An Inclusive Litany


Excerpts from all nine letters to the editor printed in the Boston Globe, June 29, 2002.
I am writing to support the ruling that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. While it is clear that patriotism should be fostered and encouraged, it cannot be forced....

—Jan Hardenbergh, Sudbury

Michael Newdow, the man who sued so that his daughter would not have to recite or hear the Pledge of Allegiance and thereby swear an affirmation on the existence of "God," has already begun receiving death threats, a typical response from people of deeply held religious beliefs. The outrage over the ruling from President Bush, various senators, and other members of Congress proves that this country, sadly, is a theocracy and those who are agnostic, atheistic, or not monotheistic are at best tolerated.

—William M. Shoucair, Boston

When I went to school in the 1930s we did not say "under God" in our morning pledge. Tom Brokaw calls my parents "the greatest generation." Since those two words were added 50 years ago, we have had My Lai, Selma, drugs, Jeffrey Dahmer, Littleton, free sex, steroids, Monica Lewinski, Enron, and Worldcom. Are we a more godly country now?

—John B. Holway, Springfield, Va.

Hurray for Derrick Z. Jackson's reasoned voice on what the court ruling against the words "under God" in our pledge really mean. We live in a society of religious intolerance not unlike the rest of the world. Separation of religion from government is the only way to assure freedom from governmental preferences of one religion over another and to assure the rights of atheists.

—Barbara Smith, South Hamilton

I support the decision concerning the Pledge of Allegiance, but I fear that the opinion will be overturned by those in the majority who believe in a God. They will insist that I, as a humanist, must accept their religious dogma to be patriotic. We should return to the original pledge on which we can all agree by simply removing the words "under God."

And in this vein, and for those who do understand, we should take a red pen and neatly cross through the words "In God we trust" on all our paper currency.

—Steve Schwartz, Orlando, Fla.

Why is it that all the church-state cases involve only children? They cannot pray in school or at sporting events, hold religious meetings on school property, and now cannot recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Yet in the adult world, prayers and religious meetings are held in public buildings every day. At baseball and football games, religious moments are to be expected. Campaigning for government offices has candidates standing behind church pulpits, which crosses the line in keeping church and state separated.

—Hazel O. Edwards, Houston

To all conservative Americans who are outraged that the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco has ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion and cannot be recited in schools, it should be noted that the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a leading Christian Socialist, Francis Bellamy, who was fired from his Boston ministry for his sermons depicting Jesus as a socialist.

Bellamy penned the Pledge of Allegiance for Youth's Companion, a magazine for young people published in Boston. Congress did not recognize the Pledge of Allegiance until 1942, and the words "under God" were added by Congress in 1954.

Most Americans are unaware that many of our patriotic icons and symbols of American identity were created by artists and writers of decidedly left-wing and even socialist sympathies.

—S. Melmouth, Peoria, Ariz.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, unlike those outraged by its decision on the Pledge of Allegiance, understands that the world has changed since the end of the Cold War. In 1954, when "under God" was inserted in the Pledge, America confronted atheistic communism; today, our enemy is religious fanaticism.

—Andre Mayer, Cambridge

If it is unconstitutional to recite the Pledge of Allegiance because it is "under God," perhaps US Courts should refrain from swearing on the Bible. I hope that these "judges" remember exactly who will be judging them in the end.

—M. Griffith, Tobyhanna, Pa.

[That last letter was the only one from that batch that registered disapproval at the ruling.]


To avoid offending the disabled, a British touring theater company retitled its adaptation of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame to The Bellringer of Notre Dame.

The city of San Francisco initiated a "whimsical" $50,000 public awareness project called "Healthy Penis 2002." As part of the campaign, large bus shelter-sized ads displayed a smiling cartoon penis with syphilitic sores. The motto of the campaign is: "Making every penis a healthy penis."

The city of Los Angeles is spending nearly $400,000 on a similar campaign featuring "Phil," a bumpy, red cartoon syphilis sore who wears silver shoes and an earring. The city plans to distribute some 40,000 sqeezeable Phil the Syphilis Sore toys.

[Ed.: Sesame Street Workshop announced it was canceling plans to introduce an HIV-positive muppet on American television. The muppet will still appear in AIDS-ravaged South Africa.]


An exhibit at New York's Jewish Museum, titled "Mirroring Evil: Nazi Imagery/Recent Art" features the works of thirteen artists who draw "unnerving connections between the imagery of the Third Reich and today's consumer culture," according to the exhibit catalog.

The exhibit includes "Giftgas Giftset," three replicas of Zyklon B gas canisters bearing the logos, of Chanel, Hermes and Tiffany's. Likewise, "Prada Deathcamp" is a model of a concentration camp on cardboard taken from a Prada hatbox.

"LEGO Concentration Camp Set" features boxes of the children's building blocks bearing photographs of models of barracks and crematoria. According to the catalog, this work shows "how such seemingly harmless items may pose serious psychological and philosophical questions about gender, sexuality, and childhood."

"It's the Real Thing--Self-Portrait at Buchenwald," features a famous photograph of emaciated Jews in their bunks shortly after the liberation of Buchenwald, along with an inserted photograph of the artist, holding a Diet Coke. According to the catalog, this work "draws parallels between brainwashing tactics of the Nazis and commodification. Just as much of Europe succumbed to Nazi culture because it was the dominant paradigm, so does our contemporary culture succumb to consumerism."

The town of Oak Bluffs, on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, rescinded a ban on smoking in bars after barflies went outside to smoke, thus creating a public nuisance.


Mike Archer in the Orlando Sentinel, June 17, 2002:
Thousands of years before Christ, hunters prowled the St. Johns River near present-day Astor.

We consider these ancients to be primitive people, but in some ways their wisdom ran much deeper than ours. They formed a spiritual bond with the land and water that sustained them.

Through climate shift and subsequent changes in plants and animals, the forest dwellers watched the river evolve toward its present form. Waters deepened and filled with fish, crabs and mussels. The wandering hunters settled down, trusting the gifts of nature to nourish them. Descendants of the ancient Floridians lived with the river and surrounding forest for centuries, hunting, fishing, gathering and growing. They squabbled some, but carried a deep understanding of their relationship with all life.


Britain's National Institute for Clinical Excellence is proposing new guidelines for the National Health Service under which patients who are going blind would have to lose the sight in one eye before receiving treatment.


Jean King, an attorney in Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed a Title IX gender equity complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, alleging that the University of Michigan should increase the number of women's bathrooms in its $38 million renovation for Hill Auditorium. Current plans call for increasing the number of restrooms from 10 to 30, but King says that since the number of men's restrooms will increase from 14 to 22, the number of women's restrooms should be increased to 44, or double the number of men's facilities.

Architects and university officials say the number of restrooms complies with state building and plumbing codes, and that the demand for restrooms would be lower because the total capacity of the hall had been decreased from 4,169 to 3,710 seats. King, who says she has waited in long rest-room lines at Hill in the past, cites the alternative 2-to-1 ratio recognized as a standard by the Building Officials and Code Administrators International, the American Society of Theatre Consultants, and several states.

"Code be damned, they're building in for another 89 years an out-of-date plumbing standard which is widely recognized as obsolete," said King. "They are looking at the code, not the need. Our daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters will no doubt still be waiting in line at Hill past the end of the intermission."

A woman is suing the British National Health Service for failure to warn her of the psychological distress she might suffer after having an abortion.

Referring to the American flag lapel pins worn by David Letterman and Jay Leno, San Francisco Chronicle TV critic John Carman commented: "The pins have to come off sometime, if only because in another year or two, they will reclaim their original meaning: I am a conservative Republican, and more American than you."


A city council member in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, accused the city's lone police dog of racial profiling, alleging that it only attacks or detects drugs on African-Americans.


Miramax released a motion picture based on the life of Mexican painter and devout Stalinist Frida Kahlo.

[Ed.: In March, while presenting an award during the Academy Awards, Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal said of Frida Kahlo: "If she was alive, she would be on our side against the war."]

A job listing center in Bolton, England, refused to accept an advertisement asking for a "friendly" applicant for a food service job at a travel agency. The manager who requested the ad said "we were told, 'It's discriminatory because some people may perceive that they are friendly even if you don't.' " The words "motivated" and "enthusiastic" had also been banished in the past.

The Sacramento Bee reports that the town of Colfax, California, lost $31,000 in special state education funds because 69 Native American students had failed to show academic improvement, as required under state law, even though overall scores were adequate to qualify for the funds. Many parents and teachers complained that the penalty was unfair, since almost all the "Native Americans" were actually white. In order to qualify for $14,695 in federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Indian Education, many parents signed forms claiming that their children are part American Indian.

Two officials sent from Washington from the Office of Indian Education to resolve the controversy examined the paperwork and found it to be entirely in order. "When the form is filled out, it is not necessarily the schools or the U.S. Department of Education, or anyone else's privilege to go and counteract what the parent is saying," explained Gayle Garbolino-Mojica, the school's principal. "In all legalities, that parent is saying that child, parent, or grandparent has a tribal affiliation and that is the end of the story."


Letter to the Editor, the Boston Globe, June 9, 2002:
Exciting as attorney Steven Wise's challenge is to the existing cultural status of nonhuman animals, Wise's critics are not confined to those who exploit animals. Many of us in the animal advocacy movement reject Wise's elitist categories in which nonhuman animals are patronizingly ranked according to whether or not they possess "practical autonomy" and other abstract qualities entitling them to "liberty rights."

This hierarchy reduces the majority of Earth's creatures to the level of human infanthood and mental retardation.

Do we really believe that the mentally intact, functioning adult members of other species are comparable to the least competent members of human society? Could a group of unaided 3-year-old children create a workable society comparable to that of chimpanzees in their natural habitat?

Defending animals by denigrating them distorts the fight for justice on their behalf. Consigning the majority of animals to the wasteland of foregone conclusions is cruel and unjust. The whole silly structure of "liberty rights" is more medieval than modern, and the science invoked to support it is prejudicially narrow and selective.

—Karen Davis
United Poultry Concerns Inc.
Machipongo, Va.

[Ed.: Mr. Wise, author of Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights, recently announced to an audience at a Washington, D.C., bookstore that, based on the fact that 98.7 percent of their respective DNA was the same, "I don't see a difference between a chimpanzee and my 4 1/2-year-old son."]


Playwright Tony Kushner delivers the commencement address at Vassar College, May 26, 2002:
Having some answer to the WHY ME question, having done the work to change the way you inflect that question from the adenoidal to the introspective, is useful as you try to answer the other question, WHAT AM I DOING HERE, a question which vast forces of reaction, otherwise known as the devil, the Republican Party, the petrochemical industry, Dick and Lynne Cheney, call them what you will, vast and nearly-ineluctably persuasive and pervasive forces of reaction will seek to answer for you: you are here to consume and to surrender....

That's what happens when you despair, you open the door to evil, and evil is always happy to enter, sit down, abolish the Clean Air Act and the Kyoto accords and refuse to participate in the World Court or the ban on landmines, evil is happy refusing funds to American clinics overseas that counsel abortion and evil is happy drilling for oil in Alaska, evil is happy pinching pennies while 40 million people worldwide suffer and perish from AIDS; and evil will sit there, carefully chewing pretzels and fondly flipping through the scrapbook reminiscing about the 131 people he executed when he was governor, while his wife reads Dostoevsky in the corner, evil has a brother in Florida and a whole bunch of relatives, evil settles in and it's the devil of a time getting him to vacate.

Feminist Studies Professor bell hooks, visiting Scholar-in-Residence from Brown University, delivers the 2002 commencement address at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas:

Our nation's call for violence in the aftermath of 9/11 was an expression of widespread hopelessness, the cynicism that has been at the heart of our nation's ongoing fascination with death. Any society based on domination supports and condones violence. Yet as that violence wreaked havoc in our own hearts and in the lives of our loved ones and fellow citizens, many Americans experienced for the first time a moment of clarity when they knew without a doubt that to choose life, we must stand against violence, we must choose peace.

And yet that moment of collective clarity was soon obscured by the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal hunger to show the planet our nation's force, to show that this nation would commit absolute acts of violence that will wipe out whole nations and worlds. The world was held spellbound by our government's declaration of its commitment to violence, to death. Yet just as the violence of the terrorists who slaughtered the innocent on 9/11 does not lead us closer to justice, to reconciliation or peace, the violence acts of imperialist aggression enacted in the name of bringing an end to terrorism have brought us no closer to reconciliation, to peace, to justice.

[Ed.: hooks represents her name in lowercase as a protest against grammatical conventions.]

A proclamation issued, and later withdrawn, by the town of Inglis, Florida:
Be it known from this day forward that Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis. Satan is hereby declared powerless, no longer ruling over, nor influencing, our citizens.

In the past, Satan has caused division, animosity, hate, confusion, ungodly acts on our youth, and discord among our friends and loved ones. NO LONGER!

The body of Jesus Christ, those citizens cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb, hereby join together to bind the forces of evil in the Holy Name of Jesus. We have taken our town back for the Kingdom of God. We are taking everything back that the devil ever stole from us. We will never again be deceived by satanic and demonic forces.

As blood-bought children of God, we exercise our authority over the devil in Jesus' name. By that authority, and through His Blessed Name, we command all satanic and demonic forces to cease their activities and depart the town of Inglis.

As the Mayor of Inglis, duly elected by the citizens of this town, and appointed by God to this position of leadership, I proclaim victory over Satan, freedom for our citizens, and liberty to worship our Creator and Heavenly Father, the God of Israel. I take this action in accordance with the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-18.

Signed and sealed this 5th Day of November, 2001

Carolyn Risher, Mayor
Sally McCranie, Town Clerk

An accused Florida drug dealer won a new trial on the grounds that, as the Miami Herald reports, "the jury pool contained too many people whose last names start with the letter 'G,' " thus violating his Sixth Amendment right to a jury of his peers. Of 38 candidates in the jury pool, 21 had surnames starting with "G" and 14 of those were named Garcia, Gomez, Gonzalez, Guerra, Gutierrez or Goldares. The defendant, on the other hand, is African-American.

An Italian prostitute was arrested and charged with violating competition laws after she cut her fee from 35 to 5 euros.


Reporting on crime statistics once again in the New York Times, Fox Butterfield writes that "the increased number of criminals put behind bars has not been an effective deterrent to crime." Instead, a Justice Department study shows "the rate at which inmates released from prison committed new crimes actually rose from 1983 to 1994." Butterfield explains the distinction as follows: "Criminologists generally agree that the prison binge of the last 25 years ... has helped reduce the crime rate, but largely by simply keeping criminals off the streets."

In its annual report on human rights, Amnesty International accuses Israel of holding 2,200 Palestinians on "political charges." It does not explain that term, but the report for the year 2001, which identified 1,600 such political prisoners, defines the term more clearly: "Israel continued to detain 1,600 Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and 29 Palestinians from Israel sentenced in previous years by military courts for offenses such as attacks on Israelis."


Roger Kaufman, a "psychotherapist intern in a Los Angeles private practice," reviews Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones in the Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2002:
Just as Oscar Wilde skewered the hypocrisies of the Victorian bourgeoisie while providing them with irresistible entertainment, so Lucas has used his formidable imagination to show us that the supposed pillars of American culture have fallen into shambles, while a growing, unconscious group-mindedness, systematic wastefulness and destructive militarism are rising toward a terrible, inevitable crescendo. It is no accident that Lucas and his most obvious gay character, Jar Jar Binks, have been so pummeled in the press, in ways that could be seen to parallel Wilde's public humiliation upon the discovery of his homosexuality....

[T]he style of dialogue and acting in "Attack of the Clones" is intentionally campy, a subversive mode of performance that gay people have used for centuries to express their outsider perspective on the dominant culture....

The young lovers Padme and Anakin may be courting one another on the far-off planet of Naboo, but it is our own culture's cliched honeymoon images of Venice and Niagara Falls that Lucas is visually quoting here to bracket the romance and to tip off moviegoers that he is being campy. When Padme tells Anakin that "I truly, deeply love you," they are immediately greeted by an arena full of jeering sentient insects, another Lucas tip-off to viewers about his true intent: ridiculing their irresponsible descent into unconscious union.

The lovers' dialogue is purposely lifted from soap operas and Harlequin romances to highlight the stultifying cultural effect of this attitude toward romance. Here Lucas is exposing the destructive machinery of an American culture that coerces human beings to blindly imitate and conform to smarmy, shadowless images of heterosexual romance, with terribly destructive and soul-killing results....

Lucas does not limit his critique to unconscious heterosexual romance, but also uses subtle styles of camp to highlight the imperfections of our most beloved Jedi knights in their role as leaders. Even the spry new digital Yoda, who knows something is terribly wrong in the galaxy, cannot see that he is being played like an old puppet by his supposed ally, Chancellor Palpatine. Likewise, we modern Americans allow our "elected" chief executive to claim "sole superpower" status against a so-called "axis of evil" and witness now another corporate-military-industrial buildup that rivals even the imagined one portrayed in "Attack of the Clones."

At the same time, Americans consume and pollute at a rate far beyond the planet's ultimate capacity while paying only lip service to protecting the environment.

Although Lucas could not have known the specifics of recent world events in the early stages of filming, his understanding of our crippled social system runs deep. The prescient parallels between the film and our own current situation are downright chilling.

Our society as a whole unfortunately shares the same attitude as the arrogant librarian in the Jedi temple who says, "If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist."

So many of us imagine ourselves as only "good," failing to recognize and come to terms with the "dark side" in ourselves, our loved ones, our leaders and our entire society.

Rather than "bring balance to the Force" within us, our current system is intensifying how the darkness that remains unconscious gets projected onto despised "others" such as gay people, minorities, foreign cultures and the planet.

Lucas has offered us a deeply felt warning about the price of such massive denial, but one that may be too late to reverse the inexorable descent of a decaying, overripe social order that is leading to planetary devastation.

[Ed.: Upon release of the film, Hispanic groups complained that the character of Jango Fett and the clones represented illegal Mexican immigrants. And, contrary to Mr. Kaufman's interpretation, Episode I was met with similar complaints that Jar Jar Binks was a crude racial caricature of a Jamaican.]


Description for "Islamic Fun!," a CD-ROM product manufactured by Innovative Minds of West Sussex, England:
Your child will learn about Islam by playing lots of exciting games, full of colourful animations and cute sounds effects. Six different games to choose from, with lots of levels—each time they play it's different—lots of fun! The games revolve around an Islamic database of over 1000 questions—each with audio, and lots of images. Three separate age groups supported: 5-7 years, 8-10 years and 11 and over—each with its own database of questions. Makes a great gift. It will keep the whole family entertained for years to come! No complicated installation procedures—just insert CD into drive, it autoruns from CD, there is no installation! Min. Requirements: Windows 95, 16Mb RAM, CD-ROM drive, Sound card. Price: Only £19.95

Some screen shots showing the Games:

Tree Hop
Help the cat retrieve its ball.

Two Bunny Race
Two player game—which bunny will cross the finish line first?

Building Blocks
Help build a mosque.

Meow Tiles
Help the cat uncover the image—what is this cute creature?

Fishing Bear
Help the bear fish, he has five hungry quests to feed!

The Resistance
You are a farmer in South Lebanon who has joined the Islamic Resistance to defend your land and family from the invading Zionists.
The London Independent details the game's contents, June 2, 2002:
Players procure ammunition to fire at Israeli tanks by answering multiple choice questions and then firing at the Israelis as the tanks roll across the screen. There are three playing levels: for children aged between five and seven years, those aged eight to 10, and the hardest level for children aged 11 and over.

Questions include "What was the crime of the Jews of Khayber?" and "Who said: 'I know I have been elected thanks to the votes of US Jews. I owe my election to them. Tell me what I have to do for the Jewish people' to Ben Gurion?"

Abbas Panjwani, the director of the company Innovative Minds, which produces Islamic Fun! said: "The game does not target any human beings including soldiers, it targets Israeli tanks. From that point of view it's no different from any other war game. It does not target any religious or racial group including the Jewish community. In fact its educational content teaches children the difference between Judaism and Zionism."

Following strong denunciations from writers, publishers, and civil libertarians, the New York state Education Department announced it would no longer allow alteration of text excerpts included in its Regents exams. For years, passages had been doctored as part of the department's "sensitivity review guidelines"—removing any reference to race, religion, ethnicity, sex, nudity, alcohol, and even the mildest profanities—to protect the sensitivities of high school students, who must take the test to graduate.

The New York Times reports that one excerpt from the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer was cleansed of any mention of his Judaism, even though it is essential to his writing. In another passage from Annie Dillard's memoir, racial references were removed from a description of her childhood trips to a library in the black section of town when she was one of the only white visitors, where the entire point of the passage was to emphasize race and what she learned about blacks.

Some of the edits rendered subsequent questions about the excerpts absurd. In the Chekhov story "The Upheaval," a wealthy woman looking for a missing brooch strip-searches all of the house's staff members. While that passage was removed from the exam, students were still asked to use the story to write an essay on the meaning of human dignity. Another paragraph from John Holt's Learning All The Time described some of the reasons the Suzuki violin instruction method differs in Japan and the United States. While all mentions of those differences were removed so as not to offend anyone, students were still asked questions about them.