An Inclusive Litany


Responding to a historic under-representation of minorities, New York's Suffolk County Police Department created a minority-only cadet program whose members only needed a passing score of 70 on the academy's entrance exam, rather than the upper 90s as is expected for whites. Following that, one officer was suspended and another officer and a retiree were indicted for improperly tutoring some minority cadets to raise their scores, which may have caused an unfair advantage. Also, four white males, along with a part-black female who says she only looks white, sued when they were barred as cadets for being Caucasian.

In Oakland, five-year-old Travell De Shawn Louie was, without any parental notification, placed in a bilingual kindergarten classroom in which children were taught in Cantonese, even though the child was black and only spoke English (or perhaps Ebonics, another of Oakland's language offerings). After his father complained to the principal, the child was eventually moved to a classroom in which he was taught in English geared towards Chinese speakers.


Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan picked Muhammad Abdul Aziz, convicted of the 1965 assassination of Malcolm X, to run the historic Mosque No. 7 in Harlem where Malcolm X used to speak.

In New York City, the Congress for Racial Equality discontinued an internship program aimed at disadvantaged youth after the state ruled that it must pay interns minimum wage.

The Food and Drug Administration now requires a warning label on the side of toothpaste tubes. People who swallow more than a brushful, the advisory says, should "seek professional assistance or contact a poison control center immediately." But poison specialists say that for toothpaste to cause any noticeable health problems, someone would have to swallow at least a full tube, and by then vomiting would almost certainly have been spontaneously induced. Poison control centers received 12,855 toothpaste-related calls in 1997, twice as many as before the warning went into effect. Of all the calls, only one case was serious: a teenager who got toothpaste into an eye.

[Ed.: On my tube, the warning appears next to another note that reads: "For best results, squeeze from the bottom and flatten as you go up."]


In Virginia, the Board of Trustees of the Loudon County Public Library passed a rule requiring installation of special software on computers with Internet access to block out adult-oriented Web sites. Interestingly, the board did not formulate this policy as a way to shield children from pornography, but rather to protect adults from sexual harassment. "Library pornography can create a sexually hostile environment for patrons and staff," stated the board's policy. "Permitting pornographic displays may constitute unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act."

Time Senior Editor Nancy Gibbs opening one of the magazine's news stories, March 2, 1998:
In the gaudy mansions of Clinton's mind there are many rooms with heavy doors, workroom and playrooms, room stuffed with trophies, rooms to stash scandals and regrets. He walks lightly amid the ironies of his talents and behavior, just by consigning them to different cubbies of his brain. It's an almost scary mind, that of a multitasking wizard who plays hearts while he talks on the phone with a head of state, who sits through a dense briefing on chemical weapons intently doing a crossword puzzle, only to take reporters' questions hours later and repeat whole sections of the briefing word for word.


The New York Times notes that the New York City Commission on Human Rights, charged with enforcing anti-bias laws, was found to have discriminated against two women on its payroll. A federal appeals court upheld a $1.5 million jury award against the City's Department for the Aging for having discriminated against old people. The Labor Department settled a bias suit brought by its employees for $5 million. The Environmental Protection Agency suffered an official outbreak of "sick building syndrome," and the same Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that supported the Family and Medical Leave Act now stands accused of bias against a pregnant staff member.


There have been many fallback positions, and this is one of them—the Packwood gambit. Lynda Gorov in the Boston Globe, March 19, 1998:
They are dismayed, of course. Disgusted even. But many women across America continue to stand by President Clinton, saying that at least he seems to understand that no means no.

Even as they shared their own stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, the women who made passes from men who are predators. Even in the worst version, they noted, Clinton backed off when refused by his accusers, behavior that marks him as clumsy and crude, but also sets him apart from executives who continue to prey on or penalize women who reject them.

"It's reality, and we shouldn't expect Clinton to be any different," said Susan Nassberg, a marketing and advertising executive in Los Angeles. "Right now it's 'he said, she said,' and God knows if we're ever going to get to the truth. But the bottom line is: If someone says no, it's no, and Clinton seems to get that. These women's careers don't seem to have been hurt because of it."

Over a decade after it was ridiculed for paying $640 for a toilet seat, the Pentagon was still found to be paying too much for supplies. An audit by the Inspector General noted $76 set-screws that should have cost 57 cents each, a $47 electrical bell marked up to $714, a screw thread insert previously priced at 29 cents for an inflated price of $5.41, and $403 for a $25 actuator sleeve. The audit concluded that too often, the Pentagon had failed to exercise its bargaining power.

Congress is mulling over a bill to close a loophole in the Unemployment Tax Act that allowed a voting monitor and retired county worker in Santa Cruz, California, to work one day at the polls on election day, claim the next day that he was "laid off," and thereafter collect about $12,000 in benefits over a two-year period.


Letter to the editor, the Boston Globe, March 18, 1998:
The fourth-grade sample assessment test question on the Feb. 26 front page is a horrific example of a badly constructed test question. It not only requires a sophistication in English grammar beyond many 9-year-olds and thus misses a chance to truly test their mathematical understanding (the point of the question), but it is biased toward children growing up in sophisticated English-speaking, middle- or upper-middle-income homes.

The question was: "By how much would the value of 5,647 be decreased if the 5 were replaced by a 2?"

This could easily be stated more plainly and measure arithmetic skills more accurately. "In the number 5,647, if you took out the 5 and replaced it with a 2, how much less would the new number be worth?"

Jerome Kagan, a Princeton psychologist, deconstructed many such test questions in his 1970s research to identify cultural bias and show that white and financially well-off students usually perform better than others on standardized tests because of the unconscious biases of test constructors.

On the basis of one test item, I do not want to assume bias in an entire test. Yet it is certainly worth a look by educators trained in avoiding cultural, racial, and socioeconomic bias. We owe it to our society to help all children reach their fullest potential.

—Sherry Zitter

[Ed.: A test question is relatively difficult, therefore unfair to those minorities who do not do as well on tests. For the test to be made "fair" by this measure, we must thus make it easier to pass. Note that standardized tests were originally set up as a progressive, meritocratic device designed to objectively evaluate the performance of immigrant children in an era when WASPs kept elite academies ethnically exclusive.]

Two entrepreneurs in Fountain Valley, California, wanted to open a cigar lounge featuring a gourmet menu, a full bar, and Internet access. When they applied for a business permit, however, the town's residents rejected the idea. While locals were concerned about the cancer-causing effects of cigars and worried over the availability of parking, they were mainly concerned with the effects of mixing alcohol and the Internet. "How are we going to protect our women after these guys get liquored up, look at pornography, and then roam the neighborhood late at night?" intoned one concerned citizen. Local police also opposed "uncontrolled Internet access." Detective Sgt. Paul McGinnis commented, "I've never actually been on the Internet, but my understanding is that you can get just about anything you want on there."

The Washington Post, November 5, 1997:
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has published the first guidelines used to determine whether sex discrimination exists in the compensation of athletic coaches at the nation's colleges and high schools.

The essence of the 29-page document ... is that salary packages for men and women coaches don't have to be the same but an institution must prove that the reason for any difference is not based on a coach's sex. An institution cannot defend a differential by arguing, for instance, that men's sports produce more revenue.


Verso, a publishing house specializing in critical leftist titles, plans to mark the 150th anniversary of The Communist Manifesto with an "up-market" edition of the book. Publisher Colin Robinson is targeting the book not at the proletariat, but at "up-scale shoppers of fashion and furniture stores." Plans are underway to display the stylish red-and-black, cloth-bound edition at Barneys as well as at checkout counters of the Borders and Barnes & Noble superstores. All this will go into effect starting on May 1, the international worker's holiday. Robinson admits the marketing campaign is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but insists the goal is to encourage the widest possible readership of the book, especially among those he considers "quite well off but a little uncomfortable with capitalism."

Writing in the New York Times to mark the anniversary of the Manifesto's publication, Columbia University professor Steven Marcus downplayed the book's failed prophecies and instead praised its artfulness, noting that it "possesses a structural complexity and a denseness of thematic play that we ordinarily associate with great works of the literary imagination." The book, he says, opens as Gothic tale, but its metaphors quickly segue to those of fairy tales, then to the Arabian Nights, then, by a "generative fecundity," to intimations of "Goethe's Faust, Byron's Manfred, Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, and a host of other modern and mythological dramatizations." According to Marcus, "Such trains of metaphoric figures and images are part of the dense local intertwinements that constitute the microstructure of the Manifesto's linguistic fabric and argument."

[Ed.: The book's cover art features a dramatic painting of a red flag against a black background that the artist intended as ironic mockery of the Social Realist style of art made popular under Stalin's regime. The artist is reportedly baffled at its use in promoting communism's source text.]

An exhibit in a display case near the history department of the University of Minnesota, Duluth, featured a photograph of two history professors clowning around. The photo showed Albert Burnham wearing a coonskin cap and holding a pistol, with his colleague Ronald Marchese holding a Roman short sword. Students complained that photographs of two white males in such quasi-military attire was "offensive" and that it "contributed to the climate of fear" on campus.

UMD President Lawrence Ianni agreed, ordering campus police to remove the photograph. But the two professors sued Ianni for $1.2 million on First Amendment grounds, and a federal appeals court recently ruled that the case could proceed and that the professors could collect from Ianni personally in the event of victory.

Winners of the Massachusetts Civil Justice Reform Alliance's "Wacky Warning Label Contest" included "Remember, You Should Not Aim Pepper Spray at Your Eyes," and "Please Do Not Drop an Air Conditioner Out a Window!" A cigarette lighter came with the warning, "Do Not Ignite in Face," and a can of liquid drain cleaner warned, "Do Not Reuse Container for Storing Beverages." The aim of the contest was to underscore the often absurd defensive measures firms must take to avoid frivolous lawsuits.

The Associated Press reports on a new trend in health food. "After giving up meat for vegetarian cooking... and sugar for macrobiotic cooking, 70 New Yorkers have gathered to get serious about the way they eat: They've given up cooking." That is: no boiling, no baking, and no stoves. Enthusiasts of so-called "live" foods refer to the cooked food other people eat as "dead." A movement spokeswoman who goes by the single name of Rhio explains that "foods start losing some enzymes and life energy at 105 degrees. By 118 degrees, that's it. You've killed all the life energy. This is the way we're really supposed to eat. This is the way the animals eat."

There are now support groups devoted to the trend, along with at least one restaurant and a cable TV show. Raw-food chefs, who do not like to be called cooks, process food through soaking and chopping, but not by using heat. Journalist Ellen Knickmeyer reported from a live-food potluck, "You could take a drinking straw to much of the plate, like a vegetable Slurpee." Also on the menu that evening: a "lasagna" made of sprouted buckwheat, almonds, mushrooms, tomatoes, and figs; a "cheese" made of pulverized almonds; and a "champagne" of "something sprouted and fermented."

In an interesting twist, there are also live-food omnivores who have no problem eating meat, so long as it isn't cooked. There are also "fruitarians" who regard vegetarians as murderers and eat only raw fruit, and "sproutarians" who eat only live sprouts, as well as non-violent fruitarians "who eat only fruits off the ground, not those that have been picked," Rhio also insists that there are "breatharians" who aim to get "all the nutrition they need from the air.... I've met some people doing it occasionally, but they're not at 100 percent. Yet."

[Ed.: Note that many vegetarians forswear eating food that it is ostensibly alive, while others shun food that is dead. The spokesman for the "breatharians," by the way, was photographed several years ago, presumably during a lapse, wolfing down a full meal at a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet. At the same time, another imaginative soul floated a trial balloon for the "Neanderthal Diet," word of which seeped into print and which I recount despite the distinct possibility that it, too, was a media hoax. Dieters were presumed to be more in tune with their health needs if they ate fresh, raw meat, to be accompanied perhaps by the exercise of chasing after and killing their prey with only the aid of primitive tools. Starvation probably helps, too. The Neanderthals, of course, are extinct.]

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, October 22, 1997:
Because two former legislators who lost elections had a "right to hold office," their attorney argues, a state business group injured them by running ads criticizing their voting records before last November's elections.

Radio and TV ads run by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce hurt the "property rights" of ex-Reps. David Plombon (D-Stanley) and Michael Wilder (D-Chippewa Falls) to those offices, according to their lawyer, Paul Gordon.

Gordon said Tuesday the two legal terms he used in his new legal brief—"right to hold office" and "property rights"—were taken from court cases nationally that involved campaign-finance and election-law cases.


San Francisco school board officials are expected to approve a proposal to compel high-school teachers to select up to seven books by "authors of color" for every three traditional classics by white authors.

School board member Steve Phillips, co-author of the multicultural initiative, called the change "long overdue," adding that it would make school work more "relevant" to public school students, only 11.8 percent of whom are white. "We recognize that public education has been failing African-American and Latino students," Phillips said. "Part of the reason is that the curriculum is not engaging them. Students get more interested in reading and language when they see themselves in the curriculum."

Other board members said the proposal would correct certain biases found in traditional high school reading lists. Board member Dan Kelly told the San Francisco Examiner that Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was biased against African Americans, and that Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, while a great work, characterized people based on their class.

An article in a Bangkok newspaper noted that Thailand lagged far behind the West in performance art owing to Thais' cultural inhibitions. Nonetheless, the article made brief mentions of one female artist named Mink who coats the floor with toothpaste and wallows in it to represent the occasional need to wriggle out of difficult situations, and a 1960s piece by performance art luminary Inson Wongsam, who sculpted an elephant out of a block of ice by precision urination.

An arbiter ordered Greyhound to reinstate a bus driver who was so drunk she urinated on herself during a Breathalyzer test.

From a presidential proclamation designating October 12, 1997, as "National Children's Day":
With the birth of every child, the world becomes new again. Within each new infant lies enormous potential—potential for loving, for learning, and for making life better for others. But this potential must be nurtured. Just as seeds need fertile soil, warm sunshine, and gentle rain to grow, so do our children need a caring environment, the security of knowing they are loved, and the encouragement and opportunity to make the most of their God-given talents. There is no more urgent task before us, as a people and as a nation, than creating such an environment for America's children.
On October 10, forty minutes after that statement was released to the public, President Bill Clinton issued another proclamation: his veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.


The Church of England announced that it would change the words of the Lord's Prayer, replacing "Lead us not into temptation" with "Save us from the time of trial." According to the Guardian, the Bishop of Salisbury "argued that few people now understood what the phrase 'lead us not into temptation' really meant."

The San Francisco Weekly, December 3-9, 1997:
Hasmat Alert: Nine artists examine how we continue to suffer from technology we originally created to help ourselves in the group show "Biohazard." Results include Stomach Acid Dream, painter Mia Brownell's series on synthetic food production and consumption created with symbolic and pop art imagery. Audible Mello Dronic Studio founder Cari Campbell, meanwhile, meditates on the way we sully our own air in a repetitive five-minute audio piece featuring the sounds of one person breathing interrupted by short blasts from aerosol spray cans.

Latin American activists are urging Taco Bell to abandon Dinky, the Chihuahua mascot who exclaims, "Yo quiero Taco Bell" ("I want Taco Bell") in the chain's commercials. "I think the insensitivity is criminal," complained Gabriel Cazares, head of the Florida chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens.


A letter sent in August, 1997, to North Carolina governor Jim Hunt by James A. Cartrette, a businessman who claims he and his son, Allen, were promised political appointments in exchange for Cartrette's $24,450 contribution to Hunt's reelection campaign. Governor Hunt and his chief fundraiser, Jim Bennett, have denied making such a promise.
Dear Governor Hunt,

I recently learned of your decision about the DOT [Department of Transportation] and Wildlife [Resources Commission] appointments. We have never had anything like this happen before.

Attached is a copy of the letter I mailed to Jim Bennett. It explains what happened and the promise you and Jim made. Jim told us several times that Allen would get the wildlife appointment and I would get the DOT appointment.

When I read in the Wilmington paper that Michael Mills had been appointed to the DOT, I lost all confidence in the system.

We gave money and would have given more if you had asked. We gave you the money and have supported you all through your career. You misrepresented the truth to us. We are very disappointed and feel that our money should be returned.

J. A. Cartrette

The presidential campaign is officially upon us. House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced that he wants not just to preserve, but to expand ethanol subsidies from the present 10-cent-per-gallon tax deduction for the corn-derived fuel product. The Archer-Daniels-Midland conglomerate owns 50 percent of ethanol capacity, much of which is based on Iowa corn.

The addition of ethanol to gasoline (in a one-to-ten blend known as "gasohol") helps reduce carbon monoxide emissions by as much as 22 percent by increasing the fuel's oxygen content, while reducing fuel mileage by only 2 percent. However, since ethanol is more volatile (prone to evaporative hydrocarbon emissions), use of gasohol would increase emissions of volatile organic compounds (an important urban smog precursor) by as much as 20 percent and nitrogen dioxide emissions by about 8 to 15 percent. Ethanol is also water-soluble and cannot be transported by pipeline, and would substantially increase the emission of other pollutants such as aldehydes, which are believed to be potent carcinogens. Without subsidies, ethanol costs about a dollar more than gasoline per gallon, and gasohol costs 10 to 20 cents more. The Congressional Research Service also estimated that ethanol production sufficient to displace 5 percent of gasoline consumption would require a corresponding displacement in the agricultural market, leading to $13 billion increases in food prices annually, or over $2 per gallon of ethanol produced.

[Ed.: David Pimentel of Cornell University determined that it takes 1.7 times as much energy to make a gallon of ethanol than is supplied by the fuel.]