An Inclusive Litany


After the radical academic quarterly Social Text published an essay titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" as part of its special issue devoted to the "Science Wars," the author announced in Lingua Franca that his essay was a hoax. Alan Sokal, a physicist at New York University, submitted the essay in order to see whether "a leading North American journal of cultural studies... [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."

Calling for a "liberatory postmodern science" and an "emancipatory mathematics," Sokal wrote of the alleged deep connection between quantum theory and postmodern criticism. After lamenting that science and mathematics had fallen short of liberation because of "the crisis of late-capitalist production relations," Sokal concluded that "physical 'reality,' no less than social 'reality,' is at bottom a social and linguistic construct." The spurious but meticulously footnoted essay was laced with quotes from cultural-studies luminaries such as Jacques Lacan and Luce Irigaray, and included many pseudoscientific pronouncements that, he figured, any competent scientist reviewing the article for publication would instantly recognize as a spoof. Sokal loaded up the essay with non sequiturs and other fallacious rhetorical devices, but discovered that though he tried hard to produce syntactically correct sentences that have no meaning whatsoever, "I found that, save for rare bursts of inspiration, I just didn't have the knack."

Editors of the quarterly were not at all amused by the episode. Cofounder Stanley Aronowicz told the New York Times that Sokal, a full professor of Physics at a respected university, was "half-educated." Stanley Fish, a leading figure in postmodern literary theory and executive director of the Duke University Press, which publishes Social Text, charged Sokal with undermining "the foundation of trust on which science is built." (In his New York Times op-ed article on the matter, Fish also compared scientific laws to the socially constructed rules of baseball.) Editors also issued an official statement that said, "from the first, we considered Sokal's unsolicited article to be a little hokey," and that his "adventures in PostmodernLand were not really our cup of tea," begging the question of why they published it in the first place.

The London Weekly Telegraph reported that John Whitmore, who lives in West Midlands, England, received £23,000 in damages "for the loss of domestic services" after he successfully sued the man who killed his first wife in a drunk-driving accident four years previously. Whitmore believed that his second wife was not equal to his first wife, whose "three-course breakfasts" and other housework he assessed at £23,000.

The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence and Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY) asked the Federal Trade Commission to ban gun ads that imply that having a firearm in the house can make a person safer.

The Daily Oklahoman reports that the state supreme court upheld a trucker's claim to worker's compensation even though "he was engaged in sexual intercourse when he drove his truck into a train path."

An Associated Press item datelined Boston:
When a high-school teacher told her social-studies class she was a lesbian, one student was so upset she was forced to transfer to a private school, the teenager's parents claim. Jeannine and Thomas Jenei are seeking $359,571 from the town of Brookline—including $300,000 for emotional distress—saying their daughter Johanna was denied her right to a public education.


American Enterprise, May/June, 1996:
Disability activists are at loggerheads as deaf activists demand strobe-light fire alarms be required by law, but epileptic representatives say these will give them seizures. Meanwhile, wheelchair advocates insist on low-set automated teller machines that blind activists say wouldn't work for them.
[Ed.: In one case, a retail establishment perched on a steep slope was forced to install an expensive ramp in order to make it wheelchair accessible. The store sold nothing but running shoes.]


A revealing comment from the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Patriot, February 9, 1996. The editorial concerns an armed robbery committed by four teenagers, one of whom shot the store owner in the head as he stood with his hands up. The owner has since been in a coma, on life support.
Had [the shooter] and his friends been content to walk out of Sun Brothers Market with the cash drawer, it would have been a routine heist and Chung Ho Kwak likely would have returned to work the next day. But without warning or explanation, the young man raised his weapon and fired.

Playboy, May 1996:
The students at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio have taken matters into their own hands. The university finally recognized the Miami U. Masturbation Society—by permitting the coed group to use university facilities for its meetings. Whether student activity funds—those most-easy-to-come-by dollars—will be forthcoming is unclear. Jason Pfaff, executive supreme dictator of the society, says he's planning a mixer.... "It's the only social where you don't need a date."
[Ed.: According to its constitution, MUMS hopes to promote "the safest sex possible," as well as to "challenge social prejudice" and stereotypes, and "to strive toward manual dexterity" and "hand-eye coordination." The group is, in fact, a joke, making fun of the sort of frivolous student groups who receive general college funds. During the 1980s, editors of the Dartmouth Review infamously got their student government to approve a group dedicated to bestiality.]

Model-turned-actress Tatjana Patitz commented on her role as a murder victim in the movie Rising Sun: "I got into the psychology of why she liked to get strangled and tied up in plastic bags. It has to do with low self-esteem."

Following a school headmaster's stabbing death, the British government said it will propose legislation imposing sentences of up to two years for carrying a knife without good reason.

From "Does an Exception to the Gift Rule Apply?" a handout given to participants at an American League of Lobbyists seminar held in January, 1996, in Washington, D.C. The seminar was designed to educate league members about the new restrictions on gift-giving to members of Congress and their staffs that went into effect on the first of that month. The following "workshop problems" were written by the group's president, Wright Andrews, in order to "illustrate the use" of the gift ban's "numerous exceptions":

  • Dick and Katie are lobbyists from two unrelated lobbying firms. They take Mary, a Senate employee, to lunch and split the cost of Mary's $19 lunch bill. Since the Senate rules allow gifts of under $50, and items under $10 do not count, are these allowable gifts? If Mary's bill had been $90 and they split it, would they have sidestepped the $50 limit?

  • Mary is taken out again for a $25 lunch by Dick the following week, and the next day Jane treats Mary to a $30 lunch. Dick and Jane both work for the same firm. If Dick and Jane pay for Mary's lunches with the firm credit card do the amounts have to be aggregated for purposes of the $100 annual limit? What if Dick and Jane took Mary to lunch together and split the cost using separately numbered firm credit cards? What if Dick and Jane split the cost of Mary's lunch using their personal credit cards instead of their firm's card? What if the costs of the meals are billed to a client, or prorated among several clients?

  • Mary's boss, Senator Lykesmore, a senior Finance Committee member, calls Dick, saying that he needs to buy two tickets to the hoop-jumping event at the upcoming Olympics but can't find any because the $100 tickets were sold out months ago. Dick both likes Lykesmore and needs his help on many tax-legislation issues, so he promises to scrounge up some tickets. Dick pays a scalper $500 for two tickets and gives them to the senator. Lykesmore is pleased and writes out a $200 check to Dick for the tickets. Does the exception for items for which the covered employee pays "market value" apply? Is the "market value" $200 or $500?

  • Dick and Jane have been lobbying Mary and Senator Lykesmore on several corporate-tax-reform amendments, and, having concluded that neither the senator nor his aide understands the issues or their client's position, they invite them to a training session in order to educate them on these matters. Cocktails and a wonderful dinner are served during this training session. Lykesmore smokes an expensive Cuban cigar, provided by Dick, after dinner. Mary pockets one to give to a friend later. She and Lykesmore leave feeling better informed about the legislative issues but also a little drunk and bloated. Jane pays for the cab to get them home safely. Are the gifts here allowable under the exception for "training" activity?

  • Dick and Jane schedule a second training session for Senator Lykesmore and Mary, this time in Las Vegas at the offices of their client, the Lucky Duck Casino. On the day after the training session, Lykesmore is offered a free green fee if he plays golf in a charity event sponsored by the Lucky Duck. While he and Jane play golf, Dick and Mary drink pina coladas and sunbathe by the Lucky Duck's swimming pool. As the afternoon progresses, their friendship grows, as does their physical attraction to each other. Dick invites Mary to stay over with him for two days at his condo in Lake Tahoe. Since Mary has plenty of accrued vacation time and no pressing work back in D.C., she wants to accept. Can she do so under the gift rule's exception for "outside activities"?

[Ed.: Passing laws against political corruption is a bit like outlawing sharks while bailing chum overboard.]


After a small-scale private sector was allowed to emerge in Cuba and people began to quit their state jobs in order to work for themselves, President Fidel Castro introduced direct income taxes for the first time in 37 years, but not without receiving some complaints. "It's a form of injustice," commented Isidro Espana, a 40-year-old butcher who works 12 hours a day at a farmer's market in Havana, earning the equivalent of $6 to $8. Taxes are expected to increase steeply on June 1, but nobody knows by how much.

In a May Day address, Castro said the farmer's markets had created a class of "new rich" who were not helping to pay for Cuba's schools, medical services, and other state benefits. "I am sure that none of us sheds a tear because there are no millionaires" in Cuba, he said. "The tax is the path to collect the abusive excess of money that some persons have acquired."

In New York City, a committee charged with redesigning Children's Zoo in Central Park announced that they would have to remove sculptures such as Noah's Ark and Jonah's Whale, since they're religious and using public funds to renovate them would be a violation of church/state separation. But the New York Times reports that Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern stepped back from the decision. "He said Noah should not be viewed as a biblical character, which the [wildlife] society has called inappropriate for a public park, but as the first conservationist because he saved animals before the flood."

The Port Authority of New York has amassed a collection of artwork valued at over $26 million, including works by modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, but most people won't be able to see it. The art graces the offices of agency officials, which usually aren't open to the viewing public, whose bridge and tunnel toll payments funded the art purchases.

In Brooklyn, New York, a man charged with shooting his landlord was apprehended after skipping two court hearings, but was then let go on the grounds that the state had deprived him of his right to a speedy trial by failing to be sufficiently diligent in trying to catch him.


The Diversity Digest, a publication of the National Institutes of Health's Office of Equal Opportunity, advises that the terms husband and wife should be stricken from workplace conversation and written matter. In an article titled "Toward Greater Inclusion in the Workplace," Nick D'Ascoli, chairman of the institutes' Gay and Lesbian Employees Forum, calls for "inclusive language" that would not be offensive to those who do not have husbands or wives but have a "partner," a "domestic partner," or a "significant other." Since this inclusive terminology is still evolving, D'Ascoli notes, it is acceptable for the time being to put forth one's best effort not to cause discomfort to anyone who is "gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered."

The Office also released a booklet for employees titled "50 Ways to Respect Diversity and Positively Impact the Work Environment." The booklet, which is part of the Workplace Diversity Initiative, contains helpful tips such as these:

  • Start interacting with someone who is different from you. "Do lunch," take a walk, meet for coffee, go to tea, or otherwise engage someone new and different. Any difference will do.

  • Add extra meaning to brown-bag meetings by adopting a food theme such as vegetarian, kosher, and ethnic cuisines.

  • Do not laugh or participate in jokes that bash others or reinforce stereotypes. Even lawyers have become sensitive about being the butt of jokes that demean.

  • Remember that bashing jokes can also include jokes about white males, gays, and lesbians.

  • Develop a technique to let persons know when you hear them refer to women as "girls," or when you hear a team of men and women referred to as "you guys."

  • On an individual level, ask co-workers if they prefer to be called "Native American" or "Indian," "Black" or "African American," "Hispanic" or "Latino," "hard-of-hearing" or "hearing impaired," and "people of color" or "minority." ...

  • Start a diversity resource center or library in your organization.

After five years of heated debate, the National Institutes of Health has decided to undertake a nationwide clinical trial of Kemron, the drug touted by the Nation of Islam as a cure of AIDS, despite a previous finding by the World Health Organization that the drug had no effect on the HIV virus. Nation of Islam Health Minister Dr. Abdul Alim Muhammed, who once told a Baltimore crowd that AIDS is "the perfect genocidal weapon" manufactured by the white government against black people, runs the Abundant Life Clinic in Washington, D.C., which has been chosen as one of the drug's testing sites.

An Associated Press item datelined Norfolk, Virginia, May 14, 1996:
A man who cut off his right hand because he thought it was possessed by the devil, then refused to let surgeons reattach it, is suing the hospital and the doctors for $3.35 million over the loss of his hand.

Thomas W. Passmore claims doctors at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital should have contacted his parents or his sister to overrule his decision.

According to the lawsuit, Passmore, a 32-year-old working on a construction job, thought he saw the number "666" on his hand and believed it was a demonic sign. Obeying the Biblical instruction "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off," Passmore sliced off his hand with a circular saw.

At the hospital, Passmore told doctors he had a history of psychiatric disorders, including manic-depression, and had had little sleep and little food for the past week.

The hospital contacted a judge, who advised against reattaching the hand without knowing Passmore was incompetent, the lawsuit said.

A 1992 drug arrest by Los Angeles police and federal agents began as a routine undercover operation. Police made eight visits to a dealer's motel room, buying a total of 133 grams of crack cocaine. In the raid they seized firearms and arrested five men, charging them with drug trafficking. Because of the amounts of the amounts of cocaine and the weapons involved, prosecutors indicted the men in federal court, where sentences are generally stiffer than in state courts.

However, with legal support from the NAACP and the ACLU, federal public defender Barbara O'Connor charged that the defendants in the case, who are all black, were targeted for prosecution in federal courts, instead of more lenient state courts, because of their race. O'Connor's client, Shelton Martin (a.k.a. "Psycho"), faces 35 years to life in federal prison; in the California state system, he would face only three to ten years.

The case has now gone on to the Supreme Court, which will decide under what circumstances prosecutors must account for the high proportion of blacks being charged with crack-cocaine trafficking in federal court. Since a previous Ninth Circuit ruling favorable to the defense, over a hundred other defendants sued, alleging discrimination.

Rather than expel high-school student Jeremy Wartenberg, who had cursed his teachers, sold cigarettes on campus and told a fellow student he wanted to kill him, California's Capistrano Unified School District was compelled under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to place Jeremy in the "least restrictive environment" possible due to his Attention Deficit Disorder. To accommodate him, the school placed Jeremy in special-education classes five days a week, but he continued to act out in class and failed all six of his courses.

Jeremy's parents transferred him to a private school, then sued the district for reimbursement of the $20,000 annual tuition. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district must pay the tuition, plus an additional $130,000 for the family's attorney fees. Altogether, that's enough to educate almost 35 California public school students for a year.

The New York Times Book Review, March 24, 1996:
Blood Sport is by far the most complete, the best and the fairest account of the Clintons and their troubles to date, and it concludes that the Whitewater grab bag of scandal, controversy and unanswered questions does not justify the attention it has received. The land deal was stupid but not criminal; the Clintons and especially Mrs. Clinton, did many things in Arkansas and later that were stupid but not criminal; and their attempts to respond to the hailstorm of charges against them have been variously naive, impetuous, evasive, foolish, misleading and stupid, but not criminal.
[Ed.: Four more years!]

The Far Eastern Economic Review reports on the trade wars in Taiwan:
Government restrictions on garlic imports have caused the bulb's price to climb about 300% in the past few years. Gangsters have taken over the trade, which is now more profitable than the drug market.


The New York City school board voted to spend $187,000 to put a metal art structure on the roof of P.S. 279 but not to repair the school's elevator, which has been broken for nearly two years. The board has spent $11 million on artwork for public schools that have problems ranging from leaky roofs to outdated textbooks.

The London Weekly Telegraph reported that the British Home Office has decided to award £35,000 to seven inmates at the Strangeways prison who suffered high levels of stress while participating in a prison riot in 1990. The prisoner won the lawsuit by claiming "that their personalities changed because of the Strangeways riot." One of the prisoners, Terence Jeggo, complained that he had changed from "a happy-go-lucky person to a time bomb about to go off."

A list of topics discussed on daytime television talk shows, compiled by the Heritage Foundation in Policy Review, May/June 1996. While the purpose of the list was to demonstrate the trashiness of these shows, don't you think they're still being a bit too judgmental?

Jenny Jones (Warner Bros. Television)
Guests have included: a woman who said she got pregnant while making a pornographic movie; a husband who had been seeing a prostitute for two years and whose wife confronted him on the show. Selected show titles: "A Mother Who Ran off with Her Daughter's Fiance," "Women Discuss Their Sex Lives with Their Mothers."

Sally Jessy Raphael (Multimedia Entertainment)
Guests have included: a 13-year-old girl who was urged to share her sexual experiences, beginning at age 10; a person who claimed to have slept with over 200 sexual partners; a man who appeared on stage with roses for the daughter he had sexually molested, and revealed that he had been molested when he was five. Selected show titles: "Sex Caught on Tape," "My Daughter is Living as a Boy," "Wives of Rapists," "I'm Marrying a 14-year-old Boy."

Jerry Springer (Multimedia Entertainment)
Guests have included: a man who admitted to sleeping with his girlfriend's mother; a 16-year-old girl (wearing sunglasses to disguise her identity) who said she buried her newborn baby alive in her backyard; a 17-year-old who had married her 71-year-old foster father (with whom she first had sex when she was 14) and had borne four children by him; a husband who revealed to his wife on the show that he was having an affair after which the mistress emerged, kissed the husband, and told the wife that she loved them both.

Montel Williams (Paramount)
Guests have included: a pregnant woman who boasted of having eight sexual partners during her first two trimesters; a 17-year-old girl who boasted of having slept with more than a hundred men; a man claiming to be an HIV-positive serial rapist of prostitutes. Selected show titles: "Married Men Who Have Relationships with the Next-Door Neighbor," "Promiscuous Teenage Girls."

Maury Povich (Paramount)
Guests have included: a young mother who had no qualms about leaving her sons in the care of her father, a convicted child molester, because the father had only molested girls.

Geraldo (Tribune Entertainment)
Guests have included: a gold-chained pimp who threatened to "leave my [expletive] ring print" on the forehead of an audience member, while scantily clad prostitutes sat next to him. Selected show titles: "Men who Sell Themselves to Women for a Living," "Mothers Try to Save Their Daughters from Teenage Prostitution," "Women Who Marry Their Rapist."

Richard Bey (All American Television)
Guests have included: a woman who said her 16-year-old sister had slept with 15 men; two sisters who hate each other and who mudwrestled while the show played pig noises; a man who wanted to have sex with his girlfriend's sister before he and his girlfriend got married. Selected show titles: "Housewives vs. Strippers."

Ricki Lake (Columbia Tri-Star Television)
Guests have included: a woman who boasted she once pulled a gun on her boyfriend's wife; a man who explained to his surprised roommate that he had revealed the roommate's homosexuality to the roommate's mother. Selected show titles: "Women Confront Exes Who Cheated and Then Warn New Girlfriends," "Now That I've Slept With Him, He Treats Me Like Dirt!"

Rolanda (King World)
Guests have included: a woman who revealed her love for her female roommate, whose response was, "Now I know why she comes in the bathroom every time I take a shower"; a woman serving as maid of honor to her best friend who alleged that she had slept with the groom a week before the wedding. Selected show titles: "I Use Sex to Get What I Want," "Get Bigger Breasts or Else."

Walter Olson in Commentary, May 1996:
In Detroit, a rapist held fourteen-year-old Angela Skinner [no relation] captive in his apartment, threatening to shoot her if she tried to escape. When police broke down a padlocked door to free her, she led them to a closet where he kept his guns. The rapist was convicted, but on appeal a federal court excluded the weapons from evidence and overturned his conviction because the police had obtained Angela's permission alone to look in the closet, and not his.

According to a report by United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, deadbeat diplomats have accrued about $8.5 million in debts to U.S. banks, landlords, hospitals, hotels, utility companies and merchants, while using their diplomatic immunity to avoid payment. The report noted: "Some missions have not paid rent for two years or more. A number of residential landlords have either lost their property or were at risk of losing it because diplomatic tenants, who could not be evicted, would neither pay their rent nor leave their property."


The New York Times on corporate downsizing:
Those who have not lost their jobs and their identities, and do not expect to, are also being traumatized. The witnesses, the people who stay employed but sit next to empty desks and wilting ferns, are grappling with the guilt that psychologists label survivor's syndrome.
[Ed.: An April 23 report by the Labor Department and the Council of Economic Advisors concluded that the phenomenon of "downsizing" that the New York Times purported to describe in its extensive seven-part series didn't exist. Private sector payrolls grew 8.7 percent between January 1993 and March 1996, with faster employment growth than in any other G-7 country. The series, which was later compiled into book form, was extensively criticized in other periodicals for its overreliance on anecdotes and misleading statistics.]

Dan Rather on the "CBS Evening News," April 30, 1996:
Good evening. It's the question every American driver is asking with every trip to the pump. Why is the price of gasoline going up and up. Is it the free market at work, the law of supply and demand? Or, is it greed, or possibly something more sinister?

Mr. Rather again, same show, same night:

President Clinton is giving some election-year help to America's ranchers and farmers. The President took action today to try to boost cattle prices, which have fallen to their lowest level in ten years.

Rather discusses dairy-state Republicans' own excursions into the marketplace on behalf of their constituents, February 2:

A CBS News exclusive. The hush-hush plan afoot in Congress that could make your milk prices soar.... CBS News has been told that a secret deal is making its way through Congress that would increase the additives in your milk, and increase the retail price of milk about 40 cents a gallon.

Public-housing residents picketed the Federal Building in Chicago to protest a bill that would charge them $25 a month for their apartments.

When Evelyn Smith, a Presbyterian landlady, discovered that a couple she had rented an apartment to were not married as they had led her to believe, she insisted that her religion would not permit her to rent them the apartment in her home. The couple sued, and the California State Supreme Court ruled that Mrs. Smith had violated the couple's right to "freedom from discrimination based on personal characteristics." Marian Johnston, the couple's attorney, commented: "We're not precluding [Mrs. Smith] from exercising her religion. We're just saying she can't bring it with her into the business world."

The New Republic:
A mailing from Phil Gramm's presidential campaign detailed the "ethical problems" of Lamar Alexander, including "pelting out-of-state cars with snowballs," which "earned Alexander at least two paddlings at school."


The New York Times ran an article examining jokes and various other forms of "age-bashing" directed at Presidential candidate Robert Dole, who, if elected, would be the oldest man to assume that office in American history. "Racism and sexism have long been taboo in mainstream American politics," wrote Richard Berke, "but in this Presidential campaign there is a high tolerance for ageism." However, nowhere in the article did Berke mention the distinct possibility that, upon assuming office at age 73, the old buzzard might croak.

Jim and Bev Harris got into trouble with their neighbors in the Clearwater, Florida, trailer park where they spend their winters when they decided to hoist the flag of their native Canada outside their home. Their neighbors demanded that they take the flag down, incorrectly believing its display to be against the law. Said one neighbor, "I don't know who came up with this idea to let everybody fly their flag. This is America."


Georgetown University has dropped its "great authors" requirement, so that English majors no longer need to know anything about Shakespeare, Chaucer, or Milton in order to graduate.