An Inclusive Litany

12/29/97

The Supreme Court, in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, is mulling over the case of oil-rig worker Joseph Oncale, who alleges that his supervisor, John Lyons, committed numerous offenses against Oncale as a sort of hazing ritual, including placing his unwelcome penis on him. Defense attorneys argued, and an appeals court agreed, that the definition of sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act doesn't include men harassing each other. Oncale may have been harassed because he seemed weak and vulnerable, or because his supervisor may have been secretly gay, or because his supervisor simply didn't like him, but he was not singled out for special indignity because he was a man.

But a brief filed on behalf of the National Organization on Male Sexual Victimization by feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon addresses this thorny issue: "Often it is men perceived not to conform to stereotyped gender roles who are the targets of male sexual aggression." Oncale's supervisors, MacKinnon argues, "were asserting male dominance through imposing sex on a man with less power. Men who are sexually assaulted are thereby stripped of their social status as men. They are feminized: made to serve the function and play the role customarily assigned to women as men's social inferiors."

Oncale's lawyers vow to bring forth testimony from other victims of Mr. Lyons, including an oil worker named Kent Brumfield, who says Lyons held him down and "sucked a hickey on his neck." The court may yet have to grapple with the issue of what motivated Lyons.

The Food and Drug Administration finally approved the process of irradiating beef, which is already used on fruit and poultry. The decision came only following competing concerns over E. coli bacteria in the nation's meat supply.

After Latrell Sprewell was banned from the National Basketball Association for a year for twice attacking his coach, Golden State Warriors' P.J. Carlesimo, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown was quoted as saying, "Maybe the coach deserved choking." Brown asked the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the NAACP to investigate the NBA's action. "I'm not justifying what [Sprewell] did as right," said Brown, "but nobody is asking why he did it or what might have prompted him."

Chicago columnist Carol Slezak referred to Sprewell as a "political prisoner," even though he never went to prison and no criminal charges are being pressed. Johnnie Cochran has agreed to be Sprewell's attorney, saying that the league's one-year suspension is contrary to "fundamental fairness." Cochran declared, "There has been a rush to judgement," though the league interviewed no fewer than 23 witnesses before reaching its decision.

Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint later explained to Newsweek that many young black players could not cope with the sort of sharp, verbal abuse regularly dealt out by coaches because they lacked problem-solving skills. In addition to assaulting and threatening the life of Carlesimo, Sprewell had also attacked another player a few years back with a two-by-four and threatened to kill him, too.

An arbiter later ruled that Sprewell's contract couldn't be terminated—although temporary suspension was appropriate—both because the choking was unprecedented (the league had never canceled a contract for thuggery before), and because it "was born of anger and passion and did not constitute an act of moral turpitude," which would have violated the contract's standard clause.

In Ohio, convenience store manager Dolores Stanley filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission that her employer's policy of stocking Playboy and Penthouse subjected her to religious discrimination and sexual harassment, even though the magazines were kept behind the counter in sleeves. "It goes against everything I believe in as a Christian," said Stanley.

Charles Oliver in Reason, December, 1997:
In Alabama, a federal court judge ruled that a marketing firm working for the re-election of Governor Jim Folsom violated federal law by having black employees call only black voters and white employees call only whites. U.S. District Judge William Acker said federal anti-discrimination law bans such tactics. He also said the law might well prevent advertisers "from employing, based on race, actors to solicit products to a certain group" and the "exclusive hiring of black actors to play such roles as Othello."

[Ed.: You may recall the controversy that erupted a few years back when British actor Jonathan Pryce was chosen to play an Asian role in Miss Saigon.]

12/22/97

The New York Times, November 20, 1997:
President Clinton's advisory panel on race held a hearing today on how to achieve diversity on college campuses but chose not to solicit the views of opponents of affirmative action. The chairman of the panel, John Hope Franklin, the historian, said only supporters of affirmative action were invited to speak at the daylong session because he wanted to hear only from those who saw the value of having a diverse student body.

California lawyer Angela Oh raised not a few eyebrows when, at the initial meeting of the $4.8 million racial advisory board, she called for the creation of a federal department charged with promoting racial harmony. The department, she explained, would be modeled on the "ministries of unity" in Indonesia, where the government has undertaken forced population transfers in order to achieve racial balance.

As part of the administration's overall national conversation on race, Hillary Clinton later "spoke openly of her own encounters with prejudice" with 32 middle- and high-schoolers in Boston. The incident she went on to describe occurred in high school, when a soccer goalie from an opposing team was mean to the future First Lady. "Boy, it's really cold," she had remarked to the goalie, who replied, "I wish people like you would freeze." Mrs. Clinton said this stunned her, and that she asked the goalie how she could feel that way when she did not even know her, to which the goalie replied, "I don't have to know you to hate you." The goalie, who was of East European descent, apparently had thought of her as "some sort of uppity, wealthy, white-bread girl," as Mrs. Clinton later explained to reporters. The Washington Post wrote movingly of the encounter: "The chill in the air prompted her to say something to a stranger, but the chill in the response would stay with her for a lifetime."

The UCLA men's varsity swimming and diving team consistently finished among the nation's top 10, had secured 41 national titles in individual events and a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship. Members of the squad have won an astounding 22 Olympic medals. But in an effort to comply with a recent interpretation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Law, UCLA dropped the men's squad in 1993, in favor of newly created women's soccer and water polo teams. UCLA's men's gymnastic team was also demoted to club status, where it receives minimal funding and cannot compete in NCAA championships. This program had produced, among others, Peter Vidmar, the winner of two gold medal and a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics. As Vidmar commented, "the gymnastics team was about second in the country when it was cut, and it had the highest academic average in the athletic department. But apparently these were not valid criteria for keeping the team."

After Brown University eliminated two men's and two women's teams for budgetary reasons, female athletes sued in 1992 seeking to reinstate the women's teams. A federal court ruled that as long as the proportion of female athletes was lower than the proportion of female students, Brown could not eliminate viable female teams. The court further ordered Brown to "balance" its athletic program so that the proportion of female athletes equaled the proportion of female students. Other cases involving Colorado State University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania have yielded substantially similar results.

The "proportionality" requirement stems from a 1979 policy interpretation by the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights. Title IX itself explicitly states that nothing in the law should "be interpreted to require any educational institution to grant preferential or disparate treatment to one sex on account of an imbalance which may exist" in the numbers of each sex participating in a certain activity. The 1979 policy also overruled a 1975 directive by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that schools examine "whether the selection of sports and levels of competition effectively accommodate the interests and abilities of members of both sexes." But in Cohen v. Brown, the court refused to admit much of Brown's statistical evidence demonstrating that women show far less interest in sports and participate less. "Even if it can be empirically demonstrated that, at a particular time, women have less interest in athletics than do men," wrote Judge Raymond Pettine, "such evidence, standing alone, cannot justify providing fewer athletic opportunities for women than for men."

A letter to the editor repeats a verifiable falsehood, Condé Nast Traveler, October 1997:
On a more serious note, regarding your response to Lloyd Morrison in the same column, please reconsider your use of the term "rule of thumb," which comes from common law—a man was allowed to beat his wife with a stick, as long as it was no thicker than his thumb. Perhaps it is time to think about retiring that expression.

12/15/97

In 1993, 20 years after the American Psychiatric Association (APtA) abandoned its official position that homosexuality was a form of mental illness, the organization approved a resolution stating that it "does not endorse any psychiatric treatment which is based either on a psychiatrist's assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder or a psychiatrist's intent to change a person's sexual orientation." But the resolution was tabled the following year after therapists and their supposedly homosexual patients protested vigorously. Patients seeking to change their sexual orientation demonstrated outside an APtA meeting in Washington and threatened to sue the organization if the resolution passed.

Vickie Dugan won a $1 million award in a sex discrimination lawsuit after she was fired as women's softball coach at Oregon State University. She argued that her extremely low win-loss record (9-112 in conference games, 0-24 in her last season) and the fact that two mostly female search teams had recommended she be replaced were irrelevant to her charge that she had been paid less than the men's softball coach.

The Taylor Crop Newsletter reports that Teamsters Local 70 in Oakland, California, filed a grievance against Mills College, an 800-student women's institution, accusing the college of violating an agreement with the union by contracting maintenance to non-union workers. Mills had about 40 acres of college property that was infested with poison ivy and hired an outside company called "Goats R Us" to bring in a herd of 500 of the ruminants, which soon devoured the poisonous weeds. The grievance notes that the goats were not registered members of the Teamsters, and seeks back-pay awards for members of the union who lost out on the work; or, as an alternative, an order that the 500 goats be required to join Local 70.

Four Texas therapists and an administrator were charged with defrauding insurance companies of millions of dollars using repressed-memory therapy. The defendants targeted people with large and unlimited lifetime insurance policies and diagnosed them with Multiple Personality Disorder. Then they used suggestive questioning while the patients were drugged or under hypnosis, isolated them from the outside world, and held group discussions encouraging tales of alleged abuse. The patients were led to believe they were part of a satanic cult and had abused their own family members, some of whom were then admitted for treatment, according to a grand jury indictment.

[Ed.: A study by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries determined that 10 percent of a sample of patients had considered committing suicide before undergoing recovered-memory therapy. After three years of therapy, 67 percent were suicidal.]

A furor erupted after Georgetown University undergraduate Bryanna Hocking wrote an article in an independently published booklet, The Guide: A Little Beige Book for Today's Miss G., titled "Take Back the Date"—a takeoff on frequent "Take Back the Night" rallies sponsored by feminist groups. Hocking advised that women on campus hold out for real dates and not "casual hookups" and one-night stands. At a public forum, campus homosexual activists took offense. "Why do you have an article about women wanting to date men?" asked a male student. "Doesn't this alienate gay men and gay women? ... You printing this guide, that was a violent act."

The Miami Herald found that nearly one sixth of the money from the nearly depleted trust fund the state of Florida set up to recover from Hurricane Andrew went to projects outside the region hit by the storm. For example, distant Ft. Lauderdale received $106,000 to make up for lost parking ticket revenue.

From a letter to then-governor William Weld of Massachusetts from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, requesting a ban on fishing in Walden Pond:
Fish have individual personalities, too. They talk to each other, form bonds, and sometimes grieve when their companions die.... Fish also enjoy companionship and develop special relationships with each other. And since they enjoy tactile stimulation, they often gently rub against each other.

[Ed.: Note how, to describe the virtues of fish, anthropocentric concepts are necessary.]

An announcement posted to "alt.feminism," an Internet news group, October 6, 1997:
The 1997 West Coast Fat Women's Gathering will offer an exciting lineup of speakers and performers, guaranteed to enlighten and entertain.

The schedule includes...

  • Alice Ansfield, founder and publisher of Radiance magazine, and Judy Freespirit, member of the legendary Fat Underground and chair of the NAAFA Fat Feminist Caucus, on the history of the fat acceptance movement

  • Marilyn Wann, editor of FAT!SO?, on the next generation of fat activism

  • Certified Health Care Assistant Pam Saari, chemist Martha Koester, and therapist Hallie Condit, on "Debunking Myths Around Fat, Food and Health"

  • Deborah Parks Satterfield, actress, writer and founding director of the African American large-size lesbian comedy troupe 4 BIG Girls, on "Mirror Mirror: A Self-Esteem And Body Image Workshop"

  • Mara Nesbitt, licensed massage therapist, on "Yoga for Large People"

  • Silva Tenenbein, critical semiologist, on "Fat Oppression"

  • Professional seamstress and patternmaker Laura Woodruff, on "Sewing and Patternmaking For Fat Bodies"

  • Lisa Harold, coordinator of the NAAFA Diabetic SIG, on "Taking The Fear Out Of Diabetes"

  • Poet and novelist Susan Stinson, author of Belly Songs and Fat Girl Dances With Rocks, reading from her work

  • Filmmaker Lorna Boschman, presenting the world premiere of her feature length docu-comedy "The Seven Day Poodle Diet"
It all happens November 7-10, 1997, at the Best Western Executive Inn in Fife, Washington (near Seattle). The gathering is produced by SeaFATtle and endorsed by the Fat Feminist Caucus of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

The program will also feature vendors selling clothing, jewelry, accessories and artwork for women of size; a fashion show; private swim parties in the hotel pool; a dance; a talent showcase; a clothing swap; an interactive murder mystery performance; and a chance to meet other women who share concerns about "life in the fat lane."

[Ed.: NAAFA director Sally Smith later commented that "fat kids slip between the cracks all the time."]

Some titles from SUNY Press's catalog:

Transgressing Discourses: Communication and the Voice of Other, Michael Huspek and Gary P. Radford, editors

An essential theme running through this volume is the idea that our efforts to engage, as well as other's efforts to engage us, have been seriously impaired because of problems which are fundamentally communicative in nature. More specifically, there is general agreement among the contributors that the voice of other has not been sufficiently heard, and this on account of how discourses of the human sciences, as well as other dominant discourses (e.g. law) have structured our interaction with other. Each of the essays help to clarify the nature of the communicative failing and to develop an appropriate corrective action.

Un/Popular Culture: Lesbian Writing After the Sex Wars, by Kathleen Martindale

Theorizing lesbian, Kathleen Martindale writes, is like embarking on terra incognita. In this book, Martindale offers her lucidly written analysis as a guide through the complex and provocative terrain of lesbian literary and cultural theory.

Using the publication of Adrienne Rich's Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence and the outbreak of the American sex wars as a starting point, Martindale traces the emergence of lesbian postmodernism and how lesbian-feminism changed from a popular to an un/popular culture and from a political vanguard into a cultural neo-avant garde.

From Hegel to Madonna: Towards a General Economy of Commodity Fetishism, by Robert Miklitsch

From Hegel to Madonna presents a genealogical survey of the discourses of negation and affirmation associated with the work of Hegel, Adorno, Deleuze, and Guattari; then, rotating from the philosophical to the political-economic axis, turns to the problem of a general economy of "commodity-fetishism." Drawing on the work of Marx and Freud, Miklitsch mobilizes a new, renewed understanding of "commodity fetishism"—what he calls the commodity-body-sign—in order to examine received notions of consumption and commodification. The aim is to envision a dialectical mode of critique, at once critical and affirmative, that can account for the cultural contradictions of late capitalism. The author also analyzes the phenomenon of Madonna Studies, reading the interest in the pop star as a sign of the academic times, a symptomatic figure not only of cultural studies in all its celebratory, cultural-populist excess but of a critical discourse responsive to postmodern culture in all its politically complex mutability.

The Swimsuit Issue and Sport: Hegemonic Masculinity in Sports Illustrated, by Laurel R. Davis

This study of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue demonstrates how the magazine encourages individual and institutional practices that create and maintain inequality. Laurel Davis illustrates how the interactions of media production, media texts, media consumption, and social context influence meaning. Individuals' interpretations of and reactions to the magazine are influenced by their views about gender and sexuality, views that have been shaped by their social experiences. Based on extensive interviews with Sports Illustrated producers and consumers, as well as analysis of every swimsuit issue from the first in 1964 to those of the 1990s, the book argues that Sports Illustrated uses the swimsuit issue to secure a large male audience by creating a climate of hegemonic masculinity. This practice produces considerable profit but on the way to the bank tramples women, gays, lesbians, people of color, and residents of the postcolonialized world.

Primitives in the Wilderness: Deep Ecology and the Missing Human Subject, by Peter C. van Wyck

Brings the radical environmentalism known as deep ecology into an encounter with contemporary social and cultural theory, showing that deep ecology still has much to learn from such theory....

Drawing from an array of contemporary theoretical works (including Haraway's figure of the cyborg and situated knowledges, Deleuze's conception of an image of thought, Foucault's panopticon, Trinh on ethnographic authority, Lingis on the "Other," Torgovnick and Clastres's work on the primitive and power, and Vattimo's "weak thought"), van Wyck opens a clearing within which the ecological problematic and the question of the human subject may be rethought.

Making Meaning of Whiteness: Exploring Racial Identity with White Teachers, by Alice McIntyre

McIntyre describes how a group of white middle- and upper-middle-class female student teachers examined their "whiteness" and how they, as current and future educators, might develop teaching strategies that aim to disrupt and eliminate the oppressiveness of white privilege in education. The group analyzed ways of making meaning about whiteness and thinking critically about race and racism, and explored how racial identity is implicated in the formation and implementation of teaching practices.

Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality: Lacan, Feminisms, and Queer Theory, by Robert Samuels

This book combines three elements: an articulation of Lacan's theory of ethics; a discussion of recent theories of feminine subjectivity and queer textuality; and close readings of Hitchcock's films. Hitchcock's Bi-Textuality argues that just as Freud posited a fundamental ground of bisexuality for every subject, we can affirm a form of universal "bi-textuality" that is repressed through different modes of representation, yet returns in unconscious aspects of textuality (dreams, word play, jokes and symbolism). In order to illustrate the notion of bi-textuality, this work discusses how Hitchcock's films are extremely heterogeneous and present multiple forms of sexual identification and desire, although they have been most often been read through the reductive lens of male heterosexuality.

Throughout this book, the work of Julia Kristeva, Kaja Silverman, Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray, and Slavoj Zizek is examined. One of the central concerns is the way that different psychoanalytic and feminist theories tend to equate the Real and the unconscious with the feminine. This feminization of the Real tends to block the awareness of the bisexual nature of the unconscious. In order to return to Freud's fundamental theory of polyvalent sexuality, recent notions of queer sexuality and textuality are explored. This book extends psychoanalytic theory by incorporating new feminist and queer conceptions of sexuality and representation.

Ethics for a Small Planet: New Horizons on Population, Consumption, and Ecology, by Daniel C. Maguire and Larry L. Rasmussen

This book offers an original and realistic assessment of the crisis caused by the combined impact of overpopulation, overconsumption, and economic and political injustice. It summons religious scholarship into urgent dialogue with the other disciplines and with the world's policymakers. The authors seek a new understanding of religion and its power since for good or ill, the world's religions will be players in the crises relating to population and the threat of ecocide. Two-thirds of the world's people affiliate with these religions and the other third cannot escape the influence of these symbol-filled cultural powerhouses.

Ethics for a Small Planet offers complementary studies by two major social ethicists on these issues. Daniel C. Maguire indicts our male-dominated religions for the problems they have caused for our ecology and reproductive ethics. He raises the controversial questions of whether the very concept of God is a problem and whether Christianity's notions of afterlife and a divinized male have done more harm than good. Larry L. Rasmussen also recognizes that the problems of our planet are largely male-made and rich-dominated. He writes that Europeans packaged a form of earth-unfriendly capitalism and shipped it all over the world with missionary zeal. He ably scans the long history that led to the current manic rush to push the earth beyond its limits, and goes on to suggest moral norms and policy guidelines for sustainable communities and genuinely shared power.

Both authors argue that there are positive and renewable moral energies in the world's religions and that unless religion, understood as a response to the sanctity of life, animates our ethical debates, the prospects for the world are grim. The sense of the sacred is presented here as the nucleus of the good and the only force that can bring about the lifestyle changes and power reallocations that are necessary to prevent terracide.

Rambo and the Dalai Lama: The Compulsion to Win and Its Threat to Human Survival, by Gordon Fellman

Contrasts two approaches to conflicts and their resolution: the aggressive, confrontative elements of the adversary paradigm represented by the fictional figure Rambo, and the compassionate non-violence of the mutuality paradigm advocated by the Dalai Lama.

Hair: Its Power and Meaning in Asian Cultures, Alf Hiltebeitel and Barbara D. Miller, editors

"The topic of hair is significant, because it is a universally accessible point of entry into entire cultural systems. It is a wonderful way to get readers to think about themselves participating in a cultural system by merely turning disciplined attention to the everyday matter of what they do with their own hair. I like the book's rich and concrete detail regarding views of hair in various Asian cultures, and the differing attempts by the authors to understand those views. The authors provide a great deal of insight and unexpected ramifications in their chapters and their bibliographies are superb resources."

—D. Dennis Hudson, Smith College

Critical Postmodernism in Human Movement, Physical Education, and Sport, Juan-Miguel Fernandez-Balboa, editor

This book proposes alternative ways of looking at human movement and brings into question the traditional role of the human-movement profession as an agent of social and cultural reproduction. The authors argue that the profession has traditionally shaped physical activities in schools and communities in disempowering ways and has adversely influenced how people view their bodies, apply physical activities to their lives, and use and understand the knowledge in the field.

To raise awareness of the possibilities of postmodernism for human movement, the contributors employ a critical postmodern conceptualization of the profession to explore the conflicts within it; to ask what can be done to strengthen it; to investigate how professional relations and meanings can be constructed within a new realm of justice, freedom, and equity; and to discuss the professional and civic principles to which the profession should subscribe.

"This book has the potential to become a benchmark publication in the field of physical education. Every ten to fifteen years a notable text stimulates a paradigm shift in physical education, and I expect that this book may well foster such a paradigm shift."

—Loy, Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand

12/8/97

Kathryn Cameron Porter, wife of Rep. John Porter (R-IL), embarked on a three-week hunger strike to protest Turkish oppression of the Kurds. However, The Hill reports that Porter "has been eating one meal a day because she has diabetes."

The Weekly Standard also notes that Jesse Jackson has been known to call hunger strikes one day and show up at banquets the next day. After refusing solids a few years back on behalf of Haitian immigrants or California grape workers, Jackson would allow someone else to take over the responsibility for his fast while he went off to eat. Jackson referred to this practice as "passing the cross" down "the chain of suffering."

Similarly, NBA center Olden Polynice announced a hunger strike, to protest detainment of HIV-infected Haitian immigrants, that would allow him to eat only on game days. That lasted until his team got a five-day rest.

Hunter Tylo, an actress on Fox's Melrose Place, sued the producers of the show, claiming she was fired because she was both pregnant and a born-again Christian who "didn't want her character to do bad things." Her character, "Taylor," is a bikini-clad, beer-drinking vixen who lures away Heather Locklear's husband. Commenting on how her pregnancy might affect her ability to play the role, Tylo told reporters, "You don't have to be a pencil to seduce a man," adding that pregnant women should "never have to choose between having their child and their job."

At the trial, Fox pointed out that Tylo would have been in her third trimester while shooting some of the show's steamiest scenes. Concerning Tylo's wish to modify her character to be more virtuous, Fox Executive Producer told the jury, "It's hard to be a nice adulteress."

The jury awarded Tylo $5.5 million amid much commentary about how convincingly slender and attractive she appeared when testifying. And unfortunately for Fox, Tylo's replacement, Lisa Rinna, has announced she, too, is pregnant.

The Berkeley city council has voted to lift sanctions against Iraq.

The New Yorker notes that two residents of a New York loft disappeared mysteriously in November. Michael Sullivan had lived in the apartment for twenty years; his girlfriend, Camden Sylvia, moved in with him about five years ago. They had been paying $300 a month for a 1400-square-foot rent-controlled apartment on Pearl Street, on Manhattan's southern tip, adjacent to the East River. Reporters were quick to point out that the apartment was worth "possibly ten times as much."

The couple had a dispute over inadequate heat with their landlord, Robert Rodriguez, who himself disappeared nine days later. Press reports describe Rodriguez as a "nice guy" but also as "a man who was strapped with financial difficulties and sometimes quick to anger." His property in upstate New York has now been overrun by police dogs and helicopters, which turned up no clues. Rodriguez, who isn't officially suspected of involvement in the disappearance, later sent word to authorities that he was alive and well, though his whereabouts remain unknown.

Following repeated confrontational protests by the anarcho-environmentalist bicycle advocacy group Critical Mass, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors endorsed a 177-page "Sustainability Plan" for the city. The plan includes such innovative ideas as banning cars from parts of Market Street (one of the city's main thoroughfares), limits on the use of perfume and scented deodorants, subsidies for beekeeping in parks and fish harvesting in the Bay, a requirement that home sellers plant trees on their streets, and elimination of landscaping when it interferes with nesting birds. A proposal to poison all the city's stray cats because they eat birds was removed due to pressure from cat lovers.

Former Apple chairman Mike Markula petitioned for a zoning exemption on the grounds that his massive new house would provide "affordable housing" for locals hired to work there.

A sentence from A Defense of Poetry, by Paul Fry:
It is the moment of nonconstruction, disclosing the absentation of actuality from the concept in part through its invitation to emphasize, in reading, the helplessness—rather than the will to power—of its fall into conceptuality.
[Ed.: Readers await an equally compelling defense of prose.]

A press release from the National Enquirer, September, 1997:
We apologize for the Princess Diana Page One headline "Di Goes Sex Mad" that is still on the stands in some locations. This issue was locked up last week before her death and went on sale Friday 29 August 1997. It is currently being replaced as quickly as we are able with a special 72-page tribute issue: "A Farewell to the Princess We All Loved... Di—Her Final Hours."

Chef Peter Kay pens another tribute in the Walthamston, London, Yellow Advertiser, September 19, 1997:

Sadly, I never had the honor of meeting Diana, Princess of Wales. But I write this article with a deep, deep desire to honor her honesty, integrity, and dignity. I cooked for the then Her Royal Highness on two occasions, and would love to be able to say that she descended to the kitchens to thank me personally—but she didn't.

However, as I helped prepare food at these two functions, I worked alongside men and women who had almost daily contact with Her Royal Highness. It struck me then, and even more so today, that not one of these people had a bad word to say about her. On the contrary, they talked of her in terms of endearment. I am the same age as Diana, Princess of Wales. I too left school without any O-levels (unless you count a Grade 1 CSE in French). Although I have never suffered from any eating disorders, I identified totally with her feelings and emotions, her inner pain and what I saw as a deep desire to be loved. As the whole nation has shown, and continues to show, she will be greatly missed. This dish is in her honor.

SUPREME OF CHICKEN PRINCESS

Ingredients: 2 boneless chicken breasts, 2 tbs. plain flour, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 2 oz. butter, a tbs. of dry sherry or white wine, chicken stock, double cream, 1 punnet of baby asparagus, finely chopped tarragon...

Gently cook the breasts for four to five minutes each side...

Add the dry sherry, chicken stock, and cream, and simmer for five minutes...

Place the chicken on a plate, add the chopped tarragon to the sauce and coat the entire breast. Sprinkle the baby asparagus on top.

And since someone had to say it, it fell to Shelly Martin, writing in the State College, Pennsylvania, Centre Daily Times, September 25, 1997:
Who was this Diana, queen of our hearts? She became a fairy tale princess by kissing a frog who never turned into her Prince Charming. She struggled with depression, suicide, eating disorders and "low personal esteem." She navigated a difficult life that many ordinary people knew. Yet she was not ordinary. Diana had something special, mystical, magical and wonderful that genuinely touched people. Throngs of admirers brought flowers, wrote poetic verses, gathered in the streets and shared tears, as the whole world joined in mourning her passing. What inspired such an impassioned response from so many?

Diana exemplified "Karuna," the feminine divine: spirit of compassion, blessed mother nurturer, comforter and lover. For 20,000 years before God was father, the divine spirit was known as Great Mother, Goddess Diana. We remember this time without war, when both male and female were valued as equal, sexuality was accepted as a sacred gift, and the feminine spirit in all her mystery was revered and worshipped as divine. We recognize, deeply love and long for connection with the feminine divine.

When we saw Diana smile, coyly tip her head and reach out to touch the world's unloved, we saw "Karuna," the goddess Diana. And we felt something move inside ourselves in response to her—the divine spirit within each of us. For it is in our hearts that we know the truth: We have experienced the mystery of the feminine divine in our connection with this Diana, queen of our hearts! Blessed be!

And finally, Mary Tillotson interviews Ann Moore, president of People magazine, on "CNN & Company" two days after Princess Diana's death:

Tillotson:
How will [Princess Diana] long-term be remembered, do you think?
Moore:
I think long-term, she'll be remembered as one of the bigger risk-takers of our time.... And part of her appeal was not that she showed us being a fairy princess wasn't all that it [was] cracked up to be, but we admired the fact that she was way out there on the edge.
Tillotson:
And a survivor.
Moore:
She was a survivor, and we love that.

12/6/97

Former Air Force bomber pilot Kelly Flinn, who was bounced out of the armed forces for committing adultery with the husband of an enlisted woman, lying, and disobeying orders, now says she's considering a run for Congress.

After an 11-year-old British schoolboy greeted an Australian classmate with "G'day sport," he was required to write, "I must not use racist remarks" sixty times.

Acting on a Major League Baseball policy permitting fans to wave only "baseball related" banners, officials at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium confiscated the Rev. Guy Aubrey's "John 3:16" banner. Aubrey returned with another banner that read "Go Reds—John 3:16."

The Enterprise, of Falmouth, Massachusetts, September 19, 1997:
The Gallery Szent-Gyorgyi at 189 Main Street, Falmouth, is currently showing the provocative work of two challenging mixed-media artists, Amy Wilson and Jerry Beck. Boston artist Jerry Beck is presenting a series of intimate tin-framed drawings created with Calamine lotion on carbon paper, which were inspired by a mystical experience he had with his mosquito-bitten lover in Mexico.

12/4/97

After the European Commission resolved a dispute over chocolate, deciding that Britain, Ireland, and Denmark can market their chocolate freely in Europe despite the fact that it contains a small percentage of vegetable fat, the European Parliament added numerous conditions. A Council of Ministers meeting later on the matter ended with a successful rebellion by traditionalists who use only cocoa butter.

The European Union also ruled that despite a six-century tradition, wooden shoes manufactured in the Netherlands would no longer be permitted in the workplace unless they could meet the same standards as steel-toed safety shoes. In addition, the E.U. published a 24-page user's manual for boots containing information on how to choose footwear, how to use and care for the boots, and how to wear them safely. It also explains how to read the boot comfort ratings mandated by the E.U., and advises helpfully, "Each boot should be tried for fitting before use."

An Associated Press dispatch:
FISHKILL, N.Y. (AP)—An animal rights group says this Hudson Valley village has a cruel name and might do well to change it to something more compassionate, like Fishsave. Mayor George Carter won't take the bait. "I'm not going to change the name of Fishkill. It's been such a long, outstanding name," Carter said Wednesday. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked Carter in a letter last month to consider changing Fishkill's name. But the mayor noted Wednesday that the name has stood since the late 1600's. Fishkill, a village of 1,930 about 65 miles north of New York City, traces its name to the region's original Dutch settlers. "Kill" translates to "stream" in Dutch.... Does PETA really expect a village or town to change its name because people might confuse it with slaughtering fish? "Who knows," [PETA spokesman Davey] Shepherd said. "We have to try. If we don't, there's no possibility of them changing it."

[Ed.: Dawn Carr, anti-fishing campaign coordinator of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, quotes John Stuart Mill: "Every great social movement has three stages: Ridicule, discussion, adoption." ]

The city of Greenwood, Colorado, a Denver suburb, outlawed backyard swing sets, slides, and other playground equipment on the grounds that they pose a threat to neighbors' privacy.

A historic photograph of airmail pilot William "Big Bill" Hobson that the Postal Service used on one of its brochures was doctored so that the cigarette the airman was holding was airbrushed out, leaving him somewhat limp-wristed.

12/1/97

Bates College art history professor and self-described "dyke activist" Erica Rand considers the issues raised by one of her installations in her book, Barbie's Queer Accessories, published by Duke University Press:
Among other problems, I struggled with how to assign roles to my two Barbies. Putting Chicana Barbie on top reinforces racial stereotypes of the dark brute overpowering the less animalistic white girl; the hair contrast alone places my Dream Loft firmly within the hetero-generated tradition of lesbian representation, which often features an aggressive, dark-haired vixen seducing a blond innocent. Putting blond Barbie on top would have subverted these stereotypes but performed white supremacy. In terms of race there was no way out of the dominant discourse.
Rand describes her Barbie's Dream Loft installation as a "top/bottom dyke sex scene" in which Chicana Barbie "stands bent over blond Barbie with a hand on blond Barbie's butt, a hand moved now and then to suggest alternately spanking, anal penetration, and the more run-of-the-mill hand-to-vagina activity generically known as finger-f**king."

By her account, Rand's interest in Barbie dolls started when she spotted a photograph—in her favorite lesbian sex magazine—of a woman inserting a Barbie doll "feet first" into her vagina. She loved the photograph and wanted to teach it to her students as art history and women's studies, but was concerned that the image would be interpreted as an immature act of "transgression" rather than an occasion for serious intellectual analysis of its "counterhegemonic discourse," or "the Barbie features that make her seem to resist the free play of accessorizing signifiers." "I worried," as she phrased it memorably, "about inserting a Barbie dildo into the heterosexist context of the university classroom."

[Ed.: Mattel announced that, partly to prevent young girls from wanting to mirror Barbie's impossible measurements, the latest model of "Rad Barbie" will feature smaller breasts and a wider waist. What Ms. Rand is to make of all this remains unclear.]

When Marine Corps helicopters previously based in California's El Toro air base were relocated to the Miramar Naval Air Station near San Diego as part of a base realignment, 116 "vernal pools" were displaced on over four acres of the base, jeopardizing the tiny fairy shrimp (once sold to youngsters as pet "sea monkeys") that inhabit the seasonal puddles and are listed as endangered. In accordance with the law, the Navy is spending more than $300,000 to build 350 new mud puddles on over 10 acres elsewhere at the site. An environmental consulting firm will then receive a five-year contract, cost as yet unknown, to "monitor" the puddles to make sure the sea monkeys are taking to their new home.

A research group in San Diego connected with the Sea World amusement park has also received $2.2 million to study the effects of helicopter noise on two local bird species, the California gnatcatcher and Least Bells vireo. A scientist involved in the research commented that he has never in years of study found any evidence of negative impacts from such noise and "as a taxpayer, I'd be just as happy not to do this [research]."

The federal government awarded a $62,000 contract to the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen to conduct a feasibility study on possible privatization of the Department of Agriculture's Screwworm Rearing Facility in Panama.

A $293,871 Department of Transportation contract went to Scientex Corp. to develop an Older Driver handbook to help highway designers plan senior-friendly highways for aging baby boomers. Recommendations include putting larger lettering on road signs and painting brighter lines on pavement.

Almost $224,000 went to an Alabama printing company to print an 820-page Social Skills Training Manual for Job Corps participants.

Nearly $9.6 million went to a Washington public-relations firm from the Treasury Department for a public-education campaign on the availability of government benefits via electronic transfer.

$145,000 went to a California lithographer to print Social Security and You, a teacher's guide for communicating the benefits of the program to presumably innumerate youngsters.

The Department of Education awarded $973,243 to Mathtech, an educational consulting firm, to study whether ethnic diversity on campus enhances the learning experiences of students.

The Army awarded a $999,000 grant to study "elasto-dynamic locomotion in meso-scale robotic insects" and the Navy awarded $70,000 to develop a system for "detection, tracking and monitoring of human combinations in urban environments."

The USDA awarded $88,625 to a Washington public-relations firm to develop point-of-purchase displays raising public awareness of the poultry-grading system, even though nothing less than Grade A or AA eggs are sold in most stores, and such grades are largely aesthetic anyway.

The USDA awarded $12,800 to a Florida firm to transport 128,000 pounds of medfly pupae to Tampa from Miami, where they arrived by air transport from a medfly breeding facility in Guatemala. In Tampa, the pests are hatched, irradiated until sterile, flash-frozen, then dropped from aircraft over orange groves where they are thawed, revive, and mate fruitlessly with other medflies. All of which raises the question: Why not fly them directly to Tampa?

It has now been ten years since a peculiar scandal first swept through those most hermetic precincts of literary criticism. On December 1, 1987, the New York Times reported the startling finding that deconstructionist luminary Paul de Man had, as a young man in occupied Belgium early in World War II, written scores of pro-Nazi articles for a collaborationist newspaper, one of which was blatantly anti-Semitic. De Man later emigrated to the United States, where he became an academic star with a seemingly unimpeachable reputation for honesty and rigor. Until his death in 1983, he remained almost totally silent about his wartime activities, occasionally engaging in obfuscatory deceptions whenever necessary. (His reputation was certainly not enhanced by further posthumous revelations that following the war he had engaged in shady business dealings that resulted in his father's bankruptcy, and had abandoned his wife and three children in Argentina only to engage in a bigamous second marriage once in the U.S.)

What made these revelations so extraordinary was the set of tantalizing questions and delicious ironies they offered to critics of deconstruction, a radically skeptical approach towards textual analysis that rejects the assumption that language can accurately represent ideas. Deconstructionists regard language as self-referential and ultimately self-defeating, and the jargon-filled academic papers that resulted from this insight were hardly intended as models of clarity. Supposing that language controls people rather than the other way around, the theory focuses on the likely infusion of dominant ideology into language rather than authors' supposed intent. Literary works are correspondingly put on the same level with all other "texts," regardless of aesthetic merit. Deconstructionist criticism was eventually extended over other fields of study, questioning, for example, the ideal of history as objective analysis rather than as ideology-strewn "narrative." Subordinating the status of history, De Man declared, "the bases for historical knowledge are not empirical facts but written texts, even if these texts masquerade in the guise of wars or revolutions."

So, beside the obvious question of whether de Man collaborated with the Nazis due to ideological conviction or simple careerist opportunism, broader questions inevitably arose concerning the value of his later ideas. While the young Paul de Man believed that literature served the makers of history, did his later reversal on this question reflect a willingness to escape the judgment of history by effectively silencing language, rendering irrelevant the "author," his "ideas," and his conscious "meaning"? Did deconstruction offer any ethical basis for the judgement that Naziism was evil, or could that statement itself be deconstructed to the point of nihilism? Given deconstruction's paralytic view of language, what accounted for de Man's own tone of Olympian authority? What could be said of his many disciples' supposedly keen critical faculties? And as the critic Jeffrey Mehlman pointed out, wasn't it odd that in both his early and later writings, de Man denounced "resistance" movements? In the first case, it was resistance to the "German revolution," as collaborators referred to Nazi aggression at the time. In the second, it was, as he titled one of his essays, "Resistance to Theory"—an unfalsifiable supposition, borrowed from psychoanalysis, that resistance to the hegemony of deconstructionist theory only serves to prove its overwhelming and compelling validity.

Whether critics were right to make sweeping conclusions about deconstructionist theory based on these alarming new biographical revelations was one thing, but it soon became clear that question had to take a back seat to deconstructionists' own reaction to the affair. As David Lehman chronicled in his account of the controversy, Signs of the Times, a surprising number of academic literary critics subjected de Man's early wartime writings, and the controversy in general, to deconstructionist analysis.

In Allegories of Reading, de Man had interpreted a passage from Rousseau's Confessions, in which the author describes having stolen a ribbon and blamed it on an innocent servant girl:

It is always possible to face up to any experience (to excuse any guilt), because the experience always exists simultaneously as fictional discourse and as empirical event and it is never possible to decide which of the two possibilities is the right one. The indecision makes it possible to excuse the bleakest of crimes because, as a fiction, it escapes from the constraints of guilt and innocence.
To set the tone of discourse regarding de Man's collaboration, deconstructionist pioneer and longtime colleague Jacques Derrida evoked much the same argument in an article in Critical Inquiry, Spring 1988:
Unable to respond to the questions, to all the questions, I will ask myself instead whether responding is possible and what that would mean in such a situation. And I will risk in turn several questions prior to the definition of a responsibility. But is it not an act to assume in theory the concept of responsibility? One's own as well as the responsibility to which one believes one ought to summon others?
Aside from erasing the slate, Derrida also attempted to reverse the terms of debate:
As for the accused himself, he is dead. He is in ashes, he has neither the grounds, nor the means, still less the choice or the desire to respond. We are alone with ourselves. We carry his memory and his name in us. We especially carry ethico-political responsibilities for the future. Our actions with regards to what remains to us of de Man will also have the value of an example, whether we like it or not. To judge, to condemn the work or the man on the basis of what was a brief episode, to call for closing, that is to say, at least figuratively, for censuring or burning his books is to reproduce the exterminating gesture against which one accuses de Man of not having armed himself sooner with the necessary vigilance.
In criticizing a journalistic account of the controversy, Richard Rand, in "American Anti-Semitism," expanded greatly on Derrida's inversion:
In its ruminations on Paul de Man, The Nation has furnished this nation—as well as Germany, France, England and Switzerland—with a very neat, a very up-to-date piece of old-time "anti-Semitism." But the truly instructive thing about the exercise lies less in the perennial retail value of its bloodlust, than in the undeniable validity of its insight, and in the visionary correctness of its charge: for are not, indeed, Paul de Man and his deconstruction somehow overwhelmingly Jewish—as Jewish as anyone, perhaps, in our multi-national 1980s, can be?
"That Paul de Man, biographically speaking, was not himself Jewish, is nothing to the point," Rand continued. "From the sixteenth century onward, American anti-Semitism, along with other varieties, has been a discourse of bigotry displaced."

J. Hillis Miller also evoked historically loaded imagery when he characterized "the violence of the reaction in the United States and in Europe to the discovery of Paul de Man's writings of 1941-42" as "a new moment in the collaboration between the university and the mass media." Miller included as "collaborators" in this enterprise the New York Times, the Nation, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, the Manchester Guardian, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Strangely enough, journalists were denounced for occasional reporting errors, which was ironic given that deconstructionist theory anticipates all manner of distortion as an inevitable component of such "narrative" accounts.

Shoshana Felman, a colleague of de Man's at Yale's comparative literature department, dwelled heavily on de Man's silence about his wartime activities, asserting that "History as Holocaust is mutely omnipresent in the theoretical endeavor of de Man's mature work." De Man kept silent "not (as some would have it) as a cover-up or a dissimulation of the past, but as an ongoing active transformation of the very act of bearing witness." Felman quotes from the writings of Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, who declared that the "true witnesses" of the Holocaust were those victims who "have not returned to tell about it or have returned mute." (Felman apparently overlooked the fact that de Man was anything but a concentration camp survivor himself, and that when he did break silence it was only to coyly suggest that he had been active in the Belgian resistance movement!) In Felman's view, "de Man's entire writing effort is a silent trace of the reality of an event whose very historicity, borne out by the author's own catastrophic experience, has occurred precisely as the event of a preclusion—the event of the impossibility—of its own witnessing."

Many of the responses to de Man's wartime writings seemed themselves impervious to interpretation, such as Andrzej Warminski's "Terrible Reading (preceded by 'Epigraphs')":

A certain self-immolating self-reflection—a self-ironization—takes place here as ... de Man's [words] about Montherlant say one thing and mean another. But ironies do not end here—indeed irony, once it begins (and it has already begun), never just ends, at least not just here. No matter how self-immolating it may be, the act of self-reflection always leaves remainders, traces, ashes—a reste or a restance du texte, as Derrida might put it, that resists the totalization of any oblivion, that insures a certain memory or every forgetting, even "the most total." ... The only memory for those remainders is the same journalistic "memory" of the present, the one that "remembers" only the present and hence has neither the past nor future (and hence does not happen, is not an event, is not historical)—or only the past and the future of total oblivion.

S. Heidi Krueger, in "Opting to Know: On the Wartime Journalism of Paul de Man," went so far as to ascribe subversive intent to de Man, based on his rejection, at the start of his most infamous essay, of the sort of "vulgar anti-Semitism" that characterized much of the shrill propaganda that appeared in the same newspaper.

Although one can argue that the irony of "The Jews in Contemporary Literature" misfires, it is difficult, reading the article as a whole and in the context of the articles with which it appears, to read it as other than a calculated (and parodistic) fore-grounding of the premises and applications of "vulgar anti-Semitism" evidenced in the other essays on the page. The tone, moreover, is one of detached mockery throughout the sections dealing with the Jews, and the object of the mockery is clearly not the Jews but rather the anti-Semites. Even the attribution of the view that the Jews have had disproportionate influence of "occidental" literature to the Jews themselves reads, in this context, less as the all too familiar strategy of blaming the victim, than as tweaking the noses of the "vulgar anti-Semites," showing them that their own most vehemently pronounced positions are those of the scapegoats they wish to expel....

I would submit that what is wrong with "The Jews in Contemporary Literature" is not that it is, in the first instance, anti-Semitic, but rather that if we read it in isolation, it is almost impossible to tell where it stands with regard to the situation of the Jews.

Rather than accept this statement at face value, it would be useful to return to the concluding paragraph of de Man's article, from March 4, 1941, that sets forth his seemingly more genteel anti-Semitism. A clear reading of the opening rejection of "vulgar anti-Semitism" reveals it as a common rhetorical device to distinguish the author's seemingly more reasonable viewpoint. It's also useful to remember that Hitler himself, in Mein Kampf, used the same device when criticizing a more limited variety of "religious" anti-Semitism he took issue with.
One realizes, therefore, that to consider contemporary literature as an isolated phenomenon, created by the particular mentality of the 1920s, is absurd. Likewise, the Jews cannot pretend to be its creators, nor even to have exercised a preponderant influence over its evolution. On any close examination, their influence would appear to have extraordinarily little importance, since one might have expected that—given the specific characteristics of the Jewish mind—the latter would have played a more brilliant role in such artistic production. Their cerebralness, their capacity to assimilate doctrines while maintaining a cold detachment from them, would seem to be very precious qualities for the work of lucid analysis that the novel requires. But in spite of that, Jewish writers have always remained in the second rank and, to speak only of France, writers on the order of André Maurois, Francis de Croisset, Henri Duvernois, Henri Bernstein, Tristan Bernard, Julien Benda, and so on, are not among the most important figures, and especially not among those who have had some directive influence on literary genres. The statement is, moreover, comforting for Western intellectuals. That they have been able to safeguard themselves from Jewish influence in a domain as culturally representative as literature proves their vitality. We could not have much hope for the future of our civilization if it had let itself be invaded, without resistance, by a foreign force. In keeping its originality and its character intact, despite Semitic interference in all aspects of European life, our civilization has shown that its fundamental nature is healthy. What's more, one can thus see that a solution to the Jewish problem that would lead to the creation of a Jewish colony isolated from Europe would not have, from the point of view of the West, regrettable consequences. It would lose, in all, some personalities of mediocre worth and would continue, as in the past, to develop according to its higher laws of evolution.
As David Lehman wryly observed, the republication of de Man's wartime columns in the same volume as their academic interpretations (in a volume titled Responses) only served to expose the latter's fallacious pretensions, effectively deconstructing the deconstuctors.

11/30/97

Stan Grossfeld alerts us to the dangers of global warming in the Boston Globe, November 30, 1997. What follows is the second paragraph of the front page lead above the fold, one of a series of articles on "Broken Promises: Earth Summit Revisited":
It's high tide and Chesapeake Bay is pouring into tiny Smith Island 10 miles from the mainland. It is the kind of raw November day when cats and dogs marooned on porches forget their differences and snuggle together for warmth. Women stay inside and bake the local treat, eight-layer cakes, that stand taller than the flat land. Watermen, as the local soft shell crab fishermen call themselves, huddle in the village at Tylerton's only store, sipping only soft drinks since alcohol is not sold on the island. The sober fact is that this way of life, as rare as a pearl in an oyster shell, is dying.
The few remaining local residents seem to believe that their island, which lies about a foot about sea level, is being washed away by erosion and sinking rapidly due to groundwater depletion by about an inch every five years. One man who measured sea levels over thirty years notes no change. But Steve Leatherman of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center disagrees. While the article cites no evidence of rising sea levels, Leatherman insists that "these people are living in denial, and denial isn't just a river in Egypt."

Yet more signs of backlash. Despite Korean artist Bul Lee's insistence that New York's Museum of Modern Art present his work—a series of clear plastic bags containing a dead school of fish—in all its natural reality, curators laid in extra industrial deodorant "in deference to Western olfactory sensitivities."

The Washington Times reports that the Forest Service spent at least $500,000 on a motivational conference to help its employees explore "alternative realities." The conference, held in Sacramento, California, was designed to help workers in the Pacific Southwest Region "proactively use and create change" by using such concepts as "Everyone's truth is truth" and "Alternative realities are OK," according to literature sent to employees. Decisions should be made "as if the future were now, in effect, blurring the line between 'here' and 'there.' " About 770 of the region's 4,500 Forest Service employees attended the conference.

11/24/97

The Teacher's Manual, Interactive Mathematics, a textbook that advises primary school teachers how they should teach mathematics, declares: "Traditionally, mathematics tests have questions with 'right' and 'wrong' answers. These tests reinforce the misleading image of mathematics as a subject with unique correct answers.... Poor test scores often lead to students with poor self-images who believe the 'aren't good in math.' " More advice: "Because learning is created in the mind of the learner, it cannot be told to the student by the teacher. Actually, no one can teach mathematics. An effective teacher becomes a facilitator of learning and helps students learn by making connections."

Asked by Larry King whether "everyone knows" there's global warming, Ted Turner responded: "That's right. Haven't you been outside lately? It's hotter than hell out there. The polar ice caps are melting. I got an island, and I know that the ocean's rising because I watched my beach get washed away."

The city of Huntington Beach, California, has made it illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in open spaces, even on private property such as your garage if you leave the door open.

11/17/97

"CBS Evening News" reporter Bob McNamara on Louisiana's first case of allowing a carjacking victim to legally shoot to protect himself, November 5, 1997:
Aaron Bottoms says he wasn't out to test a law and hopes his attacker survives.... Still, driving a car with wheels valued at $700 dollars each these days may be a case of inviting trouble instead of avoiding it.

The Arizona Republic, October 25, 1997:
American media need to take a more active role in saving the planet. Reporters, editors and executives must lead the charge on protecting the environment and rally different cultures together to improve the lot of the have-nots, [CNN chief Ted] Turner said.... Population growth harms air quality and depletes the world's food supply, he said. Turner said the United States and other countries should convene a global conference and look hard at family planning, perhaps adopting China's policy of one child per family. "Voluntary, of course," he said. "I had five kids," Turner added in one of the many asides Friday that typify his speeches, "but I had them 30 years ago and I didn't know."
[Ed.: Demographers predict that world population will level off sometime during the 21st century at about 15 billion, with no sign that this increase is unsustainable. Speaking of his children, Turner added, "If I was doing it over, I wouldn't have done it, but I can't shoot them now that they're here."]

As a result of the 1994 crime law, the Colt AR-15 "assault rifle," pictured below, was banned both by name and description:

However, within months a rival gun manufacturer, Olympic Arms, started shipping a similar weapon called the PCR-1, for "politically correct rifle," that was legal under the same law:

In case you were wondering, the difference is that the second weapon lacks a bayonet mount and a flash suppressor, a device that reduces the flash of light that comes from the gun's blast.

Within a year, another manufacturer, the Eagle Arms Company, marketed its own AR-15 clones—the M15A2 and the M15A3 Predator. These weapons are hardly ever used by criminals, and are considerably less deadly or accurate than ordinary hunting rifles.

A 1995 General Accounting Office study found that much of the $8.8 billion allocated under the 1994 crime law—that boasted the addition of 100,000 police officers on the streets by the year 2000—was being directed towards communities that didn't need it. With grants from the Justice Department's new Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), 75 percent of new officers' salaries would be paid by the federal government for three years, after which local governments would have to foot the bill. But the GAO found that towns with fewer than 25 crimes per 1,000 people were just as likely to qualify for the grant as those with more than 75 crimes per 1,000.

Another audit in 1998 found nearly $20 million in fraud or otherwise questionable expenses. In a typical case, the city of Belle Glade, Florida, took a $596,104 federal grant earmarked for six new officers and instead used it to supplement the salaries and benefits of four veteran officers, diverting the rest for other purposes. In another, a clerk forged signatures and fabricated documents to receive, then pocket for personal use, a $47,000 COPS grant for a town that didn't even have a police department.

[Ed.: Well, it is called the crime bill, after all.]

A Brussels court recently clarified the legality of sadomasochistic sex. Light consensual slapping is permissible, but use of electric shocks, clamps, and weights is not.

A Singapore Appeals Court ruled that oral sex is illegal as a substitute for "natural" intercourse but permissible if it is merely foreplay leading to such intercourse.

Suzanne Levy of New Rochelle, New York, faces a 15-day jail sentence because she placed a bird feeder in her back yard without permission from the city.

11/14/97

The Los Angeles Police Department went on city-wide tactical alert for several hours after an officer shot and killed a man in the Watts neighborhood. Responding to an attempted-suicide call in a busy park in front of a public housing project, police ordered a man known as "Chubby" to drop his knife. LAPD Lieutenant Anthony Alba stated that the man then charged the officers, at which point they shot the man with a taser dart. The man got up and charged the officers again with the knife, so police shot him.

An outraged bystander commented, "They killed that man in cold murder." A witness, Joe Jones, stated, "They shot him for nothing. He'd lunged at him with a knife. That's it." Hundreds of police officers in riot gear were called out to try and calm an angry crowd at the housing project.

[Ed.: Recall that on another occasion, the extremely intoxicated Rodney King led LAPD officers on a wild, high-speed chase through city streets, refused to submit to orders to lie down and be searched for weapons, twice charged officers, resisted two Taser charges, and threw off police who attempted to subdue him prior to the picturesque video footage of officers beating him into submission with nightsticks. Some jurisdictions allow officers to shoot perpetrators at this point.]

11/11/97

The Washington Post reports on a knockoff of the Promise Keepers, August 16, 1997:

As marches to celebrate chastity, pure love and sexual fidelity go, this one was real freaky....

The enthusiastic marchers screamed, yelled and chanted loudly about family values and morality as they waited... for the featured speaker. "Respect love, respect sex, respect each other, love each other," intoned D.C. Mayor Marion Barry at Judiciary Square, where he engaged in a call-and-response session with the crowd. After reciting the "Pure Love Pledge" and reading a proclamation declaring "Pure Love Day," he was loudly adored.... Organizers hoped to give the pledge to President Clinton later in the day.

The Village Voice, November 11, 1997:
[Bob] Flanagan was all about real and shameless self-disclosure. He lived his life at death's door. A medical anomaly, he managed to survive with cystic fibrosis until the age of 43. (Most CF sufferers die as children or young adults.) Certainly Flanagan behaved like someone with no time to be untrue to himself. "This is the person I am," he once declared. "I'm not afraid of any aspect of what I am."

That included the part of him that lived as a "supermasochist"—and always had. As a boy, he'd begun inflicting pain on himself because it helped him cope with the chronic pain of CF. Flanagan used to put it this way: "I've learned to fight sickness with sickness."

In the late '80s, he began staging his pain-inducing rituals as an art form. "I never wanted to call myself a 'performance artist,' " Flanagan once said. "I just went out and did these things from an honest place." Spectators fainted on both coasts. A hopeful Jesse Helms even sniffed around for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. (There was none.) Flanagan only did the nailed-penis act twice in his life, but something like that tends to become the defining moment in an artist's career. More routinely, he would nail his scrotum, insisting that it didn't really hurt. Obviously, he had a high tolerance for pain.

[Ed.: Flanagan is the subject of a new feature-length documentary, aptly titled Sick.]

11/10/97

On the eve of his execution for rape and murder, Gary Lee Davis made his last request: a smoke. The Colorado facility, which is smoke-free, denied his request. The state of California likewise refused Thomas Thompson's request to smoke cigarettes in the days leading up to his execution. He was offered nicotine patches instead.

The Communist Party USA intervened decisively in a steelworkers' strike against the WHX Corp. by pulling its multi-million-dollar investment portfolio from WHX's largest shareholder, Merrill Lynch & Co.

In Lillian, Alabama, parents of four children who played on a baseball team sued the Lillian Sports Association, claiming that their kids' civil rights had been violated when they were "forced" to wear the logo of the team's local sponsor, C&J Video, on their uniforms. The parents objected to the fact that the video store carries adult videos in addition to standard Hollywood fare.

A short exchange in the Journal of the American Medical Association, September 10, 1997:
To the Editor.—The Clinical Crossroads article discussing menstrual irregularity in a young woman displays some disturbing attitudes regarding menstruation. For example, Dr. D, the physician who cared for the patient, used words like "anxious" and "big source of aggravation and inconvenience" to refer to the menses and reflect a negative perception of women's experience of menses....

In Reply.—I completely agree with Dr. Fogarty that menstruation is a normal physiologic function and should be viewed as such. A video of Ms. K, the patient, describing her problem was played prior to the discussion of the case. Ms. K stated that her irregular cycles were a source of "aggravation." These terms were direct quotations from the patient.

11/5/97

The Women's Studies department of the State University of New York at New Paltz held a one-day conference on "Revolting Behavior: The Challenges of Women's Sexual Freedom." Topics included "How to Get What You Want in Bed" (an "interactive group workshop"), "Challenging Compulsory Heterosexuality From the Sixties to the Nineties," "Sex Toys for Women" (featuring demonstrations of appliances by the owner of a New York City sex boutique), and "Safe, Sane and Consensual S/M: An Alternative Way of Loving." Explaining that college officials asked them to avoid graphic descriptions of their sexual practices, S/M workshop leaders invited audience members to see them privately after the session to learn more, including how to join S/M clubs. Pamphlets advised how to dispose of razor blades and similar instruments after "blood-letting sexual activities," involving "cutting rituals, play and permanent piercings, and shavings."

Workshops were followed by a performance piece by Shelly Mars called "Whiplash: Tales of a Tomboy." A press release announced that Mars had been "working as a stripper at a bisexual bathhouse [when she] began to experiment with character development as a way to alleviate the sometimes demeaning aspects of her job." Enacting scenes from her youth in Ohio among "lots of white Christian trash," Ms. Mars and her partner provided a series of simulated sex acts, including one suggesting incest.

Responding to local criticism of the workshops, SUNY President Roger Bowen said that such conferences were "business as usual." Indeed, the School of Fine & Performing Arts later scheduled a two-day conference called "Subject to Desire: Refiguring the Body" that included an "installation" called "Vulva's School" by performance artist Carolee Schneemann, best known for an act in which she slowly unravels a scroll from her vagina while reading it aloud to the audience. One of the exhibits featured a female graduate student suspended from the ceiling while wearing a body suit, being hosed down with water by two men while a woman lying underneath her and wearing only a G-string has hot wax dripped on her body.

Thinking that Cambodian-born Phanna Xieng didn't display sufficient language skills and that his accent was difficult to understand, Seattle-based People's National Bank turned him down for a post where he'd interact with irate customers rejected for loans. Xieng sued, and his lawyers called forth testimony of medical experts who claimed the shock of not getting promoted was so psychologically traumatic that it would prevent Xieng from working for at least five years. It brought back memories, they said, of mistreatment at the hands of the murderous Khmer Rouge. Xieng was awarded $389,000.

In the Yale Law Journal, Stanford's Mari Matsuda—a leader in the Critical Race Theory movement—argues that employers should be made to accommodate shortcomings in English, or "differences of speech," just as they must accommodate the "absence of speech" of deaf employees. Matsuda suggests that employers hire supervisors conversant with the language their assistants wish to speak, or else try using "sign language" or "pictographs." To the argument that customers would have a hard time understanding dozens of accents, Matsuda replies that it is "necessary to reject customer preference arguments." Barring accent discrimination in service jobs "will admittedly impose some hardship on businesses that rely heavily on pleasing customer whims." If customers fail to understand an accent, Matsuda suggests, it may have been their own fault for having "lived a monocultural life."

11/4/97

The New Orleans School Board is renaming George Washington Elementary School as a result of their policy against "retaining names of schools named for former slave owners or others who did not respect equal opportunity for all."

Radio shock jock Howard Stern, who has already experienced problems with the FCC, is now being investigated by the New York state Department of Education, which licenses doctors. According to department spokesman Bill Hirschen, by performing a comedy routine in which he checks women's breasts for cancer in his studio, Stern may have "practiced a profession without a license to do so."

The California Department of Transportation (known as "Caltrans") denied permission to the proprietors of the Okie Girl Restaurant to put a sign on public property near a freeway offramp because the term "Okie" was "offensive speech" and a "slanderous slur" on Oklahomans and their numerous Californian descendants. After Oklahoma Governor David Walters sent a letter saying that "Okie" was no more offensive than "Californian," Caltrans agreed the term was acceptable, but still refused to post the sign because they disapproved of the logo, which featured a buxom country girl wearing a straw hat and overalls. The restaurant's proprietors eventually won in court.

The city of Charlotte, North Carolina, bans signs that swing, flutter, or sit on roofs. Signs that aren't forbidden must comply with 41 pages of closely printed regulations. One casualty of the requirements was the Westover Hills Presbyterian Church, whose basic wooden sign swung for over 20 years.

11/3/97

The General Accounting Office found that less than 45 percent, or $614 million, of the $1.4 billion spend on Superfund in 1996 went to cleaning up hazardous waste. Another $82 million was spent on planning and assessment of sites, but the remaining $703 million was spent on EPA overhead ($294 million), lawyers ($210 million), travel expenses and salaries of employees overseeing cleanups ($154 million) and developing new techniques for cleaning up hazardous waste (just $56 million). The GAO also noted that the amount of time it takes to clean up the average Superfund site has more than quadrupled over the last decade, from 2.3 years in 1986 to 10.5 years today. And in an audit of several laboratories assessing hazardous chemicals for nine Superfund sites, The EPA's Inspector General found that slipshod lab work had resulted in $11 million misspent on rejected analyses and delayed cleanups by up to two years.

At the Delaware Gap National Recreation Area in Eastern Pennsylvania, the National Park Service erected a small outhouse that cost $330,000. Bob Kirby, the park's assistant superintendent, notes that installing a flushing toilet was out of the question, because "the cost of putting in water lines would have been astronomical." Instead, enzymes in the special $24,000 toilets turn the waste into compost, which the park would like to use if it weren't prohibited from doing so by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The outhouse design features a gabled roof made of slate, cedar clapboard siding, cottage-style porches, and a cobblestone foundation to withstand Pennsylvania's frequent earthquakes.

The project was initiated in 1989, the plan finalized in 1992, the money appropriated in 1994, construction started in 1995, and the comfort station opened in 1997. $42,000 of the total bill was spent on archeological investigation of the site, as required by federal law. Nearly $95,000 more was spent on design costs, which entail seeking construction permits from nearly a dozen government agencies. In addition, a portion of the contract had to be awarded to minority-owned firms, the outhouse had to conform with size requirements mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as federal energy-conservation standards, wages paid according to Davis-Bacon Act strictures that sets wages at "prevailing" construction union levels, and procurement had to conform to Buy-American Act requirements. Such projects must also pay an average of 15 percent extra to have a supervisor from the Denver Design Center (responsible for most of the NPS's large projects) on site at all times, along with a representative of a local Native American tribe to make sure construction does not disturb culturally significant lands.

Other federal outhouse construction projects include another $322,000 comfort station in New Jersey, a $175,000 "solar-convecting vault toilet" in North Carolina, and a more conventional $70,000 outhouse in the California desert. By comparison, the median price Americans paid for a home in 1995 was $112,900. A four-hole outhouse in Montana's Glacier National Park cost a whopping $1 million. The structure features solar-powered composting units and uses propane as a backup to keep the facility functional during a freeze. Construction required excavating 14 feet of rock, and getting materials to the site required 500 helicopter flights. The National Park Service apparently agrees that the money could be better spent, but says the project was mandated and funded by Congress.

Protesters against the nuclear-powered Cassini space probe demonstrated their fear of accidental plutonium release by not demonstrating outside Florida's Kennedy Space Center. This has made it very difficult to estimate how many protesters participated in the event. "We showed them how dangerous it is. At some times, the place was as empty as a graveyard," announced Ryan Hogin, a Montana anti-Cassini activist. "The experts are saying tens of thousands protested—I'd say it was close to 100,000 that stayed home ... maybe more."

With its 72 pounds of plutonium, the Cassini probe blasted off safely for Saturn.

The National Hockey League suspended Washington Capitals left wing Chris Simon indefinitely after he yelled racial slurs against Mike Grier of the Edmonton Oilers during a game. Simon was sidelined for the rest of the game for a "gross misconduct" penalty, which is far more serious than the ordinarily felonious assaults that land players in the penalty box for up to four minutes.

Grier, an African-American, was especially distressed that the slur would come from Simon, a Native American member of the Ojibwa tribe. "That's what was strange to me, that it was someone who has his background and his race," Grier commented. "I didn't expect it to come from another minority. It's just a little more shocking."

In Jacksonville, Florida, the Rev. Dale Shaw, president of the North Florida Ministerial Alliance, is crusading to get Richard Wright's autobiography Black Boy banned from local schools and a teacher who assigned the book fired, all because the book—a description of life in pre-World War II Mississippi—contains racially derogatory words.