An Inclusive Litany


Rodney King has been arrested yet again, this time for spousal battery, child abuse, and vandalism.

In a New Yorker article that was long enough to tell the story of wheat, John Lahr focused on legendary director Ingmar Bergman's "lifelong struggle to fend off the ghosts of his past,"—his ability to take "dark feelings" and "call them out into the open" in the richly autobiographical films for which he is renowned. Lahr examined Bergman's somewhat eccentric personality, his often chilly family relations, and his womanizing.

Yet nowhere did Lahr mention another ghost from the past that Bergman recounted in his 1994 autobiography: that along with many among his family and friends, and until his mid-thirties, Bergman was a fervent Nazi sympathizer. Visiting Germany before the war, he admitted participating enthusiastically in Nazi rallies. After the war ended, he came to believe, "like so many others" in neutral Sweden, that the Holocaust was an Allied propaganda device. Even well into the 1950s, Bergman entertained the idea that Hitler and Churchill were at least morally equivalent. Somehow, all that did not rate.

[Ed.: How Woody Allen manages to idolize the guy deserves its own probing psychological inquiry.]

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights circulated draft guidelines penalizing universities that use SAT scores, on which blacks and Hispanics do not score as well, as a leading criterion when making admissions decisions. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which broke the story, "the guidelines would establish a high burden of proof for institutions to show that [SAT-weighted] policies do not violate anti-bias laws." Panicked administrators were initially told they had only four working days to comply with the new requirements.

Letter to the editor, the Boston Globe, May 31, 1999:
As a Swedish US resident, I have to respond to the May 23 editorial, "Dead man talking." The reference about a "Swedish guy with a cold" and a computer's dead voice readout of weather data is nothing but xenophobic slander. Your office should have known this is illegal and costly.

I find this editorial has brought harm to my professional effort here. It is therefore my intention to pursue this case of discriminatory print with all the legal means available. The sought correction will encompass the Globe's apology not only to Swedes, but to anyone honoring English with a foreign accent.

As my work has been damaged, I will also seek punitive damages from the Globe, unless the newspaper provides a prompt and adequate response to the situation.

—Carl Hugo Olsson
Chestnut Hill


With management's approval, Cosimo Cavallaro created a work of installation art at New York's Washington Jefferson Hotel in which he covered one of their rooms with 1,000 pounds of melted cheese. The artist says he started covering objects with melted cheese as a way to work through unresolved emotional issues with his sometimes too-tough father. After one day covering his father's old armchair, which he had otherwise thought of reupholstering, with cheese, Cavallaro felt liberated. "It was a childish act. I was allowing myself to dirty this chair," Cavallaro says. "I guess I finally stood up to him."


Two students at Duke University were physically accosted and received anonymous violent threats—including death threats—after they wrote letters to the campus newspaper opposing a major in Hindi. The two noted that only two Duke students were even minoring in the subject.

One of the interior monologues that is occasionally printed in the Village Voice, March 17-23, 1999:
To many progs, the impeachment seemed like a clear and present danger—"a peaceful attempt to assassinate the president," in Steinem's words. Though [Christopher] Hitchens dismisses the idea that the campaign against Clinton was an attempted coup, it certainly seemed to many activists that his removal from office would have ushered in a period of right-wing dominance. Even a hardcore radical like Mary Lou Greenberg, who is also a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, felt compelled to defend a president who declared that "the age of big government is over." She took her cues from "the errors of the Communist forces in Weimar Germany. One error was not taking fascism seriously, and another was not uniting with a segment of the ruling class to defeat these fascist forces."

Protesting a cartoon in a student newspaper making fun of Ohio State's women's-studies program, campus feminists attempted, unsuccessfully, to burn their by now flame-resistant bras. Settling for the next best thing, they did manage to steal 15,000 of the offending papers and persuaded the university to have the paper's cartoonist fired.

And in Ottawa, ten American demonstrators protesting a Supreme Court ruling favorable to gays had to ask a police officer how to burn the Canadian flag without setting themselves on fire. The officer obliged, citing safety concerns in response to subsequent criticism.

After the University of California at Berkeley announced budget cuts to its ethnic-studies department, over 100 students occupied a building, leading to a ten-hour standoff with campus police, broken windows, and 46 arrests. When the university offered a compromise proposal, six students declared a hunger strike, and 83 more were arrested after eight days of demonstrations. Berkeley responded by promising eight full-time professorships in the field, a "multicultural student center," $100,000 for a race-and-gender-studies center, and an "ethnic-studies mural."

The student government at the University of Wisconsin at Madison passed a bill allowing student fees to be used to bail out student protesters jailed for radical activism and civil disobedience. Radicals arguing in favor of the measure spoke of how "cool" it would be to have thousands of dollars to "play with" in case of arrest.

[Ed.: Under a proposal by two Yale law professors, the federal government would give every 18-year-old high school graduate $80,000.]

In Beverly Hills, California, a proposed municipal law would mandate the following warning label on fur coats: "This product is made with fur from animals that may have been killed by electrocution, gassing, neck-breaking, poisoning, clubbing, stomping [or] drowning, and may have been trapped in steel leg-hold traps."

A report by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General found many questionable expenses in the department's $9 billion Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which is alleged to have put 100,000 police officers on America's streets. Of the 150 audited localities receiving COPS grants, over half charged unallowable costs to the program such as overtime, police uniforms, and fringe benefits not approved in advance. 78 percent who had earmarked grants to divert deskbound officers to street duty could not demonstrate that they had done so and failed to track the information. 41 percent of grant recipients "showed indicators" that they had used federal funds to supplant local funds, sometimes paying the salaries of officers already on board, and other times not meeting the program's matching-funds requirements. 58 percent of grantees "either did not develop a good-faith plan to retain officer positions or said they would not retain the positions at the conclusion of the grants."

In Talladega, Alabama, auditors found that the department had not hired any of the six officers funded with a $334,000 grant. The police department of Youngstown, Ohio, instituted a hiring freeze shortly after receiving $2.1 million to hire 28 officers. And auditors arrived in Breckenridge, Missouri, to find a bankrupt town operating without a budget, its city council and police department having disbanded shortly after receiving a grant.

The program even faces problems over the definition of what constitutes a "cop." In 1996, Investor's Business Daily reported that COPS grants were going to state parks, nature sanctuaries, and other places not associated with violent crime. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection received a $3.5 million grant to hire 30 marine-patrol officers to monitor a national marine sanctuary. In Tennessee, the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department received over $280,000 to hire five park rangers. Maryland's National Resources Police received grants totaling $1 million to hire 19 park rangers. In fact, all that is required to qualify as a law enforcement official under the program is some sort of formal academy training, as defined loosely by each locality.

[Ed.: Bicycle-mounted Washington Metropolitan police officers are equipped under the COPS program with Smith and Wesson bicycles that cost $1,170 each.]

In Hudson, Ohio, a teacher asked each student in her third-grade class at McDowell Elementary to write fortune-cookie fortunes, to be later drawn from randomly. Karl Bauman, a 9-year-old Tae Kwan Do purple belt and martial arts enthusiast, submitted what he thought was a dignified fortune: "You will die with honor." When a classmate drew the fortune from the pile, she burst into tears. Bauman was suspended for "writing a note threatening in nature."

Other Columbine-inspired overreactions include a Pennsylvania 14-year-old who was strip-searched and suspended for two weeks after she told her classmates she could understand how the Columbine shooters felt. In Virginia, a 9-year-old boy was suspended for waving his drawing of a gun in class, and a high school student was suspended for having blue hair. South Carolina high school students were questioned by police who wanted to know if a chemistry textbook was for making bombs.


In Orlando, Florida, relatives of an Irish woman who was killed in an automobile accident that was caused by her drunken boyfriend filed a lawsuit against the company that rented them the car. The lawsuit alleged the company was negligent because it "either knew or should have known about the unique cultural and ethnic customs existing in Ireland, which involve the regular consumption of alcohol at pubs as a major component to Irish social life."

The family's lawyer, John Stemberger, later said he planned to file an amended lawsuit that retracted this line of argument, focusing instead on the different driving conditions in Ireland and the United States—presumably including which side of the road is proper.


Quebec announced it will join Ontario in sending cancer patients to the United States for radiation treatment they cannot obtain in their home provinces. Each province has a waiting list of over 1,200 cancer patients.

Great Britain's prestigious National Poetry Competition prize, an annual £5,000 award for anonymous submissions of unpublished poems, went this year to "Horse under water," a poem in Jamaican dialect about using a dead horse as bait to fish for sharks:
hundreds of teeth iiiiiichin to bite me dead
an i liff de knife but it move slow
for everything cep dis killer move slow in the water
but fear drive my hand
an i slash him in de stomach
The three judges must have assumed they had discovered a fresh new voice from Britain's Caribbean community, perhaps another Linton Kwesi Johnson, but the person who turned up to claim the prize was a 62-year-old white woman named Caroline Carver, who said she began writing poetry as a hobby five years ago. The Plymouth Western Morning News described the crowd as "shocked." "I don't think they expected a white woman," Carver said. "However, everyone was far too polite to say so."

The same fascinating questions of authorship arose a few years ago, when an Australian novel focusing on aboriginal life turned out to have been written by a white woman, and when a British author pretended to be Irish to increase his chance of getting published as part of that trend. But perhaps the most memorable such hoax was The Education of Little Tree, an academically acclaimed memoir of a Native American orphan who grew up to confront immense racism and other obstacles. But as the New York Times uncovered in 1991, the real author was Asa Carter, who was not only a white man but a notorious racist Ku Klux Klan member who had penned George Wallace's infamous "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" speech and indeed had considered Wallace to be too liberal. Carter's fellow-segregationist brother, Doug, said Asa wrote Little Tree as form of "creative writing." Although Doug Carter said his brother maintained his racist beliefs to his deathbed, the University of New Mexico Press, which published the book, stood by its veracity. Lawrence Clayton, dean at Hardin-Simmons University, refused to accept that a racist was the author: "Carter created a fictitious life for himself and lived it. In years here, he became Little Tree. I think he just turned his back on his earlier life." Rennard Strickland of Southern Illinois University said Asa Carter's real identity is "a matter that doesn't concern or disturb me very much. The book seems to me to ring very true."


After Jesse Jackson announced that he would come to Silicon Valley as part of a crusade to combat the "digital divide" that caused black professionals to be shut out of high-tech jobs, T.J. Rodgers, outspoken CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, challenged Jackson to provide résumés of any of the qualified people who were being ignored. "With 115 open positions, we could use them. We hire 500 people per year and still never fully meet our needs—just like most other Silicon Valley companies," Rodgers wrote in the San Jose Mercury News.

Rodgers noted that in 1995, African-Americans accounted for only 1.2 percent of doctorates in engineering and computer science, while garnering 12 times more medical degrees and eight times as many education doctorates, a trend that he said had nothing to do with Silicon Valley. All this was too much for John Templeton, spokesman for one of the groups sponsoring Jackson's visit. "We can now officially describe Cypress Semiconductor as a white supremacist hate group," he announced in a press release.

Responding to criticism over the use of Canadian government funds to produce a pornographic movie, a "feminist sex fantasy" titled "Bubbles Galore," the Montréal Gazette editorialized: "The bitter debate over whether pornography is an expression of free speech or an incitement to violence against women rarely involves the actors. The star of Bubbles, Nina Hartley, a veteran of more than 450 XXX-rated films, refutes the patronizing notion that she is a victim of exploitation or coercion." On the contrary, "[t]he female stars in porn movies are in control of their sexuality. They are not punished for having sex, unlike the female characters in the more mainstream porn flicks such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."


In Pleasanton, California, an act of civil disobedience recalling the spirit of Gandhi, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, as reported in the Portland Oregonian:
City Council members who want Neil and Pat Nelson to paint their unfinished home a darker shade voted 3-2 to give the Nelsons an ultimatum: Paint your home a darker shade or we won't let you move in. The Nelsons are defying the council and have occupied the home without a permit. The city is considering how to get them out of the house.

The United States Army has recognized white witchcraft as a religion and has appointed chaplains to oversee pagan ceremonies on at least five bases. A Pentagon spokesman said that there were believed to be at least 100 witches attending covens at Fort Hood, Texas, the army's largest base with more than 42,000 troops. The Army provided extra security at Fort Hood's Boy Scout camp, where covens are held, to deter members of Christian groups from intimidating the group. Wiccans are accorded the same privileges as practitioners of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and are encouraged to have their religious preference stamped on the metal dog-tags each soldier wears. The Pentagon says it has received several requests for a posting to Fort Hood because it has such a large pagan congregation.

[Ed.: Much Wiccan ritual dates back to 1950s Britain, when retired civil servant Gerald Gardner thought them up, but the "religion" features an ill-defined set of practices. Interestingly, Wiccans refer to old European witch manias as the "burning times," even though it is commonly understood that most of those victimized were not witches at all, hence the dismissive term "witch hunt."]


In the wake of the massacre at Columbine High School, Peter Montague has this to say in Rachel's Environment & Health Weekly, which he publishes:
Because of recent violence in small cities and towns, this is a time when Americans are searching for the causes of violence in their society. No one seems to be asking whether pesticides, fertilizers and toxic metals are affecting our young people's mental capacity, emotional balance, and social adjustment.

John Pilley, an inmate at Gartree prison in Leicestershire who is serving a life sentence for kidnapping, is about to become Great Britain's first male prisoner to undergo a sex change operation, after which he will be transferred to a women's prison. The $19,000 procedure is being paid for by the government.

And following the release of a convicted rapist from prison, the British government recommended supplying the thirty-something ex-con with Viagra to treat the depression he has since suffered. Doctors treating him at a south London hospital said his main problem was the lack of a girlfriend.

The National Research Council released a report concluding that the gasoline additive methyl tertiery-butyl ether (MTBE) has insignificant environmental benefits in curbing smog.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which commissioned the study, has since the early 1990s mandated addition of the chemical to gasoline sold in downstate New York and eight other metropolitan areas, based on the presumption that it would make gasoline burn more completely. As it turns out, cars are now made with sensors that adjust the oxygen percentage anyway, so the additive only works on cars sold before 1986 or those with broken sensors.

The chemical has increasingly been leaking out of storage tanks and into Long Island's underground drinking water supply, where it is much more difficult to clean up than conventional gasoline. It cost two homeowners $50,000 to clean up a couple of wells that had been polluted with a few gallons of MTBE-tainted gasoline. Locals there are now calling for a ban on the additive.

California's Lawrence Livermore Laboratory found that thousands of the state's shallow monitoring sites had been contaminated. In Glennville, California, MTBE was discovered in a dozen wells serving four businesses and three houses. Residents of one of those homes suffered from various health problems, and saw the value of their home drop from $81,000 to $28,000.

Aside from its environmental drawbacks, MTBE also smells bad, causing nausea, headaches, rashes, diarrhea, and other symptoms in people after refueling their cars. North Carolina's state health department launched a campaign urging drivers to pull over if they became dizzy or faint after pumping gas. Three months after the EPA's mandate was enacted, the State of Alaska disobeyed the mandate and banned MTBE altogether.


The Australian journal Philosophy and Literature announced the winners of its Fourth Annual Bad Writing Contest. Berkeley literature professor Judith Butler took first prize for penning the following sentence in a serious academic journal:
The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and a marked shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural tonalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.
As bad as that is, it's a wonder it beat out the following runner-up from a book by D.G. Leahy that was published by the State University of New York Press:
Total presence breaks on the univocal predication of the exterior absolute the absolute existent (of that of which it is not possible to univocally predicate an outside, while the equivocal predication of the outside of the absolute exterior is possible of that of which the reality so predicated is not the reality, viz., of the dark/of the self, the identity of which is not outside the absolute identity of the outside, which is to say that the equivocal predication of identity is possible of the self-identity which is not identity, while identity is univocally predicated of the limit to the darkness, of the limit of the reality of the self).
Admittedly, that sentence does not include the obligatory word "hegemony."

The Interior Department released a cartoon featuring a frog mascot who exhorts citizens to join "Frog Force." The cartoon was produced as part of the inter-agency Task Force on Amphibian Declines and Deformities, which is devoted to solving the scientific mystery concerning frog mutations. In 1995, a Minnesota school field trip discovered that an unusual number of local frogs were deformed. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spent millions investigating the issue, and concluded in 1997 that local well water was the culprit, but later admitted it was mistaken after frightening local residents into drinking bottled water.

Since then, scientists have offered speculative theories blaming both pesticides and ultraviolet radiation from ozone thinning (the latter despite a lack of increase in observed UV rates). Most recently, scientists identified a fungus called chytrid as a possible culprit, which they may have been inadvertently spreading by not washing their boots after stepping from one infected area to the next. Another theory blames a parasitic flatworm, which may cause a cyst in tadpoles that cause them to grow multiple hind legs. (The U.S. News & World Report later speculated that pesticide use could possibly be making the parasites more abundant.)


In a decision that was soon reversed following protests, Dartmouth College forbade a campus evangelical group from distributing to students one thousand copies of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Oddly, various main-line campus ministries supported the ban because the book might offend non-Christian students.

The Legal Times reports that "virtually every" major law office in Washington, D.C., has set up a Y2K litigation team, and many lawyers believe those teams could be kept busy for years, with total liability exceeding $1 trillion. Perhaps they caught the following item in the Montréal Gazette, May 8, 1999:
People stocking up on canned food and flashlights preparing for a Y2K disaster are probably ideal candidates for post-traumatic stress disorder, a leading expert on the subject suggested yesterday.

Edna Foa, a psychologist who teaches at the Medical College of Pennsylvania, told a Montreal conference that people who suffer from the disorder either perceive the world as very safe or very dangerous.

Those who build shelters and stockpile food out of fear that pandemonium will break out in 2000 fall into the latter category, she said.

"These people show a vulnerability to post-traumatic stress disorder," Foa said in an interview after the conference organized by the Association des Médecins Psychiatres du Québec.

"Most of us won't build these shelters. But these people have a perception that the world is entirely dangerous and things can happen at any minute."

It's estimated that up to 10 per cent of the population is affected by post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD has been recognized for more than a century under a variety of labels, including shell shock and hysteria.

People with the disorder have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event like physical abuse or rape. They relive their trauma in flashbacks and usually suffer from severe anxiety that can make it impossible for them to work....

One of the most promising treatments is called exposure therapy, which requires the person to close his or her eyes and recount in detail the horror of the trauma....


The Washington Redskins lost trademark protection because their name was considered insulting to Native Americans.

Susan Faludi, author of the feminist bestseller, Backlash, is back in the news, dismissing the willingness of young women to form their own book discussion groups and makeup clubs as "a retreat into girl life." Because these groups focus on interpersonal advice rather than political change, this trend "doesn't lead to anything of particular significance. In its origin, feminism had nothing to do with lipstick."

[Ed.: Well, don't expect us to discuss your book for a while!]

The Chicago Tribune reported on a class-action suit filed in Cook County Circuit Court against Colgate-Palmolive, the Walgreens drug store chain, the American Dental Association, and assorted other defendants. The plaintiffs charge a failure to warn consumers of the risk that vigorous brushing might cause "toothbrush related injury" to gums, and claim a warning label on toothpaste boxes would prevent such injuries.

A dismaying press statement by Pierre Sané, secretary general of Amnesty International, March 22, 1999, exhorting members of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to clean up their own acts:
Victims in places like Algeria, Cambodia, Turkey, and the Great Lakes Region of Africa have been let down by governments' failure to match human rights rhetoric with adequate support for action. Amnesty International will highlight these four examples together with the USA—where a persistent and widespread pattern of human rights violations appears to disproportionally affect people of racial or ethnic minority backgrounds.... The United States of America, despite its claims to international leadership in the field of human rights and its many institutions to protect individual civil liberties, is failing to deliver the fundamental promise of rights for all.

Some maddening remarks by President Clinton, April 6, 1999:
I want to say again, the United States would never choose force as anything other than a last option. And Mr. Milosevic could end it now by withdrawing his military police and paramilitary forces, by accepting the deployment of an international security force to protect not only the Kosovar Albanians, most but not all of whom are Muslims, but also the Serbian minority in Kosovo. Everybody. We're not for anybody's hate crimes. And by making it possible for all the refugees to return and to move toward a political framework based on the accords reached in France.

Now, as I said, we can't continue to organize ourselves to try to stand against these things around the world—which I firmly hope we will. I applaud the women in America who have done so much to bring to the world's attention the terrible treatment of women in Afghanistan, for example. And we have worked hard in Africa to work with other African forces to build an Africa Crisis Response Initiative so that something like the Rwanda genocide cannot happen again. We have to keep working on these things.

But first of all, we must always be working on ourselves. That's really what this is about. Because we know this is more the work of the Bishop than the President, but we know that inside each of us there are vulnerabilities to dehumanizing other people simply by putting them in a category that permits us to dismiss them, or that permits us to put them in a category so that on a bad day, when we're feeling especially bad about something we've done, we can say, well, thank God I'm not one of them. And it is a short step from that—a short, short step from that—to licensing or even participating in acts of violence.

As I said, it may be—I was standing here looking at Secretary Riley, and Bishop Dixon; I was thinking about all the years that Secretary Riley and I worked together. It may be that the three of us are more sensitive to this because we grew up in the segregated South, but it is very easy to get into a social system where you always get to think a little better of yourself because you've always got someone that you can dehumanize.

And that's really what this whole issue with gays is today in America. We're not talking about everybody agreeing with everybody else on every political issue.