An Inclusive Litany


Tonya Weathersbee in Jacksonville's Florida Times-Union, May 27, 2002:
Each time I visit Cuba, I find myself fast-forwarding to the day when the end of the embargo and free market reforms will lead to the makeover it so desperately needs.

I see Cuban Baroque and Neoclassic mansions that age has crumbled into stony ash restored. I imagine government buildings with elevators that go all the way to the top without nary an ominous rumble. Heck, I imagine restrooms with toilet tissue.

What I try not to imagine, though, is what the people will look like if there is ever a McDonald's on every corner. Because while Cubans have to struggle to get most of what they need, they don't have to struggle with obesity.

On every corner, at every turn, there is a rush of sinewy men and toned, shapely, Spandex-wearing women. Their bodies aren't the result of hours in a gym or under a surgeon's knife but rather the result of a life filled with economic inconvenience and the drive to persevere in spite of....

[W]hen I see Cubans on the street, I see a picture of resiliency, not despair. I see people walking, bicycling, riding scooters. I see people using their physicality to get through life.

If we Americans ever found ourselves in a situation like that, I'm not sure we'd survive. Right now, we are struggling with an obesity crisis. About 13 percent of children younger than 10 are either overweight or obese. A good chunk of adults are overweight, too—thanks to a culture of plenty that craves fast food and fuel-guzzling SUVs.

Companies dole incentives to employees who exercise and maintain their health; signs urge people to carpool, take elevators and eat less fat. And in case anyone forgets, obesity is just as life-threatening as malnutrition. [!] ...

Two years ago, a 52-year-old Cuban man told me that all he wanted out of life was to be guaranteed a coat when it was cold, enough food to feed his family, and not have to ride a bike to work when he was 80. He wasn't asking for much.

But what he didn't realize is that if he lived past age 80, he might have his bike to thank for that.

Zimbabwe—whose presidential election was just stolen, where private farmland has been confiscated and its owners attacked by roving gangs of criminals, where racial minorities and political enemies are routinely harassed—has now been brought aboard to join Syria, Sudan and China as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

Florida's Palm Beach county—site of apparent confusion on the 2000 presidential ballot—unveiled a new county-wide final exam in history to ensure students have absorbed lessons about women, African-Americans, and the Holocaust. To get a passing grade, a student would have to get 23 questions right out of 100 on the multiple choice test. To earn a B, a student would have to get 39 right, and 50 correct answers gets you an A.


Colbert I. King in the Washington Post, May 25, 2002:
What happened to Chandra Levy is not about the tribulations of a white middle-class kid from way out West who, in some strange twist of fate, ran into harm's way while interning in the nation's capital. Chandra Levy's story is an older and more familiar one. And it is a reality that we would just as soon pretend does not exist.

At bottom, it's about violence against women. The crime scene in Rock Creek Park is not the last word on that evil—not in this city anyway.

Forget all that talk about this being a new day for women, that in 2002 women in the District of Columbia are no longer treated differently or looked down upon because of their sex. Don't believe for one second that the era of abusive partners working overtime on the minds—and bodies—of women is over....

Guess how many reports of violence against women were made to the D.C. police in 2000. I'm talking about domestic violence, sexual assaults, desperate calls for civil protection orders. Ready? More than 22,500.

That's right. Violence against women made up about 50 percent of all reported violent crimes to the D.C. police in that year. If those numbers take your breath away, they should....


The Wall Street Journal, May 22, 2002, reports on a proposal to address severe milk shortages in Cuba by cloning Ubre Blanca, a record-setting cow that once produced 241 pounds of milk in a single day. The cow died in 1985, but Cuban scientists have preserved its eggs.
Building a better cow has long been an obsession of Mr. Castro's. In a 1987 speech, he said super cows could be achieved under a socialist system, where scientists and the government both pull in the same direction. "If another Ubre Blanca is found or a prodigious descendant of Ubre Blanca capable of producing cows giving 100 quarts [a day], what can prevent us from immediately applying that practice ... to all the cows of the country?" he asked.

That same year, Mr. Castro proposed his scientists shrink cows to the size of dogs, says Boris Luis Garcia, a molecular biologist who worked for three years at the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. The idea: solve the scarcity of milk in the cities by providing families with miniature milk-cows they could keep in their apartments.

The pint-sized beasts would graze on grass grown in drawers under fluorescent lights. "That was what Castro had planned for us," says Mr. Garcia, who now lives in Spain. Nothing ever came of it.

Abercrombie & Fitch now sells thong underwear in children's sizes for girls 10 and under, with the words "eye candy" and "wink wink" printed on the front. "The underwear for young girls was created with the intent to be lighthearted and cute," the company said in response to angry parents. "Any misrepresentation of that is purely in the eye of the beholder."


In March, British artist Tracey Emin—whose depiction of her own unmade bed sold for £150,000 and was shortlisted for the 1999 Turner Prize—offered a reward for the return of her missing cat. However, all of the reward flyers she posted on London streets were quickly removed by art lovers eager to possess one of her original works, and the flyers were soon valued at £500 each. A spokesman for Ms. Emin offered a clarification in the London Times: "It's simply a notice to alert neighbors. It's not a conceptual piece of work and it has nothing to do with her art."

The London Metropolitan Police issued a ban on the word "nitty-gritty," based on the assumption that the word refers to the lice-infested debris left at the bottom of a slave ship after a voyage, and would thus be offensive to the descendants of slaves. According to the London Times, the phrase "good egg" has also been banned because the phrase "egg and spoon" is supposedly a racial slur ("coon") in Cockney rhyming slang. And some British educators, apparently afraid of offending epileptics, have abstained from using the word "brainstorm," favoring the rather messy substitute term "thought-shower."

[Ed.: When later asked whether they were offended by the word "brainstorm," many epileptics said something to the effect that they were offended simply to be asked such a stupid question.]


Germany's lower house of parliament voted to add the words "and animals" to the list of those protected under its constitution's human rights guarantees.

The family of 15-year-old Charles Bishop filed a $70 million wrongful-death lawsuit against Hoffman-La Roche, the manufacturer of Accutane, a powerful anti-acne drug prescribed to Bishop that has been alleged to cause depression, saying that nothing else explains their son's decision in January to crash a single-engine Cessna into a 42-story building in Tampa, Florida. Bishop left behind a suicide note praising Osama bin Laden. Prior to that, Julia Bishop says her son was a perfectly normal boy, an honor student and aspiring pilot who even penned an essay critical of bin Laden following the September 11 attacks.

The Hillsborough Medical Examiner's office found no trace of Accutane in the boy's bloodstream, but because they were unable to obtain samples of brain tissue from the crash site, they were unable to rule out the possibility that he may have been taking the medication. Julia Bishop insists her son had been taking the medicine twice a day for many months, and had taken it that morning. Attorneys with the Accutane Litigation Group representing the Bishop family say the drug is unsafe and that Roche negligently continued to manufacture and market it while downplaying dangerous side effects. Their $70 million claim represents about 10 percent of what the company earns in revenue from the drug.

While declining to discuss details of the lawsuit, Roche denied any link between the drug and suicide. "There is no scientific rationale to think there would be a link between the two," company spokeswoman Carolyn Glynn said, adding that the drug has long been known to cause serious birth defects. Since 1982, 13 million people have taken the drug, about 150 of whom have committed suicide. Glynn notes that rate is much lower than that of the general population ages 15 to 24, which seems to imply the drug may be indirectly effective as a confidence builder. As of March 2001, the Food and Drug Administration noted 66 instances of Accutane users committing suicide, a rate of 0.00055 per 100,000, compared with the much higher general rate of 10 per 100,000 in that age range, among whom suicide is the third leading killer.

Still, there have been enough reports of depression and suicidal tendencies that the FDA requires Accutane patients to sign an extensive consent form acknowledging its alleged risks. Part of that consent form required the Bishops to notify their physician "if anyone in the family has ever had symptoms of depression, been psychotic, attempted suicide, or had any other serious mental problems." Julia Bishop failed to divulge that in 1984, she and Charles's estranged father failed in a bloody suicide pact during which she stabbed him with a 12-inch butcher knife, an incident her lawyer discounts as "completely irrelevant," and which she characterized as "an act of drug and alcohol abuse" rather than mental illness. Time magazine reports that there was also another failed joint suicide attempt.

The father, Charles Bishara, is an Arab who hails from Lebanon, prompting speculation over whether a different set of motivations may have influenced the boy. The couple's marriage in 1986 soon dissolved after Charles became an abusive husband. Thereafter, Julia moved with her son to various cities, changing their name from Bishara to Bishop during the Gulf War in order to shed their Arabic identity. Officials could not locate the father, but believe he lives in New England. The boy's grandfather, Robert Bishara of Everett, Massachusetts, said that he hadn't seen his son in six years.

Accutane previously came under fire in 2000 after Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) blamed it for his son's suicide, leading him to initiate a series of highly visible congressional hearings on the drug's safety. Stupak told the St. Petersburg Times he immediately thought of Accutane when he heard of the plane crash in Tampa. "I said to my wife, 'Did you hear about that kid in the plane in Tampa? I wonder if that was related to Accutane?' " he said. Stupak wants Accutane off the market "until we know what's going on."

Coincidentally, in another case against Roche, the first to come to trial, an Oklahoma jury rejected a woman's $3 million lawsuit claiming that Accutane caused her to suffer bouts of depression.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, head of the World Health Organization, told a Norwegian newspaper that she gets headaches from talking on cell phones and that she requests people within twelve feet of her to turn their phones off in order not to cause her discomfort. While the WHO oversees a multimillion-dollar research program on the potential hazards of cell phone use, the head of its oversight program acknowledges there are no data indicating that cell phone use poses any health risk at all.

Writing on, Steven Milloy notes that the WHO has spearheaded other large initiatives on the issues of childhood obesity and "deep vein thrombosis"—blood clots that form in the legs of a handful of long-distance air travelers. At the same time, it reports that 5,500 children (40 jumbo jets' worth) die every day worldwide from consumption of food and water contaminated with bacteria, an easily preventable problem. Two weeks prior to that alarming report, the WHO announced in a press release that it would hold an "urgent expert consultation" on a single set of findings by Swedish researchers that cooking starchy foods at high temperatures produces an allegedly cancer-causing substance called acrylamide.


From an announcement for "The Flag," an exhibition at the Armory Center for the Arts running through June 16:
A collaboration with the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, Los Angeles, this exhibition explores the cultural impact of the American flag. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, there has been a remarkable national outpouring of patriotism, the focus of which has often been the flag. However, the display of the flag as an assertion of patriotic fervor has been associated historically with intolerance of the American democratic rights of dissent, free speech and equal rights under the law. Artists such as Kim Abeles, Erika Rothenberg, Yvonne Rainer and Dread Scott will present works that explore the flag's many roles in American life. Organized by Nancy Buchanan, faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 15, 2002, reports on ex-President Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba, in which he delivered a speech critical of Cuba's human rights record and lack of free elections:
Shayna Lewis, a 20-year-old exchange student from Wesleyan College in Connecticut, did not agree with Carter's remarks.

"It offended me slightly that he came in here and told the Cuban people that they should be just like the United States," she said. "I think Carter's definition of democracy is very strictly and legally defined. I would not agree that I have more of a voice than my Cuban classmates here. In the United States, to have your voice heard you need access to monetary means. Here it just happens."


Course description for "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," a fall offering from the English department at the University of California at Berkeley:
The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine, [ongoing] since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed, and maimed millions of Palestinian people. And yet, from under the brutal weight of the occupation, Palestinians have produced their own culture and poetry of resistance. This class will examine the history of the [resistance] and the way that it is narrated by Palestinians in order to produce an understanding of the Intifada.... This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections.
The teacher of the course, Snehal Shingavi, was reprimanded after controversy erupted over the last sentence, which was subsequently removed from the course description. The rest of the text, however, remained intact.

Commenting on the controversy on NBC's "Hardball," Sarah Eltantawi of the Muslim Public Affairs Council defended Shingavi's course, referring to an article that contrasted the partisan tone of the course description with the educational ideal of "disinterestedness" championed by 19th-century critic Matthew Arnold:

Well, I defend the course, of course, because you know, it's funny, this is based on a Wall Street Journal article today by Roger Kimball and his basis for making this—this basically, critique of any discussion of Palestinian resistance is some sort of academic notion of objectivity and how it's—how, you know, the institutions need to stay objective. Well, the notion of objectivity is in and of itself a politicized notion that—that can be exploited by people like your guests for their own political agenda. You know, anyone who has been in the academy since the civil-rights movement knows that the notion of objectivity in and of itself is very problematic and you can't just bandy it around for your own political reasons. So basically what this is is it's a hit on any class that wants to take as a point of reference Palestinian resistance as a legitimate course of study. There's nothing wrong with this class, it studies Palestinian poets that have been recognized for decades in American universities that—that speak about resistance in the Israeli occupation. And that's what the academy is for.

David Childs, an architect commissioned to draw up plans for the World Trade Center site, denounced the "arrogance" of the twin towers' architects. "What they did to lower Manhattan," said Childs, "was an act of vandalism just as complete as Sept. 11."


Seven fourth-graders were suspended from Dry Creek Elementary School in Centennial, Colorado, for pointing their fingers like guns during a playground game of army-and-aliens. As part of the school's investigation, the principal questioned the children about whether their parents owned guns.


The Washington Times, May 11, 2002:
The families of 11 immigrants who died illegally crossing into Arizona from Mexico have filed a $41 million claim against two federal agencies, saying the government's refusal to put water out in the desert contributed to the migrants' deaths.

At the Rodeph Sholom Day School in Manhattan's Upper West Side, celebration of Mother's Day and Father's Day has been banned in order to protect the feelings of children raised by same-sex couples or single parents.

The New York Times, May 11, 2002, reports on colleges that allow male and female students to share dorm rooms:
The reason for the policy is to accommodate gay students who are uncomfortable about sharing living space with a roommate of the same sex, because of either homophobia or sexual tension.

"Straight men who live together often have a kind of locker-room mentality, with a lot of discussion about dating girls, having sex with girls, saying which girls are attractive," said Josh Andrix, a 2000 Haverford graduate who started the campaign for coeducational housing there. "Introducing a homosexual into that environment is uncomfortable. When I looked for housing, all the people it made sense for me to live with were women."

[Ed.: Note the legal justification commonly relied upon by universities to justify affirmative action: that "diversity" serves a positive educational purpose in encouraging students to realize that others they encounter don't necessarily share their customs.]


The American Lung Association released its annual report card on smog, giving 60 percent of American counties and cities a grade of "F." In each year's report the ALA flunks over half of the places it examines, despite the fact that smog levels in America have been declining steadily for decades. EPA statistics indicate that ozone, the primary constituent of smog, has declined by about 30 percent since the 1970s, a trend that is expected to continue. While some areas sometimes exceed the federal standard for ozone, the number of such spikes is declining. Los Angeles, for example, now has a quarter of the smog alert days it had ten years ago. Moreover, the ALA based its failing grades on just a few worst-case readings that exceeded an even more stringent federal air-quality standard that is not yet in force. In many cases, readings from instruments used to measure pollution could not be replicated by other instruments at the same site.


Becca Johnson, an honor-roll student at Mellon Middle School in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, became upset when she scored a D on a vocabulary test. Johnson was suspended from school after a teacher spotted a crude stick-figure drawing she subsequently made of the teacher who gave her the test and a substitute teacher, both depicted with arrows through their heads. Becca's parents contested the school's decision that the drawings constituted "terrorist threats."