Wednesday, March 09, 2016

School Lunch Food Nannies: Starved of Common Sense?

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, championed early on by Michelle Obama and signed into law in 2012, was supposed to get America’s school children to eat better by improving the food choices in school lunch programs. Like many well-intentioned government programs, however, this one has had negative consequences that its advocates didn’t anticipate.

The healthy options don’t sit well with many kids, leading to a significant portion of lunches getting thrown out—an increase of 56 percent, according to one study. The bland fare has also created a new market in spices, with child entrepreneurs selling their classmates not-so-healthy additives such as sugar and salt. The new cafeteria menu has also prompted millions of students to opt out of their school’s lunch programs, resulting in financial losses for 41 percent of schools surveyed, according to the School Nutrition Association.

This episode, Hall Blanco says, should serve as a cautionary tale. “When government attempts to modify individuals’ behavior, a cache of unintended consequences is waiting around the corner. Ultimately, people find ways around the new rules.”


Connecticut College Anti-Semitism Continues; Some Faculty Speak Out

A Connecticut College professor has told colleagues that his school has grown so hostile toward Jews that he can no longer recommend Jewish students or professors study or teach at the college.

"In my opinion, this harassment of Jews on campus in the name of fighting for social justice should end; immediately," wrote Spencer J. Pack, an economics professor, in a faculty-wide email.
His comments were triggered by the smear campaign that pro-Palestinian students successfully waged against a pro-Israel professor, resulting in his indefinite leave from campus, and a more recent push to malign Birthright (a program enabling student travel to Israel) by plastering the campus with posters. The posters reportedly intimidated Jewish or pro-Israel students and faculty, while attempting to poison the minds of uninformed students and faculty with vicious falsehoods about Israel. The posters were put up by Conn Students in Solidarity with Palestine (CSSP), whose faculty adviser, Eileen Kane, runs the school's Global Islamic Studies program.

Kane's Global Islamic Studies program also invited Palestinian-American poet Remi Kanazi to speak at Connecticut College on April 12. Kanazi, who is scheduled to give a "poetry performance," is on the organizing committee of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and listed among its endorsers. His strategy has been to connect anti-Israel politics with popular urban struggles.

Making matters worse, Jasbir K. Puar also was invited to speak at Connecticut College. At a Feb. 3 talk at Vassar College, Puar unleashed a torrent of vicious anti-Israel lies and blood libels, including outrageous accusations about Israel harvesting Palestinian organs and conducting scientific experiments in "stunting" the growth of Palestinian bodies. Her Connecticut College appearance was scrapped, but Kane has ignored repeated questions about the invitation.

Hatred of Israel and overall hostility towards Jews at Vassarhas been amply detailed. More generally, campus hate against Israel and Jews has become an increasingly frequent and widespread problem thanks to the "Boycott, Divest, Sanction" (BDS) movement. Even Palestinians who aren't sufficiently critical of Israel are targeted by BDS. Bassem Eid, founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, wasdirectly threatened by anti-Israel protesters while lecturing at the University of Chicago on Feb. 18. More recently, the New York Post reported on the hateful harassment of Jews at four City University of New York campuses.

Connecticut College seems to be moving in the same direction. Last spring, Connecticut College Professor Andrew Pessin was libeled and silenced in a campaign led by Students for Justice in Palestine activist Lamiya Khandaker. That campaign included condemnation of Pessin by scores of Connecticut College departments and affiliates, including the Global Islamic Studies program. The administration nevertheless gave Khandaker the "Scholar Activist Award." Then came the Birthright smear last December, the Puar invitation, and the scheduled talk by anti-Israel activist Kanazi, sponsored by the Islamic studies program.

These developments reinforce the perception that Connecticut College is hostile to pro-Israel voices. Meanwhile, discussion of the Pessin affair continues as questions mount over the role and nature of the school's Islamic studies program. In a Jan. 26 email to fellow faculty members, Manuel Lizarralde, a professor of anthropology and botany, called the Pessin affair a "train wreck" and expressed regret at previously staying silent. "Why did we not have the Andrew defending his views?...We acted like vigilantes and found the perfect scapegoat," he wrote.

In a Feb. 4, faculty-wide response to Lizarralde, Pack accused the Islamic studies program of organizing students to join the anti-Pessin campaign and then sponsoring "a new group on campus that [posted the anti-Birthright and anti-Israel] posters." That's when he called on the harassment to stop and indicated that he couldn't recommend Jews join the Connecticut College community. In response, Pack received some private support but wrote that "many, (perhaps most?), of the faculty...are quite upset with me."

Kane responded to Pack's email on Feb. 9, denying that CSSP is anti-Israel. But CSSP's posters smear the Birthright program with the label "settler colonialism," effectively demonizing any student participant in that program, and spread the blatant lie that that there are "seven million Palestinian refugees today." Even the pro-Palestinian United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) claims that there are only five million Palestinian refugees, and that total is grossly inflated because UNRWA defines the term "refugee" to include all subsequent generations of the original refugee - a definition unique to Palestinians among all other global refugee groups.

Posters vilifying students who want to visit Israel as "settler-colonists" and spreading blatant lies to undermine support for Israel would seem to be "anti-Israel." Kane did not respond to an email asking for her definition of "anti-Israel" after her claim that the group behind those posters is not "anti-Israel."

Kane's faculty-wide response to Pack's email describes the Pessin controversy as "a heated disagreement over ... Pessin's Facebook post on the 2014 Gaza war." That's misleading, because it minimizes what happened. The "disagreement" was more of a mob-like character assassination that ignored Pessin's insistence that his words had been purposely distorted, the Washington Post article presenting evidence corroborating Pessin's position, and Pessin's immediate, polite apology to the student who first voiced concern.

As if trying to resolve campus tensions, Kane asks "what are we going to do to advance informed, responsible discussion of the history and politics of Israel/Palestine on this campus?" But she may not be the best arbiter of what constitutes a responsible discussion; she can't even recognize that her student group's posters are blatantly anti-Israel.

Kane's email notes that we are in a time "when Islam is widely misunderstood." One powerful way to reduce such misunderstanding would be to highlight Muslim efforts to reform the way Islam is practiced. But Kane also refused to say whether the Global Islamic Studies program has invited any speakers who advocate such reforms.

When Pessin's wife, Gabriella Rothman, was asked about the few apologies that Pessin had received nearly a year after the events in question, she said, "It's hard to get too excited about it," given how duplicitous and dishonest so many of his colleagues and friends had been. Read Rothman's full comments here.

Remarkably, the Connecticut College administration hasn't taken any initiative to protect students and faculty brave enough to espouse unpopular views. Nor has it issued any apology to Pessin, who has been forced out of the classroom for nearly a year in the wake of the controversy. To regain some of its credibility, Connecticut College should publish the results of an independent investigation into the Pessin affair and a detailed plan of how to avoid similar incidents in the future.


U Pitt Conservative Harassed After Criticizing ‘Safe Space’ Activists

A student at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) got his parents targeted for harassment after he had the temerity to tweet about the antics of liberal protesters on campus.

The mess for Pitt senior Doug Steeber started earlier this week when Pitt’s College Republicans invited writer Milo Yiannopoulos to give a lecture on the subject of free speech. The event aroused a storm of controversy, with students complaining it triggered them and made them feel physically unsafe (though there was no violence and the event was observed by local police).

The furor resulted in over 100 students attending a student government meeting Tuesday night, where many denounced the Yiannopoulos speech and demanded new censorship rules that would prevent a similar event from being held in the future.

Steeber was one of the attendees of the meeting, though not as a protester. He told The Daily Caller News Foundation he livetweeted various quotes and observations from the meeting (which was open to the public). Photos of his tweets indicate that his comments were mostly descriptive in nature, with a mild dose of snark. Nobody at the meeting is specifically identified by name.

Steeber’s actions may have been pretty straightforward, as far as tweeting goes, but he says it infuriated others at the meeting after one of them saw what he was up to. Some even began to attack him publicly.

“They were screaming at me,” he said. “[One woman’s] friends had to physically restrain her, it looked like.”

But that was only the beginning of Steeber’s problems. Early Thursday morning, he said, he received a notification from Facebook warning somebody appeared to be trying to impersonate him on Facebook. The spoof account had the same name and photo as him. Steeber had the account deleted, but the spoofers proceeded to create another account, avoiding automatic detection by changing his name to “Douglas Steeb” and inverting his profile picture.

This spoof account, notably, also listed the home address of his parents, which is not listed on Steeber’s regular account.

The most disturbing development came Thursday evening, when Steeber says a friend discovered a flier posted at Pitt. The flier shows a photo of Steeber, denounces him for “making fun of sexual assault survivors,” and gives the name and phone number of his parents with the suggestion that people call them. The flier also warns that its maker (or makers) are hard at work to identify others at the student government meeting so they can be harassed in the same way. So far, Steeber said, his parents have received a few calls from people who immediately hang up, but nothing more menacing thus far.

“I have no issue with being challenged on my opinions, but threatening of my family is unacceptable,” Steeber said. He said he had no idea who is responsible for producing the spoof Facebook account or the flier.

At the time of publication, Steeber was attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), and was uncertain whether there were any other copies of the flier being distributed around Pitt’s campus.

Steeber’s plight has attracted the interest of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), a non-profit that co-sponsored the Yiannopoulos event. ISI President Christopher Long sent a letter to Pitt’s administration on Friday, suggesting that sympathetic statements by school administrators regarding anti-Yiannopoulos activists was encouraging the effort to target Steeber.

“[Vice provost] Kenyon Bonner’s public statements … [are] potentially encouraging the threatening of students associated with the College Republicans and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute,” the letter says. “I hope that you will make a public statement today so that the entire University of Pittsburgh community … is clear about the school’s embrace of free speech, that political harassment will not be tolerated, and in fact that it will be punished according to the University’s stated procedures and policies.”


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