An Inclusive Litany


After Vice President Al Gore invoked the memory of his deceased sister, who died in "nearly unbearable pain," in a passionate speech at the Democratic Convention against the dangers of smoking, the Washington Post (among others) pointed out that Gore had been a strong supporter of the tobacco lobby well after her death in 1984. Gore later said it was "numbness" from his sister's death that allowed him to continue to grow tobacco on his family farm in Tennessee and to accept political contributions from tobacco companies as late as six years after his sister's death.

A six-year-old boy in Durham, North Carolina, sued his mother for a car accident that caused him to lose a baby tooth. The judge awarded him $7,500.

In Racine County, Wisconsin, Deborah Zimmerman was charged with attempted homicide because, two days before her baby was to be induced, she went out and got completely drop-dead drunk. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes that had she given birth to a stillborn baby, she could not have been charged with homicide because it would have considered an abortion of sorts, so it was her legal misfortune to give birth to a healthy baby.


Microsoft chose the translation we ruan for its Japanese operation. Translated literally as "small and soft," it has not been well received by Japanese men.

Under pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the National Park Service has removed nine deer from the Pageant of Peace on the Washington Mall's Ellipse, behind the White House. For years each Christmas the deer have been tucked away to graze in a 20-by-30-foot pen as a tribute to Santa's reindeer. But as one animal rights activist told the Washington Post, the deer looked "sad."

An Associated Press dispatch from Albany, New York, November 22, 1996:
If released, the results of newborn AIDS testing could give fathers ammunition in child custody battles and could mean an increase in domestic violence, AIDS activists claim.

The state will soon require mothers be told whether tests indicate their newborn has been exposed to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The results of that test will go into a baby's medical records, making the results available to the baby's father.

This will give the father information on the mother's condition, activists said, since a positive antibodies test for the newborn means the mother is infected with the AIDS virus.

"There's a lot of documented domestic violence that has occurred in response to positive HIV test results for women," said Virginia Shubert, an attorney with Housing Works, which helps homeless AIDS victims.

Fathers could use that information against the mother in a custody battle, Shubert told Friday's Albany Times Union.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill giving the Health Department authority to require the test results be made available to new mothers. The new regulation, proposed last month, hasn't been enacted yet.

Shubert said the law amounts to forced AIDS testing for mothers, who will lose the confidentiality of their own medical condition when the infant's father reads the test results, Shubert said.

Health Department spokesman Robert Hinckley confirmed that fathers would have the right to see their children's test results.

"We're not looking to deny fathers' access to their children's medical records," Hinckley said.

HIV-infected mothers transmit the virus to their babies in about one in four cases.

Butte County, California, Sheriff Mick Grey discovered that nearly 9 percent of the prisoners under his watch were receiving Supplemental Security Income, a payment from the Social Security Administration designed to help those with disabilities, despite a law that bans the incarcerated from receiving such checks. The vast majority of these disability claims stemmed from alcohol and drug abuse.

Following recommendations from the Task Force on the Education of African-American Students, the Oakland, California, Board of Education voted to classify "Ebonics" as a separate language. (The term stands for "Ebony Phonics," also known as "Black English.")

Advocates of the new policy insist that Ebonics will not be taught as a second language to students, but rather to teachers so that they will understand what their students are saying—without alienating them by holding their unique language patterns up to scorn. Critics point out that the new language would make the city's schools eligible for additional federal bilingual education funds.

[Ed.: Prior to its extensive backpedaling when the issue of "Ebonics" received withering national media exposure, the Oakland school board's original statement recognizing the alternate language suggested that it had a basis in the genetic makeup of African-Americans. Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, got into trouble for a whole lot less.]

Penn State withdrew its invitation to senior Paul Saito to provide a valedictory address at graduation ceremonies when he refused to remove a sentence from his speech thanking God for getting him through school. President Clinton also spoke at the ceremonies, and thanked God.

By law, children in New York State will henceforth be taught that the mid-19th century Irish potato famine is the equivalent of genocide, having supposedly been engineered by the British.

The cover of the November, 1996 issue of Emerge, which calls itself "black America's newsmagazine," depicts Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, referred to as "Uncle Thomas," as a "Lawn Jockey of the Far Right." As Emerge editor George Curry explains, "The lawn jockeys on plantations were used to let other owners know when a slave had escaped." Another illustration inside the magazine features Thomas grinning as he shines the shoes of Justice Antonin Scalia, who relaxes in a leather chair. Three years prior, the magazine's cover depicted Justice Thomas with an Aunt Jemima handkerchief wrapped around his head.


A USA Today report from Charleston, West Virginia, December 10, 1996:
The state Supreme Court said the state can't enforce a smoking ban at regional jails because the rule was adopted without inmates' input.

An invitation received by students at Harvard University:
Stephen Mitchell and Kristene Forsgard
Co-masters of Eliot House
And Nancy Goldstein and James Lin
Designated Sexual Orientation Tutors for Eliot House


the Residents of Eliot House
and all
First-Year Students at Harvard/Radcliffe to an

Evening Tea
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and
People and their Friends

Eliot House Masters' Residence (M Entry)
Thursday, 14 November 1996
7:30-9:30 pm

The Pleasure of a Reply is Requested by Tuesday 12 November
(and please let us know if you are bringing a friend)

In Stuart, Florida, Pamela Harrison sued her former employer, the Kat Tales Club, alleging wrongful termination from her job as an exotic dancer. Harrison had undergone surgery that required her to wear an ostomy bag tucked into her G-string, into which body waste could flow during her performance. Harrison was fired following complaints from fellow dancers, who feared a health hazard. Harrison's complaint alleges that she was discriminated against based on her disability. An expert cited by the Associated Press said there was no health threat to others.

Fifth-graders in Alexandria, Virginia, tore up the words to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and instead sang about "the twelve days of the holidays," which included "Kwanzaa."

[Ed.: It sounds as if they missed a golden opportunity to make that particular song less annoying.]


Professor Louis F. Markert of California State University in the Fresno Bee, October 12, 1996:
Rock, rap, alternative rock, gangsta rap, grunge—these are tribes. They have their own lyricists, choruses, followers, and sounds.

Snoop Doggy Dog, Hootie and the Blowfish, Bjork, Blues Traveler, Shakur, Madonna, R.E.M., U2, Pearl Jam and Soul Asylum—the names are distinctive. The music is rebellious, tender, harsh, and compassionate, more emotional than spiritual, more brazen than inspiring.

It documents the experience of youth growing up in worlds created and managed by adults: families, schools, churches, neighborhoods, stores, courts, corporations, economies, industries, political parties, poverty, racism, alcoholism, abuse, and unemployment—worlds that are often harsh and uninviting. The young must make sense of them, define themselves against them, and find their way in them. Their music tells the story.

Unfortunately, their story is partly an indictment of us...

After New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's workfare program got 30,000 former welfare recipients to clean up parks, assist in hospitals, and do clerical work in city offices, local communications and transportation unions spearheaded an effort to unionize them. "They are workers now," local Communications Workers of America political director Ed Ott told the New York Times. "They want the full protections any worker is entitled to."

A regular recipient of federal and state affirmative action contracts is officially classified as Native American because he claims to have 1/64th Cherokee Indian ancestry.

After California voters passed Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative, which prohibited state racial preferences, a federal judge put the new law on hold, claiming it probably violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps enticed by lucrative gambling rights available only to Native Americans, Hawaiian groups have demanded that ethnic Hawaiians be removed from the Census Bureau's Asian/Pacific Islander racial category and reclassified as American Indians.


Prior to his inauspicious involvement with the O.J. Simpson murder case, Los Angeles police officer Mark Fuhrman attempted to obtain a disability pension on the grounds that he was a hopeless racist.

From the course description for "Disney: Uncle Walt and the FBI," an undergraduate offering from the Brown University Modern Culture Program:
Live action feature films, animation, Uncle Walt and the FBI, late monopoly capitalism, HUAC, theme parks, children's television, convention centers, nature documentaries, Eurodisney, postmodern architecture, the production of family life. Theory by Benjamin, Debord, Marin Baudrillard, Jameson, and others.

Letter to the editor, the New York Times, December 10, 1996:
Your Dec. 6 front-page article on the nomination of Madeleine K. Albright to be the next Secretary of State correctly notes that the holder of that office is fourth in line for the Presidency. But Ms. Albright, as you suggest, is a naturalized citizen, having been born in Czechoslovakia. Accordingly, she cannot become President because she does not meet the eligibility requirement of Article II, Section I of the Constitution that "no person except a natural born citizen" can hold the office of President.

Clearly, this constitutional provision has lingered way beyond any purpose it was designed to serve in 1787. While amending the Constitution should always be approached warily, Ms. Albright's likely accession to the position of Secretary of State provides an opportunity to cleanse our supreme statute of a provision that is now discriminatory.

—Nicholas W. Puner
Chappaqua, N.Y.

Following a sexual harassment scandal that rocked the U.S. Army, in which drill instructors and officers faced charges ranging from rape to sexual harassment perpetrated on their female trainees, Janice East Grant of the Hartford County branch of the NAACP told the Washington Post that the Army was focusing on the wrong set of victims. "I definitely think it's racial, and they're looking for a scapegoat... Historically, when black men are involved intimately or sexually with white women, the black people have been wrongly accused."

[Ed.: Indeed, many of the women involved later recanted their allegations, noting that they had been pressured to come forward.]

In her self-published classic, The Blackman's Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman, Shahrazad Ali urges black men to slap black women across the mouth when they are disrespectful, in order to reestablish the patriarchal authority that centuries of racism has disrupted.


58-year-old millionaire American Restaurant Group Holdings CEO Anwar Soliman was awarded $24.5 million in his suit against American Airlines. Mr. Soliman and his driver were injured in a three-car crash on a busy entrance road to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Mr. Soliman's lawyers argued successfully that two of the three drivers involved in the crash, including his own, had been distracted by the large signs American had set up to direct drivers to various gates.

In response to growing public alarm over the risks posed by air bags to children and short adults, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed maintaining the current air bag mandate—which adds about $750 to final sticker prices—while allowing dealers to disconnect the mechanism at the owner's request.

Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator during 1977-81, issued the first series of air bag mandates. Later, as head of Naderite group Public Citizen, she pressured Congress to require air bags on all new cars. A Public Citizen press release now claims that she, along with other auto safety advocates, "today revealed documents dating back to the 1970s which showed that the current ... child injury problems with air bags were foreseen by auto industry tests." Yet Ms. Claybrook was instrumental in suppressing and dismissing any studies suggesting that air bags were less than completely safe, insisting that the auto companies' concerns represented a spurious and irresponsible effort to undermine public confidence in air bag safety. She recently complained to the Washington Monthly of Detroit's failure to "see the human cost of not implementing the airbag." Now, in a Washington Post op-ed, the subject of her outrage has shifted: "Despite the knowledge of the performance of the air bags they designed, promoted and are selling to the public, the auto companies until now have not explicitly warned occupants with an obvious and unequivocal label on the dashboard."

To date, more than 30 children have been killed by air-bag deployment, many of them in low-speed accidents—twice as many as the number of children saved. In addition, the estimated number of adult lives saved by air bag mandates—2,500 to 3,000—is about one quarter of the originally projected number, and is offset by a similar number of lives lost annually due to the downsizing effect of fuel-efficiency mandates.

[Ed.: Fearing lawsuits, many dealers later refused to deactivate the airbags. Later, in 1998, an Ohio man was jailed for not deactivating the bag following a crash that killed his two-month-old son.]

From a memo distributed in September, 1996, to conservative radio talk-show hosts by Rich Galen, director of political communications for Newt Gingrich. Aside from his dabblings in nonlinear dynamics, the House Speaker is otherwise well known for his rather breathless recommendations for Alvin Toffler's book of generalist prognostications, The Third Wave, among other objects of his erudition.
There is a relatively new branch of science called Chaos Theory. A common illustration of this theory is the phenomenon of a butterfly that flutters its wings in Argentina and ultimately causes a thunderstorm in New Jersey.

But another part of the theory holds that a complex system will change, well, chaotically. To take the butterfly-to-storm example, you will not be able to predict, with any degree of precision, when lightning will form and strike within that storm. One second there will be no lightning, and the next second the sky is bright. Chaos.

Or suppose you take a wineglass and begin to squeeze its upper rim. If you continue to apply pressure, at some point the glass will break. The system will collapse entirely and instantaneously. A half hour prior to the glass breaking, an observer would say that he was looking at a glass. He would not be able to tell you he was looking at a potential pile of shards.

What does this have to do with the presidential campaign? My strong impression is that there will come a time, sometime between now and November 5, when the Clinton campaign, like the glass, will entirely and instantaneously collapse. One moment it will be a campaign, the next moment it will be unrecognizable.

That's why we don't have to be frightened by the current Dole-Clinton poll numbers. At some point the poll numbers are going to shift entirely and instantaneously. After that happens, every observer will realize that the Clinton campaign is no more. Reporters constantly ask me how Dole can come back. I tell them that no amount of polling about the status of that glass half an hour before it collapsed changed the fact that it did, indeed, collapse.

Noting that Bob Dole was twenty-three points behind in the polls, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson correspondingly told his group, "In my personal opinion, there's got to be a miracle from Almighty God to pull it out, and that could happen." As for himself, the night before his defeat Mr. Dole made a hopeful appeal to the memory of Harry Truman's 1948 surprise victory and left it at that.

On June 3, 1996, the New Yorker published a similarly reasoned appeal to nonlinearity. Malcolm Gladwell posited that the recent and unexpected free-fall decline in New York City's crime rate was not necessarily due to Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's aggressive policy of punishing petty crime—using James Q. Wilson's "broken-window" theory of community breakdown as a model—but rather to a new theory that used epidemiology as a metaphor. Under this theory, crime is viewed as analogous to a medical epidemic that disappears suddenly and unpredictably only after it has run its course, seemingly impervious to direct treatment. Social pathologies may be determined by seemingly unrelated "tipping points"—plausibly relevant variables often referred to sarcastically by critics as "root causes." If social programs designed to affect these tipping points produce unsatisfactory results, Gladwell suggests that spending just a bit more may "tip" the variables the other way to produce excellent results—because the results can be expected to be nonlinear. Gladwell suggests parenthetically that this may rescue the tarnished image of modern liberalism, also remarking cattily that Gingrich, along with the rest of the new Republican congressional majority, could not be expected to possess the intellectual resources to appreciate the implications of such an advanced, innovative idea.

And finally, Boston Globe staff entertainment writer Jim Sullivan profiles rock legend David Bowie, February 9, 1997. In the article, Sullivan gently chides Bowie for a pretentious comment he made in an interview the previous year, in which he described himself as "a populist and a postmodern Buddhist surfing my way through the chaos of the 20th century." But apparently, Mr. Sullivan couldn't help sharing some deep thoughts of his own about chaos:

A mathematician might look at Bowie as a musical equivalent of fractal mathematics, where chaos is created through something called "amplification via interation," in which the outcome of a system is fed back to the system itself.