An Inclusive Litany


Front page news from the New York Times, July 31, 2002:
An American attack on Iraq could profoundly affect the American economy, because the United States would have to pay for most of the cost and bear the brunt of any oil price shock or other market disruptions, government officials, diplomats and economists say.


Prior to his death in 1963, Italian artist Piero Manzoni decided to make "an ironic statement" about the art market. The result was 90 canned samples of his own excrement, each appropriately titled merda d'artista. London's Tate Gallery recently acquired one of these jars for £22,300, more than they would pay for the same weight of gold. The Pompidou Museum of Paris and Museum of Modern Art in New York have also acquired samples the artist's work. There are signs the escalating price may be driven by scarcity, since due to defects in the canning process, half have exploded so far.

Columbia professor Gayatri Spivak, from a speech delivered at Leeds University, June 22, 2002:
Suicide bombing—and the planes of nine-eleven were living bombs—is a purposive self-annihilation, a confrontation between oneself and oneself, the extreme end of autoeroticism; killing oneself as other, in the process killing others. It is when one sees oneself as an object capable of destruction in a world of objects, so that the destruction of others is indistinguishable from the destruction of self.... Suicidal resistance is a message inscribed in the body when no other means will get through. It is both execution and mourning, for both self and other. For you die with me for the same cause, no matter which side you are on. Because no matter who you are, there are no designated killees in suicide bombing. No matter which side you are on, because I cannot talk to you, you won't respond to me, with the implication that there is no dishonor in such shared and innocent death.


While in an airplane with her husband waiting to take off from Dallas in February, 36-year-old Renee Koutsouradis was paged over a loudspeaker and asked to accompany a Delta security official, who said something suspicious was vibrating in one of her bags. She told him what she thought it was, but nevertheless the agent took her to the bag on the tarmac and asked her to remove and hold up the item for inspection: a battery-operated sex toy that she and her husband had just bought on a trip to Las Vegas.

According to her subsequent lawsuit against the airline, some passengers on the plane saw everything, and three male Delta employees "began laughing hysterically" and made "obnoxious and sexually harassing comments." The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, accusing Delta of negligence, gender discrimination, and intentional infliction of public humiliation.

Raymond Leopard sued R.J. Reynolds for $65 million in damages for years of emotional distress stemming from his role as the "Winston Man" advertising cigarettes during the 1970s.


An Orlando man filed a lawsuit against a cabaret in West Palm Beach, Florida, because the semi-private room reserved for one-on-one nude lap dances was not wheelchair accessible, even though he could still get a lap dance at his table.

Apparently prompted by newfound interest in Islam, the University of North Carolina is requiring incoming freshmen to read Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations, edited by Haverford religion professor Michael Sells and featuring about a third of the complete text along with a companion CD of recitations. Study questions include, "Now that you have read parts of the Koran, do you think more Americans should read all or parts of the book?" and "How does the sound [of a recitation] seem to you to create meanings and effects that are not present when you just read the text alone?"

But the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, sued the university on behalf of three students in an effort to halt this required reading. The suit claims the program misrepresents the Koran and attempts to "impose a uniform[ly] favorable opinion of the religion of Islam" among students, violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Specifically, the lawsuit contends that the book the students would read omits suras (chapters) that call for the execution of non-believers, such as suras 9:5 ("Fight and slay the pagan wherever you find them") and 4:89 ("those who reject Islam must be killed"). The group contends that it would neither be legal nor desirable to teach the Bible in the same manner.


After a British band named the Planets released an album containing a track aptly called "A One Minute Silence," they were sued by the firm that owns the copyright to a composition by John Cage—the late avant garde composer—that contains exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. The plaintiff alleges that Cage "always said the duration of his piece may be changed, so the Planets' piece doesn't escape by virtue of its shorter length."

It has started. In New York City, 56-year-old Caesar Barber filed a lawsuit in state court, blaming McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC and Burger King—which he frequented four times a week—for his obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and the two heart attacks he has suffered so far. Barber's lawyer, Samuel Hirsch, says he has two other plaintiffs lined up, one a 57-year-old retired nurse, size 18, who ate fast food at least twice a week over a 25 year period, and a 59-year-old man whose habit of eating a pound of french fries a week forced him to walk with a cane. The aim of the legal action, according to Hirsch, was to "offer a larger variety to the consumers, including non-meat vegetarian, less grams of fat, and a reduction of [portion] size," along with tobacco-style warning labels.

[Ed.: Hirsch filed another lawsuit a few weeks later on behalf of several obese teenagers, alleging that toy and value-meal promotions were designed to entice patrons to eat the food. (As the Glasgow Herald reported, the lawsuits themselves resulted from barratry.) All these lawsuits came at the same time Gary Taubes reported in the New York Times Magazine of an emerging scientific consensus that consumption of supposedly "low-fat" foods leads to increased obesity due to the way carbohydrates are metabolized and to changes in eating habits.]


Writing in Salon, Griel Marcus deconstructs a television advertisement for the Subway sandwich chain, July 23, 2002:
One "Jim" ("a Dennis Miller-type of guy who tells it like it is," says Subway publicist Les Winograd) pulls up to a burger joint in a car full of buddies. He's about 40, tall, well-exercised: "Turkey breast, ham, bacon, melted cheese, Dijon horseradish sauce," he says in the drive-through, exuding an aura of Supermanship all out of proportion to the situation. "That's, like, not on our menu," says the young, pudgy, confused person taking orders. "It's not only not on your menu," Jim says, "it's not on your radar screen!" "Do we have a radar screen?" the clerk asks a supervisor as Jim peels out. "Think I made that burger kid cry?" Jim says to his pals, all of them now ensconced in a Subway with the new Select specials in front of them.

It seems plain that, finally, George W. Bush is making himself felt in culture. The commercial takes Bush's sense of entitlement—which derives from his lifelong insulation from anything most people eat, talk about, want or fear, and which is acted out by treating whatever does not conform to his insulation as an irritant—and makes it into a story that tries to be ordinary. But the story as the commercial tells it is too cruel, its dramatization of the class divisions Bush has made into law too apparent. The man smugly laughing over embarrassing a kid is precisely Bush in Paris attempting to embarrass a French-speaking American reporter for having the temerity to demonstrate that he knew something Bush didn't. (Real Americans don't speak French.) Even someone responsible for putting this talisman on the air may have flinched at the thing once it was out there in the world at large, functioning as public discourse, as politics—the last time I saw the spot, the final punchline had been dropped.


A garbage barge moored in New York Harbor was temporarily declared protected habitat after being nested by terns.


According to its mission statement, the University of Iowa's basketball team is committed to "sportslike behavior."

The city of Berkeley, California, is considering a proposal forbidding the sale within city limits of any coffee that is not "Socially and/or Environmentally Correctly Cultivated." To qualify as "fairly traded," for example, importers must pay growers at least $1.26 per pound. The measure would also prohibit all but shade-grown coffee that "is planted in a shaded, forest-like setting created by a canopy of trees," to provide habitat for native songbirds. Violators of the ban would be subject to a $100 fine or six months in jail.


On July 4, limousine driver Hesham Mohamed Hadayet shot and killed two people at the ticket counter of Israel's El Al Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport before El Al security officials shot him dead. Hadayet was an Egyptian immigrant who, press reports soon revealed, had told a friend that "the Israelis tried to destroy the Egyptian nation and the Egyptian population by sending prostitutes with AIDS to Egypt." Hadayet had also voiced displeasure at a neighbor's patriotic display following the September 11 attacks. Regardless, the FBI announced that there was no evidence the shooting was a terrorist attack, and investigators were not sure it could even be categorized as a hate crime.


Denouncing President Bush's comparison of the Supreme Court's decision allowing public school vouchers to Brown v. Board of Education, Jesse Jackson referred to Bush as "unliterate."


Reporting on findings announced at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, the New York Times notes that 90 percent of gay and bisexual black men in the United States aged 15-29 who tested positive for HIV were unaware they had the virus until researchers conducting the study informed them. Among Hispanic gays the figure is 70 percent, and among gay whites it is 60 percent who were unaware of their condition, were not receiving treatment, and were likely infecting others. An estimated 1 million Americans are HIV-positive, and 300,000 have died of AIDS.

At the same conference, Dr. Bruce Walker of Harvard revealed a case of a Boston man whose immune system had been successfully fighting the HIV infection on its own, but who subsequently had unprotected sex and became reinfected with a modified strain of HIV, after which his health declined precipitously. Walker's stunning findings implied that the HIV virus was sufficiently mutable and durable as to make any prospect of finding an effective vaccine highly unlikely.

Meanwhile, a headline in the Gay Pride issue of the Village Voice heralded "The Return of Public Sex." Reporting approvingly on anonymous sex at abandoned Hudson River docks and Manhattan orgies that are advertised on the Internet and have $20 entrance fees, Steve Weinstein writes: "After years of AIDS anxiety and government repression, gay public sex is bigger and better than ever." A similar headline in the Gay Pride issue of the San Francisco Bay Guardian announced that "Gat Sluts Are Back." While praising "unapologetic homo-lust," self-described "gay slut" Simon Sheppard reports on large increases in unprotected sex, leading to new infections. "The threat of HIV was (and is) real and deadly," Sheppard writes. "But the epidemic was also seized upon as an instrument of control, both by assimilationists within the queer community who wanted us all to behave like good girls and by those in the larger heterocentrist culture who were both envious of and repelled by men who numbered their sex partners in the dozens. Or hundreds. Or thousands."