An Inclusive Litany

12/31/98

The upcoming Whitney Biennial art exhibit will be devoted to the theme "Invisible in the Girls' Locker Room: Postmodern Visions."

A new mandate by the FCC requires phone companies to make a $2.2 billion contribution to connect schools and libraries to the Internet, with the cost of the regulation passed along to consumers in the form of higher telephone charges. Nearly half of American classrooms now receive Internet access through contributions from private-sector software companies, for whom the new mandate may be a significant entry barrier when competing with telephone companies for the Internet market. It is also debatable why students should be surfing the Web.

[Ed.: The General Accounting Office later found that the firm charged with hooked up the nation's schools to "below cost" Internet connections had spent $18.8 million without yet hooking up anybody to the Internet.]

To protect local consumers from fraudulent impostors, the witches and seers of Bucharest, Rumania, are forming their own labor union. Only those who can really see the future and lift evil spells will be allowed to join, explains Madame Lucretia, clairvoyant.

After the University of Connecticut athletics department was accused of wrongfully favoring petite cheerleaders, school authorities announced plans to abandon a popular "human toss" routine and decreed that pyramid formations would henceforth be limited to two levels high.

12/30/98

In Belgium, a previously unknown group called the Association for Consciously Single Mothers claimed responsibility for the theft of several statues of Joseph from Christmas nativity installations. A note left behind in some of the nativity cribs called for the right of "self-determination (for women), to artificial insemination, to voluntary single motherhood and to... immaculate conception."

12/28/98

In conjunction with Rupert Murdoch's Fox Television, film stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are working to make Howard Zinn's 1980 book, A People's History of the United States, into a ten-part miniseries. Zinn's most popular work was identified by Matt Damon's savant character as especially intelligent in the film Good Will Hunting, whose viewers may have also recognized Zinn's influence on two of Damon's speeches: a highly intellectual barroom put-down of a Harvard student, and a rage about the military-industrial complex during a job interview.

A caption accompanying an unusual AP photograph that appeared in the Detroit Free Press, December 28, 1998:
Colombian dance students perform inside a giant condom Sunday in Cali. The kilometer-long replica was the idea of drug rehabilitation workers and doctors who treat sexually transmitted diseases.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson in Newsday, December 28, 1998:
The faster the southern Republicans rush to dump Clinton, the greater his popularity will be among blacks. Many blacks see impeachment as a thinly disguised attempt to hammer the president for acting and speaking out on black causes, and as a backdoor power grab for the White House in the year 2000—and they're right.

But as long as southern Republicans control such a huge bloc of congressional votes, they believe that impeachment is the civil war they can win.

It took the city of Philadelphia ten years to dismiss a school employee who was late to work nearly every day, and who had spent the entire time undergoing psychiatric treatment aimed at remedying his "neurotic compulsion for lateness." The city failed to dismiss another employee who was chronically absent because he went off to play pinball and video games. His union argued in its grievance that he suffered from a gambling addiction, a protected handicap.

Arthur Miller, the playwright, in the New York Times, October 15, 1998:
In any case, those who think it trivial that Mr. Clinton lied about a mere affair are missing the point; it is precisely his imperious need of the female that has unnerved a lot of men, the mullahs especially, just as it has through the ages. This may also help to account for the support he still gets from women. He may be a bit kinky, but at least he's not the usual suit for whom the woman is a vase, decorative and unused.

12/24/98

Angry parents hounded Ruth Sherman from her job as a third-grade teacher at Brooklyn's P.S. 75, leaving death threats and calling the white teacher a bigot and a "cracker," because she used a book called Nappy Hair in class. The book, a critically praised children's story designed to promote black self-esteem, features a young girl's hard-to-comb hair as a metaphor for racial pride and the girl's independent spirit, but some students and parents interpreted it as a racial slur. The author, Caroliva Herron, who is black, rallied to Sherman's defense, but Sherman says she no longer feels safe teaching at P.S. 75.

A memorandum, from White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes to Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, regarding the "Announcement of the Arkansas Sex Education Program," October 10, 1998:
The President was somewhat mystified as to why there was no mention of him in the 3 October 1998 article in the Arkansas Democratic Gazette entitled "Sex Can Wait plan gets $200,000 grant: Federal Aid to benefit 16 school districts." Apparently the program is called "Sex Can Wait" and will receive some $200,000 this fiscal year for teacher training, implementation, classrooms and evaluation. According to the article, to quote, the money comes from the federal office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs, which apparently is within the HHS.

Obviously, not every announcement will specifically refer to the President, but all federal departments are being urged to make sure that announcements of grants and other programs refer to the President.

12/23/98

Following the death of a child by strangulation, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of more than 10 million toy basketball sets. The product's mortality rate (one) since its introduction in 1976 is less than a thousandth of that the average American faces each time he gets into an automobile.

After being turned down for a job as a police officer in Salem, Massachusetts, Charles Brown was awarded $100,000 by the state Commission Against Discrimination for emotional distress. Mr. Brown reported that he burst into tears when he so much as saw a cop on the street, leading a few local residents to wonder how he would behave when confronted with a criminal.

12/21/98

Diane McWhorter in Newsday, December 21, 1998:
Bill Clinton, obviously, is no Jesus Christ.... But indulge me in a political parable. A besieged conservative establishment that claims absolute custodianship of a nation's laws furiously defends its dwindling power base against a charismatic upstart from the sticks. Showing a certain blithe contempt for those laws, the new guy challenges the whole concept of what that nation is. Where his opponents have thrived on division and exclusion, he lays hands on just about everyone, rich and poor, sinners and saints, hipsters and squares, red and yellow, black and white, even women. In return, they reward him with a mysteriously enduring faith....

These right-wing Republicans are like the Sadducees of the Jewish nation, the reactionary vested interests who carried out their narrow agenda through a strict interpretation of Jewish law—a code in which God's law was inseparable from the nation's law. The Republican's impeachment mantra—"the rule of law"—ostensibly referred to the Constitution. But their conflation of American law and the absolutist word of a fundamentalist's God was made sensationally clear on Saturday, when Speaker-elect Robert Livingston stood in the well of the House and declared himself a sinner, urging his fellow adulterer in the White House to follow his example in abdicating his post.... Clinton's arch-enemies, meanwhile, flog the pieties of their "born again" doctrine, even as their most obvious secular icon is the country's corporate grim reaper, the tobacco industry. Theirs is a static vision of humankind as debased and shameful, condemned before a punitive God....

That is Clinton's other blasphemy in the eyes of his enemies. By disgracing the sacrosanct office of the presidency, he also demystified the patriarchy that has run the country for its share of the closing millennium.

After the President's dog, Buddy, bit the hand of a marine escort, the White House issued a statement blaming the hand.

John P. Siegel of San Jose, California, in a letter to the Editor, the Wall Street Journal, September 11, 1998:
In response to Martha Ackermann's Sept. 3 editorial-page commentary "Bill Clinton, Sexist": Like Ackermann, I have pondered the apparent inconstancies in Bill Clinton's record on women's issues but I have come to an entirely different conclusion. I believe that Mr. Clinton supports women, respects women, is not threatened by women and want to promote women to positions of power and responsibility because he acknowledges intelligence and talent regardless of the sex of the individual.

I also believe that the Clintons, perhaps because of their experience during the 1960s' so-called "sexual revolution," have learned guilt-free separation of sex and intimacy. A sexual act is not about domination or submission, nor is it about making love or an expression of intimacy, nor even a fleeting moment of passion or overwhelming animal attraction. It is simply fun, another individual-performance sport in which one casually engages one's friends and acquaintances, like golf, tennis, jogging or shooting baskets.

12/17/98

Russian legislators considered a motion that would appeal to Monica Lewinsky "to restrain the emotions of Bill Clinton" and halt the latest American attack on Iraq.

After researchers noted an increase in the number of French people who no longer ate breakfast, Jacques Puisais, founder of the French Institute of Taste, followed stereotype closely and managed to find a way to blame this trend on America. Puisais told the Scripps Howard News Service that French families once enjoyed a communal breakfast followed by a trip by a family member to pick up croissants at the local baker's shop. But then Kellogg's began advertising corn flakes as a breakfast alternative, which Puisais calls a "miserable" and "inhumane" food fit only to be consumed shamefully in solitude. As a result, Americans were also responsible for a marked increase in loneliness, isolation, and existential angst among the French.

[Ed.: To combat foul odors pervading the Paris Metro, officials have developed a new "perfume," titled "Madeleine" after the worst-offending station, which they plan to apply throughout the system. The plan's developer, Pierre Pichat, research director at France's National Centre for Scientific Research, said the product is based on titanium dioxide, a chemical used in suntan creams that freshens the air when exposed to ultraviolet light. "The search for the right product has lasted years," commented Pichat. Perhaps they can also look into another brand-new technology—it's called washing with soap.]

Daniel Shapiro, a professor of philosophy at West Virginia University, was reported to the campus Office of Social Justice for using the word "wife" in the classroom. There he learned that the word "wife" is sexist and that he should instead use nonsexist terms such as "friend" or "partner."

12/14/98

A disgusting mess was discovered at Swarthmore College's Intercultural Center that turned out to be vomit and what appeared to be excrement but was later determined to be chocolate cake with sprinkles mixed in. The identity of the perpetrator was unknown, and the motivation was unclear at best since the room where the mess was found was used for any number of student support groups. College officials were nevertheless quick to label the act an expression of hate, and an anti-hate rally soon drew 500 people, with cries of "respect, safety, unity" echoing through the campus.

Speakers described the mess as the work of "a handful of people who are hateful and scared," and said the act "had the symbolic effect of a hate crime." One speaker equated a general feeling of security with personal space, saying, "when you violate that space, you violate me." Another said he had cried all night: "I was overcome by tears and mucous.... It wasn't a good cry; it was a bad cry." But because of the rally, he now felt "tears of hope." The director of the Intercultural Center drew tears from the crowd as she spoke about the long, painful healing process the college would have to undergo. A list of ten years' worth of harassing incidents was read, one of which was criticism that one student incurred because her boyfriend wore a dress.

The Washington Post:
The Pentagon estimates it will spend around $50 million in the coming year to provide the impotence drug Viagra for American troops and military retirees. The cost—roughly the price of two new Marine Corps Harrier jets or forty-five Tomahawk cruise missiles—is among the unexpected military expenses that Pentagon officials recently told Congress have come up since they made their original 1999 budget requests. "Viagra sort of burst on the scene," Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said.

[Ed.: In another case of Viagra-induced price inflation, French chef Jean-Louis Galland of Le Basilic served patrons beef in a crushed Viagra sauce with fig vinegar and fine herbs. Viagra is illegal in France, and authorities arrested the chef after discovering his plan to conceal the drug.]

The New York Times, November 25, 1998:
The Dutch Health Ministry said it would extend an experiment to distribute free heroin to hard-core drug addicts after a three-month pilot scheme showed no serious, undesired side-effects. However, some heroin users complained about the quality of the heroin offered.

12/12/98

The Washington Post, December 12, 1998:
Efforts by Virginia and other states to sharply curtail college remedial courses are misguided and often based on inaccurate information, a new study says.

The study, by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, ... argues that remedial education is a core function of colleges.

12/7/98

Following the arrest, in England, of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on charges brought by a Spanish judge, the Cuban American National Foundation, an exile group, asked a Spanish court to seek the arrest and prosecution of Cuban President Fidel Castro. At the time of Pinochet's arrest, Castro was an honored guest at a conference of Latin American presidents that was being held in a Spanish castle.

CANF says Castro, along with his brother Raul and several associates, should be tried on charges of genocide, torture, and terror. The group says its confirmed list of 300 cases of victimization by the Cuban dictator likely will be expanded to include 18,000 cases, including 12 U.S. citizens and five Spaniards. Asked by a reporter from the Spanish daily El Mundo if he feared that an extradition order would be filed against him, too, Castro replied, "I belong to a species which is above arrest. You cannot compare our two cases."

Following the Cubans' lead, a group of Haitian exiles have now called for the extradition of former dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, who, along with his father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, they charge with some 60,000 political executions during their combined 29-year regime. Following popular upheaval leading to his ouster in 1986, the younger Duvalier led an extravagant life in exile on the French Riviera. But after his wife divorced him, he gradually ran out of money and was briefly employed by a neighbor as a gardener. Duvalier, whose exact whereabouts are unknown, is reportedly amused at the effort to extradite him.

From an Associated Press item about Monica Lewinsky's deal to publish her memoir with Michael O'Mara Books and use Andrew Morton as a ghostwriter:
O'Mara said there was a "strong personal chemistry" between the former White House intern and Morton. "We put the two of them together in a New York hotel room last week, and she said yes immediately."

The City Council of Birmingham, England, inspired protests by renaming the Christmas season "Winterval."

Leonard Pitts, Jr., in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 2, 1998:
One hesitates... to distract from what Sosa and McGwire have accomplished. They are said to be good guys—decent, caring and humble in welcome contrast to the swaggering malcontents we've seen too much of in sports lately.

On the other hand it is, perhaps, useful to remind ourselves that even in our oldest and noblest major sport as played by men we like and respect, there is in the national psyche something small and un-evolved that gravitates towards a white man for no better reason than that he is white.

In a very real sense, Mark McGwire had Sammy Sosa beaten before either of them ever picked up a bat.

This, too, is as American as it gets.

The Washington Post echoed the sentiment:

For all that is inspiring and wholesome about the home run derby, it also illuminates the eternal American dilemma of race. It is McGwire who has the overwhelming advantage over Sosa in the competition for the public's heart. (Internet search engines find McGwire's name more than twice as often as Sosa's.) Is that because the Cardinal is the better slugger, or is it a matter of color, ethnicity and language?
Sosa, a native of the Dominican Republic, has expressed gratefulness for his success and love for the country that made it possible. He later beat out McGwire for National League MVP status.

12/3/98

Letter to the editor, the Boston Globe, December 3, 1998:
I found your characterization of Rita Hester ("Stabbing victim a mystery to many," Metro/Region, Nov. 30) degrading and potentially misleading.

Throughout your coverage of the incident you refer to Hester as "he" and a transvestite. If Hester was known socially and to neighbors only as a woman, it is not likely that she was a transvestite but rather was probably a transsexual and should have been referred to using female pronouns.

A significant number of people live as the opposite gender and are socially perceived by all they meet as that gender. To reduce Rita Hester's life and dignity to the level of "a man in women's clothes" is disingenuous and disappointing.

A little more sensitivity to the hardships these people face would have reflected far better upon your journalistic integrity than the rather voyeuristic portrayal that did appear.

—George Kierstein
Cambridge

12/2/98

After Howard Stern decided to spank the backside of one of the guests on his CBS television show with a dead fish, Dawn Carr, campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, publicly condemned the action, commenting that it "shows a sad disrespect for life, certainly for the lives of those fish."

11/30/98

The American Civil Liberties Union brought suit to nullify Arizona's designation of November 22-29 as "Bible Week," and to halt its celebration in the town of Gilbert, Arizona. While the ACLU has engaged in much legal activism concerning church/state separation, this is the group's first action against Bible Week, which has been celebrated in 30 states and by every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Gilbert Mayor Cynthia Durham insists the proclamation is merely "a recognition of the historical role of the Bible in American culture and history."

From a Harvard Crimson editorial calling for President Clinton's resignation:
There has been much talk about the instability that might arise should Clinton resign and pass the reins to Al Gore '69. But we're willing to take the risk.

The New Yorker reports on controversial new research that may solve the mystery of the Anasazi, a complex pre-Columbian civilization that settled the Chaco Canyon area of New Mexico around 900 A.D. but mysteriously disappeared from the region around 1150 A.D. The Anasazi are revered not only as ancestors of the Hopi and other Pueblo Indians, but also for their astonishing advances in engineering, astronomy, art, and architecture. Many New Age adherents believe the Anasazi even had a superior civilization based on pacifism, consensus government, classless society, and refined spirituality. This enthusiasm has led one archeological site to close down because New Agers were burying crystals and illegally scattering each other's ashes there. During the "Harmonic Convergence" of 1987, thousands joined hands in Chaco Canyon to chant and pray. You can now even buy a 1999 Anasazi wall calendar.

The archeological record indicates the Anasazi abandoned their agriculturally advanced valley settlements in favor of remote caves along canyon walls and high, often fortified mesas. They soon disappeared altogether in a manner that suggested massive depopulation due to a prolonged siege. But ethnographers have failed to uncover the sorts of cultural legends one would expect in the wake of such a relatively recent and dramatic incursion. And while studies of pollen counts indicate there was a severe drought at the time, it did not appear to traumatize surrounding Indian groups. Instead, many local Navajo and Pueblo legends refer to Chaco Canyon as a place of almost unspeakable evil.

Studying Anasazi sites, archeologist Christy Turner concluded that the culture collapsed not from external forces, but from the widespread practice of cannibalism. Turner identified a large percentage of skeletal remains that showed signs of dismemberment, butchering, "defleshing," marrow extraction, and roasting. The skulls, in particular, displayed signs that they were split open at the time of death, decapitated, and roasted face-up in order to scoop out the cooked brains. Such skeletal deposits don't resemble burial grounds so much as loose heaps of trash. Paleoanthropologist Tim D. White also identified bones that showed signs they were used to scrape off the ring of fat that formed around the edge of boiling pots of human remains. And, countering the argument that people may have been simply cooked as part of a non-cannibalistic ritual to violently suppress the supposed magical powers of witchcraft, archeologist Brian Billman had a fecal sample from one site tested, successfully, for non-digestive human remains.

Summing up his years of research in a new book, Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest, Turner argues that since cannibalism was not practiced by any of the Anasazi's close neighbors, it probably came from Mesoamerica, where the Toltec empire (ca. 800-1100 A.D.) practiced cannibalism and human sacrifice as a form of social control as part of a "very powerful, dehumanizing sociopolitical and ideological complex." (The Aztecs, descendants of the Toltecs who also practiced cannibalism, were later easily conquered partly because surrounding Indian groups regarded them as a scourge and were eager to ally with the Spanish against them.) The Toltecs were known to have spread their imperial influence south "into the jungle world of the Mayas and the desert world of the Chichimeca" in northern Mexico, a relatively short distance from the American Southwest. Turner believes it likely that a small marauding band of heavily armed "Manson party types" came up from Mexico along well-established trade routes and, finding a pliant population, successfully reproduced their own culture of terror. Perhaps stimulated by the drought, the Anasazi culture finally collapsed in total anarchy over 200 years after its inception.

Turner's research flies in the face of long-held skepticism of cannibalistic accounts. In a 1979 book, The Man-Eating Myth, SUNY Stony Brook anthropologist William Arens persuasively questioned the very existence of cannibalism in human societies. Arens argued that accounts of cannibalism were mostly hearsay, and were either made by hostile neighboring groups as an extreme form of insult or by Westerners attempting to justify their conquest, conversion, and enslavement of native people. (One such account came from none other than Christopher Columbus, whose first inclination upon encountering the peaceful Taino culture in the West Indies was to assume he had stumbled on a Utopian state—that is, until he encountered the neighboring Carib tribe, who regularly feasted on the Tainos.) When asked about Turner's research twenty years later, Arens agrees that the findings probably represent instances of cannibalism, but cautions against the conclusion that all the Anasazi were cannibals, or by extension, all Native Americans. "There's a whole discipline in existence looking for 'savage' behavior among the people we have colonized, conquered, and eradicated. That point almost has to be made—that the people here before us were cannibals—to justify the genocide of Native Americans."

But Turner's revelations also come at a time of reassessment for many in the field, with assumptions concerning the peaceful and benign nature of primitive cultures coming under fire. Even Margaret Mead's classic account of the Samoan culture, in which she thought she found what amounted to a sexual paradise free of monogamic constraints and sexual conflict, was found to have been a misrepresentation, perhaps as the result of an unintended hoax.

Lawrence Keeley, anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells of the trouble he had getting a grant from the National Science Foundation to study evidence of warfare in early Neolithic Belgium, ca. 5000 B.C. Having discovered a fortification consisting of a nine-foot-deep ditch backed by a palisade, Keeley proposed that excavating nearby sites would yield similar features, which he figured represented a frontier line between early settled farmers and hostile, nomadic bands. But it was only when he rewrote the grant proposal a third time, referring to the function of the ditch-palisade neutrally as an "enclosure," that he got the grant. Even after discovering more defensive emplacements, Keeley says he was stunned at the discovery because he had accustomed himself to dismissing widespread physical evidence of primitive violence.

In his 1996 book, War Before Civilization, Keeley argues that far from being a stylized and seldom-practiced ritual as had been assumed, so-called primitive warfare was far more frequent, more ruthless, and proportionally more deadly than modern warfare. Documenting widespread instances of ambushes, massacres, looting, mutilation, trophy-taking, and cannibalism, Keeley attacks the peaceful image of primitives as Rousseau's idealized "noble savage," and the corresponding tendency to believe that modern civilization has somehow fallen from grace by engaging in a uniquely horrible form of warfare. Keeley also documents how surprisingly effective primitive guerrilla warriors have been against modern Western armies attempting to subdue them, offering a provocative answer for why this form of warfare has been so readily dismissed: "Citizens of modern states tend to believe that everything they do is more efficient and effective than the corresponding efforts of primitives or ancients."

While Keeley argues that warfare serves its practitioners well in expanding territory and resources, UCLA anthropologist Robert B. Edgerton cautions that attempts to explain such pathological behavior as a sort of evolutionary success strategy can easily become tautologous. In his 1992 book, Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony, Edgerton documents a wide range of behavior including homicide, suicide, infanticide, slavery, feuding, human sacrifice, cannibalism, torture, rape, genital mutilation, spousal and child abuse, substance abuse, malnutrition, and environmental destruction in various primitive folk cultures. Anthropologists, Edgerton says, often provide strained and culturally relativistic explanations that these practices necessarily occupy a useful and perhaps hidden function that ultimately strengthens societies, even those that clearly do not serve the long-term interests of their practitioners. Under this assumption, for example, cannibalism has been explained as a form of population control serving an adaptive evolutionary role to keep cultures from overextending their limited resources, thus achieving ecological harmony.

Edgerton calls for eradicating the distinction between "primitive" and "modern" cultures altogether, arguing instead for a uniform standard of judgment that, borrowing from psychology, distinguishes between cultures that are "healthy" and those that are "dysfunctional." Following up his work on Southwest American cannibalism, Christy Turner dwelled on some of the same themes in an unusual paper, titled "The Darker Side of Humanity," in which he calls for the abandonment of the time-honored "concept of culture." Anthropologists, he says, usually ask what was normally practiced in a given culture, without allowing for the possibility of abnormality or charismatic usurpers such as, in modern times, a Hitler or a Stalin. "In my thirty-five years of teaching I have never heard of a graduate student specializing in archeology who had taken a course in abnormal psychology," Turner writes. "Why should they? ... The very idea of abnormal behavior is alien to Southwest archeological thinking." Turner recommends replacing the cultural concept with a "Darwinian paradigm of evolutionary psychology" that "emphasizes identification of individuals and seeks to understand their actions wherever possible." Only then, he says, will any sense be made of his archeological findings, or of human nature itself.

[Ed.: A good example of an adaptivist argument was laid out in the February, 1999 issue of the journal Conservation Biology, in an article by Paul S. Martin, paleoecologist at the University of Arizona, and Christine R. Szuter, editor in chief of the University of Arizona Press. In one passage from the journals of early American explorers Lewis and Clark, William Clark wrote of eastern Montana, "I have observed that in the country between the [Indian] nations which are at war with each other the greatest number of wild beasts are to be found." Martin and Szuter elaborate on this point, arguing that these dangerous no-man's lands offered relatively safe habitat for many large land mammals and played a critical ecological role in preventing their extinction. Local Indians, in turn, benefited from the continued presence of game. In areas west of the Rockies in which warfare was not as constant, there was a relative scarcity of big game, despite plentiful habitat. The authors argue that Trans-Rockies Indians were able, given the opportunity, to hunt game to the point of depletion, forcing them to live on fish and roots. Many other species—mammoths, mastodons, camels, giant sloths, tapirs, and predators that depended on them—became extinct in North America following human migration to the continent approximately 15,000 years ago, though scientists disagree on what caused this.]

11/17/98

Frank Sinatra fans attending an academic conference at Hofstra University on his influence on American life were bewildered at the use of academic terminology such as "stranger-ness," "tropes," "hermeneutics of suspicion," "class allegory embedded in the master narrative," and "Sinatra-ism of the Left." During one panel that attributed Sinatra's success as the product of his "blue eyes" and white skin, one exasperated fan finally shouted out, "Why don't you go back to Moscow?"

Another panel pondered Sinatra's gradual political shift rightwards, evidenced when he gave his progressive-minded song "The House I Live In" a more patriotic feel when he sang it to Ronald Reagan in 1986 on the deck of an aircraft carrier, with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop.

The Monterey, California Herald noted that by kayaking in Monterey Bay next to a sea otter as part of a photo op., Vice President Gore had violated federal laws against disturbing marine mammals in a protected area.

11/16/98

In Arcata, California, voters approved a ballot measure that would establish a city task force and a series of town meetings to find ways to reduce the "illegitimate" power of corporations in the lives of town residents. "This allows the people of our community to redefine the possible," said Arcata Vice-Mayor Jason Kirkpatrick. The organization sponsoring the measure is called, appropriately enough, Democracy Unlimited.

In New York City, an auction of conceptual and minimalist art at Christie's exceeded all its sales goals. Bruce Nauman's concrete block with a tape recording of a woman screaming playing inside it fetched $288,000. Four canvases by Sigmar Polke containing only incorrect mathematical equations yielded $882,000. And On Kawara's seven canvases featuring only the dates May 1-7, 1971, sold for $574,000.

Boston performance artist Paul Richard's most recent show featured a room completely empty except for a stack of $20 t-shirts for sale. At a previous show, patrons filed past to watch the artist eating lunch. San Francisco sculptor Joe Mangrum persuaded the city Art Commission to let him disassemble his 1986 Mazda into a pile in the middle of Justin Herman Plaza and call the sculpture "Transmission 98." For this work, Mangrum was paid a $2,000 artist's fee from the city, part of which he used to pay off $1,480 worth of outstanding parking tickets he had accumulated with the car. New York performance artist Bob Powers's recent works include one in which he uttered a single sentence, "No, but I gave you a twenty," thirty times, and another called "Ode to a Buttered Roll": "How do you do it? Sixty cents. So tall, so round, so many poppy seeds. Sixty cents.... One corner deli owner tried to charge 75. Sixty cents." In an interview in the Village Voice, Powers said, "I would be thrilled if I got a $25,000-a-year grant for the rest of my life. I don't want money for any lofty goals. I want it just because I'm lazy and tired."

Finally, art students at Leeds University, accepting school and private grants of about $2,000, created a class project they said was "designed to challenge people's perception of art." By using the money to take a holiday at Spain's Costa del Sol resort, the thirteen students said they successfully raised the issue of whether there was any limit to what could be described as art. Most of the sponsors subsequently demanded refunds. But after the London Daily Telegraph, and other British newspapers reported the story, the students revealed it as a hoax. They had staged the vacation by acquiring tans at salons and taking fake beach snapshots. The point of the artwork, they said, was to demonstrate how easy it is to fool the press. No word on whether the sponsors still want their refunds.

11/15/98

After the Fullerton, California, police department suggested renaming the infamous Baker Street Gang to the "Pansy Circle Gang" in order to enfeeble it, the city council nixed the idea since it might offend homosexuals.

11/9/98

Students at the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, a public school in Brooklyn, can now earn academic credit for a course called "Hip Hop 101." The course consists of four modules: one on how to write graffiti, another about how to deejay at parties, a third on how to break-dance and a fourth about rapping. The class includes exams on graffiti principles culminating with "roasting" a New York subway car—that is, drawing a sketch of how students would spray-paint a subway car if they had the chance. Asked whether the course promoted criminal activity by encouraging students to deface public property, a teacher replied, "I'm not telling them what to do or what not to do."

The new $3.5 billion health education authorization bill includes a provision mandating that nursing schools accepting federal funds not only admit members of certain racial minorities by quota, but also graduate them by quota.

The Internet Tax Freedom Act included a $3 million provision to establish a "Mark O. Hatfield Fellows program" at Portland State University, $3 million for the "Paul Simon Public Policy Institute" at Southern Illinois University, $10 million for an endowment fund for the "Howard Baker School of Government" at the University of Tennessee, and $6 million for the "John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy" at Ohio State University.

The fiscal 1999 omnibus spending bill also included a $6 million item to help start the "Robert Dole Institute for Public Service and Public Policy" at the University of Kansas. In all, the spending package exceeded the Republicans' previous budget "pact" by $21 billion, and 30 percent of the year's budget surplus has already been consumed by "emergency" spending and other such mysterious provisions not included in the original House or Senate version of the bill. These include $27 million for mohair, wool and honey subsidies, a program ostensibly killed in 1993; $2 million for West Virginia's National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture; $5.1 million for wood-utilization research; $500,000 for manure handling and disposal in Starkville, Mississippi; $250,000 to an Illinois company that makes caffeinated chewing gum; $750,000 for grasshopper research in Alaska; $2.5 million for the Office of Cosmetics and Color; $20 million to limit domestic competition in Alaskan fishing by buying back three boats; $200 million to prevent record-high dairy prices from falling at some point in the future (an "emergency"); $400,000 for sturgeon-conservation efforts in Alabama; $100,000 for the Women's Rights Historical Trail; $100,000 for the Steel Industry American Heritage Area; $17.5 million to refurbish a lift bridge at the now-closed Philadelphia Navy Shipyard; $35 million for Army National Guard distance-learning projects; $5 million for an international law enforcement academy in Roswell, New Mexico, that will only feed rumors; $600,000 for the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships; $246,000 for an Ohio "income-enhancement program"; $5 million for repairs at the soon-to-be-sold Alaska Power Administration; $3.9 million for outdoor recreational facilities at Ponce De Leon, Florida; $320,000 for replacement of toilet facilities in the Ouachita National Forest; and $500,000 for the Eros Data Center.

In San Jose, California, ex-police officer Johnny Venzon, Jr., jailed on various burglary charges, was awarded early retirement and a $27,000 pension because his gambling addiction officially left him "disabled."

Charles McDavid, of Santa Cruz, California, was charged with a hate crime after Victor Palmer accused him of going on a "racist rampage" against him, chasing him down a street in the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco and assaulting him. But during a preliminary hearing, a witness testified that Palmer had attempted to rob her, and that McDavid had intervened. Other witnesses testified that Palmer often stole drugs and money from people on the street. Despite the fact that both police and prosecutors were informed of the robbery attempt, prosecutors decided to press hate crime charges after the case received widespread media attention.

San Francisco Municipal Court Judge Mary Morgan later dropped the hate crime charge after McDavid pled guilty to misdemeanor assault, but still chided him when handing down the sentence: "It's not a pretty picture when several people of one race chase people of another race down the street." Although disappointed that the hate-crime charges were dropped, Deputy District Attorney Maria Bee praised the judge: "She gave [McDavid] a substantial sentence for someone with no previous criminal record."

From Rethinking Sexuality: Foucault and Classical Antiquity, edited by H. J. Larmour, Paul Allen Miller, and Charles Platter, published by Princeton University Press:
David Halperin... contends that gay male gym culture is a form of Foucauldian political ascesis. To those who label this position a trivialization of Foucault's concept of resistance, he responds that they are mere elitists, "suspicious of any technology of the self that is widely dispersed in a culture, and is genuinely popular." From the Marxist perspective, this is disingenuous at best. In the same text he makes a clear distinction between gay muscles and "the kind of muscles that are produced by hard physical labor." This distinction, in turn, is part of a larger argument that "gay male body-builders," in their inscription of their disciplinary practices on their flesh, should be seen as having "performed a valuable political service on behalf of everyone." While Halperin's position makes the valuable distinction between the complex and largely independent matrices of gay and straight gym culture, it is difficult not to draw the inference that gay muscles are somehow superior to those "produced by hard physical labor." The implication of such a position is twofold. The first is that the service provided to the community by gay male body-builders is more important than that of those who get their muscles through back-breaking labor; hence, gay gym culture is more worthy of the attention of radical theorists than, say, the labors of farm workers picking strawberries in the Rio Grande valley. The second is that none of the young workers sweating in the fields are gay. This is a position difficult to square with a stance that aspires to be antielitist and "truly popular." It defines gay males as essentially upper-middle-class, urban professionals, a definition consistent with Halperin's stated desire not to deny "the possibility that resistance could ever take the form of shopping for the right outfit." Yet Halperin's view represents only one rather narrow interpretation of Foucauldian politics, and to conclude from it that Marxists and Foucauldians share no common ground would be to undervalue the depth and complexity of Foucault's work.

11/4/98

Five-year-old Jordan Locke of West Deer, Pennsylvania, was suspended from kindergarten for a day, under "zero-tolerance" requirements, for brandishing a small plastic toy fireman's ax as part of his Halloween costume. But on the other hand, a four-year-old Cleveland boy brought a loaded 9mm handgun to his day care center.

11/2/98

The guy can't win for losing. A headline in the Washington Times reads: "Starr not hung up on sex, wife says in his defense."

Guest columnist Jules Siegel in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 4, 1998:
How does he persuade Hillary and Chelsea that this will never happen again? It's their private dilemma, but as a nation, we're kind of in-laws in this matter. We have a right to butt in because our first family's turmoil is disrupting our political stability.

If we look at this as a family problem, his only real option is to seek marital or sexual counseling and then, maybe, make it a kind of crusade. "I face my problems, world. I get help. That's not shame. Hillary and I are, after all, just another Baby Boomer couple struggling to make sense of our lives."

This may provoke an ugly reaction from the narrow-minded prudes who make it impossible for our elected officials to obtain the psychological counseling they need.

A truck driver who dumped cardboard boxes full of aborted fetuses in a California field was sentenced to 71 days in jail for "illegally disposing of medical waste." That left San Bernardino county coroner Brian McCormick stuck with the costly disposal problem, so he accepted an offer from pro-life groups to dispose of the fetuses respectfully by burying them in a cemetery. The Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union immediately threatened legal action over the handling of "this fetal material," declaring that the "discarding of fetuses in this manner raises concerns about the county coroner's failure to adhere to California health laws."

When asked a week later whose civil liberties were being protected by the legal action and why anyone (religious or not) who believed the fetuses to be human beings should be prevented from burying them, ACLU president Nadine Strossen, apparently taken by surprise, commented that "many groups call themselves branches of the ACLU when they're not." The national office later announced a reversal of her position: "Nadine Strossen now fully understands and supports the position of the ACLU of Southern California."

The burial took place on October 11, 1998, and it is unclear whether the fetuses will at some point be disinterred for disposal by other means.

10/27/98

A Reuters dispatch from London, October 27, 1998:
Vying to land Britain's top art award are exhibits including a comic book hero made of elephant dung and a video of naked women bathing.

The $33,300 Turner prize, won in the past by a pickled sheep and a wrestling video, sparks controversy every year and 1998 is no exception.

The prize has been mocked by critics as a pretentious publicity stunt but the annual display of the shortlist at London's Tate Gallery regularly attracts up to 80,000 visitors.

The winner, certain to win instant international fame or notoriety, is announced on December 1.

After attending the press view of the four artists contesting the prize Tuesday, outspoken art critic Brian Sewell concluded: "This year is worse than ever. It has absolutely no merit.

"It is dull, silly and trifling. I am in favor of the idea of the prize but am appalled by the execution," he said.

In 1995, media interest reached new heights when Damien Hirst, the enfant terrible of British art, won the award with a pickled sheep.

In 1993, art pranksters were so angered that they set up an alternative award for the worst work of the year. Both their award and the Turner prize were won by Rachel Whiteread.

Much of the controversy at this year's show centered on the exuberant and colorful paintings of black artist Chris Ofili.

Centerpiece of his work on display was "The Adoration of Captain S*** and the Legend of the Black Stars Part 2."

The striking painting of a corpulent black pop star bursting out of his tinseled outfit is described as "a remix of art historical quotation, biblical reference and hip hop music."....

Gallery curator Michela Parkin was delighted that art could still stir strong feelings: "One of the purposes of the prize is to get people talking about art. Not everyone can like everything. We want to get people excited."

[Ed.: You're not the only one. Back in the States, Capitol Hill police issued an arrest warrant for Martin Mawyer of the Christian Action Network on the grounds of indecency when he tried to exhibit controversial artwork supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.]

The Los Angeles Times reports that a new trend in California schools systems is for parents of students who were disciplined for committing violent acts to file lawsuits claiming that schools were negligent in failing to place them in special education programs earlier on.

10/22/98

An Associated Press dispatch from Baltimore, October 22, 1998:
The official referral form lists the reason for Jamie Schoonover's suspension from school as "Casting a spell on a student."

The 15-year-old freshman admits she practices witchcraft, as does her mother. But she knows better than to cast a spell.

"Casting a spell isn't something that just any novice is going to know how to do," said Colleen Harper, a transsexual who was Jamie's biological father but now calls herself the girl's mother.

"If she ever were to cast any spells, it would be along the lines of wishing prosperity on someone or healing someone," Ms. Harper said.

Miss Schoonover and Jennifer Rassen, who broke down in hysterics Tuesday when she thought she had been "hexed," met Wednesday with Southwestern High School's principal to try to sort things out.

According to Miss Schoonover, she and some friends were sitting beneath a tree on school grounds Tuesday when they noticed the names of other girls scrawled on a wall. One of the friends wanted to cross out the names, so Jamie lent her a correction fluid pen.

The friend crossed out the names, then wrote, "Is life a virtue of death?"

When Miss Rassen saw her name crossed out and the question, she ran to Principal Earl L. Lee saying the other girl had cast a spell on her.

"She was hysterical," said schools spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt. "She was distraught and crying violently."

Miss Schoonover was sent home because school officials considered the alleged spell a verbal threat that violates the student discipline code. She was allowed back to school after the meeting.

"We do not believe that anyone was threatened," Ms. Pyatt said. "Everyone emerged from the meeting, I think, satisfied that the issue had been resolved."

Ms. Harper called it all a misunderstanding—and a perfect example of misconceptions about witchcraft, or Wicca, the modern form of paganism that she and her daughter practice. Wicca is more like a folklore-tinged herbalism that dictates that "whatever you do comes back to you threefold," she said.

Ms. Harper wished the girls could have resolved the dispute themselves.

"I really feel sorry that it didn't happen, because my daughter was so upset with the fact that this girl was upset," she said.

When it appeared likely that Mark McGuire would break Roger Maris's season home run record, baseball fans began to speculate how much the record-breaking sixty-second ball would be worth to whomever caught it, many estimating its value at $1 million. A consensus emerged that the lucky fan should give the ball back to McGuire, who earned it, but tax experts noted that the fan would be subject to $145,000 in "gift taxes."

It was only when Congress moved to pass a special dispensation for the lucky fielder that the Internal Revenue Service issued a statement promising that it would not go after the fan. The stadium staffer who did catch the ball instantly returned it as expected, telling reporters, "I just don't want to be taxed."

10/21/98

In Joliet, Illinois, Paul Masters gathered 100 names on a petition in opposition to a request for a zoning variance that would allow four nuns to share the same house, rather than the maximum allowed, which is three.

Prompted by rapid urbanization of the area around Spokane, Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state have issued strict regulations on growers of bluegrass who regularly burn their 40,000 acres of fields in order to invigorate seed growth. Current rules allow only a one- to two-week window each year to burn, and lawsuits from the EPA and the American Lung Association have led to pressure to ban the practice altogether, which has already led many growers to go out of business.

Ironically, the Soil and Conservation Service praised bluegrass growers when they started doing business in the area 50 years prior, since burning served to replenish the rich but thin topsoil one inch every decade, as opposed to one inch every century from other farming methods. At the same time, the Interior Department announced that they would burn a million acres of trees in the same region as part of a land management program designed to avoid serious forest fires. Wood smoke presumably does not cause lung cancer as smoke from bluegrass might.

10/20/98

From a White House proclamation:
Now, therefore, I, William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 18 through October 24, 1998, as National Character Counts Week. I call upon the people of the United States, government officials, educators, religious, community, and business leaders, and the States to commemorate this week with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of October, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-third.

(signed)
William Jefferson Clinton
Oct. 16, 1998

[Ed.: The theme of this year's "It's the Thought that Counts Week" was rather neutral: national service. Customary references to "trust," "responsibility," "accountability," and "respect" were conspicuously absent.]

Sue Allen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 1, 1998:
We viewed the movie "Saving Private Ryan" as a family last weekend. As usual, Steven Spielberg aptly depicts a message of morality with his themes of the vast brutality and the lasting impact of war. However another sub-message tarnishes his pedestal of morality.

The "ugly woman in the barn" story and the "double E cup breast size" story propagate the myth that women are valued solely on breast size and beauty.

Single lines with such messages can be heard in just about every Hollywood movie. Thoughtless lines in films, thrown at us under the guise of hilarity, reach deep into the psyches of our girls and remain as unhealing abuses.

When will the constant stream of subtle, mean messages about women end? When will our society start treating women better?

Ed Pearce of the Lexington Herald-Leader, August 16, 1998, voices a different complaint:
How dare these people now prate that guns don't kill people? How dare they demean the sacrifice of the men who fell to the guns that day so that they might have the right to stand now and spout the indecency that guns do not kill people?

What was killing our men that day there on the beach, tearing them apart, ending their lives, their hopes and dreams, blasting away their futures? Do they not deserve the truth of how they died?

It was guns...

[Ed.: Esquire had a different take on the film, declaring that it deserves "the Leni Riefenstahl Award for Rabid Nationalism." "Reverent of authority, contemptuous of dissent," it's "the kind of film the Germans would've made if they'd won the war."]

10/19/98

Bruce Morton on CNN's "Late Edition," October 11, 1998:
Anyone of us could be investigated like this and we would be able to keep no secrets about love or sex or money—no secrets about anything. If this reminds you of George Orwell's novel, 1984, it should. The government in that book poked and pried everywhere. Its slogan was "Big Brother Is Watching You." And with the aid of the thought police, he was. Welcome to Orwell's world.

In a 1989 article published in the Stanford Law Review, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic note that library indexing systems lack entries for such terms as hegemony, legitimation, and false consciousness. Far from a mere oversight, they conclude this represents a replication of the dominant culture's hierarchy of values, and serves to hinder transformative academic movements such as Critical Race Theory. They note approvingly that a radical feminist friend blamed her difficulties in researching a particular feminist topic on index categories "rooted in the structure of male-dominated law."

10/15/98

The Tulane Hullabaloo quotes assistant athletic director Vince Granito on the university's mascot selection process, September 4, 1998. The winner was a pelican.
Poseidon, whether it would be a male figure, a white figure, an Aryan figure, those are issues that schools are trying to get away from. They are not sensitive to the total embodiment of the university. We went in the direction it would be prudent to go. [Poseidon] came with too much baggage.

From an announcement regarding "Gendered Landscapes: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Past Place and Space," an academic conference to be held at Penn State, May 29-June 1, 1999:
The goal of the first Gendered Landscapes conference is to convene scholars from the many disciplines who study and are inspired by issues of gender and landscape history. This unique conference offers an opportunity for participants to establish new standards for communication across disciplinary and cultural boundaries. The conference theme allows for a broadly based, widely interpreted discussion regarding the cultural meanings of the spaces in which we have lived and worked.

The following electronic message was sent by Sarah E. Chinn of the Women's Studies Program at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia:

Hi everyone—a colleague of mine is writing an article about Margaret Atwood's use of space, and is looking for critical material about maps/cartography and gender. I've thought of some texts that talk about the way landscape is represented (Kolodny, for example, or the anthology Sexuality and Space), but I can't think of anything specifically about gender and mapmaking. Any suggestions?

Thanks.

10/12/98

Responding to legal action brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal judge ruled that Ohio can keep the phrase "With God, all things are possible" as its official motto, but the state may not cite the Bible (Matthew 19:26) as the source of the quotation. Three other states still use the G-word in their official mottos: Florida ("In God we trust"), South Dakota ("Under God, the people rule"), and Arizona ("God enriches").

[Ed.: The U.S. 6th Circuit Court later ruled that Ohio could not use the phrase as its motto after all.]

The Los Angeles Times reports on some of the creative uses for the $6 billion earmarked as part of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act: A Michigan school district obtained $81,000 worth of giant plastic teeth and tooth brushes. Police in Hammond, Louisiana, spent $6,500 on a three-foot remote-control replica of a squad car. Virginia Beach, Virginia, used the money to put extra lifeguards on duty. Students in Richmond, Virginia, will now read a drug-free party guide that cost taxpayers $16,000 to print and that includes tips on Jell-O wrestling and holding pageants "where guys dress up in women's wear." Los Angeles schools have a new van for transporting sports equipment and have given away $16,000 in tickets to Disneyland and Dodger Stadium to students who pledged to listen to their parents. Schools in Pinellas County, Florida, can now have a full-time counselor for their gay-student clubs. And students in Eureka, Utah, spent the afternoon fishing rather than doing drugs.

The Elm Road School in Mishawaka, Indiana, has instituted strict no tolerance rules on puppy love, including bans on hand holding, note passing, chasing members of the opposite sex during recess, and any talk of affection.

10/9/98

The San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 1998:
Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago... won the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday.... A communist... his views are always inspired by his deep concern for his fellow man.

10/6/98

From the "Action Alert" page of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' website, October 6, 1998:
Nike is currently airing a commercial that has a professional football player dressing a chicken in a football jersey, chasing her, and then cooking her. The commercial makes a joke out of terrifying, traumatizing, and slaughtering a bird and makes light of the developing recognition that people who torment or abuse animals are exhibiting tendencies that may lead to other acts of violence, such as child abuse, rape, or murder.

Another Nike commercial depicts a showdown between bulls used in the infamously cruel running of the bulls in Spain and the Denver Broncos football team.

Please write to the president of Nike Corporation immediately and let him know that there is nothing funny about tormenting and terrifying animals and that this disturbing commercial should be canceled immediately.

10/5/98

From a list, compiled by Georgetown University law professor David Cole, of characteristics included in the "drug-courier profiles" that are used by U.S. law-enforcement officials:
Arrived late at night
Arrived early in the morning
Arrived in afternoon
One of first to deplane
One of last to deplane
Deplaned in the middle
Purchased ticket at airport
Made reservation on short notice
Bought coach ticket
Bought first-class ticket
Used one-way ticket
Used round-trip ticket
Paid for ticket with cash
Paid for ticket with small-denomination currency
Paid for ticket with large-denomination currency
Made local telephone call after deplaning
Made long-distance call after deplaning
Pretended to make telephone call
Traveled from New York to Los Angeles
Traveled to Houston
No luggage
Brand-new luggage
Carried a small bag
Carried a medium-sized bag
Carried two bulky garment bags
Carried two heavy briefcases
Carried four pieces of luggage
Overly protective of luggage
Dissociated self from luggage
Traveled alone
Traveled with a companion
Acted too nervous
Acted too calm
Made eye contact with officer
Avoided making eye contact with officer
Wore expensive clothing and gold jewelry
Dressed casually
Went to rest room after deplaning
Walked quickly through airport
Walked slowly through airport
Walked aimlessly through airport
Left airport by taxi
Left airport by limousine
Left airport by private car
Left airport by hotel courtesy van
Suspect was Hispanic
Suspect was black female

From a series of commentaries on the Lewinsky affair by leading writers, referred to as "experts on human folly," published over two weeks in the New Yorker, October 5-12, 1998.

Lorrie Moore:

That our ungentlemanly President's gentlemanly failure to kiss and tell should be subjected to the legalisms of judiciary procedure is, of course, total madness, a torture and a regicide, which could only have been brought about by Starr, the crazed zealot the right wing didn't even know it had. He is, of course, Victor Hugo's Javert. But he has not pursued Jean Valjean. In fact, in a bit of publicly funded intertextual surrealism (and downsized literary ambition), he has leaped completely out of the book and pursued Terry Southern's Candy.
Cynthia Ozick, also reviewing the Starr Report as literature for some reason:
[T]he report is even more emphatic than the camera in its portrayal of repetitive simplicity. There is no complex sense of human motives; there is only one motive, and one motif, for each character. The vision is not that of Thackeray's mercurial Becky Sharp (who, says [E.M.] Forster, "waxes and wanes and has facets like a human being") but, rather, of the captive stasis of Keats' Grecian Urn: the painted figures "forever painting." So we see Lewinsky forever seeking Clinton, Clinton forever fondling Lewinsky, Mrs. Currie forever escorting Lewinsky to Clinton, Mrs. Clinton forever offstage, eclipsed by faraway cities. And Starr, the presumed voice of the narrative, is perhaps the flattest character of all. "The really flat character," Forster notes, "can be expressed in one sentence such as 'I never will desert Mr. Micawber.' " Starr's one distinguishing sentence is "The President lied under oath."
[Ed.: So's yo' mama.]

William Styron:

What the French don't possess is the equivalent of the American South, where a strain of protestant fundamentalism is so maniacal that one of its archetypal zealots, Kenneth Starr, has been able to nearly dismantle the Presidency because of a gawky and fumbling sexual dalliance....

[French President] Mitterand liked and admired Bill Clinton (as opposed to Reagan, whom he called a "dullard" and a "complete nonentity") and was especially fascinated by what he described as his "animality," which doubtless meant something steamier. Clinton's tumultuous sexual past... might find a correspondence in the wonderfully candid remark uttered by the dying Mitterand: "I don't know of a single head of state who hasn't yielded to some sort of carnal temptation, small or large. That in itself is reason enough to govern."

Jane Smiley:
What I do believe about Bill Clinton is that, more than most recent presidents, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter, he knows the difference between love and war. He much prefers the former to the latter, and always has. You can't say that for all of them.... What I remember about Bush is that the only time in his whole presidency that he even got a little animated was when he went to war against Iraq. His façade of Eastern-establishment savoir-faire slipped, and there he was, a guy for whom launching a missile seemed to be better than sex.
Janet Malcolm:
Lewinsky emerges from the report as a piece of work. She is aggressive, self-involved, calculating, devious. (There is even a hint of blackmail: "Ms. Lewinsky also obliquely threatened to disclose their relationship. If she was not going to return to work at the White House, she wrote [to Clinton], then she would 'need to explain to my parents exactly why that wasn't happening.' ") The relentless Lewinsky takes over the narrative. It is almost as if Starr had absently allowed some strain of deep-seated misogyny to derail his enterprise of driving the President out of office. He evidently did not realize that by giving the captive Valley Girl witness her head, and by allowing his contempt for her to show, he would let his prey escape with his life. It is the brash Monica, not the passive Bill, who finally earns the reader's censure. Since the object of the exercise was to turn the nation against the President, those of us who deplored the investigation from the start can only take satisfaction in Starr's bungling—in this time of few satisfactions.
Louis Begley:
One thought that public executions and floggings, putting sinners in stocks, shaving the heads of adulteresses and similar pastimes that have beguiled the multitude ever since our ancestors evolved into the human species had all gone out of style in the industrialized democracies. When they occur in less privileged places—in China, for instance, where during the Cultural Revolution public confessions of guilt and acts of contrition were de rigueur—Amnesty International raises a mighty clamor.

In the dim, bloodstained past of certain cultures, sacrifices of kings were holy acts, performed by priests to obtain for the king's subjects a great benefit—averting a famine or plague. Something akin to those rites, but obscenely profane, has been acted out in Washington.

[Ed.: Mr. Begley also says, "somewhere in the back of his head [Clinton] must have the idea that you can trust little sluts. In fact, only great ladies and high-priced whores know how to keep secrets." Perhaps Ms. Malcolm can have a word....]

Toni Morrison:

African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear: "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."
[Ed.: Morrison also compares Starr to Torquemada, describing his investigation as a "fatwa" and a "sustained, bloody, arrogant coup d'état." At an "emergency speakout" against impeachment held on December 14 at New York University, novelist Mary Gordon likewise suggested that Clinton was the first female president.]

E.L. Doctorow:

All you need is a sinner and a suit. If you happen to be a prosecutor with a righteous bent, you can transform what morally offends you into a criminal offense.

The use of legal procedure to elicit an illegal act was common practice in the nineteen-fifties. People who had committed no crimes were brought before congressional committees to testify about their political beliefs and the beliefs of their friends, and when they refused they were cited for contempt and sent off to jail.

What is different here is the target: the President of the United States. That is horrific.

The sexual act can be barbaric, brutally selfish, and self-aggrandizing, or loving and revelatory. It can be infantile and ludicrous, or spiritually exalted and profound. It can be narcissistic, heedless, exploitative, or devotional. In the course of one person's life, it can, at one time or another, be all these things. But the particular character of a consensual act is manifest only in the intimate connection of two minds. When it is exposed to an audience, it deconstructs as something inevitably prurient, automatically scandalous. This is especially true in America, where one of the abiding shames of the Calvinist mind is that only a Son of God can be conceived without animal intercourse.

[Ed.: In addition to Joseph McCarthy, Doctorow also compares Starr's investigation to the Salem witch trials and to illegal wiretapping conducted by J. Edgar Hoover.]

Ethan Canin:

It seems to me that Bill Clinton, though flawed perhaps, possesses a tempered intelligence. He is comfortable with the extremes of human possibility, with the grandness and loathsomeness of mankind, with the Icarian dream and petty stumble that is human character. It is this comfort, in fact, which might lead a man of his constitution to stray from what in some circles is thought of as morality.

9/28/98

In an Australian rainforest, the Daintree Eco Lodge provides "marble-floored, air conditioned treetop lodges, complete with minibars and in-room movies, for as much as $900 a night," the Wall Street Journal reports.

After James Byrd was dragged horribly to his death by a gang of ex-convicts in Jasper, Texas, Duke historian John Hope Franklin, who chaired President Clinton's advisory board on race relations, dismissed any particular importance to the racially motivated crime. "I don't mean to sound callous," Franklin told the Associated Press, "but that's nothing new." Racist incidents happen all the time, he said, citing "the burning of black churches in recent years" as evidence. [sic]

Franklin also spoke of a more mundane act of ubiquitous racism. "A black high school student... worked for weeks on a paper for class and submitted it to his white teacher. It was a first-class paper. You know what she said? 'Who wrote this paper for you?' He was destroyed completely by a casual comment by an insensitive teacher," Franklin said. "He was dragged through the streets and killed, too." Franklin related the same story ten months prior at a nationally televised forum in Little Rock, noting that the child subsequently quit school and started living on the street.

After reading of the incident, Charles Geshekter, professor of African history at California State University, wrote to Franklin to find out when and where the incident occurred and what was done to discipline the teacher. "I was appalled to learn about this incident," he wrote. "As a university instructor and a member of the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center, I am always distressed to hear about such incidents. Thank you very much for providing me with more particulars." But after five months, Franklin had not replied to the query, so Geshekter wrote to him again. "I realize that you are extremely busy... but I wonder if you would please take the time to answer my questions."

After five more months, Franklin replied to Geshekter. "I can provide no more details about the incident," Franklin wrote. "I do not feel free to reveal the name of the school or the name of the young student who was tragically mistreated. I do not wish to expose either him or his family to further unauthorized disclosure." It was Franklin, of course, who initially disclosed the story. "As a fellow historian deeply concerned about race matters and historical accuracy," Geshekter wrote back, "I was distressed that you would voluntarily 'cite' such an inflammatory 'incident' to a member of the press... yet be unwilling to provide further specifics." Franklin did not reply.

After several Iranian diplomats and journalists were taken hostage by the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalists in neighboring Afghanistan, the Iranian Foreign Ministry complained that this action violated international law.

Democratic national chairman Steve Grossman, introducing President Clinton at a September 14 $50,000-per-couple fund-raising lunch in New York City:
You have demonstrated at least in my adult lifetime a higher commitment to the kind of moral leadership that I value in public service and public policy than any person I have ever met.... Our prayer for you today and for the first lady and for the vice president and for Tipper is that you will continue to provide the kind of moral leadership to this country that has enriched the life of virtually every citizen.

[Ed.: Disagreeing with this assessment, Ross Perot declared to an Atlanta convention of his Reform Party that Bill Clinton has "a defective brain." "The part of the brain that controls morality and honesty never got connected. The president is mentally and emotionally unstable," Perot said.]

9/21/98

In order to attract non-millionaire residents, the town of Aspen, Colorado, now offers public housing assistance even to those whose income is as much as $115,000 a year.

A footnote from the Starr report:
1128. In claiming that this statement was true, the President was apparently relying on the same tense-based distinction he made during the Jones deposition. See Clinton 8/17/98 GJ at 59-61 ("It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the—if he—if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not—that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement.... Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.")
...and from the president's videotaped testimony:
If the deponent is the person who has oral sex performed on him then the contact is not with anything on that list, but with the lips of another person.

NBC's Gwen Ifill during live MSNBC coverage while the Starr report was being unloaded from two vans and delivered to Congress, September 9, 1998, a few weeks after an attack by a deranged gunman upon the Capitol that killed two:
Already, some of the more thoughtful members of the House and Senate have admitted, yes, they expect to be overwhelmed. There's very little they can do about this, when someone drives, as one House Judiciary Committee member put this some weeks ago, a truck bomb up to the steps of the Capitol and just dumps it on them. Now this is probably not the most advisable comparison when you consider what happened on these very steps not so many weeks ago, but it is in some ways, politically, a very violent action for Ken Starr to leave this on them weeks before an election when they're trying to decide how to deal with it.

The harassment code at George Mason University has been modified to include such offenses as "staring" at a homosexual couple holding hands or thinking that a homosexual might be attracted to you. The code of the University of Maryland bans "holding or eating food provocatively," "kissing sounds," "telephone calls of a sexual nature," "idle chatter of a sexual nature," "sign language to denote sexual activity," and "gender-biased communications about women or men... that ignore or deprecate a group based on their gender." Bowdoin College forbids "telling stories of sexual assault which minimize or glorify the act," which presumably includes many literary classics. "No one," warns the code, "is entitled to engage in behavior that is experienced by others as harassing." This includes "leering, staring, catcalls, vulgar jokes, language, photographs or cartoons with sexual overtones" and even "terms of familiarity." Michigan State University warns that "eye contact or the lack of it" may represent harassment. The University of Connecticut bans "treating people differently solely because they are in some way different from the majority, ... imitating stereotypes in speech or mannerisms, ... [or] attributing objections to any of the above actions to 'hypersensitivity' of the targeted individual or group."

9/14/98

The Boston Globe, July 11, 1998:
Take Chad Joiner's series of photographs, "Abject and Adolescence." These close-up images of bed linens are saturated in more ways than one. The pale shades of the sheets fill the frames of these photographs, becoming a world unto themselves. They are also stained with urine, blood and semen, and burned with cigarettes. They chart the life of the body, in bed and often unconscious, secreting and expelling and leaving its mark. It's both compelling and discomforting—someone else's dirty laundry turned into art.

At Duke University, someone hanged a black doll along with a sign reading "Duke hasn't changed" near a gathering place of the Black Student Alliance, also defacing a granite bench dedicated to the Class of 1948 with black paint. After an agonizing week following the apparent hate crime, the truth came out: the perpetuators were not white racists, but black students seeking to create an impression of racism on campus. Still, many defended the perpetrators, as did Worokya Diomande in Duke's student newspaper, the Chronicle: "The idea behind the act is being overlooked (as is usually the case). The University has not changed. Blacks are allowed to be enrolled here, but the idea is the equivalent of the transition from field slave to house slave."

At Eastern New Mexico University, crude posters started to appear: "Are you sick of queers polluting this great land with there [sic] filth? I thought so. Want to do something? Join the Fist of God. With his might, we can ride [sic] the world of there [sic] sickness. Ask around. We'll find you." Identifying eight homosexuals on campus, the poster concluded: "Take us seriously, or we'll begin executing one queer a week following this list." The four men and four women soon received threatening e-mail and letters. Miranda Prather, a lesbian teaching assistant whose name topped the list, reported that a masked assailant had slashed her cheek with a kitchen knife. But as part of the ensuing investigation, police examined surveillance footage of a laundromat near where one of the threatening fliers had been posted, which revealed Ms. Prather to be the culprit. Police later found a knife in her apartment that matched the wounds on her cheek. An editorialist at the Amarillo Globe-News wrote, after Prather's hoax had been revealed: "Hatred is polluting with filth. Instilling terror is polluting with filth. Bigotry is polluting with filth.... Few of us are as blatant about it as the Fist of God. Yet hatred and intolerance are there."

At the University of Georgia, uncloseted homosexual resident adviser Jerry Kennedy reported that his door, which had been covered with gay-activist literature, was set on fire. The Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Student Union urged the president of the university to create a hate-crime task force and to obtain a faculty adviser for their group, and wrote chalk messages around the student center reading, "Stop burning down our doors," and "Are you next?" Asked what he thought of the group's response, Kennedy commented, "It makes me feel like I'm doing the right thing, and I appreciate the support." But suspicions grew after his door was set on fire two more times. The student newspaper Red & Black reported that of the fifteen hate crimes reported since 1995, Kennedy had been the target of nine of them. The head of the campus police said, "He's certainly had more [harassment] than anyone else I've known of." Police soon arrested Kennedy, charging him with arson and making false crime reports, and a student suspected of setting one of the fires was exonerated. Still, a faculty member dealing in race discrimination told the Red & Black that she "hoped the Kennedy case would not hinder dialogue about homosexuality."

And at North Carolina's Guilford College, Student Senate president Molly Martin reported being assaulted in her office late one night by an assailant who knocked her unconscious, opened her blouse, and wrote "nigger lover" on her chest. The attack occurred a week after anonymous letters and fliers criticized Ms. Martin for appointing two black students to the Senate and for leading the effort to create a full-time director of African-American affairs position the previous semester. Following the incident, the college pledged to hasten its selection process for that position, as well as inaugurate a series of campus dialogues and curriculum changes to address racial issues. But police could not recreate the incident satisfactorily, noting that Ms. Martin did not show anyone the alleged writing on her chest before she erased it, that she said she cleaned up the damage to her office before reporting the incident to campus security, that she refused medical attention and asked security not to report the incident to police, that she showed no signs of the sort of bruising that would have knocked her unconscious, and that it would be highly unusual for such an assailant to unbutton her blouse rather than simply rip it off or pull it down to write on her chest. Martin later withdrew from the school, sending an open letter to the campus apologizing "for acts that were inappropriate and that were injurious," which referred only to her inability to perform her duties properly as Student Senate president, not to any wrongdoing on her part. The college continued its plans to address the issue by revising its curriculum, hiring more minority faculty, and even founding an institute on race relations.