Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney kicked off a rumpus this month when he observed that homeland security depends not just on protecting assets but on counterterror intelligence -- including keeping tabs on people and places when there is reason to believe they may be involved in terrorism or its incitement. "People who are in settings -- mosques, for instance -- that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror," Romney said in remarks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "Are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what's going on? Are we seeing who's coming in, who's coming out? Are we eavesdropping, carrying out surveillance on those individuals that are coming from places that sponsor domestic terror?"

Well, no kidding. After 9/11, after the Madrid and London transit massacres, after everything we have learned about the radical Islamist quest to force its ideology on the West, it is hard to imagine anyone objecting to Romney's statement of the obvious. But object they did. The ACLU accused the governor of proposing "another giant stride toward a police state." The Council on American Islamic Relations, shamelessly distorting Romney's words, said it was aghast that any governor would "suggest blanket wiretapping of houses of worship." A gaggle of left-wing groups, including the Cambridge Peace Commission and the American Friends Service Committee, staged a protest outside the governor's Beacon Hill office.

But if they expected to browbeat him into an apology, they were disappointed. "This thing is just common sense," he told reporters. "Surely we have to recognize that some of this has gone on in mosques in the past . . . . There have been places of extremism where certain teachers have been identified as having been involved in . . . terrorist attacks. Let's not pretend that's not the case." Again, a statement of the obvious. But imagine the reaction if Romney had said something not so obvious. Something, say, like this:

"The most dangerous thing that is going on now in these mosques . . . is the extremists' ideology. Because they are very active, they took over the mosques; and we can say that they took over more than 80 percent of the mosques that have been established in the US. And there are more than 3,000 mosques in the US."

An American politician who uttered such thoughts would be smeared as a bigot. But it wasn't a politician who said them. It was a Muslim scholar and humanitarian, the Sufi sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, speaking at a State Department forum in 1999. Kabbani was one of the first moderate Muslim leaders in the United States with the courage to publicly denounce the extremists. Unfortunately, his alarm didn't wake most Americans from their pre-9/11 slumber (though there were some who were paying attention). But what excuse can there be now for not taking seriously his warning that most US mosques are in the hands of a radical minority? As Romney says, "This thing is just common sense."

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The bit I have highlighted in red really gave me a laugh. Nice to see the dictators defeated

"Some educational establishments are famous for their alumni or their prowess on the rugby field, but if Ealdham primary school achieves a mention in the history books it will be as the place where a child threw up in his lunch on national television. In the battle to change the eating habits of the nation's schoolchildren, Ealdham is on the front line and the battle against the dreaded Turkey Twizzler has not easily been won. More than a year after Jamie Oliver powered into Greenwich, southeast London, pledging to improve the quality of school meals in the borough - and thereby creating a blueprint for revolutionising school meals nationwide - Ealdham is still struggling to persuade parents and children that the switch from chips and burgers to slow-cooked balsamic beef with mushrooms, Mexican bean wraps and salads has been a good thing.

"In the early days the children would be in tears and the parents were very angry and upset," says Sally Castle, Ealdham's head teacher. "I used to look out of my office and see them meeting their kids at the school gate with McDonald's Happy Meals." It was rapidly apparent there was going to be a huge gulf between those who would willingly adapt to Jamie's dinners - mainly the schools with a middle-class intake - and those who would not. "We're a white, working-class estate school," explains Castle. "Unlike other urban schools we don't have a great multicultural mix and this food was alien and challenging because it didn't come out of the freezer and go into the microwave."

So great was the resistance to the new food - a typical lunch might be fish in a creamy coconut sauce - that take-up of school dinners plummeted by an astonishing 24% as children switched to packed lunches, replete with sweets and bubble gum. Some children would hide from teachers in an attempt to skip lunch entirely, rather than have to eat strange food. "The attitude was, `You're not the police, you can't tell us how to feed our kids - they're coming home hungry'. People got very emotional," says Castle. "The children were going home starving hungry, so naturally the parents were upset. They just didn't want things that weren't in fried shapes. They liked the fish fingers and smiley potato faces."

To try to avert a crisis, the school had to abandon the national curriculum for a week, draft in the local MP for extra support and turn the assembly hall into a restaurant where children served their parents the new menu. Oliver threw his weight behind the attempt - even making a surprise appearance in the school pantomime, in which Snow White mused on how to cook for her dwarfs without a microwave or freezer.

At other schools the dinner revolution also caused a furore. Overworked dinner ladies who found themselves peeling carrots and potatoes rather than opening bags of frozen veg threatened to resign over working extra hours. At Kidbrooke Park primary in Greenwich, where dinner lady Nora Sands became an unlikely television star, parents pushed burgers through the school railings at lunchtime. At Thomas Tallis secondary school a fast-food van arrived at the gates and teachers watched helplessly as children raced to buy chips at lunchtime. "We tried to have it closed down on environmental grounds," says a Greenwich council spokesperson. "We tried health and safety, but unfortunately he was complying with everything and there was nothing we could do."

According to the council, Oliver's initiative - at a total cost of o628,850 across the borough - has been a success. But if so, it appears to be a modest one - the number of children eating school meals has risen during the last year but only by 3%, far fewer than the project's organisers must have hoped for. There have been some encouraging signs, however. At Charlton Manor primary school the children appear to be enjoying the food, but its biggest fan is Tim Baker, the headmaster. "I used to have school dinners every day just to fill me up," he says. "Before, I could never finish everything on the plate, it just wasn't very nice. Now I look forward to lunch." ....

Ruth Kelly, the secretary of state for education, is to address the issue of school meals at the Labour party conference this week. She will shortly announce a new set of standards for school meals, including a ban on junk food, and is expected to raise the typical spend on each plate from 37p - which was lambasted by Oliver - to 50p a head for primary pupils and 60p for secondary schools, so that every school can follow the Greenwich example. But even in schools such as Charlton Manor it has not all been plain sailing. There was initial resistance from some parents and pupils to the new menus with one mother complaining they were "grown-up dinners".....

The question is whether other councils will be able to follow in its footsteps and overcome the entrenched reliance of modern dinner ladies on frozen processed food and chips. The signs are progress will be slow. .....

Kevin McKay, chairman of the Local Authorities Caterers Association, believes the key to bringing in change across the nation is to move slowly. "I think Jamie Oliver taught us how not to do it," he says. "It was just `bang' - here it is, eat it. There was little consultation. You've got to get everyone involved. I'm not surprised the kids and the parents were frightened." ......

Back at Ealdham, the revolution is happening - just. In the immediate aftermath of the changes, one parent sent her child to school with a lunch box containing three Mars bars, two packets of crisps and a fizzy drink. "I spoke to the mother," says Castle. "He's still eating packed lunches, but recently I saw he'd brought in a pasta salad. That's progress. "It has been a huge task. We still throw away most of the fish pie, but the sausages go down well - and they've got proper meat in them now. The real ray of hope is that the four-year-olds have accepted the new menus with far fewer problems.""

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