An Inclusive Litany

12/31/02

Andrea Skoros, mother of two school-age children, filed a federal lawsuit against the New York City public school system, alleging that its ban on Nativity scenes constitutes religious discrimination. The Board of Education's lawyer responded: "The display of secular holiday symbol decorations is permitted. Such symbols include, but are not limited to, Christmas trees, Menorahs [sic], and the Star and Crescent [sic]."

But in nearby Yonkers, New York, public school superintendant Angelo Petrone sent out a memo early in December instructing teachers to remove all Christmas and Hanukkah-related decorations from their classrooms. After teachers abruptly removed their children's artwork from school bulletin boards, parents—none of whom had earlier complained about the decorations—responded with unbridled outrage. In reversing his decision, Petrone declared that he had only meant for teachers to "have sensitivity to the diversity in the district," and to use "common sense."

12/30/02

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts approved a special "certificate of attainment" for students who have tried three times and failed to pass the state assessment test that is required for a high school diploma. "It's to recognize and honor the effort and persistence of students who have stuck it out through 12th grade, who have given it their best," commented James A. Peyser, chairman of the state Board of Education.

Octavio Romano in the San Francisco Chronicle, December 30, 2002:
Actually, probably no other people on earth go to such extremes as Americans to conceal the true features of women, particularly when they go out in public. This concealment is a multibillion-dollar industry, and it deals not in cloth, but in cosmetics.

Cosmetics is but another word for a burqa.

12/29/02

California's Contra Costa Times reports that the School of Social Justice and Community Development, a public school in Oakland, features lesson plans in "systems of oppression." As part of a particularly creative chemistry assignment, students were to write a ransom letter to President Bush in which they pretended to hold an element in the periodic table for ransom, listing its various properties and why it is important, along with their demands.

12/26/02

The National Collegiate Athletic Association ordered the University of North Carolina-Pembroke to explain why it still used an Indian as a logo and "Braves" as a nickname for its athletic teams. One of the reasons, it turns out, was that the college was originally founded for the Lumbee Indian tribe.

12/22/02

A new "Lingerie Barbie" doll became available for purchase this Christmas season, featuring "sexy black [or pink] garters, stockings, and... stiletto heels," reports Deborah Roffman in the Washington Post. The doll is accompanied by the following promotional text: "Barbie exudes a flirtatious attitude in her heavenly merry widow bustier ensemble accented with intricate lace and matching peekaboo peignoir."

12/19/02

The Columbian of Vancouver, Washington, reports on an address delivered by Senator Patty Murray (D, WA) to a group of high school students, December 19, 2002:
Murray concluded the session by challenging the students to consider alternatives to war.

"We've got to ask, why is this man [Osama bin Laden] so popular around the world?," said Murray, who faces re-election in 2004. "Why are people so supportive of him in many countries ... that are riddled with poverty?

"He's been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful. We haven't done that.

"How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"

[Ed.: This stupid comment came in the midst of a major controversy over another stupid comment made by Senator Trent Lott (R, MS), who expressed apparent sympathy for Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential run on the staunchly segregationist Dixiecrat ticket. As a result, Lott had to step down as Senate Majority Leader.

Amid widespread ignorance of Murray's comments throughout the mainstream media, the Washington Post ran an editorial in her defense on Christmas day—the morning when people are most attentive to their newspapers—entitled: "Inept but Entitled to Her Say." The Post criticized "the massive overreaction to perfectly useful ideas that have been badly stated or misinterpreted." While admitting Murray's version of the facts was "very wrong," the editorial pleaded that "it ought to be possible to discuss America's image in the Islamic world, and the kinds of mistakes the United States has made there." Murray subsequently turned down Washington state Republicans eager to debate her ideas.]

The Associated Press reports that in Pleasantville, Pennsylvania, "a Venango County elementary school performance was canceled after parents objected to scenes in which third- through fifth-grade students re-enacted human sacrifices in the Aztec civilization."

12/15/02

The federal government proposed setting aside 1.2 million acres of public and private land around Tucson, Arizona, as critical habitat for 18 endangered pygmy owls. Each bird, which weighs 2 pounds and spans 6 inches, apparently requires over 66,000 acres of habitat.

Writing in Reason magazine, Lisa Snell examines the dramatic increase in learning disability diagnoses, concluding that the trend is largely driven by perverse economic incentives.

Nearly 12 percent of K-12 students in American public schools are assigned to the special education system, only about 10 percent of whom suffer from severe disabilities such as mental retardation, autism, blindness, or deafness. The rest have received a variety of less substantial diagnoses such as speech and language delays, emotional disorders, mild mental retardation, and specific learning disability (SLD). SLD diagnoses are the most common, rising 34 percent since 1991 and accounting for over half the students covered under the federal Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), which dispenses $60 billion annually to schools districts with disabled students. Indeed, SLD diagnoses have increased as other special education categories have declined.

A learning disability is defined at the federal level simply as a "severe discrepancy" between student's achievement level (as typically measured on standardized reading tests) and intelligence (as measured on IQ tests), leading to the possibility that instructional failures become defined as disabilities. States also have their own widely divergent definitions, under which researchers have found 80 percent of all American schoolchildren could qualify. A 2001 report by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development concluded that it was impossible to clearly distinguish between a learning disorder in reading and low achievement. Another report in 2002 from the President's Commission on Special Education concluded that 80 percent of students diagnosed with SLD are assigned to special education "simply because they haven't learned how to read." And a 2001 joint report by the Fordham Foundation and the Progressive Policy Institute concludes that nearly 2 million students would not be classified as disabled had their schools provided rigorous, early reading instruction, which the authors say "begs the question of what constitutes a disability." Worse still, the longer students stay in special education, the less likely they are to learn to read.

Yet as Wade Horn and Douglas Tynan observe in The Public Interest, parents have a short-term incentive to get their poor-performing children classified as disabled. Special education students often get personal tutors and note-takers, extra or unlimited time on tests, and freedom from many disciplinary rules. It thus comes as no surprise that 27 percent of students who received special help on their SATs came from families with incomes over $100,000, even though they only comprise 13 of those taking the SAT.

The incentive to identify students as disabled is also strong in schools with large numbers of low-income students, but for a different reason. The Title I program already funds remedial reading and math instruction for children from poor families, presumably at an educational disadvantage because of their economic background. But when school administrators consider Title I along with the IDEA program, Horn and Tynan write, "low-income, low-achieving students can be twofers when it comes to maximizing procurement of federal and state funds." The money tends to be spent on the same set of remedial programs, regardless of whether the students using them are considered poor or disabled.

Special education students cost an average of $13,000 each year compared with the national per-pupil average of $6,200, but the designation also brings in more outside funding. Still, the federal IDEA program only covers about 12 percent of the $41.3 billion states and localities spend on special education, which Horn and Tynan say is "perhaps the largest unfunded federal mandate for education ever placed on state and local government." House and Senate reauthorization plans both call for full funding of the IDEA program, covering 40 percent of state and local costs. The House Republican plan would increase funding by $1 billion a year over 10 years, while the Senate plan calls for a $2.5 billion annual increase over six years.

[Ed.: I recently took my daughter to the local children's library and was struck by the contrast: a bunch of seemingly normal kids playing games, drawing, running, talking, and reading, while the parents' primary topic of conversation was their kid's various learning disabilities.]

12/14/02

In Hamilton, Ontario, the parents of a sixth-grader at Chedoke Middle School pulled her from a "Substance Use and Abuse" class after a teacher gave a step-by-step lesson on how to snort cocaine, ostensibly to help prepare children to avoid illegal drugs. The controversy erupted when the father asked his daughter, "What did you learn in school today?"

12/10/02

Two men who served on juries in product liability cases in Jefferson County, Mississippi, sued CBS's "60 Minutes" program for defamation after it aired a story identifying the county as a haven for excessive litigiousness and large jury awards.

The show quoted one town resident who successfully sued the makers of diet drug Redux as saying that jury members might be motivated to expect to receive a portion of the award. Also, local newspaper owner Wyatt Emmerich, who is also named in the suit, commented that local jurors are relatively poor and powerless, and may feel no compunction to stick it to Yankee companies.

The lawsuit demands $6 billion in combined damages.

Iraq Daily, an official media outlet for the regime of Saddam Hussein, reported that visiting American actor Sean Penn has "confirmed that Iraq is completely clear of weapons of mass destruction."

12/6/02

A sign posted at the service counter of San Francisco's Rainbow Grocery Cooperative read: "Thank you for your concern. We currently do not have a storewide boycott on Israeli goods. After a lot of storewide discussion and debate, some departments have decided to continue to sell products from Israel and others have decided to not carry them any more in support of freedom for Palestinians and all people."

After a shopper realized that she couldn't buy Israeli gelt (chocolate coins) for Hanukkah, her husband distributed e-mail about the year-old policy, resulting in many phone complaints to the store. The Cooperative's public relations committee issued a statement removing any mention of Palestinians, while assuring shoppers that only two departments—package and bulk—had voted to boycott Israeli products and that they were not motivated by anti-Semitism. "The decision made by these departments does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Rainbow Grocery," the statement read. "Our workforce is an extremely varied group. We have a variety of opinions, and we don't always agree."

A subsequent statement posted on the store's website removed any reference to department-level boycotts, insisting there is "no boycott at Rainbow Grocery Cooperative against Israeli products. At no time did a boycott of Israeli products come up for a vote by the Membership." The statement expressed intolerance for "any workers... who support hatred, racism or any form of religious oppression in or outside of our workplace," while endorsing the Middle East peace process. "It is dialogue that ultimately will provide the avenue for resolution of the difficult and complex issues in the Middle East," the statement read. "Your feedback and commentary are important to us. We hope that the outpouring of intense communication in the past week can be a step in the process of peace, not a step towards the escalation of conflict."

12/5/02

Visitors to a Berlin arts center mistook a woman lying motionless on the street for a performance art act, whereas in fact she had leapt to her death.

12/4/02

African-American Muslim Murad Kalam comments on his pilgrimage to Mecca, a city in which only Muslims are allowed to set foot, on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," December 4, 2002:
People of rival tribes, sects, even warring countries, rival politics marching side by side.... The beautiful diversity and unity of Mecca is an Islamic phenomenon. It was Meccans, not Americans, who had embraced [Malcolm X], Muslim pilgrims who first judged him by the content of his character.... The profound unity I experienced here was something even more universal than religion. It was a shared deference to the place and the idea of the place. Pilgrims came from all over the world to experience Mecca, like immigrants coming to America in pursuit of a lifelong dream, to feel as an equal. From wherever they came they should not be dissuaded, treated differently, ridiculed, abused. To do so would be to profane the place itself. How familiar. How naive. How American.

12/2/02

Carl Dykes sued the city of Birmingham, Alabama, claiming it is an illegal endorsement of religion to place on public land a restored statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of smiths and metalworkers. The statue, created in 1904 as part of the Louisiana Purchase Centennial, is one of the largest iron statues in the world, cast as a tribute to Birmingham's iron industry. Dykes, a devout Christian, says he is offended by the placement of the deity in a public park.

The Nashville Tennessean on angry reactions to Governor Don Sundquist's refusal to proclaim a state "Vegetarian Month." "He is discriminating against vegetarians," said Lige Weill, president of the East Tennessee Vegetarian Society. "They sign proclamations for everything: baton twirling, anything."

The proclamation read, in part: "Our food supply should be safe and wholesome, rather than laced with pathogens, fat, cholesterol, hormones and carcinogens leading to heart disease, stroke, cancer and other chronic afflictions that each year cripple and kill millions." The proclamation also said that meat farms destroy public lands and waterways, deplete water, soil and energy resources, and that animals raised for food are often mishandled and mistreated.

11/28/02

From a review of Nobel Prize-winning novelist José Saramago's new book, The Cave, in the New York Times, November 28, 2002:
In José Saramago's nightmare vision, the Western world is a commercial anaconda devouring life and substituting itself in life's place. The slogan displayed on the giant billboards is neo-Orwellian: "We would sell you everything you need, but we would prefer you to need what we have to sell." This is capitalist instead of Stalinist mind control, enforced by its easy allure and reinforced by security guards and cameras.

11/27/02

Responding to concerns over sensitivity to Japanese-Americans, a movie theater in the San Pedro section of Los Angeles canceled a showing of "Tora! Tora! Tora!," a 1970 movie about the Pearl Harbor attack, that had been scheduled for December 7, Pearl Harbor Day.

[Ed.: Note that the World War II-era practice of rounding up Japanese-Americans and placing them in internment camps came about due to concerns over their sympathies.]

11/26/02

A group called the Evangelical Environmental Network initiated an advertising campaign asking the question, "What Would Jesus Drive?" The answer, of course, is not a sport utility vehicle. According to the Reverend Jim Ball, who leads the effort, "Jesus wants his followers to drive the least-polluting, most efficient vehicle that truly meets their needs—though first he might look at other ways to get around. He'd definitely be in favor of us taking public transportation."

[Ed.: Tom Walsh of the Detroit Free Press suggests that Jesus would have benefitted from a 15-passenger van, to help shuttle around his twelve apostles.

Note that fuel-efficient vehicles tend to be lighter, and less safe in crashes. A Harvard/Brookings study concludes that efforts to meet fuel-efficiency standards cause 4,000 needless deaths each year, something that might have concerned Jesus.

Reporting on the campaign on ABC News, anchorman Peter Jennings said: "We are going to take a closer look tonight at the latest pressure on car manufacturers to be more fuel efficient—from the Bush administration and from, yes, conservative Christians." But Brent Bozell of the genuinely conservative Media Research Center points out that the group is closely tied with the National Council of Churches, which has often praised Fidel Castro and fought hard to send Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba.

A subsequent ad campaign patterned after anti-drug ads likened SUV drivers to unwitting terrorist sponsors. And of course Ralph Nader referred to them as "weapons of mass destruction."]

11/25/02

A report by Human Rights Watch documents the "severe wave of backlash violence" directed against Muslims and those of Middle Eastern descent in the wake of the September 11 attacks. The Associated Press reported that "Incidents targeting Muslims, previously the least common involving religious bias, increased from just 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001—a jump of 1,600 percent," or roughly half the reported number of hate crimes committed against Jews. However, the AP also notes that "the 2001 hate crimes report was drawn from 11,987 law enforcement agencies around the country, up from 1,160 agencies in 2000"—a similar jump of 933 percent.

Of these, the vast majority of incidents at issue were non-violent. The report instead focuses on seven murders, three of which represent authentic examples of hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim animus, even though none of the victims happened to be Muslim. Three of the others involved no real evidence of ethnic motivation. And in one case, a Yemeni man was shot to death while in bed with the jealous gunman's ex-girlfriend.

[Ed.: The report did not include the case of Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at UCLA who has regularly received telephone and e-mail threats ever since September 11, has had his car windows smashed, and has worried about mysterious vans parked on his street that race away before the police arrive. In fact, the threats came not from angry white males, but from fellow Muslims who perceived him as too critical of religious extremists.]

11/19/02

The actor George Clooney, responding to a question from a London Observer reporter about America's response to the September 11 attacks, reported on msnbc.com, November 19, 2002:
We live on an island. A giant big f***ing island. We don't understand that people actually get mad at us. We still think of ourselves in terms of World War II. It's not uncommon for us to say to France, "Hey, you'd still be speaking German if it wasn't for us." The problem is the world has changed, and our involvement in these tiny little places is different than it was in 1941. It was a lot clearer then. We were attacked.

Richard Goldstein in the prototypical Village Voice article, November 13-19, 2002:
Two events of lasting significance occurred last week: the breakdown of the Democratic party and the breakthrough of Eminem. His debut film, 8 Mile, became the highest-grossing film in America just days after Republicans won control of Congress. These two events may not seem related, but they reflect the mainstreaming of ideas that seemed extreme just two years ago. Bush's right-wing agenda and Eminem's violent misogyny were once considered over the line. Now they have crossed over and become the line. Not that Em is a Republican (though he might favor ending the estate tax). But he and George W. Bush do have certain things in common. Both draw their power from the compelling image of the strongman who can pose as the common man. Both played the populist card to win the nation's heart. And I would argue that both own their success to the sexual backlash....

11/12/02

The Boston Globe reports that a group of Boston psychologists and social workers is seeking official recognition among mental health professionals for "post-traumatic slavery disorder." They claim the condition is caused by intergenerational trauma resulting from slavery and characterized by crime, drug abuse, broken families, and low educational achievement.

Sekou Mims, among those who recently taught a symposium on the subject at the Simmons Graduate School of Social Work, says it helps explain why his own black 16-year-old son experienced a sudden psychotic breakdown characterized by racially paranoid delusions, even though the boy "didn't go through one-tenth of what I went through." (The boy has since recovered.)

The group's findings differ somewhat from those of Harvard University psychiatrist Alvin F. Poussaint, who wrote in 2000 of "post-traumatic slavery syndrome." Unlike a "syndrome," a "disorder" is expected to result in a consistent set of symptoms, while Poussaint argued "the trauma of slavery goes across all diagnoses and no diagnoses." Still, Mims said that "black people as a whole are suffering from PTSD."

[Ed.: Interestingly, Omar G. Reid, a psychologist who conducts support groups for troubled men of varying incomes and promotes the PTSD diagnosis, told the Globe "that black and Latino males were showing up 'in droves' with similar symptoms."]

11/8/02

American evangelical Christian leaders have been saying some very bad things about Islam. Jerry Falwell called the prophet Mohammed "a terrorist." Pat Robertson referred to Islam as a religion of violence seeking to "dominate and destroy." Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion." In response to all these false statements, Iranian government representative Ayatollah Mohsen Mujtahed Shabestari is calling for their deaths.

In a November 7 article on the American Prospect Online, Adam Christian recounts his experience as an election poll worker in Los Angeles County:
Around 10:30 a.m., two black women, Betty and her daughter Jacqueline, arrived as replacements for the delinquent election clerks. An interesting dynamic unfolded once they showed up: Whereas I had been running the entire operation by myself, the three of us set up an assembly-line system in which a voter would first sign the roster with me, then tell his or her address to Jacqueline, and finally return the ballot to Betty. Despite my proximity to the entrance of the polling place, many black voters would bypass me and address themselves directly to either Betty or Jacqueline. Betty leaned over to me at one point and joked, "They're afraid of you. They're thinking, 'Talk to the black people.' " After this experience, it is much easier for me to understand the racial politics of voter intimidation. I would not describe myself as physically imposing, but apparently the mere presence of a white person at the polling place was enough to make some voters feel uncomfortable.

The New York Times, November 8, 2002:
Iran's hard-line judiciary today sentenced an outspoken reform activist to death, 8 years in jail, 74 lashes and a 10-year ban from teaching, the Iranian Student News Agency reported today.

11/3/02

Letter to the Editor, the Boston Globe, November 3, 2002:
I found Ussama Makdisi's article "The End of the Affair" in last Sunday's Ideas section informative from a historical perspective. However, I believe he failed to discuss the true motivation for our support of Israel.

He states that American support for Israel is based on the idea that Israel represents Jewish national redemption. Although this statement is accurate, we can't dismiss the economic reason for our presence in Israel—that being big business and oil. He does mention how our role in the Middle East became of interest upon the finding of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938. Support for Israel gives the United States an excuse for maintaining a presence in the Middle East. On the world stage, our position for and in Israel would be referred to as "a sphere of influence."

As a nation built on freedom and democracy, we care about the Israeli people's right to have a homeland. I question however, if our government would be as supportive if the homeland in question were based in Western Europe.

We pay a steep price for maintaining stability in the Middle East and use our support for an Israeli homeland as a front.

—Lawrence Agresto,
Groton

10/29/02

Two of the "Guidelines for Countering Racial, Ethnic and Religious Profiling," issued by the Society of Professional Journalists, October 6, 2002:
5. When writing about terrorism, remember to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionists and other groups with a history of such activity....

8. Avoid using word combinations such as "Islamic terrorist" or "Muslim extremist" that are misleading because they link whole religions to criminal activity....

10/28/02

From "The Power, the Name, and the Word," an essay by novelist Carlos Fuentes published in the Mexican newspaper Reforma, September 27, 2002, excerpts translated by the New Republic:
Today, it is not about exalting an individual, a führer, a duce, but an entire nation. Hitler and Stalin made the mistake, part of ancient authoritarian culture, of demanding personal homage superior to those deserved by their own nations: to exalt the name. Washington's circle of power is infinitely more capable. It shields itself within the Nation and it gives it a total and exclusive ecumenical value....

Just as Hitler advanced in the name of the German Volk and Stalin in the name of the Proletariat, Bush claims to act in the name of the people of the United States, "the only surviving model of human progress." Such a declaration locates us, once more, before "the great lie" that Hitler so astutely invoked....

The terrible thing about a declaration like Bush's is that, subliminally and pragmatically, it prepares the extinction of all models of progress that are not the American one. With all due respect, and with due consideration to the American democratic civilization: that's what Hitler and Stalin thought of their respective models....

We have entered a new era in which an imperial government and its leaders no longer deserve historic epithets or mythic reigns. Bush Il Duce, Cheney the Masked One, Ashcroft the Warden, Lady Condoleezza of the Potomac, Rumsfeld the Lone Ranger, and Powell Tonto? No need. These characters represent profiles of power that are mutable, mutating, and even mindless. They can be replaced without worry. Hitler and Stalin were immovable. Bush and Cheney are not. This is the hope. That the group in charge of the White House will be expelled in November 2004.

Fuentes again on October 5, responding to his essay's numerous critics:
I don't compare Bush with Hitler and Stalin to equate them, but to distinguish them. The Nazi and Soviet dictators faced other powerful states. Today's U.S. president governs a country with no external counterforce, something that has not occurred since the height of the Roman Empire.... But neither Hitler nor Stalin had the military power that Bush has. Next to Bush, Hitler and Stalin were but petty officers.... [N]o, Bush is neither Hitler nor Stalin. But he has more power than they. This is the danger.

In its ongoing interpretation of the new McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, the Federal Election Commission ruled that it was permissible for late-night comedians such as David Letterman and Jay Leno to crack jokes about political candidates in the weeks prior to elections.

In awarding the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, the committee chairman, Gunnar Berge, said the award "should be interpreted" as a "kick in the leg" to President George W. Bush's "belligerent" foreign policy positions. Carter's Nobel citation reads:
In a situation currently marked by threats of the use of power, Carter has stood by the principles that conflicts must as far as possible be resolved through mediation and international co-operation based on international law, respect for human rights, and economic development.
A week later, the government of North Korea acknowledged systematic violations of a 1994 pact, brokered by Carter, in which it had agreed to halt its nuclear weapons program in return for generous economic assistance from the United States and South Korea. American officials say North Korea may have already produced one or two atomic bombs under cover of that agreement, which may destabilize the region.

The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League led a campaign against an "anti-choice" Bush administration initiative extending federal funds bestowed under the State Children's Health Insurance Program to cover prenatal care of unborn children.

10/27/02

Highlights from "The Enemy Within," an essay by Gore Vidal in the London Observer, October 27, 2002:
One year after 9/11, we still don't know by whom we were struck that infamous Tuesday, or for what true purpose. But it is fairly plain to many civil libertarians that 9/11 put paid not only to much of our fragile Bill of Rights but also to our once-envied system of government which had taken a mortal blow the previous year when the Supreme Court did a little dance in 5/4 time and replaced a popularly elected president with the oil and gas Cheney/Bush junta....

Even so, we have been getting some answers to the question: why weren't we warned in advance of 9/11? Apparently, we were, repeatedly; for the better part of a year, we were told there would be unfriendly visitors to our skies some time in September 2001, but the government neither informed nor protected us...

The behavior of President George W. Bush on 11 September certainly gives rise to all sorts of not unnatural suspicions. I can think of no other modern chief of state who would continue to pose for 'warm' pictures of himself listening to a young girl telling stories about her pet goat while hijacked planes were into three buildings.

Constitutionally, Bush is not only chief of state, he is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Normally, a commander in such a crisis would go straight to headquarters and direct operations while receiving the latest intelligence....

Obviously, somebody had ordered the Air Force to make no move to intercept those hijackings...

As it proved, the conquest of Afghanistan had nothing to do with Osama. He was simply a pretext for replacing the Taliban with a relatively stable government that would allow Union Oil of California to lay its pipeline for the profit of, among others, the Cheney-Bush junta....

Many commentators of a certain age have noted how Hitlerian our junta sounds as it threatens first one country for harbouring terrorists and then another. It is true that Hitler liked to pretend to be the injured—or threatened—party before he struck. But he had many great predecessors not least Imperial Rome....

We have only outdone the Romans in turning metaphors such as the war on terrorism, or poverty, or Aids into actual wars on targets we appear, often, to pick at random in order to maintain turbulence in foreign lands....

10/19/02

An Australian Pentecostal worshiper sued a church for negligence for failure to provide someone to catch her when she fell to the floor after being "slain in the spirit" during a 1996 service, causing her to strike her head.

10/16/02

After Kimberly Cloutier was fired from a Costco Warehouse in West Springfield, Massachusetts, a federal court ruled (in a $2 million lawsuit) that Costco violated her religious beliefs for refusing to acommodate her eyebrow ring. Cloutier belongs to the Church of Body Modification, whose adherents believe piercings are a form of religious faith that help to unite mind, body, and soul. "It's not just an aesthetic thing," Cloutier said. "It's your body; you're taking control of it."

The entertainer Harry Belafonte, speaking on a San Diego radio show, October 8, 2002:
In the days of slavery, there were those slaves who lived on the plantation and there were those slaves that lived in the house. You got the privilege of living in the house if you served the master... exactly the way the master intended to have you serve him.

Colin Powell's committed to come into the house of the master. When Colin Powell dares to suggest something other than what the master wants to hear, he will be turned back out to pasture.

10/15/02

The Des Moines Register reports that a candidate for the city's school board—40 year teaching veteran Jim Patch—believes students shouldn't have to be able to read to get a high school diploma, since to do so would discriminate against dyslexics. "I would like to see us be accountable, but as far as tying graduation to reading, we're going to have a lot of architects and artists and doctors out there who aren't going to graduate from high school if we do that," he said.

10/12/02

Shelton Richardson, Mayor of North Randall, Ohio, is leading an effort to ban requirements by gas stations that customers pay before they pump, which he regards as a racist presumption that customers will steal.

10/9/02

Commenting on her installation, Sept. 11, which features a representation of the World Trade Center towers, New Zealand artist Gail Haffern said the attacks had been "wonderful... because it was a new idea." "Being an artist," she said of her reaction to that day's events, "I thought what if this had been a performance piece and Osama bin Laden had declared himself an artist, how would the world have seen it then?" Her piece, she says, "asks the viewer to take a new position free of accusation and prejudice to view the acts of September 11 with a sense of amazement."

And after the British artist Damien Hirst, who specializes in presenting bisected and eviscerated barnyard animals, told the BBC that the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks "need congratulating" for such "visually stunning" artwork, he issued a clarification that "I value human life."

10/8/02

The Orange County Register reports on the proliferation of "bounty hunter lawsuits" seeking compliance with California's Proposition 65, which mandates warning labels on all hazardous chemicals. Targeted products have included chocolate, playground sand, picture frames, lightbulbs, Christmas lights, electrical tape, braces, game darts, stained-glass lamps, fire logs, gasoline (which emanates gas-pump fumes), exercise weights, hammers, tools, terrariums, cue chalk, cosmetics, and Slim-Fast.

10/7/02

The St. Petersburg Times reports on the gradual disappearance of show-and-tell from American schools, partly as a means to avoid self-esteem problems in children who don't bring items that are interesting enough. Mona Schuster, a child development specialist with the Pinellas County school system in Florida, said the original intent of the exercise was to increase self-esteem, but that in recent years children have started bringing in things that are bigger and better than what their friends brought in.

Former President Bill Clinton, interviewed by Charles Gibson on ABC's "Good Morning America," September 27, 2002:
Gibson: Do you agree with the administration's contention that we have a right to make pre-emptory attacks—what they're now calling anticipatory self-defense? That we have the right to attack a nation we believe threatens us?

Clinton: Well, I think it depends upon what is defined as belief.

10/4/02

In addition to $850,000 for economic damages and pain and suffering, a Los Angeles Jury ordered Philip Morris to pay $28 billion in punitive damages to Betty Bullock, a 64-year-old lung cancer victim, for failure to warn her of the risks of smoking. (That's "Billion" with a "B.") Ms. Bullock had been warned by doctors to stop smoking for forty years and repeatedly urged to quit by family members.

A headline in the Washington Post, October 3, 2002, read: "Arbitrary Victims, Identical Fate: County's Growing Diversity Reflected in Those Gunned Down."

[Ed.: A great deal of surprise accompanied the revelation that the alleged Beltway Sniper turned out to be someone other than a lone white man. Still, reporters often used "Army veteran" as an epithet to characterize John Allen Muhammad, one of the two men accused, rather than "Al-Qaeda sympathizer."]

10/2/02

Promotional text for Voicing Chicana Feminisms: Young Women Speak Out on Sexuality and Identity, by Aida Hurtado, forthcoming from New York University Press:

Chicana voices are missing from the psychology of women. Though "Chicana feminisms" have only recently been enumerated, a feminist perspective has long existed in Chicano communities without ever having been explicitly named. Grounded in specific aspects of Chicano culture such as the contested role of La Malinche and the complexities of Marianismo, the distinguishing feature of Chicana feminisms has been their embrace of diversity. Chicanas readily ascribe to many feminisms and do not expect there to be only one.

Focusing on young women between the ages of 20 and 30, Chicanas Speak Feminisms explores the relationship between Chicana feminism and the lived experiences of Chicanas. What do they see as their day-to-day manifestation of feminist consciousness? What is the relationship between what Chicana feminists propose and their lived experiences as women and as members of other significant social groups? Including rich ethnographic testimony based on questionnaires, in-depth interviews, and shadowing, Hurtado allows the women to speak in their own terms about how they see their femininity, sexuality, gender identity, ethnic/racial identity, and ties to other feminisms and political struggles.

Another NYU Press offering, Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces, by Juana Maria Rodriguez:

According to the 2000 census, Latinos/as have become the largest ethnic minority group in the United States. Images of Latinos and Latinas in mainstream news and in popular culture suggest a Latin Explosion at center stage, yet the topic of queer identity in relation to Latino/a America remains under examined.

Juana Marma Rodriguez attempts to rectify this dearth of scholarship in Queer Latinidad: Identity Practices, Discursive Spaces, by documenting the ways in which identities are transformed by encounters with language, the law, culture, and public policy. She identifies three key areas as the project's case studies: activism, primarily HIV prevention; immigration law; and cyberspace. In each, Rodrmguez theorizes the ways queer Latino/a identities are enabled or constrained, melding several theoretical and methodological approaches to argue that these sites are complex and dynamic social fields.

As she moves the reader from one disciplinary location to the other, Rodriguez reveals the seams of her own academic engagement with queer latinidad. This deftly crafted work represents a dynamic and innovative approach to the study of identity formation and representation, making a vital contribution to a new reformulation of gender and sexuality studies.

From the University of Minnesota Press, Masking and Power: Carnival and Popular Culture in the Caribbean, by Gerard Aching:

Does the mask reveal more than it conceals? What, this book asks, becomes visible and invisible in the masking practiced in Caribbean cultures—not only in the familiar milieu of the carnival but in political language, social conduct, and cultural expressions that mimic, misrepresent, and mislead? Focusing on masking as a socially significant practice in Caribbean cultures, Gerard Aching's analysis articulates masking, mimicry, and misrecognition as a means of describing and interrogating strategies of visibility and invisibility in Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Martinique, and beyond.

Masking and Power uses ethnographic fieldwork, psychoanalysis, and close literary readings to examine encounters between cultural insiders as these locals mask themselves and one another either to counter the social invisibility imposed on them or to maintain their socioeconomic privileges. Aching exposes the ways in which strategies of masking and mimicry, once employed to negotiate subjectivities within colonial regimes, have been appropriated for state purposes and have become, with the arrival of self-government in the islands, the means by which certain privileged locals make a show of national and cultural unity even as they engage in the privatization of popular culture and its public performances.

More from the website of Duke University Press:

Thinking Through September 11

Dissent from the Homeland: Essays after September 11
Stanley Hauerwas and Frank Lentriccia, special issue editors

In this special issue of the South Atlantic Quarterly (101:2), well-known writers and scholars from across the humanities and social sciences take a critical look at U.S. domestic and foreign policies—past and present—as well as the recent surge of patriotism. The contributors address questions such as why the Middle East harbors a deep-seated hatred for the U.S. and whether the U.S. drive to win the Cold War made the nation more like its enemies. These dissenting voices provide a thought-provoking alternative to the apparently overwhelming public approval, both at home and abroad, of the U.S. military response to the September 11 attacks. Also featured as a visual document of the devastation of the attacks is a photo-essay by James Nachtwey.

September 11—A Public Emergency?
Ella Shohat, Stefano Harney, Randy Martin, Timothy Mitchell, and Fred Moten, special issue editors for the Social Text Collective

This special issue of Social Text (#72) aims to move beyond public discourse toward thoughtful analysis. The editors argue that the challenge for the Left is to develop an antiterrorism stance that acknowledges the legacy of U.S. trade and foreign policy as well as the diversity of the Muslim faith and the dangers presented by fundamentalism of all kinds. This issue includes poetry, photographic work, and an article by Judith Butler on the discursive space surrounding the attacks of September 11.

Delegates at an anti-racism conference held in Barbados voted to expel non-blacks from the meeting because discussing the legacy of slavery in front of them would be too traumatic. Conference chairwoman Jewell Crawford later told the Barbados Daily Nation that, as those expelled were leaving, "I suggested that they get together amongst themselves, just like we're doing now, and plan and strategize, talk about ways that they can help to eradicate racism."

[Ed.: The Barbados Advocate later reported that officials turned to local white-owned businesses to pay off the conference's $200,000 debt, arguing that they have an obligation to assist the black community on whose patronage they depend.]

A transcript from the June 1 wedding of Cary Wolfe and Allison Hunter. Wolfe teaches critical theory at SUNY Albany. Hunter is an artist. Both apparently have a well-developed sense of humor.
Judge Silverman:
Friends and relatives, we are gathered here today to witness the marriage of Allison and Cary. To do so, we must perform these vows in an act of ceremony.

But what are these things: to wed, to marry, to take a wedding vow? They are what the philosopher J.L. Austin, in his study How To Do Things With Words, calls "speech acts," of which there are two different kinds: constative speech acts, whose primary attribute is that they say something; and performative speech acts (of which this ceremony is an example), whose primary attribute is that they do something. A performative speech act, as Austin puts it, doesn't describe a state of affairs; it possesses the crucial feature of accomplishing the very act to which it refers. The very act of saying it makes it so.

It's not enough just to think the words of the wedding vow, no matter how sincerely you may be thinking them. (If it were enough, then I wouldn't be here and neither would you.) And it's not enough even to say them. (If it were, Allison and Cary could just recite these lines to each other on the subway, say, or while making risotto, and—voilà!—they'd be married.)

No, for a performative to carry out its function, it must meet a number of criteria. To quote Austin:

(A.1) There must exist an accepted conventional procedure having a certain conventional effect, that procedure to include the uttering of certain words by certain persons in certain circumstances, and further, (A.2) the particular persons and circumstances in a given case must be appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure invoked. (B.1) The procedure must be executed by all participants both correctly and (B.2) completely.
Although we've just begun the ceremony—or have we?—some interesting questions have already gathered on the horizon: Is this set of words, so far, "accepted"? Are they "appropriate for the invocation of the particular procedure invoked"? Are we executing the procedure "correctly" and "completely"? Is it enough simply to say, "Do you, Allison, take Cary to be your lawfully wedded husband?"

Allison:
"I do."

Judge Silverman:
"And do you, Cary, take Allison to be your lawfully wedded wife?"

Cary:
"I do."

Judge Silverman:
As it turns out, it is enough, and the words just uttered by both Allison and Cary are sufficient—but not because of the words themselves.

First of all—according to Austin and according to the law—the words must be meant "seriously" and not self-referentially.

The problem with that, though, as Jonathan Culler has pointed out in his discussion of Jacques Derrida's critique of Austin, is that the distinction between the serious and nonserious is always uncertain, always subject to deconstruction, and any attempt to solve that problem by insisting on the "proper" context for a statement is bound to fail.

For example, we are all familiar with the signs at airport security checkpoints that read, "All remarks concerning bombs and weapons will be taken seriously." Such signs, Culler notes, attempt "to preclude the possibility of saying in jest, 'I have a bomb in my shoe,' by identifying such utterances as serious statements. But this codification fails to arrest the play of meaning," because "the structure of language grafts this codification onto the context it attempts to master," creating "new opportunities for obnoxious behavior," such as, "If I were to remark that I had a bomb in my shoe, you would have to take it seriously, wouldn't you?"—a statement "whose force is a function of context but which escapes the prior attempt to codify contextual force."

It's a bit like George Carlin's observation about those same signs. "NO JOKES," perhaps, "but what about riddles?"

Our point is that the distinction between "serious" and "nonserious" as determining what makes a performative binding doesn't solve the problem; it only pushes it back a notch. At which point, we can only fall back on the very invocation of "sincerity" that Austin's idea of the performative seems designed to deflate. We can only ask, Did you, Cary and Allison, seriously mean what you just said about taking each other as husband and wife?

Cary and Allison:
Yes, we did.

Judge Silverman:
Okay, good. Now we're getting somewhere, legally speaking. Austin may in the end be wrong, as Derrida suggests, about seriousness being decisive, but what he is right about is this: when such words are uttered in the "appropriate" context—by two parties who have obtained a marriage license, presided over by me ("by the power invested in me," as one often hears), and so on—then those words are nevertheless binding, no matter what anyone thinks.

All of which is why the very first definition of the word "marry" in the Oxford English Dictionary is "to join for life as husband and wife according to the laws and customs of a nation." And this, in turn, is why it is misguided to think that what validates a wedding ceremony is the making public of innermost feelings, and the sincerity or earnestness thereof. That may be a satisfactory performance, but it is beside the point of the wedding vow as performative.

This is why Austin insists (in a stipulation almost too good to be true for our purposes) that "the act of marrying, like, say, the act of betting"—which is, incidentally, one of the meanings of the words "wed"—"is to be described as saying certain words, rather than as performing a different, inward and spiritual, action of which these words are merely the outward and audible sign."

To understand the act otherwise—to see it as, indeed, the outward sign of an inward and spiritual action—is precisely what makes most wedding vows written by the bride and groom so unsatisfactory to Cary and Allison.

Such pronouncements, heartfelt though they may be, indulge in a fundamental misunderstanding. They do not understand that the power of the wedding vow as a performative utterance derives not from its external registration of the bride and groom's intimate, spiritual feelings—as if somehow the more heartfelt and confessional your ceremony is, the more married you are—but rather from the external, conventional nature of the act itself.

This is why Cary and Allison are not going to drone on today about how much they care about each other, how they promise to do this and not do that, and so on. First of all, they assume that you all already know how they feel about each other without being told in graphic and maudlin detail—that's why you're here. And second of all, it takes a lifetime, not twenty minutes, for two people to define for themselves what the word "marriage" means. Your presence here is simply to witness their commitment to undertake such a definition.

In sum, then, it is not the "uniqueness" or "originality" or "sincerity" of the vow that carries its force but precisely what Derrida calls its "iterability" or "citationality," its repeatability, its utter unoriginality (Culler: 316-17). So it is that we find ourselves at this moment in the middle of a vow that is itself largely about vows. That such a vow may itself be taken as highly "original" perfectly exemplifies Derrida's point about statement and context that provides the lift in George Carlin's joke about airport security signs: If we wrote a vow about vows, you would have to take it seriously, wouldn't you?

So it is not that you, Allison and Cary, have said particular words, or even that you have performed particular acts such as the customary exchanging of rings to symbolize your commitment to each other.

[Cary and Allison exchange rings.]

Rather, it is that you have agreed to do and say these things under certain binding circumstances—circumstances to which you have, as it were, surrendered yourselves.

And now I will say, "by the power invested in me," that I now pronounce you husband and wife. Cary, you may now kiss not your girlfriend, or your domestic partner, but your wife with a binding force more powerful than all the kisses that came before.

[Cary and Allison kiss.]

9/27/02

A judge in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh ruled that Kamla Jaan, a eunuch, was legally a man and thus could not serve in a mayoral post reserved under a quota system for women. While Indian eunuchs as a group consider themselves female even though an estimated 99 percent are castrated males, Jaan argued that she was a "born eunuch," meaning a hermaphrodite with ambiguous or deformed genitals.

Lawyers for Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority applied to the federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to allow an exemption to disability-rights law on behalf of airline personnel. The action came after the Australian Attorney General's office released a finding that applicants for positions as pilots and air traffic controllers could not legally be tested for physical or mental disabilities.

9/26/02

The city council of Berkeley, California, passed a resolution declaring "that the space 60 kilometers [37 miles] and above the City of Berkeley is a space-based weapons free zone."

[Ed.: The sky is falling in more ways than one. The following month, the city warned consumers of the risk of food poisoning from eating undercooked sprouts.]

The National Post reports on a plan in Nova Scotia "under which high schools would issue two types of diplomas. Regular graduates would get a regular diploma. But 'graduates' who fail their literacy tests would get an 'adjusted diploma' that notes their deficiency."

9/25/02

The Columbus Dispatch reports that after police released a description of a black male in his late 20s or 30s who raped women in their houses near Ohio State University at least six times, they learned "that at least twice this past summer, women delayed reporting possible break-ins because they didn't want to appear prejudiced—the suspects were black men, and the white women felt bad about assuming they were doing something criminal."

Writing in the New York Law Journal, Tamara Loomis reports on companies that have received a staggering number of resumes during the recent recessionary shock, most via electronic mail. Boeing and Lockheed Martin, for example, are each receiving up to 1.4 million resumes annually, and the numbers are growing at an alarming rate.

But under the standard enacted by the Department of Labor in 1995, anyone who submits a resume in this open-ended manner is considered an "applicant" regardless of qualifications for any particular job. And every company with more than 100 employees must track the race, gender and ethnicity of each of its applicants—data the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission uses to detect discriminatory hiring practices.

It is unclear how companies are supposed to ask the huge numbers of people sending them e-mail for information on their race and gender while simultaneously turning them down for a job, at least not without inviting such discrimination lawsuits. In the face of criticism over what is widely perceived as an unworkable rule, the Office of Management and Budget ordered the EEOC to update its definition of a job applicant, but it has been unable to do so after two years of study. A report scheduled for December that was delayed three times already has now been put on indefinite hold.

As a result, companies flooded with resumes have simply been storing them, in many cases using custom database software that costs around $500,000. "I know of a company that keeps a warehouse in Salt Lake City just to store resumes," said EEOC Chairwoman Cari Dominguez. "They're just so afraid of throwing them away."

9/23/02

Stephanie Bell, a fourth-grade teacher at Mary C. Williams Elementary School in Wilmington, North Carolina, received a formal reprimand after a parent complained of her use of the word "niggardly" to describe a literary character in class. The Wilmington Star-News reports that the state teacher's union not only would not defend her, but told her not to comment on the incident to anyone.

Norman Mailer, once respected as a prominent American intellectual, interviewed in the London Sunday Times Magazine, September 8, 2002:
Let's suppose 10 people are killed by a small bomb on a street corner in some city in America. The first thing to understand is that there are 280 [million] Americans. So there's one chance in 28 [million] you're going to be one of those people. By such heartless means of calculation, the 3,000 deaths in the twin towers came approximately to one mortality for every 90,000 Americans. Your chances of dying, if you drive a car are 1 in 7,000 each year. We seem perfectly willing to put up with automobile statistics.... There is a tolerable level to terror. Let's relieve ourselves of the idea that we have to remove all terror.

9/21/02

An animal rights activist has set up an Internet business, veganerotica.com, that sells leather-free collars, restraints, whips and harnesses to sado-masochistic vegans. Endorsing the site, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said: "More and more people are looking for items that are cruelty free."

A proclamation from Mayor Vera Katz of Portland, Oregon:
Whereas, The City Of Portland recognizes the importance of a diverse community; and

Whereas, the motto of "Safe, Sane, and Consensual" adopted by the leather and fetish communities is vital to all relationships between consenting adults; and

Whereas, information, knowledge and education are important factors in promoting, understanding, and maintaining healthy social and sexual relationships; and

Whereas, fundraising efforts benefiting worthy charities gives those causes further power to survive and flourish; and

Whereas, efforts toward a healthier, better educated, and diverse community sponsors increased happiness, health, and awareness;

Now, therefore, I, Vera Katz, Mayor of the City of Portland, Oregon, the "City of Roses," do hereby proclaim August 3-11, 2002 as

Leather Pride Week

in Portland, and commend the many local non-profit organizations for their work in ongoing education, fundraising and leadership, and urge our citizens to appreciate the diversity and sense of an inclusive community represented by these groups and their efforts.

[Ed.: Leather Pride Week included events dedicated to displays of sadomasochism and fisting.]

England's North Tyneside Council refused to support a local carol-singing competition because of the psychological damage it could inflict on contestants who do not win.

9/20/02

The Miami Herald reports that in the same school district in Pensacola, Florida, that was unable to fire a cocaine-addled teacher because of a union contract, an honor student who found a bag containing a mix of prescription and non-prescription pills and was afraid to turn it in for fear of the school's strict zero-tolerance policy, was in fact expelled for drug possession when the school learned of the matter.

Reporting on the incident, the Pensacola News Journal relates that in 1998, 12-year-old Robert Starkie of Sims Middle School in Pace, Florida was expelled for drug possession because he briefly held a Ritalin pill. When a student on a school bus asked him to take something, Starkie held out his hand. When he saw it was a pill, he threw it out the window.

9/17/02

After the city of Troy, New York, instituted a law against spitting on the sidewalk, the local branch of the NAACP denounced the law as racist because in a city where whites were the majority, four of the five people cited under the law thus far were black.

And in Springfield, Illinois, a Denny's restaurant closed its doors from 3:00 to 5:00 a.m. on Sundays because patrons from nearby clubs that close at 3:00 would routinely descend on the restaurant and cause problems, such as not paying for food. The local NAACP branch threatened a discrimination lawsuit against the chain because "there is a predominance of African-American groups of people who go to restaurants at that time." If that Denny's closed its doors, the group reasoned, they should all have to, otherwise be compelled to remain open.

9/13/02

While meeting to discuss the issue of global poverty and wealth inequality, delegates to the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa were treated to some 4,400 pounds of fillet steak and chicken breasts, 1,000 pounds of lobster and other shellfish, 5,000 oysters, 450 pounds of salmon, 220 pounds of the prized South African kingclip fish, over 1,000 pounds of bacon and sausages, and plenty of champagne and caviar.

And in Rome, the United Nations World Food Summit, devoted to helping the 800 million people starving worldwide, opened with a luncheon of lobster, foie gras and goose stuffed with olives for the 3,000 delegates, with many limousines parked out front.

9/11/02

The Washington Post reports that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) now has a dog named "Splash."

9/8/02

Following widespread public ridicule, officials at the University of California, Berkeley, reversed an earlier decision not to allow red, white and blue ribbons at the school's September 11 commemoration ceremony. A student organizer had told the California Patriot they didn't want ribbons that were "too political, too patriotic," or "anything too centered on nationalism—anything that is 'Go U.S.A.' " Instead, the event's organizers chose white ribbons, a hue widely associated with surrender.

Former tennis star John McEnroe, of all people, in an op-ed for the London Daily Telegraph, September 8, 2002:
In traveling the world as a tennis player, I have a better appreciation of other countries than most Americans. We could do with being a little less besotted with money, money, money, win, win, win. When I am in England each summer people always ask: "Why don't English players win Wimbleton? They ought to be more like Americans and play to win." To my mind, it's time Americans started being more like the English—or at least learnt to lose with grace.

9/3/02

A caption from a Reuters photograph, September 3, 2002:
Recovery and debris removal work continues at the site of the World Trade Center known as "ground zero" in New York, March 25, 2002. Human rights around the world have been a casualty of the U.S. "war on terror" since September 11.

Denys Blell, who has a master's degree in African-American history and an African and Lebanese ancestry, was turned down for a position as "assistant vice president for academic affairs and diversity" at Baltimore's Loyola College. He sued the school, alleging that the hiring official had told him that African-American faculty members were concerned he was too light-skinned and not "visibly black" to impressionable students.

8/28/02

A federal judge in Albany, New York, ruled that movie theaters providing handicapped patrons an unobstructed view of the screen do not sufficiently comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act if the view angle is not as desirable as that available to the rest of the audience.

8/10/02

Before police arrived to escort them to safety, a handful of pro-Israel demonstrators at San Francisco State University were surrounded for nearly half an hour by a larger group of ostensibly pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators who shouted such things as "Death to Jews" and "Hitler should have finished the job." Following the confrontation, a University task force offered recommendations to improve relations between the two groups, among which was the creation of an Islamic studies program.

And at Montreal's Concordia University, about two dozen protesters surrounded and assaulted a 73-year-old Holocaust survivor and Israel supporter while chanting "Palestinian checkpoint!" A Montreal Rabbi and his wife, a Concordia religion professor, were also kicked and punched. Following the incident, university officials responded by instituting a moratorium on all campus events relating to conflict in the Middle East.

8/8/02

From a list of discussion groups and papers featured at a May conference at Yale University entitled "The Chicken: Its Biological, Social, Cultural, and Industial History from Neolithic Middens to McNuggets":

  • Chicken Consumption: History, Culture, Choice, and Taste
  • Chicken Eaters and Choice in Hartford
  • Chicken Flavor—the Quintessential Ingredient of Good Taste!
  • Chickens as Social Mediators and Currency in Borneo
  • Corn People on a Poultry Lane
  • Images of the Medieval Pheasant: The Chicken and Other Fowl in Medieval Cuisine and Ceremony
  • KFC, Chicken Flu, Free-Range Chickens, and Other Poultry Politics in Post-Socialist China
  • Making the Chicken of Tomorrow
  • The Chicken and Globalization
  • The Chicken Business: Southern Women and Poultry Production
  • The Chicken in America: The Past ... the Internet, the Future?
  • The Chicken in Folklore and Symbolism
  • The Fighting Cock and the Brooding Hen: Chickens as Symbols of Gender in Folklore and Literature
  • The Historical Creation of the Chicken
  • Thinking Like a Chicken
  • We're All Mexican Here
  • When Chickens Come to Town

An election for a community board in Nottingham, England, is to feature ballots in which voters are only allowed to choose a candidate of the same racial background as themselves.

8/7/02

The Washington Post, August 6, 2002:
The 1994 revolution that gave Republicans control of the House produced a seismic shift in federal spending, moving tens of billions of dollars from Democratic to GOP districts....

Republican House districts received an average of $3.9 billion in 1995, and that ballooned to $5.8 billion in 2001, a 52 percent increase, the analysis found. Over the same period, spending in Democratic districts on average increased only 34 percent, from $3.9 billion to $5.2 billion.

8/2/02

19-year-old Cherise Mosley sued the Aaron Family Planning Clinic in Houston, Texas, which performed an abortion on her two years earlier, when she was a minor. Mosley argues that clinic staffers should have realized the identification she produced had been falsified in an attempt to keep her parents from being notified of her intentions under state law. Had they been notified, Mosley believes, her parents would have talked her out of aborting her fetus, a decision she now regrets.

7/31/02

Front page news from the New York Times, July 31, 2002:
An American attack on Iraq could profoundly affect the American economy, because the United States would have to pay for most of the cost and bear the brunt of any oil price shock or other market disruptions, government officials, diplomats and economists say.

7/29/02

Prior to his death in 1963, Italian artist Piero Manzoni decided to make "an ironic statement" about the art market. The result was 90 canned samples of his own excrement, each appropriately titled merda d'artista. London's Tate Gallery recently acquired one of these jars for £22,300, more than they would pay for the same weight of gold. The Pompidou Museum of Paris and Museum of Modern Art in New York have also acquired samples the artist's work. There are signs the escalating price may be driven by scarcity, since due to defects in the canning process, half have exploded so far.

Columbia professor Gayatri Spivak, from a speech delivered at Leeds University, June 22, 2002:
Suicide bombing—and the planes of nine-eleven were living bombs—is a purposive self-annihilation, a confrontation between oneself and oneself, the extreme end of autoeroticism; killing oneself as other, in the process killing others. It is when one sees oneself as an object capable of destruction in a world of objects, so that the destruction of others is indistinguishable from the destruction of self.... Suicidal resistance is a message inscribed in the body when no other means will get through. It is both execution and mourning, for both self and other. For you die with me for the same cause, no matter which side you are on. Because no matter who you are, there are no designated killees in suicide bombing. No matter which side you are on, because I cannot talk to you, you won't respond to me, with the implication that there is no dishonor in such shared and innocent death.

7/26/02

While in an airplane with her husband waiting to take off from Dallas in February, 36-year-old Renee Koutsouradis was paged over a loudspeaker and asked to accompany a Delta security official, who said something suspicious was vibrating in one of her bags. She told him what she thought it was, but nevertheless the agent took her to the bag on the tarmac and asked her to remove and hold up the item for inspection: a battery-operated sex toy that she and her husband had just bought on a trip to Las Vegas.

According to her subsequent lawsuit against the airline, some passengers on the plane saw everything, and three male Delta employees "began laughing hysterically" and made "obnoxious and sexually harassing comments." The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, accusing Delta of negligence, gender discrimination, and intentional infliction of public humiliation.

Raymond Leopard sued R.J. Reynolds for $65 million in damages for years of emotional distress stemming from his role as the "Winston Man" advertising cigarettes during the 1970s.

7/25/02

An Orlando man filed a lawsuit against a cabaret in West Palm Beach, Florida, because the semi-private room reserved for one-on-one nude lap dances was not wheelchair accessible, even though he could still get a lap dance at his table.

Apparently prompted by newfound interest in Islam, the University of North Carolina is requiring incoming freshmen to read Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations, edited by Haverford religion professor Michael Sells and featuring about a third of the complete text along with a companion CD of recitations. Study questions include, "Now that you have read parts of the Koran, do you think more Americans should read all or parts of the book?" and "How does the sound [of a recitation] seem to you to create meanings and effects that are not present when you just read the text alone?"

But the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, sued the university on behalf of three students in an effort to halt this required reading. The suit claims the program misrepresents the Koran and attempts to "impose a uniform[ly] favorable opinion of the religion of Islam" among students, violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, the lawsuit contends that the book the students would read omits suras (chapters) that call for the execution of non-believers, such as suras 9:5 ("Fight and slay the pagan wherever you find them") and 4:89 ("those who reject Islam must be killed"). The group contends that it would neither be legal nor desirable to teach the Bible in the same manner.

7/24/02

After a British band named the Planets released an album containing a track aptly called "A One Minute Silence," they were sued by the firm that owns the copyright to a composition by John Cage—the late avant garde composer—that contains exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The plaintiff alleges that Cage "always said the duration of his piece may be changed, so the Planets' piece doesn't escape by virtue of its shorter length."

It has started. In New York City, 56-year-old Caesar Barber filed a lawsuit in state court, blaming McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC and Burger King—which he frequented four times a week—for his obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and the two heart attacks he has suffered so far. Barber's lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, says he has two other plaintiffs lined up, one a 57-year-old retired nurse, size 18, who ate fast food at least twice a week over a 25 year period, and a 59-year-old man whose habit of eating a pound of french fries a week forced him to walk with a cane. The aim of the legal action, according to Hirsch, was to "offer a larger variety to the consumers, including non-meat vegetarian, less grams of fat, and a reduction of [portion] size," along with tobacco-style warning labels.

[Ed.: Hirsch filed another lawsuit a few weeks later on behalf of several obese teenagers, alleging that toy and value-meal promotions were designed to entice patrons to eat the food. (As the Glasgow Herald reported, the lawsuits themselves resulted from barratry.) All these lawsuits came at the same time Gary Taubes reported in the New York Times Magazine of an emerging scientific consensus that consumption of supposedly "low-fat" foods leads to increased obesity due to the way carbohydrates are metabolized and to changes in eating habits.]

7/23/02

Writing in Salon, Griel Marcus deconstructs a television advertisement for the Subway sandwich chain, July 23, 2002:
One "Jim" ("a Dennis Miller-type of guy who tells it like it is," says Subway publicist Les Winograd) pulls up to a burger joint in a car full of buddies. He's about 40, tall, well-exercised: "Turkey breast, ham, bacon, melted cheese, Dijon horseradish sauce," he says in the drive-through, exuding an aura of Supermanship all out of proportion to the situation. "That's, like, not on our menu," says the young, pudgy, confused person taking orders. "It's not only not on your menu," Jim says, "it's not on your radar screen!" "Do we have a radar screen?" the clerk asks a supervisor as Jim peels out. "Think I made that burger kid cry?" Jim says to his pals, all of them now ensconced in a Subway with the new Select specials in front of them.

It seems plain that, finally, George W. Bush is making himself felt in culture. The commercial takes Bush's sense of entitlement—which derives from his lifelong insulation from anything most people eat, talk about, want or fear, and which is acted out by treating whatever does not conform to his insulation as an irritant—and makes it into a story that tries to be ordinary. But the story as the commercial tells it is too cruel, its dramatization of the class divisions Bush has made into law too apparent. The man smugly laughing over embarrassing a kid is precisely Bush in Paris attempting to embarrass a French-speaking American reporter for having the temerity to demonstrate that he knew something Bush didn't. (Real Americans don't speak French.) Even someone responsible for putting this talisman on the air may have flinched at the thing once it was out there in the world at large, functioning as public discourse, as politics—the last time I saw the spot, the final punchline had been dropped.

7/20/02

A garbage barge moored in New York Harbor was temporarily declared protected habitat after being nested by terns.

7/15/02

According to its mission statement, the University of Iowa's basketball team is committed to "sportslike behavior."

The city of Berkeley, California, is considering a proposal forbidding the sale within city limits of any coffee that is not "Socially and/or Environmentally Correctly Cultivated." To qualify as "fairly traded," for example, importers must pay growers at least $1.26 per pound. The measure would also prohibit all but shade-grown coffee that "is planted in a shaded, forest-like setting created by a canopy of trees," to provide habitat for native songbirds. Violators of the ban would be subject to a $100 fine or six months in jail.

7/10/02

On July 4, limousine driver Hesham Mohamed Hadayet shot and killed two people at the ticket counter of Israel's El Al Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport before El Al security officials shot him dead. Hadayet was an Egyptian immigrant who, press reports soon revealed, had told a friend that "the Israelis tried to destroy the Egyptian nation and the Egyptian population by sending prostitutes with AIDS to Egypt." Hadayet had also voiced displeasure at a neighbor's patriotic display following the September 11 attacks. Regardless, the FBI announced that there was no evidence the shooting was a terrorist attack, and investigators were not sure it could even be categorized as a hate crime.

7/9/02

Denouncing President Bush's comparison of the Supreme Court's decision allowing public school vouchers to Brown v. Board of Education, Jesse Jackson referred to Bush as "unliterate."

7/7/02

Reporting on findings announced at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, the New York Times notes that 90 percent of gay and bisexual black men in the United States aged 15-29 who tested positive for HIV were unaware they had the virus until researchers conducting the study informed them. Among Hispanic gays the figure is 70 percent, and among gay whites it is 60 percent who were unaware of their condition, were not receiving treatment, and were likely infecting others. An estimated 1 million Americans are HIV-positive, and 300,000 have died of AIDS.

At the same conference, Dr. Bruce Walker of Harvard revealed a case of a Boston man whose immune system had been successfully fighting the HIV infection on its own, but who subsequently had unprotected sex and became reinfected with a modified strain of HIV, after which his health declined precipitously. Walker's stunning findings implied that the HIV virus was sufficiently mutable and durable as to make any prospect of finding an effective vaccine highly unlikely.

Meanwhile, a headline in the Gay Pride issue of the Village Voice heralded "The Return of Public Sex." Reporting approvingly on anonymous sex at abandoned Hudson River docks and Manhattan orgies that are advertised on the Internet and have $20 entrance fees, Steve Weinstein writes: "After years of AIDS anxiety and government repression, gay public sex is bigger and better than ever." A similar headline in the Gay Pride issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian announced that "Gat Sluts Are Back." While praising "unapologetic homo-lust," self-described "gay slut" Simon Sheppard reports on large increases in unprotected sex, leading to new infections. "The threat of HIV was (and is) real and deadly," Sheppard writes. "But the epidemic was also seized upon as an instrument of control, both by assimilationists within the queer community who wanted us all to behave like good girls and by those in the larger heterocentrist culture who were both envious of and repelled by men who numbered their sex partners in the dozens. Or hundreds. Or thousands."