An Inclusive Litany


Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson was lecturing a class of fifth-graders in Duluth on the importance of studying and using their imagination. Turning to the blackboard, he wrote "immajination." After studying the word, he erased the "j" and wrote a "g."

When the Detroit public school system planned to create three all-male academies in an effort to stem urban violence and improve the educational environment for young men, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women sued. An ACLU staff attorney offered the following justification: "When both the boy and the girl are hurting, how can we focus our attention on one child over the other, solely on the basis of immutable characteristics of birth?"

Stanford history professor Kennell Jackson teaches an upper-level history seminar in "Black Hair as Culture and History," which according to him addresses how black hair "has interacted with the black presence in this country—how it has played a role in the evolution of black society. Scheduled lectures include "The Rise of the Afro" and "Fade-O-Rama, Braiding and Dreadlocks," and local hair stylists will visit class for a week of discussions. Enrolled students will view the 1960 musical "Hair" and read Willie L. Morrow's "400 Years Without a Comb," Dylan Jones' "Haircults," and Michael Jackson's hit pop single "Man in the Mirror." According to Jackson, "Black hair has interacted with society, and today I'm trying to make it into a field. You wouldn't find the same interaction in Africa. You don't find the conflict over whose hair should be what, in what dimensions... The term itself is homogeneous. It allows people to avoid what black hair is. This is a very real issue, that there is this thing—that we are assuming is called—'black hair.' "


Time magazine's list of "What They Should Do But Won't" at the United Nations "Earth Summit" in Rio de Janeiro, June 1, 1992:
Put an international tax on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.... Find a way to put the brakes on the world's spiraling population, which will otherwise double by the year 2050.... Give the United Nations broad powers to create an environmental police force for the planet.
Time's advice for a tax package, December 9, 1991:
Increase taxes on gasoline and other fuels. This would help finance cuts in other taxes—each penny-per-gallon increase in the gas tax would generate $1 billion in new revenues—and would also encourage energy conservation, cut down pollution and traffic congestion, and reduce the U.S. trade deficit. A good start would be an increase of 25 cents per gal.—less than the amount by which prices rose during the Gulf War—with further increases of five cents a year.
Newsweek senior writer Jerry Adler, December 31, 1990:
It's a morbid observation, but if everyone on earth just stopped breathing for an hour, the greenhouse effect would no longer be a problem.

At a 1989 Princeton University "Take Back the Night" rally against campus rape, a young woman took to the podium and recounted her rape in frightening detail. According to her account, she had left from where she was eating because one boy "started hitting on me in a way that made me feel particularly uncomfortable." He followed her home and "dragged" her back to his room, to the indifference of onlookers: "Although I screamed the entire time, no one called for help, no one even looked out the window to see if the person screaming was in danger." He "carried" her to his room "and, while he shouted the most degrading obscenities imaginable, raped me." He told her that "his father buys him cheap girls like me to use up and throw away," and then banged her head against the bedpost until she was unconscious.

The woman then explained that the perpetrator was forced to leave campus for a year after she reported the rape and that now he was back, with a dissuasive administrator telling her "to let bygones be bygones." "Because I see this person every day," she explained, "my rape remains a constant daily reality for me." Despite the presence of her rapist on campus, she was now on the road to recovery, and "there are some nights when I sleep soundly and there are even some mornings when I look in the mirror and I like what I see. I may be a victim, but now I am also a survivor."

She later published the account in the campus newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, and even named the alleged rapist, who complained that he was being falsely accused. As it turns out, key allegations proved to be false: that she had reported a rape, and that an administrator had later dismissed her concerns.

Responding to administrative pressure, the woman later printed an apology in the same newspaper, saying of the accused, "I have never met this individual or spoken to him.... I urge students who are knowledgeable of this situation to cease blaming this person for my attack." Concerning her own motives for leveling the charge, she said, "I made my statements in the Daily Princetonian and at the Take Back the Night March in order to raise awareness for the plight of the campus rape victims." She also claimed that she was caught up in the heat of the moment. "In several personal conversations and especially at the Take Back the Night March, I have been overcome by emotion. As a result, I was not as coherent or accurate in my recounting of events as a situation as delicate as this demands." She had spoken on each of her four years at Princeton at Take Back the Night rallies, which often feature such emotional testimonials of harassment, abuse, or rape. Meanwhile, a total of two rapes had been reported to campus security between 1983 and 1992.

At George Washington University, a student was caught inventing a similar story. Mariam, a sophomore who worked in a rape-crisis center, told a story about "two muscular young-looking black males" in "torn dirty clothing" raping a white student. She later admitted to fabricating the story and wrote in a letter of apology that "my goal from the beginning was to call attention to what I perceived to be a serious safety concern for women." As the university's black student organization pointed out, the fabricated account promoted racist stereotypes.

Yale University's Geoffrey Hartman, in Saving the Text: Literature/Derrida/Philosophy, published by Johns Hopkins University Press:
Because of the equivocal echo-nature of language, even identities or homophones sound on: the sound of Sa is knotted with that of Ça, as if the text were signalling its intention to bring Hegel, Saussure and Freud together. Ça corresponds to the Freudian Id (Es); and it may be that our "savoìr absolu" is that of a Ça structured like the Sa-significant: a bacchic or Lacanian "primal process" where only signifier-signifying signifiers exist.

Amylee, the author of an essay titled "How Not to Talk to an Indian," dismisses the theory that the original inhabitants of North America came to the continent across a land bridge where the Bering Strait is today on the grounds that it is an attempt by Eurocentric scientists to "justify non-Native invasion by hypothesizing that Natives were once invaders."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is protesting a the use of penguins in the film Batman Returns. In the offending scene, penguins are sent to Gotham City with missiles strapped to their backs. PETA spokesman Steven Simmons says the animal rights organization objects to the use of the exotic birds in the film because "wild animals belong in the wild... The process of caging and transporting penguins is quite traumatizing." After PETA staged a protest at the Hollywood premiere, Simmons said that the group is not calling for an all-out boycott of the film, but "would like to create a demand for cruelty-free entertainment."

Warner Bros., in turn, released a statement saying the gadgets and the headgear fitted to the birds were made out of lightweight plastic and that none of the penguins was mistreated.

Oddly enough, PETA ignored genuinely cruel depictions of violence against animals in the film: where the young villain, the Penguin, eats a cat; the older Penguin eats raw fish; and Catwoman shoves a live bird in her mouth.

After William Woolf drank 19 to 25 rum and colas at an American Legion club in Wilson, Pennsylvania, he drove to a factory where his wife and her boyfriend were at work. According to police reports, Woolf shot his way through the locked door, shot at the boyfriend and rammed his car into a police car while making his escape. A police officer was the only one hurt. Woolf and his wife, Robin, were separated at the time.

Woolf has filed suit against the American Legion club that served him the drinks, claiming that his "emotional state of being [was] taken advantage of" by a female bartender who "kept insisting that [Woolf] have more drinks." He claims in the suit that he tried to leave "when he was feeling a little tipsy," but didn't because the bartender said he was okay." Woolf also claims in his suit that "if he would not have been served excessive amounts of alcohol, he would not have become the victim of these circumstances" and would not have found himself charged with attempted homicide.

Woolf and his wife have since reconciled and she seems to have forgiven him for the shooting incident. Robin Woolf is suing her employer, Binney and Smith Inc., holding the company liable for the shooting. She claims that she was subjected to sexual harassment and sexual abuse at work because the company allowed the man she became involved with to "seek out and stalk" her. She claims in her lawsuit that it was impossible for her to know that she was being "stalked as prey" and that the man intended to "play on her weaknesses and extract information from her concerning her personal life and the turmoils... in her marriage which would ultimately lead [her] into having sex with" him. According to the lawsuit, Robin Woolf is suing because Binney and Smith is "absolutely guilty of not protecting [her] from the claws of this jackal" and equally guilty of not knowing that her affair would "ultimately drive William Woolf insane."


From the student newspaper of Michigan State University, May 14, 1992:
Myths ... were crushed Wednesday as the Chicago-based HealthWorks Theater offered its gentle comedic production of "The Wizard of AIDS"...

The show, which started as a project from a University of Iowa student, was well performed. The injection of humor makes the lessons accessible and sharp. Musical numbers are changed to reflect a health-conscious edge.

But, like in the movie, there is plenty of camp.

Dorothy informs Uncle Henry and Auntie Em (who thinks people with AIDS should be quarantined) of human rights, and that AIDS has killed more people than the Vietnam and Korean Wars.

A tornado strike, and she is whisked away into that colorful land of...

...AIDS (Aware Individuals Deserving Survival), where knowledge is kept locked away by the Evil Wicked Witch of Unsafe Sex. Decked out in black Converse high-tops, she proceeds to seek revenge for Dorothy's killing of the Wicked Witch of Needle Sharing.

But ... Glinda points Dorothy on her merry way, and she's on her journey to meet the great and powerful Wizard of AIDS. Perhaps he has a cure to the disease!

She meets up with the Scarecrow (who hits on Dorothy because he doesn't have the "brains" to know about safe sex), the Tin Man (who is taken out of his rusty state with a water-based, nonoxynol-9 lubricant) and the Cowardly Lion (who was getting afraid to touch people for fear of getting AIDS).

The tale ends like the movie. The wicked witch is killed (by a human-sized body condom) and Dorothy returns home by chanting "There's no sex like safe sex" over and over.

The San Francisco Chronicle:
Dr. Donald Morlan, department chair and professor of communications at the University of Dayton in Ohio, recently presented a paper called "The Three Stooges' Contribution to World War II Propaganda: Moe Hailstone and Adolf Hynkel's Race to the Screen." His research proves that the Three Stooges took a stand against Nazism nine months before Charlie Chaplin did.

The Detroit Free Press:
Seniors at Springfield High School who ordered $14 ceramic beer mugs as class momentos will not be able to use them. After the mugs were delivered to the school, officials drilled holes in the bottom in order to discourage the students from drinking beer.

In Houston, Texas, the lawyer for a four-foot-six-inch man accused of fatally shooting his grandfather has asked that the jury pool include some people who are five feet tall or shorter to guarantee a fair trial.

Promotional jacket text for Edward Soja's Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory, published by Verso:
Written by one of America's foremost geographers, this book contests the tendency, still dominant in most social science, to reduce human geography to a reflective mirror or, as Marx called it, an "unnecessary complication." Beginning with a powerful critique of historicism and its constraining effects on the geographic imagination, the author builds on the work of Focault, Berger, Giddens, Berman, Jameson and, above all, Henri Lefebvre, to argue for a historical and geographical materialism, a radical rethinking of the dialectics of space, time and social being.

Soja charts the respatialization of social theory from the still unfolding encounter between Western Marxism and modern geography, through the current debates on the emergence of a postfordist regime of "flexible accumulation." The postmodern geography of Los Angeles, exposed in a provocative pair of essays, serves as a model in his account of the contemporary struggle for control over the social production of space.

You're a police officer facing a sniper who has fired several shots from a window. Your job is to subdue and disarm this dangerous gunman. Whatever you do, don't break the window.

That seems to be the message from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where a U.S. District Court has ruled that police should not have smashed a sniper's living room window without a warrant. Joseph O'Brien, who was left partially paralyzed in an October 1987 shoot-out, sued the city, its police force and several officers for using excessive force and violating his civil rights.

O'Brien, now 34, was convicted of four counts of assault with intent to do bodily harm and placed on five years' probation. He had been felled by a police bullet after a nine-hour standoff, during which he fired several shots without hitting anyone.

In March, U.S. District Judge Richard Enslen ruled that O'Brien's Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. In smashing the glass, authorities breached his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the judge ruled, adding that police had more than enough time to seek a warrant.

With a $50,000 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Vermont plans to promote the use of seat belts. The program won't be aimed at the general public or at raising awareness of the state's mandatory belt law for children under 13, however.

The money will be used to promote seat belt awareness and use among state troopers, sheriffs and police. Trainers will visit police stations and conduct seminars on the use of seat belts. The grant also sets up awards and incentives to encourage police to wear seat belts.

Thomas Torti, executive director of Vermont's Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, says officers wearing seat belts would set a good example for citizens. But Miriam Oakes of South Burlington, Vermont, feels the program is "a waste of my money."

Time magazine ran a breathless cover story announcing "new studies" showing that boys and girls are born different.


Letter to the editor, the Boston Globe, May 8, 1992:
On hearing that thousands of National Guardsmen were being sent to L.A. and other cities, I was filled with despair. Why isn't the government mobilizing the thousands of men and women in this country who have been working on diversity issues in businesses and educational institutions—multicultural specialists who can help undo the racism that is at the root of this shameful situation.

—Sandy Thompson, Winchester

When St. Paul, Minnesota, police arrested Johnny Koger on charges of soliciting sex from a prostitute, they confiscated his car. After a jury found him not guilty, the city refused to return Koger's car until he paid a $1,100 storage fee. Prosecutor Paul McCloskey justified the charge by explaining, "Just because a jury acquits, it doesn't say the man is innocent or that he's moral."

Charles H. Goldstein, senior partner of Goldstein & Kennedy, a Los Angeles law firm whose specialty is representing corporations in labor relations matter, warns that attempting to dance too close to a woman—even if the woman follows the man's lead without apparent resistance—can now be considered sexual harassment, causing special liability to the company if it occurs at an office party. This warning is among many pieces of advice Goldstein supplies on the videotape he narrates, titled "How to Prevent Sexual Harassment Lawsuits," which sells for $79.95 a copy.

In Cultural Etiquette: A Guide for the Well-Intentioned, Amoja Three Rivers specifically warns white people not to "go round expecting you can be part of another ethnic group now because you feel you were of that group in a former life."

After the Raleigh News and Observer printed a picture of three children, one girl and two boys, having fun in the water—the girl lying down on a raft while the two young boys aimed their Super Soakers at her—a letter arrived from Sylvia Clark McKeean of Carrboro, North Carolina. The following are excerpts:
It depicts two young male predators threatening a female with weapons. The faces of the attackers are fixed with gleeful leers as they assert their societally sanctioned male dominance over their prone female victim. One does not have to be a trained rape crisis counselor and active feminist as myself to see that the long barrels of the weapons are typical representations of the phallic terror used by heterosexual white males to enslave women throughout history.

Your newspaper is a prime example of why all major publications should be subject to a national review board made up of women, people of color, gay men, and other traditional victims of white male terror to prevent such gross insensitivity from contributing to the countless violations that all women collectively suffer on a daily basis.

It is clear that all schools of journalism must redouble their efforts to be ever vigilant against those white heterosexual males who seek to once again to return women to the cages of outdated male-propagated, male sexual and social orientations. It is only through the precepts of radical feminism that the violence of war and sexual assault, as embodied in this obscene photo, can be eradicated.


An obituary from the Daily News-Miner, Fairbanks, Alaska:
Fairbanks resident Gregory Spry died February 5, 1992, after a lengthy illness. He was 33.

He is survived by numerous relatives in Kentucky, where he was born, and by his longtime companion Rod Steele of Fairbanks. He had many friends in Fairbanks and San Francisco, where he lived prior to moving to Alaska in 1979.

Mr. Spry was a veteran of the U.S. Navy, of which he was very proud. He served two tours of the Mediterranean and would often reminisce about his liberty calls in Israel and Greece. After leaving the Navy, he managed a sheep farm in New Zealand.

He will be missed for his easy smile and willingness to bend over for anyone in need. He was a talented cartoonist, volleyball player, and ultralight pilot who will leave a void in many lives.

A private memorial service is pending.

[Feb 7, 1992]

To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, the report of Gregory Spry's death was greatly exaggerated Friday in the Daily News-Miner.

The News-Miner fell victim to a hoax when it printed a phony obituary notice for Spry, 33, who works as a substitute teacher. Details of Spry's life, as related in the obituary, also were incorrect.

Contacted at West Valley High School, Spry said he believes the obituary was submitted to the News-Miner by a friend as a practical joke. "I have a lot of friends with a warped sense of humor," Spry said.

Spry's wife, Lisa Kljaiche, said friends and family members called her at home Friday after reading the paper. Some were quite upset, she said.

[Feb 9, 1992]

Mary Johnson, editor of The Disability Rag, a civil rights journal, attacks Jerry Lewis for raising hundreds of millions of dollars to help disabled people. "Helping 'those people' by making them be like us—normal, not disabled—is one thing. Helping them to be equal and remain disabled is something entirely different."

The Terrence Higgins Trust, a British AIDS support group, recommends "armpit sex" and erotic "food play" as "safe and exciting" alternatives to the more dangerous "penetrative" varieties of erotic contact.


According to Robin Morgan, in an essay anthologized in a volume titled Take Back the Night, if a man's "self-depreciating humor" about being rejected leads a woman to initiate sex with him, then that man is—in "a radical feminist" sense of the term—guilty of rape.

In the last three years, Charles Plunkett has given hundreds of rides home to bar patrons too drunk to drive themselves. Now the California Public Utilities Commission has ordered him to get a state permit to carry passengers or go to jail.

The Michigan Department of Social Services declared that people on public assistance who sell their blood for a few extra dollars must report it as earned income and expect a decrease in benefits.

Harry Henry, a 67-year-old Martinez, California man attempted to start a commercial composing operation at his "firewood farm," using waste from commercial landscaper and tree services as well as charred timber from nearby hill fires.

State authorities have told him that he lacks permits for composting, firewood sales, and a night watcher's trailer. Contra Costa County also said that he would have to come up with permits for pollution discharge, health risk assessment, construction and operations, as well as drainage, wetlands and flood control. The county also believes that Henry should study the property's seismic potential and look at noise and traffic patterns.

Once all this is under control, the compost pile will have the government's seal of approval. Henry commented that "The whole problem here is that laws in Sacramento are being written by people who have never seen a pile of compost."

Despite such burdensome permit requirements, California has also mandated that counties divert 25 percent of their waste products to recycling and composting by 1995, increasing to 50 percent by the year 2000.

Duke University students can certainly unwind in a course called American Literature Unbound. English Professor Jane Tompkins's course description explains that "reading in this course will be kept to a minimum so that the texts we read can be absorbed naturally and acquire resonance in your life."

So "students will be encouraged to evolve as many avenues into the texts as possible." That means anything from "camping out on the seashore after reading Moby Dick to visiting a slave museum while reading Beloved to writing an essay for publication in a learned journal."

What's more, "I hope we can not only study the texts but also enjoy the literature and each other's company." Tompkins could not be reached. But an English Department secretary says the course description is "written in a California style. Even among the most open-minded we thought the description could be a little more formal."


Lucy Lippard in Art in America, April 1990:
Like the [American Family Association], Serrano is obsessed with the flesh and bone of belief, but unlike them he deconstructs and destroys his own faith. Organized religion gives him a lot of trouble, though he remains a believer. He left the church at age 13—"There must be some conflict between Catholicism and puberty"—but like many lapsed Catholics, Serrano finds childhood experiences and conditioning hard to exorcise. He says his work is informed by "unresolved feelings about my own Catholic upbringing which help me redefine and personalize my relationship with God. For me, art is a moral and spiritual obligation that cuts across all manner of pretense and speaks directly to the soul."

Serrano produces objects of great and seductive beauty which address some of the weightiest subject matter available to Western artists. He does so in the oblique—abstract and conceptual—terms of current art practice, while maintaining a uniquely high emotional temperature. Piss Christ—the object of censorial furor—is a darkly beautiful photographic image which would have raised no hackles had the title not given away the process of its making. The small wood-and-plastic crucifix becomes virtually monumental as it floats, photographically enlarged, in a deep golden, rosy glow that is both ominous and glorious. The bubbles wafting across the surface suggest a nebula. Yet the work's title, which is crucial to the enterprise, transforms the easily digestible cultural icon into a sign of rebellion or an object of disgust simply by changing the context in which it is seen....

Since late 1986 Serrano's art has literally been made from body fluids—"life's vital fluids"—which he sees as "visually and symbolically charged with meaning." Many of his recent works are entirely abstract, but in different "styles"—minimalist, geometric, monochromatic or "expressionist." The looming Blood Cross (blood in a cross-shaped Plexiglas container, made on Good Friday to symbolize "what the crucifixion and Christianity are all about—sacrifice") also mixes references to the healing power of the Red Cross and to the brutal history of Catholicism in this hemisphere. Its companion, Milk Cross, refers to the beneficent, maternal side of the Church or to the contained and lily-white "purity" of Western religious institutions. Two Hearts (1986)—large calves' hearts in a Plexiglas tank half filled with blood—was a transitional work in which the liquid tides began to rise.

Milk, Blood (1986), the first wholly abstract work, was influenced as much by "art symbolism" (Mondrian, Malevich) as by religious symbolism. It first appears to be a painting divided equally into red and white rectangles. It is in fact, as indicated by the title, a photo of two Plexiglas tanks holding red and white fluids. There is a perceptible tension between the "hard" flatness of the photographic object and the "soft" liquid presence of the subjects. This work was followed in 1987 by two monochromes—Blood and Milk—and the geometric Circle of Blood.

In 1988, Serrano decided that he needed a new color in his palette. "Piss was the natural choice." It offered a peculiarly dense luminosity, and being less "acceptable" than blood and milk, raised the ante on content. Blood poured into a tankful of urine (the "Piss and Blood" series of 1988) produced gorgeous sunsetlike veils. Other pouring experiments produced apocalyptic "landscapes" and even shadowy figures. Winged Victory (1988) represents an accidental and transient shape produced not by the classic sculpture but by a broken crucifix minus head and torso. The pouring of milk into blood, blood into milk, and juxtaposition of blood against milk, blend [sic] ideas of nourishment and pain in a single image.

Scale is Serrano's particular genius. The forms in his photographs exist in a vast, ambiguous space. Backlighting is judiciously used to enlarge them, pushing the objects photographed to the front of the picture plane. He minimizes quantity while emphasizing quality of detail, bypasses the anecdotal element inherent in his subject and achieves a monumental simplicity. The power of his photographs has several sources: formal clarity, an aura of understated but nightmarish unfamiliarity, a subdued but important connection to his multiracial, multicultural background and always the ambivalence about Catholicism as a symbol of authority which is (literally) the crux of the matter....