An Inclusive Litany


Citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Merrie Young filed a $200,000 lawsuit against the school district of Astoria, Oregon, for barring her daughter from the local softball team. Anna Inskip is autistic, has difficulty keeping track of the game, slow reflexes, and a history of seizures. School officials had allowed her to practice with the team, but liability concerns ruled out team membership. A federal judge ruled in Ms. Young's favor.

In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, an anonymous tip led police in Norco, California, to arrest a 15-year-old boy who was manufacturing napalm and amassing a large munitions arsenal. Police determined that the teenager was not planning to do violence against his classmates or teachers, but was simply preparing for the Y2K crisis.


The New York Times reports that the Labor Department "will neither confirm nor deny" that it is investigating the use of volunteer labor by America Online. The company has long provided free online service to people who monitor chat rooms for profanity. But some volunteers later became disgruntled and ratted out AOL itself, saying the company didn't appreciate their efforts, and that the "free" service they received used to be worth more when it was more expensive.

Pedophilia is back in the news. A furor arose after the American Psychological Association published a study suggesting that sex between adults and willing minors causes no lasting psychological damage, and that accounts of pedophilia are often overstated and should be described in more positive terms. "A willing encounter ... would be labeled simply 'adult-child sex,' a value-neutral term," the study's authors said. "A willing encounter between an adolescent and an adult with positive reactions... would be labeled scientifically as 'adult-adolescent sex.' " One of the study's authors, Robert Bauserman of the University of Michigan, had previously argued against the taboo as a contributor to a 1990 special issue of the Journal of Homosexuality that was devoted to the question of sex between men and boys.

Recently the Pulitzer Prize, the Obie, and the New York Drama Circle award were bestowed on a play, How I Learned to Drive, which portrays a sexual relationship between a 40-year-old man and his 11-year-old niece. The director of the Los Angeles production, Mark Brokaw, says "it's not about pedophilia as much as it's about a very special, very singular relationship between these two individuals." Meanwhile, free speech enthusiasts are fighting community efforts to keep photo books such as David Hamilton's The Age of Innocence out of bookstores. Reviewing the book, Time writer Bruce Handy described its photos of nude children carrying captions like "Not unless—or until—I say so!" as "creepy," especially considering that Hamilton freely admits his intent to arouse. The book, Handy concludes, "portrays real girls as ripening, imminently deflowerable teases. Doesn't that make them fair game, and isn't that what children are never supposed to be?"

Finally, Insight reports that in several divorce cases in California and Utah, custody of children has been awarded to fathers accused of abusing them. Under the theory of "parental alienation syndrome," estranged wives may be prone to make spousal or child abuse accusations against their husbands during contentious custody cases that their children then believe. The theory's critics cite a lack of supporting research that would help determine the validity of these abuse accounts—other than whether a child demonstrates negative feelings towards the father.


On January 18, Martin Luther King Day, President Clinton announced the largest-ever settlement of a home-lending discrimination lawsuit, in which the Columbia National Mortgage Company offered $6.5 billion in home mortgages to minorities and the poor. The complaint arose from a $100,000 grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission to send pairs of testers, each comprising a white and a minority "applicant," to investigate possible fair-housing violations by mortgage companies by comparing their success in applying for loans.

As James Bovard reports in the American Spectator, of the three pairs who visited Columbia National offices, the first two found no problems, but the third uncovered evidence of discrimination: the white tester spent an hour with a female loan officer, while a male Hispanic loan tester spent only 20 minutes with a male loan officer. According to the commission's report, the loan officer who saw the Hispanic shook his hand, then "excused himself to use the restroom. About two minutes later, he returned from the restroom and the interview began." The report concluded that there were no "extenuating circumstances" to justify such an interruption, even though the white male tester had to wait a full five minutes to see his loan officer, and the Hispanic's loan officer did seek to pre-qualify him for a loan. HUD later admitted that the two testers even gave different information, the Hispanic tester claiming less personal savings than the white tester. Neither would provide his Social Security number or an address, nor did either allow the loan officer to pull his credit report, unusual behavior for any legitimate loan applicant. The essence of the settlement hinged on the 40-minute differential, the result being that the company was penalized over $150 million per minute.

Columbia National CEO Dave Gallitano said he had received threats from a HUD "equal opportunity conciliator" that if his company did not sign the settlement, "the alternative was [for HUD] to come in and audit us to death." In the agreement itself, the firm did not have to admit to any actual wrongdoing, and the Human Relations Commission waived the right to take any further action against the company. The only direct payment consisted of a $5,000 pledge to the commission to "further fair housing initiatives through education, outreach and testing." While the firm made an annual commitment to make certain levels of loans to minority applicants, the agreement contained no penalty clause if they didn't. Gallitano insists his company was being villainized for reasons of political advantage. "Clinton gets on national TV and makes us sound like bigots. This is the kind of statement from a person in his position that could put us out of business." Indeed, the White House/HUD press release announcing the settlement made much of the fact that the company made no loans to blacks or Hispanics in ten states—states in which the firm had no offices and did almost no business at all.

In another case, HUD funded a Richmond, Virginia activist group, Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME), to send testers to prove that the Nationwide Insurance Co. quoted different rates to homeowners in black and white neighborhoods. A jury convicted Nationwide and ordered the company to pay $100 million in damages, even though the trial revealed that the testers asked for rate quotes on homes of much different age, overall value, and neighborhood crime rate, which are all relevant variables. Nevertheless, HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo hailed the verdict and warned that it sent companies a message "loud and clear that it is now their turn to pay a terrible price if they continue to discriminate."

But an Urban Institute study found no evidence of racial bias in the insurance markets of New York and Phoenix. Though HUD granted $650,000 for the study up until 1995, it declined to release the report, and the Urban Institute later had to publish it on its own. Many insurance executives believe the report was suppressed because its conclusions were not politically useful. A 1995 Federal Reserve Board study of over 200,000 mortgage loans also found no evidence of bias, with apparent racial disparities in lending rates easily explained by corresponding disparities in default rates.

A teaching project at a Utah school that was designed to heighten student sensitivity of racial issues by drawing "Wanted" posters of beaten and bloodied black slaves caused a great deal of offense all around, leading administrators to compel the teachers involved to undergo sensitivity training.

In Brooklyn Supreme Court, a variation of battered wife's syndrome is being used to defend John Pickett against charges of second-degree murder. Pickett stabbed his jealous live-in boyfriend, John Stagno, to death in 1997 after Stagno threatened Pickett with a knife and a bottle when Pickett attempted to end the relationship. Pickett's lawyer, Arthur Aidala, cites a similar case in Florida in the early '90s involving two lesbians.


An East Harlem HIV services group argued that it should get a bigger share of New York State's $25 billion tobacco settlement money because many AIDS patients also smoke.


The mayor of South Gate, California, proposed an ordinance banning the colors "wild orange, rose, lavender, and turquoise" on the town's houses. But the City Council of Joliet, Illinois, passed another ordinance requiring builders there to make houses less boring—by mixing architectural features from one house to the next and by using much different colors.

Following complaints from over a quarter million Americans, the government abandoned its "Know Your Customer" proposal that would have required banks to keep profiles of all their customers based on transaction patterns, reporting any unusual transaction to the Justice Department to aid in its endless quest for money launderers.

[Ed.: During the proposal's public comment period, there were 72 favorable comments, with 254,000 opposed—over 3,500 times as many.]

Congress voted in favor of a space-based missile defense system, an idea widely considered ludicrous when first proposed over a dozen years ago. Congress is also set to decide whether to allow the independent counsel statute to lapse.

At an exhibition at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, a dog that was part of a piece by performance artist Zhang Huan unexpectedly bit him in the behind after he smeared his body with pureed hot dogs. The artist said he hoped the piece would "explore the physical and psychological effects of human violence in modern society." [emphasis added]

Keeping busy, the federal Sixth Circuit court ruled that local boards of education cannot open with a prayer, but the legislature can. The Fifth Circuit ruled that student-led prayer is permissible at graduation ceremonies providing it is nonsectarian, but never before football games, which are "hardly the sober type of annual event that can be appropriately solemnized with a prayer."

Apparently abandoned by loyal or competent advisers, President Clinton sent cigars as gifts to Senators Lott and Byrd.

Apparently unable to prevent ethnic Albanians from being victimized under the Serbian policy of "ethnic cleansing," resulting in a massive and deadly forced expulsion from their homes in Kosovo, the United Nations has settled for the next best thing—supplying refugees with condoms. Nafis Sadik, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund, declared: "UNFPA recognized that all refugees and persons in emergency situations have the same vital human rights, including the right to reproductive health, as people in any community." The U.N. is also supplying refugees with kits on sexually transmitted diseases and "complications from abortion." Albanian refugees may also resist the opportunity to increase their population after being supplied with "intrauterine devices" and "vacuum extraction equipment."

[Ed.: Milosevic originally invited UNFPS in to help reduce Kosovo's population, but appears to have become impatient. Milosevic's minister for family concerns described Kosovar women as "baby machines" because they gave birth at four times the rate of Serbians' much lower and unsustainable rate of 1.7.]


Remove your child before folding a baby stroller. That piece of advice won top prize in the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch's Wacky Warning Label Contest of 1998. Runners up included a warning on a bottle of sleeping pills that they may cause drowsiness, and another on a laser printer cartridge warning that toner is inedible.

[Ed.: Another package for a Rowenta iron warns: "Do not iron clothes on body." A package of bread pudding warns: "Product will be hot after heating." With some of these labels, it's unclear just who is being stupid. A bar of Dial soap advises: "Use like regular soap." A Japanese food processor warns: "Not to be used for the other use." A hotel shower cap: "Fits one head." A bag of Fritos declares: "You could be a winner! No purchase necessary. Details inside." And a box of Christmas lights specifies: "For indoor or outdoor use only."]

Chaya Amiad was refused service and ordered to leave a Seattle clothing store when she refused to enter without her dog. Amiad doesn't suffer from a visual impairment, but nevertheless sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming an emotional dependence on the dog. A psychologist treating Amiad for depression said the dog is a mental health service animal, much like a guide dog for the blind, trained to assist Ms. Amiad with "cognitive disorientation and confusion" and recurring symptoms of narcolepsy.

Storekeeper Sharon Kempler-Jones claims Amiad failed to explain her disabled status, and that her concern at the time was that the small, shaggy animal would damage her merchandise. The Seattle Office of Civil Rights disagreed, ordering Kempler-Jones to pay Amiad $250 and attend sensitivity training. In another case investigated by the Washington state Human Rights Commission, a man received $800 and an apology from a motel that refused him a room because of the dog on which he depended.


Dartmouth College announced plans to make fraternities and sororities coeducational as a means to decrease "problem drinking" on campus and to encourage "respectful relations between men and women." Critics of such restrictive policies at colleges nationwide may invoke a 1997 Second Circuit ruling that when New York's Hamilton College abolished fraternities, it broke antitrust law by stifling competition among alternative student housing providers.

And at Virginia Tech, an "Act Like Bill Clinton" dance ended badly when four fraternity brothers were arrested for holding an exotic dancer against her will, and a fifth was charged with indecent exposure.

After the Children's Defense Fund, a lobbying group, claimed that 10 million American children were not covered by health insurance, the federal government responded by committing $40 billion over five years to provide Kidcare, the White House vowing to sign up at least 5 million uncovered children by 2000. But since the program's enactment in 1997, fewer than 500,000 children have enrolled, leading the administration to launch a $1 billion "outreach" effort, complete with a toll-free telephone number, to sign up as many children as it can. But a survey conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services showed that even among families with incomes of $10,000 or less, 97 percent of children get all the health care they need, and less than 2 percent cite lack of money or insurance as a reason for not getting care. As Robert Goldberg of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research even found that uninsured children tended to be healthier than those covered by Medicare regardless of income or race, with notable increases of illness rates among low-income children after starting to use Medicare.

Another lobbying group, the Families USA Foundation, claimed that 13 percent of senior citizens were forced to choose between buying food and medicine. That led Rep. Tom Allen to propose the Prescription Drug Fairness for Seniors Act, a broad entitlement program projected to cost $40 billion a year, and a key component of the failed 1993 Clinton health care plan. But the government's Consumer Expenditure Survey found that seniors, on average, spent less than half on prescription drugs than what they spent on restaurants, home furnishings, clothing, or entertainment, and about a third what they spent on health insurance—about 2 percent of their disposable income. Even the poorest senior citizens were spending less on drugs than dining out.

The Rev. Donna Shaper of the United Church of Christ in the Philadelphia Inquirer, February 2, 1999:
It is not the managers' fault that the country itself has enough residual sexism that the very appearance of a woman who has been "outed" for enjoying oral sex (as though there were no others) will kick off a new round of salaciousness.

Nor is it their fault that women bring on the sex—even though men are also involved. Bill Clinton remains a lucky guy; she becomes a Hester, with an A-plus on her breast.

It was, however, the managers' responsibility to call or not to call her to testify.

They could have let this option go—but apparently, they just couldn't. It was too juicy. Too punitive. Too mean.

Learn how sexism works. Once it gets going, it can't stop itself.

It can't help itself. Such is the defense of many convicted rapists.

One of the proposed panels for the Modern Language Association's November conference in Atlanta is called "The Economy of Excrement in English Renaissance Studies." Scholars are invited to submit papers on the "tropes and representations of excrement and/or excretion in literature," "waste management and the social order," or "excrement, expenditure, and the logic of 'the gift.' "


New York City Councilman Morton Poyman proposed establishing new laws establishing left-handed people as a special protected class. As the right-handed Mr. Poyman puts it, "Society still discriminates against left-handed persons by such actions as placing banisters on the right side of a stairwell, producing doors that open in favor of right-handed users, and by making few school supplies for left-handers."


Out of $383 million spent in search-and-rescue efforts in 1998, the federal government spent $130,275 to aid millionaires Richard Branson and Steve Fossett in their failed December bid to circle the earth in a hot-air balloon.

A Washington State environmentalist group, Save Our Summers, sued the state department of ecology, alleging that it violated the state's clean air act by reaching a voluntary agreement with wheat growers to cut pollution from field burning, rather than invoke the law's various mandates. The group claims the voluntary agreement is too lenient, and that agricultural burning is a major source of air pollution that puts human health at risk, especially people with respiratory disorders.

The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles:
Some Jews, citing the temporary halt to pressure on Israel on peace-process-related issues, invoked the story of Purim. They called [Monica] Lewinsky a modern-day Queen Esther, referring to the Jewish woman in biblical times who brought herself to the king to save her people from destruction.

Ten-year-old Ryan Rose of Tennessee hired an attorney to represent him in his attempts to improve cafeteria food at Alcoa Elementary School. Ryan is protesting a 50-cent price increase, hot food served cold, and weekend leftovers. "Me and my friends got mad because there was not anything to eat," Ryan said.

Todd Alexander Postol in New York Newsday, April 5, 1999:
Given the distances between houses due to generous dimensions of their lawns, homeowners often fail to become acquainted with people on their own street. Parents with young children travel across multiple zip codes to arrange play dates with friends from day care. Teenagers imprisoned behind family lawn "moats" wait patiently for the day when they may escape by obtaining drivers' licenses. In many suburban areas the institutions that define a healthy civic life—churches, bookstores, post offices—are absent. We are in danger of becoming a virtual community, composed of citizens who see each other only when we go outside to mow our lawns...

Given this, what can be done to encourage a greater sense of community life on Long Island? Sidewalks and public flower gardens would help, but little substantive change can occur until we alter the ground rules controlling the size, shape, and configuration of residential properties. We need to stop producing conventional housing developments with jumbo lawn spreads and start again to build places where people can walk to bakeries and barbershops. This has already begun to happen in other parts of the country, where new towns like Kentlands, Md., and Harbortown, Tenn., have rejected suburban lawn designs. The front walk leads to sidewalk; the front door leads to the street. In Seaside, Fla., turf grass lawns have been outlawed altogether in favor of compact magnolia and beach rosemary.

University of Michigan researchers Jennifer Crocket and Diane M. Quinn uncovered a brand new health concern: "We found that having a conservative ideology, or just being exposed to that viewpoint, has a negative effect on the self-esteem and mood of women who believe they're overweight."

A recent trade dispute between the United States and the European Union that was brought before the World Trade Organization hinged on the EU's requirement that bananas imported into Europe must be at least 5.5 inches long and 1.06 inches wide, and cannot be sold at all if they are "abnormally curved." This is from the same organizational entity that set up a tribunal to adjudicate whether Jaffa Cake, a popular British spongy orange-and-chocolate flavored treat, should be classified as a cake or as a cookie.

Just in time to avoid more restrictive emissions requirements, the Ford Motor Company unveiled the Excursion a four-ton, 19-foot-long colossus that is the largest sports utility vehicle ever constructed.

A Chinese demographic report noted that 10 percent of girls born under the nation's one-child policy are "missing."


From a review, in the Boston Globe, April 2, 1999, of an exhibition featuring the city's best art of the 1990s:
The Kiki Smith "Pee Body"... is the masterpiece of the exhibition. It's in a long tradition of depictions of women being watched while engaged in highly private activities: David and Bathsheba, Susanna and the Elders, Bonnard's and Degas's bathers. Smith's crouching, life-size wax figure urinates gleaming golden beads: The magical quality of bodily fluids is an ongoing fascination of the artist's. The woman's posture and the sense of her weight, all on her heels, ring very true and make her seem all the more vulnerable to our gaze. Yet the gold streams emanating from her, pooling in Art Nouveau swirls, act for her as a halo does for a saint: They give her power.


The Amherst Bulletin, January 22, 1999:
I was riveted by the announcement in "Around Town Hall" (Bulletin, Jan. 15) that a new town team, the Emergency Management Team, is being formed. The team will concern itself with "planning for the Y2K as well as other emergencies."...

The team consists of seven white middle-aged home owners drawn from the upper echelons of town departments, primarily hardware intensive departments like Fire, Police, Maintenance and Public Works. There's no one from the university on the team and no planners.

There are also no old people, no poor people, no people in wheelchairs, no people in business, no black people, no Hispanics, no Cambodians, no students, no tenants, no landlords, no clergymen, and no women. No mothers, no teachers, no nurses. Not even Amherst's talented finance director, Nancy Maglione....

[Ed.: At least they're doing something about this terrible crisis. In Kenya, the official government committee investigating the Y2K problem is scheduled to release its report in April, 2000.]

A former student at the Western State University School of Law is suing the school, claiming that admissions staff should have known she'd flunk out. 45-year-old Roya Saghafi of Redondo Beach, California, who holds an engineering degree from her native Iran, was assured she could overcome the challenges posed by her low LSAT scores and her limited English-speaking skills. The lawsuit alleges that one of the school's internal documents predicts a 10 percent success rate for students with comparable LSAT scores.

Philip Brasher reports for the Associated Press, April 1, 1999:
For some farmers, the best crop is the one they don't harvest.

In west Texas last year, 200 farmers obtained federally subsidized insurance on a type of cotton that wasn't feasible to grow in their arid region. They paid $4.4 million in premiums and then claimed nearly $15 million in benefits when most of the crop failed.

Farmers in North Dakota and surrounding states recently rushed out and bought seed for durum wheat, even in areas not suited for the crop, to take advantage of a new insurance policy offering benefits far higher than they could earn if they grew and sold ordinary wheat.

Crop insurance provides a vital safety net for farmers, especially when prices are low and the government has been trying to phase out its role in agriculture. But government auditors say the insurance system is riddled with abuse, conflicts of interest and errors because taxpayers bear most of the risk for losses, not the private companies that sell and service the policies.

The companies "have little reason to effectively monitor risky policy holders, little reason to deny claims of questionable losses, and no cause to find fault with their own practices," said an internal report by the Agriculture Department's inspector general.

The companies "are supposed to ensure compliance, but they also have an aggressive sales function.... The two don't mix well," said Scott Stofferahn, who oversees USDA's farm programs in North Dakota.

Stephen Frerichs, a spokesman for the companies, dismissed the inspector general's report this week, saying it was merely "rehashing a bunch of old" allegations.

Besides assuming most of the risk for losses, the government subsidizes the premiums farmers pay for the insurance and pays the companies a fee for handling the policies. The program has been costing the government more than $1.5 billion a year, and Congress is considering doubling that to improve the coverage and make it less costly to producers.