An Inclusive Litany


A tiny note that appeared at the bottom of the December 30 panel of "Beakman & Jax," a Sunday comics feature that introduces children to scientific concepts, in this case the reason why the World Trade Center towers collapsed the way they did:
P.S. from Jax: A lot of people say this fight is about good against evil. But both sides say that, so that can't be it. It's really about hate, and hatred is a powerful force that we have to be careful not to be a part of.

[Ed.: That first observation should be especially useful to children developing the ability to evaluate seemingly contradictory data.]


In the Independent, December 10, 2001, Robert Fisk relates the problematic, violent encounter he experienced after his car broke down in Afghanistan:
They started by shaking hands. We said "Salaam aleikum"—peace be upon you—then the first pebbles flew past my face. A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other westerner I could find.... And—I realized—there were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others, of us—of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the "War for Civilisation" just a few miles away and then bombed their homes and ripped up their families and called them "collateral damage".... I'll say it again. If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdullah, I would have done just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a report concluding that Irish students ranked second highest for reading and fifth for math among 32 industrial nations. "But the OECD sounded a disapproving note," reports the Irish Times, "pointing out that education spending in the Republic [of Ireland] is significantly lower than in many developed states. It suggests that students here are forced to work harder to achieve their grades because of lack of investment."

In a sympathetic profile of a homeless couple, John Heitman and Amy Robson, who are engaged to be married, Nick Coleman of the St. Paul Pioneer Press penned the following sentence: " 'I've got to behave out here,' Heitman says, explaining that he has cut down on his drinking, limiting himself to eight beers a day."


The National Endowment for the Arts rejected a $42,000 grant proposal from the Maine College of Art in Portland for an exhibit by performance artist William Pope.L, titled "Pope.L: eRacism." In an earlier performance, the artist walked around New York City with a 14-foot white cardboard penis, calling it a commentary on "the supremacy of white phalluses." Two years prior, the artist won a grant for an exhibition in which, the New York Times reports, "he spent several days eating and regurgitating copies of The Wall Street Journal."

Five protestors appeared at a city council meeting in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, clad in burkas as a protest against the group's Taliban-like behavior. The Torrance Daily Breeze reports that the protestors were angry at "what they portrayed as a sexist decision not to elect the panel's only woman as deputy mayor."

The Environmental Protection Agency approved a proposal that would compel General Electric to pay $460 million to fund a project to dredge a 40-mile stretch of New York's Hudson River above Albany for PCBs, which were long used in the manufacture of electrical equipment.

GE produced an estimated 1.1 million pounds of the chemical over three decades, allowing PCB-contaminated waste to drain into the river until 1977, when the chemical was declared a "probable human carcinogen" and banned. After that, GE spent nearly $200 million on remediation efforts that reduced the river's PCB levels by 90 percent. The remaining ten percent of tainted sediment is now buried under layers of mud. Dredging the river will take an estimated five years, and another twenty years for the mud to settle again. The EPA's PCB reduction goals will likely not be met until the year 2031, at which point pregnant women would theoretically be able to eat fish caught in the river more than once a month.

Local residents overwhelmingly oppose the dredging project. Locals currently swim freely and safely in the river, and two towns even tap the river for drinking water. Both the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Geological Survey have pointed out the danger of disturbing the tainted sediments, which would bring them up to the top layer of the river floor. The project also requires constructing two 30-acre hazardous waste plants on the river banks, and ten miles of underwater pipeline, and a set of landfill sites in which to dump an estimated 45,000 tons of waste a day.

And while PCBs supposedly cause cancer, there is much evidence that even this basic assumption is unfounded. Studies of workers exposed to high levels of PCBs and of people who regularly eat PCB-contaminated fish show no increased risk of developing cancer. One study showed GE workers with higher levels of PCBs in their blood to have lower rates of cancer incidence. Dr. Susan Sieber of the National Cancer Institute has stated that her agency knew of "no evidence" that eating fish from the Hudson River poses a cancer risk.

[Ed.: Interestingly, environmental advocates have opposed a similar river-dredging project that would allow commercial navigation along the Delaware.]


In Missouri, a student at North Kirkwood Middle School was questioned by school officials and threatening with punishment after she uttered the word "anthrax" in a non-threatening context.


Having mistaken an installation by artist Damien Hirst for rubbish, a cleaner cleared away the pile of beer bottles, coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays that had been left in London's Eyestorm Gallery. Shocked gallery owners, possibly motivated by the six-figure sum that the work was expected to fetch, immediately set about to put it back together again based on "records of how it had looked."

In Plainfield, Illinois, elementary school principal Sandy Niemiera announced that due to diversity concerns, students would no longer be allowed to celebrate any holidays at all.

A Reuters dispatch from Helsinki, Finland, December 17, 2001:
A fishmonger has been fined almost $200 (125 pounds) by a court in Helsinki for allowing his fish to suffer while on sale at a local market, a Finnish newspaper has reported.

A 27-year-old veterinarian took fisherman Magnus Ekstrom to court, complaining that his burbots at the Helsinki market hall were still moving their gills and wiggling around on the shop counter, suffering from unnecessary pain.

Ekstrom whacked his fish to prove they were dead, but when the fish continued to flop around the dissatisfied vet called in the police who arrived on the scene with wailing sirens, Kauppalehti said.

"I think I am the only fisherman in Europe... no, in the entire world, that has been convicted with a thing like this. Usually people want fish to be as fresh as possible when it's sold," Ekstrom was quoted as telling the daily on Monday.

A Forest Service investigation found that a group of seven federal and state wildlife biologists planted false evidence of a rare cat species in two national forests in the state of Washington. The group introduced conspicuous samples of lynx hair into the wild that DNA tests later determined were from two lynxes who did not live in the wild. Had the hoax gone undiscovered, many forms of recreation and natural resource usage would likely have been banned. As for punishment, the employees have all been counseled for their actions and banned from participating in the three-year study of the lynx.

Kathy Wilson, columnist for the Cincinnati City Beat, provides commentary on NPR's "All Things Considered," December 17, 2001:
I have never been patriotic. I have never thought about not being patriotic. As an American, I enjoy my rights just like the next American. As a negro, I enjoy my rights just like the next negro. About blind patriotism, I am judgemental, critical, cynical, distrustful, and paranoid, and especially now.

Just as surely as some Americans profile brown people with wrapped heads, long beards, and alphabet-soup last names, we are now profiling one another. Flag owners and the flagless alike are eyeballing each other as if to say: "How big is yours?" Where is it and why isn't your house red, white and blue? Yeah, Old Glory has taken on a new mutated symbology.

Everybody's profiling. And it's paranoia at white noise levels born from our mistrust of each other based on external assumptions. Flags in every shape, incarnation, derivation and size are everywhere. Flags are to patriotic profiling what SUVs are to class status: the bigger, the better.

If you don't have a flag and you don't regularly and publicly display it, then, well, something's wrong with you. That means something's wrong with me....

I know there exist true-blue blue-black negroes. I see them waving, wearing and holding Old Glory just like their white counterparts. And they're every kind of negro, from war vets and the workaday blunt-smoking grunts to the white-collar business class black Ken and Barbie, all the way up to the ultra-successful faux Huxtables. They're rockin' the flag.

Yet just as many negroes aren't piling onto the red, white, and blue-stained bandwagon. We're waiting instead for the bus that will take us to an America where affirmative action isn't a dirty word, where crosses signify the crucifixion of Jesus and not racial hatred, and where Confederate flags aren't allowed to fly anywhere. As for me and mine, we're still waiting for our forty acres and a mule.

I have been repeatedly chastized for not busting a move to get a flag since September 11. I sense... no, I know there are other negroes who feel like me because we talk about it in hushed tones....

[Ed.: The next day, the program ran another piece of commentary with the following on-line synopsis: "Commentator Guillermo Gomez Peña has had a series of nasty incidents at airports since Sept. 11. Besides looking Arab, his intense look as a performance artist makes him a candidate for profiling."]


From Anthony Lewis's final column for the New York Times, December 15, 2001, after 32 years of observations such as these:
No one can miss the reality of that challenge after Sept. 11. Islamic fundamentalism, rejecting the rational processes of modernity, menaces the peace and security of many societies.

But the phenomenon of religious fundamentalism is not to be found in Islam alone. Fundamentalist Christians in America, believing that the Bible's story of creation is the literal truth, question not only Darwin but the scientific method that has made contemporary civilization possible.

Religion and extreme nationalism have formed deadly combinations in these decades, impervious to reason. Serbs in the grip of religion and mystical nationalist history killed thousands and expelled millions in their "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnia. Fundamentalist Judaism and extreme Israeli nationalism have fed the movement to plant settlements in Palestinian territory, fueling Islamic militancy among Palestinians....

[Ed.: Lewis draws a similar parallel in an interview published the following day, when asked if he had drawn any big conclusions over the years: "Certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and John Ashcroft."]


In a "Mad on the Street" poll of December 14, the Village Voice asked eight New Yorkers whether John Walker was a traitor. Five said no, two said yes, and one said maybe. Some responses:
No. I think he made his own choices and ultimately he's responsible for that.... I might not break bread with him, but I give him credit for living by his own standards.

I think he's a mixed-up kid. I've been trying to filter through the news to get the real story, but I think he's being used as a symbol. On the one hand you have this CIA operative who died for his country and is a "hero"; on the other hand you have the "screwed-up weirdo" John Walker who fought for the Taliban and is a traitor.

How can he be a traitor? In America, we practice freedom of speech and of religion. John Walker is expressing his opinions, and we only care about him because of the events of September 11.

I think it's ridiculous for us to call him a traitor. He joined the Taliban when the U.S. was not at war in Afghanistan.

I think he was caught practicing his beliefs at the wrong time. He's just unlucky. Maybe he was brainwashed. He shouldn't be targeted because of what he believes. He's now in a lot of trouble because the government is going to work to affiliate him with the terrorists.

The following are responses to the question, "What should the U.S. do with him?"
He needs psychological help, not a prison sentence.

Why would they want to try him? What did he do? I didn't vote for Bush, but I think he's doing a great job. At the same time, I don't think we should have dropped bombs on Afghanistan. Not one of those suicide bombers was Afghan. Most of them were from Saudi Arabia.

We don't know that he killed any Americans. If he killed soldiers from the Northern Alliance, they should put him on trial in Afghanistan. Americans are easily swayed by the news they read. If they dug a little deeper, they'd respond with the open-mindedness they're rightly famous for. Get in a cab in New York and the Tunisian or Bengali drivers are listening to the BBC. That's where the real information is.

He should be questioned and released. The government should warn him that because of the current military situation, he's going to be watched very carefully. I think the whole thing is bananas. John Walker hasn't broken any laws, so he shouldn't stand trial for anything. I also don't think Osama bin Laden should be tried in the U.S. The E.U. countries won't extradite suspects to countries who practice capital punishment.

Maybe he was just there. If that's true, they shouldn't go after him. If they can prove he actually killed Americans, maybe that's something else. I think they will "find" evidence even if it isn't there. This reminds me of the Red Scare of the 1950s. [The interviewee is 32 years old.]

The following are responses to the question, "Have you ever been attracted to an unorthodox ideology?"
When I saw the movie The Mission, it put me off Catholicism, but I'm still a spiritual person. My wisdom has grown as I've grown older. Lately, Scientology has piqued my interest because of their ideas on health. They promote saunas and niacin for total cleansing of the body.

No, but when you're young, you experiment. I'm religion-free right now, although I believe in God. I never obsess about anything. Whatever's cool is cool.

On September 19, four Muslim students complained that in a lecture the previous day, Orange Coast College political science professor Ken Hearlson called them "terrorists," "Nazis," and "murderers." One claimed Hearlson pointed at him and said, "You drove two planes into the World Trade Center. You were the cause of what happened September 11." Hearlson was immediately placed on administrative leave and barred from campus, with no hearing, and the incident was widely publicized as part of a broad backlash against Muslims.

However, an investigation later revealed, based on students' tape recordings of his lecture, that Hearlson was talking about Muslim extremism in general, with no references to anybody in attendance. But while its report exonerated Hearlson, a letter was placed in his personnel file that he interpreted as a reprimand. A university press release announcing that Hearlson was returning to teaching detailed the recent charges against him and the fact that a report was filed on the incident, but did not reveal the report's conclusions. As for the students who filed the false complaints, no action is being taken against them.

Some faculty members later circulated a petition in support of the four students, placing blame on Hearlson's freewheeling, iconoclastic style of teaching for creating a "hostile environment." Hearlson's strong religious beliefs and extensive military background do not seem to have helped, either. Kevin Parker, an English professor who signed the petition, commented that "the four students who raised complaints were factually wrong in their accusations. However, they were inferentially correct."


Three months after terrorist attacks shook America, Time magazine included Antonio Negri, co-author of the neo-Marxist tome Empire, in its series of seven influential "thinkers exploring new ideas." Time notes that Negri is "living under house arrest in Rome," but does not explain why. In fact, Negri was associated with the Red Brigade terrorist group in the 1970s, and is believed to have had a hand in the kidnapping and murder of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro—by calling Moro's wife to taunt her just before Moro was shot dead.

[Ed.: A sample from the book: "In the passage from disciplinary society to society of control, a new paradigm of power is realized which is defined by the technologies that recognize society as the realm of biopower. In disciplinary society the effects of biopolitical technologies were still partial in the sense that disciplining developed according to closed, geometrical, and quantitative logics. Disciplinarity fixed individuals within institutions but did not succeed in consuming them completely in the rhythm of productive practices and productive socialization; it did not reach the point of permeating entirely the consciousness and bodies of individuals."]


Louis Freedberg, in a column titled "A product of Bay Area culture" in the San Francisco Chronicle, December 7, 2001, defends John Walker, a United States citizen who took up arms with the Taliban against American-allied forces.
[B]efore rushing off to charge him with treason, let's consider how the 20-year-old Walker found himself in his bizarre predicament....

Until his latest detour, his journey for self-discovery had not been that different from those of many other young people in the Bay Area....

[W]hen he came up with a plan to go to Yemen to study Arabic, [his parents] didn't tell him to get a life (or a job). "He was really into this thing, but he was an 18-year-old then, so we just sort of smiled and accepted where he was going," a family friend said....

The Bay Area is also a place that encourages critical thinking about the U.S. role in the world. That may have played a part in his vulnerability to the Taliban's extreme propaganda.

Walker's misfortune is that his search for identity intersected precisely with the World Trade Center attacks, and the U.S. declaration of war against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

With a slightly different turn of events, Walker might have become the idealistic doctor he once talked about, in order to help the poor in developing countries. Then we would have been celebrating his achievements, instead of wondering what went wrong.

Charging Walker with treason would mean showing him less compassion than Taliban fighters who are being welcomed with open arms by Northern Alliance fighters, or Pakistani fighters who were flown back to their villages with tacit U.S. approval.

Instead of labeling him a traitor, as we did to Aaron Burr, Tokyo Rose and Ezra Pound, President Bush should allow Walker's parents to fly him back to Fairfax, and let him get his life back on track. We'd want nothing less for our own children, who could easily have found themselves in a similar mess.

Glenn Sacks in the Chronicle, December 9:
Those willing to sacrifice for their beliefs deserve respect—even if what they believe in is foolish. As a teenager, American Taliban fighter John Phillip Walker gave up a comfortable life in Marin County and traveled halfway around the world to put his life on the line for his religious convictions. How many of us are that courageous?
More from the Las Vegas Sun, December 12, 2001:
Others [in his hometown] say they are understanding—even proud—of the boy whose path of personal growth eventually led him to Afghanistan. And they reject the notion that ideals of tolerance and open-mindedness caused the boy to roam too far afield.

"I don't think it's a big deal for young people to have weird ideas," said Nahshon Nahumi, who repairs hot tubs in the hills above the home of Walker's mother. "My concern is more for his well-being, to help him recover."

Soon after Nashville television news reporter Rob Manning showed how alarmingly easy it was to crawl under a wire fence and get close enough to the city's supply of drinking water to infect it with biological agents, the Nashville Scene reported that "instead of cracking security at one of Metro's water collection facilities, located miles away, Manning had only managed to break into the sewage treatment plant."

An Associated Press dispatch from Roanoke, Virginia:
The Roanoke Planned Parenthood office has started to offer red, white, and blue condoms "to raise money for those affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks." Said David Nova, president of the area office: "Offering patriotic condoms will hopefully stem the increase of unintended pregnancies while letting Americans display their colors proudly."


London's Tate Gallery awarded this year's prestigious Turner art prize to 33-year-old Martin Creed for an installation consisting of an empty room with lights that turn on and off every five seconds. In a joint statement, the prize judges said: "The lights going on and off add qualities of strength, rigor, wit and sensitivity to the site." Simon Wilson, the gallery's communications curator, called the piece "pure and spiritual," adding that Creed "is a very pure extreme kind of artist. The fact that many people find his work so baffling indicates that he's working on the edge."

Asked why the lights flicker, Creed explained: "It activates the whole of the space it occupies without anything physically being added and I like that because in a way it's a really big work with nothing being there... It's like, if I can't decide whether to have the lights on or off, then I have them both on and off and I feel better about it."


A caption for a photo by the Reuters news agency, again, December 9, 2001:
Members of Hamas pray during a rally held at Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near the port-city of Sidon in south Lebanon, December 9, 2001. Palestinians poured into the streets in Lebanon on Sunday to mark the 14th anniversary of the founding of the militant Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.
A caption from the Associated Press, describing a photo of the same scene:
A group of Hamas suicide bombers, with fake dynamite strapped around their chests, parade at the el-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern Lebanese city of Sidon on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2001, during an anti-Israel demonstration organized by Hamas to mark the 14th anniversary of its founding. The group said they hoped to join their Hamas colleagues in Palestinian areas to carry out suicide attacks against Israel.

[Ed.: Reuters, which announced that in order to be thoroughly even-handed it would not use the word "terrorist" to characterize the September 11 hijackers, later reported—after Israelis intercepted a large hidden cache of weapons destined for Palestinian militants—that a State Department official "said the United States, which gives Israel about $2 billion a year in weaponry used to kill Palestinians, objected to the $100 million shipment to the Palestinians on the grounds that it contributed to the escalation of violence." (Emphasis added.) Another dispatch from Kabul refers to Osama bin Laden as the American forces' "bogeyman."]

A Swedish court ruled that a man who donated sperm so that a lesbian couple could have three children must pay child support after the two women separated.


A French appeals court ruled that children born with Down syndrome have a legal right never to have been born, and can sue their mothers' doctors for failing to detect their handicap on prenatal scans.

[Ed.: Obstetricians responded alternately by raising prices or discontinuing services.]

Officials in Ramsey County, Minnesota, banned red poinsettias from holiday celebrations following complaints that they were a symbol of Christianity. Instead, white poinsettias are to be used. An unknown dissident responded by placing red poinsettias in the St. Paul City Hall sometime after business hours.


From an otherwise enlightening interview by The American Lawyer's Douglas McCollum with UCLA law professor Khaled Abou el Fadl, a leading expert on Islamic law, December 6, 2001:
Q: What was [Osama bin Laden's] training?

A: He took courses in Islamic law in the school in Medina, though he didn't complete training. He was instructed only in positive law. All the courses that deal with the purposes or objects of law, all the courses about equity in law, none of that is taught anymore. It's contrary to the fundamentalists' insistence on textual literalism. That is the standard. Anything not in the text is illegitimate. Of course, in a literalist paradigm all you end up doing is projecting your own prejudice on to the text.

Q: Kind of like when you read Scalia.

A: Exactly! (laughs) In fact, if you look at Scalia his jurisprudence is remarkably myopic. It's very much like the jurisprudence that comes out of this literalist Islamic school.

[Ed.: In the same interview, he notes that Islamic law is highly decentralized, which makes the comparison with American constitutional law somewhat less compelling.]

Despite their generally progressive outlook, parents of students at Toronto's Frankland school are starting to get upset at the quality of the "equity education" their children are receiving. A first grader came home waving a gay pride flag, saying "Mom, I want to be in the parade!" even though he had no idea what it was about. Another confused child went home and said, "Mom, I don't think I'm gay." One elementary school student brought home a Vegan Food Pyramid and an application to the Toronto Vegetarian Society. A guest speaker had told students that meat eaters were ruining the environment and causing other children to go hungry. Another parent relates that during Black History Month, her children "spent the whole month talking about American slavery [and] would come home and say things like, 'Go get my meal! You're my slave!' "

"In the first two months of school, my 10-year-old studied no history at all," complained one parent. "He can tell you all about Portuguese harvest customs, vegetarianism, Filipino child labourers and children's rights. But he doesn't know the difference between the Parliament and the Senate." Another parent noted that the latest initiative, designed to teach equity, consisted of an exhibition basketball game between the school's teachers and a team of midgets.


When Colgate University professor Barry Shain was asked to appear as a guest on a student-run television program that would address the question "Are Students At Colgate Too Sensitive About Race?" he replied in e-mail that he would like to address the seemingly more relevant question of whether some minority and female students were being "invited to offer opinions about their 'feelings' rather than advance reasoned opinions derived from careful examination of the written materials encountered in class." Shain also expressed his concern "that too many students of color are seduced into taking exotic courses that make few demands on them rather than those courses that force them to grow emotionally and intellectually." These comments were interpreted as "racially insensitive" and led 70 students to occupy the school's admission office for over seven hours.


After the Town Council of Kensington, Maryland voted to ban Santa Claus from the town's tree-lighting ceremony because it made two Jewish families feel excluded, dozens of men showed up at the ceremony in protest dressed in Santa costumes.

James Ridgeway in the Village Voice, November 20, 2001:
U.S. propaganda portrays Al Qaeda and the Taliban as one and the same—a gang of dark-skinned subhuman monsters who must be squashed like cockroaches, by any means necessary. This is exactly how American propaganda depicted the Japanese in World War II—little yellow guys who lost their equilibrium at night. The white Germans, on the other hand, were viewed as just like us: clearheaded, tough, clean fighters. To get rid of these nasty tan bugs, we're hitting them with everything we've got.

The cartoon figure Ted Rall, yet again, in an op-ed posted on Yahoo News, December 3, 2001:
As you read this, you're thinking that Americans also help each other in a pinch. But we don't. If we lived like Afghans, you'd stop the instant you saw a broken-down vehicle on the side of the road. So would the car behind you. Afghans don't need an auto club; they have each other.

The tribal system, so detrimental to building an effective multiethnic state, offers tremendous support to people struggling to survive in impossibly difficult times....

While different kinds of Americans live in strictly segregated, monochromatic cities and neighborhoods and can't even stand to hear each other's music, Afghans of all ethnic stripes live side by side in a truly blended nation. This partly explains why yesterday's Taliban can shave, trade his turban for a Hindustani cap, and become Northern Alliance—to jump from a Pashtun- to a Tajik-dominant culture isn't that hard. Afghans make war all the time—it's what they do best—but they fight out of loyalty to a commander or a warlord. They don't shoot each other merely because of the color of their skin. We Americans, who most assuredly know better, do.