An Inclusive Litany


New York City spent $185,000 in an unsuccessful 1994 effort to fire a teacher who was in prison for dealing cocaine.

Randy Pech, owner of Adarand Constructors, which builds highway guardrails in Colorado, sued after Adarand was passed over for a federally funded highway contract despite the fact that his company was the lowest bidder. Of the five companies that supply guardrails in Colorado, his is the only one not owned by a Hispanic or a woman. Pech complains that he is the exclusive target of set-aside laws: "If I weren't here, they'd have no impact."

A spokesman from the Educational Testing Service said it expects to administer SAT tests to 30,000 learning disabled candidates in 1996, an increase from 18,000 in 1991. Many of them, New York magazine reports, come from elite private schools with students whose grades are far higher than the average American might associate with the term "disability," and whose parents are willing to pay the $1,000 for the certificate. Learning disabled students are granted an extra 90 minutes on the test, which ordinarily has a three-hour time limit.


Outraged by reports that some guests on daytime TV talk shows are phony, Rep Nita Lowey (D-NY) is introducing legislation banning talk shows from promoting bogus guests as real ones.

When America Online instituted a ban on the use of the word "breast" on its service, it received many complaints about censorship. Among them, an on-line breast cancer support group found it particularly difficult to communicate.

In his spare time, New York City photographer and former vacuum cleaner salesman Eugene Calamari Jr. is a part-time performance artist. He lies on the floor and lets people vacuum him with an upright cleaner, after which he asks the vacuumers to write down their feelings.


Penthouse, March 1996:
A New Jersey high school principal suspended three students after they uttered the word "oi" (a British punk-rock expression) during a talent competition. The principal said two persons had complained to him that the students, in fact, said "oy," a Yiddish expression that, loosely translated, means "Oh my." Although it is unclear how merely saying the word can possibly be construed as anti-Semitic, the principal said, "When it comes to racism and anti-Semitism, we're certainly going to come down on the side of caution." Police were called to investigate a possible bias crime, but declared the incident "utter confusion," which also happens to be the name of the band.

Psychologists and immigration experts have become alarmed at signs of stress among illegal aliens. "So many arrived with psychological problems, with the feeling of failure," says Rev. Gianni Fanzolato, who runs Casa del Migrante, a shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. "They would be shaking, sweating, anxious. This 'migrant syndrome'—we're seeing it every day."

Rudy Ramirez, a psychologist and administrator at the shelter, concurs. "We're doubling, doubling and doubling the Border Patrol," Ramirez says. "There is increased stress all along. They manifest the symptoms in neuroses, depression, psychosis—sometimes violent, sometimes autistic."

Fred Krissman, a researcher at the Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies at the University of California, San Diego, calls it "undocumented entry syndrome." "There is no doubt in my mind that trying to cross this military border is a very traumatic, dangerous experience."


USA Today reports from Elizabeth, New Jersey, March 21, 1996:
Environmental groups protested plans by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and other agencies to pave an 800-foot section of road with asphalt mixed with trash-incinerated ash.


The Hawaii Tribune:
Three women who hand out early-morning coffee and pastries to the homeless could face fines of $1,000 a day. The trio has run afoul of the state Department of Health because they brew their coffee at home, not in a kitchen approved by the state.

The European Union's executive agency has accused Philip Morris of misleading advertising. The company ran a series of newspaper ads claiming that anti-smoking laws reduce personal freedom. The agency says this is a lie, and if the company doesn't cut it out, it will ban all tobacco advertising.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
9to5, a feminist worker's rights organization, is facing a union-organizing drive by its employees. The union accuses the group of mistreatment of racial minorities.

NBC "Today" co-host Katie Couric, March 20, 1996:
The safety of car seats, cribs, and toys are the concerns of all you conscientious parents. Well, now you can add shopping carts to your list. According to a recent study, shopping cart related injuries account for 25,000 trips to the emergency room every year. At least two deaths have occurred in related incidents. In the last three years, 2,000 children were hospitalized from shopping cart injuries such as skull fractures, concussions, cuts, and bruises.

With $100,000 in federal grants from the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department, a group of scientists has commissioned the writing of a prime-time TV drama. The Wall Street Journal reports: "They hope it will not only impart information but do for scientists what E.R. does for doctors."


Stanford University now offers the following courses: "Creation/Procreation," which examines "the gendered aspects of cosmological or religious systems"; "Gender and Science," which purports to study science free of outdated male assumptions; and "How Tasty Were My French Sisters," which is well beyond polite speculation.

In Berkeley, California, Holocaust "revisionist" David Irving was taken by surprise at finding a venue for espousing his theory that the Holocaust never happened. Irving conceded after fussing with his notes for ten minutes that he actually had nothing to say. "Our whole purpose is to discredit people by provoking them into obstructing our speech," he explained. "I've never actually prepared any remarks."

The elite San Francisco law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati was honored for performing pro bono work providing "extraordinary" services to the poor "with no expectation of being paid." They were given the award for a case in which, the Wall Street Journal reported, the firm requested $7.6 million in fees, took the state to court when it wouldn't pay, and eventually got $3.5 million from taxpayers.

[Ed.: They only received the lower figure because a state audit revealed that their first bid included an attorney's bill for a 44-hour day, at $160 per hour.]

An Associated Press report from Springfield, Illinois:
Murderer-rapist George Delvecchio asked the Illinois Supreme Court to stay his execution, contending that a recent heart attack, his medication, and his incoherence render him unfit to be executed.


In California, post-Watergate revulsion with corrupt politicians led to the passage of the Political Reform Act in 1974, which set strict campaign-finance disclosure requirements on state political campaigns.

In October 1995, California's Fair Political Practices Commission, charged with enforcing the PRA, levied the largest fine in its history, $808,000, against the president and treasurer of a grassroots group called Californians Against Corruption. The two had initiated an effort to oust the well-connected and allegedly corrupt 23-year state Sen. David Roberti from office, but had failed to note the occupation, employer, and address of people who had donated more than $100 to the recall cause.

The fine is almost eight times as high as the total amount of funds the two managed to raise in the recall cause. The FPPC's next-largest fines were levied against companies that laundered money for politicians.

Letter to the editor, the Sacramento Bee, January 21, 1996:
Re "Pearl Harbor Day," letters, January 7: Some responsibility for the bombing of Pearl Harbor must rest with the United States and Europe.

Japan was pretty much an isolationist country until the U.S. Navy forced open its borders in 1854. The Japanese knew how Asians were being exploited by their European colonial masters, and about the treatment of nonwhites in America. They reasoned that the best form of self-defense was to become like the Western powers. This brought about one of the most spectacular examples of modernization in history.

Japan also believed, based on European expansionism, that to be a modern Westernized culture with a thriving economy one must harshly exploit others. The Nazis provided an example of a group which considered itself victimized by the wealthier around them.... In the end, Pearl Harbor was bombed, not as a prelude to occupying America, but to get needed materials to overrun Asia.

I do not want to sound insensitive, but perhaps we should give Pearl Harbor a rest. This would give the rest of us, the living, a needed break.

—Steven Yoshida

The federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a male prisoner who wishes to become a female is not entitled to get hormone injections at public expense under the 14th Amendment, but he may be entitled to them under the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment.

Police in the drug-saturated Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan noticed a slowly moving car with out-of-state plates at 5 a.m. The car stopped, the driver popped the hood of the trunk and four men placed two large duffel bags inside. When police approached, the men moved away rapidly in different directions; one ran. Police searched the trunk and found 80 pounds of cocaine. The driver, a Michigan woman, confessed in a 40-minute videotaped statement, saying that this was just one of more than 20 large drug buys she had made in Manhattan. But Judge Harold Baer ruled that police had conducted an unreasonable search. Since many residents in the area regard police as corrupt and abusive, reasoned the judge, it would have been unusual if the men hadn't run away, so fleeing was no cause for a search. Since the confession stemmed from the search, Baer threw that out as well.

While serving time in a federal penitentiary for threatening the life of President Reagan, Rodney Hamrick managed to build five crude bombs and mail one of them to the U.S. Attorney who had prosecuted him. The bomb fizzled and burned the envelope, but luckily did not go off. Hamrick was convicted of a bomb count by a federal district court, but the decision was overruled by an appeals court. Since the bomb was so crudely constructed, the three-judge panel reasoned, it was not a dangerous weapon.

Children who turned violent toys over to volunteers at various locations in Columbia, Maryland, were given a Peacemaker Certificate good for free gifts, discounts, and ice cream from nine area merchants. The offer was also available for children who didn't have any violent toys at home, but who were willing to sign a Peacemaker Pledge to work for peaceful resolution of conflicts in their lives. The event concluded with a New Ways to Play Day, an afternoon of affirmative, cooperative, non-violent play. The contributed toys will be transformed into a "peace sculpture."


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has declared butterfly bandages the equivalent of sutures, allowing only licensed medical personnel to apply them.

The Wall Street Journal, March 8, 1996:
When Mike Elliott brought an order form for Girl Scout cookies to work, he wasn't looking for trouble.

Mr. Elliott ... started asking co-workers to buy a few boxes on behalf of his girlfriend's eight-year old daughter. "I worked for four or five hours, and suddenly this lady came up to me and said that a guy who worked 50 feet down the line from me was selling them cheaper," Mr. Elliott says. "The first thing that everyone thinks is: You're trying to rip me off."

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, price wars are breaking out over Thin Mints and Peanut Butter Patties. "It's devastating," says Penny Bailer, executive director of the Michigan Metro Girl Scout Council, which serves the Detroit Metropolitan area....

Officials say they can't adopt the simple solution setting one national price because their parent organization, Girl Scouts USA, follows the Sherman Act, which prohibits price fixing.

[Ed.: Economist Ralph Reiland has determined that the Girl Scouts must sell over 80,000 boxes of cookies to pay their liability insurance.]

President Clinton has approved a plan to return hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of expensive south-Florida farmland to the Everglades by buying the land at market rates. The main reason the land is expensive is that the land is used for growing cane sugar, a crop that can only grow in parts of Florida, and then not at all competitively. As a result, the crop is so heavily subsidized that American sugar prices are roughly three times that of the world price. Though it perhaps represents mere inference, it is reasonable to assume that removing the price supports would at least have made the Everglade buy-back much less expensive, if not obviate the plan altogether.


The Department of Housing and Urban Development spent $51,000 for 38 public-housing tenants in Detroit to attend a convention of the National Tenants Organization in Puerto Rico. Tenants from Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta also attended the August 1995 convention at taxpayers' expense. A flier promoted the beaches, casinos, and beauty salons at the San Juan resort where the conference was held: "Make NTO Convention 1995 your family vacation ... Casinos for dads, exotic shopping ... pampering for moms."

Tenant Opportunity Program grants, which were used to help fund the trip, are ostensibly meant to "support training and leadership activities in order to empower tenants for resident-management purposes."

Playboy, January 1996:
It appears the call to public service runs in the genes. Hunter Reno is a spokesmodel for L'Oréal Hair Care. She is also Attorney General Janet Reno's niece. That may explain why she does volunteer work with the civic-minded organization "DISHES": Determined Involved Supermodels Helping to End Suffering. We did not make this up.

The New York Times Magazine, March 10, 1996:
Hard to believe, but throughout the land the Federal Government has sanctioned only four apostrophes to make place names possessive. The latest to be so entitled by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the first genitive it has bestowed in 32 years, is Carlos Elmer's Joshua View [Ariz.].... Since 1890, the nine-member board, in Reston, VA., has remained hostile to possessives, stripping Harpers Ferry and Jamestown, among others, of their possessives.

"The board has developed a philosophy that geographic names in the United States should not show ownership of a feature," says Roger Payne, its secretary.... If a town insists on a possessive for local consumption, fine. But no possessives on any Federal maps or documents without dispensation.


Hawaii state worker Ronald Clay was sent to jail after his fourth criminal conviction, but he didn't lose his job. While serving time on weekends, he continued to work five days a week—as a prison guard.

A memo unearthed by the Washington Monthly:
Division of Operations-Management

August 23, 1995

All Regional Directors, Officers-in-Charge, and Resident Officers
B. Allan Benson, Acting Associate General Counsel
Form Number Change
"Notice to Employees"

It has been brought to our attention that in at least one election, employees may have refused to vote because of their religious beliefs; that is, as regards Form NLRB-666 (Notice to Employees), they interpreted "666" as the NLRB's display of the "mark of the devil." Therefore, to ensure the form's number does not discourage voter participation, the form has been renumbered to Form NLRB-5492 and 5492 SP (Spanish version).

Replacement versions have been ordered and will be sent to you by August 31, 1995. Forms with the "666" should be discarded when the new forms are received.

If you have any questions, please contact your Assistant General Counsel.



In Keene, New Hampshire, Judge Philip Mangones declared a search for drugs in the dormitory rooms of two Keene State College students unconstitutional. The students consented to the search, and more than six ounces of marijuana was found, but the judge said that the men were too stoned to know what they were doing when they consented.


In Brownsville, Texas, Mary Gunnels is going to trial for the second time because she was discovered to have sold about 30 silk chrysanthemums annually to girls going to high school homecoming games. She was originally charged with "knowingly and intentionally operating a flower shop" in a residential area, and faces a $500 fine.

From the diaries of Bob Packwood, who resigned from the U.S. Senate after he was charged with sexual harassment, concerning a game of bridge:
God, was she a good player. I was so fascinated in watching her bid and play that I could hardy concentrate on the breasts.

After California implemented the California Basic Education Skills Test, or CBEST, to make sure that new teachers have attained at least a 10th-grade level in reading, writing, and math skills, the Oakland Alliance of Educators, the Association of Mexican-American Educators, and the California Association for Asian-Pacific Bilingual Education filed a class-action suit against the test, alleging racism. As proof, plaintiffs pointed to statistical disparities of pass rates by ethnic group: only 35 percent of African Americans, 51 percent of Latin Americans, and 59 percent of Asians passed the test the first time, compared with 80 percent of white test-takers. (For testers who take the test two or more times, the numbers are higher: 63 percent of blacks, 86 percent of Latinos, 84 percent of Asians, and 96 percent of whites.)

One of the suit's star plaintiffs was Sara Boyd, an African-American former teacher and guidance counselor retired from her job as vice principal of Menlo-Atherton High School. The suit cited Boyd's many awards and accolades as proof that she was a solid educator as well as "an extra-sensitive conduit and role model for the school's large minority student population," even though she flunked the test four times.

In a videotaped deposition with Lawrence Ashe, who defended the test, Boyd mentioned that 6 out of 80 teachers at her school were black—1 or 2 percent by her estimation. Then she realized that, in fact, 8 teachers were black.

"So, in fact, 10 percent of the faculty is African American?" Ashe responded.
"No," Boyd countered.
"What percent of 80 is 8?" Ashe asked Boyd.
For some time Boyd was silent, then: "Can you rephrase that? I'm drawing a blank here."

The question was rephrased and Boyd answered "That's about 1 percent."


The Washington Post, January 26, 1996:
About 1,500 people attended the funeral yesterday of Damion Blocker, 14, who was shot to death last week inside a District school in the Naylor Gardens neighborhood of Southeast Washington. Mayor Marion Barry told the mourners, many of them classmates and neighbors of Blocker's, at Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Southeast: "Young people, nothing is wrong with talking it out. It may save your life."

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Chief Superior Court Judge Eugene N. Hamilton also attended the service....

Blocker was remembered as a young man who loved sports, community activities, and his 1-year-old daughter, Diamond.

Art Rascon reports from Havana on Cuba's novel air traffic control practices, the "CBS Evening News," March 1, 1996:
Sources inside and outside the Cuban government have told us that the timing of last week's shootdown may not have been as simple as Cuba just defending what it claims to be a violation of its airspace. These sources tell us a right-wing faction within the Cuban government felt softening relations between the United States and Cuba had gone a bit too far and that the door should not be opened any wider.
...and NBC's "Today" show co-host Bryant Gumbel uses his considerable skills to interview U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright about increased sanctions against Cuba following the incident, February 27, 1996:
In his address to the Security Council, Cuba's U.N. Ambassador said that the increased U.S. sanctions, in his words, "cater to the extreme right wing in an election year." Isn't there some truth to that?