Boston, MA – Sixth-grader Elizabeth Harmon was suspended from the Jarvis Herman Middle School last week, after she authored an MCAS practice essay about her favorite gun. Administrators at the school cite a zero tolerance policy toward speaking, writing, drawing, gesturing, and otherwise suggesting firearms or other threatening subjects. Elizabeth’s parents, John and Susan Harmon were shocked to learn that their daughter was suspended for three days, especially since she suffers from severe dyslexia, a learning disability that impairs the ability to read, often accompanied by written letter reversal and mirror writing. Elizabeth had actually written about her favorite gnu – named Mossberg – which she visits at her uncle’s farm in Western Massachusetts. After the Harmons contacted the school about the mix-up, administrators continued to stand by their suspension decision because of the emotional harm and disturbing images suggested to the teacher correcting the essay, regardless of the student’s intent. The as-yet unidentified teacher is currently on leave as she recovers from the essay ordeal. Additionally, Principal Joseph Muggers suggested that “the proper name for such an animal is “wildebeest”, which is completely non-threatening no matter how you spell it”. Principal Muggers offered no additional comments. Mr. and Mrs. Harmon intend to continue to fight the suspension, and are considering bringing suit against the school.
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After facing withering pressure from the vegetarian/vegan/kosher/halal/PETA/Bug-Loving segment of its client base, and reported here, Starbucks has dropped the cochineal bug extract from its red-colored foods. Now a tomato-based extract will be used. Strawberry Frappuccinos will now cost $9.00 a pop. Hooray!
OH THE HORROR! First, it’s funny that only vegans are bummed about bugs in their designer beverages, shouldn’t we all be? Second, it is ironic that “bugs” count as “animals” in the vegan pantheon. Don’t we accidentally eat bugs all the time? Are there such things as endangered insects? (As a matter of fact, there are). Don’t vegans read labels and relentlessly study everything before they eat it?
The bugs in question are cochineal beetles – used in a bazillion things we eat every day. They are used for their red color, and according to Wikipedia can be found in “meat, sausages, processed poultry products, surimi, marinades, alcoholic drinks, bakery products and toppings, cookies, desserts, icings, pie fillings, jams, preserves, gelatin desserts, juice beverages, varieties of cheddar cheese and other dairy products, sauces, and sweets”. Starbucks uses the beetle extract in lieu of artificial, chemical, potentially carcinogenic colorings.
Save the bugs! PETA is mad, too. According to their website, “Reportedly, 70,000 beetles must be killed to produce one pound of this red dye. Used in cosmetics, shampoos, red apple sauce, and other foods (including red lollipops and food coloring). May cause allergic reaction. Alternatives: beet juice (used in powders, rouges, shampoos; no known toxicity), alkanet root (from the root of this herb-like tree; used as a red dye for inks, wines, lip balms, etc.; no known toxicity; can also be combined to make a copper or blue coloring)”.
But that’s not all: it seems that devout Muslims should be upset because eating foods with these beetles is haraam (forbidden), and Jews should also avoid eating these products (though they are not specifically designated as treif (non-conforming)).
But wait, vegetarians, vegans, Muslims, Jews, and PETA : there is more bad news! The FDA has guidelines for how many insects can be in your other supposed vegan-safe foods before it is an actionable item in inspection. Among others:
Macaroni and Noodle products can have “average of 225 insect fragments or more than 225 grams in 6 or more subsamples”. Yummy!
Spices, like Crushed Oregano can have an “average of 300 or more insect fragments per 10 grams”. Crunchy!
Peas and Beans (Dried) can “average 5% or more by count insect-infested and/or insect-damaged by storage insects in a minimum of 12 subsamples”. Mmmmm.
Golden Raisins can have “10 or more whole or equivalent insects and 35 Drosophilia eggs per 8 oz.” Fruit flies. Fruit flies or their equivalent. Delicious!
Good news for all: you can save $6 and purchase a different beverage. Novel, huh? Embrace the bugs; they will be here longer than we will. Honestly.
Last week the news reported the latest plans to protect the threatened Northern Spotted Owl. The spotted owl is famous in the Pacific Northwest because of the decades-long battle between conservationists and industry with respect to the scope and cost of the owl’s protection. The latest government report indicated that the population of spotted owls has dropped by 40% in the last 25 years, in spite of the government setting aside millions of acres to preserve its habitat, and greatly restricting the use of millions more acres of private and federal lands. Now it seems that the problem is the Barred Owl. The Barred Owl is simply moving into the protected territory and is a much more successful, albeit unprotected, owl. The Bard Owl has no special privileges, but seems to thrive wherever it goes. The Spotted Owl has received special treatment by way of habitat preservation, criminal penalties for harm of the owl, and millions and millions of dollars in preservation, yet it cannot survive in nature, even with these Herculean efforts. The latest government response is to announce an “open season” on the Barred Owl – yes, actually shooting lots and lots and lots of these owls – and further tinkering with forest management.
This sounds strangely like the economic policies we have observed over the last few years where the government has made its business to pick winners (“green” energy companies, pharmaceutical companies, Spotted Owls, GM, GE) at the expense of losers (coal, oil industries, non-GM carmakers, Barred Owls, everybody else) in the wild we know as “business”. The government gives its protection to the winners in the form of government loan guarantees, grants, easy regulatory approvals, seats at the grown-ups table when discussing industry policy, and outright beneficial legislation. The losers, in the meantime, are shut out from policy discussion, are faced with intense IRS scrutiny, regulatory hurdles, and vilification by the White House at every opportunity.
When the government picks winners in the wild or in business, it is interfering with natural and capitalistic survival forces. No creature or business can evolve better survival traits until their survival is actually threatened – ask any small business owner you know. Resources in nature or business are finite; we are all fighting for a spot at nature’s/banker’s table. The poor Spotted Owl will fail to evolve because we won’t allow it to. Similarly, coddled “green-energy”, or other favored companies will not evolve to become better financial survivors unless we shut off the spigot of state favoritism. Many have proven that the state spigot does not guarantee success: Solyndra, Beacon Power, Evergreen Energy, A123 Systems, Fisker Automotive, etc. If these were such great, innovative, successful companies, how come they couldn’t get private funding? How many healthy Barred Owls have had their tickets punched because they didn’t donate to the correct political cause?
At the end of the day, the Spotted Owls of the world cannot survive on their own in the wild, and the government response is to shoot great quantities of their competitors. The government has picked a winner, and won’t change its mind or methods, and now there are a select group of people cashing in on these picks. I’m not so sure that Spotted Owsl are all that threatened; I read about similar creatures in the news almost every day. Barred Owl brethren beware: you are firmly in the crosshairs.
In my very important role as unpaid parent volunteer at our elementary school library, I observe a lot of funny things. I mostly like to vex the little people by telling them jokes they don’t understand, or by pulling their little legs about just about anything: like how I sleep under the desk so I can be at library first thing in the morning, how I pretend there’s an earthquake when the kids play roughly with the model of the moon, how I’ll ask “did I mention that I’m an unpaid parent volunteer?” when they’re being difficult.
One consistent source of amusement comes from my efforts re-shelving the millions of books the little dears take off the shelves in their search for the perfect kitten, pony, or football book. Often the unwanted books end up in messy piles atop the shelves, or even all over the floor. Almost every week, I find that the “Boobies” book has been taken off the shelf, browsed, and left on top of a shelf five rows away from where it belongs. Boobies (Sula nebouxii), of course, are those silly blue-footed, clumsy birds that live in the Galapagos Islands. The third-graders (we think we have it narrowed down to them) are fascinated by them. One third grader asked the librarian for the correct pronunciation of the bird’s name (asking in front of the whole class), because she just wasn’t sure of it. Pretty cagey, huh? The librarian looked at her and said “Boobies.” Then everybody burst out laughing, librarian included. It warms my heart to see this kind of thing, because it’s completely age-appropriate taboo-testing. It’s not like the fifth graders who keep trying get onto Facebook on the library computers (seriously??). Enjoy the fascination with Boobies while it lasts; next thing you know they’ll be texting…. or worse!
I’ve purposely shelved the Boobies where they don’t belong – in with the frogs. Let’s see if they find their Boobies this week!
..the YouTube sensation that has all the animal rights folks going mental. It’s really the guy wrapping the cat that’s experiencing potential hazard….