An Inclusive Litany


Marilyn J. Bartlett was graduated from Vermont Law School in 1991, barely squeaking by with a GPA of 2.32 and a class standing 143 out of 153, and after having received generous accommodations for her reading disability and disability in "phonological processing." Bartlett then went to work as a professor of education at Dowling College, where she was provided with a full-time work-study student to assist her with reading and writing tasks.

When it came time to take the bar exam, Bartlett petitioned the New York Board of Law Examiners for special arrangements such as unlimited test time, access to food and drink, a private room, and the use of an amanuensis to record her answers. But acting on the advice of its own expert, who reported that Bartlett's test data did not support a diagnosis of a reading disorder, the board refused Bartlett's demands. Bartlett took the exam three times without any special accommodations, failing each time. Then, in 1993, she sued the board.

In 1997 Judge Sonia Sotomayer ruled in Bartlett's favor, ordering the board to provide all the accommodations she had requested, along with $12,500 in compensatory damages. The judge did not challenge the board's contention that Bartlett was neither impaired nor disabled, at least not in the traditional sense. However, she declared that Bartlett's skills ought not to be compared to those of an "average person in the general population," but rather to an "average person with comparable training, skills and abilities"—in other words, to other aspiring lawyers. An "essential question" in the case, said the judge, was whether the plaintiff would "have a substantial impairment in performing [the] job" of a practicing lawyer. If the answer to this question was "yes," the judge reasoned, then Bartlett had a protected right to work in her chosen career. Judge Sotomayer ruled that Bartlett's "inability to be accommodated on the bar exam—and her accompanying impediment to becoming bar-admitted—exclude her from a 'class of jobs' under the ADA."

To buttress her point, the judge cited Bartlett's poor performance during a courtroom demonstration of her reading skills. "Plaintiff read haltingly and laboriously, whispering and sounding out some words more than once under her breath before she spoke them aloud," the judge recalled. "She made one word identification error, reading the word 'indicted' as 'indicated.' "

In a move to prevent universities from farcically enrolling and graduating young men whose athletic abilities are the only reason they are in school, the National Collegiate Athletic Association instituted a requirement that all student athletes get a cumulative SAT score of 700 and maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average. But in a letter to the NCAA, Justice Department lawyer Christopher J. Kuczynski warned that the association's academic standards may "have the affect [sic] of excluding students with disabilities from participation in college athletics." An NCAA spokesman says that the association is in the process of revising its policy "to accommodate students with learning disabilities."

After Joe Murphy learned that he had been eligible for Social Security benefits for all of his adult life due to his mild mental retardation and manic depression, he claimed the $40,945 in benefits that had accumulated over the years. In view of his mental status, the Social Security District Manager sought to give the money to a representative custodian, but this outraged Murphy, who finally convinced the agency to pay him the entire lump sum. When he blew all the money on gambling within a few weeks, Murphy blamed the government. "If you're mentally or physically disabled, the government needs to protect [you]," he said. "What they did was give me loaded gun and say, 'Shoot yourself.' "

Navy Officer Paula Coughlin was awarded $5.1 million for being groped while running a vulgar gauntlet amidst a group of Navy fliers. She did not sue the Navy, who sponsored the now-infamous Tailhook conference, or the individual fliers (both men and women) who had let the event get out of hand, but rather the Hilton Hotel chain for failing to prevent the Navy fliers' bawdy revelry that she had come down from her hotel room specially to attend.

Government officials in the Netherlands have ordered that the nation's symphony orchestras play at least 7 percent of its music by Dutch composers. The government, which has studied the matter, says the symphonies now play only 4 to 5 percent Dutch music.

In Seattle, 61-year-old Norman Mayo is suing Washington dairy farmers and Safeway supermarkets for using milk cartons whose lack of warnings about milk's cholesterol content failed to prevent the self-described "milkoholic" from drinking excessive amounts of moo juice, then suffering a mild stroke.


Following a July lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission tried to get the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. to eradicate "ebonics" jokes in the workplace.

Writing in the Washington Post, Eugene Volokh catalogued what various other agencies and courts now regarded as workplace harassment:

  • Co-workers' use of the words "draftsman" and "foreman" instead of "draftsperson" and "foreperson."

  • "Men Working" signs.

  • Sexually suggestive jokes, even ones that aren't misogynistic.

  • Derogatory pictures of the Ayatollah Khomeini and American flags burning in Iran.

  • In the words of one court's injunction: remarks "contrary to your fellow employees' religious beliefs."

  • "Offensive speech implicating considerations of race."


Ben & Jerry's compromised with the state of Illinois after the company attempted to label its ice cream products as being free of milk from cows treated with recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), a process that increases milk production. The state protested that there is no way to distinguish between milk from cows that are treated with the hormone and those that are not, making the company's claim unverifiable and its implication of harmful effects misleading. The agreed upon label reads as follows:
We oppose recombinant bovine growth hormone. The family farmers who supply our milk and cream pledge not to treat their cows with rBGH. The FDA has said no significant difference has been shown and no test can distinguish between milk from rBGH treated and untreated cows.

Bennie Casson of Belleville, Illinois, filed a $100,000 lawsuit against PT's Show Club in nearby Sauget because in the course of her performance, one of the club's strippers heaved her large breasts onto him, causing a "bruised, contused, lacerated" neck.

In order to determine responsibility for lead pollution in Idaho's Silver Valley, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered over 70 of the state's mining companies to submit copies of all the paperwork they produced over the last 117 years.


The Utah branch of the National Organization for Women is championing the cause of Elizabeth Joseph, a lawyer who lives in a polygamous arrangement with six other wives and a shared husband, Alex Joseph. Ellen George, secretary of NOW's Utah branch, commented: "We fight for lesbian families and single-parent families. I don't know why we wouldn't support this."

While most feminists may regard polygamy as a form of slavery, NOW points out the advantages to working mothers—particularly in the area of child care. Ms. Joseph and her six co-wives live with Mr. Joseph and their 20 children in a communal living arrangement in Big Water, Utah. Career women such as Ms. Joseph go off to work, and the career caregivers look after the children. The arrangement allowed her to "go to law school, knowing my husband had clean shorts in the morning and dinner at night."

Without an official marriage certificate, they have not broken federal anti-polygamy law. A Utah statute prohibits their form of co-habitation, but no one has been prosecuted under it since 1944. Formerly a common practice among Mormons, polygamy was outlawed before the territory of Utah was admitted to the United States in 1896.

[Ed.: In South Africa, theology professor Christina Landman proposed adopting the practice of polygamy to counter the country's soaring divorce rate. "There are just too few men in the world," Landman said. "They have exterminated each other in wars. Now is the time to select a married man and go and negotiate with his wife to become part of the family." Landman further commented that because polygamy is traditionally practiced by the country's native black population, not offering it as an option for whites is "a clear case of discrimination."]

From a flier distributed in New Mexico, Spring 1997:
Free Food, Free Gifts

Sign up as a new client—or bring a friend to [the Women, Infants and Children program] and both of you will receive a small incentive gift—plus get your name put in a weekly raffle for a larger prize!!

From March 1 to April 30, 1997 the Navajo Nation WIC Program will be conducting a campaign to increase caseload....

Navajo WIC serves all people—not just Navajos.

After two black employees at the Mood Disorder Clinic of Pittsburgh's Western Psychiatric Hospital saw a poem titled "Nigger Do Not Speed In My Town" on the desk of white employee who was being paid $50 per hour by a personal friend to type and proofread it for future publication, they lodged a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming it was evidence of a racially hostile atmosphere.

It turns out the poem was the work of a local black poet, Michael Robinson, who wrote it as an angry response to the beating of Rodney King. Despite his ability as a poet to form unusual mental associations among diverse sensations and ideas, Robinson is reportedly baffled that the presence of his poem, a critical social commentary on the behavior of white police in Los Angeles, is being interpreted as evidence of a culture of discrimination at the hospital.

But a Pittsburgh attorney who handles workplace discrimination suits told the Pittsburgh Business Times that the author's identity is irrelevant, and that the real question is "whether the poem is going to be admissible as evidence to show an atmosphere. It probably would be." In an editorial, the newspaper agreed: "Even in issues as difficult as harmonious race or gender relations in the workplace, we wonder if common sense is still the best guide. If the poem never entered the medical clinic, then the offended employees at Western Psych, regardless of the merit or lack thereof of the complaints, would not have had this incendiary example of what they believe to be UPMC's tolerance of a culture of discrimination."

Hospital officials reply that they cannot search employees' desks or drawers for potentially offensive materials, but attorney Sam Cordes counters that if an employer fails to take action when such material is found, that may be used as evidence to hold the employer liable in future lawsuits.


Letter to the editor, New Jersey's Bergen County Record:
I'd like to call your attention to the subliminally sexist message of one of our most common roadside signs: the "school-crossing" sign that appears in almost every neighborhood in the country. The sign features a picture of two children, a boy and a girl, crossing the street together. The boy is much taller than the girl, portraying the part of the older brother, while the girl's role is that of the dependent younger sister. The boy seems to have his hand gripping the little girl's elbow, as if he were guiding her. All these details suggest that the boy is dominant, and the girl is weaker. I suggest that half of our school-crossing signs be changed to show a taller girl and a smaller boy. A small change like this could give American children a much better sense of the full range of possible relationships between males and females.

—Sarah McGarth

During Senate hearings investigating the Clinton administration's alleged solicitations of illegal political campaign contributions from China and other foreign governments, Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) warned that the hearings might provoke the sort of discrimination against Asians that he said was formerly directed against Italians as a result of the 1950-51 Kefauver hearings on organized crime. "It was only a flickering television screen, but I will never forget it," Torricelli said of the Mafia hearings, which as it turns out, concluded when the senator was only a few days old.

At Army bases, bayonet practice may now be called off if the weather is too hot. On obstacle courses, which have now been renamed "confidence courses," recruits may now run around walls if climbing them is too hard. A visitor to a Marine training facility even noticed a footstool placed in front of an eight-foot wall so that no trainee would fail to scale it. Time magazine reports that some Navy recruits are given "blue cards" to hand to a trainer when they are feeling blue. And carring a stretcher, once a two-person job, now requires four people.

Army trainees perform many drills in sneakers because women suffer high rates of injury when wearing boots. Marine climbing ropes now feature a yellow line part-way up at which women are allowed to stop. In one Army exercise, male soldiers must do 20 push-ups, while women must do six. The Armed Forces justify these differences using the concept of "comparable effort," which was developed after disturbing findings that, for example, 45 percent of female trainees at Parris Island were unable to throw a hand grenade far enough to avoid blowing themselves up.

The San Francisco Human Rights Commission has cited the Café, a gay and lesbian bar in the Castro district, for violating nondiscrimination laws. The bar kicked out a straight couple for kissing passionately, an act forbidden for straights but not for gays. The Café's manager said that some of its patrons find such displays offensive, an argument the Commission rejected. The bar has now banned heavy kissing by all patrons.


After women's bathrooms in Santa Monica became a favorite hangout for male drug dealers, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting both men and women from using the opposite sex's facilities unless a line of three or more people kept them from using their own. But Gloria Allred, a lawyer and activist, objected that this violates women's right to urinate in any facility at any time, calling it "the first step down a long, dark road of restricting women's rights."

The Internal Revenue Service informed Greensboro, North Carolina's Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Support System (GLASS) that since sodomy is a state crime, the group must prove it does not encourage homosexual activity or attitudes among young people in order to retain its tax-exempt status. GLASS defines its role as providing "a supportive community for self-identified lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and for those who still may be coming to terms with their sexual identities."

When Joseph Stropnicky separated from his physician wife, he sought an attorney who had experience representing homemakers because he had taken care of the kids and the housework during much of their 18-year marriage. Attorney Judith Nathanson seemed perfect, but she turned him down because she said she only represented women. So Stropnicky filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, which decided Nathanson broke the law and ordered her to pay Stropnicky $50,000 for emotional distress.

Stop worrying so much and eat your vegetables. That's the advice Bruce Ames gives to those concerned that pesticide residues in their food along with other chemical exposures might be causing them cancer. Ames, biochemist and toxicologist at the University of California, Berkeley, is a pioneer in cancer research whose articles are among the most cited by other scientists largely thanks to his work on the Ames mutagen test, an inexpensive predictor of a substance's ability to mutate certain bacteria cells. Though Ames once advocated the "one-molecule" theory of carcinogenicity, which implied no safe threshold for potential toxins, he is now at once more relaxed and more iconoclastic in appraising the risks of cancer, which he calls "fundamentally a degenerative disease of old age," though outside factors such as smoking and poor eating habits can contribute significantly.

Noting that plants create their own pesticides to fend off insects and other predators, Ames found in the course of setting priorities for carcinogen tests that Americans are exposed to about 10,000 times as many natural chemical toxins, by weight, than synthetic toxins—99.99 percent. When tested on rodents using the same "maximum tolerated dose" standard—in which near-lethal amounts of a substance are repeatedly fed to a rodent to see if it develops cancer—about half of the natural chemicals tested positive as carcinogenic, the same percentage as synthetic chemicals. In essence, researchers had tricked themselves into believing synthetic chemicals were a major cause of cancer because, as Ames says, "we were only testing synthetic chemicals," and because rodent tests were conducted in such a way as to make it more likely to find tested chemicals to be dangerous. But Ames insists that it is the dose that makes the poison—that cancer in rodents is likely caused by chronic tissue damage from injesting poisonously large doses of otherwise benign substances, rather than the chemical per se—and also rejects the idea that risks from smaller doses can be extrapolated in a linear fashion from larger ones.

When testing various foods, Ames found that apple juice contains about 137 varieties of natural toxin, only five of which have been subjected to animal testing, and three of which tested positive as carcinogens. Environmental reporter Gregg Easterbrook comments that these three chemicals—alcohol, acetate, and acetaldehyde—"would inspire supermarket panic if injected into foods by processing companies." By contrast, the risk of Alar—an apple preservative that was banned in 1989 following just such a supermarket panic—in a daily glass of apple juice is one-tenth that from naturally occurring carcinogenic hydrazines from consuming a daily mushroom or from the aflatoxin in a daily peanut butter sandwich. It is also lower than the hazard from bacon, which contains the sort of carcinogenic nitrosamines (burnt material) that makes much cooked food a potential health hazard. According to Ames and his colleague Lois Gold, "The total amount of browned and burnt material consumed per person in a typical day is at least several hundred times more than that inhaled in a day from severe outdoor air pollution."

Cabbage and broccoli also contain a chemical whose breakdown products appear to act upon the body like dioxin, a feared industrial contaminant. Ames estimates that "eating a portion of broccoli daily poses a possible hazard one thousand times that of being exposed to the EPA's allowable dose of dioxin." Compared with alcohol's propensity to cause cancer and reproductive damage, the EPA's allowable daily dose of dioxins would be equivalent to drinking 1/3,000,000 of a beer, or a single glass of beer over a period of 8,000 years. Likewise, the risk from the long-feared pesticide DDT is about a third that from the chloroform found in ordinary tap water, and one third of one percent the risk from the estragole found in a single basil leaf.

As it turns out, surprisingly few natural plant toxins have been through animal cancer tests, simply because no approval process is required to market them. Chemicals from one species of plant were tested, and about half its component chemicals (27 of 52) tested positive as carcinogenic. Plant foods that contained just those 27 chemicals include anise, apple, banana, basil, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, caraway, carrot, cauliflower, celery, cherry, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa, coffee, comfrey tea, dill, eggplant, endive, fennel, grape, grapefruit juice, honey, honeydew melon, horseradish, kale, lettuce, mace, mango, mushroom, brown mustard, nutmeg, orange juice, parsley, parsnip, peach, pear, black pepper, pineapple, plum, potato, radish, raspberry, rosemary, sage, sesame seeds (toasted), strawberry, tarragon, thyme, and turnip. Clearly, there are "too many rodent carcinogens" for the rodent tests to be credible, or one would expect unsustainably high rates of cancer as a result of routine exposure to the environment.

Ames notes that the dangers of natural chemicals are no different than from synthetics, countering the widely cherished belief that man has fallen out of balance with nature by introducing new chemicals, and that nature has not had evolutionary time to catch up by developing natural defenses against them. If it were true that humans had to develop specific evolutionary defenses against foodstuffs, Ames notes that they would not have had time to adapt to dramatically different and relatively recent dietary additions such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, olives, coffee, cocoa, tea, avocados, mangoes, and kiwi fruit. In fact, animals' biological defenses against toxins—such as the constant shedding of exposed cells and mucous membranes—are generalized rather than targeted towards a specific chemical, and simply can't tell the difference between natural and synthetic chemicals. It is these general defenses that protect people against the low doses of synthetic toxins and the plethora of natural toxins in their food, which is why they can stop worrying and eat their vegetables. Indeed, studies consistently show that people who eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables are less likely to contract cancer.

[Ed.: Regulatory scientists critical of Ames's work correctly note that he has proposed no alternative to maximum-threshold rodent tests that would gauge cancer risks more accurately. For his part, Ames objects to much regulation of pesticides and preservatives, using the economic argument that raising the cost of fruits and vegetables will, on balance, increase the incidence of cancer as consumers seek less healthy alternative foods.]

The NAACP presented its President's Award to shock-haired boxing promoter Don King, praising his philanthropy and likening him to Jackie Robinson for advancing the cause of minority athletes.

King has had a federal retrial for insurance fraud, 23 counts of federal tax evasion, three grand jury investigations, an FBI undercover probe, some 25 lawsuits from former fighters who said they had been defrauded, a 1954 murder charge, and a manslaughter conviction in the beating death of a man who owed him $600.


Reporting on current upheavals in Cambodia, the Washington Post's John Cramer referred to the Pol Pot regime—under which about 2 million Cambodians were murdered from 1975 to 1978, roughly a third of the nation's population—as a "four-year experiment in agrarian communism." New York Times reporter Seth Mydans was somewhat more descriptive: "When the Khmer Rouge ruled the country, they took Maoist theory to an extreme, driving the population from the cities, abolishing education, destroying factories, and killing intellectuals, civil servants, monks, and artists."

Reviewing the history, we find that Chairman Mao—who was presumably less extreme than his Cambodian imitators—was responsible for the starving death of approximately 30 million people during the period of his "Great Leap Forward." Under this wide-ranging economic plan, officials responsible for food production were discouraged from reporting their unmet (and impossible) quotas truthfully, while a great deal of labor was diverted to a disastrous plan to get peasants to refine steel in their backyards. Peasants were even encouraged to melt down the farm equipment that may have saved their lives, since agricultural productivity was considered a problem solved.

A few years later, party moderates critical of Mao's handling of the crisis were purged as part of the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," an intense ideological upheaval that plunged China into a decade of anarchy. Millions were denounced, exiled, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, hounded to suicide, and otherwise murdered. In his new book, Scarlet Memorial, exiled journalist Zheng Yi has even documented the practice of officially sanctioned cannibalism in the southeastern Guangxi province. Jasper Becker, author of Hungry Ghosts, notes that during the Great Leap Forward, starving peasants would often mournfully exchange children because they could not bear to eat their own, but this latter occurrence of cannibalism simply represented yet another form of cruelty and disgrace, as well as a return to a pre-civilized custom long considered taboo.

[Ed.: Students of comparative genocide should note that although Mao killed far more people overall, Pol Pot killed citizens at a much higher rate—probably the highest national average of the 20th century.]