An Inclusive Litany

3/31/01

Complaints of exhaustion, depression, and lethargy among Belgian and Italian soldiers serving as peacekeepers in the Balkans are being attributed to "Balkans syndrome," supposedly caused by depleted uranium shells used by NATO forces in the region.

In southern Nigeria, a group called the Girl Power Initiative is leading an effort to get women to feel better about their natural level of body fat and to stop trying to conform to the male ideal of female beauty. But it's not what you think. In many African cultures, fat women are considered attractive since they represent wealth. In Nigeria, some of the women are grossly obese, having been sent by their parents to special fattening centers in which they do nothing but lie around and eat all day, to make them more attractive as potential brides.

3/24/01

After former Congressman Ed Mezvinsky (D, Iowa) was indicted for fraud for swindling banks and investors out of more than $10 million, he sued the drug manufacturing giant Roche, Philadelphia's Presbyterian Medical Center, his doctor, and a pharmacy, claiming his wrongful conduct arose from psychological side effects of the anti-malaria medication Lariam, which he took while on his business trips to Africa. It was there he happened to fall as well for the same sort of advance-fee scam, which apparently led him to defraud others in an attempt to recoup his losses.

As part of its student fees, the University of Oregon pays for the publication of a student newspaper called the Insurgent, published by the campus chapter of the Animal Liberation Front. The December 8th issue contained an eight-page insert titled: "The ALF Primer: Your Guide to Economic Sabotage and the Animal Liberation Front." "First, you may want to decide what kind of establishment you want to target—a fur shop, a butcher shop, a factory farm or slaughterhouse, or maybe a fast food restaurant?" the piece notes.

Detailed instructions follow on how to glue locks, disable vehicles, clog toilets, and commit arson. "As dangerous as arson is, it is also by far the most potent weapon of direct action," says the piece. "A simple way to burn a vehicle is to place a sheet or blanket on top or underneath and soak it in flammable liquid.... If not using a time-delay device, try to light it from as far away as possible by lighting the end of a rolled up newspaper, flare, or other torch-like object." The piece also included the names, home phone numbers, and home addresses of some research professors, with the suggestion to "tell them how you feel about the 'research' they do."

In West Monroe, Louisiana, a third grade boy was suspended for drawing a soldier holding a canteen and a knife. His father claims the drawing was intended as a tribute to a relative in the Army.

Joan Anderman, reviewing The Vagina Monologues for the Boston Globe, March 24, 2001:
[T]here's nothing in Eve Ensler's one-woman show that would even remotely offend men. Surprise them, perhaps. Amuse them, for sure. Teach them something huge and unforgettable—well, it's hard to imagine anyone, male or female, who didn't walk out of the theater feeling a little smarter and a lot bolder.

Take, for instance, Ensler's paean to a certain crude slang for female genitalia. Equal parts avant-garde art and stand-up comedy, the performance inspired a cross-gender, cross-generational chant to reclaim the word. It won't soon be forgotten.

"The woman on the other side of me was, like, my grandmother's age, and she was screaming," enthused 30-year-old Peter Parisi of Milton. "I loved that part!"

As it turns out, the experience was a positive one, almost across the board, for the testosterone set, and often in ways they never imagined.

"I expected to be a voyeur," said 39-year-old Derek Younger of Boston, who attended by himself. "I expected to be a fly on the wall that maybe shouldn't be there. But I got inside, and it turned out to one of the most fun, fascinating, multifaceted things I've seen in a long time. It helps you understand women, but it makes you think more about you, too. It's a really important lesson, that you have to understand your body." ...

Only a couple of brave souls confessed to feeling embarrassed.

Jonathan Williams, 29, of Somerville, had no idea what he was about to see before he and his girlfriend walked in. "It was embarrassing, but in a good way," he said. "You know, the kind of embarrassment you know you ought to get over eventually. The stuff about the clitoris was really interesting."

Mark Disler of Melrose, who's 32, found the language a bit shocking, but enlightening. "I learned, I don't know... different ways of... explaining... the organ, I guess. The different... yeah. I understand women a little bit better now." ...

Awareness comes in many forms, as Ensler would surely agree, and sometimes when you least expect it. Parisi—who attended with six female friends—found the show fascinating but says he learned the most from the reaction of the women around him.

"I realized that this is something we really don't talk about a lot. And that I guess it was important for this to happen," he said.

Little did Parisi know that he had another lesson coming—one he recounted with the gleaming countenance of one who has just solved a great mystery. "At one point, I got up to go to the bathroom and was told that the men's room had been turned into a women's room," he said. "I had to wait in a long line for a single stall. And I thought 'Oh, god! This is what being a woman is like!' "

Letter to the editor, April 8:

When I opened the Globe on March 24, I was at first thrilled to see an article about Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues." But within minutes I was raging....

Why did the Globe feel it must report that this theater event is not male-bashing? Why must we, especially women, always have to make sure that men are comfortable—usually at the expense of our own experience and needs?

Why are women so hungry for what the performance inspires—a celebration of sisterhood? Why is women's empowerment so threatening to men that the Globe can print an article about the male experience?

Is it because the publisher and editor and owners are all men? ...

In a world where the penis is the destroyer/weapon and the vagina the creator/lifeforce, was this performance the first or only opportunity for those "men who dared" to imagine a life honoring women and embracing the concepts of feminism?

—Kirsten A. Martin Cambridge

Here's an unrelated letter from the same day:
In the absence of any meaningful statement from my own government, I would like to sincerely and personally apologize to the people of China for my country's latest aggression and ineptitude.

In addition, under the Nuremberg principles, which make a citizen responsible for the acts of his or her nation, I would like to apologize on behalf of the 24 crew members of the American EP-3 spy plane responsible for killing the pilot of your aircraft; on behalf of President Bush, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretaries of Defense and State, and every other architect of US military arrogance; and finally, on behalf of each and every American citizen who is unable or unwilling to take responsibility for American mischief in the world.

—Wesley Blixt South Deerfield

3/23/01

Carolyn Humphrey of Modesto, California, would often wash and brush her hair in a repetitive ritual for hours at a time if it "didn't feel right," and would also pull out and examine strands of hair because she felt something crawling on her scalp. Not surprisingly, this problem would often cause her to get to work very late, at the hospital where she worked as a medical transcriptionist.

For six years after the onset of her mental problems, the hospital offered her a flexible schedule that allowed her to start work any time of the day, but she was finally fired five months after she was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. She sued the hospital in 1996, alleging they violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. In February, an appeals court overruled a federal judge who issued a judgement in favor of the hospital.

3/22/01

In New York, two post-operative transsexuals sued a Chelsea go-go club for sexual discrimination after they were fired from their jobs as dancers because management decided they wanted "real girls."

3/19/01

Congress is considering a bill that would establish an Office of Men's Health within the Department of Health and Human Services. The proposal is backed by male advocacy groups such as the Men's Health Network and Men's Health America, who claim that similar advocacy on behalf of women has led to the relative neglect of men's health needs—prostate and testicular cancer as well as generally higher mortality rates. Advocates note a sharp decrease in the percentage of men enrolled in studies funded by the National Institutes of Health, from 45 percent in 1994 to 19 percent today. As of 1990, the National Cancer Institute spent $81 million on breast cancer research, but only $13.2 million on prostate cancer, which causes nearly as many deaths, albeit at a later age.

Men's groups also advocate universal, regular prostate cancer screening for men over 50, even though there is vigorous disagreement among medical authorities over its supposed benefits. A similar controversy erupted in 1997, when, following a severe browbeating from the Senate, the NIH reversed its position that annual mammograms should not be recommended for all women in their 40s. A panel determined that the risk of a false positive diagnosis and unnecessary surgery most likely outweighed the benefits of mammography for women at that age.

3/16/01

Student activists at the University of Georgia killed a proposal to build a memorial to those who lost their lives in military service due to the armed forces' historic exclusion of various groups. Laura Chason, a student member of the council that voted against the proposal, explained: "It's called a peace memorial. [But] it's a war memorial. A war memorial by its nature is going to exclude someone on this campus—females, non-Anglo males, African Americans, homosexuals and international students." Chason argued that service to other nations and in organizations like the Peace Corps should be honored instead.

The Washington, D.C. public school administration funded a $41,000 advertising campaign, designed to lure truants back to school, that included ads on the sides of buses that read: "DC Public Schools Wants You!!! Go to Class—It' a Blast."

3/15/01

After the New Mexico House of Representatives heard a tape of "Song for New Mexico" by James Hobbs, they voted unanimously to make it the state's official song. But one lawmaker, who did not vote on the bill, objected that only a man's voice is heard on the song and the lyrics refer to a "pretty, dark-eyed señorita" working beside a farmer in the field.

Prior to the vote, a staffer for the House Democratic leadership wrote a scathing analysis of the song that labeled it "sexist, racist and religiously unacceptable." The Legislative Council suggested numerous changes to the lyrics, including replacing "red man" with "Native American," and "cowboys" with "cow people." A House committee did not accept any of the proposed changes.

After the bill passed the State Senate, which had also recently debated a bill urging a Governor's pardon for Billy the Kid, a senator rose to suggest adoption of an official New Mexico State Senate Song, then began singing Freddy Fender's classic, "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights."

[Ed.: Oregon elementary school children have similarly been enlisted in an effort to rewrite that state's anthem, which refers to "empire-building" and the defeat of Native Americans by "free men."]

3/13/01

A psychiatrist was ordered by a British Columbia court to pay over $500,000 in damages to a former patient whose treatment apparently involved a master-slave relationship in which she was regularly whipped.

New York City officials announced that they would not return the brand-new $46,000 Ford Explorer the city seized from 34-year-old construction worker Joe Bonilla after his arrest on drunk-driving charges, even though Bonilla had been found not guilty of the charges.

The New York Times reports on yet another major cultural revelation: that of widespread physical abuse among gays and lesbians. "We're just now beginning to take same-sex domestic violence out of the closet," said Jennifer Rakowski of Community United Against Violence, a San Francisco crisis intervention group. "We had to get acceptance as individuals first."

After fleeing a violent husband, Bekki Ow-Cuevas was surprised to discover that her lesbian partner would also assault her. "There was a piece of me that really wanted to believe that women are safe people," she said. A partner of a diabetic woman forced her to eat sugar, and a pair of disabled lesbians report their partners got a kick out of taking them to isolated wooded areas and leaving them there without their wheelchairs.

Part of the problem, apparently, is that police don't know what to do when they're called on to intervene in cases of same-sex domestic violence. According to the Times, "stereotypes of meek, overpowered women and rampaging, abusive men are of little help to officers responding to a battle between two men or two women. Often, the abuser is the smaller gay man, or the more feminine lesbian." "Unfortunately, we're still twenty-five years behind the battered women's movement," said Susan Holt of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, "but at least we've gotten started."

A California man sued Boeing for religious discrimination after the aerospace company fired him for working in the nude at the office on Thanksgiving Day 1998 when he thought he was alone, thus violating the company's dress code. He charged that the company should have provided "reasonable accommodation" for his religion, shamanism.

3/12/01

In Oshkosh, Wisconsin, six-year-old Derek Dahlke Jr. was punished and warned he might be suspended under school rules on sexual harassment after chasing some kindergarten and first-grade girls and threatening to kiss them. The school principal said, "it brings him power. This behavior must stop immediately." The boy's father relates telling his son "it is unacceptable to be chasing girls and telling them you are going to kiss them. His comment was, 'Why? I just want them to be friends.' "

Several junior high school students in Pequot Lakes, Minnesota were disciplined for their habit of hugging each other. "We don't have a hugging epidemic because we've clamped down on that," said Chuck Arns, Pequot Lakes middle level principal. "We as a staff decided it was an unnecessary behavior. It has a tendency to change the atmosphere in school."

And in Annapolis, Maryland, an elementary school principal outlawed the game of tag because it violates the school's anti-violence and "no touching" policies. Students may still play tag during physical education, if their teacher chooses to lead a group game, but it is no longer allowed during recess.

The sixteenth edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations restored the part of the Hippocratic Oath that had been elided in the fifteenth edition: "Similarly, I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion."

Scrupulously avoiding the use of the word "Christmas," a Harvard mailing wished students and staff a "happy millennial observance," which, in all good fun, the Harvard Crimson said showed "a remarkable lack of respect for those faiths that choose not to follow a dating system based upon an obscure Nazarene carpenter's historically dubious birth."

St. Martin's Press published a novel by Paul Russell called The Coming Storm, the plot of which revolves around a sexual relationship between a gay 25-year-old boarding school teacher, Tracy, and a troubled 15-year-old student, Noah. Reviewing the book favorably in the Washington Post Book World, Dennis Drabelle said it "persuades the reader" that "the sexual relationship between Noah and Tracy is not only not harmful to either but a boon to the precocious junior partner, who becomes a better, more engaged student after the affair gets under way." Drabelle finds that what is "troublesome" about the book is that the relationship it depicts "is apt to be stereotyped, not least by the legal system that makes it a crime."

Another book, The Gay Canon: Great Books Every Gay Man Should Read, edited by the award-winning author Robert Drake, includes an excerpt from Matthew Stadler's The Dissolution of Nicholas Dee, which Drake calls "an operatic adventure into the realms of love, personality, ambition and art... a pure joy to read." The protagonist is "a pedophile's dream: the mind of a man in the body of a boy." Another excerpted book, The Carnivorous Lamb by Agustin Gomez-Arcos, features an incestuous relationship between a boy and his older brother. Drake calls it "the best, most complex yet satisfying novel of filial love ever written." Drake also excerpts William Burroughs's reliably nightmarish The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead, which he says "tears straight to the heart of one of the greatest sources, community-wide, of 1990s gay angst: What to do with men who love boys?" Drake also criticizes mainstream gays who, in shunning pedophiles, seek widespread social acceptance: "Even as the homo culture of this fin de si├Ęcle seeks to puritanically clamp down on boy-love advocates, it riddles itself with a fixation on lithe, boyish sexuality and smooth-chested youthful attractiveness—and the perpetration of same as the physical and erotic ideal apparent in clubs, online profiles, porn films and mainstream advertisements. It is nothing more than blatant hypocrisy."

Yale University Press published a book called A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition by Gregory Woods, who is described as "the foremost gay poet working in Britain today." A long chapter on "Boys and Boyhood" offers a seemingly definitive account of pro-pedophilia literary works, without a whiff of judgementalism. Ignoring the fate of the child, the only moral ambiguity Woods contemplates is the role of the man: "By playing with boys, the man remains boyish. Whether you regard this as a way of retreating from life or, on the contrary, as a way of engaging with it at its most honest and least corrupted level, depends on which writer you consult at any given time."

And, in an introduction to the Penguin Book of International Gay Writing, David Leavett, one of the best known of contemporary gay authors, discusses "another 'forbidden' topic from which European writers seem less likely to shrink... the love of older men for young boys." Leavett calls attention to one of the excerpted works, When Jonathan Died by Tony Duvert. "The coolly assured narrative," writes Leavett, "compels the reader to imagine the world from a perspective he might ordinarily condemn." Duvert "offers us a homosexual Lolita—one in which the child is seducer as much as seduced." The book's plot revolves around a man and boy who are living together in Italy. The excerpted scene is sexually graphic, and the age of the child is "hardly seven."

3/7/01

William Stowell sued the Good Samaritan Hospital of West Islip, New York, claiming the circumcision he received when he was born there has since deprived him and his sexual partners of pleasure during intercourse. "I'm being deprived of my birthright," he said. "Studies show that I would be enjoying it more and my partners would be enjoying it more. Every time I have sex, that's in the back of my head."

Last we heard from Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer, he was advocating a highly controversial mix of euthanasia, infanticide, and animal rights. But it turns out in a recent book review in the on-line pornographic magazine nerve.com, he also has good things to say in favor of—what else—bestiality.

In a positive review of Midas Dekkers's Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, Singer writes that the human taboo on bestiality stems from strong genital similarities with animals, leading to "our desire to differentiate ourselves, erotically and in every other way, from animals." "Who has not," he writes, "been at a social occasion disrupted by the household dog gripping the legs of a visitor and vigorously rubbing its penis against them? The host usually discourages such activities, but in private not everyone objects to being used by her or his dog in this way, and occasionally mutually satisfying activities may develop."

[Ed.: Amazon customers who bought Dearest Pet also bought Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity and Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex.]

3/6/01

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission is supporting a deaf woman's claim that a local comedy club discriminated against her by failing to provide a sign-language interpreter at one of its shows.

3/5/01

The San Francisco Board of Education unanimously approved an emergency resolution for the city's high school students to skip a day of school in order to attend a Berkeley rally in favor of affirmative action.

A meeting of African leaders was held in Senegal, to prepare for a "world conference" on racial bigotry later in the year. In his welcoming address, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade said that in his opinion, racism against Africans in places like Europe was "marginal" compared with ethnic conflicts among Africans, that lack of African democratic institutions was a far more pressing problem than discrimination from abroad, and that demands for compensation for slavery and colonialism were "childish." Outraged by Wade's comments, citizens of the neighboring Ivory Coast retaliated by looting Senegalese-owned stores.