Dispatches > Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Issue: "America's best & worst," Feb. 1, 2003

Reading, writing, & ranting

Thousands of Oakland public-school students skipped classes to attend a "teach-in" last month. Pupils heard speaker after speaker denounce military action against Iraq. No pro-war presentations were heard. Organizers called the event a timely exercise in critical thinking. "We are the establishment," Dan Siegel, the school board member who proposed the teach-in, told the Los Angeles Times. Critics took Oakland's school board to task for authorizing something so blatantly partisan. Officials claimed they couldn't find pro-war speakers. Nearby San Francisco plans a similar teach-in in the next few weeks. The Times reports that between 5,000 and 10,000 students participated as a substitute for the regular schedule. They heard shrill speakers like Ling Yee, a former radical member of the Berkeley City Council. "Americans attack people of color," she exclaimed. "We should not tolerate this." A previous teach-in in 1999 was held for Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted cop killer and leftist martyr. Oakland's school board also stirred controversy in 1997 with its assertion-later retracted-that ebonics was the primary language of some black students. This year, officials say they need a $100 million bailout from the state to avoid bankruptcy.

Supersize nation

Americans are helping themselves to bigger helpings-and not just at restaurants. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill report that portion sizes grew between 1977 and 1998 for every popular food that they studied except pizza. That means Americans are consuming bigger plates full of hamburgers, burritos, tacos, french fries, ice cream, pies, cookies, and salty snacks. Portion sizes were up both at homes and restaurants. "There's no end in sight to the supersizing of portions and the supersizing of us," Marion Nestle, nutrition professor at New York University, told USA Today.

Countrywide web

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Porn may be OK, but not civil protest. Chinese authorities are continuing their crackdown on Internet activists the government claims are "inciting the overthrow of the state power" with opinions posted online. Tao Haidong, one such activist, has been missing for several months. He was in police custody, was tried on Jan. 8, and now is awaiting sentencing. Two other Internet activists, Liu Di and Li Yibin, were arrested last month and likely face similar unannounced trials. With government hacks and computer technology, China patrols its information highway for subversive chatter and regularly shuts down Internet cafes where anti-government messages are transmitted ("Chinese checkers," Jan. 11).

Cartoon justice

Do all elderly bearded men look alike? Iranian authorities want us to think so. An Iranian court shut down a prominent newspaper and police arrested two members of its editorial board over the publication of a cartoon featuring Franklin D. Roosevelt and a U.S. Supreme Court justice. The sketch first appeared in the United States 65 years ago and shows FDR pressing his thumb to the head of the justice. Iran's Special Court for the Clergy ruled that the caricature of the judge-elderly, bearded, and wearing a black robe-resembled the late leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Judges for the Islamic fundamentalist government have shuttered more than 90 newspapers since April 2000. In addition to Hayate-No, which reprinted the FDR cartoon, Tehran officials closed this month the daily newspaper Bahar, which they said had "insulted the authorities." Bahar's managing director is Hadi Khamenei, brother to Iran's current Islamic leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but an outspoken critic of his policies.

Award to avoid

York (Pa.) City School District Superintendent Carlos Lopez says he wants to give potential dropouts something to remember: an "undiploma." The unflattering document resembles a real diploma but signifies failure, not success. The purpose of the undiploma, Mr. Lopez says, is to "make sure that students know the impact of their decision," including up to $420,000 in lost wages over a lifetime. Mr. Lopez first cooked up the idea in 1999 as principal of a high school in another Pennsylvania city. He couldn't convince administrators back then, but now he's pitching the idea to another principal, Wanda Dorm of William Penn Senior High School. Ms. Dorm said the undiploma might alert high-schoolers about future disaster. "Sometimes, you have to hit people right between the eyes that this is a life-altering decision," she said.

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