An Inclusive Litany


Following a severe northeast snowstorm in January 1996, a New York Times headline announced: "Blame global warming for the blizzard," asserting that a supposed net temperature increase from increases of carbon dioxide and other industrial emissions was causing unpredictable and increasingly violent weather patterns to form.

In a subsequent story, William Stevens reported that 1995 had been the "hottest year on record." But Stevens was apparently relying on faulty data that only covered the year through November. Once December's data were included, it turned out to be an average year after all—0.05 degrees above average in North America, cooler than 1991, 1990, 1988, 1987, 1983, 1981, and 1980. 1996 was also 0.09 degrees below average worldwide.

Rising temperatures due to the greenhouse effect, a phenomenon that remains undetected by NASA satellites, has also been blamed for each year's remarkable weather patterns, including hurricanes, tornados, and floods—a trend that itself forms a pattern.

An article in Nature magazine attempted to discredit the satellite data from NASA and the University of Alabama at Huntsville, which showed a slight cooling trend over the 18 years they had been taken, by arguing that the satellites last only ten years and the scientists had miscalibrated the newer satellites. (Temperature readings from satellites are considered far more accurate than surface readings, which are prone to all manner of variability. These variations include the "urban heat island effect," in which weather stations once set in rural areas become enveloped by the hot pavement of growing suburbs.) The authors of the article based their claim of the satellites' inaccuracy on estimates of average global temperatures derived from general-circulation climate models. But unfortunately these computer models rely on relatively crude mathematical approximations of the climate's complex physical behavior, often overlooking relevant variables—such as the heat sequestered in oceans and radiated by clouds. In fact, the models have yet to accurately reproduce known climate trends for the past 100 years from first physical principles.

University of Virginia climatologist Patrick Michaels notes that the arguments used to explain discrepancies between observed data and predictions based on theory have often been novel. Chris Folland of the United Kingdom Meteorological Office, for example, commented to a stunned gathering of climatologists that "the [observed] data don't matter," meaning that the predicted temperature increase was likely offset by a random but relatively long-lasting temperature decrease due to the inherently complex and nonlinear nature of the Earth's climate—a natural variation. Such a random fluctuation, of course, may just as easily have gone the other way and increased temperatures to further magnify existing increases from global warming. And assuming that the temperature was increasing at all, there would be no way of knowing whether it was due to a random fluctuation or increases in greenhouse gases. In such a view, chaos theory trumps the supposition of causation, rendering observed data meaningless. It may be added that this chaotic fluctuation of the data, though certainly possible in the real world, was also the product of computer modeling.

At Virginia's College of William and Mary, students tried to change the name of the school team, "The Tribe," because it was supposedly insulting to local Indians, only to learn they really liked the name.

President Bill Clinton, in criticizing Republicans, made the following utterance: "On the other side, they complain about government all the time. They set it up as the enemy; it's government versus the people. The last time I checked, the Constitution said, 'Of the people, by the people and for the people.' That's what the Declaration of Independence says." Neither document contains that phrase, since it was coined generations later by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address.

[Ed.: ABC science reporter Michael Guillen on "Good Morning America," January 21, 1997: "For Americans, 'the pursuit of happiness' is not just a slogan. It's written into our Bill of Rights. But what exactly is happiness?"]

After airline pilots complained that outdoor laser light shows interfered with safe flying, federal regulators banned them from within 20 miles of a Las Vegas airport. However, it was not the Federal Aviation Administration that came up with the rule, but the Food and Drug Administration. The agency argues that even in instances where lasers are not used for medical care, they are still classified as medical devices and thus within FDA jurisdiction under the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act, Title 21, of Code Part 1000.

Insight, March 24, 1997:
Mayor Willie Brown of San Francisco, known as quite the connoisseur of creature comforts, offered a critique of the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House after it was revealed that he was one of the Clintons' 938 overnight guests. For one thing, he noted, the mattress was lumpy.

"You have to step up to get in [the bed]," the mayor told the Associated Press, "and it's not terribly comfortable." Brown said he cleaned the place out of "everything that wasn't tied down," but he left the towels because they were worn and didn't have a White House imprint.

A listing in the Boston Sunday Globe's Arts Week section, March 9, 1997:
"Denial of the Fittest" An autobiographical solo show by juggler/comedian Judith Sloan examines the Holocaust, nuclear meltdowns, suicide, beauty school, and the effects of familial secrets, all accentuated by juggling feats.

From Postmodernism, Sociology and Health, by Nicholas J. Fox:

To take an aspect of governmentality with regard to health, Nettleton's (1991) study of the recruitment of mothers in the disciplining of oral hygiene demonstrates such a regime of governance, in which the care of the self is elevated to a moral virtue which creates a subjectivity of motherhood on the subjects of its discourse, while formulating a liberal "welfare mentality" of surveillance of the population of children's mouths and teeth. The mouths of the children are inscribed in this act of governmentality, but so, too, are the bodies of the "mothers," through the diligence with which they approach the task of sustaining oral hygiene.

The National Basketball Association suspended flamboyant Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman without pay for at least eleven games and required he undergo counseling following an incident in which Rodman kicked a cameraman in the groin at ringside during a game in Minneapolis. Commenting on the NBA's treatment of Rodman, Jesse Jackson protested: "It's one thing to punish a man. It's another to take away his dignity."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken Baltimore's Chi-Chi's restaurant to court for violating the Civil Rights Act. Cora Miller, one of the restaurant's employees, was fired after she refused to sing "Happy Birthday" to a customer. As a Jehovah's Witness, Ms. Miller doesn't celebrate birthday parties, believing them to be pagan rituals.


Representative John Conyers (D-MI) introduced a bill seeking the establishment of a "Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans," the initial establishment of which would cost $8 million.

Duke University Press has published a new book entitled Public Privates: Performing Gynecology from Both Ends of the Speculum, written by Terri Kapsalis, professor of Performance Studies at Northwestern University. The description of the book from the spring and summer catalog declares that "gynecology is not simply the study of women's bodies, but also serves to define and constitute them." Accordingly, the author "decodes the gynecological exam, seizing on its performative dimension," and discusses "incarnations of the pelvic examination outsides the bounds of medicine," including a performance art piece entitled "Public Cervix Announcement," which is intended to reveal "the potent cultural attitudes and anxieties about women, female bodies, and female sexuality that permeate the practice of gynecology." To provide context, the author suggests a "venue from which challenging alternative performances may be staged."

A $1.7 million grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities allowed the Public Broadcasting System to produce "Talk to Me: Americans in Conversation," an hour-long documentary of citizens addressing questions of national identity. Designed to allow Americans to answer the question, "Who are we?" it entailed facilitating more than 1,540 "national conversations" across the country.

Newsweek, March 10, 1997:
Amsterdam tourists who get winded walking around the Van Gogh Museum, or find the Anne Frank House a tad depressing, probably won't like the city's latest attraction. The charity group Voila is offering the chance to be homeless for a day. For $24, visitors can surrender their wallets (changing into rags is optional) and embark on a day of soup kitchens and aimless wandering. "Now you can feel what it's like for one day and still have the luxury of sleeping in your own bed," says one of the street people who serve as guides. Or not. Voila will offer three-day "survival weekends" once it gets warms enough to sleep under Amsterdam's scenic bridges.

In 1978 the Oakland Raiders' Jack Tatum made a "clothesline" hit on New England Patriots' receiver Darryl Stingley's neck, causing permanent paralysis. At the time, Tatum arrogantly defended the play as legal and warned other opponents that they could expect the same.

In January 1997, Tatum applied for disability benefits of $156,000 a year from the NFL Players' Association, pointing to the mental anguish he has suffered having to live with the incident. The $156,000 "catastrophic injury" category is the NFLPA's highest; it is the same category that Stingley is in.

A federal judge in Springfield, Missouri, dismissed the lawsuit of a woman who claimed that after hitting an opossum in the road with her car, she was flooded with repressed memories of child abuse by her step-grandfather years earlier.

A new law in New York City, backed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, forbids adult entertainment establishments from opening within 500 feet of schools, churches, residential areas, or each other. Not only would this break up the concentration of such establishments around the Times Square red light district, it would banish them to waterfronts, industrial areas, and remote parts of outer boroughs.

But some New Yorkers are not happy with the law, and plan to fight back. Residents of a Chinese neighborhood in Brooklyn have considered combating an encroaching sex zone by opening more churches, making the creation of new adult entertainment establishments geographically impossible. Members of the gay activist group Empire State Pride Agenda have also criticized the new rules, saying they threaten to shut down businesses that provide condoms and AIDS information in addition to pornography.

Oddly enough, some of the porn proprietors are only too happy with the law. Times Square porn king Richard Basciano owns a lot of real estate in the area and will reportedly benefit from the expected influx of investment. And with a lower concentration of porn shops, he will face less competition. Still, others will be forced to adapt. The owner of Manhattan Video on West 39th Street is contemplating shifting his stock toward female wrestling movies and fetish films that feature activities such as spanking and foot licking. Such films would not meet the threshold to be classified as pornography.

In her book Erotic Faculties, University of Nevada art history professor and performance artist Joanna Frueh sets out not merely to study pornography, but to generate it. In a section called "Mouth Piece," she declares: "You call me Joanna the Slippery. I like this, my c**t wet for you. I put my finger in my c**t, in and out, slowly, as we're talking on the bed, then to my mouth, and taste, lick it—almost as if I'm not aware of what's happening." Frueh claims that her writing style is politically motivated: "The erotic scholar is willing to be sloppy as sex is sloppy," she writes, adding that "tight" prose is something required of women by heterosexual men, for obvious reasons.

Erica Jong in The Nation, December 30, 1996:
The notion that some women "make it on their own" in our sexist society seems naive to me. Whether one is a political wife, a courtesan, a woman governor, senator, lawyer or writer, one operates in the context of sexism. This means women are judged more harshly than men, subject to ad feminam attacks and, most painful, scolded by other women for not being sufficiently "independent." Humans are social animals. No woman is an island. To imagine that it is possible for any woman to inhabit an asteroid, like the Little Prince, is delusional. One way or another, we are all prisoners of our culture's sexism.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports from Mill Valley, California, March 20, 1997:
A high-school student says his award-winning radiation experiment was dropped from a science fair because competition officials believed it was cruel to animals—in this case, fruit flies.

Ari Hoffman, whose experiment showed that the flies' reproduction rates dropped when radiation levels rose, won first prize at a recent Marin County science fair.

But officials from the Bay Area Science Fair disqualified him from their competition, which included about 300 entries and took place last weekend in San Francisco. The experiment, they said, conflicted with the fair's rules against cruelty to animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates.

"The rules are consistent with national science fair regulations," said Warren Hagberg, the Bay Area fair's executive director.

"It's true that some of the flies never woke up from the anesthesia, possibly due to exposure to radiation," said Ari, a 15-year-old sophomore at Tamalpais High School. Others were euthanized because they became infected with mites.

But otherwise, he thinks the flies were pampered. For example, he said the flies were kept in tropical temperatures and fed well during the 10-week project. Ari's father, Dr. William Y. Hoffman, a plastic surgeon at the University of California at San Francisco, also worked on the experiment and agreed that the flies were not treated badly.

Ari says he wishes he'd had the chance to defend himself. "I'm proud of my experiment. I'm just upset they didn't give me a chance to clarify what I did," he said. "It seemed very political."

The Justice Department has filed suit against the nation's largest architecture firm, Ellerbe Beckett of Minneapolis, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It accuses the firm of designing sports arenas where the lines of sight from the handicapped seats aren't as good as those of the other seats.

Jonathan Alter in Newsweek, December 30, 1996/January 6, 1997:
Overlaying this structure was a national politics heavily conditioned by nearly half a century of cold war. Strength and toughness trumped everything else. At one military briefing during the 1980s, Reagan was shown models of American missiles. The American power phalluses were long and white; the Soviets', shorter and black. We were still safely ahead, but only by the margin of our machismo.


In St. Charles, Maryland, developer James J. Wilson was convicted of illegally filling in a wetland—with water. This, despite the findings of a renowned environmental consultant who testified that construction of a pond in a damp, wooded area attracted more wildlife and "had no adverse environmental impact," a conclusion the federal government did not seriously dispute. The wetland was a full six miles away from any "navigable" waterway that would place it under federal control.

In Burney, California, Jeremy Dean and his parents filed a lawsuit against Shasta County for at least $700,000 for Jeremy's total disability that resulted from a car crash. Dean and some friends had been out drinking. Dean was in the back seat of a car and had stuck his head out the window to vomit just as the driver veered off the road, ramming Dean's head into a tree. The lawsuit claims that it was the county's fault that the tree was so close to the road.

Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer, who in Albion's Seed argued that four initial waves of English Protestant migration were of primary importance to the present-day United States, and that these settlers' Anglo-Saxon values gave the nation its indelible character, reports that the book was not always so well received when it was published in 1989, as academic enthusiasm for multiculturalism and political correctness crested. Crudely worded death threats arrived by mail, always postmarked anonymously from university towns. One of the death threats contained footnotes. The FBI and the Postal Inspector said they had never seen a death threat with footnotes before.

To assist allergy sufferers, the city of Albuquerque wants to stop the production of pollen, so it has banned cypress, mulberry, elm, and male juniper trees. A person can be fined $500 for planting, growing, importing, or selling such trees. Actually, experts say than the ban will have little effect on allergies, as people become sensitized to other types of pollen.

"Today" show co-host Bryant Gumbel interviews Jimmy Carter about his new book, Living Faith, November 18, 1996:
You write that you prayed more during your four years in office than basically at any time in your life and yet I think it's fair to say, and I hope this doesn't sound too harsh, I think it's fair to say, you are consistently viewed as one of the more ineffective Presidents of modern times.... What do you think, if anything, that says about the power of prayer?

Professor Scott Isaksen, director of the Center for Studies in Creativity at the State University of New York at Buffalo, has been charged with handcuffing, blindfolding, and then choking a male student with a rope placed around his neck, in what Professor Isaksen described as a "role-playing game." Both professor and student agreed that this "role-playing" would take place in lieu of the 19-year-old writing a 20-page term paper.

As reported in the Sunday Telegraph, the British government has approved a new test that awards 16-year-old students for getting their names, the names of their schools, and the date correct. In the math section, teenage students are shown five pencils and asked to count them and identify the longest one.

Letter to the editor, the New York Times, January 8, 1997:
In the Dec. 31 Op-Ed article offering resolutions for President Clinton ("Be Resolute, Mr. Clinton. Here's How."), Senator Bill Bradley raises the issue of making civil rights and racial harmony a priority, and idea whose time has certainly come. What administrations have done in the past to signal a commitment to a single crucial and fraught problem is to appoint a government overseer, or "czar": a drug czar to lead the war on drugs; and energy czar during the energy crisis. A new office if "race czar" would be responsible for assessing major government decisions for their impact on racial equality and harmony.

As one who worked passionately and effectively within the system while hewing to his morals and integrity, Mr. Bradley would be an excellent choice for the office after retiring from the Senate. He has the stature, experience, vision and commitment to healing racial fractiousness.

—Deborah Schupack
New York

A particularly irate letter to the editor, Seattle Weekly, January 1, 1997:
After examining your article on Chief Joseph ("My heart is sick and sad," 12/11), I was struck by what a wonderful example your newspaper is for what Chief Joseph was fighting against.

Chief Joseph did not say the things he was quoted as saying in your article. The Nez Perce were not English speakers. our society forcibly took away the language, culture, and spirit of those people. Translation of Chief Joseph's words is only another reminder of the horrible society we live in.

You featured "My heart is sick and sad" directly above the "Gift-Guide: Tips for Tightwads." Chief Joseph, along with most Native Americans, fought this country, sometimes to the death, to avoid such bull****. This society is wrong. Everything we have is based on abusing the environment and dipping into 100 million years of solar energy in the form of oil. Everyone is happy because we get to have toys and candy. When we are sad, there is always Prozac, lest anyone suspect this world is dying and be disturbed. The oil is going to run out. The violations we have committed against this planet and ourselves will be present when all of us are on trial for being asleep.

Have you ever been to a museum? Did you ever wonder what happened to all the ancient civilizations whose art and artifacts we treasure so much? They died. They ran out of resources. They abused their environments and were not awake and alive when it became essential to see that they must be responsible for the world they create.

Like Chief Joseph, "my heart is sick and sad." I live in a society based on lies, among a people who are spiritual zombies, and within a civilization that is a cancer to this planet. If any of you took the time to step out of your culture's paradigm and hold yourself accountable for being awake and alive, perhaps you could truly see that the Emperor has no clothes, and you can quit your job as his indentured tailor. If you did that, it would hurt. Everyone wants to feel all of the earth's pleasures, but few are willing to suffer with the earth and feel the pain our civilization has manifested.

—Caleb Schaber