An Inclusive Litany


A Reuters dispatch from London, October 27, 1998:
Vying to land Britain's top art award are exhibits including a comic book hero made of elephant dung and a video of naked women bathing.

The $33,300 Turner prize, won in the past by a pickled sheep and a wrestling video, sparks controversy every year and 1998 is no exception.

The prize has been mocked by critics as a pretentious publicity stunt but the annual display of the shortlist at London's Tate Gallery regularly attracts up to 80,000 visitors.

The winner, certain to win instant international fame or notoriety, is announced on December 1.

After attending the press view of the four artists contesting the prize Tuesday, outspoken art critic Brian Sewell concluded: "This year is worse than ever. It has absolutely no merit.

"It is dull, silly and trifling. I am in favor of the idea of the prize but am appalled by the execution," he said.

In 1995, media interest reached new heights when Damien Hirst, the enfant terrible of British art, won the award with a pickled sheep.

In 1993, art pranksters were so angered that they set up an alternative award for the worst work of the year. Both their award and the Turner prize were won by Rachel Whiteread.

Much of the controversy at this year's show centered on the exuberant and colorful paintings of black artist Chris Ofili.

Centerpiece of his work on display was "The Adoration of Captain S*** and the Legend of the Black Stars Part 2."

The striking painting of a corpulent black pop star bursting out of his tinseled outfit is described as "a remix of art historical quotation, biblical reference and hip hop music."....

Gallery curator Michela Parkin was delighted that art could still stir strong feelings: "One of the purposes of the prize is to get people talking about art. Not everyone can like everything. We want to get people excited."

[Ed.: You're not the only one. Back in the States, Capitol Hill police issued an arrest warrant for Martin Mawyer of the Christian Action Network on the grounds of indecency when he tried to exhibit controversial artwork supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.]

The Los Angeles Times reports that a new trend in California schools systems is for parents of students who were disciplined for committing violent acts to file lawsuits claiming that schools were negligent in failing to place them in special education programs earlier on.


An Associated Press dispatch from Baltimore, October 22, 1998:
The official referral form lists the reason for Jamie Schoonover's suspension from school as "Casting a spell on a student."

The 15-year-old freshman admits she practices witchcraft, as does her mother. But she knows better than to cast a spell.

"Casting a spell isn't something that just any novice is going to know how to do," said Colleen Harper, a transsexual who was Jamie's biological father but now calls herself the girl's mother.

"If she ever were to cast any spells, it would be along the lines of wishing prosperity on someone or healing someone," Ms. Harper said.

Miss Schoonover and Jennifer Rassen, who broke down in hysterics Tuesday when she thought she had been "hexed," met Wednesday with Southwestern High School's principal to try to sort things out.

According to Miss Schoonover, she and some friends were sitting beneath a tree on school grounds Tuesday when they noticed the names of other girls scrawled on a wall. One of the friends wanted to cross out the names, so Jamie lent her a correction fluid pen.

The friend crossed out the names, then wrote, "Is life a virtue of death?"

When Miss Rassen saw her name crossed out and the question, she ran to Principal Earl L. Lee saying the other girl had cast a spell on her.

"She was hysterical," said schools spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt. "She was distraught and crying violently."

Miss Schoonover was sent home because school officials considered the alleged spell a verbal threat that violates the student discipline code. She was allowed back to school after the meeting.

"We do not believe that anyone was threatened," Ms. Pyatt said. "Everyone emerged from the meeting, I think, satisfied that the issue had been resolved."

Ms. Harper called it all a misunderstanding—and a perfect example of misconceptions about witchcraft, or Wicca, the modern form of paganism that she and her daughter practice. Wicca is more like a folklore-tinged herbalism that dictates that "whatever you do comes back to you threefold," she said.

Ms. Harper wished the girls could have resolved the dispute themselves.

"I really feel sorry that it didn't happen, because my daughter was so upset with the fact that this girl was upset," she said.

When it appeared likely that Mark McGuire would break Roger Maris's season home run record, baseball fans began to speculate how much the record-breaking sixty-second ball would be worth to whomever caught it, many estimating its value at $1 million. A consensus emerged that the lucky fan should give the ball back to McGuire, who earned it, but tax experts noted that the fan would be subject to $145,000 in "gift taxes."

It was only when Congress moved to pass a special dispensation for the lucky fielder that the Internal Revenue Service issued a statement promising that it would not go after the fan. The stadium staffer who did catch the ball instantly returned it as expected, telling reporters, "I just don't want to be taxed."


In Joliet, Illinois, Paul Masters gathered 100 names on a petition in opposition to a request for a zoning variance that would allow four nuns to share the same house, rather than the maximum allowed, which is three.

Prompted by rapid urbanization of the area around Spokane, Washington, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state have issued strict regulations on growers of bluegrass who regularly burn their 40,000 acres of fields in order to invigorate seed growth. Current rules allow only a one- to two-week window each year to burn, and lawsuits from the EPA and the American Lung Association have led to pressure to ban the practice altogether, which has already led many growers to go out of business.

Ironically, the Soil and Conservation Service praised bluegrass growers when they started doing business in the area 50 years prior, since burning served to replenish the rich but thin topsoil one inch every decade, as opposed to one inch every century from other farming methods. At the same time, the Interior Department announced that they would burn a million acres of trees in the same region as part of a land management program designed to avoid serious forest fires. Wood smoke presumably does not cause lung cancer as smoke from bluegrass might.


From a White House proclamation:
Now, therefore, I, William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim October 18 through October 24, 1998, as National Character Counts Week. I call upon the people of the United States, government officials, educators, religious, community, and business leaders, and the States to commemorate this week with appropriate ceremonies, activities, and programs.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of October, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-eight, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and twenty-third.

William Jefferson Clinton
Oct. 16, 1998

[Ed.: The theme of this year's "It's the Thought that Counts Week" was rather neutral: national service. Customary references to "trust," "responsibility," "accountability," and "respect" were conspicuously absent.]

Sue Allen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 1, 1998:
We viewed the movie "Saving Private Ryan" as a family last weekend. As usual, Steven Spielberg aptly depicts a message of morality with his themes of the vast brutality and the lasting impact of war. However another sub-message tarnishes his pedestal of morality.

The "ugly woman in the barn" story and the "double E cup breast size" story propagate the myth that women are valued solely on breast size and beauty.

Single lines with such messages can be heard in just about every Hollywood movie. Thoughtless lines in films, thrown at us under the guise of hilarity, reach deep into the psyches of our girls and remain as unhealing abuses.

When will the constant stream of subtle, mean messages about women end? When will our society start treating women better?

Ed Pearce of the Lexington Herald-Leader, August 16, 1998, voices a different complaint:
How dare these people now prate that guns don't kill people? How dare they demean the sacrifice of the men who fell to the guns that day so that they might have the right to stand now and spout the indecency that guns do not kill people?

What was killing our men that day there on the beach, tearing them apart, ending their lives, their hopes and dreams, blasting away their futures? Do they not deserve the truth of how they died?

It was guns...

[Ed.: Esquire had a different take on the film, declaring that it deserves "the Leni Riefenstahl Award for Rabid Nationalism." "Reverent of authority, contemptuous of dissent," it's "the kind of film the Germans would've made if they'd won the war."]


Bruce Morton on CNN's "Late Edition," October 11, 1998:
Anyone of us could be investigated like this and we would be able to keep no secrets about love or sex or money—no secrets about anything. If this reminds you of George Orwell's novel, 1984, it should. The government in that book poked and pried everywhere. Its slogan was "Big Brother Is Watching You." And with the aid of the thought police, he was. Welcome to Orwell's world.

In a 1989 article published in the Stanford Law Review, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic note that library indexing systems lack entries for such terms as hegemony, legitimation, and false consciousness. Far from a mere oversight, they conclude this represents a replication of the dominant culture's hierarchy of values, and serves to hinder transformative academic movements such as Critical Race Theory. They note approvingly that a radical feminist friend blamed her difficulties in researching a particular feminist topic on index categories "rooted in the structure of male-dominated law."


The Tulane Hullabaloo quotes assistant athletic director Vince Granito on the university's mascot selection process, September 4, 1998. The winner was a pelican.
Poseidon, whether it would be a male figure, a white figure, an Aryan figure, those are issues that schools are trying to get away from. They are not sensitive to the total embodiment of the university. We went in the direction it would be prudent to go. [Poseidon] came with too much baggage.

From an announcement regarding "Gendered Landscapes: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of Past Place and Space," an academic conference to be held at Penn State, May 29-June 1, 1999:
The goal of the first Gendered Landscapes conference is to convene scholars from the many disciplines who study and are inspired by issues of gender and landscape history. This unique conference offers an opportunity for participants to establish new standards for communication across disciplinary and cultural boundaries. The conference theme allows for a broadly based, widely interpreted discussion regarding the cultural meanings of the spaces in which we have lived and worked.

The following electronic message was sent by Sarah E. Chinn of the Women's Studies Program at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia:

Hi everyone—a colleague of mine is writing an article about Margaret Atwood's use of space, and is looking for critical material about maps/cartography and gender. I've thought of some texts that talk about the way landscape is represented (Kolodny, for example, or the anthology Sexuality and Space), but I can't think of anything specifically about gender and mapmaking. Any suggestions?



Responding to legal action brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, a federal judge ruled that Ohio can keep the phrase "With God, all things are possible" as its official motto, but the state may not cite the Bible (Matthew 19:26) as the source of the quotation. Three other states still use the G-word in their official mottos: Florida ("In God we trust"), South Dakota ("Under God, the people rule"), and Arizona ("God enriches").

[Ed.: The U.S. 6th Circuit Court later ruled that Ohio could not use the phrase as its motto after all.]

The Los Angeles Times reports on some of the creative uses for the $6 billion earmarked as part of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act: A Michigan school district obtained $81,000 worth of giant plastic teeth and tooth brushes. Police in Hammond, Louisiana, spent $6,500 on a three-foot remote-control replica of a squad car. Virginia Beach, Virginia, used the money to put extra lifeguards on duty. Students in Richmond, Virginia, will now read a drug-free party guide that cost taxpayers $16,000 to print and that includes tips on Jell-O wrestling and holding pageants "where guys dress up in women's wear." Los Angeles schools have a new van for transporting sports equipment and have given away $16,000 in tickets to Disneyland and Dodger Stadium to students who pledged to listen to their parents. Schools in Pinellas County, Florida, can now have a full-time counselor for their gay-student clubs. And students in Eureka, Utah, spent the afternoon fishing rather than doing drugs.

The Elm Road School in Mishawaka, Indiana, has instituted strict no tolerance rules on puppy love, including bans on hand holding, note passing, chasing members of the opposite sex during recess, and any talk of affection.


The San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 1998:
Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago... won the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday.... A communist... his views are always inspired by his deep concern for his fellow man.


From the "Action Alert" page of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' website, October 6, 1998:
Nike is currently airing a commercial that has a professional football player dressing a chicken in a football jersey, chasing her, and then cooking her. The commercial makes a joke out of terrifying, traumatizing, and slaughtering a bird and makes light of the developing recognition that people who torment or abuse animals are exhibiting tendencies that may lead to other acts of violence, such as child abuse, rape, or murder.

Another Nike commercial depicts a showdown between bulls used in the infamously cruel running of the bulls in Spain and the Denver Broncos football team.

Please write to the president of Nike Corporation immediately and let him know that there is nothing funny about tormenting and terrifying animals and that this disturbing commercial should be canceled immediately.


From a list, compiled by Georgetown University law professor David Cole, of characteristics included in the "drug-courier profiles" that are used by U.S. law-enforcement officials:
Arrived late at night
Arrived early in the morning
Arrived in afternoon
One of first to deplane
One of last to deplane
Deplaned in the middle
Purchased ticket at airport
Made reservation on short notice
Bought coach ticket
Bought first-class ticket
Used one-way ticket
Used round-trip ticket
Paid for ticket with cash
Paid for ticket with small-denomination currency
Paid for ticket with large-denomination currency
Made local telephone call after deplaning
Made long-distance call after deplaning
Pretended to make telephone call
Traveled from New York to Los Angeles
Traveled to Houston
No luggage
Brand-new luggage
Carried a small bag
Carried a medium-sized bag
Carried two bulky garment bags
Carried two heavy briefcases
Carried four pieces of luggage
Overly protective of luggage
Dissociated self from luggage
Traveled alone
Traveled with a companion
Acted too nervous
Acted too calm
Made eye contact with officer
Avoided making eye contact with officer
Wore expensive clothing and gold jewelry
Dressed casually
Went to rest room after deplaning
Walked quickly through airport
Walked slowly through airport
Walked aimlessly through airport
Left airport by taxi
Left airport by limousine
Left airport by private car
Left airport by hotel courtesy van
Suspect was Hispanic
Suspect was black female

From a series of commentaries on the Lewinsky affair by leading writers, referred to as "experts on human folly," published over two weeks in the New Yorker, October 5-12, 1998.

Lorrie Moore:

That our ungentlemanly President's gentlemanly failure to kiss and tell should be subjected to the legalisms of judiciary procedure is, of course, total madness, a torture and a regicide, which could only have been brought about by Starr, the crazed zealot the right wing didn't even know it had. He is, of course, Victor Hugo's Javert. But he has not pursued Jean Valjean. In fact, in a bit of publicly funded intertextual surrealism (and downsized literary ambition), he has leaped completely out of the book and pursued Terry Southern's Candy.
Cynthia Ozick, also reviewing the Starr Report as literature for some reason:
[T]he report is even more emphatic than the camera in its portrayal of repetitive simplicity. There is no complex sense of human motives; there is only one motive, and one motif, for each character. The vision is not that of Thackeray's mercurial Becky Sharp (who, says [E.M.] Forster, "waxes and wanes and has facets like a human being") but, rather, of the captive stasis of Keats' Grecian Urn: the painted figures "forever painting." So we see Lewinsky forever seeking Clinton, Clinton forever fondling Lewinsky, Mrs. Currie forever escorting Lewinsky to Clinton, Mrs. Clinton forever offstage, eclipsed by faraway cities. And Starr, the presumed voice of the narrative, is perhaps the flattest character of all. "The really flat character," Forster notes, "can be expressed in one sentence such as 'I never will desert Mr. Micawber.' " Starr's one distinguishing sentence is "The President lied under oath."
[Ed.: So's yo' mama.]

William Styron:

What the French don't possess is the equivalent of the American South, where a strain of protestant fundamentalism is so maniacal that one of its archetypal zealots, Kenneth Starr, has been able to nearly dismantle the Presidency because of a gawky and fumbling sexual dalliance....

[French President] Mitterand liked and admired Bill Clinton (as opposed to Reagan, whom he called a "dullard" and a "complete nonentity") and was especially fascinated by what he described as his "animality," which doubtless meant something steamier. Clinton's tumultuous sexual past... might find a correspondence in the wonderfully candid remark uttered by the dying Mitterand: "I don't know of a single head of state who hasn't yielded to some sort of carnal temptation, small or large. That in itself is reason enough to govern."

Jane Smiley:
What I do believe about Bill Clinton is that, more than most recent presidents, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter, he knows the difference between love and war. He much prefers the former to the latter, and always has. You can't say that for all of them.... What I remember about Bush is that the only time in his whole presidency that he even got a little animated was when he went to war against Iraq. His façade of Eastern-establishment savoir-faire slipped, and there he was, a guy for whom launching a missile seemed to be better than sex.
Janet Malcolm:
Lewinsky emerges from the report as a piece of work. She is aggressive, self-involved, calculating, devious. (There is even a hint of blackmail: "Ms. Lewinsky also obliquely threatened to disclose their relationship. If she was not going to return to work at the White House, she wrote [to Clinton], then she would 'need to explain to my parents exactly why that wasn't happening.' ") The relentless Lewinsky takes over the narrative. It is almost as if Starr had absently allowed some strain of deep-seated misogyny to derail his enterprise of driving the President out of office. He evidently did not realize that by giving the captive Valley Girl witness her head, and by allowing his contempt for her to show, he would let his prey escape with his life. It is the brash Monica, not the passive Bill, who finally earns the reader's censure. Since the object of the exercise was to turn the nation against the President, those of us who deplored the investigation from the start can only take satisfaction in Starr's bungling—in this time of few satisfactions.
Louis Begley:
One thought that public executions and floggings, putting sinners in stocks, shaving the heads of adulteresses and similar pastimes that have beguiled the multitude ever since our ancestors evolved into the human species had all gone out of style in the industrialized democracies. When they occur in less privileged places—in China, for instance, where during the Cultural Revolution public confessions of guilt and acts of contrition were de rigueur—Amnesty International raises a mighty clamor.

In the dim, bloodstained past of certain cultures, sacrifices of kings were holy acts, performed by priests to obtain for the king's subjects a great benefit—averting a famine or plague. Something akin to those rites, but obscenely profane, has been acted out in Washington.

[Ed.: Mr. Begley also says, "somewhere in the back of his head [Clinton] must have the idea that you can trust little sluts. In fact, only great ladies and high-priced whores know how to keep secrets." Perhaps Ms. Malcolm can have a word....]

Toni Morrison:

African-American men seemed to understand it right away. Years ago, in the middle of the Whitewater investigation, one heard the first murmurs: white skin notwithstanding, this is our first black President. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas. And when virtually all the African-American Clinton appointees began, one by one, to disappear, when the President's body, his privacy, his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution, when he was metaphorically seized and body-searched, who could gainsay these black men who knew whereof they spoke? The message was clear: "No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved. You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and—who knows?—maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us."
[Ed.: Morrison also compares Starr to Torquemada, describing his investigation as a "fatwa" and a "sustained, bloody, arrogant coup d'état." At an "emergency speakout" against impeachment held on December 14 at New York University, novelist Mary Gordon likewise suggested that Clinton was the first female president.]

E.L. Doctorow:

All you need is a sinner and a suit. If you happen to be a prosecutor with a righteous bent, you can transform what morally offends you into a criminal offense.

The use of legal procedure to elicit an illegal act was common practice in the nineteen-fifties. People who had committed no crimes were brought before congressional committees to testify about their political beliefs and the beliefs of their friends, and when they refused they were cited for contempt and sent off to jail.

What is different here is the target: the President of the United States. That is horrific.

The sexual act can be barbaric, brutally selfish, and self-aggrandizing, or loving and revelatory. It can be infantile and ludicrous, or spiritually exalted and profound. It can be narcissistic, heedless, exploitative, or devotional. In the course of one person's life, it can, at one time or another, be all these things. But the particular character of a consensual act is manifest only in the intimate connection of two minds. When it is exposed to an audience, it deconstructs as something inevitably prurient, automatically scandalous. This is especially true in America, where one of the abiding shames of the Calvinist mind is that only a Son of God can be conceived without animal intercourse.

[Ed.: In addition to Joseph McCarthy, Doctorow also compares Starr's investigation to the Salem witch trials and to illegal wiretapping conducted by J. Edgar Hoover.]

Ethan Canin:

It seems to me that Bill Clinton, though flawed perhaps, possesses a tempered intelligence. He is comfortable with the extremes of human possibility, with the grandness and loathsomeness of mankind, with the Icarian dream and petty stumble that is human character. It is this comfort, in fact, which might lead a man of his constitution to stray from what in some circles is thought of as morality.