to organize: dog-eared cookbooks, pages torn from magazines, website printouts, family recipes scribbled onto scraps of paper. TasteBook (tastebook.com) is a free and easy-to-use website that allows partakers to place all their go-to recipes in one gorgeous, easy-to-peruse book. They can collect and organize them, and even create and print high-quality personalized cookbooks at a reasonable price (starting around $20).
Users can choose recipes from a variety of sources, including the Food Network, Food and Wine, Epicurious, and other blogs and magazines. They can also type in their own recipes, upload images, and shop from already-assembled TasteBooks. Personalized TasteBooks are likely to become wedding, graduation, family reunion, or birthday gifts.
At long last, the English Standard Version of the Bible is available in a free iPhone or iPod Touch app from Crossway (mobile.esv.org/). The entire Bible is loaded onto your device, so you can use it when you're not connected to the Internet. You can adjust the text size, read in landscape or portrait orientation, highlight passages, make notes, add verses to your "favorites," check cross-references, and send verses to others via Twitter or email. But all this functionality doesn't overshadow the design, which is sleek and fluid. Digital age, meet the ageless Scriptures.