An Inclusive Litany


The National Research Council reported finding no proof that synthetic chemicals act on human bodies as "endocrine disrupters." The theory, widely popularized in a 1996 book called Our Stolen Future and endorsed by Vice President Al Gore, alleges that substances embedded in many plastic products such as plates and baby bottles cause cancer, infertility, and personality disorders by mimicking the natural female hormone, estrogen. The Environmental Protection Agency recently began a major initiative to test some 15,000 synthetic chemicals as possible endocrine disrupters, despite the NRC's inability to verify the underlying phenomenon.

In a related matter, Consumers Union is urging parents to throw out their plastic baby bottles because one study has suggested a substance called bisphenol-A (BPA) could cause damage to the reproductive systems of male mice born from pregnant mice who were fed minute amounts of BPA, and that traces could also leach from bottles containing heated formula, potentially leading to "developmental" disabilities in children. While Consumers Union noted that parents would have to return to using traditional glass bottles, they offered no comment on the comparative risk of handing a baby such a heavy, breakable object.

Ebony magazine published an article revealing that Hillary Clinton's great-great-grandfather, Hemings Rodman, was one-eighth black, moving from the antebellum South to the Midwest and joining the white community there. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. said this shows that racial issues "are as multifaceted now as they were then." Critic Stanley Crouch added, "Her genes riff, like her husband's politics." Noting Mrs. Clinton's status as abused spouse, Psychiatrist Alvin F. Poussaint said "the burdens of broken families, associated with slavery and 'blackness,' affect white America too." The magazine's editors denied relying on Ms. Clinton's campaign staffers as sources for the story.


Jack Kevorkian brought a libel suit, unsuccessfully, against the Michigan State Medical Society and the American Medical Association for publishing essays in 1996 characterizing him as a "killer."

Disabled-rights activists sued the state of New York over an environmental law prohibiting motorized vehicles from most of the three million acres of the Catskill and Adirondack state parks, thus preventing them from accessing the parks with ATVs. Several influential environmental groups joined in defense of the state against the disabled.

District court judge Lawrence Kahn ruled that the case can proceed only if it focuses on individual state bureaucrats for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Otherwise, the state "may seek to take advantage of a sovereign immunity or state's-rights defense to avoid accountability in federal court for violations of federal civil-rights laws, environmental laws and safety or health laws, among other areas."


The Worcester Sunday Telegram, August 22, 1999:
A planned Hawaiian luau at Dartmouth College was cancelled after students complained it was ethnically insensitive.

The party, which was to be held last weekend, was cancelled after a student sent an e-mail message to everyone on campus describing the party as an act of "bigotry."


Sharon Stone, the movie actress, publicly announced that she would turn in the guns she owned because she now feared them amidst reports of recent violence and accidents involving firearms. She came to this decision despite the fact that she had once saved her life—after having called 911 three times with no response—by pointing a loaded shotgun at a crazed stalker.


In Mississippi, the Harrison County School Board banned a Jewish student from displaying a Star of David because administrators feared it could be mistaken for a gang symbol.

The school system of Mayfield, Ohio, was barred from hiring computer whiz Brian Hug to make its computers Y2K-compliant, because Brain is 11 years old.


In the largest personal injury award to date, a Los Angeles jury required General Motors to pay a badly burned family of five and their travel companion a whopping $4.9 billion for a fire that ignited when a drunk driver rear-ended their 14-year-old Malibu at about 70 miles per hour. This amount is far greater than the company's profits for all of last year, would make the plaintiffs among the richest people in the world, and is unlikely to survive appellate review.

Plaintiffs argued that GM could have designed a safer fuel tank for only an extra $8.59 per vehicle, but chose not to do so because it had a corporate policy of not spending more than $240 per vehicle to improve fuel system design, a theory that no witness confirmed. The judge barred evidence on the blood alcohol level of the drunk driver, evidence that a passenger in the Malibu who blocked exit from the car after the crash was also intoxicated and tested positive for cocaine, favorable statistical evidence on the Malibu's safety history, and even prevented GM from showing that the alternative fuel system design advanced by the defense was actually used on a production vehicle that went on to fail a government safety test.


Over 200 educators met in Hamden, Connecticut, for a conference on the subject of how to be good hostages. "In 40 years in education, I never thought I'd be hosting an education conference on this topic," said Timothy Doyle, director of the Connecticut Association of Schools' Center for Early Adolescent Educators. "It's a shame, but a fact of life." FBI agent Frank McCarthy admonished a roomful of teachers, "Don't be heroes."

John Bothe, the announcer at New Jersey's Meadowlands Racetrack, says compulsive gambling nearly destroyed his life. So when the track's management asked Bothe to start announcing the odds of races over in-house TVs set up for patrons, he refused, afraid that even talking about odds could rekindle his gambling problem. The track then cut his pay. Bothe then sued his employers, claiming that his gambling addiction is a disability that they have to accommodate by restoring his previous pay without requiring him to announce the odds.

A package of airline peanuts features the instructions, "Open packet and eat contents," while the label on a jar of Saintsbury's peanuts says, "Warning—contains nuts." The packaging for a Husquavarna chain saw warns, "Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands." A bottle of flavored milk drink instructs, "After opening, keep upright." A CycleAware helmet-mounted rear-view mirror warns, "Remember—Objects in the mirror are actually behind you." A car lock that loops around the clutch and steering wheel warns, "Remove lock before driving." And finally, "This camera only works when there is film inside."


Frank Rich in the New York Times, August 14, 1999:
Public office should no more prevent a President from seeking psychotherapy than it should prevent him from seeking chemotherapy. And the Clintons, of all people, should know that better than anyone—they've made mental-health care a political cause. In the 1992 campaign they joined with Al and Tipper Gore to court boomers by talking openly of their past experiences with family counseling, occasioned by the drug bust of Mr. Clinton's half-brother and the hospitalization of the Gores' son after he was hit by a car. "By not confronting problems early," Mr. Clinton said all too prophetically at that time, "you end up making things worse."

Similarly—and just two months ago—the Clintons and the Gores held a full-day White House Conference on Mental Health. The supposed point of that event, they said, was to counter the myths of mental illness, thereby encouraging the frightened or embarrassed to seek help. "Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all," said Mr. Clinton in a radio address. If mental illness is left untreated, he said at the conference, "the loss of human potential is staggering."

For all his lofty preaching to the rest of us, perhaps it was fear of just such bias that explains (but does not excuse) his inability to seek treatment for his own condition, even at the cost of putting himself and everyone around him through hell. Perhaps he felt that while a sports hero like Mark McGwire of a TV news star like Mike Wallace or even the country's most popular fictional Mafia boss, Tony Soprano, can flourish after going public with their mental-health histories, such revelations still condemn a chief executive to charges of weakness. But isn't it weaker to let one's emotional problems metastasize rather than address them? What does it say about our culture that it may be easier for a President to live down having oral sex with an intern in the Oval Office than having oral discourse in a doctor's office? ...

The more obfuscation and fear that surround mental illnesses of all types and their treatment, the less hope we have of ameliorating public policy and prejudices that leave these illnesses undertreated, untreated and mistreated. At the gravest end of the mental-health spectrum, this failure produces catastrophes that are fast becoming a fixture of the evening news.

In the aftermath of Columbine, no one stated our predicament more acutely than Dr. W. Walter Menninger, of the famed clinic bearing his family's name in Topeka, Kansas. Speaking to the American Psychiatric Association in Washington, he pinpointed the national hypocrisy: "We recognize incidents of mental illness, and at the same time we stigmatize people who suffer from it or seek help to deal with it. We say 'seek treatment,' but at the same time we limit access, and availability, and insurance to pay for it, and in the end make it more difficult to get treatment. There is a disconnectedness between what we say we need as a society and what we do as a society."

The results of this schism between words and actions, and the piecemeal mental-health system it leads to, cut across all demographic and cultural lines. As the White House sex farce was preventable, so, conceivably, was the tragic rampage of this week's shooter, the latest human time bomb who appears to have entered that so-called system only to fall through its cracks.

[Ed.: Not long into Clinton's first term of office, Edith Efron wrote a prescient article in Reason asserting that the president was literally dysfunctional, suffering from a cognitive disorder preventing him from acting on a set of fixed priorities.]


In San Francisco (and some may say only in San Francisco), activists urged the city's Commission of Animal Control and Welfare to adopt the term "pet guardian" instead of "pet owner." Veterinarian Elliot Katz compared the shift in terminology to the struggle to end human slavery as well as the women's suffrage movement. "The idea of women 'ownership' and black 'ownership' and pet 'ownership.' There's continuity here. Now is the time to get rid of this concept of 'pet ownership,' " Katz said.

In Michigan, an Oakland University freshman was kicked out of school after being spotted with a plastic squirt gun sticking from his pants.


The Politics1 Report, June 8, 1999:
New York City Councilwoman Christine Quinn (D), a lesbian, was elected to office last year with the strong support of the large gay communities in the Greenwich Village and Chelsea neighborhoods. Now Quinn finds herself contending with nasty rumors about her private life. According to the New York Post, Quinn dumped her longtime girlfriend shortly after the election and went on a vacation with her consultant Wayne Kowadler. That prompted the rumors—politically damaging in Quinn's district—that Quinn and Kowadler were having a romantic relationship. Quinn spokeswoman Maura Keaney maintains that Quinn is truly a lesbian and "there's no sexual or romantic aspect to their friendship." Kowadler, meanwhile, told the Post, "I am not now, nor have I ever been, a heterosexual—not that there's anything wrong with that."

Citing safety concerns, a central Florida middle school has banned backpacks. Instead, it will issue two sets of books to every student, one for home and one for school.


Bandana books of Santa Barbara, California, published an edition of Walt Whitman's poems, altering pronoun usage to use hu, hus, and hum instead of he, his, and him. Thus, one of Whitman's poems now reads: "Hu will never sleep any more and hu did in the cot in hu's mother's bedroom."

In Vermont, where such things don't always go over so well, the Burlington Free Press reports on an argument, made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, that milk is a racist beverage because "tens of millions" of blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans are lactose intolerant, while Caucasians are relatively tolerant, so to speak.

Lawyers working for the Legal Services Corporation, which supplies government-subsidized legal services to the poor, were caught on videotape in Mexico recruiting ineligible and alien migrant farm workers to sue North Carolina farmers.


The Internal Revenue Service took over the Mustang Ranch, a legal bordello in Reno, Nevada, following a $40 million tax fraud case against its owners. The IRS had owned the property once before and tried to operate it for a short time as a brothel, unprofitably.


The Ann Arbor News, May 29, 1999:
The Ann Arbor Coalition Against Rape would like to apologize for the pain that was caused by this year's "Take Back the Night March." A survivor who did not identify as male or female was forced to leave the march by other participants, who perceived this individual to be a man. In order to make the march welcome to transgendered individuals, it was stated that the march was for women as well as those who identify as women. However, this attempt failed, as it excluded individuals like this person who do not fit within male/female gender categories. It was not our intent to overlook violence against transgendered individuals. The planning committee is very sorry for making this grave error and for the pain it has caused. Although the planning committee members change each year, we envision in future years the lessons that have been learned will lead to increased awareness and an atmosphere of safety that includes all individuals, regardless of gender identification.

—Lisa Pahl
Coalition Against Rape Ann Arbor

In Cornish, New Hampshire, Pacific Gas & Electric released four billion gallons of water from the Wilder dam on the Connecticut River so that Vice President Al Gore could float in a canoe on the otherwise parched river as part of an environmental photo opportunity. Noting that drought-stricken New Englanders would have to pay up to $7 million to use the amount of water that was wasted, the state's Republicans asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate the water release as an illegal corporate campaign contribution. Gore spokesman Roger Salazar responded that the canoe trip "wasn't a campaign event."


Claiming violation of their First Amendment rights, a Denver couple sued the city over a zoning ordinance that prevented them from holding monthly prayer and Bible study meetings for about a dozen people at a time in their own home.

A North Carolina proposal, backed by the state's auto dealers, seeks to ban Internet automobile sales directly from manufacturers to customers. The House of Representatives also voted to allow state prosecutors to bring charges in federal court against anyone buying alcohol over the Net, thus bypassing state-approved wholesalers.


Time Warner has done it again, distributing a rap song by a band called Screwball, "Who Shot Rudy?" graphically depicting the assassination of New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

From the course description for "Pornography: Writing of Prostitutes," offered this spring at Wesleyan University:
This course investigates pornographic literature as a body of discursive practices whose "materials," according to the cultural critic Susan Sontag, comprise "one of the extreme forms of human consciousness." The pornography we study is an art of transgression which impels human sexuality toward, against and beyond the limits which have traditionally defined civil discourses and practices—defined, that is, by regimes of dominance and submission, inclusion or exclusion, in the domains of... emotional pleasure. Our examination accordingly includes the implication of pornography in so-called perverse practices such as voyeurism, bestiality, sadism, and masochism, and considers the inflections of the dominant white-heterosexual tradition by alternative sexualities and genders, as well as by race, class, age, mental and physical competence. We also attempt to identify the factors, intrinsic and extrinsic, which align the pornographic impulse with revolutionary or conservative political practices. But our primary focus is on pornography as radical representations of sexuality whose themes are violation, degradation, and exposure.

The university issued the following statement in response to controversy over both the content of the course, readings for which ranged from the Marquis de Sade to Hustler magazine, and its final student assignment: to "create your own work of pornography," in the words of Hope Weissman, the course's instructor. To fulfill the requirement, one young male student showed a video of his face while he masturbated. Ms. Weissman explained that in her teaching style, "I don't put any constraints." [sic]

This Spring semester the College of Letters offered for the second time a course on pornography. The course included a student project as its final assignment. Before members of the class, one female student executed a project in which she invited her classmates to hit her with tiny harmless whips that she provided. Two friends tied her to a board, with her back to the class. She was dressed in slacks but no blouse. At her invitation, some of her classmates did—hesitantly, feebly, and to the general amusement of everyone—gently whip her.

No members of the class were at risk. Nothing more serious than ideas were at stake.

[Ed.: The controversy came at the same time Mount Holyoke started offering an uncredited class on strip dancing, which culminated in performances at a local topless bar.]