An Inclusive Litany


The American Civil Liberties Union brought suit to nullify Arizona's designation of November 22-29 as "Bible Week," and to halt its celebration in the town of Gilbert, Arizona. While the ACLU has engaged in much legal activism concerning church/state separation, this is the group's first action against Bible Week, which has been celebrated in 30 states and by every president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Gilbert Mayor Cynthia Durham insists the proclamation is merely "a recognition of the historical role of the Bible in American culture and history."

From a Harvard Crimson editorial calling for President Clinton's resignation:
There has been much talk about the instability that might arise should Clinton resign and pass the reins to Al Gore '69. But we're willing to take the risk.

The New Yorker reports on controversial new research that may solve the mystery of the Anasazi, a complex pre-Columbian civilization that settled the Chaco Canyon area of New Mexico around 900 A.D. but mysteriously disappeared from the region around 1150 A.D. The Anasazi are revered not only as ancestors of the Hopi and other Pueblo Indians, but also for their astonishing advances in engineering, astronomy, art, and architecture. Many New Age adherents believe the Anasazi even had a superior civilization based on pacifism, consensus government, classless society, and refined spirituality. This enthusiasm has led one archeological site to close down because New Agers were burying crystals and illegally scattering each other's ashes there. During the "Harmonic Convergence" of 1987, thousands joined hands in Chaco Canyon to chant and pray. You can now even buy a 1999 Anasazi wall calendar.

The archeological record indicates the Anasazi abandoned their agriculturally advanced valley settlements in favor of remote caves along canyon walls and high, often fortified mesas. They soon disappeared altogether in a manner that suggested massive depopulation due to a prolonged siege. But ethnographers have failed to uncover the sorts of cultural legends one would expect in the wake of such a relatively recent and dramatic incursion. And while studies of pollen counts indicate there was a severe drought at the time, it did not appear to traumatize surrounding Indian groups. Instead, many local Navajo and Pueblo legends refer to Chaco Canyon as a place of almost unspeakable evil.

Studying Anasazi sites, archeologist Christy Turner concluded that the culture collapsed not from external forces, but from the widespread practice of cannibalism. Turner identified a large percentage of skeletal remains that showed signs of dismemberment, butchering, "defleshing," marrow extraction, and roasting. The skulls, in particular, displayed signs that they were split open at the time of death, decapitated, and roasted face-up in order to scoop out the cooked brains. Such skeletal deposits don't resemble burial grounds so much as loose heaps of trash. Paleoanthropologist Tim D. White also identified bones that showed signs they were used to scrape off the ring of fat that formed around the edge of boiling pots of human remains. And, countering the argument that people may have been simply cooked as part of a non-cannibalistic ritual to violently suppress the supposed magical powers of witchcraft, archeologist Brian Billman had a fecal sample from one site tested, successfully, for non-digestive human remains.

Summing up his years of research in a new book, Man Corn: Cannibalism and Violence in the Prehistoric American Southwest, Turner argues that since cannibalism was not practiced by any of the Anasazi's close neighbors, it probably came from Mesoamerica, where the Toltec empire (ca. 800-1100 A.D.) practiced cannibalism and human sacrifice as a form of social control as part of a "very powerful, dehumanizing sociopolitical and ideological complex." (The Aztecs, descendants of the Toltecs who also practiced cannibalism, were later easily conquered partly because surrounding Indian groups regarded them as a scourge and were eager to ally with the Spanish against them.) The Toltecs were known to have spread their imperial influence south "into the jungle world of the Mayas and the desert world of the Chichimeca" in northern Mexico, a relatively short distance from the American Southwest. Turner believes it likely that a small marauding band of heavily armed "Manson party types" came up from Mexico along well-established trade routes and, finding a pliant population, successfully reproduced their own culture of terror. Perhaps stimulated by the drought, the Anasazi culture finally collapsed in total anarchy over 200 years after its inception.

Turner's research flies in the face of long-held skepticism of cannibalistic accounts. In a 1979 book, The Man-Eating Myth, SUNY Stony Brook anthropologist William Arens persuasively questioned the very existence of cannibalism in human societies. Arens argued that accounts of cannibalism were mostly hearsay, and were either made by hostile neighboring groups as an extreme form of insult or by Westerners attempting to justify their conquest, conversion, and enslavement of native people. (One such account came from none other than Christopher Columbus, whose first inclination upon encountering the peaceful Taino culture in the West Indies was to assume he had stumbled on a Utopian state—that is, until he encountered the neighboring Carib tribe, who regularly feasted on the Tainos.) When asked about Turner's research twenty years later, Arens agrees that the findings probably represent instances of cannibalism, but cautions against the conclusion that all the Anasazi were cannibals, or by extension, all Native Americans. "There's a whole discipline in existence looking for 'savage' behavior among the people we have colonized, conquered, and eradicated. That point almost has to be made—that the people here before us were cannibals—to justify the genocide of Native Americans."

But Turner's revelations also come at a time of reassessment for many in the field, with assumptions concerning the peaceful and benign nature of primitive cultures coming under fire. Even Margaret Mead's classic account of the Samoan culture, in which she thought she found what amounted to a sexual paradise free of monogamic constraints and sexual conflict, was found to have been a misrepresentation, perhaps as the result of an unintended hoax.

Lawrence Keeley, anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells of the trouble he had getting a grant from the National Science Foundation to study evidence of warfare in early Neolithic Belgium, ca. 5000 B.C. Having discovered a fortification consisting of a nine-foot-deep ditch backed by a palisade, Keeley proposed that excavating nearby sites would yield similar features, which he figured represented a frontier line between early settled farmers and hostile, nomadic bands. But it was only when he rewrote the grant proposal a third time, referring to the function of the ditch-palisade neutrally as an "enclosure," that he got the grant. Even after discovering more defensive emplacements, Keeley says he was stunned at the discovery because he had accustomed himself to dismissing widespread physical evidence of primitive violence.

In his 1996 book, War Before Civilization, Keeley argues that far from being a stylized and seldom-practiced ritual as had been assumed, so-called primitive warfare was far more frequent, more ruthless, and proportionally more deadly than modern warfare. Documenting widespread instances of ambushes, massacres, looting, mutilation, trophy-taking, and cannibalism, Keeley attacks the peaceful image of primitives as Rousseau's idealized "noble savage," and the corresponding tendency to believe that modern civilization has somehow fallen from grace by engaging in a uniquely horrible form of warfare. Keeley also documents how surprisingly effective primitive guerrilla warriors have been against modern Western armies attempting to subdue them, offering a provocative answer for why this form of warfare has been so readily dismissed: "Citizens of modern states tend to believe that everything they do is more efficient and effective than the corresponding efforts of primitives or ancients."

While Keeley argues that warfare serves its practitioners well in expanding territory and resources, UCLA anthropologist Robert B. Edgerton cautions that attempts to explain such pathological behavior as a sort of evolutionary success strategy can easily become tautologous. In his 1992 book, Sick Societies: Challenging the Myth of Primitive Harmony, Edgerton documents a wide range of behavior including homicide, suicide, infanticide, slavery, feuding, human sacrifice, cannibalism, torture, rape, genital mutilation, spousal and child abuse, substance abuse, malnutrition, and environmental destruction in various primitive folk cultures. Anthropologists, Edgerton says, often provide strained and culturally relativistic explanations that these practices necessarily occupy a useful and perhaps hidden function that ultimately strengthens societies, even those that clearly do not serve the long-term interests of their practitioners. Under this assumption, for example, cannibalism has been explained as a form of population control serving an adaptive evolutionary role to keep cultures from overextending their limited resources, thus achieving ecological harmony.

Edgerton calls for eradicating the distinction between "primitive" and "modern" cultures altogether, arguing instead for a uniform standard of judgment that, borrowing from psychology, distinguishes between cultures that are "healthy" and those that are "dysfunctional." Following up his work on Southwest American cannibalism, Christy Turner dwelled on some of the same themes in an unusual paper, titled "The Darker Side of Humanity," in which he calls for the abandonment of the time-honored "concept of culture." Anthropologists, he says, usually ask what was normally practiced in a given culture, without allowing for the possibility of abnormality or charismatic usurpers such as, in modern times, a Hitler or a Stalin. "In my thirty-five years of teaching I have never heard of a graduate student specializing in archeology who had taken a course in abnormal psychology," Turner writes. "Why should they? ... The very idea of abnormal behavior is alien to Southwest archeological thinking." Turner recommends replacing the cultural concept with a "Darwinian paradigm of evolutionary psychology" that "emphasizes identification of individuals and seeks to understand their actions wherever possible." Only then, he says, will any sense be made of his archeological findings, or of human nature itself.

[Ed.: A good example of an adaptivist argument was laid out in the February, 1999 issue of the journal Conservation Biology, in an article by Paul S. Martin, paleoecologist at the University of Arizona, and Christine R. Szuter, editor in chief of the University of Arizona Press. In one passage from the journals of early American explorers Lewis and Clark, William Clark wrote of eastern Montana, "I have observed that in the country between the [Indian] nations which are at war with each other the greatest number of wild beasts are to be found." Martin and Szuter elaborate on this point, arguing that these dangerous no-man's lands offered relatively safe habitat for many large land mammals and played a critical ecological role in preventing their extinction. Local Indians, in turn, benefited from the continued presence of game. In areas west of the Rockies in which warfare was not as constant, there was a relative scarcity of big game, despite plentiful habitat. The authors argue that Trans-Rockies Indians were able, given the opportunity, to hunt game to the point of depletion, forcing them to live on fish and roots. Many other species—mammoths, mastodons, camels, giant sloths, tapirs, and predators that depended on them—became extinct in North America following human migration to the continent approximately 15,000 years ago, though scientists disagree on what caused this.]


Frank Sinatra fans attending an academic conference at Hofstra University on his influence on American life were bewildered at the use of academic terminology such as "stranger-ness," "tropes," "hermeneutics of suspicion," "class allegory embedded in the master narrative," and "Sinatra-ism of the Left." During one panel that attributed Sinatra's success as the product of his "blue eyes" and white skin, one exasperated fan finally shouted out, "Why don't you go back to Moscow?"

Another panel pondered Sinatra's gradual political shift rightwards, evidenced when he gave his progressive-minded song "The House I Live In" a more patriotic feel when he sang it to Ronald Reagan in 1986 on the deck of an aircraft carrier, with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop.

The Monterey, California Herald noted that by kayaking in Monterey Bay next to a sea otter as part of a photo op., Vice President Gore had violated federal laws against disturbing marine mammals in a protected area.


In Arcata, California, voters approved a ballot measure that would establish a city task force and a series of town meetings to find ways to reduce the "illegitimate" power of corporations in the lives of town residents. "This allows the people of our community to redefine the possible," said Arcata Vice-Mayor Jason Kirkpatrick. The organization sponsoring the measure is called, appropriately enough, Democracy Unlimited.

In New York City, an auction of conceptual and minimalist art at Christie's exceeded all its sales goals. Bruce Nauman's concrete block with a tape recording of a woman screaming playing inside it fetched $288,000. Four canvases by Sigmar Polke containing only incorrect mathematical equations yielded $882,000. And On Kawara's seven canvases featuring only the dates May 1-7, 1971, sold for $574,000.

Boston performance artist Paul Richard's most recent show featured a room completely empty except for a stack of $20 t-shirts for sale. At a previous show, patrons filed past to watch the artist eating lunch. San Francisco sculptor Joe Mangrum persuaded the city Art Commission to let him disassemble his 1986 Mazda into a pile in the middle of Justin Herman Plaza and call the sculpture "Transmission 98." For this work, Mangrum was paid a $2,000 artist's fee from the city, part of which he used to pay off $1,480 worth of outstanding parking tickets he had accumulated with the car. New York performance artist Bob Powers's recent works include one in which he uttered a single sentence, "No, but I gave you a twenty," thirty times, and another called "Ode to a Buttered Roll": "How do you do it? Sixty cents. So tall, so round, so many poppy seeds. Sixty cents.... One corner deli owner tried to charge 75. Sixty cents." In an interview in the Village Voice, Powers said, "I would be thrilled if I got a $25,000-a-year grant for the rest of my life. I don't want money for any lofty goals. I want it just because I'm lazy and tired."

Finally, art students at Leeds University, accepting school and private grants of about $2,000, created a class project they said was "designed to challenge people's perception of art." By using the money to take a holiday at Spain's Costa del Sol resort, the thirteen students said they successfully raised the issue of whether there was any limit to what could be described as art. Most of the sponsors subsequently demanded refunds. But after the London Daily Telegraph, and other British newspapers reported the story, the students revealed it as a hoax. They had staged the vacation by acquiring tans at salons and taking fake beach snapshots. The point of the artwork, they said, was to demonstrate how easy it is to fool the press. No word on whether the sponsors still want their refunds.


After the Fullerton, California, police department suggested renaming the infamous Baker Street Gang to the "Pansy Circle Gang" in order to enfeeble it, the city council nixed the idea since it might offend homosexuals.


Students at the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, a public school in Brooklyn, can now earn academic credit for a course called "Hip Hop 101." The course consists of four modules: one on how to write graffiti, another about how to deejay at parties, a third on how to break-dance and a fourth about rapping. The class includes exams on graffiti principles culminating with "roasting" a New York subway car—that is, drawing a sketch of how students would spray-paint a subway car if they had the chance. Asked whether the course promoted criminal activity by encouraging students to deface public property, a teacher replied, "I'm not telling them what to do or what not to do."

The new $3.5 billion health education authorization bill includes a provision mandating that nursing schools accepting federal funds not only admit members of certain racial minorities by quota, but also graduate them by quota.

The Internet Tax Freedom Act included a $3 million provision to establish a "Mark O. Hatfield Fellows program" at Portland State University, $3 million for the "Paul Simon Public Policy Institute" at Southern Illinois University, $10 million for an endowment fund for the "Howard Baker School of Government" at the University of Tennessee, and $6 million for the "John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy" at Ohio State University.

The fiscal 1999 omnibus spending bill also included a $6 million item to help start the "Robert Dole Institute for Public Service and Public Policy" at the University of Kansas. In all, the spending package exceeded the Republicans' previous budget "pact" by $21 billion, and 30 percent of the year's budget surplus has already been consumed by "emergency" spending and other such mysterious provisions not included in the original House or Senate version of the bill. These include $27 million for mohair, wool and honey subsidies, a program ostensibly killed in 1993; $2 million for West Virginia's National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture; $5.1 million for wood-utilization research; $500,000 for manure handling and disposal in Starkville, Mississippi; $250,000 to an Illinois company that makes caffeinated chewing gum; $750,000 for grasshopper research in Alaska; $2.5 million for the Office of Cosmetics and Color; $20 million to limit domestic competition in Alaskan fishing by buying back three boats; $200 million to prevent record-high dairy prices from falling at some point in the future (an "emergency"); $400,000 for sturgeon-conservation efforts in Alabama; $100,000 for the Women's Rights Historical Trail; $100,000 for the Steel Industry American Heritage Area; $17.5 million to refurbish a lift bridge at the now-closed Philadelphia Navy Shipyard; $35 million for Army National Guard distance-learning projects; $5 million for an international law enforcement academy in Roswell, New Mexico, that will only feed rumors; $600,000 for the 1999 World Alpine Ski Championships; $246,000 for an Ohio "income-enhancement program"; $5 million for repairs at the soon-to-be-sold Alaska Power Administration; $3.9 million for outdoor recreational facilities at Ponce De Leon, Florida; $320,000 for replacement of toilet facilities in the Ouachita National Forest; and $500,000 for the Eros Data Center.

In San Jose, California, ex-police officer Johnny Venzon, Jr., jailed on various burglary charges, was awarded early retirement and a $27,000 pension because his gambling addiction officially left him "disabled."

Charles McDavid, of Santa Cruz, California, was charged with a hate crime after Victor Palmer accused him of going on a "racist rampage" against him, chasing him down a street in the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco and assaulting him. But during a preliminary hearing, a witness testified that Palmer had attempted to rob her, and that McDavid had intervened. Other witnesses testified that Palmer often stole drugs and money from people on the street. Despite the fact that both police and prosecutors were informed of the robbery attempt, prosecutors decided to press hate crime charges after the case received widespread media attention.

San Francisco Municipal Court Judge Mary Morgan later dropped the hate crime charge after McDavid pled guilty to misdemeanor assault, but still chided him when handing down the sentence: "It's not a pretty picture when several people of one race chase people of another race down the street." Although disappointed that the hate-crime charges were dropped, Deputy District Attorney Maria Bee praised the judge: "She gave [McDavid] a substantial sentence for someone with no previous criminal record."

From Rethinking Sexuality: Foucault and Classical Antiquity, edited by H. J. Larmour, Paul Allen Miller, and Charles Platter, published by Princeton University Press:
David Halperin... contends that gay male gym culture is a form of Foucauldian political ascesis. To those who label this position a trivialization of Foucault's concept of resistance, he responds that they are mere elitists, "suspicious of any technology of the self that is widely dispersed in a culture, and is genuinely popular." From the Marxist perspective, this is disingenuous at best. In the same text he makes a clear distinction between gay muscles and "the kind of muscles that are produced by hard physical labor." This distinction, in turn, is part of a larger argument that "gay male body-builders," in their inscription of their disciplinary practices on their flesh, should be seen as having "performed a valuable political service on behalf of everyone." While Halperin's position makes the valuable distinction between the complex and largely independent matrices of gay and straight gym culture, it is difficult not to draw the inference that gay muscles are somehow superior to those "produced by hard physical labor." The implication of such a position is twofold. The first is that the service provided to the community by gay male body-builders is more important than that of those who get their muscles through back-breaking labor; hence, gay gym culture is more worthy of the attention of radical theorists than, say, the labors of farm workers picking strawberries in the Rio Grande valley. The second is that none of the young workers sweating in the fields are gay. This is a position difficult to square with a stance that aspires to be antielitist and "truly popular." It defines gay males as essentially upper-middle-class, urban professionals, a definition consistent with Halperin's stated desire not to deny "the possibility that resistance could ever take the form of shopping for the right outfit." Yet Halperin's view represents only one rather narrow interpretation of Foucauldian politics, and to conclude from it that Marxists and Foucauldians share no common ground would be to undervalue the depth and complexity of Foucault's work.


Five-year-old Jordan Locke of West Deer, Pennsylvania, was suspended from kindergarten for a day, under "zero-tolerance" requirements, for brandishing a small plastic toy fireman's ax as part of his Halloween costume. But on the other hand, a four-year-old Cleveland boy brought a loaded 9mm handgun to his day care center.


The guy can't win for losing. A headline in the Washington Times reads: "Starr not hung up on sex, wife says in his defense."

Guest columnist Jules Siegel in the San Francisco Chronicle, September 4, 1998:
How does he persuade Hillary and Chelsea that this will never happen again? It's their private dilemma, but as a nation, we're kind of in-laws in this matter. We have a right to butt in because our first family's turmoil is disrupting our political stability.

If we look at this as a family problem, his only real option is to seek marital or sexual counseling and then, maybe, make it a kind of crusade. "I face my problems, world. I get help. That's not shame. Hillary and I are, after all, just another Baby Boomer couple struggling to make sense of our lives."

This may provoke an ugly reaction from the narrow-minded prudes who make it impossible for our elected officials to obtain the psychological counseling they need.

A truck driver who dumped cardboard boxes full of aborted fetuses in a California field was sentenced to 71 days in jail for "illegally disposing of medical waste." That left San Bernardino county coroner Brian McCormick stuck with the costly disposal problem, so he accepted an offer from pro-life groups to dispose of the fetuses respectfully by burying them in a cemetery. The Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union immediately threatened legal action over the handling of "this fetal material," declaring that the "discarding of fetuses in this manner raises concerns about the county coroner's failure to adhere to California health laws."

When asked a week later whose civil liberties were being protected by the legal action and why anyone (religious or not) who believed the fetuses to be human beings should be prevented from burying them, ACLU president Nadine Strossen, apparently taken by surprise, commented that "many groups call themselves branches of the ACLU when they're not." The national office later announced a reversal of her position: "Nadine Strossen now fully understands and supports the position of the ACLU of Southern California."

The burial took place on October 11, 1998, and it is unclear whether the fetuses will at some point be disinterred for disposal by other means.