Day: September 26, 2012

God and Man at Kale

Governor Romney’s Nutrition Czar-Designate

A small part of my portfolio at the Duck is wading into the shallow end of the conservative pool of ideas, and in that spirit I bring to you the latest contretemps over Imam Obama and his jihad against loyal, God- and YHWH-fearing Americans.

If I were to walk up to you and say that control of our nation’s school lunches is a key part of the Communist plot to control our precious bodily fluids, you would probably leave, or at least think about calling the police. And if I were to tell you that our nation’s First Lady–the only one of Barack Hussein’s wives that we know about–is heading up a nefarious plot to corrupt our youth by forcing them to forego calories and eat carrots, presumably you would ask Siri about involuntary institutionalization laws in your state.

But for CNS News such allegations are a news hook:

Last night, radio host Mark Levin described the Department of Agriculture and Michelle Obama’s new school lunch regulations as “tyranny.” Levin was discussing an article that stated many high school athletes and students are not getting enough food each day and are throwing away food because of the mandates instituted this year by the Department of Agriculture. “But I think Michelle Obama is the new Eva Peron with her lunch standards,” Levin said. “Like she knows something about this. She knows as much as I do. Eat carrots and celery. Yum, yum.”

Among the sort of people who think that including footnotes in a tract elevates it to scholarship, Mark Levin is taken semi-seriously–which is to say that many, many more people take Mark Levin seriously than, say, Suzanne Mettler, which is probably why so many political scientists keep threatening to move to Canada.

Anyway, the only sane reaction to someone who says that school lunch = teh jackbootz is “You’re a lunatic.” But in a world where we can no longer control the flow of information, we have to live up to the classical liberal principle that the only response to stupid speech is severe mockery. So, here’s Levin again:

First of all, where does the Constitution empower her or that department to reach all the way down to every school- public school – in this country and set the menu? Are people in the local communities – are you incapable of overseeing this yourself? Is your school board incapable of doing this? Are your local administrators and principals – are they incapable of doing this? We need the Department of Agriculture and Michelle Obama to mandate who eats what, where, how, and when in our public school systems? That’s tyranny right there – it’s absurd.

I guess that Levin missed the memo where public schools themselves are tyranny. Haven’t you heard that government schools themselves are part of the Islamo-leftist conspiracy?

Later in the article, Levin accuses Michelle Obama of trying to starve students. Which, you know, maybe, but, hey, Americans, our children aren’t even close to starving, unless they’re poor, in which case conservatives like Mark Levin refuse to fund government programs to feed them.

The saddest part about all of this is that there is a good critique of the politics of school lunches, one advanced in my favorite scholarly book about school lunches ever: Susan Levine’s School Lunch Politics (Princeton UP, 2010). School lunch programs have largely been driven by Progressive reformers and agricultural interests, the latter who want a government-subsidized market and the former who want to wean new immigrants and the lower-class from their culinary habits.

The roots of Michelle Obama’s nutrition activism have a long history, and the saga of upper-middle-class women’s attempts to get “better” food into schools is not an altogether positive one, as Levine demonstrates. If eating is, with sex and excretion, one of the most intimate of our bodily functions, then it’s no surprise that we tend to both naturalize our policy preferences (“of course all children should have milk, Mrs. Thatcher!”) and also strongly resist “reforms” we find, well, unpalatable. Obesity is a public health problem, and therefore a public policy problem; but the idea that the remedy is to teach kids to eat “better,” where “better” often sounds a lot like the tastes of folks who can afford to eat at Per Se, is itself problematic. (This is before we consider that changing the menu is not the same as training kids to make better choices.)

Is there a solid conservative–or, for that matter, radical–critique to be made here? Yes. Are today’s conservatives intellectually capable of adducing such a critique? Not even by a long shot.

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Urban Violence Web Seminar

Especially considering that I recently criticized the human security community for failing to pay enough attention to urban violence, I’m delighted to hear of this upcoming web seminar on the topic at Harvard’s Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. These are open to the public but you must register in advance. I’ve done a few on topics in humanitarian law and find the format and substance quite intellectually compelling. 


Here’s the excerpted description:

More than half of the world’s population is concentrated in urban areas. According to UNFPA, this number is expected to rise to 5 billions by 2030, reaching 2/3 of the world population, with the largest cities emerging in Africa and Asia. Regrettably, along with this mass urbanization has come an unprecedented level of violence and crime in densely populated slums and shantytowns… In many countries, particularly in Latin America, this emerging form of violence is considered one of the greatest threats to national security. To curb the violence, states have responded by deploying specially trained military units when traditional law enforcement has failed to restore security. These instances of ongoing urban violence engaging organized criminal networks, coupled with the use of military force, increasingly resemble to situations of armed conflicts... the regulation of the use of military force represents a major challenge in urban environments, even more so when humanitarian law is formally inapplicable and the enforcement of international human rights is weak. 

Furthermore, the humanitarian sector faces formidable difficulties in the context of urban violence. First, humanitarian actors must assess whether involvement in these complex situations is appropriate under their respective mandates. Second, humanitarians must develop objective criteria to determine whether the level of violence and human suffering warrants intervention in view of the specific security and policy risks. And third, humanitarian actors must adapt to these situations and identify priority areas of humanitarian action on a case-by-case basis. In light of these considerations, this Live Web Seminar will shed light on the tensions and challenges arising out of the application of humanitarian principles in urban violence. Expert panelists and participants will explore the following questions: 

1) Whether instances of urban violence can be characterized as armed conflicts? If so, what are the advantages and disadvantages of applying International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to these situations?  

2) To what extent is it necessary to develop a legal framework that incorporates both humanitarian and human rights considerations tailored to situations of urban violence?

3) What strategies and policy tools can be put in place in order to minimize human suffering and, at the same time, address the security concern of states in urban conflicts?

4) What is the proper role of humanitarian actors in urban conflicts? 

Enjoy.  

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Wednesday Morning Linkage

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