An Inclusive Litany


A specially commissioned Braille poster extolling equal treatment for the blind went on display at a human resources department at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and a leisure center in Truro, England. Sighted people cannot read it because it is only in Braille, and blind people cannot read it because in both locations, the limited-edition posters are protected from damage by a glass cover.

Letter to the editor, the San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 2000:
Editor—I want "Garfield" out of the comics. This killing of spiders is in no way funny.

—Dan Stofle
Palo Alto


In response to allegations of "disenfranchisement" of African Americans during the 2000 election in Florida, the United States Commission on Civil Rights, held hearings in Tallahassee, calling ordinary voters to testify on irregularities they witnessed on Election Day. (The Commission, currently chaired by Mary Francis Berry, was established in 1957 as an independent fact-finding agency, and has no enforcement power other than to subpoena documents and compel public testimony.)

The first voter, John Nelson, testified that he became "suspicious" when he saw an unmanned police cruiser parked outside two separate polling places in predominantly black neighborhoods. That was the extent of Nelson's complaint, and it turns out at least one of the cars was parked while its driver went inside to vote.

The second voter, Roberta Tucker, testified that she felt intimidated when police stopped her, along with many other motorists, at a roadblock on her way to the polls in Leon County. Police asked to see her license, then sent her on her way, after which she went ahead and voted. It turns out the roadblock was a routine checkpoint and was located more than two miles away from any polling place. It lasted 90 minutes and resulted in 18 citations issued, of which 12 went to white motorists.

The third voter, a minister named Willie D. Whiting, testified that he felt "slingshotted back to slavery" when he learned that he had been removed from the voter rolls. It turns out that Apostle Whiting had been mistaken for Willie J. Whiting, a convicted felon who was born in the same month and year as he. Ultimately, Whiting was able to convince poll workers that there had been a clerical error, and he was allowed to vote.

Several state officials testified that their offices had received no complaints of discrimination. Chairman Berry characterized this as evidence at least of neglect: "Whenever an agency... receives no complaints when there's a bunch of stuff happening out there and it's all reported in the media, that means the people who are complaining either don't know you're somebody to complain to or they don't believe you'll do anything about it."

The commission also heard from local election supervisors about mechanical problems in their counties. Asked by Berry whether such problems affected African American voters disproportionately, one election supervisor responded that predominantly black precincts in her county had been no more likely to experience problems than predominantly white precincts. Agitated, Berry cut off the witness and lectured her on the importance of testifying truthfully under oath.

The commission reconvened for one day in February to hear more testimony from additional voters who said they had encountered problems. Some complained about unusually long lines at their polling places, others that their names had not been on the voter lists and that jammed phone lines had delayed poll workers from confirming their identities. Berry expressed concern that some voters may have been "disenfranchised" by the failure of election officials to anticipate patterns of voter turnout and provide appropriate resources.

Many of these inconveniences occurred because of a new law against voter fraud, which requires counties to purge its voter lists of duplicate names, deceased voters, voters who have moved, and felons. The law was passed after Miami's 1997 mayoral election, in which many ballots were cast on behalf of dead people. But despite the precautions, the Miami Herald reports that at least 2,000 illegal ballots were cast in Florida's 2000 election because poll workers failed to check voter identification properly.

[Ed.: The two Republican-appointed members of the Commission, Abigail Thernstrom and Russell Redenbaugh, released a 60-page dissenting report that found no basis for allegations of voting irregularities due to a presumably racist conspiracy. They found that the incidence of ballot spoilage increased in counties whose election supervisors were Democrats, and rose even further in counties where the supervisor was African American.

Under Ms. Berry's chairmanship, the Civil Rights Commission also became involved in other dubious causes, such as allegations of widespread arson of black churches and the suspensions of rampaging black high schoolers in Decatur, Illinois.]


In Vancouver, transsexual Kimberly Nixon filed a human rights complaint against a female-only rape counseling group after it rejected her as a volunteer counselor because she had once been a man. Supported by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, Nixon seeks $10,000 in damages and an order for the group to offer transsexual sensitivity training.

The Vancouver Rape Relief Society argued that in the absence of a statutory definition of a woman, the group had the right to use its own "political understanding" of womanhood. Since its founding in 1973, the group has excluded not only men as members, but also women who are either opposed to abortion or "not dedicated to pursuing equality." It did not ban transsexuals until Nixon tried to apply in 1995.

Rape Relief argued that while Nixon had managed to change her biological sex through surgery, she could not change her "life experience" of having been a man for 29 years, which might cause discomfort among rape victims. Furthermore, the group believes that "women's oppression is a social order in which men by birth rule women."


A 59-year-old British woman protesting at a U.S. military installation plans to build a new missile defense system has been charged with inciting racial abuse because she dragged an American flag on the ground, thus causing "harassment, alarm and distress" to U.S. personnel who witnessed it.


One of the President Clinton's last-minute "midnight" enactments designated 58.5 million acres of national forest land as off-limits to timber harvesting, oil and gas leasing, and even road construction, returning a total area that is by now the size of California to a natural, pre-civilized state. In practice, "natural" refers to conditions prior to European settlement, even though Native Americans shaped western forests for thousands of years by deliberately setting fires, so nobody knows what a truly "natural" environment really means.

Clinton's policy, referred to as "ecosystem management," replaces the old federal policy of "multiple use management." As a result of the hands-off policy, one can expect the recurrence of massive wildfires in the "protected" areas, due to a long policy of fire suppression that led to the accumulation of densely packed, fire- and disease-prone undergrowth. The lack of roads will make it impossible to thin forests and more difficult to engage in planned burns. Even prescribed burns can go easily out of control in neglected forests, as New Mexico residents found out when 230 of their homes and part of the Los Alamos National Laboratory were destroyed. Such extremely intense fires do far more damage to the affected area, burning even normally fire-resistant trees and doing lasting damage to forest soils. (Such fires also fill the air with particulate matter the EPA deems hazardous, at least when it comes from smokestacks.) The Forest Service estimates that about 55 percent of its current lands are in poor or declining health.

[Ed.: A federal judge in Idaho blocked the new regulation soon after the Bush administration upheld it, ruling that it would cause "irreparable harm" to the timber industry and to forest managers' fire prevention efforts.]

In her new book, PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine, Sally Satel, a psychoanalyst and lecturer at Yale's School of Medicine, warns that a growing number of medical professionals have turned to a new theory, "social productionism," to explain disease as a byproduct of unjust societal institutions.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded grants to researchers examining the relationship between health and a variety of societal ills: "powerlessness," "racism," "discrimination," and "classism." Rodney Clark of Wayne State University's psychology department says that emphasizing personal responsibility in controlling disease represents a "subtler form of racism." Psychiatrists at San Francisco General Hospital routinely group inpatients according to race and sexual orientation in order to organize treatment around psychological needs supposedly specific to those groups. Satel notes that some practitioners and critics of involuntary mental treatment even question whether notions of mental disorders and substance abuse represent anything more than instruments of social control.

Astonishingly, Sally Zierler of Brown University's Department of Public Health explained AIDS as "a biological expression of social inequality." Her five recommendations for curbing the AIDS epidemic, delivered during a lecture to the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in 1998, were: Limit the power of corporations, cap salaries of CEOs, eliminate corporate subsidies, prohibit corporate contributions to politicians, and strengthen labor unions. Dr. Paula Braverman of the medical school at the University of California at San Francisco says, "illness is caused by the power imbalance that characterizes a capitalist society."

Satel also documents a series of widely believed but false claims of discrimination against women: that women were not included in clinical trials until 1993, that female researchers do not receive grants at rates equal to men, and that breast cancer research is underfunded. She also condemns other spurious studies claiming to show that racism contributes to high blood pressure and that blacks are less likely to be recommended for referrals for a specific kind of treatment for their strokes.

Finally, Satel notes that the quality of nursing education has declined, embracing not only resentment towards the hierarchical authority represented by doctors, but a host of alternative-medicine fads such as "therapeutic touch," by which nurses supposedly heal patients by laying their hands on them. The University of Texas School of Nursing now offers the following courses:

  • Using Energy to Enhance Nuring Practice: Use of Color, Music, Touch, and Movement
  • Holistic Nursing: Strategies that Transform and Heal
  • Aromatherapy for Nursing Practice
  • Reflexology: Stimulating Healing in the Body
  • Spirituality in Nursing
  • Using the Power of Our Thought for Healing

Dan Rather opens the "CBS Evening News," February 19, 2001:
The forecast from Hell: Why America may see more killer tornados and floods, hurricanes and wildfires in the years ahead.... Good evening [sic]. There are new and dire predictions tonight about the future of our planet. Around the world glaciers are in full retreat. Some, like the ancient ice cap on Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, could be gone in a decade or two. It's a dramatic symptom of the warming of the Earth detailed in a new thousand-page United Nations report, Climate Change 2001. It predicts the new century will bring, and I quote, Large scale, and possibly irreversible, changes affecting every last person on Earth.


In Nashua, New Hampshire, a Taco Bell worker sued the company for failing to prevent an after-hours food fight that led her to slip in a puddle of soda.


The city of San Francisco will now provide health care benefits for city workers undergoing sex-change procedures. "This is very much a civil rights issue," said Supervisor Mark Leno. "This is about equal benefits for equal work." The benefit will be capped at $50,000, with a 15 percent surgical co-payment. For males changing to females, the procedure costs about $37,000; to go the other direction, it costs about $77,000.


Following an undercover exposé by the London Times, British managers are being told to be on the lookout for "beardism," or discrimination against those with facial hair. Last year, the Beard Liberation Front staged a "mass beard waggling" to protest "clean shaven capitalism."

A man who sued Hardee's after discovering a tooth in his biscuit was joined in the lawsuit by his wife, who claims stress over the incident has deprived her of companionship.


One of the candidates for the office of premier of Quebec proposed increasing subsidies to the province's National Circus School by $11 million in order to address a national shortage of clowns.


With full academic solemnity, the University of Michigan accepted 15,000 personal papers of one of their distinguished alumni, Ted Kaczynski. (Twenty three years after earning a doctorate at the school, Kaczynski sent a bomb in the mail to one of its psychology professors.)

Among them, the following sample of letters arrived from major media outlets, desperately competing with each other to obtain an interview. The first, from Don Dahler of "Good Morning America":

I was born not from where you now live, and have a cabin in the woods west of Colorado Springs that has no electricity or running water.... I, and a lot of people, want to know how the better angels of your nature can justify the violence your convictions required.
Shawn Efran, "60 Minutes II":
Please understand that 60 Minutes II is NOT the program on which your brother and mother appeared. They appeared on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallce and Leslie Stahl.... Our story will allow you to personally refute what they said about you [that Kaczynski was insane] as well as provide a serious forum for your ideas.
Lawrence Wright, the New Yorker:
I am writing an article about the influence of violence in the media on human behavior. I'm particularly interested in why certain people feel the need to act out what they have read in books or seen in movies. Your connection to Conrad's novel "The Secret Agent" is what prompted this letter.... Also, I read that you included a novel, "Ice Brothers," in the bomb that you sent Percy Wood. What was the meaning of that?
Larry Ish, "The Roseanne Show":
If you know anything about Roseanne, you must know that she is a non-conformist and rarely does what society expects of her. I believe you and her would definitely "hit it off" and the conversation would definitely be interesting and fulfilling for the both of you.


A British Labor MP proposed a ban on carrying bottles and glasses in the street, since they may be used as weapons in altercations.


An Ontario woman who got drunk at an office party and crashed her car successfully sued her employer for $300,000 for allowing her to drive, even though the company offered a cab ride or accommodation if she gave up her keys. A nearby bar at which she continued drinking after leaving the party was originally named in the suit, but was dropped after it closed due to financial difficulties.


A Michigan woman filed a $1 million lawsuit against her ex-husband, claiming that because he allegedly harassed her after their divorce, she still fears him and he "continue[s] to hurt me [and] the children" even though he has been dead for six months.

Calling the tradition "sexist," a female student at Northern Kentucky University campaigned to become the school's first Homecoming King. "I'm happy I made some people think about gender roles and expectations," said senior Theresa Geisen, though she didn't win the contest.


A severe energy crisis that gripped California and neighboring states led California electric utilities to administer selective "rolling" blackouts throughout the state, which may cause lasting economic havoc in the region.

The crisis resulted at least in part from a botched hybrid deregulation plan in which wholesale prices from electricity suppliers to distributors (utilities) were freed, but retail prices utilities could charge consumers remained capped. Not surprisingly, utilities were driven to the brink of bankruptcy when suppliers raised their prices.

Many blamed Governor Gray Davis and other state politicians, unwilling to be identified with any measure increasing consumer costs, for failing to act in time to head off the crisis. Consumer advocates alleged collusion among the suppliers, especially those who took plants off-line in the midst of the shortage for what they claimed was routine maintenance. Others blamed recent spikes in the cost of natural gas, which is used to generate electricity.

Californians have also been conspicuously unwilling to build new power plants and other infrastructure despite rapid economic growth. In addition to stressing conservation, state planners have favored small "co-generation" plants over large and supposedly obsolete centralized ones, based on the idea (referred to as "soft path") that power generation would become more distributed and local over time, eventually resulting in a world where people would supply their own electricity through backyard fuel cells, windmills, and solar panels. However, consumer electricity rates skyrocketed because the policy required utilities to pay inflated prices to suppliers who plugged into the grid, often displacing their own lower-cost generating sources. In the midst of the early-'90s recession, with industry in flight and unemployment steady at 10 percent, electricity cost twice as much in California as it did in neighboring states, leading to strong calls for deregulation.

Enacted in 1996, one of the deregulation plan's provisions required utilities to sell off their own generators, under the theory that more players in the new market was necessarily better. In practice, this meant the utilities had even less leverage with suppliers once shortages hit. (Eager to be able to sell off plants at twice their book value under the plan, utilities apparently didn't note the presence of many willing buyers, a sign that the market was predicting future scarcity.) The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which was exempted from the sell-off requirement, kept generating electricity surpluses throughout the crisis, sparing that region, but was unable to wire the electricity north due to a transmission grid that hadn't been updated under small-is-beautiful policies and also due to irrational claims over the health risks of electromagnetic fields.

Another provision of the legislation banned utilities from signing long-term "forward power" contracts with suppliers that would allow them to hedge future price fluctuations, but under terms usually undisclosed to the public. Instead, California utilities bought watts strictly by the hour in two newly created public spot markets, called the California Power Exchange and the Independent System Operator. As MIT economist Paul Joskow observed, "If a generator has a long-term contract, then the financial incentive is to generate steady power in order to maximize sales. If you have no contractual promises and there's a new price every day on a spot market, then your incentive is to withhold production to maximize price. Banning forward power was just an incredible blunder."

Using its emergency powers to respond to the crisis, the Department of Energy ordered suppliers in nearby states such as Oregon and Washington, which rely heavily on hydroelectric power, to sell electricity to California. But sharply increased economic growth in those states, coupled with unusually low water tables, resulted in a regional shortage there as well, with prices increasing more steeply than was allowed by law for relatively affluent California consumers, a point not lost on Northwesterners. Since their prices remained capped, Californians' incentive to conserve power was also considerably blunted, leading to further resentment amidst perceptions that they were leaving their air conditioners on.

The Northwest's energy-intensive industries such as aluminum manufacturing were particularly hard hit. Vanalco had to lay off 600 workers because it could not find a stable supply of cheap electricity. Kaiser laid off many of its workers as well, but under far more favorable (albeit absurd) circumstances. Since Kaiser held a long-term low-priced power contract, it became more profitable to sell the power back to the regional utility at a windfall rate, rather than use it to manufacture aluminum. (Kaiser eventually filed for bankruptcy, primarily due to asbestos litigation.)

Many worried that the federal government, which ordered Northwestern suppliers to sell power to California utilities, would be liable in the likelihood that those utilities defaulted on their contracts, passing the cost on to taxpayers nation-wide. Warning that the crisis might roll across the entire nation, some regional governors even called on the federal government to institute "temporary" energy price controls across the board, which most economists believe generates long-term shortages. Other proposals included a windfall profits tax on energy suppliers and a complete state takeover of the power industry. Facing pressure from the incoming Bush administration and complaining of "out-of-state profiteers," Governor Davis reluctantly dipped into the state's impressive surpluses and allowed rates to rise somewhat to meet the shortfall, but not before one of the major utilities, PG&E, went out of business.

[Ed.: There's no end to the absurdities in this matter. The state's stringent air-quality standards have been temporarily jettisoned now that many factories and retail stores have installed their own local diesel generators to keep their lights on. Cisco Systems opposed construction of a new power plant in San Jose that even the Sierra Club supported. Activists killed a proposal to float a barge in San Francisco Bay that would generate electricity. There has also been talk of allowing a nuclear submarine to park in the bay for a while, but I think Berkeley is a nuclear-free zone. Also, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, with no evidence of price-fixing or any other wrongdoing whatsoever, said of (out-of-state supplier) Enron chairman Kenneth Lay, "I would love to personally escort Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, 'Hi, my name is Spike, honey.' " (In an unrelated matter, a year later the entire nation wanted Mr. Lay to be made into someone's bitch.) And after recommending the federal government institute price controls on electricity, which the Bush administration granted, state officials conceded that "the newly imposed limits have had the unintended consequence of increasing [the] threat of blackouts," as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, with generators withholding power from the California market rather than abiding by rate caps. And finally, largely as a result of an unexpectedly mild summer and pricey long-term contracts prompted by past shortages, energy authorities later predicted that California would soon face a wasteful power surplus, the only solution for which would be to resell power at a loss, or else encourage more energy use—that is, discourage conservation. The state lost $46 million in July alone by selling surplus power for less than it paid.]

The first-place winner of the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch's Wacky Warning Label contest of 2000 is: a pair of bicycle shin guards with a label that read, "Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover." Second place: a label on a toilet at a public sports facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan warning, "Recycled flush water unsafe for drinking." Honorable mention: a label on an electric wood router that cautions, "This product not intended for use as a dental drill." A message on a rock garden set reads, "Eating rocks may lead to broken teeth."


After a Wisconsin mother discovered her 13-year-old son was sexually active with a 15-year-old girl, she supplied him with condoms. The mother now faces indictment on charges of sexually abusing a child by permitting her son to have sexual relations before he is of age. The county prosecutor, Patricia Barrett, is relying on a child abuse statute that criminalizes sex between a person 17 or older and one younger than 17. To get around that limitation, the prosecutor borrowed from asset forfeiture laws, arguing that the condoms the mother supplied to her son facilitated his sexual intercourse with the girl, thus making her a partner to the act and thus liable to sex abuse charges.

A letter reprinted in the Washington City Paper, January 12-18, 2001:
District of Columbia Public Schools
Office of the General Counsel
Labor Management and Employee Relations

November 16, 2000

Dear Ms. [name withheld]:

On June 23, 2000, you were informed by letter that you would not receive an offer of employment with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) based on the results of your criminal background check. Based on your subsequent presentation of documentation that your 1984 charge for Uniformed Controlled Substance Act, Cannabis was no papered; that your 1984 charge for shoplifting was nolle prosequi; that your 1984 charge for assault with a dangerous weapon, razor was no papered; that your 1984 charge for destruction of government property was nolle prosequi; that your 1986 charge for assault with a deadly weapon was dismissed; that your 1987 charge for soliciting for prostitution was nolle prosequi; that your 1989 charge for assault with a dangerous weapon, razor was no papered; and that your 1992 Uniform Controlled Substance Act, possession with intent to distribute cocaine was dismissed. You are eligible for employment with DCPS.

If you have any questions or concerns, kindly contact Labor Management and Employee Relations at (202) 442-5373.


Delores Hamilton
Acting Director of Human Resources

cc: Alfred Winder
Employee Services and Staffing
Office of the General Counsel
Labor Management and Employee Relations
Division of Security
Official Personnel File