An Inclusive Litany


Reuters reports on the latest polling techniques:
At a world population conference in Beijing... an academic from Ghana presented research on family planning based on interviews with the dead.

Using soothsayers, Philip Adongo asked village ancestors for advice on the ideal size of a family in a tribal area of the west African nation. "If I only heard from the living, I wouldn't get a very good balance," he explained. "This study has been the first to be conducted of respondents who are deceased."

The study concluded that small families worked better in a modern society.

An Associated Press dispatch from Washington, D.C., July 28, 1998:
A senior lawmaker has introduced legislation requiring the Treasury Department to put the Statue of Liberty on the new dollar coin instead of Indian guide Sacajewea. It's not that he finds Sacajewea "objectionable in any way," Representative Michael Castle, Republican of Delaware, chairman of the House Banking monetary subcommittee, said. Rather, he wrote, "the Statue of Liberty would be a far, far better choice" than the 17-year-old Shoshone girl who led the explorers to the Pacific Ocean nearly two centuries ago.
Note that nobody has the foggiest idea what the young woman looked like. The National Organization for Women originally announced their opposition to any change because it would dislodge the honor already awarded to a specific woman leader, Susan B. Anthony (an early and vocal abortion opponent, by the way), in favor of an "Abstract 'Liberty.' " (The unpopular Susan B. Anthony coin, like the Jefferson two dollar bill, is almost impossible to find in circulation.) Later, the Washington Feminist Faxnet attacked the Sacajewea plan because it would depict the young Indian woman with a baby on her back. She was, in fact, six months pregnant when the journey began. "WFF has nothing against kids," the group cautioned, "but a strong woman with a place in history that has nothing to do with motherhood should be shown as an individual. We don't see coins with George Washington or Abraham Lincoln stressing their role as fathers." A General Accounting Office survey later found that Americans would prefer the Statue of Liberty to Sacajewea on the dollar coin by a margin of 65 to 27 percent, but the Treasury Department said it would go ahead with the plan anyway.

[Ed.: I saw a handful of the coins after they were released, but none thereafter.]

Letter to the editor, the Boston Globe, July 28, 1998:
First comes Viagra for men, then for women ("At BU, a fresh look at Viagra—for women," Metro, July 12). Does this mean more unwanted pregnancies, more unwanted children?

As long as we are unwilling or unable to take proper care of existing children, what the world need [sic] is greater availability to [sic] contraceptives, rather than drugs like Viagra.

When will this madness end?

—NeGarre H. Moore


The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that the National Flood Insurance Program paid more than $200,000 in repairs on a house purchased for $30,000 seven years ago, but that has been flooded 15 times since.

And a GAO review of 479 crop-insurance claims made by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to drought-stricken Texas in 1997 found that 351 were questionable, resulting in $6 million in overpayments to farmers.

A study by the National Wildlife Federation found that between 1978 and 1995, properties that had at least two $1,000 flood losses in any ten-year period represented only 2 percent of insured homes, but claimed over 40 percent of the payments. Over 5,500 property owners collected more than the total value of their houses, with one Texan collecting $807,000 on a house worth $114,000 in 16 claims that were spread over 18 years.

A Pittsburgh Sunoco station owner received a letter from an attorney maintaining that a murder that occurred in his lot was caused by "your failure in not having proper security when the station was known to be located in a crime-ridden neighborhood with known street violence and drug dealing taking place." The gas station was right across the street from Pittsburgh's Zone One police station.


A federal appeals court cleared the way for a lawsuit under Hawaii state disabled-rights law against Aloha Islandair, a passenger airline that declined to hire a pilot with vision in only one eye. In its opinion, the appellate court observed that it expected the complainant to win when he got back into state court, because the Federal Aviation Administration has not explicitly banned persons with monocular vision from flying airplanes. So long as it hasn't, the court suggested, airlines aren't allowed to make such requirements on their own.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission relaxed its standards on children's cotton pajamas, allowing snug-fitting cotton underwear to be sold legally as sleepwear. The CPSC concluded that many parents had been rejecting flame-resistant polyester sleepwear altogether in favor of billowy cotton daywear, which offers more comfort but is relatively flammable. (Scientists had also found that one of the flame-retardant chemicals used in synthetic sleepwear was a potential cancer cause.) In response to criticism from consumer groups, the agency said burn injuries almost never involve pajama tightness. Some industry critics complain that the new standard calls for pajamas that are uncomfortably tight.

After a man was condemned to death for murdering a child in Swaziland, the nation's Justice Minister, motivated by equal opportunity concerns, announced a job vacancy as the nation's official "hangperson."


California moved to legalize Caesar salad after having banned it because it uses raw eggs as an ingredient in the dressing.

On a cross-country tour to promote her book Hystories, Princeton English professor Elaine Showalter was repeatedly heckled and even received death threats. Her book argues that several contemporary phenomena—chronic fatigue syndrome, Gulf War syndrome, recovered memory, multiple personality disorder, satanic ritual abuse, and alien abduction—are hysterical epidemics with psychological rather than physical causes. Showalter reports in the London Review of Books that the sustained, coordinated effort to disrupt her book tour nationwide, as well as the death threats, came mostly from people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

England's Edge Hill University College plans to hold a conference called "RePulsions" that will focus on "configurations of the abject," which includes "dismemberment, contemporary pulp magazines, smut, 'yuk' journalism, rupture/rapture, consumption/expulsion, profanity, sub/versions, spillage, corpse(d), ejaculation, incorporation/annihilation, fecal matters, bleeding, anality, viscera, surveillance/control, waste/disposal, and the milk of amnesia."

The General Accounting Office concluded that there is no way the Air Force could possibly use all the C-130 cargo planes Congress was supplying it with, and that many fully functioning planes would have to be retired from service just to make room for more. Lockheed makes the planes in House Speaker Newt Gingrich's (R-GA) district and sends them to such places as an Air Guard unit in Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's (R-MS) district.


A Michigan state senator has proposed putting warning stickers on tickets to concerts by artists who sell albums that have stickers on them.

The Boston Globe remembers one of the pivotal events of the Cold War, April 21, 1998:
But what else were we doing? The Berlin Airlift was a far more ambiguous event than we allowed ourselves to believe. If we were feeding people, we were also erecting the structure of a deadly Cold War competition. Stalin's complaint was that the British and Americans were resurrecting the German economy and nation less out of humanitarian motives than to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.... The Berlin Airlift ended all chance for East-West compromise.

A federal judge ruled that New Jersey's law preventing convicted sex offenders from receiving pornography in prison violated their First Amendment rights. Perhaps prison guards exposed to the explicit material should claim sexual harassment instead.


Iowa's attorney general started an investigation of companies that sell cigarette-shaped candy to children, under the theory that these candy consumers would be more likely to go on to smoke cigarettes. American Academy of Pediatrics president Joseph Zanga commented, "Candy cigarettes desensitize children to the harm of the real thing." The candy industry already successfully fought a 1990 congressional bill that would have banned candy cigarettes nationwide.


Actress Julie Christie apologized for wearing a Badgley Mischka gown to this year's Academy Awards ceremony because, inspired by her performance in "Dr. Zhivago," the design team uses fur in other dresses. "I should have made a more thorough investigation before I chose my Oscar dress," Christie wrote in her signed confession. "I had already ruled out Valentino, Dolce & Gabban and Max Mara because, looking at their clothes, I had been absolutely shocked to note that, suddenly, real fur was featured in their collections."

Under a new Washington state law (SB 6161) that specifies no penalties for failure to comply, the material released from the rear end of a cow is henceforth to be referred to as "daily nutrients" rather than "manure."

From a resolution put before members of the Modern Language Association, an academic group founded in 1883 to promote "the study and teaching of language and literature." For a resolution to be put to a full vote—usually between 5,000 and 10,000 ballots cast—a member must gather between 10 and 25 signatures from other members, depending on the time of year.
Whereas, despite a falling crime rate, a racially structured system of forced labor is developing in the U.S. prison system; inmates perform 'outsourced' work often at less than the minimum wage; impoverished white working-class rural areas become economically dependent on the incarcerations of largely African American, Latino, and Native American populations; and this development is justified by a rhetoric of 'getting tough on crime,' although in reality it reveals that the capitalist system cannot provide full employment at a living wage and that it promotes a politics of divide and conquer.... Whereas a recent Rand study shows that more money will soon be spent nationally on prisons than on education, and the New York Times (28 Sep. 1997) reports that in California almost the exact amount of funding lost to higher education (1990-97) has been expended on prisons; and... workfare has driven thousands of students—disproportionately students of color and single parents—out of bachelor's degree programs and into dead-ended, poorly compensated employment; and Whereas standardized tests contribute to racial segregation by frequently tracking low-income students, disproportionately of color, into vocational programs and community colleges and higher income students, predominantly white, into 'flagship' campuses; Be it resolved that the MLA urge its members to (1) speak out against the diversion of public funds from education to prisons and expose the failures of the current socioeconomic system, rather than rampant 'criminality,' as the reason for the trend toward mass incarceration; (2) support affirmative action, urge limited use of standardized tests as admissions criteria, and support the continuation of developmental programs; (3) call for government-supported programs guaranteeing that no student be forced out of college to perform workfare.

A Reuters dispatch from London, July 15, 1998:
A British impersonator could manage only a pale imitation of his hero Al Jolson after a local council ruled his black face paint was politically incorrect.

But the audience at a theater in Hull, northern England, decided otherwise. Their protests stopped the show until 64-year-old Clive Baldwin agreed to break the rules and "black-up" for his rendition of Jolson's hit song "Mammy."

"I regard myself as the world's greatest minstrel with the living voice of Al Jolson," Baldwin told reporters.


A California woman sued her neighbor and her condominium's homeowners' association, claiming not only that her neighbor's smoking bothered her, but that secondhand smoke caused her dog to die of bronchitis.

In a joint effort with state governments financed at 65 percent by the federal government, the Army Corps of Engineers has been replenishing eroded beach sand along the nation's coastlines. A Monmouth, New Jersey, replenishment project is projected to cost $1 billion, and $500 million will go to repair the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland, over the next fifty years and presumably then on into perpetuity.

Ocean City Public Works Director George Savastano, whose city has used $30 million to replenish beaches over the last six years, justifies the cost by noting that over 200 million tourists visit these beaches each year, adding that the effort has saved millions in federal disaster relief by protecting oceanfront properties. Environmentalists protest the practice out of concern for the unknown effects of human intervention in the natural relocation of beach sand through constantly shifting ocean currents.

In what appears to be a Tony Blair-like attempt to please various constituencies, designers of Britain's Millennium Dome who couldn't decide whether the huge central figure they included was to be a sculpture of a man or a woman instead decided to make the figure into a Siamese twin-like hermaphrodite.

[Ed.: Nothing with the word "millennium" on it worked in London on January 1, 2000. A specially constructed bridge spanning the Thames was judged unsound, as was the world's largest ferris wheel. A synchronized fireworks display that was supposed to dramatically sweep up the river fizzled. The Millennium Dome itself had less than half its projected visitors. What's worse, few noticed that the actual start of the new millennium came a year later, at the start of 2001.]

As part of the Clinton administration's reinventing government initiative, Vice President Al Gore has issued a new "plain language" requirement calling for government documents to be written so as to be "more responsive, accessible and understandable." The new standard will require a massive rewrite of the existing body of federal regulations, and may also require drawing up a detailed specification for "plain language." The government may also lose many talented workers ordinarily accustomed to following their tenure after a few years with lucrative consultancies to help private firms interpret the sort of arcane language they authored.

Gore is, of course, the same plain language advocate whose tortuous obfuscations of questions concerning his fundraising practices are legendary, and who once explained the administration's withdrawal of Lani Guinier's nomination to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division thus: "The theories—the ideas she expressed about the equality of results within legislative bodies and with—by outcome, by decisions made by legislative bodies, ideas related to proportional voting as a general remedy, not in particular cases where the circumstances make that a feasible idea...." But to be fair, Gore was probably still coming up to speed on the subject, since it seemed clear that nobody in the administration had read her work in the first place.


After a CNN report alleging use of nerve gas by American troops during the Vietnam War was found to be false, Ted Turner did more than simply apologize. "If committing mass suicide would help, I've even given that some consideration. Nothing has upset me more probably in my whole life.... I'll take my shirt off and beat myself bloody on the back" with a whip if it would do any good, he said, adding, "I couldn't hurt any more if I was bleeding."


New Jersey's Asbury Park Press, July 8, 1998:
Last night, about 25 residents came to the Borough Council meeting to voice opposition over the planned installation of radio antennas on top of some of the borough's water towers.

Carrying a petition signed by residents who had concerns about the installation, Joan Atkins told the council that potential health risks, such as cancer, could come from electromagnetic waves that have been reported to be emitted from radio antennas. She added that the same perceived health risks could also result in decreased property values.

"I'm hoping that the council will listen to residents now before making a decision," Atkins said. "A lot of residents don't want it and I would hope that you would consider that in itself."

Borough Attorney Jerry Dasti said the electromagnetic waves that are sent from transmitting antennas would not be emitted from the proposed antennas because they would only receive signals.


A Georgia state lawmaker has proposed a measure to require grocery stores to supply baggers with "a device designed to wet the fingers" so they don't have to lick their fingers to separate the bags.

Seventeen years after the Reagan administration caused an uproar by attempting to declare ketchup a vegetable for the purposes of the federal school-lunch program, the Clinton administration defined salsa as a vegetable.

From a March 10 letter by The Amazing Kreskin, the "world's foremost mentalist," to Attorney General Janet Reno:
Dear Attorney General Reno:

I have followed Kenneth Starr's inquiry very closely, and I believe that it has gotten far out of control. Therefore, I would like to formally offer my services as a mentalist. My fifty years of experience as a mentalist have allowed me to develop my abilities to perceive not only the feelings of those around me but their thoughts as well. More important, I have an innate ability to determine whether someone is telling the truth. I propose to save the government millions of dollars by meeting with those involved with the Whitewater investigation and telling you who is telling the truth and who is lying, including Prosecutor Starr himself.

Of course, I understand that the thoughts of the President are a matter of national security, and I assure you that any thoughts detected that go beyond the matter at hand will be kept secret.

As an entertainer I am the highest-paid mentalist in the world, but as an American my services could be retained for $1. If you simply contact my office, I will report to Washington for service and we can end this debacle before we spend another $30 million.

ESPecially yours,
The Amazing Kreskin

Vice President Al Gore cited new studies reporting high temperatures in the first five months of 1998 as "a reminder once again that global warming is real, and that unless we act, we can expect more extreme weather in the years ahead." But most climatologists attribute the record highs to the Pacific Ocean warming by El Niño, not to warmer weather on land. Gore responds that global warming is "making the effects of El Niño worse," but the May 28 issue of Nature noted that the El Niños of 1396, 1685-88, 1789-93, and 1877-79 "had effects at least as intense and wide-ranging as those associated with the current event. Meanwhile, scientists are warning of a secondary weather pattern called "La Niña" that may result in unseasonably cool Pacific Ocean currents for a little while.

[Ed.: Gore also made a statement that spring 1998 set a record for 122 tornado fatalities. The actual record was set in 1925, at 695 fatalities.]


Norway's government has instituted quotas to increase representation of men in jobs traditionally held by women, such as child care, early education, and child welfare. This amends Norway's existing policy of boosting representation of women in traditionally male-dominated fields.

The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has urged the Educational Testing Service (ETS) and the College Board to change the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) so that girls' scores would improve. PSAT results are used to determine the finalists for the National Merit Scholarships, which are drawn from the first percentile of high scorers. Since only 44 percent of the scholarships were awarded to girls, the OCR argued that adding a writing section to accompany the math and verbal sections would give girls a chance to even up the scores in an area in which they are known to do better than boys.

The ETS and College Board are complying with OCR's wishes, despite an ETS study suggesting that only a random drawing would assure the desired results. The "ETS Gender Study" documented that while the average performance of girls and boys is quite similar, there is greater variance in the scores of boys. There are 5 boys for every 4 girls in the top 10 percent of scorers, and the effect becomes more pronounced at the top and bottom of the scale. With more extreme high and low scores among boys, drawing from the top 1 percent of all scores would always select a greater number of high-scoring boys.

Yoon Park, student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, writes in the Colorado Daily, April 16, 1998:
Again I will say that most things in life are political. Even the most inconspicuous act holds some political undertone. And speaking of under, let me tell you that buying underwear is a political act! I was buying underwear the other day, and I had a moral dilemma. Checking the tags, I compared the locations where the different companies made their products. OK, I thought, do I exploit the workers in Honduras or the workers in Taiwan? I would've bought undies made in the U.S.A. if I found some, but not for national pride. I'd buy "made in the U.S.A." because at least I'd be keeping the exploitation within bounds where I can take more direct action against it.

So there's the rub. I ended up picking the "evil of two lessers," as Michael Moore put it when he came to campus last month for a special preview of his latest documentary, "The Big One." I ended up picking the non-pink underwear and went home feeling crappy.

Choices like that come up daily, whether we're aware of them or not. It can get overwhelming when there's news about a different corporation that you should boycott being circulated almost every day. I find myself having to take inventory on my closet, cupboard, and medicine cabinet every couple of months to see what I shouldn't buy anymore. It gets frustrating, even for someone who doesn't own that much stuff to begin with.

In a move that surprised and angered many state governors, the Department of Health and Human Services directed states to cover the wildly popular impotence drug Viagra under their Medicaid programs, which pay medical expenses for the poor and elderly. State officials noted that the order would put states in the untenable position of covering Viagra for men while virtually none of them cover birth control or infertility treatments for women, that the drug's adverse health effects were still unknown, and that it may result in a black market for subsidized pills. Critics predict the new policy will add $100 million to $200 million nationwide to states' Medicaid expenses.

[Ed.: The spokesperson at the Food and Drug Administration who fields inquiries about Viagra is named Janet Woodcock.]


A United Nations summit on human rights is set to hear testimony describing Idaho's workfare policy as an international human rights violation. Idaho requires welfare recipients to spend 20 hours a week working or looking for work, and sets a lifetime two-year cap on cash benefits for most recipients. The Kensington Welfare Rights Union, which is paying to send two Idaho mothers to the New York summit to complain of their welfare status, says Idaho's aggressive welfare reform is a violation of Articles 23, 25 and 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1948.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports on Utah's strange gangsta scene, April 29, 1998:
Two college students who were smoking cigarettes on a Salt Lake City street Saturday were confronted by a gang of twenty bleach-haired teenagers wielding chains, bricks, and a giant spray can of pepper gas. A violent gang called Straight Edge is being blamed for the brawl that took place in front of The Pie restaurant, which put one University of Utah student in the hospital after he was beaten on the head with a baseball bat.

The fists started flying at about 1:15 A.M., when some members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity were leaving The Pie after a night of drinking beer.

A pair of Straight Edgers reportedly confronted two fraternity members and told them to put out their cigarettes. After an exchange of words, a gang member purportedly threw a large metal bolt at the fraternity members.

Witnesses said the Straight Edgers went back to their cars as if to leave, but came running back with bats, chains, a hatchet, and other fearsome weaponry in their hands.

Straight Edgers blend the punk-rock style of the early 1980s with militant health standards. They do not drink, smoke, or take drugs, and some are known to enforce their moral standards on strangers by beating them severely. Some vegetarian members of the group have been responsible for firebombing leather stores, vandalizing egg trucks, and torching a West Jordan McDonald's restaurant, said Sergeant Chuck Gilbert of the Salt Lake City Police Department's gang unit.

It is not uncommon behavior for them to cruise around looking for cigarette smokers or beer drinkers to harass, he added. "They'll get four or five of them in a car to look for someone smoking cigarettes and then they'll beat the tar out of them."

Last year, a gravel pit in Kearns was the site of two mass battles between Straight Edgers and a rival group who, in open defiance of the Straight Edge ethos, called themselves "Smoke More Pot."