An Inclusive Litany


Reporting on the growing percentage of gay men who engage in risky sex without condoms ("barebackers"), the San Francisco Chronicle notes a small minority of those men who have even publicized "Russian roulette" parties at which HIV-negative men ("bug chasers") invite HIV-positive men ("givers of the gift") for anonymous sex so that every act carries the possibility of death.

The New York Times reports on the season's Christmas festivities:
The tree itself, Ms. Cassie Ederer said, would be an artificial 30-foot-tall pine covered with condoms in their wrappers, in many different colors. "It will be a tasteful tree," Ms. Ederer said. "It will be the Tree of Life."


Azar Nafisi reports in the New Republic on the halting progress of liberalization in Iran. Twenty years after coming to power, the Islamic Republic has begun to allow Hollywood movies to be shown, but Iranian television's version of Mary Poppins still showed less than 45 minutes of the original film. All scenes featuring women singing or dancing were cut out and instead described by a narrator. In Popeye, all scenes featuring Olive Oyl were cut out because her relationship with Popeye is considered lewd.

A recently published art book featured a discussion of Edgar Degas's Dancers Practicing at the Bar. Under the heading "Spatial Organization," the text focuses on the artist's placement of the ballerinas: "The two major forms are crowded into the upper right quadrant of the painting, leaving the rest of the canvas as open space." But in the accompanying reproduction of the painting, the ballerinas are airbrushed out, leaving only a picture of an empty dancing studio, with a bar running along the wall.

Anthony M. Rizzo Jr. was fired in 1989 from his position as principal of Edison High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, for sexually harassing seven female teachers working with him. He is now receiving a $38,000 state pension, more than three times the normal rate, because his lawyers successfully argued that he had a permanent "psychosexual disorder" that made him unable to work as a principal and thus made him eligible for disability benefits.

Oddly enough, Rizzo refused to seek treatment for his alleged disorder, and continued to deny he had ever harassed anybody even while his lawyers were arguing that this behavior stemmed from his disability. Rizzo's psychiatrist said his denial was all part of his ongoing psychological disorder. Meanwhile, the state is vigorously prosecuting Rizzo for a rape involving a preteen girl, hoping at least to direct some of the pension money towards his alleged victim.


CNN's Larry King in his column in USA Today, February 15, 1999:
What-if department... What if President Clinton announced a cure for cancer developed by the National Institutes of Health? What would critics say? Would Bob Barr want him impeached for failing to tell us the study was going on? Would Rush Limbaugh decry the President taking credit while admitting getting rid of cancer wasn't a bad thing? Would Pat Buchanan insist that no nation other than America be given it? Would The Wall Street Journal worry about its effect on pharmaceutical stock prices? And so it goes....

The city of Birmingham, England, is planning to provide free trapeze lessons to would-be criminals and drug addicts as a means to raise their adrenalin levels and reduce their frustration and excess energy.

Revolutionary War re-enactors are not sure whether they can still celebrate the upcoming 225th-anniversary celebration of the Battle of Lexington because the strict gun-control laws of Massachusetts require their muskets to feature trigger locks, which nobody makes for antique weapons. Some British and Canadian re-enactors say that if they're also required to get temporary gun licenses to enter the state, they'll probably stay home.

Administrators at the Oak Hill Middle School in Newton, Massachusetts, prepared a school display, designed to foster gay pride, that identified Eleanor Roosevelt and William Shakespeare as homosexuals.

An acerbic press release, issued by the editors of The eXile, an English-language biweekly published in Moscow, December 1998:
Recently, the United States announced that it was offering a $600 million "food aid" package. This touched the heartstrings of scores of Muscovites, a few of whom have banded together to follow America's great example—namely, that of sending a country exactly what it doesn't need, making them pay for it, then calling it all "aid."

Several Russian celebrities and leading expatriates have formed "Bandit Aid." Last weekend they gathered to record a charity song for the suffering masses of Washington, D.C., one of the West's poorest, most crime-infested cities. The tune is based on the Band Aid song "Do They Know It's Christmas (Feed the World)." The Bandit Aid version, in contrast, is called "Do They Know It's Christmas (Send Them Crack)."

As everyone knows, crack is just about the last thing Washington needs, just as a $600 million loan is the last thing Russia needs—especially a loan offered on the condition that the money will be used to pay American farmers three times more for grain than what it costs at home, meanwhile leaving the remainder of the profits to a small clique of well-connected Russian distribution companies and their tools in the Russian government, thereby destroying Russia's shaky distribution network.

The Bandit Aid song will premiere next Friday on DJ Alexander Gordon's radio show. All proceeds from the sale of the Bandit Aid recording will in theory go to the "Save America" fund, though in fact any money collected will mysteriously disappear in some brazenly corrupt manner.


Claiming that Valentine's Day is too "patriarchal," radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin are hoping to replace St. Valentine with St. Wilgefortis, a Portuguese princess who, legend has it, grew a beard to make herself repellent to men so that she didn't have to marry against her wishes, leading to her crucifixion.

[Ed.: Dworkin describes Valentine's flowers as "flowers of the grave, delivered to the victim before the kill."]

The Reverend Jerry Falwell became a laughingstock after he identified the "Teletubbies" character named "Tinky Winky" as a homosexual role model who may attract preschoolers to the gay lifestyle. Falwell noted the presence of a purple triangle-shaped antenna on Tinky Winky's head, the same shape and color as the gay pride symbol, and the fact that the boy-voiced character carried a purse. Producers reponded that the gay-pride color is actually pink, and that the "purse" is actually Tinky Winky's magic bag.

The episode prompted the following letter to the Boston Globe, February 17, 1999:

All this discussion over whether Tinky Winky... is gay misses a crucial point in that critics are confusing gender role behavior with sexual orientation.

Tinky Winky, a presumably male character who totes a patent-leather handbag, transcends current social constructions of gender behavior and, therefore, serves as a positive role model for all children.

If there were more characters like Tinky Winky, we would see less ridicule and harassment of young people who behave differently from the expected gender norm while also expanding the behavioral options of people of all sexual and gender identities.

—Warren J. Blumenfeld

The same point was echoed in an article, by University of Massachusetts-Amherst communications professors Lisa Henderson and Justin Lewis, in the "Focus" section of the Boston Sunday Globe, February 21, 1999:

If Falwell's outrage seems comic, it is also a measure of the rigidity of gender roles in the ersatz world of children's toys and TV. Even the generally benign "Sesame Street" gives most of its roles to male characters, with a supporting cast of generally prettified and one-dimensional females.

As extraordinary as it may seem, by giving Tinky Winky a handbag, Teletubbies has crossed one of television's most rigid boundaries....

Whether [Falwell] likes it or not, there are lots of children (and adults) who don't conform to a rigid imposition of gender difference. And these people, kids especially, have precious few opportunities to identify with popular characters.

Kids understand gender play. They try out new things all the time, and perhaps the place of adults is to protect their efforts, not police them....

Defensive responses to Falwell's attacks will no doubt insist that he is mistaken in his reading, and that surely there are more pressing issues to raise on behalf of children. But a kinder response might be to acknowledge that, yes, that's Tinky Winky, and lucky for our children that the Teletubbies' creators have included Tinky Winky's way of being in the world....

[Ed.: Interestingly, Falwell was not the first to 'out' Tinky Winky, since he was apparently relying on existing speculation among many in the gay community, a level of discourse for which he has a tin ear. The degree to which Winky was already considered a gay icon became apparent when the actor who plays Winky was arrested for public nudity, leading the British gay community to rally to save his job. The Washington Post had earlier identified Winky as the "Gay Teletubby" in its annual In/Out list, and backpacks featuring the character have been a notable gay fashion statement in Britain.

Some parents have also denounced the Teletubbies for talking in high voices in an alien language, which they say may encourage baby talk, and for sporting television screens on their bellies, which they say may encourage too much television viewing. Some have become disturbed at the trend among older British children and young adults to throw parties at which they watch the show only after ingesting significant quantities of hallucinogenic drugs.]


Russell Means, founder of the American Indian Movement, longtime activist on issues of Native American sovereignty, and an Oglala Sioux, angered many other Native Americans by arguing, in his trial for assault, that the Navajo Court hearing the case had no legitimate standing. Under a 1991 law, Congress gave Indian tribes the right to prosecute Indians who were members of other tribes. But lawyers for Means argued that since the Supreme Court ruled that Indians can't prosecute non-Indians, to allow his prosecution because he was an Indian discriminated against him because he was not, say, white or black.

The Hartford Courant reported that nearly one in three high school students in the fabulously wealthy town of Greenwich, Connecticut, are now officially designated as disabled. The slum city of Bridgeport, on the other hand, enjoys some of the state's lowest reported disability rates among its students.


Newsday, February 12, 1999:
In an anti-gun lawsuit considered a test case for litigation pending in several other major cities, a Brooklyn federal court jury yesterday found 15 gun manufacturers liable in three of seven shooting incidents because of negligent marketing and distribution of their guns....

The plaintiffs, relatives of people killed in six of the shootings and one survivor who was seriously injured, contended gun manufacturers were collectively liable for the shootings even if it could not be proved which company's gun was used in each incident. Their lawyers told the 11-member jury that because the companies marketed and oversupplied gun dealers in Southern states with lax gun laws, many of the weapons ended up in the hands of criminal traffickers who resell them in places like New York, which has stricter gun laws.


Gray Davis, California's first Democratic governor in sixteen years, promised during his inaugural address to try to subvert the ban on racial preferences that had been approved by voters two years earlier. As an alternative, Davis proposed the University of California automatically admit the top four percent of students from each public high school, no matter what their test scores, grades, or coursework.

San Francisco's superintendent of schools said he'd rather go to jail than obey Proposition 227, which bans most formalized bilingual education in the state's public schools. Los Angeles school officials attempted to cancel reading lessons for about 100,000 students to avoid teaching them in English. But the Los Angeles Times, which opposed 227, found that where it was being implemented, it was working. "Pupils who could barely speak a word of English when school started are acquiring English at a surprising pace."

And following yet another heated battle, the state Board of Education has mandated a return to phonics-based reading instruction. This ostensibly ends the state's long experiment with whole-language instruction, an approach that favors adult-like visual pattern recognition skills over the traditional approach of sounding out a word's component phonemes. Many blame whole-language instruction for recent findings that the state's fourth-graders test at 60 percent below their grade level—second to last in reading skills nationwide. Still, support for whole-language learning remains strong among many educators, while others have had to resort to subterfuge to use phonics, paying for materials out of their own pockets and ignoring officially approved curricula. Governor Davis supports a return to phonics and wants to institute a summer "boot camp" to retrain teachers who have never been taught the system.

The San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle reviews the latest page-turner, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess:
For Dr. Leonard Shlain, brain anatomy is only the introduction to a more significant dichotomy. He believes the split brain is gendered, with language belonging to the masculine, imagery to the feminine. In a dazzling, once-over-lightly tour of world history, he concludes that the adoption of the alphabet is inseparable from male dominance: "When a critical mass of people within a society acquire literacy, especially alphabet literacy, left hemisphere modes of thought are reinforced at the expense of right hemisphere ones, which manifests as a decline in the status of images, women's rights, and goddess worship." And with the decline of the goddess comes the violence against humanity and nature that makes up so much of our history.


The Washington Post, February 6, 1999:
Maria Cobarrubias... has built her general store into a profitable fixture in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross by catering to a growing Hispanic community....

Cobarrubias was stunned to receive a visit recently from the local marshal, who fined her for having a sign with the store's name—Supermercado Jalisco—in Spanish....

Sgt. H. Smith, the Norcross marshal, said he has also issued citations to several Korean churches and an "Oriental beauty shop." Some Spanish words are "acceptable," he said, while others, such as "supermercado," must be changed....

"If an American was out there driving by, he wouldn't know what that was."


The doctrine of comparable worth is staging a comeback. President Clinton announced a $14 million Equal Pay Initiative and called for passage of Senator Tom Daschle's Paycheck Fairness Act. "Today women earn about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns," the president declared, adding that the gap persists because of "the demeaning practice of wage discrimination in our workplaces." Economists regularly cite other variables, such as part-time status and differing career choices in anticipation of parenthood.

The president's plan implicitly recognizes these differing career preferences, calling for Labor Department officials to devise an objective system to compare various factors of jobs to which either men or women gravitate, adjusting salaries accordingly. Under this system, for example, the government could determine that administrative assistants should be paid as much as oil drillers and teachers as much as construction workers. While the guidelines are described as "voluntary," the president has the option to issue an executive order forbidding the federal government from doing business with companies that do not adopt the standards.


America Online disabled its online thesaurus and Merriam Webster issued an apology after a reader discovered an entry containing offensive words describing homosexuality. The entry is no longer to be included in the on-line version, and will be excised from future print editions as well. The same reader later complained that the thesaurus entry for "Christian" lists "pious" and "decorous" as synonyms.

[Ed.: A similar fuss from about a year ago hinged around the question of whether the word "nigger" was, as Merriam-Webster insisted, an improper noun, or whether it repesented a brand new word form: an inflammatory racist epithet, one than can never function legitimately in a sentence as a noun.]

Columnist Anne Lamott ponders a political Zen koan in Salon, December 18, 1998:
It's so confusing. I don't actually know what to think. I'm a Clinton supporter and I'm totally opposed to war. I love to see the consternation on the faces of the Republicans. It was such a brilliant coyote-trickster thing for Bill to do. It's fun to watch the Republicans' suppressed rage because they usually take so much pleasure in things militaristic. I know I don't believe in war; and that if this were a Republican who had behaved the same way Bill Clinton behaved I'd be up in arms. If it were Newt Gingrich or George Bush I'd be really sickened. And if it were George Bush or Newty Gingrich who had had his way with Monica Lewinsky and then gone to war the day before impeachment proceedings, I would take to the streets.

Saddam is heinous, like Richard Allen Davis, who killed Polly Klaas. You basically think they should be issued suicide tablets and coerced into taking them, although you don't actually support capital punishment. I feel the same way about Saddam as I do toward Davis. You don't get to sanction their murder, you don't get to take them out, but I tell you—the more I read about what UNSCOM knows about Iraq, then I really do think, Bomb! Bomb! Bomb! though at heart I'm really opposed to war. I find it all as confusing as s**t.